Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Friday, March 18, 2011

So you want to write a book?

Oooops. I forgot that I have a blog. Man, I’m getting worse and worse on updating this thing.

It’s not that there aren’t things happening, but I’ve been buried in other writing projects. I’ve been writing and editing for a couple of internet companies and just completed a new book on growing up in the terrific decade of the ‘50s. The title is, “The Huckleberry Days of the ‘50s.” Subtitle, “Growing Up in Los Gatos.” The book is in production as I type this.

I’ve also re-written my novel, “Granite Veil” and cleaned out most of the heavy stuff, for example all the scientific analysis of the theory of evolution, which seemed to bog some people down. For those who enjoy that kind of thinking, it was very well received, but the new version moves faster with the focus on the murder mystery. The title of the new edition is, “Folsom Parallax.” I’ll remember to post a blog when it’s out.

I'll give you a quick lesson in publishing:

Writing a book entails more than simply “writing a book.” That’s the easy part. When you function as Publisher you have to determine layout, edit, format, check all details of copy, punctuation, spelling, etc., file for copyright, ISBN number, library number, bar code, cover design, legal clearances, binding style, paper size, weight, texture, clarity of photos, proofing and other details.

It’s costly to self-publish, but there are advantages. You retain the copyright. You determine price based on the market and your production costs, you keep profits, if any, over costs. You actually engineer the entire project. You put up all the money in exchange for a predetermined number of books, which normally includes a possible 10% over-run. There are no contingencies. You pay for the books whether they sell or not.

Publishing-on-demand is another option. If you choose to “publish-on-demand”, which is a popular method today, there are pros and cons here too. You contract with a company to produce books as orders come in from yourself or other sources. You don’t have to warehouse books or come up with a lot of upfront money. But there are disadvantages with this. You have little control over quality. Marketing is a problem in all publishing methods except when a major publisher handles it. From my experience, the biggest disadvantage with print-on-demand is pricing. I have a book with one of these companies and they have it marked up so high that no one would spend the money for it.

The easiest way to publish is to interest a major publisher in your project. This is next to impossible and you usually need an agent. After you provide a final manuscript, the publisher takes over. You can market the book, but since the publisher has the biggest financial investment they will push the book. You may be required to do interviews, make speeches, and go to trade shows and events to promote your book, but you have no financial investment. If a publisher asks for money upfront, that’s a red flag. You should never pay a fee to a legitimate publisher. They take the risk.

The author signs over copyright and all rights to produce to the publisher in exchange for a percentage, called a “royalty.” There is a wide range for royalties, but the rate is normally between 10 and 20%. Royalties for foreign sales are less. These are paid as long as the book is sold. I have received royalties on my first book for over 40 years, but that’s unusual. If the publisher fails to sell enough books, the book will go out of print and unless you have a reversion clause in your contract, the rights don’t return to you and the book is virtually dead.

Self publishing is putting your money where your mouth is. If you think there’s a market for a book, you can bet on yourself, but it can be costly. I’ve lost a lot of money through the years on self published books due to lack of marketing and the fact that I always give my books away. So it’s a gamble. But here I go again…

Since I couldn’t think of a subject for my blog, here’s a quick lesson in book publishing, which is something I’ve had experience with through the years.


  1. Ahhh Ralph. Glad to see your progress. I see no reference at all to self publishing as an ebook though. While I still want to buy (not a gift mind you) a copy of the book and will likely want to buy Folsom Parallax, I'm very sad it will be paper copies rather than an ebook (without DRM I hope).

    So let me know when and where I can buy the books. I'm looking forward to both.

  2. I sure enjoyed Granite Veil, a quick read, and noticed that Amazon still had a paperback copy for $20. Your re-write, Folsom Paralex, should do well.
    I'm going to get your book on Las Gatos. Growing up in Sam Jose, this should also be a good read.
    I had no idea how complex and risky publishing is and respect your lifelong efforts even more.

  3. Malcolm - I'll let you know when the Los Gatos book comes out, but you may want to wait for both of these as an ebook. You aimed me in that direction and I plan to put Parallax on Kindle with Amazon before I actually publish it. I know you prefer that medium and I'll do the same with the L. G. book as soon as I can get a shot of the cover. So if I can figure it out, both will be available for Kindle or on a PC. Thanks.

  4. Chuck - The Veil version that Amazon has is one of the "Print on Demand" companies and they set the price, which is way too high for a softcover. You will get a laugh or two out of the L.G. book, because you lived a lot of those days with me.

  5. Our public library has your 40 year old "Comprehensive guitar method" published by Belwin Mills. Way to go, Ralph. Hope those royalty checks continue.

  6. Chuck - You might want to check out that book. It's a good one for learning the guitar. Actually, this is the first year I haven't received royalties, so I guess after 40 years, the book has run its course.

  7. Ralph - bet if you released CGM as an ebook you'd have more royalties coming!

  8. Ralph a pot here about the final push to publish and your thoughts would also provide another vehicle to market your books. A brief, brief description along with the various Classes of book would help folks see what's available from Amazon.

  9. Ralph, I listened to your CD on the way to Monterey yesterday. I really enjoyed your singing. You have a Kenny Rogers sound. You should produce a singing CD.

    Book is also a fun read.

  10. Malcolm -
    Good point. I'll contact you about this.

  11. Ed - Thanks. Tell your friends about the book. People seem to like it.