Phone on Fire Newsletter, Issue 3
Friday, November 17th, 2006 | Author: lisaksimone

Folks,

Welcome to Issue 3 in the short-term saga of book publishing!

Last time I hinted at a fight between Amazon.com’s head buyer and my publisher, Elsevier / Newnes. Before I get right to that, let me tell you a little bit about the production process, and how far along we are.

Transmittal Day: Production has several steps that are all triggered by the magic milestone, “Transmittal Day.” After I sent my final manuscript (”final” is such as fickle word!) to Elsevier, they checked it over to make sure I have delivered what was promised in the contract, and then they officially logged it and released it for production to begin.

“Transmittal Day” for Phone on Fire was September 29th. (I delivered 141 files - 38 Word files, 39 source files for figures and code, 62 graphics for figures, and 2 font files.)

Copy Editing: From Transmittal, one place the manuscript goes is to a copy editor, who gets down and dirty with every word in the manuscript. That’s where we are now (biting fingernails). Carol Lewis is a great editor at Elsevier and recently retired, but she took on this project because it was different - not just another book on the architecture of microprocessor XYZ. So while I am happy she has the manuscript, I am also nervous at how much she suggests I change. I will be receiving her changes and will be allowed to comment/argue/agree/etc. She’s the one who would possibly nix the d**khead reference. And the wild party at the copy machine (no wait, that was deleted much earlier…)

Graphics Design: Parts of the manuscript (plus internal documentation Elsevier generates) also went to the gaphics design team for the cover art. Tiffany (my main editor) and Michele, her assistant, met with me to brainstorm ideas for the cover art, and then they sent an order to the design team with our ideas. I should be seeing the first round of cover art in early December, and then we can make any final changes. We have a good idea what it will look like - it’s a great attention grabber that (which?) I won’t spoil quite yet!

Now, there are more steps to the process, but we haven’t gotten there yet, so I’ll defer to a later newsletter. However, I will add that we already have a scheduled manufacturing time slot that completes March 23rd for first book availability. Therefore, no dallying allowed.

Sales Meetings … So back to the fight…

Publishers have sales meetings every quarter or 6 months that are attended by book buyers and sales folks for book stores, etc. Now, a publisher generally has a lot of books to pitch and not enough time to go into detail for every book. Tiffany relayed to me that they might have 30 books and but can only talk about 3 or 4 in detail. The rest get grouped like, “we have 2 books on architecture for wireless, 5 on Java scripting,” etc. But the really interesting books get an introduction and a little sales pitch. She told me early on that my book would be one of the featured books (cool!). The sales meeting was in September, and she was on the agenda to present 5 books, and she was allotted 5 minutes. Total. She wanted to “feature” my book and another book. Long story short, they spent 10 (TEN!) minutes on Phone on Fire alone!

Ten minutes is a LONG TIME - what did they talk about? First, she said the book generated a lot of interest because it is a technical book with a story behind it - something the sales teams could generate excitement for. Everyone was intrigued by the concept of technical mysteries for engineers. The buyers also asked for the cover, which is also a good sign, because it means THEY intend to highlight the book when they talk to book stores, etc.

The Title: Then the Amazon buyer expressed concern about the title. She said that it was “suboptimal for searching” and wanted us to swap the title and the subtitle. Here they are again:

Title: If I Only Changed the Software, Why is the Phone on Fire?
Subtitle: Debugging Methods Revealed in Technical Mysteries for Engineers

She said people will search on “debugging” and “embedded” first, and that keywords in a subtitle are searched AFTER keywords in the title. “Embedded” is a funny word - embedded systems is a huge area - all products that have some sort of smarts - computers inside them - but people generally don’t know WHAT the word embedded means! So, we left it out of the subtitle. If we swapped title/subtitle, the book would show up higher in the search results. Tiffany (bless her) said straight way, “No.” Part of the grabber with this book is the title - it is different and generates curiousity (especially with the book cover we envision). So she and the Amazon buyer go at it for a while, and then (as Tiffany tells the story) the Amazon buyer and the OTHER buyers start arguing about what the title of the book should be! Cool! That’ll surely keep this book in their heads for a while!

So what are we going to do? I told Tiffany that I was very reluctant to change a great title and product differentiator to satisfy a search engine. After all, the search algorithm changes regularly, and some (like google) penalize webpages for trying to fake them out with keywords and descriptions. What if I change the title to suit the current search engine algorithm at Amazon and then they change it so the book doesn’t appear as high and the resulting title is just strange? But her marketing people suggested that when a major buyer like Amazon makes a suggestion, you might want to listen.

So what are we going to do? We are leaning heavily to keeping the title, and adjusting the subtitle to add “embedded” and mucking with the word order to make it more searchable. We’ll make that decision when we see the first version of cover art - then we can play with words on the cover. My current new favorite is:

If I Only Changed the Software, Why is the Phone on Fire?
Embedded Technical Mysteries and Real World Debugging for Engineers

1) On the topic of d**kheads, one reader offered a story from her tech support experience where a coworker asked her why she sometimes muttered “idiot” or “a$$hole” after getting off the phone with a clueless user. After some thought, she offered that

“A$$holes are just idiots who make more money than I do.

Your Feedback
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2) My apologies to AOL users. I am not purposely attempting to discriminate against “old people” with the size of the font. I am using Mozilla Thunderbird for email and it appears a nice size to me. However, I have seen the newletter from aol, and I must admit the font is “suboptimal” to use the Amazon adjective. So, I jacked it up on my end a notch, and also offer this, which works for some -hold down the CTRL key and either hit ‘+’/'-’ or use mouse scroll forward/back to increase or decrease the font size.

Lisa

Stay Tuned for Next Time - a preview of the Cover Art

About this Newsletter
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This is an occasional newsletter with information about my upcoming book, “If I Only Changed the Software, Why is the Phone on Fire? Debugging Methods Revealed in Technical Mysteries for Engineers.” Tell me to Take a Hike if you aren’t interested in the Newsletter. No Problem.

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Different email programs interpret font sizes differently. To change the font, hold down the CTRL key and either hit ‘+’/'-’ or use mouse scroll forward/back to increase or decrease the font size.