February 27, 2012

Sizing Up the Competition

Having semi-committed to publishing my collection of wine terms, I thought it prudent to check out the competition. My self-publishing reference (see below) confirmed that this was indeed the best way to start. I’d already been through the library’s collection and found it wanting. The largest glossary I’d come across had just over 200 words in it. On-line, I found only one glossary that had more than about 300 words, and all were riddled with grape, geography and chateau names and lots of what I considered to be non-tasting terms.

Next step: I’m off to Chapters.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is to visit a large bookstore and thoroughly study the section that might one day house your book. How big is the section? How current are the books? Do any of the books already cover your topic? Do they do it better? More completely? You’re also looking for what’s currently available: What sort of books are being produced that the bookstores are stocking and, presumably, that people are buying. What is the price range? What is the price range of books similar in size and length to yours?

Do an honest inventory here. The last thing you want to do is produce your book only to find out that a nearly identical one exists, and even worse, that it’s written by a famous author. You also don’t want to see a book that is similarly positioned that might cast a shadow on your book. For example, my 648 terms would likely result in a book of about 120 pages. On the shelves I saw a wine lover’s guide that boasted 1800 terms and cost $17.95. Yes, it contained all manner of non-tasting terms, but even so that’s nearly three times the size of my proposed book. If I priced my book at $14.95 for example, who would buy it if the book beside it had three times the info for a few dollars more? I decided that even $12.95 wouldn’t work if placed anywhere near that particular book.

So what I discovered in my research was this:

• There were no wine language books whatsoever. That means an opportunity.
• Those that claimed to be wine dictionaries or encyclopaedias were collections of wine reviews, all manner of wine terms, or hard-core academic encyclopaedias. Another opportunity for me.
• Prices ranged from around $16 to over $40. I had to think seriously about pricing.
• Everybody and his or her aunt, uncle and second cousin has written a wine book. This is a very cluttered and competitive category. That’s a big problem.

So if I were to go ahead and produce my book, it would likely have to sell in the $10 range and it would have to position itself as unique in its single-mindedness against hundreds of more glamorous tomes. If I could do that, then I might have a shot.
And so I began.

My main source:

How To Publish Yourself by Peter Finch
Alison & Busby Ltd., London, 1997
ISBN: 0-74900-301-4

February 20, 2012

Getting the Publishing Bug

It all began innocently enough. I was collecting unknown wine terms as I came across them in wine books and articles, and I would then set about looking for definitions. Sometimes it was hard finding definitions. I remember on more than one occasion going through every glossary in every wine book at the local library and not finding a particular word. My collection of words didn’t actually become an obsession, but I was pretty dedicated to it. Eventually my list grew to 150 words and their definitions.

My wife had been following my progress and shared my frustration with the general lack of linguistic resources for wine lovers. When I studied philosophy I was able to buy a dictionary of philosophical terms. Same with psychology, computers and even accounting … every discipline had its own lexicon. But I could find no dictionary of wine terms. And yet it never occurred to me that I was actually compiling one. But my wife didn’t miss it, and one day said to me, “You should consider publishing that. I bet a lot of people have the same problem with wine language.”

Well of course then I was off and running. I spent the next three months scouring libraries and the internet looking for wine terms and definitions. I eventually put together a list of more than 600 tasting terms, although I had to omit a few from the final list because I couldn’t find definitions, or at least consistent definitions.
Then it was time to go to press. Omigod! I’d never thought of publishing before and really had no idea where to start. I was fairly sure that no traditional publisher would be interested in the book as it was a modest effort and a small market niche. So I went to the local Chapters and looked at a few books on self publishing. I bought the one that looked the most useful and pored through it. It laid out a very sensible course of action and I followed it to the letter.
And that has led me to this point, having just launched my third wine book and with one best seller under my belt.

So, what I’d like to do here is chronicle my journey, my successes, my mistakes, and what I have learned about being a self-published author, or as I like to call it, a micro-publisher. I hope you find it useful.

Richard Best, T.F.O.