Archive for August, 2012

Self Publishing at Book Santa Cruz Using the Espresso Book Machine

August 22, 2012

Casey Protti and the new Espresso Book Machine at Bookshop Santa Cruz

Today we are going to speak with Casey Protti, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz, one of the truly iconic independent bookstores in America. The bookshop just acquired an Espresso Book Machine, a new technology which is able to create a perfect bound paperback book in minutes. The quality of the books produced are indistinguishable from paperbacks published by major publishers.  It’s a new technology that has the potential of redefining the role of local bookstores.

Andy: Casey, Can you tell us a little bit about the Espresso Book Machine.

Casey:  I’m really excited about our new machine. It is a remarkable technology that allows Bookshop Santa Cruz to print books on site, and on demand.  We can just hit a button and it prints, binds, and trims a paperback book in just a few minutes. What I love about this technology is not only the convenience factor of being able to give a customer a book when they want it, but more importantly, our ability to become a community publishing center- a place to have human to human interactions to create and distribute books.

Andy: The machine allows the local bookstore to become a self-publishing venue? Really.  Tell us about that.

books printed and bound in 5 minutes on the Espresso Book Machine

Casey: For those authors who have a novel or memoir or book of poetry that they want to make into book form, we can help them to bring their work to life through every step of the publishing process.  And not just people who think of themselves as authors. This could mean people who want to create family histories, compilations of family recipes, businesses who want to customize journals, student groups who want to make zines or graphic novels, or teachers who want to put together an anthology of their students’ work.

Andy: Other than self-publishing, what else can you do?

Casey: There are 8 million titles available including works in the public domain and hard to find and self-published titles.  Just the other day we had a man who had been searching for a hard to find book for over 20 years in used bookstores.  We had it on the EBM and printed it for him in 5 minutes.  Although other stores with Espresso Book Machines have seen self-publishing account for 80-90% of all the activity on the machine, more and more publishers understand the EBM as a good way of keeping their backlists available.

Andy:  That’s a good point. It seems to me that as publishers get more commercial and media –obsessed, they are putting their slower moving back list titles out of print faster. Will Espresso change that?

Casey: I think publishers see the EBM as good way of keeping their backlists available even if demand for a given title has waned. It’s economical for them, because they don’t have to warehouse titles or incur shipping and handling costs.  With EBM  we only produce as many copies as are sold.   We want to be able to sell a book that a customer asks for right away. It is of huge benefit to us, to publishers, and to the customer. And he gets the book a lot faster than he would if he purchased it online. And   we’d love to bring books back in print that have local significance and could sell well to the community but that may not  warrant a traditional print run.

Andy: What’s the quality of the books produced by the Espresso?

Casey: Books produced on the EBM are virtually indistinguishable from traditionally produced paperbacks.

Andy: Some people have said that this is a real transformative technology. Can you tell us what this means.

Casey: Six years ago, when I took over Bookshop from my father, I could never have imagined a technology like this.   In the age of the Internet,  our customers are looking for instant gratification, but also personalized services that you can’t get online. The EBM plays to the typical strengths of indie bookstores in terms of community connections and relationships with local authors but then brings it further with new products and services that meet new customer needs.  Our hope is that as more publishers add content to the EBM, we will one day be able to say that we can print any book ever published on demand.  That’s transformative!

Andy: What about ebooks? Aren’t they going to make print on paper books obsolete? That would make the Espresso machine a kind of dead end technology.

Casey: It has been  fun to see people  so excited at watching a physical book being made. Seeing this excitement puts to rest the idea that the book is dead.  Although people rightly want to publish their books electronically, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t also want people to see their books in physical form in bookstores.   Publishers will tell you that local bookstores are the showrooms for books. Online  stores can’t duplicate that experience.

Andy: Let’s say that you want to use the machine to publish your own book. What do you need to bring to the bookstore?

Casey: The EBM machine prints from PDF files that authors can either choose to format themselves (following the EBM submission guidelines) or by getting help from their local EBM operator.

Andy: And how about distribution of the book after it has been printed? Is the store involved in this?

Casey: Authors using the EBM can upload their titles to the main EspressNet catalog making their work available at other EBM locations worldwide and  authors printing their books  at Bookshop Santa Cruz can also enroll in the consignment program to have their books added to the shelves of our store.

Andy: How will Espresso allow Bookshop Santa Cruz to compete with companies like Lightening Source and Create Space?

Casey: The self-publishing services we offer are much more one-on-one and personalized then most of the online self-publishing companies. We can walk through a project with an author insuring that we are able to assess and meet all his needs from cover design to purchasing an ISBN number. The authors never need to go it alone. They can easily reach their local EBM operator for trouble-shooting help and project support in person, over the phone or via email.  This part of the EBM service package is completely in line with what indie bookstores do best – building relationships, customizing services, and providing that human connection that you can’t get online.

Andy: How much does a book cost per copy?

Casey: The base printing price for the EBM is $5.00 + 4.5 cents a page, although we do offer some bulk discounts and price breaks depending on the nature of the project.  We also have publishing packages which include various levels of service including graphic design, proof copies, obtaining an ISBN, etc.

Andy: How long have you been operating the machine in the story? How much business has it been generating.

Casey: The Bookshop Santa Cruz EBM has been operational for about a month, and on a typical day we print anywhere from 20-50 books.

Andy: I hear that these machines are incredibly expensive. How much do they cost? Will they really support a viable business model?

Casey: Typically the machine, software and installation runs $100,00-$125,000. American Booksellers Association members receive a discount on the software.  With just over a month under our belt, it is too soon to determine profitability.  However, since the opportunities to connect with the community to publish works are endless, we think there is a good chance that the machine will be a profit center for the store.  In addition, the feeling amongst your customers that the store is trying to remain relevant and innovate is priceless. Since the margin is so small on books, bookstores of the future need to move further into a service-based model in order to survive.  This is a step in the right direction.

Andy: If you want to find out more about the Espresso machine or if you have a self-publishing project and want to work with the Bookshop, call Sylvie Drescher at the Bookshop at 831-460-3258  or email her at

Thanks, Casey. We’ll check back in a few months to see how this new technology is unfolding.


Learning from Lee Child

August 13, 2012

A few weeks ago I was asked to do manuscript evaluations at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference. After reading the first 20 pages of a few of these, I started noticing that the writers were having a difficult time getting the story going. Sometimes the author  started out with a long description of the weather. Sometimes he began with  a prologue that delayed the beginning of the real story in order to  frontload some backstory information into the text.  Sometimes he just seemed to be in love with his own vocabulary.  I realized that by the time I was 20 pages into these submissions, I  didn’t know much about what these stories were really about.

I decided that it might be useful to analyze the start of a crime novel by a really good writer. Here is the first 200 words of  The Killing Floor by Lee Child. Let’s read the complete text below and then go over it line by line and see exactly how much story Lee Child packs into these very few words.

I was arrested in Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.

The diner was small, but bright and clean. Brand-new, built to resemble a converted railroad car. Narrow, with a long lunch counter on one side and a kitchen bumped out back. Booths lining the opposite wall. A doorway where the center booth would be.

I was in a booth, at a window, reading somebody’s abandoned newspaper about the campaign for a President I didn’t vote for last time and wasn’t going to vote for this time. Outside, the rain had stopped but the glass was still pebbled with bright drops. I saw the police cruisers pull into the gravel lot. They were moving fast and crunched to a stop. Light bars flashing and popping. Red and blue light in the raindrops on my window. Doors burst open, policemen jumped out. Two from each car, weapons ready. Two revolvers, two shotguns. This was heavy stuff. One revolver and one shotgun ran to the back. One of each rushed the door.

Now let’s take it one line at a time.

I was arrested in Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee.

By the third word we know a very important piece of information,  that this is going to be a crime story.  The narrator and main character, Jack Reacher, is in a diner, not at his supper club.  This tells us that he is a guy who lacks pretension. He’s having eggs and coffee, not brioche and cappuccinos.

A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.

He sets the scene. It’s  daytime. It’s raining. Lee Child isn’t spending much time giving the weather report. Just what you need to know. And he gets a lot of other information in as well. The fact that he is walking in the rain instead of driving tells you more about Reacher, that he is modest, that his tastes are simple. He didn’t drive up in a Ferrari or a Buick. He walked.  And he’s walking from the highway to the edge of town. He’s coming into the town, not going to the diner from his home. He’s an outsider.

The diner was small, but bright and clean. Brand-new, built to resemble a converted railroad car. Narrow, with a long lunch counter on one side and a kitchen bumped out back. Booths lining the opposite wall. A doorway where the center booth would be.

Nice short description of the scene. Most people already know what a diner looks like. So he doesn’t need to embellish much.  He focuses on the big design. Bright and clean, resembles a railroad car, etc. Doesn’t bother to go into the details, what’s on the wall, color of the table tops.  The reader doesn’t need to know all these details, and Reacher, the narrator, wouldn’t be noticing them either. That isn’t what Reacher is all about.  The fact that it is a diner also  sends a kind of ineffable message. There’s a noir quality to the scene.

I was in a booth, at a window, reading somebody’s abandoned newspaper about the campaign for a President I didn’t vote for last time and wasn’t going to vote for this time

Tells us more about the kind of guy Reacher is. He’s  cynical and worldly wise. Not sentimental and not  an idealist, not an intellectual. Doesn’t suffer fools.  (He’s reading a discarded newspaper, not a copy of Hegel’s philosophy.) And notice how he uses short choppy sentences, sometimes just phrases. The words are simple.  You wouldn’t find Reacher in a Henry James novel.

Outside, the rain had stopped but the glass was still pebbled with bright drops. I saw the police cruisers pull into the gravel lot. They were moving fast and crunched to a stop. Light bars flashing and popping. Red and blue light in the raindrops on my window. Doors burst open, policemen jumped out. Two from each car, weapons ready. Two revolvers, two shotguns. This was heavy stuff. One revolver and one shotgun ran to the back. One of each rushed the door.

Now the action begins.  It starts right out of the gate. Lee Child’s delivers. We are about 150 words into the book. And the police cars pull up with lights flashing and popping. The cops burst in armed to the teeth. Covering all the doors.  We already know they want Reacher.

Hey —  let’s turn the page!

Interview With Kristen Iversen: Author of Full Body Burden

August 5, 2012

Today we are going to interview Kristen Iversen and talk about her new book, Full Body Burden (Crown Books, 2012)  and the challenges of writing memoir. Kristen is the director of the MFA program at the University of Memphis. She is also the author of : Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth .

We last heard about Kristen in this blog where we meet Kristen,  myself,  and several other writers and agents going from bar to sleazy bar in San Miguel de Allende. There was lots of writerly talk about how much money Kristen actually got in her nail biting auction for Full Body Burden. She won’t say. And we won’t ask her here.

Full Body Burden is an amazing book. It tells the story of  Kristen growing up in Arvada, Colorado just down-wind from Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility. She interweaves her  memoir  with the astonishing work she did as an investigative journalist uncovering the 50 year (and ongoing cover-up) of the horrific contamination caused by the negligence of the plant as well as  the accidents that almost resulted in nuclear catastrophe.

The book has  received effusive reviews.

Andy: Kristen, tell us a little more about  Full Body Burden  and  how you came to write it.

 Kristen: I’ve carried this book in my head and my heart for a very long time.  Ten years of research and writing went into Full Body Burden, but it really began all the way back when I was around eleven, looking out from our back porch at the Rocky Flats water tower. Rocky Flats was a great mystery to me; no one in our neighborhood talked about it.  It was operated by Dow Chemical, and like many families, we thought they made household cleaning supplies. My siblings and I spent our childhood riding our horses in the fields around Rocky Flats, swimming in the lake, and floating on inner-tubes down the canals that carried water off the plant site.  We had no idea that Rocky Flats—which secretly produced more than 70,000 plutonium pits for nuclear bombs—was contaminating the environment with plutonium, carbon tetrachloride, and a host of other contaminants.

Later, like many of the kids in my neighborhood, I worked at the plant myself.  Even then I was unaware of how dangerous the plant really was  I eventually learned that there was nearly 14 tons of plutonium  onvsite, much of it unsafely stored.  The day I quit was the day I knew it was time to write the book.

The book isn’t just about Rocky Flats.  It’s also about my family and the secrets that nearly destroyed us.  Two things frightened me as a child: Rocky Flats, and my father’s alcoholism.  Both were forbidden topics.  Full Body Burden turned out to be a book about the destructive power of secrecy at the level of family and government, and the high cost we pay for those secrets as individuals, as families, and as a culture.

 Andy: Can you bring us up to date on the on-going saga of Rocky Flats, things that you didn’t cover in the book?

 Kristen: I mention in the book that production at Rocky Flats halted in 1992, following the FBI raid and grand jury investigation and discontinuation of the W-88 missile program.  A “cleanup” was declared complete in 2005.  But the site has not been cleaned up so much as covered up.  In 1995, when I worked at Rocky Flats, the Department of Energy estimated it would take 70 years and $36 billion to clean up the site—and they weren’t sure they had the technology to do it.  A modified cleanup agreement allowed the company Kaiser-Hill to do the cleanup in less than ten years for roughly one-fifth of the cost.   But after this cleanup,  they left a very high level of plutonium in the top soil levels and removed very little contamination below 6 feet. 1,300 acres of the site are so profoundly contaminated that they can never be open for human use.  The rest of the site—roughly 4,000 acres—is now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, slated to open for public hiking and biking.

Andy: Your book was the object of a very intense auction with multiple New York and UK publishers involved. Did you have any idea that the book would attract such a feeding frenzy? How did it feel?

 Kristen: I had no idea what would happen with the manuscript.  I’d lived with this book for more than ten years. I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested in it.  It’s deeply personal, and very controversial. I wasn’t sure a publisher would take a chance on it.

My agent sent the book out to publishers and I expected to wait several weeks at least.  Only a few days had passed when she called.  Stay by the phone, she said.  Several publishers are interested. Things are heating up. “Some of the editors will want to talk to you,” she added.  She decided to auction the book, and set a bidding deadline of 5 p.m. New York time.

What happened that afternoon felt like a little piece of heaven suddenly opened up. I talked to editors in New York who not only had read the book but had read it closely and deeply. And they liked what they read. (“We were just blown away by the book.” “It’s a work of art, and a work of public service.” “I loved the way you deftly wove your own personal story into the Rocky Flats story.” “It’s effortlessly written.” “It opened my eyes to powerful subject matter.” “Beautifully rendered.” “The reader is right there with you, all the way through.”)

Between editor calls, my agent called to discuss each offer with me. We closed the deal at 4:59, New York time, with Crown.  And then she called with congratulations from her cab as she was on her way to the airport, heading off to the London Book Fair to negotiate potential deals with publishers from the UK.

How did it feel?  It was one of the best days of my life.  It still feels like a dream.

 Andy: Let’s talk about writing memoir.  What is remarkable to me is that you have managed to combine 3 different genres  that normally don’t work well together into a totally unified and compelling narrative. The book is family memoir, a work of tough minded investigative journalism and an absolutely gripping narrative work that brings to life the horrors that went on at the plant. Was that your intention? It’s sort of like The Glass Castle meets The Silent Spring meets The Hot Zone.

 Kristen: The story itself is what created the form.  I wanted to put a human face on an inhumane story.  Who wants to read a book about plutonium?  Numbing facts and statistics are part of what’s helped to obscure the Rocky Flats story.  My intention was to tell the story from the perspective of the people whose lives had been impacted by Rocky Flats in one way or another.  I wanted the reader to share my experience of lying across my horse,  Tonka’s back on a hot summer day, listening to the meadowlarks.  I wanted the reader to understand, as fully as any of us can understand, what was going through the minds of Bill Dennison and Stan Skinger when they went into that burning building on the Mother’s Day fire of May 11, 1969, and knew it was likely they weren’t going to get out.

I’m not an activist; I didn’t write the book to be polemical in any way.  I tried to tell a good story, and it’s a true story.  I wanted to stretch the narrative form as much as possible and keep the reader glued to the story.  That’s what I love about creative nonfiction.  The structural possibilities are incredibly exciting, and yet you’re always working within the invisible web of staying true to the facts and the investigation of the facts.

 Andy: I think writing memoir is tough. Everybody thinks their life is a hero’s journey. (And it is), but it’s devilishly hard to have  any perspective about themselves. How can they shape their story into a compelling one that readers will want to read without throwing in all the crap that is only important to the writer?

 Kristen: It’s so hard to leave things out!  Many, many pages ended up on the cutting room floor—entire scenes that may eventually turn into essays or stories or maybe another book or two. Or not.

I had to write my way through all of it—every thought, every scene, every wrong turn–to find the real story thread.  Then I lopped and cropped and snipped until each scene, each paragraph, each sentence moved the story forward or illuminated a character in some way.

Andy: I also think that it is really easy to fall into narcissism. I tell memoirists that they have to look outside themselves. The story can’t just be about dysfunctional families.  Comments?

 Kristen:  Andy, I don’t entirely agree with you there. All our great stories are about dysfunction.  Every family has its secrets.   Each person has his or her secrets.  I think good storytelling, in fiction or creative nonfiction, is about drama and conflict, repression and desire, things hoped for and things lost.  Memoir is at the core of good storytelling.  Writing from an authentic first-person point of view is emotionally powerful and yet incredibly challenging.

I think the memoirist has to ask some hard questions each step of the way.  What is it about my story that makes it relevant to others?  What hard truths have I learned about myself, and why should anyone care?  You can’t worry about making yourself look good on the page or slip into any kind of bravado or self-pity.  You can’t fall into stereotypes or clichés.