Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Joy of Self Publishing

There is joy and a sense of great accomplishment in publishing a book. The fascinating tale is not always in the book itself, but in the story behind the making of that book. My most recent publication of More LTD Stirling Engines You Can Build Without a Machine Shop is one of those tales.  It was three and a half years from start to finish, and for a long time it was at the top of my list of unfinished projects. Finishing this project not only created a book, it also feels like completing a chapter in the story of my life.  My readers and the marketplace will now judge the value of my contribution.  But regardless of that outcome, I have experienced the joy that comes from managing a long, complex process and seeing it come to life.

The book you publish is almost never the book you started writing. I discovered an easy way to make very successful bearings using Teflon tubing, and went to town and designed at least a dozen engines that used the new technology. It seemed feasible at the time to put them all in the book.  The scope of this idea was far too broad to be practical. Most builders probably only want to make one motor anyway.  But I want my readers to find value in their purchase, so I maintained an approach to publish a collection of designs, but downsized it from 12 to 4. The 4 designs are all very similar, and the final product of these projects is a traditionally configured motor. The aim is to provide the builder with several choices for building a conventional looking motor.

It is hard to guess what will be relevant when writing for a small niche market. The first rule is to make it relevant to yourself. The second rule is to make it understandable to your audience. Financial success occurs when you are able to connect your audience with the book.  And that is the role of marketing. Good marketing puts your book in front of your potential customers so they see it as one of their choices as they invest their time and energy into the same subject you are writing about. And if they choose to buy it, they find it relevant and understandable. That success will lead to positive reviews, broader discussions, and more sales.

Successful self publication is much more complex than it first appears. Think for a moment about the tasks a publishing company performs with and for an author as a book is developed. The publisher may provide editorial direction, proof reading, editing, formatting, illustration artists, cover design, market research, marketing plans, advertising, press releases, book tours... It's a long list, and it keeps on going. When the book is finished and ready to sell, the work is about half done. It has been my experience that I can invest as much time and effort into promoting a book as I spent writing it.

If you are going to write and publish a book yourself, and if you want that book to be successful, you need to become the manager of the publication process and address all those tasks that a publishing company would do for you. You may want to do it all yourself, but few people have all the skills needed to produce and market a good book. That is why even independent self publishing authors routinely solicit help from others.

Nothing illustrates this better for me than proof reading. I have already fixed a few typos and spelling errors in this article, and chances are I will not catch them all. No matter how many times I read through my own work, I never catch all the mistakes. So for me, effective proof reading means that it must be read by someone else.

For my first endeavor, I recruited five friends and gave them each a copy of the book.  I did this after I did multiple read-throughs myself, and I was pretty sure it was near perfect. The results of that effort not only brought me lots of good feedback about the book, it taught me a few things about proof readers.

My book, it turns out, was far from perfect. One of my proof readers was very skilled in the art of grammar (it is an art form, you know) and gave me incredibly good advice that improved the book. And he didn't have to read the whole book either. He told me "make these kinds of changes throughout the book" to improve readability, and he was right.

Among the other proof readers, one was reluctant to write in the book for fear of defacing the book or perhaps didn't want to appear overly critical. A couple of them said they didn't really understand the technical subject matter and were reluctant to finish it.  Each time that I have used this social networking approach for proof reading I have found very valuable feedback from one or two of them.

I simplified my process with this most recent book. I first did several cover-to-cover readings myself.  When I knew I had caught all the mistakes I could see myself, I asked my wife to read it. She is not into this technology stuff like I am, so her feedback was very good at finding places where I needed to simplify and clarify my approach. Then, instead of recruiting five friends, I just went to one of my previous volunteers who had done a good job before. I gave him a galley proof of the book with a $100 bill as a book mark, and told him he could keep the book mark as a souvenir for his efforts. We negotiated a timeline and he was done in a couple of weeks. He didn't have as many changes this time (I must be getting better) and I have confidence that my $100 investment is well worth it for the peace of mind I get in return.

Self publication doesn't mean that you are doing everything yourself. You may have to become your own project manager at times. You will always improve your product if you recruit help from people who have the skills that you lack.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Quadcopter Pilot's Flight Log

Now available at!

Whether flying for recreation or for certification, it is the best practice to always log the flight. Logging the flight provides a record of experience for the pilot as well as a record of the flight time on the aircraft. This journal is intended to create a record of the key events that define every flight outing.

Quadcopters are sometimes referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones.  This log book provides 100 pages with prompts to help track the time, location, and duration of your flying experience, as well as other significant events that occur.  It also creates a maintenance record for the aircraft.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Building the H6082 Heirloom Guitar Kit #1 Curly Maple

I purchased the Grizzly Curly Maple Heirloom Guitar Kit H6082 on 11/28/2013.  I completed construction and played it for the first time on 10/15/2014.  I am very pleased with the results.  I made a few minor mistakes along the way, but I was able to compensate for them each time.  My next one will be even better!
What's in the kit.
The first thing I did was dress the frets and slightly round the edges of the fret board.  The fret work is done well, but the ends of the frets were a little sharp and not comfortable to slide against your hand. I had to so some minor sanding to the neck joint to get it to fit.  Being a little too tight from the factory is better than being too loose.  The neck joint is shaped so that it will only go in at the proper position.  That is a plus.

I attempted to do a high contrast finish by staining the top black, sanding off most of the stain and then adding a color dye.  This is when I learned that the curly maple is just a thin veneer.  I caught the problem before it was too big, and did my best to camouflage my mistake with some artistic application of wood dyes. Looking at the cross section of the body makes one think that the maple top is at least 1/4 inch thick, but this is not the case.  Had I known that, I never would have tried the two tone color technique with all the sanding.

Stained and masked, ready for lacquer.
I had hoped to apply lacquer slowly over the winter months, but the garage was too cool for lacquer most of the time, so the project went on hold until summer.  I had pretty good results by hanging the guitar and the neck outside on the back porch and spraying it there.  Another mistake I made was failing to fill the open grain mahogany on the back and sides of the guitar.  It looked very smooth after sanding, but the grain opened up quite a bit as the finish went on.  The porous surface looks nice, but it is taking a lot of scrubbing with water and a tooth brush to get all the polish and wax out of some of the pores.

Lacquer is starting to look good.
This was my first lacquer project.  I wet-sanded the guitar starting with 400 grit and working up to 2000.  I used a little too much water during the final sanding and some seeped in through the bridge mounting holes and raised the surface with some slight swelling.  I noticed it right away and stopped, and the swelling went down after I hung the guitar back on the drying rack for a few days.
The final assembly went very fast after all the finishing work was done.  The intonation did not require much adjustment at all, and so far the truss rod has not needed any attention.  The guitar has been tuned up for several days now as I fiddle with the setup.  I plan to put new strings on it as soon as I have the setup close to where I think it will stay.

Starting to wet sand.  Note the visible pores in the wood.
The nut is close to perfect.  I may take it to a luthier to have the slots filed down just a tiny bit.  (I would do it myself but the files cost $90.) It is close enough to specs to be played as is. 
My only complaint so far is the bridge.  The hardware did not exactly match the spacing of the posts on the guitar body and was difficult to install.  The tight fit makes adjustment a little challenging, but still possible.  It does not look like a high-end bridge.  I also noticed that the string spacing does not match the pole spacing on the pickups, but they still seem to work well.
After wet sanding and polish it glows.

The instructions had a couple of places where they didn’t match the kit.  I knew it was going to take a while to build, so I did an immediate parts check when it arrived.  The parts list indicated a set of screws that I didn’t have, so I sent an email to Grizzly and they sent them to me right away.  Well, it turns out that the instructions were wrong, and those screws are not used anywhere in the kit.

The other disagreement I had with the instructions was the ground wire to the bridge.  The instructions tell how to install it, but the hole for the wire is absent, and there is no wire included for this.  I remember the ground wire being important on other guitars I have had, so I drilled a hole and added the wire from the tailstock post to the ground on the electronics.  That was a simple addition and it works.
The finished guitar in its happy home!

The pickups sound great.  This is my first humbucker experience, and so far I think they are real sweet sounding.  They have more drive than the single coil pickups on my Stratocaster.  This guitar also has excellent sustain.  It is really noticeable at high gain that the notes will ring for a long time.

Grizzly’s description says that this guitar can be played professionally when finished.  I would agree.  I paid $395 for the kit ($459.93 with shipping).  Finishing products probably cost me another $170, and I paid $108 for an Epiphone case. My total investment was $738.  If I could have done a little bit better job on the finish it would probably be comparable to a guitar of that price range in the music store.  However I have the added pleasure of knowing I play a hand crafted one of a kind instrument that I made myself!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Runner's Training Log: 2014 - 2015 Two Year Training Journal

Find it for sale on for only $9.95. It is also available in the UK and Europe.
This is the ideal journal for creating multi-week training plans and recording training progress. The journal layout matches the format used by today’s best training plans, such as those promoted by Hal Higdon or Runner’s World. Every day of the calendar has space to write the plan for that day, and additional space to record actual training (for those days when things change). This allows you to flex your training days while accurately recording your progress. The convenient layout makes note taking quick and easy.
The calendar-style layout of this journal puts your whole week in easy view. The training week runs Monday through Sunday, and with the large 8” x 10” format you always have 8 weeks in view.
The Runner’s Training Log contains extra features that will be useful to those who include racing as part of their training routine. Countdown the weeks to the next race on the training calendar, and use the special pages to set goals and record progress at racing events. Create run plans for 5k, 10k, half, and full marathons. Create contact lists for all of those names and numbers that keep you running.
The Runner’s Training Log is a 26 month training calendar that begins on 11/1/2013 and runs through 12/31/2015. That’s more than two years for the price of one!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Your Comments are Welcome, Except When...

I have received several comments recently that I deleted from the blog.  The content was obviously generic enough that the same comment could be cut and pasted onto just about any website, and they all ended with an invitation to visit a website.

I would be glad to help any of my friends promote their website, but please make your comments appear as if you are responding to a subject on the page.  Any comment that appears to be an effort to boost your SEO ranking, and not part of our conversation, will be deleted.

If  you are interested in boosting your SEO standing with reference links, here are a few tips from my own experience promoting the StirlingBuilder website:
  1. Place a link to your website in the first paragraph of your YouTube video descriptions.  There are many hundreds of websites that copy the content of YouTube, and their piracy can work to your advantage if they are also broadcasting the link to your web page.  This simple trick can result in thousands of reference links back to your website.
  2. Place a link to your website in your email signature.  Join the most popular discussion groups related to the topic of your website.  Participate in the group discussions and use the email response option to post your discussions to the group.  This has several advantages for your SEO. Every response that included your email signature creates a reference link to your website.  Those links are especially valuable because the context of the link is relevant to the topic of your website.  If the most respected sites for mechanical engineering discussions have links to your engineering site, that is more valuable as a reference than links from unrelated locations.
  3. Create a Google Alert.  Google Alerts will monitor the web every day and send you an email daily that shows new references showing up on the web for your alert term.  If people start talking about your company or your products by name, you will know almost immediately.
One of the reasons I delete the junk posts from my social media sites is because I want to maintain a focus on the topic.  Keeping things focused makes your site better for your reader, and improves your SEO score too.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

LTD Stirling Engine Success!

I am very pleased to see another one of my new designs working on the first test.  I have set some lofty goals for my next book of Stirling Engine plans.  I am exploring how to build the pancake style LTD Stirling Engine without using a machine shop.  The goal is to make an LTD Stirling Engine that will run from the heat of a warm hand, and to do so without spending a lot of money and without using expensive machine tools like a milling machine or a metal lathe.

My first book accomplished this by making some radical changes to the engine design, basically turning it on its side to reduce friction.  This proved very effective and created an engine that will run from the heat of my hand.  I believe I have now solved several of the engineering puzzles required to make a traditional looking Stirling Engine that does not have to be turned sideways in order to run from the heat of a warm hand.  Both of the engines I have tested to date have successfully run from hand heat with the addition of an ice cube to the engine top.  I am confident that under the correct conditions these engines can be made to operate on hand heat without the addition of any ice.

This is great news for those of us who have always wanted a heat-of-the-hand Stilring Engine, but wanted to build it on a budget.  The keys to this new design are the bearings.  I have found some material to make bushings that is easy to work with, very affordable, and available for ordering online.  I have also found an easy way to make clear sidewalls for round engines that uses bent acrylic which can be custom fit to any dimension needed.

Here is a video of one of the recent test runs for this latest engine:

Friday, December 27, 2013

I Am Recruiting An Artist/Illustrator

Here's the story:  I created a book that I called, "Kid's Coloring Calendar 2014" using free clip art and templates that I found in Microsoft Office.  When the book started to sell I decided to double check the copyright status on the artwork.  It is really nice art and it was hard to believe it was free.

After some research I found that the art came from The Education World website offered the same calendar template on their website, but it includes a copyright statement on each page.  That copyright is removed on the version that is offered through Microsoft Office.  When I contacted Education World they indicated that yes, the artwork can be copied and used in education settings, but it cannot be sold for a profit.  They were unaware of the templates being offered in Microsoft Word.  Microsoft indicates they started offering the templates in Office '97, and the Education World representative was not with the company back then.

I am confident that the calender I made was put together using artwork offered in the public domain with no copyright restrictions.  But I have chosen to respect the copyright of Education World.  I personally detest copyright infringement.  I immediately ceased all sales on my printed version of the Kid's Coloring Calendar and I now offer it as a free download.

Artist Recruitment

I am now recruiting an artist to help me create a new Kid's Coloring Calendar.  I am looking for someone who can make traditional coloring pages that are themed to match the seasons. Compensation will have to be negotiated.  I am willing to offer a commission on sales or a flat rate.  However, I have a small budget and this is not expected to be a large revenue stream.  The greatest reward may be seeing your art in print and hoping that it may become popular.

I operate a small family owned publishing company that currently has 11 titles in print, with more on the way. We are exploring the possibilities for several theme based and purpose driven coloring books.  This book may be the first in a series of children's books that we publish.  The artist selected to work on this project may be asked to collaborate on future for-profit projects.

If you would like to find out more about this recruitment, leave a message here or email me at  I suggest you download a copy of the current project to see what the art looks like that I am replacing.