Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I am willing to tolerate a little bit of bad English

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I can be very intolerant of bad English (and intolerant of other things, as well).

However, my feet are not so firmly planted back in the 20th century, or the 13th century, that I can't change my mind.

I recognize that, like minds, languages do change. Words get new meanings (at one time girls could be boys), additional meanings (cats and chicks can be people, hook up means more than to connect wires, a hood can be a head covering, a hoodlum, or a place), and even contradictory meanings (a gay person may be unhappy, an iPhone is both cool and hot, the latest Nikes can be so good that they're bad).

I am therefore ready to publicly cave-in and announce that I will henceforth not complain about two pieces of illogical English.

#1: The misplaced "only." If you say you "only eat vegetables" or "only buy European cars," you are implying that you do not sleep, read, watch TV, breathe, have conversations, go to movies, make love, or anything else. The correct sentence structure would be "eat vegetables only" or "buy European cars only."

However, people do manage to understand what you mean when the "only" is up-front, and that placement provides a bit of dramatic emphasis that proper placement does not. My first self-published book (shown above, and replaced by Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) has the "only" where it does not belong. The title is a quote from a nutso teacher I had in high school -- an English teacher. 

She and I are not the only ones who misplace the "only." The song title "I only have eyes for you" is definitely ungrammatical, as is the book title above.

#2: The modified "unique." As I have pointed out in this blog and in books, "Unique" means "one of a kind." all unique things are equally unique. Nothing can be the "most unique." Nothing can be "more unique" than another. A unique snowflake is just as unique as a unique person or pencil.

However, President Obama, people who want his job, and countless millions of others use the phrase and understand it to mean "a bit more unusual than 'most unusual.'" Google shows more than 14 million links for the phrase, so I surrender to the will of the masses. For now, I refuse to use the phrase, but I probably won't criticize others who do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Damn. I'll probably die before I finish reading my books

I'm typing this in a room filled with books, in a house filled with books. A quick estimate indicates that I have about 400 linear feet of books (100 feet more than the length of a football field, with the books standing up, not lying in the grass).

With an average thickness of one inch, and 12 books per foot, those 400 feet mean that I have a frightening total of about 4,800 books. That can't compare with the Library of Congress's collection of several million books, but it's pretty good for an amateur bibliophile.

And that 4,800 doesn't include hundreds of other books on my iPad, Kindle Fire, desktops, laptops and smart phone, and on the UPS truck coming from Amazon. Or what I might pick up at Barnes & Noble this afternoon. Or the books in my car or loaned to other people.

When I was in college, I was still building bookshelves a week before I was due to move out of my apartment. Even now, with those 400 feet of shelving, I still have books in cartons and on tables and desks. And on the pool table and on and in my night table. There are some in drawers, too.

I'm what is called an avid reader. I'm also a collector. That can be fun -- or a dangerous combination.

I read everything. I read labels, cereal boxes, signs and even magazines that I should have no interest in (including one for tow truck operators, one for poultry farmers, one for appliance dealers and another one about air compressors).

When I was a young teenager I subscribed to about two dozen magazines -- everything there was about science, cars, cameras and electronics. They took up a lot of space. One summer I decided that instead of going to the beach club every day, I would devote three days each week to going through my collection. I'd cut out the interesting articles and file them for future reference.

This was actually a problem, not a solution.

At the age of 14 I could not afford to buy a photocopier and therefore could not resolve the dilemma caused by pages with important articles on both sides -- but about different subjects that should go into separate folders.

But even worse was the depressing realization that the magazines were coming in faster than I could read, cut and file them. I stopped being a librarian and swam more.

And that brings me back to 2014.

I assume that I've read about half of my books. To make it simple, I'll assume I have about 2,500 pbooks and ebooks to go. According to my theory, I have about 21 years left. I acquire about 80 books a year. I read about 100 books a year. I'll assume that as I age my acquisition rate may diminish, and my reading speed may also diminish, However I'll probably have more time to read.

Although my College Board scores in "verbal" were much better than in math, my quick computation makes me think I'll die with about 2,400 unread books.


What should I do?

Should I read faster, live longer, stop buying or get rid of a lot of books.

Sadly, none of the options seem likely.

(Top photo is from Fotolia.com)

Monday, August 18, 2014

A book series should look like a series

"Trade dress" refers to characteristics of the appearance of a product or its packaging or advertising that indicate the source of the product to potential buyers. Trade dress may include shapes, typography and even colors. 

Most former British colonies use red, white and blue in their flags.Target likes red. But so do Coke, Staples and CVS. UPS like brown, as does Hershey -- but Nestle uses non-chocolatey blue. 

When people see a big, bright yellow paperback with a diagonal black band and a title in "reverse," --  they think DUMMIES. Even if a reader doesn't regard herself as dumb, if she was successfully educated by one "dummies" book, there's a good chance she'll consider another. Even when subjects and audience may be diverse, it can be good to make the same type of books look similar. 

[below] Books in the "Chicken Soup for the" series use the same ornate letter "C" that Campbell's uses on soup cans.​

[below] Scott Prussing hopes that folks who were turned on by one of his vampire sex books will try another. The cover design and titles clearly indicate that the books are closely related.

[above/below] I doubt that any other book series can duplicate the success of "dummies" with another color. However, I am doing my best with purple on my books about publishing. I removed the "beach" logo from the front cover of newer books but retained the "Create Better Books . . ." tag line.

[below] As my publishing plans evolved and it became apparent that I would be producing a series of ebooks, I decided to give them a consistent look, with a comic-book theme and purple band at the bottom. I redesigned the previous books to go with the newer ones. I kept the tag line, but took the logo off the front cover and use it on the title page.

[above/below] My recent books that are not about publishing don't relate to each other or to anything else. Maybe they should. With ebooks, I don't have to think about hundreds or thousands of books sitting in a warehouse that won't relate to my other books.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Check, please

No matter how many times you read, re-read and re-re-read, you're bound to find mistakes in anything you've written. It's best to find them before the book is published.

Back in 2009, just minutes before I had planned to send a book to the printer, I decided to check my table of contents. I had a feeling that as I changed the length of some chapters, a page number might have changed.

I actually found three wrong page numbers, and two chapters were missing from the table.

Apparently, I didn't learn the lesson well enough.

Another time I was trying to find a chapter in one of my books that has many chapters. I couldn't find it by flipping through the pages, and I couldn't find it by studiously scanning the table of contents.

When I looked even more carefully, I realized that the last entry at the bottom of one page of the TOC was Chapter 51, but the first entry on the top of the next page was Chapter 53.

There was no listing for Chapter 52.

I feel like a blind idiot.

(IMPORTANT WARNING: Any time you fix an error in a book, you may create more errors.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"We're not in Indiana anymore." Publishing has a deceptive 'Wizard of Oz'

When I was a little kid, I went to see The Wizard of Oz. The Wizard scared the shit out of me, I cried, and left early.

It wasn't until years later that I learned that the Wizard was merely an illusion. When Dorothy's dog Toto opened a curtain, it became obvious that the Wizard was an ordinary man with an amplified voice and animation machinery.

Today I am emulating Toto, opening the curtains to reveal the operator of two deceptive Wizard-ish websites.
You may have received emails from -- or clicked on links to -- ChooseYourPublisher.com and FindYourPublisher.com.
The websites' wizards want you to think that the sites are operated by some impartial and knowledgeable entity that will help you select the proper company to publish your book, based on such criteria as genre and reason for publishing.
Unless you look closely (i.e., 'behind the curtain') you might not notice that the sites are not competitors. In fact, they are both operated by pay-to-publish behemoth Author Solutions, Inc. ("ASI") and serve to steer wannabe authors to ASI brands such as Xlibnris and Palibrio.
Even if the best choice for you is CreateSpace or Infinity, neither "Choose" nor "Find" will tell you that.

There is actually not much difference among the Author Solutions brands (other than Palibrio publishing in Spanish). Author Solutions also operates pay-to-publish businesses for other companies including religous publisher Thomas Nelson.

At Self-Publishing Book Expo, marketing director Joe Bayern told me that ASI's best editors work on Xlibris titles. The 'best' is often not good enough. Xlibris publishes some dreadful books.

Author Solutions is guilty of other illusions.
  • It invented the phony "Jared Silverstone" (with a purchased stock photo) to hype the company in social media. Jason was deactivated after being exposed as an illusion. Emily Suess played the part of Toto.
  • It co-opted the term "indie publishing" to replace what used to be called vanity publishing and what its competitors call self-publishing. For many years "indie" described small publishing companies who were not part of the "Big Six" (now five). Author Solutions was recently purchased by the parent of Penguin -- one of the Five -- for $116 million. That doesn't seem very indie to me.
  • The websites of the Author Solutions brands promise "free" or "complimentary" books to authors. The books are free only if you ignore the payment of as much as $15,249 to get published. (Authors have to pay a fee for shipping and handling of the free books, by the way.)
  • After being offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax benefits by its home state of Indiana, the company has fired American employees and is building up its staff in the Philippines.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The least meaningful word in the English language

A few days ago I saw a TV commercial for a "professional" refrigerator. The appliance was good-looking and expensive, but probably not intended for people who make their living storing lamb chops and manufacturing ice cubes.

Then I saw an ad for a GMC "Professional Grade" SUV. Is it intended for mommies who are paid to schlep their children to school, ballet lessons and soccer practice?

This rampant professionalism reminded me of an unpleasant experience I had at the end of the 20th century.

In the 1990s I lived in a townhouse condominium in Westchester County, New York. I was one of the original residents, and had moved there in 1978.
When the place was built, the builder, like other builders, needed to establish rules and regulations. He apparently went to an office supply store and paid a few bucks for an all-purpose document written by a lawyer who never lived in our condomin­ium, never knew the people who would live there, and certainly had no idea how society would evolve over the following decades.
One important way that society did evolve was the emergence and popularity of the “home office.”
Once home offices were limited to doctors, but by the mid-1990s, inexpensive computers and the Internet enabled a wide range of occupations to be carried out in underwear or pajamas, at any hour of the day or night.
Our condominium’s bylaws specifically outlawed carrying out any occupation other than “professional” activities on condominium property.
The attorney who wrote the rule in 1970 knew what he had in mind, just as the folks who wrote and approved that “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” in 1792 knew what they had in mind.
But in both cases, there has been lots of disagreement and interpretation over the years, selective prosecution, perhaps some persecution, and ample income opportunities for attorneys.
In my condominium, lots of occupational activities were carried out in apparent violation of the rules. School teachers corrected exams and read term papers. Salespeople wrote proposals. Bartenders mixed drinks. The ice cream man sold pops. Landscapers planted, mowed and trimmed. Lifeguards guarded lives. Carpenters remodeled kitchens. Doctors prescribed medication. Plumbers replaced water heaters. Cops and insurance agents investigated burglaries. Our managing agent managed. Our maintenance men maintained.
Lots of people — residents, visitors and even employees of the condominium — worked there every day in flagrant violation of the holy writ, and life went on just fine.
But one day, and I don’t know why, the Board of Managers decided to sue me for violating the rules against operating a “non-professional” business on the premises.
My main business at the time was installing business phone systems. I installed them at the premises of my customers. Many of them were in Manhattan, or in New Jersey, or Long Island, or Connecticut — but certainly not in my own living room.
I made most of my money outside the house, but I did have a few business visitors each month. Some were salespeople showing me new products, and some were prospective customers, and a couple were customers picking up phones.
I certainly had no store. There was no showroom, no sign in the window, no bright lights, no factory with loud noises or noxious odors that would have violated the bylaws or zoning regulations. I had no employees. My business certainly drew less traffic than a perfectly legal doctor or a 17-year-old girl.
The traditional examples of permitted “professional” occupations, as envisioned by the ancient unknown lawyer who wrote our rules, were doctors, dentists, architects, and — of course — other lawyers. I had to prove to the judge that this group was much too narrow, and an unrealistic interpretation for the late 20th century.
I told the judge that many occupations were widely recognized as professions, and deserved to be included, starting  most obviously and in chronological order, with “the world’s oldest profession”— prostitution. Wasn’t a hooker as worthy as a dentist?
I then told the court about professional wrestlers, professional golfers, professional tennis players, professional musicians, professional divers, professional gamblers and pro­fessional assassins.
I showed the judge a copy of Professional Boatbuilder magazine and Professional Hair Salon magazine, and told him about magazines called Professional Woman and Quilting Professional and Christian Professional.
I also told him about the Professional Drivers Association and the Association of Professional Body Piercers and I showed packages labeled “pro­fessional screwdriver,” “professional duct tape,” and “professional toilet plunger.”

The judge ruled that the term “professional” was now synonymous with “business,” and merely meant the opposite of an amateur or non-business activity; and unless the condo­min­­ium rules were rewritten to include or exclude specific occupations, neither the oldest profession, nor mine, were against the rules.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hire a silent salesman. Authors need multiple business cards

People in business, including authors, are advised to develop an "elevator pitch" -- a brief description of a project that can be delivered in about 30 seconds. The pitches might be stimulating enough to motivate a stranger or someone just met to continue a conversation  after leaving the elevator and perhaps buy a product or even invest in a company.

Elevator pitches are not just for elevators. They can be delivered at the post office, in a supermarket or a stadium, on a line in a restaurant or dry cleaner's, on an airplane or anywhere people come in close contact. 

Books are often sold one-at-a-time, and each happy purchaser can tell someone else, and each of those can tell others, and so on. Authors, whether self-published or traditionally published -- can't afford to be meek. You must get comfortable talking to strangers. If you're afraid to toot your own horn, you'll have to hire someone to toot for you.

A business card is an important accessory to pitching or tooting. It's a powerful and inexpensive 'souvenir' of a meeting that can lead to business.

  • You can have cards that promote specific books, and cards that identify yourself as an author, as a publisher, an editor or provider of other services.
  • Always have several cards of each type with you.
  • If you are going to a trade show, convention, networking session or other business event, take lots of cards.
  • Separate them so you can quickly grab the right one.

Any time you sign or send a book, stick in three to six business cards that show the book cover and maybe "at Amazon and B&N" or your website address if you prefer to sell directly. Make it easy for happy customers to recommend the book to others. While some of the cards may be used as bookmarks, crumb sweepers or be thrown away, I assume that some will be passed on to potential purchasers.

I get my cards from VistaPrint, a major maker of business cards and other printed products for businesses which I've been buying from for many years. For the cards shown here, I uploaded a TIF image copied from the PDF of my covers. The paperback books measure 6 x 9 inches, and fit fine on the business card with a little white space above and below the cover image for promotional copy.

The price was just $25 for 1500 cards -- less than two cents each with rush shipping. If you spend a little more, you can have VistaPrint use the space on the back to print some blurbs from readers or reviewers who like the book.

My wife and I carry the cards around to give to possible "customers." Marilyn has turned out to be an excellent salesperson. She motivated our dentist to order a copy from Amazon and I signed it for him when I had my teeth cleaned. My podiatrist, however, asked for a freebie. I gave it to him and he displays it in his office. So does my urologist. Nice.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Stupidity survives: the "poor man's copyright" is useless and wasteful

The practice of mailing a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.”

Ignorant authors, composers and artists assume that the postal service’s cancellation date on the stamped envelope proves that the document inside was created prior to the cancellation date, and that creators can use that date in a suit for copyright violation.

Its cost is merely the price of a stamp (currently 49 cents in the USA) and an envelope (currently as little as 40 for a buck at Dollar Tree).

While 52 cents is much less than the $35 cost of a real copyright from the U.S. Library of Congress, the 52 cents is a complete waste of money, time and emotion. It accomplishes nothing!
  • The scheme has a fundamental flaw because anyone can mail an empty, unsealed envelope, receive it, store it and years later insert a document and seal the stamped-and-canceled envelope. Judges and defense attorneys know this. 
Strangely, the technique is still recommended even though there is no provision in the American copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and the “poor man’s copyright” is not a substitute for proper registration with the Library of Congress.

The poor man's myth survives and is perpetuated by ignorant publishing 'experts.'
  • Helen Gallagher’s fault-filled book, Release Your Writing, mentions the poor man’s copyright as a supplement to a real copyright to prove when a document was created. It’s a waste of postage.
  • The following dangerous and naive misinformation was posted on the Facebook page of Peppertree Press, and on the blog of Peppertree boss Julie Ann Howell: "My favorite way to copyright might sound old fashioned; however... it works. Print out your manuscript and then mail it to yourself and do not open it. Tuck it away in a drawer. It will stand up in a court of law." BULLSHIT! 
  • An inaccurate website called US Intellectual Property Law says a poor man's copyright "can be helpful in some instances." BULLSHIT!
  • (above) Nathan, a foolish "writer and film director" provides visual instructions for achieving non-protection on the YouTube ExpertVillage channel. He is not an expert on copyrights.
  • On the Kidlit.com blog, former literary agent Mary Kole wrote: "print your document out and mail it to yourself. Keep the sealed, postmarked envelope around in the unlikely case that a dispute arises."

The poor man's copyright process is not the only copyright myth.

Some people believe that a creative work must be registered with the government to be protected by copyright. That’s not true. Your precious work is legally protected from copycats from the moment of creation without your having to fill out any forms or having to pay even one penny to the Feds. Your work is copyrighted even if you don’t put the © copyright symbol on it.

However, there are still advantages to going through a formal copyright registration, particularly if you end up suing for copyright infringement.

Copyright registration is voluntary. Many people choose to register their works because they want to have the facts of their copyright as a public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. If registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. Registration within 90 days gives you the most protection.

The fee for filing a copyright application online, using the new electronic Copyright Office (eCO), is just $35. The fee is $65 if you register with a paper application.
  • Self-publishing companies often charge much more to get a copyright. CrossBooks charges $204. Xlibris charges $249 or more. Schiel & Denver (apparently defunct) charged $250.
  • Online legal services supplier LegalZoom charges $149.
  • It takes less than 15 minutes to register a copyright online with the Library of Congress. 
By custom (not by law), if you publish a book during the last three or four months of the year, you can use a copyright date of the next year. This makes the book seem to be a year fresher as it ages. However, DON’T register it until the year shown in the book.

Copyright Office websitewww.copyright.gov 
Electronic Copyright Office: www.copyright.gov/eco/notice.html 
Physical Address:
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
Phone: 202-707-3000

mailbox photo from dbking. Thanks.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Readers often want authors to provide autographs or inscriptions. Do it.

I personally have never been an autograph collector, but I do have a few autographed books on my shelves which I got by accident. Lots of people like autographs, apparently to prove or imply that they were once in the same place as a famous person. If readers put you in the same category as Mickey Mantle, Marilyn Monroe or John Lennon, play along with it — no matter how much your wrist hurts.

If you are selling your books from your own website, competing with other booksellers that underprice you, you may be able to justify your price by including your signature and maybe an inscription.

Autographs (just your name) and inscriptions (a comment plus your name) can go on the flyleaf (a thicker-than-normal blank right page just inside the front cover in a hardcover book) or on the half title ("bastard title") or title page; so always leave adequate “white space” up front.

I've never done a formal signing, but I do sell (and sometimes give) books with inscriptions. I try to write something that relates to the book and/or the recipient. For my books on telecommunications, I often write "I hope you never get a wrong number." When a humorous book goes to a doctor, I write "laughter is the best medicine." When my memoir goes to people I know nothing about, I often write "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." Long inscriptions are probably wrong if you have 200 people lined up in a bookstore, but are fine if you are sending out one or two copies with no time pressure.

Here's some good advice about book signings from publishing expert Dick Margulis:
  1. Find a black-ink pen that you really like to write with. It should not be such a fine point that you risk snagging on the surface of the paper and ripping it. It should not be an ink that bleeds through the page. It should allow for a smooth, fluid, comfortable motion with little pressure. Buy a box of them. (Note from Michael: I like Sarasa 0.7 and Pilot Precise V7 pens.)
  2. You do not need to use your real, legal signature. Devise a brief, casual signature (just your first name is usually fine, and legibility is not necessary) that you can turn out consistently and quickly while looking at the person for whom you are signing (rather than at the page). Bigger is better than smaller. Practice until it's comfortable.
  3. Keep your wrist straight (to prevent injury). Move your arm from your shoulder, not from your elbow (larger muscles in your upper arm than in your forearm).
  4. Warm up beforehand. Stand up. Do whatever stretches and rotations you would normally do to relax your neck and shoulders. Let your arms hang loosely for your shoulders and wiggle them, paying particular attention to keeping your hands loose.
  5. Take breaks. Stand up and shake out your arms again.
  6. After the session, go to your hotel room and ice your elbow and shoulder for twenty minutes before you agree to meet anyone for dinner.
  7. If only five people show up, ignore everything above, because it's overkill in that situation.

(Back to Michael:) any time you sign or send a book, stick in three to six business cards that show the book cover and maybe "at Amazon and B&N" or your website address if you prefer to sell directly. Make it easy for happy customers to recommend the book to others. While some of the cards may be used as bookmarks, crumb sweepers or be thrown away, I assume that some will be passed on to potential purchasers.

I get my cards from VistaPrint, a major maker of business cards and other printed products for businesses which I've been buying from for many years. For the cards shown here, I uploaded a TIF image copied from the PDF of my covers. The paperback books measure 6 x 9 inches, and fit fine on the business card with a little white space above and below the cover image for promotional copy.

The price was just $25 for 1500 cards -- less than two cents each with rush shipping. If you spend a little more, you can have VistaPrint use the space on the back to print some blurbs from readers or reviewers who like the book.

My wife and I carry the cards around to give to possible "customers." Marilyn has turned out to be an excellent salesperson. She motivated our dentist to order a copy from Amazon and I signed it for him when I had my teeth cleaned. My podiatrist, however, asked for a freebie. I gave it to him and he displays it in his office. So does my urologist. Nice.

(Gingrich photo from WashingtonPost.com. Thanks.)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

How to get into Wikipedia

"Internet fame" can be measured in several ways. Kids compete to be the first to accumulate 1,000 friends on Facebook. Adults may count their Google links. (My best friend from childhood has about 13,000. I have nearly 600,000. One of our mutual friends has just over 1,300.)

But none of these statistics is as impressive as having a biography on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is the Internet’s mammoth and free encyclopedia, a valuable reference source — and an addictive time-waster — for millions of people worldwide. Almost anyone can gain Google and Bing search links, but most people are not deemed worthy of an article on Wikipedia. Two of my high school classmates have made it, but so far, not me.

Wikipedia says: “The topic of an article should be notable, or ‘worthy of notice;’ that is, ‘significant, interesting, or unusual enough to deserve attention or to be recorded.’ Notable in the sense of being ‘famous,’ or ‘popular’ — although not irrelevant — is secondary. This notability guideline for biographies reflects consensus reached through discussions and reinforced by established practice, and informs decisions on whether an article on a person should be written, merged, deleted or further developed.”

While you can publish an article about yourself, or have someone write about you, you must be noteworthy and the article must be neutral and verifiable. An inappropriate article will usually be deleted quickly. If you want to be enshrined in Wikipedia, do something important that others will notice, like D. H. Lawrence, above.

Of course, being on Wikipedia doesn't mean you're wonderful. Atilla the Hun, Torquemada, Stalin and Hitler made the cut. Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle were approved, too. So was the cockroach.