Monday, April 9, 2018

Authors: if you don't care about your books, why should readers?

This is probably the least-interesting cover design of all time. Maybe the poetry in the ebook is more stimulating than the cover. Will anyone find out?

Sadly, I found out. The typing, spelling and grammar inside the book are probably the worst I’ve ever seen. YIPES!

The book has a four-star review on Lulu -- posted by the poet himself!

Gerard wants us to know that this is his finest work. That's not encouraging. Neither is the sloppy typing in the review itself.

Here's what the pathetic egomaniac put on GoodReads: "wonderful collection of poetry by Irish author ,this is a flowing melodic poetry of raw honesty, this ebook will delight tantalise and frustrate you for sure"

This is the garbage he wrote about another book: "
The word's paint pictures , like an artist lovingly applies paint to a canvas , the heart and mind as one, the story between the lines , as revealing, as the tears of a broken hearted lover"

If Gerard didn't care enough to produce a quality book and proper promotion, why should a reader care enough to invest time and money?

If you produce crap, maybe the only people you'll attract are snarkers like me.

UPDATE: since the first time I wrote about Gerard, he produced a new cover. It was better--but incredibly dull. The pages inside the book have not been improved.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Authors need better ears, eyes, brains and editors

Readers of this blog have likely noticed (or been pissed off by) my attention to errors made by other writers.

  • Inconsistent spelling and improper punctuation should be fixed by editors.
  • Wrong information should be corrected by fact checkers.
  • Unfortunately, the rush to publish, limited budget and egomania ("I doan need no steenkin editor!") of many self-published authors lead to bad books.
  • There are defective articles in magazines and newspapers. Many websites and blogs are very far from perfect, too. And so are some broadcasts.

Time magazine has (or had) the most stringent fact-checking process in periodical publishing. Apparently, their checkers were expected to put a dot over each word in a manuscript to indicate that the word was checked, verified or changed.

Rival Newsweek was notorious for printing "Newsweek regrets the error" at the end of the letters section.

Esquire once paid me to write an article, and months later one of the mag's fact-checkers called ME to verify something in the article. If I was not trusted to write the piece, why was I trusted to verify it?

The New York Times publishes large sections of corrections.

Some of my favorite errors:
  • The February 2009 issue of Automobile magazine told readers that Thomas Edison said, "Mr. Watson, come here." Actually, Edison was the guy with the light bulb, moving pictures, phonograph and concrete houses. Alex G. Bell was the one who spoke to Watson on the first telephone.
  • In the 1980s, a reporter for WCBS TV news used the Spanish phrase "mano a mano" to mean "man-to-man." It really means "hand-to-hand." This is a common error.
  • Every November, without fail, at least one talking head on TV will refer to the "Macy's Day Parade." The name of the holiday is Thanksgivings Day, and the event in Manhattan is the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," you idiots!
  • Another common New York broadcast blooper, at least for beginning broadcasters, is "Port of Authority." The real name of the organization is the "Port Authority of New York and New Jersey."
  • Brent Sampson is the boss of Outskirts Press and author of a promotional book titled Self Publishing Simplified. Brent wrote, "Peter Mark first published the Thesaurus in 1852," strangely ignoring the much more famous Peter Roget who published his Thesaurus in the same year. Actually Mark was the middle name of Peter Mark Roget, so Brent was two thirds right.
  • Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls by Keith & Kent Zimmerman has silly geography errors. It's disturbing that three Teutuls plus two Zimmermans plus fact checkers and editors at Warner Books could let obvious errors get printed. On page 11, Paul Senior talks about his parents charging people to park in their driveway on Cooper Street in Yonkers, to watch horse races in Yonkers Raceway or baseball games in Yankee stadium, which were within "walking distance." While the track is just a few blocks away, the stadium is about 8.5 miles south. The 17 mile round trip is not "walking distance" for most people. Twice on page 15, Senior mentions his house in "Muncie," New York. Muncie is in Indiana. The Teutuls lived in MONSEY (which is pronounced like Muncie).
  • In Against the Odds. Inter-Tel: the First 30 Years, author Jeffrey L. Rodengen claims that in the early 1970s, "there were no domestic phone system manufacturers except AT&T. He inexplicably ignores GTE, Stromberg-Carlson, ITT, Northern Telecom and Rolm. Jeff also misspells company names, and seems to confuse intercom systems with phone systems.
  • In Desperate Networks by Bill Carter, an otherwise excellent book, there is this strange sentence on page 366: "What do expect for this?" What the heck does that mean? I'm only an amateur, but I found this and other flubs in the book. Where are the pros who get paid to find and fix them?
  • In So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star by Jacob Slichter, another book I liked very much, there's also some silly stuff. On page 237 it says, ". . . and did whatever the man in the headsets shouted at them to do." I've been using and selling headsets for years. I've even designed a few. But in all my experience, I've never seen a man who wore more than one headset at a time. Most men have two ears, and one headset will take care of both them just fine.
  • Steve Vogel's The Pentagon, a History is an extremely good book and I recommend it highly. Alas, it, too, has imperfections. On page 302 Steve describes a 1,000-foot-long vehicular tunnel illuminated by rows of neon lights. Neon lights are used for signs. I'd bet $20 that the tunnel was really illuminated by fluorescent lights. On page 276 Steve says the original Pentagon phone system had "68,600 miles of trunk lines." I'd bet $100 that's not true.
  • Joshua Levine's The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys is a very interesting retail history that details the destruction of a once-powerful institution by the dysfunctional family members who followed its founder. (At least it's very interesting to me, and I read a lot of retail histories.) On page 147 we are told that "inventory shortage is the term applied to discrepancies between the inventory recorded as sold and the actual depletion of stock on hand." The proper term is "shrinkage," not "shortage." Retailers know this, and so should writers and editors doing a book about retailing. On page 186, Joshua mentions "people called factors," who advance payments to stores based on accounts receivable. It's possible that hundreds of years ago factors were individual people, but during the Barneys era, factors have been companies. On page 244, Joshua tells us that Fred Pressman "didn't have the kichas for it . . . a Yiddish expression for intestinal fortitude." The proper term is kishkes. This error is unforgivable for a writer with a name like "Joshua Levine." The word originally meant "intestines," and is now slang for "guts."
  • In Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way!,  Helen Gallagher says, "Expert editing is a requirement." Sadly, Helen calls Stephen King, "Steven" and falsely claims that owns POD-printer Lightning Source. 
  • In a Wall Street Journal article published on April 2, 2008, Amy Schatz wrote, "The Carterfone rule required traditional wireline phone companies such as AT&T to allow consumers to use any phone they wanted in their homes, instead of renting or buying a phone from their local carrier." The Carterfone decision was in 1968, but at that time the phone companies were renting, not selling phones to their customers. Sales did not come until much later, probably in the 1980s, as a defensive reaction by telephone utilities to retailers who were selling phones that could now be legally plugged in. Some smaller phone companies may have sold some equipment earlier, but not AT&T's Bell System, and the Carterfone decision did not permit massive private phone ownership. That was enabled by a Supreme Court decision in 1977. And even then, people could not "use any phone they wanted." Phones had to meet FCC standards or be connected behind a protective coupling device.
  • Back on December 12, 1988, the New York Times published an article by Calvin Sims about the aftermath of the 1984 Bell System breakup. Sims wrote, "consumers have to decide whether to buy their telephones or rent them in a market where dozens of telephone manufacturers offer equipment of varying quality." While that statement was true, it had absolutely nothing to do with the demise of the Bell System. As I stated above, freedom of choice goes back to 1977. Calvin also wrote, "Consumers must choose among the nation's three long-distance carriers -- American Telephone and Telegraph, MCI Communications, and U S Sprint." While those three companies had captured the majority of the long distance calling business, there were dozens of other regional, national, and international competitors, including ITT, Metromedia, RCI, TDX and Allnet. And if consumers did not want to make a choice, a long distance carrier could be assigned arbitrarily by the local phone company. Also, long distance competition existed as far back as 1970, long before the Bell breakup.
  • Years ago, the New York Daily News reported on a teenage fashion trend: "wearing pumice." In reality, high school kids were not wearing lumps of volcanic rock that are normally used as an abrasive to remove calluses from feet. They were wearing Pumas, a brand of sneakers.
  • The Essential Guide to Telecommunications by Annabel Z. Dodd does a pretty good job covering the subject, but has some silly errors. On page 40 she says, "Rotary telephones, called 500 sets, were introduced in 1896." Actually the 500 model designation was not used until after World War II. Before that were the 300, 200 and others.
  • In a review of "Grease" in one of New York City's tabloids, the writer explained that the title refers to the lubricants used in teenage boys' hotrods. Actually, it referred to the grease in their hair. (When I was in high school, those kids were called "greasers" -- or "hoods" or "JDs" (juvenile delinquents).
  • Sadly, I can't give you a citation, but I read an interview where someone was quoted as saying "chalk full" of something instead of "chock full." I've also read "chuck full."
  • Google shows more than 600,000 links for "anchors away." The correct term is "anchors aweigh."
  • On an early job working for a magazine, I wrote something about trading-in an aging model A Ford for a new model T, and submitted my manuscript to my boss, the editor. The editor told the publisher that I made a serious error because the Model A came out after the Model T. He was wrong. What I knew, and what the editor didn’t know, was that there were two Model A Ford cars. One was first built in 1903, before the Model T, which was produced from 1908 through 1927. Another Model A was first built in 1927, after the Model T was discontinued.
Despite this long list and my know-it-all attitude, I readily admit to being human, and therefore both mortal and fallible. I therefore confess to two errors related to publishing.
  1. In 1976 I accused a co-author of bullshitting about the "baobab" tree. I thought he made it up, but the tree is real.
  2. In my first book about self-publishing, I recommended using the prime and double prime to indicate feet and inches, and minutes and seconds. I illustrated that section with vertical ditto marks. I was wrong, and my later books show correctly slanted primes.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Errors can hide anywhere in a book. Look very carefully!

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 the mistakes before the book is published.

A few years ago, while going through the latest proof of my new Internet Hell, I found a few silly errors—and one really mysterious error!

In the headers (A.K.A. "running heads") on some, but not all, of the pages, there is an unintentional space in the word "Internet." The space did not appear in previous printings of the book and is not in my MS Word file. [below]

The error, however, is in the FDF file. 

I have no idea why the PDF shows a space that is not in the original Word document. For my early books, I used Adobe software to create PDFs. For the last two dozen or more book I used the PDF creator included in MS Word. I never had a problem before.

I tediously re-created the headers and re-uploaded the files. 
This time I carefully examined the PDF file and the problem evaporated. Poof.
  • I failed to obey one of my major rules about publishing: Carefully examine your book in multiple formats. 
  • Some errors will appear on printed pages that are not obvious on a PC screen. Some errors will appear in a PDF that will not be obvious in a word processing doc. It's also important to magnify the page images on your screen. Maybe a period really should be a comma, and vice versa.

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 felt like a blind idiot.

A few years ago I uploaded the first version of my new Typography for Independent Publishers for sale on Amazon. Then I realized that it had the wrong version of the cover, with a missing word and an ugly empty space--a dreadful error for a book about typography.

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Authors: who cares who published your book? Probably nobody

A few years ago I was at a community social event to meet some people I knew only through Facebook. I had taken a few copies of my newest book to give to them. We were seated in a huge room with hundreds of people and we talked to strangers who were sitting near us. 

When I took the books out and signed them for the FB friends, the strangers immediately asked if they could see them. They flipped through the books and smiled (a good sign). 

One said, "I never met an author before." Another asked where she could buy the book. A third asked how long it takes to write a book. Someone asked if I find it hard to write a book. Another asked how I decide what to write about. 

One question that nobody asked is "what company published the book?" 

From what I've observed, a publisher's name on a book is very different from a brand name on a bottle of wine or a pair of shoes. It's more like the name of a TV channel—darn close to completely irrelevant.

Readers are interested in a book's content and maybe the author's reputation—not the name of the company that delivered the content. 

  • Zoe Winters writes quirky and sometimes dark paranormal romance and fantasy. She says, “The average reader doesn’t care how a book gets to market. If the book is good, it doesn't matter if your Chihuahua published it.” 
  • Author Simon Royle wrote, “People don't buy books from publishers. They buy them from authors.” 
  • Edward Uhlan founded Exposition Press—an early and important pay-to-publish company—in 1936. He said, “Most people can’t tell the difference between a vanity book and a trade book anyway. A book is a book.” 
Concentrate on producing top-quality books. Choose a good name for your tiny publishing company. Don't for a minute fret that readers will reject you because the logo on your books doesn't belong to Penguin or Simon & Schuster.

dog pic from Google Images

Friday, March 16, 2018

How quickly can you write a book?

You’ll probably encounter books, courses and seminars that allegedly teach you to write a book in an absurdly short length of time. Since a book could have just three words in it, it is actually possible to write a book in less than ten seconds!

However, most writers of “real” books take from three months to a year or more to write. And then the book requires more time for revising, editing, designing and marketing.

Very few self-published books come out “on time.” Everything takes longer than you think it will. If you rush, you will make mistakes that will take additional time to correct. It’s much more important to be good than to be fast or first.

The book below was supposed to go on sale on March 1, 2018. I'm now aiming at April 15.

The book below was supposed to go on sale in July of 2010. It should be ready in a year or two. Or, maybe not.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A simple and important thing that many authors, publishers and booksellers get wrong

(above) While analysts' percentages vary, Amazon clearly has a huge share of the ebook market--but it could sell even more ebooks

I talk to lots of readers online and in the real world. All of them are aware of ebooks. Almost all are aware of Kindles. Some have Kindles. Many who don't have Kindles think they can't read an ebook formatted for Kindles if they don't have a Kindle. 

They seem to think that the ebook business is like the old videotape situation where a VHS player could not play Betamax movies.

While there is still some incompatibility with less important readers (and the availability of adaptive apps and hacks grows constantly), the simple fact is that books formatted for Kindle reading can be read on many kinds of devices. It's time for authors and publishers to make that important fact known!

Starting about five years ago, I've promoted the concept that my Kindle ebooks can be read on a PC, an iPad or other tablet, a Nook, a smart phone or other device.

Sure, it's probably good to publish in multiple ebook formats. But, just as many people think that the World Wide Web is the Internet and that Earth is the center of the Universe, there are people who think that "Kindle" is synonymous with "ebook."

Authors: if you can make potential readers know that they can read your books without investing in additional hardware, you may sell many more books.


Monday, March 12, 2018

In the ebook era, authors shouldn't neglect hardcover books

Books have always been extremely important to me. As the photo shows, even as a little kid, I used the bathroom as a library so not a moment of potential reading time was wasted. In 2013, the only piece of furniture I can visualize from the Bronx apartment my parents brought me home to in 1946 is a mahogany bookshelf. As a child with an early bedtime, I read books by flashlight under the blanket. Even now, I share my bed with my wife, our dog, and usually a book or my iPad or Kindle Fire.

Before TiVo gave me the ability to fast-forward, I always read during TV commercials. I read at most meals—even at restaurants. Some people think it's rude. I think it's efficient.

I've always had a strong reverence for books. Maybe it comes from my parents, who were avid readers. As a Jew, I am part of "the people of the book." When I was in college, I sometimes spent food money on books (and on records, too, I admit). I was still building bookshelves two weeks before I was due to move out of my college apartment.

When I see books in the trash, I rescue them. When a friend's older brother and his buddies gathered around a barbecue grill at the end of the school year to burn their school books, I tried to rescue the books, but was blocked by superior force. Assholes!

I seldom think of sin, but if sins do exist, book burning is certainly high on the list.

After writing paperbacks since 1977 and ebooks since 2009, in 2011 I received a proof of my first hardcover, a new format for my "stories" book. The book feels very good. It looks beautiful, with a glossy dust jacket and the title and my name stamped in bright golden ink on the cloth covering the binding.

A hardcover book provides a special experience. Perhaps ebooks will replace paperbacks, but I don't think anything can replace hardcovers.

Torah scrolls are still handwritten, after thousands of years. Grave stones are still chiseled. Initials are still carved on trees. They should still be readable long after the last Kindle and Nook are recycled.

Even though I am the sole employee of my publishing company, this book seems about 96% as "professional" as a similar Tina Fey book from publishing giant Hachette. Even though I've seen my cover design and read the title hundreds of times, I can't resist holding it, feeling it and studying it. Even though I've read my own words hundreds of times, I can't resist reading again.

I got the idea to write this book way back when I was 11 or 12. I'm supposed to become 72 next month. I'm not sure if this book represents my life's work, but if it does, that's OK with me. I'm very proud of the book (I've never thought that pride is sinful.)  I honestly think it's a very good book and fortunately, so do the readers.

The hardcover book seems so much more "real" than other formats. I'm almost in awe of it and don’t want to mark it up with a red pen as I do with my paperback proofs. It would seem like defacing a library book—and that's a sin.

I had no plan to publish this hardcover. I published it because of requests from people who had bought the paperback or ebook and wanted a hardcover to give as gifts. It's important to give readers what they want. I like giving it as a gift, too.

It doesn't cost much to produce a hardcover using print on demand from LightningSource. It gives me another format that some readers prefer, and it might impress book reviewers more than a paperback or ebook would.

Friday, March 9, 2018

How big should your book be?

I started writing a book about Donald Trump in early January. I initially thought it would be a short book, with about 150 pages. I figured that the paperback would sell for $9.95 and the ebook for $4.99.

My tentative "pub date" was March 1 (eight days ago). I am now figuring on publishing around April 10. It's not unusual for books to be published later than originally planned. The book has grown, too. It looks like the paperback will have about 220 pages, and will probably sell for $15.95. I think I'll raise the ebook price to $5.99.

Every day I find more material that can go into the book, but at some point I have to stop writing. The book must end, and can't be ridiculously large.

The bigger the book, the longer it takes to finish writing, editing and formatting it, the more it costs to produce and purchase, the more errors it will have, and maybe the fewer people who will buy it.

I almost never go to movies that are longer than two hours, because I know the movie will become a $12 nap. I am similarly reluctant to buy books with more than about 350 pages, because I doubt they will keep me interested.

In an online forum for authors, a newbie discussed his debut novel -- which was planned to have more than 800 pages.
  • It will be extremely difficult to persuade people to buy a huge and expensive book written by someone they've never heard of.
Maybe that book should become three books, or should be drastically cut.
  • Almost any page can sacrifice a sentence or two without suffering. 
  • Most sentences can shed a word or two, and no reader will miss them.
The maxi­­mum number of pages for a book is determined by print­ing and binding equip­ment (if the book is printed) and what people are willing to pay, carry and read.

One the other hand, the United Nations’  Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organ­iz­a­tion declared 49 pages to be the min­imum length for a book. A publication with fewer pages can be a leaflet, pamphlet, booklet or brochure. Call it a book, and you risk offending nearly 200 nations.

Despite the UNESCO decree, no printed book has 49 pages. Pbooks have an even number of pages even if some pages don’t have numbers on them. An individual piece of paper in a book is called a leaf. Each leaf has two sides, called pages. A 100-page book contains 50 leaves. Or leafs.

Publishers don’t have to obey the United Nations. Outskirts Press can make “books” with as few as 18 pages, the minimum from Create­Space is 24 pages, and Lulu can do 32 pages.

Most printers can produce books with as many as 800 to
1,000 pages, but books with more than 500 pages are unusual. With nonfiction, you need to have enough pages to cover your topic adequately. Don’t skimp, or pad.
  • The book should not be so big that it will be priced a lot higher than its competitors or seem like “too much to read.”
  • It should not be so short that it seems incomplete, or doesn’t offer value for its cost.

The form of a book affects the acceptability of its size. A printed book with 600 pages could be heavy to carry and difficult to lay flat (and expensive to print and ship). 

The cost of each additional page printed is insignificant. The cost of each e-page is zero. There is a prejudice against very thin books, so try for a minimum of about 120 pages. Thin books just don’t seem like real books, and the printing on the book’s spine will be tiny.

Novels can be much longer than nonfiction. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is about 1,300 pages long, and some of Rowling’s Harry Potter books have over 700 pages.

A book’s page count is not final until it is ready to be printed. Many factors determine how many words fit on a page, including page size, type size, line spacing, margins, headers, number and size of illustrations, front and back matter, etc.

An 8.5-by-11-inch manuscript page holds about twice as many words as a common 6-by-9-inch book page. A 200-page manuscript can yield a 400-page book (with no graphics), and have about 100,000 words.

Most ebooks don’t have real pages. I know of one ebook with just nine “pages” and one with 1,594 -- unless the person reading makes an adjustment which changes the total.

With most ebooks, the readers can adjust typeface, type size and vertical/horizontal orientation. That changes the number of apparent pages. A hundred people could read a particular ebook, but they’re not necessarily reading the same book. 

Publishers Weekly analyzed data from and declared that the median average "word count" for books is 64,531 words, which translates to about 290 paper pages. While a mean average might be more useful than the median (half of the books have more words, half have fewer), the number from PW is still useful. It’s probably best for new writers not to stray too far from the average.

It’s normal for writers to love their words -- but readers may not share the love. Some writers who love their words recognize that there are just too many words. I voluntarily cut a book I wrote from 518 pages to 432 pages, and it’s better because of the cuts. It may have been even better at 396.