Friday, February 17, 2017

A few tips about book titles and book covers

My beloved dog Hunter J. Marcus died three weeks ago. He was 15. That's old for a dog, but not old enough.

I have often written about him in blog posts and on Facebook. Several people urged me to write a book about him. I certainty don't want to disappoint his fans or my fans—so I started yesterday. I'd been out of the authoring mood for a few years and it feels good to be writing again.

The illustration shows the tentative title, Love For & From My 4-Legged Son, and a preliminary cover design. I'm sure there will be changes before publication later this year. Even though what you see resulted from just a few hours' work and is far from final, it does exemplify several important concepts:

  1. Keep your title as short as possible. If you use fewer words, the letters can be bigger. Bigger letters are easier to read—especially when reduced to "thumbnail"-size illustrations online.
  2. An ampersand (&) should not be used within your text, but is fine in titles where you need to save space. Some ampersands look better than others and you can use an ampersand from a different typeface than the surrounding text, if compatible. My ampersand and title are in Cambria bold.
  3. The title is a rhyme. That's fun and may make the title more memorable.
  4. Limit the number of colors on your cover and try to tie the title color to your dominant graphic image. My title color is close to the color of the dog's fur.
  5. Normally short words such as "for" should be in lowercase type. In my title both "for" and "from" are important—not mere prepositions—and deserve uppercasing.
  6. Avoid all-white covers. They disappear onto the white pages of websites. My cover actually has grayish tone on it, and is surrounded by dark edge to define the shape online.
  7. Learn to kern. The "y" is tucked into the "M" of "My."
    More about kerning here
  8. Say something about yourself, especially if it's relevant to the book's subject and can add credibility. Did you win an election, a Nobel Prize or an Olympic medal? Are you a teacher, a cook, a crook or a cop. Did you discover an element or an island. Do you have 14 kids?
  9. Use the available space. A subtitle or list can amplify the title and possibly help you to sell more books. Extra text also helps attract search engines. I plan to use a subtitle. It's important for me to include "dog."
  10.  My list at the bottom originally said:
    ·                      Memories
    ·                      Photos
    ·                      Advice
    ·                      Emails from Doggie Heaven
  11.  I replaced "Memories" with "Stories," which is about the same width as the two successive lines.

More about covers in my book, The Look of a Book: what makes a book cover good or bad and how to design a good one

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How to find a "bargain" editor for your book

While writers' magazines and directories have lists and ads for professional editors, there is another potential source of high-quality editing that may be available for less money, and the editors may be available to do your work much sooner.

Check with some journalism departments and college newspapers—perhaps where you went to schooland chances are you'll be able to find several bright and eager candidates. Read some samples of their work. Maybe submit a sample chapter for editing. Ask a faculty member for opinions. Then make the deal.

Skill levels will vary, of course, and so will needs and costs. You can pay per hour or per project. Expect to pay more if you need major rewriting than just copyediting.

A student who has a part-time job making minimum wage flipping burgers will probably be thrilled to earn $20 per hour, or $300 - $500 for a project. As a comparison, one publishing company that caters to self-publishing authors recently charged $50 per hour or 1.4 cents per word.

If the job goes well, be sure to put your editor's name in the book, and send a note to her or his faculty adviser.

As long as you're investigating colleges, consider hiring a professor, not just a student. If you're writing in a specialized field, it could be worthwhile to hire a faculty member to check your facts, and pay someone else to polish your prose. Different kinds of editors do different kinds of editing.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Three Jeers for Cablevision (and how Cablevision is damaging CBS)


Cablevision has supplied my home and business with TV, telephone and internet service in NY and CT since the mid-1970s. For most of that time I've been a satisfied customer, except for those times—like right now—when I've been an extremely pissed off customer.

When I've been pissed off it was not because of bad service, but because of STUPIDITY.

When I lived in NY I had 14 TV sets. Eight of them were connected to cable boxes which had monthly fees. Six of them were connected directly to the cable, and were not charged for.

Cablevision insisted that all TVs that were connected to its service—even those producing no revenue—had to be included in its records. They also had to appear on the monthly bills, even if nothing had to be paid.

The format for the monthly bill allowed just ten items, so Cablevision had to separate my TVs into two accounts. Each month the company sent one bill that included the eight cable boxes, plus another bill—with a different account number, different envelope and additional postage—for the six TVs that had no cable boxes and no monthly charges.

The second bill was based on monthly charges of six times nothing, with a total due of zero dollars and zero cents.

After several months, Cablevision's computer noticed that no payments were received to pay the zero balance, and turned the account over to a collection agency.

The collection agency's computer then started to threaten me, detailing the dire consequences if the payment of zero dollars and zero cents was not made promptly. Phone calls to the agency and Cablevision were fruitless. The customer service people at both companies blamed the computers, and had no way to intervene.

Ultimately I  presented a check to Cablevision for $0.00, and the account was credited for the "payment," and everything was fine... for a few months. Then the collection campaign began again.

When I moved from NT to CT in 2001 (still within Cablevision territory), connection of my new service was delayed because of nonpayment of my previous zero balance.


I just endured my third consecutive weekend without Hawaii Five-0, Blue Bloods, Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes,

Recently there has been no NCIS, Bull, Criminal Minds or Elementary in my home. My own good wife doesn't get the see The Good Wife. 

I am caught in a disruptive, destructive despicable, infantile dispute between TV service provider Cablevision (recently bought by European media behemoth Altice) and Meredith Corporation. Meredith, now in its second century of operation, publishes such magazines as Better Homes & Gardens and owns or operates multiple television stations, including CBS affiliate WFSB in Hartford, CT.

(below) Meredith says I am a pawn.

(below) Cablevision says I am a hostage.

I live in Milford CT, about 50 miles from Hartford. Until recently I could choose among more than 800 TV channels—including two from NBC, two from ABC and two from CBS.

last month I lost both of my CBS channels—WFSB as well as WCBS from New York City. The same thing happened three years ago.
No thanks.
WFSB tells unhappy viewers: "You can watch us for free over the air with an antenna, or you may choose to subscribe to DirecTV (1-800-DIRECTV), Dish Network (1-888-825-2557) or AT&T U-verse (1-877-597-9067) which all carry WFSB and the other local television stations in our market."
  • No thanks. I am not going to change TV service providers because of a short-term problem. (If I switch to AT&T or Dish, they could have a blackout in the future.) I tried two over-the-air antennas and neither one will receive CBS programming. WFSB also points out that I can watch some CBS programming on my PC. Watching television programs on a 27-inch PC monitor while sitting on a desk chair is not like watching a 65-inch TV while lying on a couch.
So-called "blackouts" are an unfortunately common part of cable TV negotiating. The loss of programming can last for hours or months. Viewers and advertisers are the victims. Even networks and local stations get hurt.
  • In 2013 more than three million Time Warner Cable viewers in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas and other parts of the country lost access to CBS shows for a month.
  • In 2010, Cablevision stopped providing Fox programming to 3 million customers for two weeks.
  • Also in 2010, HGTV and the Food Network were briefly lost to AT&T U-verse subscribers because of a dispute between Scripps Networks and AT&T. AT&T also stopped providing the Hallmark Channel for months.
These problems are symptoms of a fundamental clash of interests.
  • Providers of programming want to maximize the income earned by their expensive productions.
  • Cable TV companies want to pay as little as possible to the program providers, both to maintain profitability and to avoid rate increases in a fragile economy where viewers can choose from a growing number of competing entertainment and information sources.
In an email, Meredith's VP for Corporate Communications and Government Relations Art Slusark told me, "We value your viewership and we are working hard to resolve this matter, but Cablevision refuses to negotiate, even though other cable companies have agreed to compensate WFSB."

I’m not sure that local channels should be paid by cable companies. Can’t WFSB charge more for advertising because of the extra audience the cablecos deliver? Maybe WFSB should pay Cablevision, or at least provide its program feed for free.

Throughout this annoying ordeal, one issue has been strangely ignored by Meredith, Cablevision, the media covering the situation and politicians: How can WFSB, a little channel in Hartford, stop me from watching WCBS, a giant channel based in New York City? Meredith does not own WCBS!

During the 2014 blackout U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy urged Cablevision and Meredith to end the blackout. They wrote that they “believe that the current impasse does a disservice to Connecticut families . . . .  The senators also want Cablevision to “commit to refund upon request any Litchfield or New Haven County subscribers who are no longer getting what they signed up for, a portion of their monthly bill commensurate with WFSB’s value.”

Senators, what about WCBS's value? WCBS is worth a lot to me. WFSB is worth nothing to me. It is one of hundreds of channels that I pay for and could watch—but never watch.

WFSB says it "is simply requesting that Cablevision acknowledge that our WFSB is a valuable source of programming for all of Cablevision's Connecticut customers, even those customers that also receive an out-of-state CBS station." Again, WFSB is worth nothing to me.

WFSB also says, "WFSB's vital local news, emergency information, and top-rated CBS sports and entertainment programming are important to Optimum customers." BULLSHIT! WFSB is absolutely worthless to me.

WFSB also says, "Our signals always have been and always will be free over-the-air." BULLSHIT. I can't receive WFSB over-the-air at my home.
Sept. 5, 2012 Cablevision and CBS Corporation announced the renewal of their content carriage agreements covering retransmission consent for CBS Owned Stations. [including WCBS!] “Cablevision is a cornerstone partner in our flagship market.  By recognizing the value of our content, this agreement assures the audiences we share with Cablevision will continue to be able to enjoy programming . . . . ” said Martin Franks, Executive Vice President for Planning, Policy and Government Relations, CBS Corporation.

“This broad agreement will ensure that Cablevision customers will continue to have access to the CBS programming they already enjoy, across a range of networks, as well as new services Cablevision will launch in the coming months, including Showtime Anytime and CBS prime time shows on demand,” said Mac Budill, Cablevision’s executive vice president of programming.

A similar agreement was announced on 8/25/15:

Well, the "multi-year" agreement did not last two years!
I want my CBS.


I am trying to reduce my monthly $133.31 Cablevision TV bill.

It includes a $4.97 "Sports TV surcharge."

I never watch sports. It would take at least $100 and massive amounts of junk food and harmful beverages to entice me to watch football or baseball.

Why should I be forced to pay for something I never use?

This is not like paying taxes for schools and roads that benefit the entire community—not just drivers and school children.

Didn't we fight a war over taxation without representation?

Not only do I never watch sports, I never watch 90% of the approximately 800 channels available in my home.

I want à la carte pricing to allow me to pay for only what I want to watch.

Screw you, Cablevision—and your new European owner, Altice.


CBS is the most popular network for prime-time programming. Probably 80% of the TV programs I watch are CBS programs. The rest are a mix of NBC, ABC, HBO, Amazon, CNN, MSNBC, History, Netflix, Velocity, HGTV and a few others. 

Lester and Scott are both welcome in my home. 
 I have no idea who does the ABC news.

For evening news I've been addicted to CBS since the days of Walter Cronkite. During the blackout I've been watching Lester Holt on NBC. He's just fine—and there's a good chance that I may never bother with Scott Pelley again. I've sampled other NBC programming, too. I watched the Today show for the first time in about 50 years. Gave Garroway and J. Fredd Muggs are gone and Al Roker has a beard.

For late-night comedy I usually watch Stephen Colbert. The blackout caused me to check on the two Jimmies. Kimmel and Fallon are fine and I will not likely be an exclusive watcher of CBS's Colbert again.

There's no better way to get viewers to sample non-CBS programming than to make CBS unavailable. If I was a conspiracy fan I might accuse Cablevision of getting paid by other networks to sabotage CBS.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Here's some important advice—from a pro—for all you amateur writers who want your FB posts and messages to be read.

I majored in journalism in college and have been writing professionally for 48 years. I have no intention of trying to teach you to become a pro and won't deal with grammar, sentence structure or plot development. I won't tell you how to publish a book or sell a movie script.

I want to pass on two very basic bits that relate to the _physical appearance_ of text ...that apply to everything from Facebook and Twitter posts to a 600-page novel.

(1) Break up your text into paragraphs of one to four sentences, separated with blank lines (online) on with blanks or indents (on paper).

Every day I see—and ignore—FB posts and personal messages with one loooooooooooong paragraph. This structure creates an uninviting, impenetrable gray wall. Human eyes and brains need occasional rest stops.

(2) DO NOT TYPE IN ALL-CAPS ("UPPERCASE"), for two important reasons:

(2a) In the online world, limited use of all-caps is good for emphasis, but LOTS OF IT IMPLIES SHOUTING. If you are not pissed off, use a normal mix of uppercase and lowercase letters.

(2b) ALL-CAPS are harder to read and take longer to read than a normal mix of letter heights. We read by recognizing the shapes of words, not just by analyzing the sequence of individual letters. A word with only UPPERCASE LETTERS looks like a block—not a word—barely distinguishable from another block.

Several people have stated that they have vision problems and all-caps are easier to read because the words are "bigger."

That's a lame excuse!

All-cap words are _not_ bigger. The letters have uniform height, but the maximum height is unchanged. The use of all-caps online is unnecessary, unproductive and antisocial.

Even if the process somehow does help you to read your own words, it does nothing to help you to read the billions of words written by others.

There is a simple and no-cost solution. Your computer, phone, tablet, e-reader and web browser should allow you to easily increase text size. I normally use 125% or 133%.
Try it—even if you are merely "of a certain age" and don't have vision trouble.

If you find this useful, please share it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Indents, Outdents, Pilcrows, WTF?

[above] Half-inch indents are a holdover from 1960s-era typing classes, when kids were instructed to indent five spaces. They’re OK in a letter, but generally look bad in a book. Half-inch is Word’s default. The ‘proper’ indent is an aesthetic decision, and varies with typeface, type size, page size, margins and more. I generally use .3-inch for books with 12-point type.

Back when type was set from pieces of lead, an em quad was used to insert a blank space of the same width as an uppercase “M.” A one-em indent is generally safe for book text, but as far as I know an em indent is not an easy option if you are formatting with Word.

[above]  Missing tooth? Most paragraphs in most books will be indented, but I don’t indent a paragraph that starts parallel to the top of a graphic element, or the first line at the beginning of a chapter or section, or after a large white space, a chart, a diagram or a photograph. These are aspects of personal style, and can change from book to book. Do some experimenting, look at lots of books, and maybe ask for advice or hire a designer.
Keep in mind, however, that paragraph’s indent signals the beginning of the paragraph, so if the beginning is obvious without the indent, there is no need to indent.

A new paragraph can be introduced by a skipped line, an indent, an outdent, an initial cap or a symbol such as the pilcrow [above]. Although there is generally no need to use more than one indication, it is sometimes necessary to use a skipped line to provide space for an initial cap (which I'll discuss in a future blog) or a  decorative symbol.

Today's material is updated from my wonderful ebook, Typography for Independent Publishers

Friday, January 20, 2017

An easy, effective alternative to celebrity blurbs

Every author dreams of having cover blurbs (endorsements) from famous people who'll say nice things which may entice other people to buy books.

Often, especially for a new author with a new book, it's just not possible to get the attention of a a superstar or an expert who will add authority to yours.

That doesn't mean your book has to be blurbless.

There's nothing wrong with asking for and printing blurbs from friends and family, if it's appropriate to your book. Later on, if Trump's doctor Harold Bornstein or another celeb falls in love with your words, you can revise the cover to incorporate the new comments.

My first self-published book I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, deals with my life. So it made perfect sense to use blurbs from people who know me, rather than some distant Nobel Prize winner.

The book is funny. Identifying Howard Krosnick, the source of my front cover blurb as "author's classmate since first grade" is almost a parody of the traditional stuffy IDs ("professor of Indo-Eurasion folk medicine at the University of Guatemala), and reinforces the mood of the book.

Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) is an updated replacement for the flunk book. It has a fantastic cover blurb which says, "This book is so funny that I nearly peed in my pants. My girlfriend didn't think it was funny, so I got a new girlfriend."

The blurber, Nicholas Santiago, is someone I know through business. His words are sufficient. I see no need to explain who he is, and I doubt that Oprah could have written a better recommendation. I received "five stars" and some nice words from the Midwest Book Review -- but those words are not as funny as Nick's words.

There's nothing wrong with your acting as a writing coach for your blurbers. You can even write a complete blurb and ask someone to "adopt" it.

If you’ve written a how-to book, the best blurbs will come from people who have actually been helped by it.

A good way to find “amateur” blurbers who might write sincere comments about actually benefiting from your book is to observe online communities that are concerned with your subject. If you find articulate people with problems your book solves, offer to send them free advance copies (even PDFs if bound copies or ebooks are not yet available) in exchange for their comments. You can say that you’d like to know if the book was helpful and how it can be improved. Mention that you might like to quote their comments, but don’t guarantee it.

Here's a great blurb, from a new author, for one of my books about publishing: "Michael Marcus’s book on self-publishing was detailed, complete and easy to read. It is the best I have read on the subject. It was very helpful. I do highly recommend this instructive book to anyone who wants the complete instruction guide to getting your written works out there.—Charles Eastland, author of  The Fire Poems"
  • If you get a good blurb, identify the blurber in some way that may help her or him. In an ebook or online, provide a link. Like it or not, blurbing is often mutual ass-kissing. Play the game if you want the benefits.
  • If you have a connection to a real celeb it may be tempting to ask for a favor -- but make sure the fame is relevant to your book. If your college roommate lives next door to super-chef Mario Batali, Batali's comments about your book about bicycle repair probably won't mean much. 
  • Beware of self-serving blurbs that say more about the blurber than the book, or blurbs that were obviously written without reading the book.

James & Geoff. Which one did I sit next to on a plane?

Don’t be too timid to approach famous authors, politicians, business leaders and celebrities, especially if you have something in common which can create a bond. You might be pleasantly surprised. Write a good letter and explain how you think the book relates to the prospective blurber. Find a reason to compliment the candidate. If possible, refer to a time when you were in the same place, perhaps during a speech or a book signing or on an airplane. (I once sat next to James Earl Jones. Hmm. Actually, it may have been Geoffrey Holder.)

Short blurbs are usually better than long blurbs. Humorous blurbs (if appropriate) are often better than serious blurbs.

Request blurbs as long in advance as possible -- as soon as you have a draft of your book that is good enough to show. The book does not have to be complete. You can probably get by with an introduction, a table of contents, and a few chapters sent as a PDF. If you want a blurb from someone famous, it’s probably better to send an ARC (Advance Review Copy) than a PDF.

Incorporate good “early” blurbs into your back cover and first page as soon as possible. If other blurbers read them, they may be more likely to write similarly positive comments.

left-click to enlarge for easier reading