.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Much publicity accomplishes nothing, but you should be prepared in case yours works




You probably know the scout motto, "Be Prepared." In various versions, it's used by both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts worldwide.

The motto goes back more than 100 years. In Scouting for Boys, Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell explains the motto:

"Be Prepared in Mind by having disciplined yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it.

Be Prepared in Body by making yourself strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it."

Satirical singer/songwriter Tom Lehrer has a different interpretation of the phrase.

OK, back to books . . .

In 2008, eighty-year-old New Jerseyan Alfred Pristash paid Author House to publish a memoir called My Changing World.

Pristash spent 18 months writing the manuscript in longhand, and then dictated it to a son who typed it. The book received extensive and complimentary coverage in NJ.com and in a major New Jersey newspaper. The article mentioned that the book sells for $73.99 and is available at Amazon.com.

I was curious to see how a book from Author House (which often publishes crap and alienates its authors) could possibly justify that high price.

[above] The AuthorHouse website is barren and useless. Links for “Overview," “About the Author” and “Free Preview” contained nothingSince April, 2008, the site has indicated that more information would be "coming soon." 

When is "soon?"

How long should potential readers wait?

How long should the author wait?

I did not place an order.

If you are lucky enough to get media coverage of your book, be sure that your online presence is ready to back it up and sell some books! If you've paid to be published, don't waste your time and money. BE PREPARED.

I recently received email from Steven Aaron, Marketing Manager at webdesignforbrands.com. Steve wants to sell services for my new www.batphones.net website. 

He said: "I’ll be happy to assist you in getting an affordable, professional, responsive, website that looks amazing with a professional touch that you can easily manage on your own after it’s completed. We can deliver whatever you need within 2-3 weeks. And if you already have a website, we can help you with Search Engine Optimization, and add E-Commerce design such as shopping carts for your customers. We develop Mobile Applications as well."

I was interested and took a look at his company's website.



(Left click to enlarge)

It was obviously unfinished, not ready for prime time. There were many blocks of temporary Latin text (known as "greeking" in the graphics arts field). One faceless employee was identified as "John Doe," a web developer.

I was not favorably impressed and will not likely do business with Steve's company.

BE PREPARED.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Can a book have too much advance praise? Sure!

Before a book is published it's common for "Advance Review Copies" to be distributed to famous people with the hope that they'll write short, complimentary "blurbs" that can help sell the book to ordinary people.

Sometimes blurbs are written by ordinary people. Part of the back cover of my Stories I'd Tell My Children (But Maybe Not Until They're Adults) is shown below.



Many blurbs are written for authors by other authors in corrupt "if you kiss my ass I'll kiss your ass" deals.

Blurbs are often labeled "Advance Praise for [title]" and printed on a book's back cover and first page, or pages. 


One or two pages are enough but some authors go much too far.

Michael Hyatt is an egomaniac whom I can't stand for several reasons. I bought -- but have not yet been motivated to read -- his Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World. The book has four blurbs in tiny type on its back cover plus SIX FUCKING PAGES with 14 blurbs ahead of the title page.
  • If someone is not convinced to buy a book after reading three or four blurbs, will 14 do the job? Probably not.
I have mixed feelings about Shel Horowitz, author of Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers.

Shel's book has an appropriate three blurbs on the back cover (in an easy-to-read type size), plus three pages with a dozen blurbs ahead of the title page.

I like most of what Shel has to say -- but the blurbing bothers me. The book has a blurb from John Harnish, special products director at Infinity Publishing. Harnish praises Shel and says, "...selling more books is what successful marketing is all about..." 
  • However, Harnish is in the business of selling Shel's books, because Infinity has co-published an edition. That’s a conflict of interest, and tacky.
Shel has mini-reviews in the back of his book, plugging books written by some of the blurbers who praise him in the front of his book. Tit-for-tat, even the appearance of tit-for-tat, is tacky.

Shel writes well and he seems to be an expert on book marketing. I don't doubt the truth of the endorsements of him or by him -- but his work is marred by the appearance of sleazy deal-making. Mutual ass-kissing may be frugal marketing but I don't think it's ethical, or effective.

Helen Gallagher wrote an ugly, sloppy, padded, inaccurate and poorly edited book titled Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way!

A Five-Star review on Amazon says, "Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way offers fabulous, practical tips for writers. I had the opportunity to meet the author. She is a great advocate for fellow writers. This book is a 'must have' if you want to complete your writing project, launch it, and market your work."

The reviewer is Marguerite O'Connor. Marguerite is an author and funeral director and teaches bereavement counseling. Even more depressing than that is the fact that Marguerite's book received a Five-Star review from Helen.

Yes, they kissed each other's ass.


And by the way, Marguerite O'Connor is also the editor of Helen's poorly edited book. Helen is a decent writer, but from the evidence I've seen, Marguerite is a terrible editor. I hope she buries bodies better than she edits books. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Writers: If you want to be able to afford to buy food, learn to write things you think you can't write

I once wrote a poem about a wiper. Could you?
In the 1970s I was an "award-winning Madison Avenue copywriter." (Yes, there was as much hurtful politics, late-night work and extra-marital sex as on Mad Men, but much less drinking.) 

I had a specialty -- hi-fi equipment. I wrote ads for many major brands of that era, like Pioneer, Fisher, AR, BSR, Garrard, Sansui and Maxell. I also worked on other tech-ish brands, like Volvo and Castrol and makers of computers and electrical hardware.

If an ad agency "won" or was "pitching" an "account" in a tech field, the agency needed someone like me, and paid dearly for our services. 


However, there was disturbing disruption in the ad business. There was absolutely no job security. A sad/funny truism was that in advertising  the day to start looking for a job is the day you get a job.

There were many cases where an agency and manufacturer were "partners" for decades, or even through several generations, of management on both sides. BBD&O worked for Pepsi for more than 50 years 

But, with increasing mergers and acquisitions, customary loyalty changed. An account with 50 years' history could vanish in 30 days because the chairman of the conglomerate who just bought the toilet-paper-maker went to high school with someone whose next-door neighbor's cousin was dating the boss of another ad agency. Pepsi left BBD&O for TBWA\Chiat\Day in 2008. The big Beyonce commercial was done by another agency, 180 LA.

Just as when an account is won there are opportunities for writers to get hired, when an account is lost, there are opportunities for writers to get fired.

Specialization makes it easy to get a job. Generalization makes it easier (not easy) to keep a job. 

I kept copywriting jobs (and kept being able to afford food and rent).
 
When I was in eighth grade, my English teacher was a miserable bitch -- hated by almost every kid in the class.

We were once assigned to write an essay about poetry. At the time, I pretty much hated poetry, except for funny stuff like one of the world's shortest poems, by Ogden Nash:

"The Bronx?
No thonx."

Basically my essay said something like I hated poetry because it is artificial and is much less efficient than prose for delivering a message.

I DESPISED faked/fudged/phony constructions like:

"My country 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty."

I got an "F" on the essay. Elliot, one of my classmates, got an "A" for a few pages of bullshit about poetry "opening a golden door into the soul of the poet."

I was sent to the guidance counselor for guidance and discipline.

I did not get any discipline but I got some valuable guidance: Give the bitch the same kind of bullshit that earned Elliot the "A."

In other words, if you want to succeed in life, give the audience what it wants, even if you have to lie or sell out.

I didn't think it was good advice then or now. An audience can usually determine if a performer's heart is not in a performance.

A few weeks later, we were assigned to write poems. That was even worse than having to write about poems.

Rhyming is probably a natural activity and source of amusement for every kid.

But going from "Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweet but I hate you" to something of homework quality would have been a major leap for me.

I was desperate to avoid a second flunk from the bitch, so with help from my father I did come up with something that I still think is pretty good. It was about a windshield wiper destroying rain drops. I don't remember it all, but it started with:

"Oh wiper, you viper,
You snake on the glass.
You strike hard and swiftly.
You kill with each pass."

I got an unexpected "A" on that one.

I also got an "A" on a second poem that involved some event in international relations in 1959 or '60. Apparently President Eisenhower was being pressured by the dreaded commies to give in on some diplomatic negotiating.

I needed a word to rhyme with "now," and my father suggested the phrase "but Ike would not kowtow."

I had never heard "kowtow" before, and thought my father had made it up just for my poem. Pop explained that it came from a Chinese word meaning "submit" and I kept the word. The bitch knew what it meant and was impressed.

(Impressing teachers is not necessarily a major achievement. One time in college I used "lifestyle" in an essay and the professor put a note on the page about it being an excellent choice of words. In my mind I gave the professor a lower grade for being impressed by such routine terminology. Apparently "lifestyle" was a big deal in Bethlehem, PA in the 1960s.)

In high school I became a pretty good rhymer. I wrote some silly poems and songs about bad teachers.

I've never bought a poetry book, but I do have appreciation for rhyming lyrics, especially:

"Lady Madonna, baby at your breast
Wonders how you manage to feed the rest"
(Lennon & McCartney)

and

"When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I'll be gone"
(Dylan)

I have no plans to write serious poetry, but being forced to succeed at something I hated has probably been useful to me as person and as a writer. I have gained appreciation for those who do write poems well, and I sometimes insert rhymes in my prose just for the fun of it.


. . . . . 
wiper photo from HowStuffWorks.com Thanks.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why does Amazon advertise my books, and yours?


On the day after the 2012 elections, I found an AP news report on Excite.com about states approving gay marriage and pot-for-fun. 

Strangely, the page also included two nice ads from Amazon promoting books I've written -- that have nothing to do with marriage or pot. One of the ads was a "slide show" that displayed multiple book covers.

Book publishing is a very strange business. I'm not paying for the advertising.

Amazon explains it this way: "You were just shown an ad personalized by Amazon.com. Here's how it works: The browser you are using recently visited this product's page on Amazon.com. No personally identifiable information has been shared with the website you were viewing or any other third party. What are personalized ads? Personalized ads, sometimes referred to as targeted or interest-based ads, are based on information about you, such as the products you view on Amazon.com, your purchases on Amazon.com, visits to websites where we provide ads or content, or use of payment services like Checkout by Amazon on other websites."

I'm not likely to pay the retail price for books I've written and published, but I am impressed by the technology.

And sometimes I laugh at the technology. At the top right of the page you can see an ad for Outskirts Press. Slightly below it is an ad for my book that explains how shitty Outskirts Press is. Advertising is a very strange business.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Some terrible tips for authors seeking book reviews

The advice below is from Rev. Michael Bresciani, and appeared on Facebook and other websites. Bresciani is author of Hook line and Sinker or What Has Your Church Been Teaching You. (published by PublishAmerica -- the worst publishing company in the world) and An American Prophet and His Message, Questions and Answers on the Second Coming of Christ (Xulon Press). His website is www.americanprophet.org. The site "believes in the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God. Our doctrine is the Bible from cover to cover."

Apparently the rev believes that it's proper to stone-to-death adulterers, non-virgin brides, disobedient children and people who gather sticks on the Sabbath. I'm not surprised he's afraid of book reviewers and bloggers.
- - - - -
  1. You will be sorry if you do not take the time to get a pretty good picture of your reviewer. Use e-mail, snail mail or anything else you've got to pop a few questions to your reviewer. If the review is on radio or TV place a few phone calls in advance. Why? You must get a fix on your reviewer's position and general inclination. If your writing is in religion, check the doctrinal position of the reviewer. A Pentecostal book is bound to come up short in a conservative catholic review. If your book is written with a conservative political bent, it will not do well under the scrutiny of a liberal democrat. You must check out every aspect of the reviewer's mindset that you can by any means you can. If you disregard this advice you will suffer for it.
  2. Read carefully everything you can find that your reviewer has previously written. They can be aggressive without being hyper critical or belligerent. Some reviewers have a pompous attitude. Usually they are not writers themselves. If you find some that are writers they will be far easier to work with because they know all the problems and pitfalls in this profession. A reviewer has opportunity to rub elbows with some people that the rest of us will only know in name only. This does tend to give them an exploded sense of their own importance. How will you know if this is the case with your reviewer? Simple, read their stuff. An attitude is an easy thing to spot. Don't get the idea that your book is so good that no one could possibly find anything bad to say about it. Cranky people are usually very consistent, don't take a chance.
  3. Avoid the Reviewer who is Too Personal: Don't let someone who is having a bad hair day remove your first chance to get a little press for the great American novel.
  4. Grammar and Spelling Snafus:  Here is the bottom line when it comes to a reviewer noticing and dancing with your mistakes in a review. It stinks. First it is the sign of a very unskillful reviewer, especially when it comes to first time authors with POD books. It is almost understood that first tries will have a few more mistakes than the veterans do and for a reviewer to make a big deal of those problems is hitting below the belt by any standards. Don't even approach such reviewers if you see they make a practice of this. If they feel a need to say that a book is a self published work they are miserably out of touch. This is the day of the POD and thousands of books are coming through this conduit that can stand beside any of the big boys from the major houses.
  5. Look for the Honest but Skillful Reviewer: An honest reviewer won't hide the negatives and failings of your book but they will skillfully blend them into a larger picture without burning down the city. Such people are artist [sic] experienced in balancing of literary achievement and fledgling endeavor. How do you find such people? Once again review the reviewer's reviews!
  6. Beware Of Blogs: For a new author to submit the contents of their new release to a blog in whole or in part is like running the gauntlet. Blogs are all too much of a free for all. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has got an opinion. They are certainly entitled to their opinion [sic] but be sure of one thing, an opinion does not a review make. The chance of getting a fair review on a blog is in general about zero. What you will have is a lot of people passing around a lot of second hand information. You may have someone praising your stuff and in the next minute calling you something that is several notches hotter than PG-13. Till you have a better rep as an author, do not expose you're [sic] writing to the free for alls.
A few responses:

It's unrealistic to expect a potential reviewer to answer "audition" questions before being deemed qualified to review a particular book. Most reviewers have large stacks of incoming books, with little time to deal with interrogations from over-sensitive authors.

There is no way an author can control who writes a review. Book review media determine which people are assigned to review books. Even if a book is specifically addressed to Friendly Fred, it may be reviewed by Hostile Harry.

Not submitting a book to any blogs can't possibly guarantee that bloggers won't review or comment on a book. I've reviewed about 20 books in this blog -- and I paid for every book but one that I reviewed. I may buy a Bresciani book just so I can review it here. A few writers have asked me to review their books, but I turned them down because of the subject matter.

As a reader and reviewer (and a writer and publisher) I cannot and will not ignore errors in spelling and grammar, and certainly don't have extra forgiveness for a first book. In general, I neither know nor care if a book is a first attempt by an author. I expect there to be some spelling and hyphenation errors (typically one per 50 pages). I expect the same standards from self-pubbed, vanity-press and Big-Five books. Publishing a book with significant grammar errors is absolutely unforgivable, and it is not "hitting below the belt" to point them out.

I note that Bresciani had one book published by PublishAmerica -- a company known for turning out really crappy books. I therefore assume Bresciani's book is loaded with errors which he wants to be ignored. Even if a writer makes spelling and grammar errors (as demonstrated in Bresciani's website and the posting above) there is no excuse not to have professional editing. If you can't afford an editor, you can't afford to publish!

POD is not the same thing as "self-published." POD is used by publishers of all types and sizes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Should an author also be a bookseller? Probably.

Credit card reader for smartphones, from Square.
You can get one for FREE. Paypal has a similar gadget.
I've written that writers can't be too timid to sell their own books. I was using "sell" as an informal and perhaps more forceful synonym for "market" or "promote."

However, sometimes a writer should be involved in the actual selling transaction and exchange physical books for money.

On a 300-page, $18 book sold from a self-publishing company’s website, you’ll probably make 50% ($9).

Expect few sales, because of limited site traffic. When your publisher sells through Amazon.com and other booksellers, you’ll probably collect a measly 10% ($1.80).

If you are an independent self-publisher selling that $18 book through an online bookseller, you can make about $10. While this is better than what you could get by using a traditional publisher or a self-publishing company, there are ways to make more money.

You can probably buy books for $9 each from your self-publishing company. If you sell directly to readers, you keep what would normally go to the booksellers. You end up with $9 of the $18—if you can get your customers to pay for shipping, as they often do with Amazon or B&N.

HOWEVER, if you buy books right from Lightning Source, you’ll pay $4.80 plus shipping, and keep about $12 from the $18. The cost from CreateSpace is $4.45, so you can keep a bit more.

Even if you discount the price by a few dollars or pay for shipping to customers, you could still make more than you normally would, and you’ll get paid immediately.

I don't want to compete with Amazon and other booksellers, but I do sell a few books each month to readers who want personalized inscriptions. I accept credit cards and Paypal, and ship via Priority Mail. Boxes are free.

There are several ways to reach customers directly. They don’t apply to every book and they probably should not replace Amazon and B&N, but they could be a supplement.
  • Sell from your websites and blogs.
  • Sell during or after speeches.
  • Sell at flea markets.
  • Sell to friends, neighbors and business associates.
  • Sell at trade shows and conventions.
  • Sell at book fairs, craft fairs, festivals or events that tie in with your subject, such as boat shows or auto races.
  • Ring doorbells (just kidding).
Writer/blogger Sonia Marsh said, “Known experts should self-publish. Generally, they get $20,000 per speaking gig and sell 700 copies of a book after the gig.” I have no idea where she got her data. But even if her numbers are inflated ten times, the money is still impressive for an hour’s work. 

If you are going to sell, you’d better be prepared to accept credit cards. Some in-person purchasers may pay cash, and you may gamble by accepting checks or a promise for future payment, but most book sales are done with credit cards.

You need a merchant account. You can get one from a bank, warehouse club or merchant service provider. You will probably pay the company between 2% and 5% of each transaction. “Non-swiped” transactions, where you don’t actually see the card, cost extra; and there may be other fees.

For advice on accepting cards and evaluations of service companies, see http://www.100best-merchant-accounts.com/.

It’s also possible to process online sales by accepting payments through PayPal. It may be less expensive than credit cards, but some people don’t like PayPal.

You will need a terminal or PC software. You can get a wireless terminal for use where there is no phone connection from http://www.merchantexpress.com/. The company can even enable you to use a laptop for wireless authorizations.

Square offers a particularly innovative system for processing credit card sales. It’s a small FREE card reader for smartphones (shown up above) combined with credit card processing with fast funds availability and low fees. See http:///www.square.com. Paypal offers a similar gadget.

BAD NEWS: If you sell in-person, you’ll probably have to collect and remit sales tax. It’s an ISPITA (industrial-strength pain in the ass) if you sell in several states.

GOOD NEWS: Many thousands of books reach readers without booksellers. They are distributed—sometimes for free—by entities that want information or opinions circulated. These “special sales” can generate high profits, with no risk of returns.

A book you’ve already written may be perfect for use by an association, corporation, government, charity, foundation, university or a political party. Perhaps a book you’ve written needs just slight changes and perhaps a new title and cover to become perfect. Maybe the information in your book is fine, but the book needs a new point of view or emphasis to let you make a deal.

If you want to pursue the special sales market, get a copy of Brian Jud’s How to Make Real Money Selling Books. It includes a huge number of possible purchasers, pus step-by-step instructions for making a sale.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Warning to writers, pursuit of perfection may lead to imperfections


The book shown above was published a few years ago. It went on sale about three months later than planned. It went through hundreds of on-screen revisions, and at least a dozen printed proofs before I pronounced it "good enough" to be sold.

I said "good enough," not "perfect." I know it has three small errors that few people (or maybe no people) will notice. I also know that it has fewer errors than most books I've read -- even books put out by the big traditional publishers with huge staffs of editors, proofreaders and fact checkers.

Lots of books and other media have easily preventable, inexcusable errors. If you self-publish, you have an extra burden. You have to be better than the "big boys."

  • 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. I hope he calculates more precisely while building bikes. 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).
  • Principles of Self-Publishing: How to Pub­lish and Market A Book or Ebook On a Shoestring Budget by Theresa A. Moore is one of the most-error-ridden books I've ever read. Theresa  says that Lightning Source “is a full service publisher.” Lightning is not a publisher of any kind. It is a printing house that works for publishers. It does NOT provide services such as editing and page formatting, which a self-publishing company provides. Anyone who is advising publishers should know the difference between a printer and a publisher. Theresa complains that Lightning Source charges an “exhorbitant shipping fee” for a proof. Both her spelling and her assessment are wrong.
I learned the hard way that each time I make a correction, there is a good chance that I will introduce other errors. They'll need to be corrected, and their corrections may lead to more errors, and the cycle never ends.

Perfection is elusive, and perfection may even be dangerous.


  • In Greek-Roman mythology, Arachne was a skilled human weaver who bragged that she was a better weaver than Minerva. Minerva was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Athena and was goddess of weaving (and of other things, and the inventor of music). Arachne refused to acknowledge that her skill came from Minerva. According to Ovid, the goddess was so envious of the magnificent woman-made tapestry that she destroyed the tapestry and loom, slashed Arachne's face and turned Arachne into a spider. In biology, "arachnids" are the group of critters that includes spiders.
  • Cathy Thomas, also known as Cat, blogs about quilts. Cat wrote, "A humility block is a quilt block with a mistake in it. Either the quilter didn’t notice the mistake until after the quilt top was assembled, or she intentionally left the mistake in the block, not wanting to take the time and effort to correct it. Over time, some superstitions arose about these blocks. One story says that the humility block must always appear at the lower right corner of the quilt. Another story says if a bride makes a perfect quilt, her marriage will be unhappy. . . .  I have heard that Amish quilters intentionally make a mistake in their quilts because only God is perfect and making a perfect quilt is prideful. This is the classic example I use when justifying a piecing mistake in one of my quilts. However, when I researched the subject of humility blocks, I was surprised to learn that this information is a myth rather than a fact. Quilt historians, who have asked Amish quilt makers about the humility block, write that these women are shocked by such a suggestion. To the Amish, having to make a mistake on purpose suggests that their work is already perfect, which is prideful in and of itself. It’s like saying, “I’m so good at quilting that unless I mess up on purpose, I am perfect.” Obviously, there’s no humility in that!
  • An anonymous blogger wrote, "This quilter's decision to put a deliberate mistake into her work unites her with countless other artisans from around the world. The makers of those meticulous Persian carpets made obvious errors in their rugs to show that no one was perfect except Allah. Some people believe that the Gods might be angry about arrogance of a human effort to produce a work of art without imperfection. Navajos thought evil spirits could escape only through an error in art.
So, I'll live with a few mistakes -- at least until it's time for a major revision. I wouldn't want to be turned into a spider, or a bookworm.

------------
Rug photo from http://www.willishenry.com/.  I'm not sure of the origin of the Arachne illustration.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Book pages need human intervention. Software is not enough.



When I started my publishing company in 2008, I had a lot to learn so I bought about 40 books about publishing.

Many of the books about self-publishing were self-published and many of them were extremely ugly.

They had terrible typography.

The worst sin was bad justification.


(above) Type is said to be "justified" (or "full justified" or fully justified") when all of the lines of type in a paragraph (except for an indented first line and a short last line) are the same width, and extend from the left margin to the right margin.

The lines of type in this blog are like most blogs and websites, a growing number of magazines and some books. The type is flush left/ragged right. "Rag-right" is much easier to produce, and many people accept it. 

Justified type has a more formal, polished look. Ragged is obviously less formal. People can rightfully claim that justified type is abnormal and artificial, and ragged right is normal and natural. Text from typewriters (remember them) is normally rag-right. Some typewriters can justify, but the result is usually ugly.

A lot of very ugly justified type gets printed, particularly in newspapers with narrow columns (below). This old newspaper clipping shows lowercased "avenue" and "street." Apparently it was deliberate, not accidental, and was the official 'style' for the paper.



The problem exists in narrow book columns, too (below). Sometimes the only way to improve the word spacing is to switch to rag-right, or make the column wider. You can also experiment with changing some words. This can take a long time, may be futile and may not be an option. The paragraph in the sample has nothing to do with today's topic, but may be interesting.



Below is a bad example of justified full-width text from Release Your Writing by Helen Gallagher. Helen's pages are just five inches wide, and that size leads to pages that are often uglier than the six-inch pages used for most "how-to" paperbacks. It would be better to have wider pages or go rag-right.


Despite lots of recent changes in publishing, justified type is still the dominant format for book printing. It can look beautiful, but takes more time and money to do right. The block of text shown below is from one of my books. I won't assert that it's beautiful, but it's better than a lot of text from self-publishers -- and it's easy to produce with Microsoft Word. If I can do this, so can almost anyone.



Some self-publishers are content to merely dump words onto pages and rely on their software to arrange the words properly.

That's not enough.

A book needs a human touch.

You must carefully examine each line in each paragraph on each page so you can improve justification by changing words, spacing and hyphenation.

It's a lot of work and takes a lot of time to do it right -- but it's the right way to produce a book. (See exception at bottom.) There's no easy way. There's no shortcut. You must invest the time to go line-by-line, over and over again, or your book will look like crap.

Compromises are often necessary and every book I've seen has some problems with justification. Self-publishers seem to have many more problems with justification than professionals do -- and the self-pubbers may not even know that they goofed.

I purchased U-Publish.com 5.0, co-authored by Dan Poynter. This book has no hyphens, and the word spacing (below) is atrocious.



Dan boasts that he is “the father of self-publishing,” “the leading authority on how to write, publish and promote books,” and is “on the leading edge of book publishing.” I don’t claim to be the leading authority on anything, but I could have made the paragraph much nicer:


A self-publisher has an extra burden to produce a high-quality product. Self-pubbed books are initially suspect and must prove their legitimacy, and a bad self-pubbed book reflects badly on other self-publishers. Ironically, the ugliest and worst-written book I’ve ever seen tries to give advice to self-publishers. It was apparently never edited, or checked by a human being at its publisher.

The limitations of the Internet create the need for typographic compromises. As people get used to typographic abominations online, those abominations may become more acceptable in print. However, just because you can get away with ugliness, it doesn’t mean you should.

IMPORTANT EXCEPTION: Most ebooks allow the person reading to manipulate the text, so there is probably no point in trying to achieve nice justification.
 Ebooks designed for reflowable text and user-selectable type size can produce some terrible-looking pages. Shown below is part of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, from a Kindle edition.



TIP: Be careful if you are justifying a book that was already completed with ragged-right type. Most lines will expand to the right margin, and sometimes words that used to fit on one page will "creep" onto another page. You may have to change the page numbering for chapter beginnings, or cut words or make illustrations smaller to get what you want.

TIP: Sometimes the spaces between words will look lousy, and you'll have to experiment with hyphenation, and sometimes switch to shorter or longer words, or add or subtract words, to make things look right.

TIP: Be very careful to check the last line in a paragraph (as shown up at the top). Sometimes even two or three words will be spread out full-width, and they'll look very stupid. You can just select the line and re-do it as flush-left, or (in MS Word) tap the Enter key after the last word in the line.

A while ago I got flamed in a discussion about book design by someone I'll label as ignorant, egomaniacal and belligerent. He insisted that pages of text that are full-justified are harder to read than text that is ragged-right. He also insisted that it's proper to have two spaces -- not one space -- between sentences (an obsolete artifact of ancient typewriters).

At one point he tried to bolster his argument for the extra space between sentences by pointing out that he had typed his flames with the extra space, which made them easier to read. Despite his vast (half-vast?) experience, he did not know that web browsers ignore the extra spaces which he deliberately inserts.

He backed up his minority position by citing his alleged 30 years' experience writing and editing. I saw no point in continuing to argue, and bailed out. With great restraint I resisted the urge to encourage him to perform an act of self-copulation.

I found a good comment about justification by Shannon Yarbrough in "10 Things You Should Know About Self-Publishing" published on The LL Book Review: "I have never, never, NEVER seen a traditionally published book that lacked right margin justification and I’m tired of self-published authors telling me that they did it that way because it’s easier to read. No, you didn’t follow the rules because you didn’t do your homework, or you don’t know how. I know that’s harsh, but it’s the truth and it’s one reason I will turn down a book for review right away." 

I could not have said it better. Thanks, Shannon.

More about typography in my upcoming Typography for Independent Publishers.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Is a bigger book a better book? Probably not.

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 recently discussed his debut novel -- which will 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 Amazon.com 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.