Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What can go wrong with a book?
Here are 50 ways I messed up

Some sad rules of life in book publishing: 

(1) The bigger the book, the more errors it will have.
(2) Every time you try to correct an error, you risk creating more errors.
(3) If you strive for perfection, you will never complete the book.
(4) No book is perfect.
(5) Errors will be caught by readers, reviewers and nitpickers like me.

Carefully check your book for bloopers. (I've been guilty of all of them.)
  1. Factual errors
  2. Spelling errors
  3. Grammar errors
  4. Words or dates you meant to fill in "later" but didn't
  5. Wrong typefaces, particularly when text is pasted-in from another source
  6. Commas that should be periods -- and vice versa
  7. Straight punctuation that should be curly "typographers' marks"
  8. Curlies that curl in the wrong direction
  9. Missing spaces between paragraphs or sections 
  10. Flush-left justification that should be full justification
  11. Bad justification in the last line of a page
  12. Chopped-off descenders where you decreased line spacing (leading) or if the bottom of a text box is too close to the text
  13. Wrong-size bullets
  14. Text not aligned at tops of pages. (Professional page formatters try to align tops and bottoms.)
  15. Rivers
  16. Too-big word spacing
  17. Normal letters that should be ligatures (more for large type than in body text).
  18. Accidental spaces after bullets
  19. Improper hyphenation
  20. Misaligned numbers in a list
  21. Roman text that should be italic, and vice versa
  22. Normal text that should be boldface, and vice versa 
  23. Ignoring highlighted warnings in MS Word.
  24. Automatically accepting MS Word suggestions 
  25. Gray text that should be black.
  26. Insufficient space adjacent to images
  27. Images or text boxes that floated over the margin.
  28. Images or text boxes that 'slid' down and covered up footers
  29. Missing periods at sentence ends 
  30. Missing opening or closing quote marks.
  31. Missing page numbers
  32. Pages with numbers that should not show numbers (blind folios)
  33. Periods that should be inside a closing parentheses -- or outside
  34. Repeated words 
  35. Wrong headers, missing headers, switched verso and recto headers
  36. Subheads that are too close to the text above and too far from the text below
  37. Too much space between lines in a multi-line title, chapter name or subhead
  38. Inconsistencies such as 3pm on one page and 3 P.M. on another.
  39. Inaccurate internal referrals such as "see comments on page 164" 
  40. Words that shifted from the bottom of one page to the top of the next page
  41. Chapter names and page numbers in the table of contents that don't reflect a change made in the actual chapter name or the first page of the chapter
  42. Chapters missing from the TOC.
  43. A topic not in the index because you added something after completing the index
  44. Words that should have been deleted but were not
  45. Names that were changed in some places but not in all places
  46. Paragraphs that accidentally merged
  47. Missing photo or illustration credits 
  48. Credits for deleted photos or illustrations.
  49. Photos or illustrations accidentally flipped left-to-right
  50. Wrong ISBN or other information on the copyright page 
I'll discuss errors on book covers in the future.

(dog photo from www.Fotolia.com

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Another reason to update your old books

In the old (pre-print-on-demand) days, popular books were "reprinted" when inventory was exhausted but readers and booksellers wanted to buy more. A second printing often had corrections of the errors that had escaped the editors and proofreaders of the first version.

Successive printings may have more corrections and updates (if someone died or a war ended, for example).

A major revision -- if warranted by sales -- would be called a "second edition," a "new edition," a "revised edition," an "enlarged edition" or maybe an "updated edition" and would likely have additional material as well as updates and corrections.

With POD, since there is little or no inventory that would be obsoleted by the existence of newer versions, it's easy and inexpensive to make corrections and updates at any time. With ebooks, of course, there is no physical inventory. With either POD or E, the cost of updating a book is probably somewhere between zero and a couple of hundred bucks.

For an active author, it can be worth the expense of updating books even if they don't need corrections or updating.

If readers like one book you've written you hope they will buy your other books. There is no better place to let happy readers know what else you've written than inside the book they are reading. Of course you can provide a list of titles, but you can also have brief summaries, maybe a blurb or two and maybe display the covers. An ebook can even have hyperlinks to booksellers' websites where the books are on sale.

My early books listed just a handful of other titles. My recent books show dozens and I am gradually expanding the lists is my older books.

Every book is an advertisement for an author's other books. Take advantage of a captive audience.

If your book list is short enough to fit on one page, put it in the front matter. If you need more than one page, put it in the back matter. You should also have lists of your blogs, websites and social media pages.

Monday, July 21, 2014

You love your book but don't give it a hickey

A hickey (also known as a love bite or kiss mark) is a bruise formed by bursting blood vessels under the skin while biting or sucking the skin. The marks typically last a week or two and can be concealed with makeup or clothing -- or displayed proudly.

Jean Shepherd, one of my literary gods, wrote Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories.

(above) In printing, a hickey (also known as a bull’s eye or fish eye) is a spot or imperfection on a printed paper caused by dirt.

(above) When newspapers were “pasted up” by hand it was common for extraneous strips of paper with text on them, or nothing on them, to get dropped onto what would become the printing plate -- and their images would be printed. (Newspaper article above was written by yours truly for the Brown & White at Lehigh University in 1966 -- when college students used slide rules, cigarettes cost 27 cents a pack and there were no iPads. However, sex had been invented.)

(above) It’s unlikely that you will encounter those problems in a book made with software, a PDF and print on demand -- but there is a 21stcentury version of the hickey.

If you use the "Print Screen" function of your computer, or software such as Snagit, you might accidentally capture an image with a cursor or pointer in it. Be careful.

Top photo from Janek B. via Wikipedia. Thanks.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Back list, midlist, front list, winter list, black list, listless?

Traditional publishers plan long in advance for books to become available at specific times. There's generally a “fall list” and “spring list” (or maybe a “fall/winter” and “spring/summer” list) of new books. Books may also debut for the winter holiday season, summer vacation, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Election Day, etc.

Although I have not been able to find any, I assume that at one time publishers’ book lists were simple one-page price lists that salesmen used when selling to bookstores. Now many “lists” are thick color catalogs, website pages or PDF downloads.

In addition to the seasonal lists, books are listed (i.e., classified) according to importance.
  • A “front list” book is new, expected to sell well and receives a lot of promotional effort.
  • A “back list” book was probably published years ago. Sales are not so dismal that the book goes out-of-print, but it receives little or no promotional effort.
  • A “midlist” book, as you might assume, is between front and back. Most books are midlist.
  • Midlist and backlist books are important in publishing because they bring in money year after year with little or no effort or expense. Some writers are referred to as “midlist authors.”
The front, mid and back designations relate to the position of a book in a publisher’s catalog, or state of mind. Being on the backlist is not necessarily an insult. Simon & Schuster’s backlisters include Pulitzer-Prize-winner David McCullough and Nobel-Prize-winner Ernest Hemingway.

A black list, on the other hand, is a list of things or people to avoid. Try not to be on one of those.

(From my new 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cover your book before you write it

(My first book, published by Doubleday in 1977)

If you write a book that gets published by a traditional publisher, it can take three years to find an agent and for the agent to find a publisher who will accept you and produce the book. In this long process, one of the last things that gets done is cover design.

The author may have some input, but the publisher has the final say on the design -- and even on the title of the book, which can certainly influence the way the cover looks.

If you are working with a self-publishing company, the time between writing and printing is compressed from years to months, but the cover still comes after the writing.

But in independent self-publishing, I've found (speaking after self-pubbing more than 40 books) that it can be very useful to have a cover design even before the first word is written.

This preliminary cover was designed a few years ago. I hadn't started writing the book yet.

You don't have to have a final design (in fact, you shouldn't) but even a "rough layout" will help solidify the project in your mind. The more real the book is to you, the more likely you are to keep typing. If you have front and back covers, and a financial investment in what you've paid your designer to produce, it's natural to want to fill the space between the covers and start selling some books.

  • Living with a cover design over a period of months while you write can be very useful. There can be, and should be, an interaction between the exterior and interior of the book. Exterior and interior will evolve together.
The back cover of the book should have a strong indication of what's in the book -- a reason for book-store shoppers to to carry it from the shelf to the cash register and for online shoppers to click to buy. It could be your last opportunity to make a sale, so make it a strong sales pitch!

The back of the book will also be very useful to you while you're writing. It's a summary -- maybe even a statement of principles -- that should help to keep you focused and remind you of what you had in mind when you first conceived the book.
  • It's normal for the words on the cover to change as you write words for the inside. Sometimes the title may change. Sometimes you just have a "working title" and the final title emerges from deep inside the book. Sometimes you'll come up with a new subtitle, or even swap title and subtitle.
From a strictly business standpoint, having a preliminary title and cover allows you to start promotion to build awareness and desire in advance. If you have an "author" website, your future covers should be shown there, along with brief descriptions and approximate publication dates. If you blog, show your next book(s) on the blog, like I've done.

At the top/left below is the latest version of the former 'Mona Lisa' cover. It has a new title and is now part of a series of books with comic-book style covers.:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ampersand Aversion? Was a book cover altered because of complaints?

The ampersand is often used in business names and logos such as A&P, AT&T, Barnes & Noble, Bain & Company and Simon & Schuster.

It is inappropriate in book text, but is sometimes used to save space on book covers.

I have used the ampersand on at least one of my covers (in subtitles). Some language purists hate the ampersand.

While researching a book I'm writing about typography, I spent a lot of time trying to find a book cover with an ampersand on it, that I did not publish.

I ultimately gave up, but a few hours later the FedEx guy brought me two good books -- about typography and graphic design -- with ampersands on the covers.

Strangely, as shown on Amazon.com, the text on the cover of the white space book was later altered to replace one ampersand with “and.”

Maybe the publisher expected people to complain. Maybe people did complain.

But why was the second ampersand allowed to stay?

Will the cover be changed again now that I've published this?

Stay tuned for future unimportant developments.

I'm happily persnickety and probably the only one in the world who notices or cares about this stuff.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It's dangerous to trust a sepll-checker, or to not use one

While the spell-checking function in word processing software will usually — but not always — spot an improperly spelled word, it won’t spot a wrong word that’s spelled correctly.

In the surprise bestseller, Go the F*ck to Sleep, Adam Mansbach wrote, “The lambs have laid down with the sheep.”
• “Laid” is spelled correctly, but the correct word is “lain.”

In The Successful Writer’s Handbook, Patricia L. Fry wrote, “One writer I know had a cubical constructed in her garage to use as an office.”
• “Cubical” is spelled correctly, but the correct word is “cubicle.”

In Best in Self-Publishing & Print-on-demand, David Rising  wrote, “for all participates.”
• “Participates” is not a spelling error; it’s the wrong word. “Participants” was the right word, but the spell-checking robot didn’t realize it.

In Release Your Writing, Helen Gallagher wrote, “They work is not cheap . . . .” 
• “They” is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, the correct word is “Their.”

In an early version of one of my books, I typed “The photographer will be thrilled to have a subject who does not vomit on her, or require funny faces to illicit a smile.”
• “Illicit is a properly spelled but incorrect word. The correct word is “elicit.” Editor Sheila M. Clark caught the error.

While you can’t rely 100% on your spell-checker software, you should use it.

In Principles of Self Publishing, Theresa A. Moore wrote about an alleged “exhorbitant shipping fee” The fee was actually reasonable, but the spelling is not. There is no “h” in “exorbitant.”
  • A spell checker would have caught the error.
Theresa wrote, “I don't use the spell checker. I use a dictionary. Oxford American. The standard spelling I learned had an ‘h.’”

She probably was taught properly, but confused “exorbitant” with “exhort.” She also misspelled “propaganda.”

Ironically, Theresa says, “a misspelled word can stand out like a red flag in a cornfield” and “It is vitally important for you to have a clear grasp of spelling . . . .” She’s right about that, but did not heed her own warning. Pathetic.

It’s good to have a dictionary, but unless you’re unsure about a word, you won’t check it. A spell-checker, while imperfect, is on duty even when you have no doubt.

(Graphic image from http://www.cn-printing.com/. Thanks.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sometimes it's better to not read your new book. But LOOK at it closely

Here's an important proofreading tip I discovered the hard way: after you've read your new masterpiece 183 times, sit a bit farther back from your computer screen and LOOK at the pages -- don't read them.

You'll probably be amazed at all of the errors you detect when you are not concerned with content, meaning and story-telling artistry.

I aim my eyes at the nine-o'clock position and make a clockwise scan on each page, but do what works best for you.

Check your book for these bloopers:
  1. Wrong typefaces, particularly when text is pasted-in from another source
  2. Commas that should be periods -- and vice versa
  3. Straight punctuation that should be curly "typographers' marks"
  4. Curlies that curl in the wrong direction
  5. Missing spaces between paragraphs or sections (!!!!!!)
  6. Flush-left justification that should be full justification
  7. Bad justification in the last line of a page
  8. Chopped-off descenders where you decreased line spacing (leading) or if the bottom of a text box is too close to the text
  9. Wrong-size bullets
  10. Rivers
  11. Too-big word spacing
  12. Normal letters that should be ligatures (more for large type than in body text).
  13. Accidental spaces after bullets
  14. Improper hyphenation
  15. Misaligned numbers in a list
  16. Roman text that should be italic, and vice versa
  17. Normal text that should be boldface, and vice versa 
  18. Ignoring highlighted warnings in MS Word.(!!!!!!)
  19. Automatically accepting MS Word suggestions (!!!!!!)
  20. Gray text that should be black.
  21. Insufficient space adjacent to images
  22. Images or text boxes that floated over the margin.
  23. Images or text boxes that 'slid' down and covered up footers
  24. Missing periods at sentence ends (!!!!!!)
  25. Missing opening or closing quote marks.
  26. Periods that should be inside a closing parentheses -- or outside
  27. Repeated words (!!!!!!)
  28. Wrong headers, missing headers, switched verso and recto headers
  29. Subheads that are too close to the text above and too far from the text below
  30. Too much space between lines in a multi-line title, chapter name or subhead
  31. Inconsistencies such as 3pm on one page and 3 P.M. on another.
  32. Pages with numbers that should not show numbers (blind folios)
  33. Words that shifted from the bottom of one page to the top of the next page
  34. And one that does require reading: chapter names and page numbers in the table of contents that don't reflect a change made in the actual chapter name
  35. And another: chapters missing from the TOC.
  36. And another: a topic not in the index because you added something after completing the index
  37. And another: words that should have been deleted but were not, and may have accidentally been shifted into another part of a paragraph
  38. And another: names that were changed in some places but not in all places (!!!!!!)
(Eye photo from Microsoft. Thanks.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Do these books have the worst indexes in the world?

I previously declared that the world's worst index was in Best in Self-Publishing & Print-On-Demand by David Rising, a charter member of the Self-Publishing Hall of Shame.

The index was apparently assembled by a robot and never checked by a homo sapiens. A smart orangutan or lemur might have made a better index.

(above) In the index, before the “A” topics, we have topics beginning with $, 3 and 7. The index typography is a strange mix of standard, boldface and underlined text, has no system for capitalization and uses different typefaces. Even email addresses appear in the index. There are terms that no one would ever look for, like "hobby" and "private." Some terms are listed twice. Do we really need 72 DPI as well as 72 DPI. with a period after it? (Both are on the same page, BTW.)

Expected terms and names are left out. The front cover screams, “How to Get Published Free.” The word “free” is not indexed, and I couldn’t find anything about free book publishing inside the book.

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

(above) Helen produced the second-worst index I've ever seen. Readers really don't need separate listings for both "distributors" and "Distributors," or "marketing" and "Marketing," or "publishers" and "Publishers," or "small press," "small presses" and "Small Presses."

Most nonfiction pbooks need an index. Microsoft Word can produce an index, but it will be ugly and confusing without proper setup -- and intervention.

Some important tips:
  1. Remove duplicate listings. The same word shown in both roman and italic type, or with and without Initial Uppercase Letters, or in singular and plural form does not deserve two listings.
  2. Don't include any terms that nobody would look for.
  3. If you add or remove pages, update the index so page numbers will be accurate.
  4. Make sure that you include important terms, especially if they are on your cover or in your promotional material.
  5. Names should be listed under the last name.
  6. Check spelling.
Even some good books have bad indexes. All books don't need indexes. If you are sure you need to have an index, be prepared to invest a lot of time in it (when you might rather be doing something else) or maybe invest money to have someone else do it. There are professional indexers in the UK and in the USA who can do quality work without complaining.

I now have the distinct displeasure to announce a tie for "World's Worst Index," in The Great Black Hope by Constance Kluesener Gorman.

The book is a confusing mix of sports and spirituality. The author claims to be a Christian Mystic "favored with the gifts of prophecy, healing, miracles and private revelation from God."  It would be better if she had the gift of proper indexing.

On an online authors' forum she complained about poor sales despite extensive publicity.

There are many reasons why a book may not sell well. It's important to keep in mind that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising

Book previews on websites plus downloadable free samples can make potential purchasers aware of problems which keep them from buying the book.

The author's website, Amazon description and book badly need editing. Obvious errors in grammar and typography scream AMATEUR.

The index should be severely edited, or just deleted.

Who is going to try to find a page about "birthday" or "Mike?" Why does Lawrence Taylor have one citation under "LT" but eleven without the "LT?" Why is Mentor in boldface and  gunfire in italics? There seems to be no system for uppercasing, italicizing and boldfacing. The index lists both depression and Depression. Levi Jones is listed twice. People are listed under first names, not last. "Kroger's.," should be "Kroger,"

Did anyone look at this stinking mess before I did?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Some self-congratulations, and a few tips about blogging

I started writing this blog in September, 2008. Since then I have posted more than 2,000 times and the blog has had more than 800,000 "page views." I wish I could have charged the viewers a dollar each, or a dime, or a penny.

My blog traffic has had ups and downs but has gradually increased from the original one page view (mine) to more than 3,000 two days ago.

That's nothing compared to Huffington Post (which has gazillions of readers and more than 9,000 people doing the writing). However, there are apparently more than 150 million blogs online, some get hundreds of daily visitors, many get dozens and some get none -- so I am quite pleased with 3,058, or even half that number.

I have no secrets to divulge but I will pass on some tips:
  • Write regularly. Three or more times per week. Five is best. You want your blog to become a daily habit with your readers. Some blogs get new posts just once or twice a year. Why bother?
  • Publish in the morning. As early as possible.
  • Don't bother posting more than once a day. If you feel the need to spout more frequently, use Facebook or Twitter.
  • Have a reason to blog: Do you want to sell something, entertain people, change the world, satisfy yourself? For me it's "all of the above."
  • If you're a writer -- and many of my readers are writers -- be aware that writers of nonfiction will probably find it much easier to blog than will novelists or poets. There is just not much to say five times a week about lesbian cannibals from Venus, or your poems about daffodils. If you have a very specific, artsy genre, a website is proper better than a blog.
  • It's nice to publish guest posts but don't let guests replace your own unique voice. One blogger I used to like a lot but now often ignore has become more of a publisher than a writer because he publishes so much material that he does not write. A blog should have a personality, not dozens of personalities.
  • Promote your blog on other media -- websites, Facebook, etc.
  • Mention your blog in anything you control, including books, comments on other blogs and websites, business cards, letterheads, etc.
  • Cover a variety of topics, even if not closely related to your blog's title or premise. Up at the top I say that I discuss "writing, editing, design, publishing, language, culture, politics and other things." Other things allows me to write about anything I feel like without violating my "charter."
  • Variety allows the blogger to preach about world events or personal emotions, and maybe grab readers who don't care about the main topic. Most of my readers come here via Google. They may be searching for topics I discuss, and not necessarily searching for me or my books.
  • Don't be afraid to publish reruns. You should be attracting new readers every day, and someone who reads your blog today may not have read the same material three months or three years earlier.
  • If you do publish a rerun, update it if necessary. Add, correct, provide new illustrations, change the title. Pick reruns of popular postings, not ones that attracted few readers.
  • Once a year or so change the look of your blog. You can use a different template, change colors, shift things around.
  • Allow readers to comment and respond to the comments promptly. Comments should be moderated so jerks don't spout obscene or libelous material before you can reject it.
  • Blog spam is a BIG problem. Some blogs automatically distribute the spam to all email subscribers before the blogger has a chance to kill it.
  • Write about things that interest you. If you're disinterested -- if blogging becomes a chore -- readers can tell and will turn away.
  • Few things are bigger turn-offs than an abandoned news blog. I've started and stopped several blogs but they were not presenting news and they can stand as completed works, almost like books. Today marks SIX MONTHS since Brent Sampson, boss of Outskirts Press, has posted on his blog. Something is very wrong. A Book's Mind is a strangely named competitor of Outskirts. It started and stopped publishing a blog. Did Outskirts win?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why I violated two of my own rules for websites

(left-click to enlarge)

The first website to use the ubiquitous dot-com "domain" was registered in 1985. Since that time the total number of dot-coms has reached more than 120 million. Lots of those dot-coms are used on websites for authors like www.StephenKing.com and books like www.TheGoldfinch.com.

I have often preached about the importance of devising a suitable dot-com address (Uniform Resource Locator or "URL") because that's the unofficial standard URL for business use.

Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult to get the dot-com URL that you want. A great many are used for websites but millions have been registered but are not used for websites. Some are used only for email, or were once used for sites that have been abandoned, or are being held by URL resellers (hoarders?) for sale at high prices.

Some companies have paid huge amounts to buy addresses from hoarders. Others use awkward, long addresses like tmccorporation.com.

I violated my rule once previously for a personal site, www.MichaelMarc.us -- but that's a special case.

A distinctive book title or personal name can be helpful. Orna Ross, author and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors  has www.OrnaRoss.com.

A distinctive name that's also short gives you a big advantage. There's probably no competition for www.AloysiusJosephBacciagalupe.com or www.EverythingYouMightPossiblyWantToKnowAboutFixingSaxophones.com.

Just as many movie makers attach "movie" to a title to produce a unique URL, some authors attach "writer" or "author" to their personal names.

Barbara Barth uses www.BarbaraBarthWriter.com and Jessica Bell has www.JessicaBellAuthor.com. Unfortunately BarbaraBarth.com is being used by a real estate agent who shares the author's name. JessicaBell.com is being offered for sale by a domain reseller that is hoarding "over 5,000,000 domains."

Dot-net addresses are common but are not a good idea because many people assume that a business uses a dot-com, not a dot-net, and they'll either reach the wrong website or no site at all.

Some people and companies use a dot-net version of a dot-com already being used by others -- a very bad idea.  My telecom website is www.ablecomm.com but it gets visitors who want www.ablecomm.net.

I wanted to get DoAsISay dot com for my newest book, "Do As I Say, Not As I Did" -- but a hoarder has it. (If you want to read the book wait until about 7/14. I'm making some revisions.)

Dozens of new "top level domains" were recently authorized ranging from dot-miami to dot-food and dot-xyz. Dot-book has been approved but is not yet available.

I decided to use www.DoAsISay.xyz.

It's short, distinctive, memorable and I like the sound of it. It also cost me just $4.95 instead of the thousands that the hoarders often charge. I don't mind being a pioneer but I'd like to see more authors and books join me in XYZ-land.


I've often warned about having web pages with "reverse" typography (light lettering on a dark background). I previously said reverse is OK for brief blocks of text but not for entire pages.

I changed my mind.

Millions of kids were able to read white chalk marks on school blackboards and people of all ages have read the opening text "crawl" in the Star Wars movies. Reverse websites are quite common and as long as the type is of sufficient size and not intricate I think reverse is fine, even for a book that does not have a dark mood.

So, my newest book has a website with reverse pages and a dox-XYZ URL. I like it.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

You know about beta readers. Your book also needs beta holders

I -- and many others -- have preached variations of the theme that "it takes a village to make a book." Ideally you'll have a professional designer and one or more professional editors and maybe some marketing experts.

It's common to have help from friends and relatives outside the book business -- hawk-eyed, literate "ordinary people" who serve as beta readers to detect and report on what the highly paid pros have missed.

I twice learned the importance of having ordinary people hold a physical book before publication in order to judge their reactions. You need these "beta holders" in addition to beta readers.

(Beta is the second letter in the Greek alphabet and comes after alpha. Alpha and beta

are the equivalents of A and B and gave us the word "alphabet." With computer software, the "beta version" is the second version (actually it may be the 943rd version). It is almost ready for distribution to the public but probably has more "bugs" in it than the final version will.

The beta version of software is made available to "beta testers" who will use it and probably encounter problems that will need to be fixed before the software is made available to everyone. The book business has followed the pattern of the software business in having beta readers. I've never heard of alpha readers. Presumably the alpha readers are the author and editors.)

(above) My first self-pubbed book (2008) was titled with a quote from a wacky teacher I had in high school (I Only Flunk My Brightest Students). I took a proof copy to a party at a neighbor's house and passed it around to a few strangers who were sitting with me at a table. The title made sense to 'kids' I went to school with, but not to these strangers. They all assumed that the title was my quote and that I had been a teacher. I re-titled the book as Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) and it went on to become a bestseller.

The second situation happened just two days ago.

I showed a proof of my newest book, Do As I Say, Not As I Did to a few relatives. As I hoped, they laughed at the title -- but they skipped over the subtitle to flip through the book. Last night I modified the cover to put the subtitle right below the title and in a bolder typeface and shifted my name to a lower position. I am not yet as famous as Hillary Clinton so my subtitle will probably help sales more than my name will.

I would not have caught either of these problems if I did not let amateurs hold my books. Beta holding can be a critical part of book production. Try it with your next book.

I also changed the "bestseller" text from three lines to one and combined it with the rest of the text at the bottom of the cover. NOTE: I have to make more than a hundred corrections inside the book, so if you want to buy a copy, please wait until around 7/12 to get a better book than the one that's on sale now.

(below) By the way, beta holding even works with ebooks that will not also exist as pbooks. Just upload a cover image to an ebook reader or tablet and let your beta holders do their work.

The original version of Anthology of Third-World Email Scams had "world" deliberately misspelled as "wirld" as a joke. Some beta-holders thought I had made a real mistake, so I revised the cover to have proper spelling and I added a quote. This book is both educational and entertaining. Click to learn more about it.

NOTE: The realistic fake covers shown in today's post were produced with MyECoverMaker -- a vital resource for anyone designing and selling books.

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Top Consumer Reviews" is still incompetent and still full of shit and may be corrupt

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Reviews of products and services are useful, powerful and time-honored adjuncts to commerce.
  • Consumer Reports magazine has been publishing reviews by professional testers since 1936.
  • Reviews by amateurs on Amazon.com can make a book or other product become a bestseller -- or doom it.
  • According to Amberly Dressler, managing editor of Website Magazine, "Consumers are making their own decisions less and less, relying on the reviews of their fellow users to determine where to spend their dollars."
Sadly, the Internet requires no qualifications or testing for reviewers.
  • Some reviewers have not used the products they endorse or condemn. 
  • Some reviewers are corrupt "sock puppets." Authors and others can even buy phony reviews.
  • Some reviewers seem to know absolutely nothing about the field they are advising about.
That seems to be the case with reviews of self-publishing services provided by Top Consumer Reviews that I complained about last October. and has not improved.

The website brags that: "We take pride in the service we provide for you, and treat our responsibilities very seriously . . . .  Our expert reviewers . . . .  bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise covering a broad range of skills. Some of their backgrounds include successful careers in: Banking, Education, Entertainment, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Health care, Homemaking, Insurance, Investment portfolios, Management, Military, Sales, Software development, Transportation"

Notably absent from the list are experts with experience in publishing or writing.

More: "Although the makeup of our company is diverse, we all share one common goal: to bring you the best information on the top products available, in a format that's as easy to use as possible. After visiting our website, we hope you feel that we've met that challenge!"

I certainly don't.

More: Every item we review is meticulously researched so that we can provide the best information for you. We don't stop there. We also investigate the companies that offer these products as well . . . . we strive to deliver current, factual, correct information,

Not necessarily so.

More: "Ratings are subjective and are the sole opinion of TopConsumerReviews.com."

It would be better if the reviewers got opinions from people with more knowledge of self-publishing, especially customers of the self-publishing companies.
  • The selection of companies shows fundamental ignorance.
  • Ignoring CreateSpace and ebooks is negligent.
  • Saying that "Outskirts Press sets the standard by which all self publishing companies should be judged and clearly earns our highest rating" shows such a high level of naivety (and maybe dishonesty) that I can't rely on any review the company publishes.
Furthermore, the site carries an ad for Outskirts that creates revenue for Top Consumer Reviews when people click on it, and other links to Outskirts that apparently generate "affiliate marketing" income.

The site tells prospective authors that "Outskirts Press allows authors to keep 100% of the royalties from the sale of their books. This incredible feature sets this program above the rest of the self-publishing services." Saying that Outskirts pays 100% author royalties, with no explanation, is misleading, meaningless and can hurt both competitors and authors. I asked Top Consumer Reviews for an explanation but received no response.

100% of what? Royalty calculation in the self-publishing business is notoriously fuzzy. It's like Hollywood contracts that promise to pay a percentage of the "net profit," but the studios inflate the costs of making the movie so there is no profit left to distribute.

The Outskirts Press website says, "You receive 100% of your author royalties." The site does not show how the percentage is calculated or what is deducted before you get 100%

Author John H. Hohn complained online that "Outskirts Press priced my book at too high for the market and paid me less than $.37 royalty on each."

The Outskirts Press web page shown below brags of "High Royalties" but the examples shown range from about 26% to about 14% -- FAR less than 100%.

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The review of Outskirts on TopConsumerReviews.com reads like an ad, not an article (e.g., "With superior services, upfront pricing, and honest business practices, they are dedicated to ensuring the success of their authors.") The opinions offered by the reviewer contradict opinions posted online by unhappy Outskirts customers:
  • "I have had nothing but troubles and delay since last February in getting my children's storybook published by Outskirts Press. They have changed representatives on me three times and there is no coordination between them so each time it's like starting over. The colorizer(s) were terrible so I finally decided to use the colored images I sent in instead which they are "cleaning" up but which I am still having to pay the colorization fee for. And it seem that they have been just sitting on it and that nothing has been done. They tell me that they are finally sending the images for proofing tomorrow but I'm not counting on it. I will appreciate it if you have any negative information about Outskirts Press that you could share with me because I'm really beginning to think they are bogus and just taking my money which was close to $3,000.00."
  • "My cause for breach of contract and damages is because of consistent disregard, for whatever reason, the promise of 10 to 13 weeks for production that has extended into 9 months of deliberate delays.  I have no idea as to why this deliberate posture was taken. . . I was deprived of 8 to 9 months of having my book marketable and available to the public, therefore my reasoning for the suit being at $7,500.00. To complicate the association it was difficult to communicate as in phoning only voice-mail would come up with no response, Outskirts Press had no physical office address just a box number at a UPS station."
  • "I am a very disappointed client of Outskirts. It's such an incompetent company operated by incompetent people. When they uploaded my manuscript onto a galley book, spaces between sentences were deleted, strange things such as half parentheses ")", a numeric "1" after a comma showed up and they made a two-people dialogue into one person's, deleted indentations, printed one sentence in a bold letters, and about more than a dozen headings under "Chapter Numbers" were left aligned. Is there any way I can get some money back? I told them I am backing out, and the supervisor says she will be working directly with me from now on, but I can't trust her."
  • "I have had some scathing reviews due to the errors that were left in my book after I paid a small fortune for editing with the Outskirts editing team. I was so excited when my book was first released, but after a few family members pointed out the mistakes left behind, I can't describe the restraint it took for me not to explode. I tried to reason with my so-called marketing representative, but she simply hid behind the "fine print" they give you after they receive payment from you. It would have cost me another small fortune to revise the book, and I am still in debt from publishing it in the first place. The marketing representative simply would not assume any responsibility for mistakes that Outskirts made. Outskirts made me feel paranoid about not getting their editing service, but when I did it was as if I had no editing at all."
Despite many tales of woe, TopConsumerReviews.com tells us that "Outskirts Press is an excellent self-publishing service. . . . Outskirts Press sets the standard by which all self publishing companies should be judged and clearly earns our highest rating."

So, is TopConsumerReviews.com inept, irresponsible or dishonest? I think the answer is "all three."

The company offers this cop-out: "We do not guarantee . . .  that the . . . information provided for each product [is] current and/or correct."

In other words, do not trust anything that TopConsumerReviews.com says. That's excellent advice.

By the way, the ranking of self pubcos (with inept Outskirts at the top and highly regarded CreateSpace missing) that was online today (below) is unchanged from October of last year. The ignorant fools who operate the website have learned nothing!