.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

NOT over my dead body


My siblings and I were just asked to approve a bronze grave marker for our mother, who died last year. Most people probably think the submitted design is fine. I think the typography is ghastly!
  1. Some "A" letters look too small.
  2. Some seem to extend too low.
  3. Some spacing between letters is too large.
  4. There is no kerning.
I'm merely an amateur typographer but could have done a much better job.


I long ago decided on the inscription for my own grave stone ("OK, What's Next?") but now I think I'll have to do the actual design to be sure of competent typography.




Humans seldom hang around for more than a century but graves can last for millennia. They should be done right.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Save words. Save energy. Save time. Save space. Reduce stupidity.

Since the end of the last century, many words have been written and said about minimizing the use of vehicles, fuel, heat, power, water, food, packaging, building materials and more. We are supposed to SAVE vital resources.

I think it's time to say a few words about using fewer words.


The archaic phrase "Inquire Within" has been pissing me off since I was a teenager. The sign shown above does not display a phone number or a web address. If the sign did not say "Inquire Within," and you wanted to get hired, exactly what the hell would you do but open the door, walk in and inquire?



I bought gas from a pump that said, "Product Contains Up to 15% Ethanol." If the first two words were deleted from the sign, would the message be less clear?

The same principle applies to writing. Almost any page can easily shed a word or ten -- and be improved by the pruning.

I tend to be pedantic (a trait I inherited from my father). I naturally give lots of examples to prove a point. I recently self-imposed a rule to limit examples to THREE -- and my arguments are no less forceful.

Print-on-demand and ebooks are certainly efficient. But if every writer would eliminate two, three or ten pages out of every 100 pages, book printers would use less paper, ink, toner, glue, energy and time; and the trucks that move the books would save fuel, and the UPS driver might last longer.

AND... the books would probably be better if they were briefer.

In an electronic medium like a blog or ebook, writers have unlimited space to spew all of the words they want to -- and the lack of limits encourages sloppiness.

Advertising is very different.

If a copywriter writes too many words to fit in a one-page ad, he shouldn't use tiny type and can't assume that the client will pay $30,000 extra to run a two-page ad. If she writes too many words to fit into a 30-second commercial, she can't decree that the actors must speak faster, or that the client must pay for more air time.

Impose some limits on yourself. It won't hurt, and will probably help. People are busy and don't have endless time to read. When you think you've finished a book, try to chop out 10%. Briefer is often better.


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Help Wanted photo from http://www.newstimes.com/. I forgot where the gas pump photo came from.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Writers must be aware of possible copyright infringement. Melania Trump's speech was a federal crime.

If you read this, maybe you'll understand plagiarism better than Paul Manafort, Katrina Pierson and the other lying, ignorant sycophants who are paid by Donny Trump.
(1) A lot of outrage has been directed toward journalists who criticized Melania's speech and labeled it plagiarism. They've been accused of 'making a big deal' out of nothing. It's much more than nothing. Journalists and other writers are particularly sensitive to plagiarism. The unique sequences of words that we devise are as personal as our homes, cars, furniture, recipes, art and children. They are our "intellectual property" and no on_ has the right to grab them, modify them and use them without our permission.
(2) A unique sequence of words is covered by copyright -- a Federal protection -- from the moment those words leave the mouth or fingertips and are attached to paper, plastic, cardboard, a hard drive or anything. A literary work (even a three-word slogan) gets immediate protection. It does not have to registered to be protection, but copyright registration does provide additional benefits if there is a copyright violation.
(3) The copyright (i.e., the right to copy) belongs to the creator of the work. The copyright may be transferred to another person or entity. The transfer may be explicit (with a contract and possibly a payment) or implicit as when a writer works for a magazine, TV station, political campaign or advertising agency.
(4) Copyright protection is part of American federal law and is common in other countries.
(5) In the USA, criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to FIVE YEARS IN FEDERAL PRISON and a $250,000 fine.
(6) Sadly, despite its warning, the FBI seldom gets involved in copyright cases. Any time I've reported infringement I was told to hire a lawyer.
(7) The Internet makes it very easy to plagiarize and to detect plagiarism. Some word sequences, such as "I ate lunch" and cliches like "fat ass" show up millions of times online. It's unlikely that any writer would sue if someone else used those word sequences.
(8) However, a search for the sequence "Early on a Saturday morning in the summer of 2010, I received an alarming call from an old friend" shows only a book I wrote.
(9) My words have been ripped off more than 100 times that I know of (I stopped counting). A word search makes it so easy to catch plagiarists and a thief of intellectual property has to be extra-stupid to try it. I used to send this to thieves of my work: "It take a big balls to steal other people's words. It takes a small brain to display the stolen property where millions can see it." Plagiarizing in the 21st century is analogous to stealing your next-door neighbor's car and then moronically parking it in your driveway.
(10) Confession Time: I plagiarized once. In my first semester as a journalism major at Lehigh back in 1965 I had to write an article about a baseball game. I was not then and am not now a baseball fan. I knew very few of the traditional synonyms to describe what a batter does to a ball. In an effort to improve my sports report, I read a published article about the game and copied a few phrases. My professor caught me and justifiable gave me an "F" for the assignment.
(11) In an earlier version of this posting I said that "Melania does not deserve an "F" for the speech she delivered last night. I don't think she should be fired, imprisoned or fined. The speechwriter, however, did violate a federal law and should be dealt with severely. The Trump campaign is constantly attacking Hillary for being "untrustworthy." Clearly the Trump staff should not be trusted, either. UPDATE: NBC News and the New York Times reported that the plagiarized text was not in the speech produced by Matthew Scully and John McConnell, writers hired by the campaign. So it's possible that Melania or someone else is the crook. ANOTHER UPDATE: The Washington Post reported: "Meredith McIver, an employee valued by Donald Trump for her discretion and writing, took responsibility Wednesday for the plagiarized portions of Melania’s Trump’s speech to the Republican National Convention, thrusting a little-known loyalist into the spotlight she had long avoided. But she wasn’t fired."
(12) Finally, there is something fundamentally dishonest about paying a speechwriter. If a politician, religious leader or business person is not articulate enough to write a speech, she or he should not make a speech. It's fine to hire someone to edit and fine-tune a speech (or a book) but the bulk of the work should come from the mind of the person speaking.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Heteronyms are dangerous. Keep them out of book titles, blog posts and website names.


Does the team drink polish?

In an online group for authors, Jessica Bell announced that she is writing a book called Polish Your Fiction: A Quick & Easy Self-Editing Guide.

I started reading her post twice and each time -- for an instant -- I thought that "Polish" was referring to someone from Poland. 


Polish and polish are heteronyms -- words written identically (or identically except for uppercasing the first letter) but having different pronunciations and meanings

The meaning of a heteronym usually becomes apparent because of its context, but if you can avoid ambiguity and delay -- do so.
  • Try to keep heteronyms out of the titles of your books, blog posts and websites. If you cause a reader to hesitate, you may lose her.
  • Heteronyms can cause problems even within text. Does "I read a lot of books" take place in the present tense or in the past? A 'helper' like "did" or "do" or "last year" can remove the ambiguity, as can rewriting the sentence.
  • Even the position of a word in a line of text can cause a stumble. If the last two words in a line of text are "A sewer," "The bass" or "I read," the pronunciation and meaning might not be apparent until the reader reads the words on the next line.
  • Uppercasing and lowercasing can clarify the difference between Polish and polish, but not between Bass and bass.
Wikipedia provides many examples of heteronyms, including:
  1.    A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  2.    Do you know what a buck does to does?
  3.    They were too close to the door to close it.
  4.    The buck does funny things when does are present.
  5.    Don't desert me here in the desert!
  6.    When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  7.    The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  8.    How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
  9.    With every number I read, my mind gets number and number.
  10.    He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  11.    After a number of injections my jaw got number.
  12.    I did not object to the object.
  13.    We must polish the Polish furniture.
  14.    He thought it was time to present the present.
  15.    The farm was used to produce produce.
  16.    The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  17.    There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  18.    A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
  19.    To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  20.    I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  21.    Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
  22.    The weather was beginning to affect his affect
  23.    The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  24.    The bandage was wound around the wound.



Thursday, July 14, 2016

Listen to Aretha Franklin. Readers deserve R-E-S-P-E-C-T from authors and publishers. A $6.99 book should be edited, dammit!



Aretha Franklin's 1967 hit recording of Otis Redding's Respect won two Grammy awards. It's in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry, Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and the Recording Industry of America's Songs of the Century.

Although Aretha's version of Otis's work became a feminist theme song and her words tell about a woman's demands from a man, some lyrics perfectly demonstrate the relationship between reader and author and publisher:

"All I'm askin' is for a little respect . . . . I'm about to give you all of my money"

The reader is entitled to a properly produced book. That's literary respect.

The cover shown is from a disrespectful book.

The publisher is named in a strange bit of Hollywood-style text at the top of the book: "La' Femme Fatale' Publishing Presents." Maybe the two unnecessary apostrophes are intended to imply exoticism to ignorant readers.


The author ("Minx") says this on her Facebook page: "Minx is Miami. I’m the glamour of South Beach and the struggle of the hood. That’s why I’m representing so hard for Miami. The 305 made me who I am." (305 is the telephone area code in Miami.)

In a sad preview of sloppiness to come, Minx typed the title in three different ways on Facebook: "...the 305," "...tha 305" and "da 305."

Here's how Minx promotes the book: "Money can’t buy you happiness, and beauty damn sure can’t either. Only In Da 305, introduces Eileen and Chayil. Two of the baddest bitches in Dade County. Different circumstances leave them in fucked up situations. Chayil and Eileen have two things in common. Their both dead gorgeous and they love their thugs. They’ll do anything for the thugs in their life. Cook, clean, fuck, suck and of course even carry their drugs. All in the name of love. The only thing is, the only thing their thugs got love for is the game.

Kirk and Dwayne reinvent the word vicious. After all their ride or die chicks do for them they repay them with abuse, prostitution, and disrespect in the most profound ways. They show Eileen and Chayil the only thing a thug can truly love is his money and the almighty pursuit of it. But like a dog every thug has his day. Who will have the last laugh or shall I say, bullet. In this it’s a thin line between love and hate urban tale."

I've heard that some black teenagers dismiss good grammar as "acting white."

  • Bad grammar, misspelling and defective typography on a publisher's website, a book cover, in a promotional paragraph or in book text is not white or black.
  • It is simply sloppy, unnecessary, unforgivable, unprofessional -- and disrespectful to readers.
Below is the horrid first page. You can left-click to enlarge the image -- but don't show it to children.

The abundant red arrowheads show just how pathetically unprofessional this book is. It would receive a grade of "F" in junior high school, and its $6.99 price is literary fraud.

I've seen books selling for 99 cents -- and even books being offered for free -- that are much better prepared for publication than this is.

Ironically, Minx mentions that two men in the book "disrespect in the most profound ways." Minx may not be profound, but she and her publisher are certainly disrespectful. Sadly, Minx is a good storyteller. It's a shame that her publisher didn't care enough to hire an editor, and that Minx didn't care enough to insist on editing. If the author and publisher show so little respect for readers, readers should spend their money elsewhere.

In case you think that I'm being too picky, readers noted the deficiencies, too:

  • "A LOT of grammatical errors. Very poorly edited." 
  • "The editing needed work. I had to go over sentences a couple of time to understand what was being said."
  • "the errors really killed me I had to almost guess a word or go back and reread the sentence."
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Aretha photo from http://www.blacktoptens.com. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Don't assume that a book cover designer can design book pages. The best heart surgeon in the world may not be a good choice for piercing an ear.


Cathi Stevenson operates Book Cover Express. The company's website says, "Professional book cover design is essential because readers, retailers, and reviewers glance at a book for only a few seconds before they make a choice™. Make sure it’s your book they’re choosing."

That's good advice, and the company has designed some excellent book covers. 

The site says that Cathi has "a strong background in printing and publishing that goes back to 1981. She also worked as a writer, editor and page designer for many years . . . she can offer sound advice based on practical experience when it comes to designing for print."

Sadly, while Cathi can design fine book covers, her experience is apparently inadequate for designing what goes between the covers.

Below is a page from Cathi's own e-book, How to Sell Your Competitor's Book Online. It is a PDF book, so the pages should look just like a printed book.

The page exhibits several fundamental errors which should neither be expected nor tolerated from a professional book designer:


  1. The first page of a chapter should NOT have a header.
  2. Justified text needs hyphens to eliminate the UGHLEE gaps between words.
  3. "Cross-over" is hyphenated on the page, however, because Cathi apparently thinks the hyphen is part of the word. It's not. "Crossover" is not a hyphenated word. Cathi says she is a "writer and editor." She should know better.
  4. The book uses en dashes when longer em dashes should be used.
  5. In books, dashes generally do not get adjacent spaces. (They often do get spaces in newspapers.)
  6. Instead of using curly "typographer's marks," Cathi uses straight quote marks and apostrophes, like on an ancient typewriter. This is unforgivable in a book, especially from a pro who points out the danger of a book "self-published by an amateur."
  7. The book identifies the author as "Cat Stevenson," "Cathi Stevenson" and "Catherine A. C. Stevenson." Inconsistency is silly -- and bad design.
  8. There's also some bad grammar in the book, such as "The author and publisher, accepts no..." This is not bad design, but should have been noticed and fixed. 
Sadly, Cathi (or Cat or Catherine) does not seem to have taken advantage of her own people. She says that her company "is associated with several wonderful, freelance editors and proofreaders." 

I have no reason to believe that Cathi is selling book interior design services, and her company certainly has the skill to design high-quality book covers (and websites and brochures). I am publishing today's blog to make two important points:
  1. If you are hiring a book designer -- or anyone else -- discuss the person's qualifications and experience. The best brain surgeon in the world may not be a good choice for removing a wart.
  2. If you are in the design business, everything you design should look good. If you design clothing or cars, you should not live in an ugly house. If you specialize in book exteriors, you should not exhibit a bad interior.
There is no excuse for ugly books!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Some ligatures are used to murder people. Other ligatures improve book covers.


On TV cop shows, a ligature is a wire, necklace, shoelace, rope or cord used to strangle a “vic.” The photo above shows a "ligature mark," frequently analyzed by the coroner, medical examiner or forensic pathologist.


(Leslie Hendrix played Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Elizabeth Rodgers, the longest-running recurring character in Law & Order and one of only five characters who appeared in all four Law & Order TV shows set in New York.)


[above] In typography, a ligature is seldom deadly. It's several letters joined together to save a little space and improve appearance. Some fonts include more ligatures than others. In Microsoft Word, you can select ligatures from the symbols section, or apply ligatures in the Open Type section of the Font dialog box. It’s much more important to use ligatures in the large type on book covers and title pages than in normal text.

[below] Some ligatures are much less common than others, and some are downright mysterious. The “i-j” ligature looks like  a “y” with two dots over it. The “s-t” combo doesn’t seem to save any space. The “a-e” and “o-e” are too similar to figure out without the rest of the word, and the “f-s” is hard to decipher without a cheat-sheet. It could be a “j-3.” 



[below] The ampersand is the most common ligature, but most people don’t think of it as a ligature because it is so common. It is probably the only ligature commonly drawn by hand, and is on most keyboards.



In most typefaces it’s hard to tell which letters have been combined to make the ampersand. The two letters are “E” and “t,” which spell “et” — the Latin word for “and.” In English it is pronounced “and,” not “et,” except in the rare case of  “&c,” which is pronounced “et cetera.”  In the examples above, only the last one (Trebuchet MS) clearly reveals the original “E” and “t.”



Although 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 normal text. Ampersands are sometimes used in book titles to save space on covers. I spent a lot of time looking for a book cover with an ampersand. After I gave up, on a Saturday morning FedEx brought me this excellent book — about typography — with an ampersand on the cover.



This blog post is adapted from my new Typography for Independent Publishers




Top photo from www.DocumentingReality.com. Hendrix photo from NBC. Thanks.



Friday, July 8, 2016

Lazy Day

I feel so unmotivated today that I won't even post a rerun.

I'll be back next week.


OH SHIT! I hope this is not the last thing I ever write.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

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



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

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

Its cost is merely the price of a stamp (currently 47 cents in the USA) and an envelope (recently as little as 40 for a buck at Dollar Tree).

While 50 cents is much less than the $35 cost of a real copyright from the U.S. Library of Congress, the 52 cents is a complete waste of money, time and emotion. It accomplishes nothing!
  • The scheme has a fundamental flaw because anyone can mail an empty, unsealed envelope, receive it, store it and years later insert a document and seal the stamped-and-canceled envelope. Judges and defense attorneys know this. 
Strangely, the technique is still recommended even though there is no provision in the American copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and the “poor man’s copyright” is not a substitute for proper registration with the Library of Congress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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mailbox photo from dbking. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A great way to save energy is to use fewer words


Since the end of the last century, many words have been written and said about minimizing the use of vehicles, fuel, heat, power, water, food, packaging, building materials and more. We are supposed to SAVE vital resources.

I think it's time to say a few words about using fewer words.


The archaic phrase "Inquire Within" has been pissing me off since I was a teenager.

The sign shown above does not display a phone number or a web address. If the sign did not say "Inquire Within," and you wanted to get hired, exactly what would you do but open the door, walk in and inquire?




Insecure bureaucrats, lawyers and bankers are often responsible for the excess verbiage that infests our world.

In a previous life I was an advertising copywriter. I won a big-deal award from the Advertising Club of New York, had mostly good cli­ents with inter­esting products that I enjoyed writing about, and only one absolutely idiotic client.

That was United Jersey Banks, where marketing was con­trolled by castrated dullards in the legal department. (If anyone from that miser­able bank is reading this, FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! I still hate your guts.)

One time I had the brain-numbing assignment of writing a boring ad about savings account interest rates.

The head guy on the bank’s marketing team, a government-intim­idated ball-less dullard, insisted that I write “a minimum deposit of at least $500 or more.” I tried explaining to this testosterone-depleted wuss that all this was repetitive and redundant and superfluous and unnecessary, and that we did not need to say all three!

The pathetic castrato would not give in and neither would I. I told him to write his own fucking ad and I left the room. My only regret was that I didn’t shut off the light and slam the door and leave the asshole sitting in the dark, crying and caressing his empty scrotum!
It would have been worth getting fired for.


A sign on this gas pump says, "Product Contains Up to 15% Ethanol." If the first two words were deleted from the sign, would the message be less clear?


The same principle applies to writing. Almost any page can easily shed a word or ten or more -- and be improved by the pruning.

I tend to be pedantic (a trait I inherited from my father). I naturally give lots of examples to prove a point. I recently self-imposed a rule to limit examples to THREE -- and my arguments are no less forceful.

Print-On-Demand and ebooks are certainly efficient. But if every writer would eliminate two pages out of every 100 pages, book printers would use less paper, ink, toner, glue, energy and time; the trucks that move the books would save fuel, the UPS driver's knees might last longer -- and readers would save time.

AND... the books would probably be better if they were briefer.

In an electronic medium like a blog or ebook where paper isn't purchased or stored, writers have unlimited space to spew all of the words they want to and the lack of limits encourages sloppiness.

Advertising is very different.

Despite the banking horror I described above, there is usually a limit on words.
  • If a copywriter writes too many words to fit in a one-page ad, he shouldn't use tiny type and can't assume that the client will pay $30,000 extra to run a two-page ad.
  • If she writes too many words to fit into a 30-second commercial, she can't decree that the actors must speak faster, or that the client must pay for more air time.
Impose some limits on yourself. It won't hurt, and may help.

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Help Wanted photo from http://www.newstimes.com/. I forgot where the gas pump photo came from. Delete key illustration from WPClipart.com.

Bank story from my Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults). Available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats.