Friday, June 30, 2017

Hyp-hen Hil-a-ri-ty UPDA-TED


I take a perverse joy in discovering stupid hyphenations produced by Microsoft Word. One recent discovery is "bin-aural," instead of "bi-naural." It's not as good as "the-rapist," "of-fline" "fi-ne" and "proo-freader," but is worth including in my li-st.

Microsoft, however, is not the only offender. A few years ago The New York Daily News presented us with a powerful piece of innovative typography: iP-hone.

Today's Daily News entry is equally scary: Fa-cebook. 

Ebooks, where word flow is controlled by software—not sentient beings—produce some gems. The Kindle edition of The Brothers Emanuel, by Ezekiel J. "Zeke" Emanuel, presented me with "swit-ching." Is it related to the I Ching?



Automatic hyphenation by ebook readers is both funny and sad. I’ve seen “booksto-re,” “disappoin-ting, “depen-ding” and “increa-sing”—within a few pages in the same book.

Usually the first fragment of a hyphenated word provides a hint of what is ahead on the next line, but not always. Yesterday I encountered min-dreading in the excellent bio of Walt Disney written by Neal Gabler. It must be the absolutely best awful hyphenation.


Microsoft Word often seems to guess or to follow a rule based on recognizable patterns rather than consult an internal dictionary. It sometimes makes bad guesses. Word 2010 is a little bit better than 2007. 


[above] Strangely, hyphenation is debatable. Microsoft Word and Dictionary.com accept “eve-ryone.” Merriam-Webster does not. Neither do I. My own rule for hyphenation is that the first part of a hyphenated word should not be pronounced differently by itself than when it’s part of a larger word. I think most people expect “eve” to be pronounced “eev”—not “ev” or ev-uh.” The “eve” in “eve-ning” is not pronounced like the “eve” in “eve-ryone.”

Word’s hyphenation system sometimes makes bad guesses and you’ll have to overrule its decisions. Proofread very carefully and never have complete faith in robots.

“The-rapist” is my favorite abomination sanctioned by Microsoft. I also really like “of-fline” “who-lesaler,” “Fa-cebook,” “books-tore,” “upl-oad,” “wastel-and,” “proo-freading,” “apo-strophe,” “li-mited,” “identic-al,” “firs-thand,” “fru-strating,” “whe-never,” “foo-ter,” “miles-tone,” “grays-cale,” “distri-bute,” “percen-tage,” “prin-ter,” “fami-liarity,” “misunders-tanding,” “mi-nimize,” “sa-les,” “me-thod,” “libra-rian,” “mi-spronounced,” “alt-hough” and “bet-ween.”

Word often assumes that the letter “e” indicates the end of a syllable as in “be-come” and causes errors like “Ste-ve,” “the-se,” “cre-dit” and “se-tup.”

Word recognizes that “par” is a common syllable, 

which leads to “par-chment.” Maybe Bill Gates retired too soon.  Someone has to fix this stuff.

You may want to override Word’s hyphenation decision with “heteronyms” -- words that are spelled the same way but have two meanings and are pronounced in two ways. Word gives you “min-ute” when you want “mi-nute” and rec-ord even if you want “re-cord.” The automatic hyphenation “inva-lid” makes it seem like you are writing about someone who is ailing, not an “in-valid” contract. Word 2007 and 2010 won’t hyphenate either “Po-lish” or “pol-ish.”

Word’s automatic hyphenation can give weird results with proper names, such as “Fe-dex,” “Publi-shAmerica” and “Pa-nasonic.”

The free “Writer” software from Open Office has problems, too. It produced “unders-tanding.”

I once read a book that advised, “If you do not use a professional your manuscript will not be perfect. Do not proofread it yourself and declare it perfect.” The professional approved “loo-ked,” “winso-me” and “proo-freader.” Ouch.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Are you ready for Prime Time? What's the main difference between an amateur writer and a professional author?



A while ago I copyedited a book written by a woman who is an excellent storyteller—but was not quite ready to be a professional author.

The book required so much editing that my hands ached from typing and mousing. I charged the woman much more than I would have if the text was prepared
better for me.

I'm sure the writer
and perhaps her friends and relativesread the manuscript dozens of times. I'm sure they loved it. I did not.

The biggest single problem was lack of consistency.


The AP book is a reference book you can actually read for fun.

You can adhere to the rules of such style manuals or combine elements of several. It's less important to rigidly follow one book than to be consistent within your text -- but don't be consistently foolish.

Don't have “3 a.m.” on one page and “5PM” 100 pages later. Don't have "41" and "forty-one." Use "chairman" and "Chairman" in the proper places. 

Sometimes the style books agree with each other. Sometimes they don’t. For example, "Chicago" (which was first published in 1891) favors the serial comma, but the AP and the Times books oppose it. Their attitude may be based on the need to save space in crowded newspapers. "Chicago" style is more often used by book publishers.

The Chicago Manual of Style tells us that french fries and swiss cheese need no uppercase letters. The AP book says we should capitalize Swiss cheese.

The AP book was first produced as a 60-page booklet in 1953. Over the years, this “Bible of the Newspaper Industry” grew considerably in both size and scope. The 2007 version that I use is still a rulebook -- but it’s also a dictionary, an encyclopedia and a textbook. The AP updates annually. I'm still using the 2010 edition. The Chicago and Times books update less frequently. I have the 2002 version of the Times book. My 15th edition of the Chicago book was published in 2003.

The Oxford University Press and the Chicago Manual of Style insist that an em dash should be attached to the letters before and after it, like—this, with almost no visible space. On the other side, the New York Times likes to put a space before and after each em dash. I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, with different styles in different books. As long as I publish my own books, I control my em dashes. You control yours.

While a self-publisher can choose (or create) her or his style, if you get a contract from another publisher—or even if you freelance for a magazine, newspaper or website—you may encounter "house style." Doubleday may have different preferences than Simon & Schuster, and the New York Times may disagree with Esquire.

On the web Slate, Salon and Huffington Post may have different standards.

Just as language does not stand still, neither do the official styles. The AP recently switched from "web site" to "website" and endorsed "email" over "e-mail," "handheld" over "hand-held" and "cellphone" over "cell phone." I made those changes years ago.


Other amateurisms:
  • Rampant use of ampersand instead of "and"
  • Use of numerals instead of spelling low numbers
  • Bad spelling
  • Factual errors
  • Repeated words and phrases
  • Omitted words
  • Omitted hyphens
  • Unnecessary hyphens
  • Omitted spaces
  • Unnecessary spaces
  • Wrong words (e.g., "house" instead of "horse")
  • Lowercasing proper nouns, such as "protestant"
  • Unnecessary uppercasing, such as "Church"
  • Not explaining esoteric terminology
  • Excessive informality outside of dialog (e.g., "my mom" instead of "my mother"
  • Not knowing when to use quote marks and italics
  • Over-long sentences and paragraphs
  • Improper dashes
  • Too many em dashes
  • Not verifying spelling of names (it's the Philips company, but a phillips screw)
  • RUSHING
Control yourself.

All writers have quirks that need to be controlled by their editors or by the writers. Sometimes an editor who is paid by a writer will be inclined to not make a correction ("heck, it's his personal style") that an editor paid by a publisher would correct. That's why it's important for a self-pubber to recognize personal quirks and foibles and try hard to keep the undesirable, unnecessary and weird off the printed page.
 

Just as your style sheet specifies the type font for breaker heads and whether you capitalize the "W" in "web," it's good to have a listat least in your headof screw-ups to avoid.

One of my perpetual problems is giving too many examples. It's partly pedantry, which I inherited from my father. It may also be a bit of egomania, to show off how much I know.

My natural impulse is to write something like, "British automobile manufacturers -- such as Jaguar, Rover, MG, Triumph, Vauxhall, Austin and Morris -- had reputations for unreliable electrical systems."

Under my self-imposed limit, I am allowed ONLY THREE EXAMPLES," so I'd probably ditch Triumph, Vauxhall, Austin and Morris. I'd still make my point, and save some bytes and trees.




More advice in my Self-Editing for Self-Publishers (What to do before the real editor starts editing-or if you're the only editor)

I am available for editing. Email me.

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Top illustration from http://www.123rf.com. MG photo from Brett Weinstein. Thanks.

Monday, June 19, 2017

When responding to readers' comments, an author's attitude makes a big difference

I read lots of books.

I particularly read lots of books about publishing, both to learn and to check on possible competition for my own books about publishing.


In one week I read two unsatisfying books which try to instruct self-publishers. They both have useful information, but the presentations are badly flawed. Typography, cover design and editing are deficient. Both books have factual errors, reveal bad decisions (and ignorance), and include inappropriate material.

I often email authors with questions, comments and corrections.

I don't identify myself as a blogger, writer, publisher or reviewer—but I don't hide my identity, either. Any author could instantly find out about me with Google or Bing.


My communication with "#1" was as unpleasant as reading her book. She made ridiculous attempts to justify bad decisions, ignored some questions, and seemed downright resentful (e.g., "Why are you asking these questions?"). Her snotty attitude killed any chance of getting a positive review from me.

The response from "#2" was completely different. He was appreciative of my comments, said that he knew about some of the errors and regretted them, and tried to courteously justify the decisions I disagreed with. He even said he might thank me publicly in the next edition of his book.

I was not looking for public gratitude or ass-kissing, and I did not like his book any better after the email—but I did like the author much better. And that affected my review.

Attitude means a lot.

(smileys from http://robwall.ca/2009/05/22/smileys-in-online-courses/)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

I used to get laid because I was a writer. I no longer do. But that's OK.


I majored in journalism in college. I've written many hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines. I was an award-winning advertising copywriter. I've written more than 40 books.

For a while I kept a "clip file" of all of my published articles, and had a portfolio of my ads that I could use to impress a prospective employer. But, after nearly 50 years making money by tapping a keyboard, I no longer think that writing is a big deal.


In the early 70s, I loved getting fan mail and phone calls from people who liked my articles and reviews in Rolling Stone. Free records and free passes to movies and concerts often enhanced my relationships with young ladies.

Later, there was lots of satisfaction when I was told how many dollars my ads and websites generated. It was cool seeing people wearing T-shirts I had designed. In more recent years, I've enjoyed reading the mostly good reviews of my books.

I won't say it isn't fun anymore. One fundamental Marcus maxim is, "If it isn't fun, don't do it." If writing wasn't fun, I wouldn't still be doing it.

I still love to tweak, adjust, manipulate and rework blogs, websites and book pages so they sound and look just right.

But writing a good book in 2017 just does not generate the same smiles and internal giggles as the first big cover story I wrote for High Fidelity Trade News in 1969, or getting into movies and concerts for free when I showed my Rolling Stone press ID in 1971, or getting laid after giving a girl a stack of records I had gotten for free when I worked for Stone.

Maybe the problem—if it is a problem—is that writing is much easier than it used to be, so I don't feel I am overcoming a challenge. I was fired from my job at High Fidelity Trade News when I had a two-week dry spell, but it's been decades since I've suffered with a severe case of "writer's block."

Maybe simply getting olderand accumulating more experiencesmakes it easier to write. (But harder to type accurately.) 

At age 71, I can write about almost anything.

I had a demented high school English teacher [she's in Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)] who made 'surprise attacks' on our class. One day she commanded us to "write 500 words about tobogganing." Another time she wanted 500 words about "How Capri pants are the downfall of western civilization."

I hated the evil idiot, but she provided good preparation for later on when my paycheck depended on my being able to write about things I knew absolutely nothing about (ads for women's bathing suits and the Metropolitan Opera, and a fundraising letter for the YMCA, for example).

Getting published is infinitely easier now than when I was younger. Years ago, if I had a brilliant idea for an article or book, I had to query editors and publishers to try to ignite their enthusiasm and open their checkbooks.

Today, if I have something to say, I write a book and publish it myself, or post something on one of my blogs or on Facebook or Twitter, or comment on someone else's blog, or start a new blog or website. It's infinitely easier than pitching an article to an editor or convincing investors to put money into a new magazine.

Those of us in the book biz know how easy it is to publish now. But many “civilians” are still in awe of authors.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I was at a brunch meeting of about 25 members of a "burial society" that I’ve inherited membership in.

Although I’ve theoretically been a member since birth, this was the first time that a meeting was held near enough for me to conveniently attend. I was surrounded by relatives I am scheduled to spend eternity with, but I had never met any of them before.

During the meeting, someone spoke about a milestone in family history that occurred about 100 years earlier. I casually mentioned that I had written about the incident in one of my books.

I was surprised by the response. Some people were in awe! Someone said, “Oh, you wrote a book!” and there was at least one “Wow.” People asked the name, the subject and where they could buy it.

I answered the questions quickly and politely. I didn’t want to hijack the meeting and turn it into a book promo event.

My extended family (mostly 'sophisticated New Yorkers') thought that meeting a writer is unusual.

I certainly don’t think writing is unusual or that writers are unusual (well, maybe a little unusual). I spend a lot of my online and offline time communicating with writers, editors, designers and publishers. My close relatives and neighbors and employees know that I write and publish and they are not impressed. (Well, actually, a few are.)

I know how easy it is to get published; but to the group of strangers at the meetingwho share some of my genes, and will share a final addressit was a big deal. I’m certainly not a celebrity like Elvis, JFK or Shakespeare, but some of these folks seemed to be a bit excited to be related to an author and maybe even to be buried near one.

It made me feel good. Not as good as getting laid because I was an editor at Rolling Stonebut nevertheless, good.

Magicians don’t explain their best tricks. Maybe we shouldn’t reveal how easy it has become to publish books and have them sold by Amazon and B&N. Maybe I should not publicize this blog post. Oh well.

Monday, May 29, 2017

War Story



TV coverage of Memorial Weekend has been full of BIG numbers: the hundreds of thousands lost in our wars from the Revolution to Afghanistan.

(Did you know about the Sheepeater Indian War of 1879? One American soldier died. The deadliest war, so far, was WW2, with nearly 300,000 American combat deaths. Nearly 2,000 GIs have died so far in Afghanistan combat. How high will we allow that total to go? If we quit at 5,000 or 50,000 will the hell-hole be any better after our troops come home? I doubt it. The country may be not worth saving and not savable. Did we "save" Iraq? Sometimes I think we should rescue Afghani women and children, kill the adult men and turn the country into a giant parking lot, opium farm and ski resort.)

But war is much more than losses of thousands, it's the loss of ones.

By telling stories of individual, personal losses, maybe we can minimize future wars.

I graduated from high school in '64 and eagerly looked to our first reunion, strangely in '71.

I was really looking forward to hanging out with a good friend, but he wasn't there.

I learned that "B" was killed in Viet Nam. I blame his death on LBJ, not the Viet Cong. This was a kid I expected to—and wanted to—grow old with. I was cheated. His family was cheated. The country was cheated. Most of all, he was cheated.

We are long past the time to stop extending wrongful, hopeless wars with the pathetic desire to prove that Captain Sue or Sargent Steve "didn't die in vain." They probably did—and that's a tragedy that continues.

I'm not saying the following to demean anyone who served in the military: most of our dead and wounded warriors are victims, not heroes. Their deaths and injuries do not become heroic or justified because of the harm that befalls others after them.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Authors: a book's press release is NOT an advertisement


The press release—sometimes called a "news release" or "media release"—is a vital part of book promotion. It's used to attract the attention of writers, editors and book reviewers who may become allies in creating publicity which can sell books.

Remember: the mere publication of your book is not usually sufficiently newsworthy to impress anyone. Only the most desperate small-town weekly would publish an article with the headline: “Local Woman Writes Book.” Your news release needs a news hook. The hook is the main point of your release. It can be a theme, statement, trend or event on which you “hang” your news release. It’s also a hook with delicious bait on it that you hope will attract the attention of writers, reporters and editors.
  • To grab the attention of newspeople, you have to think and act like one of them.
  • You need to be a partner, not just a salesperson.
  • Authors—like news media—make money by attracting readers.
  • Your press release must provide important or useful information, or entertainment.
  • Think like a news writer, not a book writer. If you were reporting news or providing entertainment, what would interest you and your readers?
  • A press release should be newsworthy and read like a news story—not an advertisement.
  • It should adhere to fundamental journalistic standards, using the five W’s and one H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How).
  • Write something that you’d like to read about your book if someone else wrote it.
  • Many websites automatically redistribute press releases.
  • Some “reviewers” are too busy or too lazy to actually read your book, and will merely rewrite or reprint your release. Make it as effective as possible.
  • Your release must be accurate, both in terms of its content, and in grammar and spelling. Don't embarrass a newsperson or reviewer who attaches her name to it.

The release that follows is a gushing advertisement, not news, and apparently has not been "picked up" by any online media.  (My "pregnant" news was picked up.) The release also has some silly errors. The book is also terribly overpriced—$29.95 for the hardcover, $21.95 for the paperback.

For Immediate Release


“Confessions of a Disco Queen…30 some years ago”
Marries Fashion with Passion


Set in the tumultuous time of the 1970's, “Confessions of a Disco Queen…30 some years ago” dares to ask provocative questions about race, culture, and the human need to connect.

Sensual and heart breaking in turns, author Veronica Page takes readers through the true story of her desire to succeed in the fashion industry amid the hot box of racial struggle in New York City. Told in the tune of disco against the sweeping backdrop of elaborate fashion shows, “Confessions of a Disco Queen…30 some years ago” immerses the reader in the day to day hardships of living as a black woman in a world that balks at both her gender and race.

Page weaves narrative with her own published newspaper articles, lush fashion descriptions with steamy romance, and cruel reality with laugh out loud honesty to create a novel that brims over with life.

Deidre Berry, author of The Next Best Thing and All About Eva, says, "Pazge [sic] has lived a life worth reading about. Hold on to your seats as she takes you on a thrilling ride through New York City during the decadent disco era."

To arrange a book signing, radio and print interviews, please contact Managing Partner, Talib Tauhid at ccgbiz@yahoo.com or call (480) 208-5510. Or to purchase the book, visit the website or Amazon.com or BN.com

-----------------

To learn more about press releases for books, spend a buck on The One-Buck Author's Press Release Book.




...

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Dingbat" is not always an insult. Build your publishing vocabulary, and smile a bit



Blad:  (Book Layout and Design) A blad is a small sample of a book used by salespeople to sell the book.  It probably will have the near-final cover design and some typical interior pages, perhaps even complete chapters with images.

Dingbat: Printers’ slang for small, icon-like drawings of hearts, snowflakes, and other shapes and items that can be used to dress up a document. Also, what Archie Bunker frequently called wife Edith on All in the Family.


Fleuron: A flower-like decoration used to enhance a book or to divide sections.


Flong: One of my favorite words! A flong was originally a dry, papier-mâché mold made from type text which could be curved to fit the cylinder of a rotary press. Later flongs were wet, and made of plastic or rubber.

Gerund: A part of speech frequently used, but seldom thought about after third grade. It’s a noun made from a verb, like “thinking,” “eating,” and “writing.”

Kern: That’s the way some people born in Brooklyn pronounce “coin.” In typography, “to kern” means to adjust the spacing between two adjacent letters. It can also mean to squish two letters together so they overlap to avoid awkward white spaces. WA is one common use of kerning, and the two letters fit together unusually well. A kern is also a part of one letter that reaches into another letter’s personal space.


Lede: The first sentence or two in a news story, with the most important information. It’s pronounced “leed”, but spelled “lede” to avoid confusion with another typographic term, “lead,” which rhymes with “bread.”

PITA: Pain In the Ass (not limited to publishing). An ISPITA in an Industrial Strength PITA.

Slush pile: Unsolicited manuscripts received by an agent or a publisher and often piled up on a desk, a shelf, or the floor, awaiting evaluation. These are also described as “over the transom” manuscripts. The phrase refers to the horizontal bar above a door and below a hinged window provided for ventilation in an office without air conditioning. Writers allegedly tossed their manuscripts over the transom of a publisher’s office and hoped for the best.

Swash: An extra bit of decoration added to a printed letter, often an extended or exaggerated serif on the first letter in a paragraph. It's not the same as Nike's swoosh.

TK: In the graphic arts, it’s shorthand for “To Come,” a notation made on a layout to indicate that an element (such as a photograph or chart) will be provided later and space should be provided for it.

...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Other people may see the world, and your books, differently than you do


I had a cataract removed from my left eye about seven years ago, and an artificial lens implanted. I was terrified about the surgery, but it was no big deal. The improvement in my vision was amazing. Not only was the world sharper, but colors were truer. I could now see white walls that had seemed off-white or almost beige. I could appreciate the Hi-Def TVs in my home, and movies looked much better.

I was told that I would need similar surgery in my right eyeprobably in two or three years.

But my right eye suddenly got much worseand I had the second surgery and implant just one year later.

During the time between the surgeries, my two eyes saw very differently when used individually, and when used together they distorted reality, which is BAD for designing books.

My "improved" left eye (which no longer needed a corrective eyeglass lens) was optimized for distance vision, like TV and driving. My right eye (with a corrective lens) was optimized for things like books and computer screens.
  • My ophthalmologist explained that I would develop monocular vision. Each eye had a specialty, and the brain selects the input from the proper source.
Most of the time I was not conscious of this weirdness, and I seemed to see pretty well. But my distorted view of the world presented a problem with publishingand that's why I am writing this blog post to warn others.


After my first eye repair I revised one of my books to use Adobe Garamond Pro ("AGP") type instead of my former Constantia. I think that AGP is prettier, with thinner, more delicate strokeswhich I could not appreciate with my 'old' vision.

It took me a while to get used to it on my computer screen, and even longer to get used to it in print. Eventually, I started using AGP in most of my print books.

As is common for fiction and memoirs and other non-techie book, the Stories I'd Tell My Children book was printed on cream (or "crème") paper, instead of pure white. Cream is said to be easier on the eyes.

Unfortunately, with my messed-up eyesight, the cream seemed too dark, as if the pages had yellowed with age. And the thin strokes of the Garamond seemed to have inadequate contrast to show up against the dark paper.

I was all set to arrange to switch the book to use white paper, when I decided to ask for opinions from people whom I knew to have excellent eyes. The verdict: "It's fine. Leave it alone."

So, I stuck with cream and I thought I had done the right thing.

The next year, after my second eye was repaired and my vision now "normal", I decided that I still didn't like cream, and I switched the pages to white.

There's an important lesson here for book design and life in general: don't assume that others see things the same way you do.

And another lesson, it's important that you like your books.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Beginning authors should fix errors—not display them

I am often exposed to promotional efforts for new books. Sadly, many of them are absolutely dreadful. They show so little care that I have to assume that the books are equally awful—and I stay away.

A book is new just once, and it's a shame if its debut is cursed by easily avoided unprofessionalism. 
Don't let readers think you're an idiot. Every word you write is an audition.


The book has generally good reviews on Amazon but one review mentions "poor editing."

The author and publisher are both identified as "
D. J. Jouett." That's very amateurish. It's not hard to come up with a name for a publishing venture.



http://www.bookdaily.com/book/5477092/the-cheating-wives-club-women-are-dying-to-join

Friday, April 7, 2017

Your author portrait is important. Don't look ugly


Every author needs a portrait—for books, websites, blogs, Twitter, press kits, posters, etc. and to go on their books.

Famous authors like Suze Orman have their faces on the front covers of their books. Pretentious but not-famous authors like Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson also display themselves on the front. Not-famous and not-pretentious authors usually show their faces on the backs of their booksI'm only slightly famous and slightly pretentious.


The book at the left shows my highly modified face on the front cover. It's a very personal book, so it's appropriate for my face to be there. If I was writing about Richard Nixon, chocolate cake or the Peloponnesian Wars, my face would be on the back.

Unfortunately, many authors use amateur photos with bad lighting, bad focus and distracting backgrounds. The price of a portrait shot in a professional photographer’s studio can easily be in the $300-$1,000 range, which is too steep for many writers who don’t have a big publisher to pick up the check.

Fortunately, there are good, low-cost alternatives which few authors think of—the photo studios inside retail stores such as JCPenney and Target (not Sears or Walmart anymore). While most of their business involves babies and family Christmas cards, those studios will take pictures of solitary adults, often at ridiculously low prices (typically $7.99-$65).

The photographer will be thrilled to have a subject who doesn’t vomit or require funny faces to elicit a smile.

If you’re getting one picture, choose a plain white background which can later be altered using Photoshop. Get a CD-ROM, not a bunch of wallet-sized prints.

(below) An author photo should be of the author -- only.


(below) An author photo should not have any distracting elements.



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Writers: tax day is coming. Take advantage of your special advantages.



It's now April 5th. This year Tax Day in the USA will be 'celebrated' on April 18th.  It's getting closer every second. 

What you do today—and every day—will affect what you pay and what you keep in the spring.

There's a lot to misunderstand about income taxes. However, my birthday is April 15th, so I am particularly qualified to give tax advice. I don't know everything, however. If you need help in setting up bank accounts in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, ask Mitt Romney.

Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I had a simple formula that worked very well (i.e., no audits ever, and refunds every year):
  1. No more than 10% for the feds.
  2. No more than 5% for the state.
  3. No more than 1% for the city.
For 16 years I've been in Connecticut. There are no city taxes, but life is more complicated. I pay my accountant about $700 for a few hours work necessary to produce my annual business and personal federal and state returns. After much scientific number crunching, he still comes up approximately with the same percentages I established 40 years ago.

I'll pass on a tip for a deduction I developed while working as an advertising copywriter and have continued to use as a webmaster, writer and publisher.

EVERY piece of media you consume, and equipment and services used with the media, should be deducted in the range of 25% to 100%.

Deduct movies, CDs, games, concerts, artwork, vacations, MP3 players, big TVs, little TVs, books, magazines, newspapers, smart phone, computers, tablets, ebook readers, software, Internet service, museum visits... all that stuff that helps you stay aware of trends in culture.


Years ago my father owned a chain of clothing stores. He once considered deducting his subscription to Playboy (which did provide news and advice about men's fashions among the airbrushed large-breasted babes). Alas, he was afraid to list a skin mag on his tax return, so he sent too much money to the IRS.  I have no such reluctance -- and may have bigger cojones.


With proper classifications, you can probably get Uncle Sam to subsidize porn, booze and hallucinogens.

Here's some more advice of uncertain value:
  1. A successful small business is one that breaks even each year, with a slightly higher gross income.
  2. Big profits are nice if you're trying to sell the business, but not when you're filing your income tax return.
  3. Write about stuff you like, whether it's wine, sports cars, clothes, travel, cameras, horse racing or sex. Then you can deduct everything you spend on fun -- if you classify it as "research."
  4. There's almost nothing that's too crappy to donate to Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army and claim an appropriate deduction for. Bill Clinton was criticized for claiming a deduction for donating used underwear. I'm not the president and don't care what Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh will say about me. I lost a lot of weight a few years ago, and I donated lots of oversized underwear. Washed, of course.
  5. If you are bad about saving money for a rainy day, it’s tempting to let Uncle Sam save money for you. I did that for years, and even earned interest on the money that was due me. Now there is a limit to how long you can let your money sit in Fort Knox (or wherever they keep the surplus) and the IRS may assess a penalty just for filing late, even if you don't owe anything, so check with a pro. Also: your state tax people may be tougher than the IRS.
I am not a professional tax adviser  I'm more of a professional wiseass (who usually gets away with his wiseassing).

I put a lot of what I've learned into an ebook. It can save you many times its low cost. 

Writers Can Get Away With Apparently Absurd Tax Deductions That Ordinary People Can't

Monday, April 3, 2017

I was very impressed with ebook publisher PRONOUN—until I tried it

 

Pronoun is a strangely named company that formats and distributes ebooks. Its technology is very impressive and so is its price: ZERO.

The company is a few years old and now belongs to giant publisher Macmillan. It's based in Manhattan—home to many publishers.

Pronoun tells prospective customers: "Pronoun is a free publishing platform where authors can create, sell, and promote their books. Our mission: to build a new model for publishing that puts authors first. We are passionate about author success, which is why many of our tools are completely free to use by authors publishing with other services or traditionally published authors."

I previously had used eBookit for my important and/or complex ebooks, and Amazon's own KDP for less important/simpler ebooks. I like both businesses.

As I was nearing the time to produce the ebook version of my new bestseller Love For & From My 4-Legged Son, I considered using KDP to save money and eBookit to save work and achieve broad distribution, beyond Amazon. Then I heard about Pronoun. I was curious to try it (for myself and also so I could report to you in a blog post), and liked the idea of broad distribution and zero cost.

It was very simple to get registered as a new customer and within a few minutes I uploaded my cover and interior files. The user-friendly process was much simpler than the KDP system.

I was very impressed with Pronoun's technology and looked forward to seeing my digital proof, making a few adjustments and watching the money roll in.

Alas, it was not to be.

The superb Pronoun software could not compensate for some substantial shortcomings.

[below] The first deal-breaker was ironically the first page—the title page. Instead of allowing me to use my own design, that properly identifies my own Silver Sands Books as the publisher, Pronoun insisted on providing an absolutely ugh-lee page that showed Pronoun as the publisher, even though the ISBN is tied to my company. I have not had this problem with other companies that produce and distribute my ebooks.

Pronoun's all-text title page is reflowable to be readable on multiple devices, but it's simply too disgusting for me to be associated with. "4-Legged" should not be allowed to appear on two lines. My graphic image of the title prevents this problem. Sometimes text should be a picture, not text.


[below] Pronoun is a strange censor. It insists on removing links to booksellers or mentions of booksellers because "We can't accept retailer links because Apple and other stores reject books that 'promote' their competitors. Your book can contain Amazon links if you only use Pronoun to publish on Amazon, otherwise, this issue (and the 'Amazon bestseller' reference on the cover) will prevent other stores from accepting your book," according to Author Happiness Advocate Kate Murtaugh.

She's wrong. Barnes & Noble has no objection to displaying my book covers that mention Amazon.


[below] Pronoun is inconsistent. Chapter beginnings vary in style (even when apparently formatted the same way), and they don't follow my desire. I had accepted one of Pronoun's style options for the book, but the automated system inserted unwanted horizontal rules and eliminated a space below a photo caption [Chapter 3, below]. The right-hand images below show three very different ways to start a chapter. That's ridiculous. (I saw no differences in my formatting for those pages.)





[below] Pronoun misplaces images and text.


[below] Not only does Pronoun want me to remove links to booksellers, its robo-formatter eliminated a link to my own publishing company—and inserted links without asking me. Strangely, most of the links that the robot inserted for the books shown below go to Amazon—in violation of Pronoun's policy!


[below] Pronoun sometimes makes inexplicable formatting changes.


Pronoun was slow to respond.
When I was gobsmacked (one of my favorite Britishisms) by the appearance of the title page, I sent an email to Pronoun support. The company says, "Authors, we’re here to help! Please send us a message and we’ll get back to you shortly."

Despite several follow-up emails I heard nothing for three days until I resorted to public embarrassment on Pronoun's Facebook and Twitter pages. I ultimately received a nice email from Kate, apologizing for the delayed response, explaining what caused the inconsistent formatting and offering suggestions.

I might have spent a few days trying Pronoun's suggestions but the title page disaster ended our relationship before a second date.

Pronoun could be a good choice if you have a simple book, don't care about Pronoun being identified as your publisher, and are willing and able to do lots of tweaking.
I am now eagerly awaiting my proof from eBookit. Unlike Pronoun, it has talented, knowledgeable human beings who can direct the company's software to make my books look the way I want them to look.

Just as Domino's pizza delivery robots are currently accompanied by human escorts, book-formatting software needs a human touch. In five years, the situation could be very different.




Friday, March 31, 2017

Author-publishers can save money with coupons, and not just on groceries

My late father and my brother have been addicted to finding deals and clipping coupons. So is my wife. I like deals, but I've been largely indifferent to finding coupons. Every week, however, I spend some time searching online for coupons before my wife heads to the supermarket. I've generally felt that saving a buck on Berio olive oil or 25 cents on Brillo is just not worth my precious time.
  • This week I saved $75 on two publishing purchases. $75 is real money, and definitely worth the short time it took to find the deals.
My supply of ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) had run out and I'm preparing the ebook version of my new paperback bestseller, Love For & From My 4-Legged Son—how an ordinary golden retriever became an extraordinary dog.

In some countries ISBNs are FREE, but not here in the USA. If you want your books to be sold through booksellers, you need ISBNs for each format (such as ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook). Bowker is the ISBN source in the USA. You can buy one for $125, 10 for $295 or 100 for $575.


The quantity discounts are impressive and if you think you'll publish at least two books, you may as well buy a "block" of 10. If you are unsure of your publishing future, you can hold your nose and pay the $125, or pay about $35 from a reseller who buys ISBNs in bulk, or get a free ISBN from a publishing services provider.


The problem with these strategies is that a company such as Charlie's ISBN Emporium or CreateSpace—not your own publishing company—will be identified as the "publisher of record." That's not a good way to build your empire.

On a silly whim I Googled "Bowker coupon" and I quickly found a coupon code that cut $50 off the $295 price! Bowker's robot did not complain that I saved money.

I had initially planned to use a new FREE publishing service, Pronoun, for this new ebook. My early enthusiasm quickly waned (I'll tell you why next week) and I decided to use eBookit, the company that had previously done a great job on some of my ebooks.

The normal price is a very reasonable $150. I found a coupon code to save $25 and I used that money to subsidize the cost of an upgraded PR release campaign.

In a few hours my wife will send me on our weekly coupon hunt. I doubt that I'll save $75.