Friday, September 19, 2014

I have ten literary gods. Who do you worship at your keyboard?

(above) Creations of Groening, Martin and Ward.
Barry, Shepherd, Lehrer and McCahill.
Creations of Solomon & Hirshey, and Douglas.

I thank them for entertainment, stimulation and setting high standards.

Dave Barry is a Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist and author, and the funniest writer I know of. He is so funny that I had to stop reading his column because I got so jealous. Dave used a picture of my dog Hunter in one of his books. It's called Dave Barry's Money Secrets. Here's a Dave Barry money secret: Dave didn't pay me any money for the picture, but I did get a few free books. I'll let Dave read my books for free, too. See: www.DaveBarry.com

 ● Jean Shepherd (1921 - 1999) was a radio and TV raconteur, and he probably ties with Mark Twain for story-telling ability. Shep's books include In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and A Fistful of Fig Newtons. Twain was a great writer, but Shep was funnier. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Shepherd

Jack Douglas (1908 - 1989) was an Emmy Award-winning comedy writer on The Jack Paar Show, The George Gobel Show, Laugh-In and other TV programs. I remember him most for his book titles, which include My Brother Was an Only Child, Shut Up and Eat Your Snowshoes and Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Douglas_(writer)

 ● Michael Solomon and David Hirshey edited and did the headlines for the annual Esquire magazine “dubious achievements” awards in the 1990s. They taught me to write snarky headlines with meanings that don't become apparent until after reading the material that follows. I use this technique on Facebook every day. See: http://observer.com/2008/01/beloved-iesquirei-franchise-dubious-achievements-becomes-one/

Don Martin (1931- 2000) was an extraordinary cartoonist best known for his work in MAD magazine. Don created such notable characters as Fester Bestertester (top, center) and Freenbean Fonebone, and printed sound effects like “FAGROON klubble klubble.” Don's books are available from Amazon: www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_b/102-1200899-0172121?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=don+martin 

"Uncle" Tom McCahill (1907-1975) was an automotive journalist who wrote for Mechanix Illustrated magazine in the 1950s and 60s. He rated car trunks by the number of dogs they could hold, and described the ride of a 1957 Pontiac as “smooth as a prom queen's thighs.” Tom was a Yale graduate, and knew classic literature as well as cars. When a reader asked how to pronounce “Porsche,” Tom answered, “Portia.” Some of us understood. Another time another reader asked, without specifying a vehicle, "How much is the parts cost and how much do the car?" Tom had a great answer: "Sure." See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_McCahill

Tom Lehrer claims he "went from adolescence to senility, trying to bypass maturity." Tom was a Phi Beta Kappa student who taught at MIT, Harvard, and Wellesley, but is best known for hilarious songwriting, much of it political satire in the 1950s and 60s. Lehrer's musical career was notably brief: he said that he had performed a mere 109 shows and written 37 songs over 20 years. Tom developed a significant cult following in the U.S. and abroad. Britain's Princess Margaret was a fan, and so am I. I can still sing lyrics I first heard in seventh grade. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Lehrer

Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Life in Hell. The Simpsons has been the longest-running comedy show in American television history. Because it's a cartoon, some people make the mistake of assuming it's for kids. It's not, but kids love it. See: http://www.thesimpsons.com/index.html

Jay Ward, creator of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Peabody and Sherman  Crusader Rabbit. The Rocky show was filled with literary allusions and magnificent puns (or horrible puns, depending on your outlook on such things). Unless you are an old fart who watched TV in the fifties and know that Durward Kirby was the sidekick on "The Garry Moore Show," you would not appreciate the pun in "Kerwood Derby," a hat that increased the intelligence of its wearer. See: http://bullwinkle.toonzone.net

Thursday, September 18, 2014

You may not see the world -- and your book -- as others see it

I had a cataract removed from my left eye about four years ago, and an artificial "Toric" 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 eye -- probably in two or three years.

But my right eye suddenly got much worse and 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 publishing -- and 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 strokes -- which 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. However, my newest book uses Constantia, again. I'm a fickle type lover.

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, it's important that you like your books.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Someone who doesn't know left from right should not be giving advice about publishing

"Self Publishing a Book explained in one minute"

From Lull Mengesha:
  1. Register for a copyright.
  2. Get ISBN and Barcode.
  3. Find Print on Demand Publisher.
These are just the things that took me a LONG time to figure out that really shouldn’t have been so difficult. 


From Michael N. Marcus:
  1. The first thing you do is NOT to register for a copyright. That’s one of the last things you do, and you can do it months after the book is published.
  2. NO NO NO. You can get the ISBN and bar code from a publisher, or after you find a publisher, or after you become a publisher -- because it connects a specific version of a book to a specific publisher!
  3. It’s also a bad idea to produce a promotional video that shows your book with a left-right reversal.
Lull has a lot to learn before he starts giving advice, and he needs an editor, or a better editor, for the book.

And, of course, it's not possible to explain self-publishing in one minute. My first book about self-publishing has 432 pages, and probably takes a few days to read.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

People who can't read should not review books or sell editing services

Apex Reviews sells a variety of services to authors, including editing, cover design, formatting, publicity and book reviews.

The company says: 
"We are a team of experienced authors and editors with a combined total of over 75 years experience in the publishing industry. Under our guidance and direction, numerous titles have gone on to receive widespread acclaim, win countless awards, and enjoy multiple printings."

Apex said the following in a five-star review on Amazon.com for a bad little book, The Secrets Of Self Publishing by Therone Shellman: "A Must Read For Authors Worldwide... any author serious about publishing and promoting his/her writings would be remiss not to take advantage of his considerable expertise. Highly recommended."

Here's what some other reviewers said:
  • "There were multiple grammatical/capitalization/other errors in the pages I viewed...including two in the first sentence....  For such a critical topic as self-publishing, and a book which recommends the importance of professional editing, I'm a bit wary about purchasing this item.... this is the sort of book that gives self-publishers a bad name."
  • "... a prime example of why many people look down on the business of self publishing.... he needs to hire an editor to proofread his work."
  • "... it cannot be taken lightly that there are so many editorial oversights (typos, misspellings, punctuations, etc.) just in the first few pages.... evidence of little or no editing  was pure madness, especially for someone who is giving advice on the subject of publishing."
I bought and read the book. The negative reviews are accurate. The book stinks. Don't trust any review from Apex.

Errors on the Apex website make the company's boasts of experience and expertise dubious.

They should know the difference between "everyday" and "every day," and that "highly-polished" does not get a hyphen.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Sometimes type needs to YELL at readers. Sometimes rules need to be broken.

Standard, ordinary, simple, basic, upright type is considered to be “roman”—with a lowercase “r.” It’s not the same Roman as in Times New Roman. You can use Times New Roman roman or Times New Roman italic.

Italic type can be considered to be the opposite of roman type and it leans to the right. It leans like the Leaning Tower of Pisaand Pisa is in Italy, where italic type originated during the Renaissance. 

Itals” have several purposes in typography. They can provide emphasis and can also highlight:
  •       uncommon foreign words
  •       technical terms
  •       book, magazine, newspaper, CD and movie titles
  •       TV series titles
  •     pieces of art, like The Last Supper
  •       important vehicles, like the Mayflower and Enterprise
Grammar Diva Arlene Miller provides a good rule about using italics or quotation marks: "In general, big things go in italics, and parts of things go in quotation marks."

Names of books (but not “Torah,” “Bible” or “Koran”) are often put in italics. There is much disagreement about what else gets the italic treatment. See Grammar Girl.

It’s common to use italics to introduce an obscure technical term like virgule, and then switch to roman letters later on in a book or article. If I am introducing a technical term that uses ordinary words, like “breaker head,” I generally use quote marks the first time. Sadly, I am not consistent about this.

For many years, before personal computers were common, text was underlined with typewriters that could not produce italic letters for emphasis. Graphics experts frown on the use of underlines in books and recommend italics instead if you need to call attention to a word.

However, sometimes an italic word looks too weak, or doesn't look right when it’s next to a roman word. Compare these two versions of text:

In the first example, “Real” looks stronger because it’s upright and there are no strange gaps between it and the adjacent roman words because of slanted letters. I think the underlined text is fine. Some traditional typographers probably hate it and will brand me as a heretic.

[below] I'm not the only heretic. Here are pieces of two book covers with underlined text. I published one of them

If you mix italic and roman type, be careful with slanted letters W, Y, K, and sometimes M. Look at “k W” below.

[below] Be careful if you have roman and italic letters on the same line. The italics may appear shorter because they ‘lean over.’ You can experiment with slightly enlarging the itals, changing the typeface or changing cases.

[below] Sometimes I use an underline to call attention to an actual ('physical') word rather than to emphasize a concept.

With modern software and the huge variety of fonts, there is generally no need to use underlines for emphasis. When you underline a word, the line will cross through the descenders of lowercase letters g, j, p, q, and y, making an ugly word. I would hate to underline “regal” or “royal.” You can sometimes avoid the ugly problem by substituting a word that has no descenders (not always an option and you can’t alter a web address).

[below] The New York Daily News is a tabloid newspaper with a long tradition of YELLING at its readers. The paper uses lots of underlines, but cuts the lines apart to accommodate descenders and punctuation. I've never seen this technique on a book cover, but if you feel the need to create a book that yells, try it (but be prepared to be yelled at).

- - - - - 

This posting is adapted from my upcoming Typography for Independent Publishers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Can you speak Typish?

[above] A typeface is a distinctive type design, often named after its designer such as Goudy, Caslon or Lubalin. Sometimes a typeface is named to honor a person, place or event.

Some names imply a mood or genre. “Harlow” implies glamor. “Asylum,” “Trashco” and “You Murderer” do not. Typefaces named “Goofball” or “Comic” are probably not suitable for the annual report of an insurance company. Strangely, “Grotesk” type actually looks nice.

Some typeface names are humorous even if they were not intended to be so like “Zapf,” “Friz Quadrata,” “Bodoni Bold” and “Harry Heavy.”

[above] The varieties within each face, such as bold, italic and roman (i.e., not italic) are fonts. Rockwell is a typeface. Rockwell bold is a font. Sometimes “font” is used to mean all of the varieties within a typeface (e.g., “The Rockwell font has 832 characters.”) — or even the typeface itself. The terms “font” and “typeface” seem to be merging.

Sometimes “font” is used for a very specific typeface description like “24 point Century Gothic bold italic.”

Millions of people who probably never thought much about "typefaces" have to make daily decisions about "fonts" because of the ubiquity of computers, e-readers and tablets. “Font” takes up less space than “typeface,” and spatial efficiency is important on a small screen.

[below] Lots of software, including Microsoft Word and CorelDraw call typefaces “fonts.” It’s probably an irreversible trend. Adobe sometimes uses “font” to mean “typeface,” but also explains the difference between the terms.

[below] I was pleased to see that my Kindle Fire differentiates between “font” and “typeface—but the Nook and iPad use “font.”

A font family is a group of similar typefaces, presumably based on one face. For example, Arial and Helvetica are in the Swiss font family. Adobe uses the term more specifically: “font families are collections of fonts that share an overall appearance, and are designed to be used together, such as Adobe Garamond.”

[above] At one time, a character was the image of a letter, number, punctuation mark or symbol produced when a  piece of type made of metal or wood, with ink on it, came in contact with a sheet of paper. Today, a character is a bunch of data bits that describe the image to be produced, or the printed image, or the image on a screen. "CPI" is the abbreviation for “Characters Per Inch” — a general indication or a precise measurement of how many characters are put into a line of type.

A letterform is the shape of a letter, but it can have several more specific meanings:

[above] “Letterform” may mean the basic shape of a character, regardless of the typeface. You could say that “the letterform of a zero is oval.” Almost every version of the uppercase “A” has the same letterform: two converging vertical (or almost vertical) lines with a crossbar.

[above] Sometimes a minimalist “A”—in such faces as Pirulen, Mars, Mari and Mogzilla—will have no crossbar but is still recognizable as an “A” because no other letter has a similar shape.

[above] The farther a letterform evolves from its traditional shape, the more likely it is to be unrecognizable, or confused with another letter.

[above] “Letterform” may also mean the specific design of a character, or characters, within a typeface. You could say that “the lowercase letterforms in Calibri are much easier to read than in ITC Snap or Braggadocio.”

[above] The basic letterforms for the same character may be entirely different from one face to another. The lowercase “a” in most faces is like the ones on the left, but others, both in script (cursive) and conventional (block letter) faces, resemble the handwritten “a.” Strangely, some dollar signs have one vertical stroke, but some have two.

[above] TIME OUT:  Sometimes an individual letter may be hard to identify, but it makes sense as part of a word — especially if viewed from a distance.

Glyph rhymes with “stiff” and is related to “hieroglyph” and comes from the Greek word for “engrave.” It may be used to mean the same thing as a character or a general letterform. I prefer to think of a glyph as a specific letterform — the shape that represents a character in a specific typeface.


(From The One Buck Indie Author's Type Book, which really costs two bucks) 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What do bikers have in common with the New York Times and the Gutenberg Bible?

Blackletter is an ornate typeface style which was widely used in Western Europe in the 12th through the 17th century.  Sometimes the ancient style is still used for newspapers and books. Other names for this style are Old English, Fraktur, Gothic script, Textura and Gothic minuscule.

Blackletter can be hard to read. There are very few curves, and many points.

It is ironic that Blackletter, which was the typeface used for the Gutenberg Bible, was later adopted by—and then rejected by—the Nazis. It has also been popular with bikers and heavy metal rockers.

(From The One Buck Indie Author's Type Book, which really costs two bucks) 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Editors are important, but are not necessarily experts

Alfred E. Neuman (not Newman!)

Editors are very important in publishing. Many books have multiple editors with different specialties. (See funny satire about editors) No editor knows everything about anything, and certainly not everything about everything.

Despite the use of editors and fact-checkers, even major publications frequently publish errors.
  • Time magazine has been known for especially rigorous fact-checking. Nevertheless, it misspelled the last name of Alfred E. Neuman (my middle name) as "Newman."
  • Newsweek even printed a lowercased “newsweek,” and is infamous for printing corrections ("Newsweek regrets the error"). 
  • The New York Times has online and printed correction sections.
  • The New Haven Register once printed different dates on two pages of the same day's paper. A Register article dealt with a Civil War veteran who died in the 1700s -- before the Civil War!
  • The February 2009 issue of Automobile magazine told readers that Thomas Edison said, "Mr. Watson, come here." Actually, Edison was the guy with the light bulb, moving pictures, phonograph and concrete houses. Alex G. Bell was the one who spoke to Watson on the first telephone.
Errors in periodicals can be easily forgotten (but maybe not by me). Online errors can be quickly corrected. Errors in books can misinform, annoy readers and hurt authors' reputations for centuries.

Be a careful writer and choose your editors carefully.
  • Sometimes an editor will assume that the author must know what’s right and does not correct the author’s error.
  • Sometimes an editor assumes the author was wrong, and then changes right into wrong. The author may not notice -- or might assume the editor was right.
In Orange County Choppers: the Tale of the Teutuls, there are several really stupid mistakes that were missed by five co-authors and the support army at Warner Books.

“Paul Senior” said his parents charged people to park in their driveway on Cooper Street in Yonkers when they went to baseball games in Yankee stadium, which was within “walking distance.” The stadium is about 8.5 miles south. The 17 mile round trip is not “walking distance” for most people. I hope Paul calculates more precisely while building motorcycles.

He mentioned his house in “Muncie,” New York. Muncie is in Indiana. The Teutuls lived in MONSEY (which is pronounced like Muncie). Someone besides me should have noticed.

Joshua Levine's The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys is a very interesting retail history that details the destruction of a once-powerful institution by the dysfunctional family members that followed its founder. (At least it's very interesting to me, and I read a lot of retail histories.)

On page 147 we are told that "inventory shortage is the term applied to discrepancies between the inventory recorded as sold and the actual depletion of stock on hand." The proper term is "shrinkage," not "shortage." Retailers know this, and so should writers and editors doing a book about retailing.

On page 186, Levine mentions "people called factors," who advance payments to stores based on accounts receivable. It's possible that hundreds of years ago factors were individual people, but during the Barneys era, factors have been companies.

On page 244, Levine tells us that Fred Pressman "didn't have the kichas for it... a Yiddish expression for intestinal fortitude." The proper term is kishkes. This error is unforgiveable for a writer with a name like "Joshua Levine." The word originally meant "intestines," and is now slang for "guts."

The Essential Guide to Telecommunications by Annabel Z. Dodd does a pretty good job covering the subject, but has some silly errors. On page 40 she says, "Rotary telephones, called 500 sets, were introduced in 1896." Actually the 500 model designation was not used until after World War II. Before that were the 300, 200 and others.

In Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way!, Helen Gallagher says that POD printer Lightning Source is owned by Amazon. It’s not. Maybe Helen’s editor assumed that Helen knows her subject better than she really does. Editors should not assume authors are experts. And vice-versa.

Authors should not assume that they are experts either. Back in 1976, I accused a co-author of BS-ing when he wrote about a “baobab” tree. I was sure that there was no such thing. There is. The picture  shows one. It looks like it's growing upside-down.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Shorthand for the 21st century: important text savers

Smartphone texting and the 140-character limit on Twitter have made people conscious of the amount of space their words take up. Sometimes you just want to save space and time when you type a link for a book on a website, blog or in an email. 

If you look for a link on a bookseller's website, you may encounter an extremely long and cumbersome string of characters that requires lots of time and space and invites errors.

Here's the ugly result of a Google search for my newest book:


Here's the even worse result of a search within the Amazon website:


If I go directly to the book page, I get this monstrosity:


Sometimes I get this shorter version:


HOWEVER, it's possible to prune the extraneous material to get a shorter string:  
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661769.  I can drop the http://www and it will still work: amazon.com/dp/0981661769.

If I search for the book on the Barnes & Noble website, I get this looong string:


I can shorten it to: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/9780981661766. As above, I can remove the http://www and use 

I can save even more characters by using "bn.com" instead of "barnesandnoble.com": bn.com/s/9780981661766.

HOWEVER, there's a great free online service that provides even shorter, fully-functioning links: Bitly.com 

You just type in your long, clunky link and PRESTO, you get a short link that you can easily copy and paste wherever you want.

In the example shown above, Bitly reduced a link from a ridiculous 113 characters to a convenient 22.

You can even drop off the http:// and reduce your character count by seven more: amzn.to/1tHcFIR.

Some shortened links have a Bitly "domain," as with 

Bitly says it shortens more than one billion links per month. The company also provides statistics about link-clicking, and custom short links such as amzn.to for Amazon and nyti.ms for the New York Times.

BItly's dot-ly "domain" is controlled by the government of Libya. This may not inspire confidence, but millions of Bitly users -- including me -- are willing to take a chance.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Don't pick crappy/creepy names for your company or its products

Whenever I read "Moleskine," I think MOLE SKIN and visualize dirt-digging furry critters with extra thumbs, or the zits on the faces of Cindy Crawford and Barack Obama -- not expensive notebooks.

If you are considering names for a company or product, do your best to make sure the name's pronunciation is unambiguous in the countries where it will appear and that the name does not have incorrect or unpleasant connotations.
  • Mr. Toyoda decided that "Toyota" sounded better than the family name.
  • "Bich" can be pronounced "beesh" in France but when the company decided to market its lighters and pens in the USA it chose the "Bic" name which would probably not be pronounced "bitch." 
  • At its American debut, Korea-based Hyundai announced that in the USA the company name rhymes with "Sunday."
  • Mr. Morita thought that "Sony" would be easier to pronounce than "Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo." He was right. However, I dated a young woman in New York who insisted on pronouncing the name "Saw-nee." I cringed whenever she said it and the relationship was short-lived. Sony once ran an ad campaign with the tag line "Sony. No Baloney." This was too late to save my relationship.

  • International meanings can be as problematic as pronunciation is. The Chevy Nova caused snickering in Spanish-speaking countries where "no vaya" means "no go."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Musing upon my three (or maybe four) muses

In ancient Greek mythology, the muses were goddesses or spirits who inspire the creation of literature and art. There were originally three muses, but the group later grew to nine.

In Renaissance and Neoclassical art, the muses were equipped with specific props to help identify them.

Calliope (epic poetry) carries a writing tablet; Clio (history) carries a scroll and books; Erato (lyrical poetry) has a lyre and a crown of roses; Euterpe (music) carries a flute; Melpomene (tragedy) has a tragic mask; Polyhymnia (sacred poetry) often has a pensive expression; Terpsichore (dance) is often portrayed dancing and carrying a lyre; Thalia (comedy) is usually portrayed with a comic mask; and Urania (astronomy) carries a pair of compasses and the celestial globe.

The word "muse" is used in modern English to refer to an inspiration, but also exists in "amuse", "museum" (from muselon -- a temple where the muses were worshipped), "music", and "musing upon."

Traditionally, muses have been beautiful goddesses. So far I've had three muses, and they are all women.

I don't know if women writers, artists and musicians have male muses. Would Fabio be amusing to J. K. Rowling or Yoko Ono?

Sometimes a live muse may provide active encouragement, but sometimes a muse may just be lurking in the background of the mind. Sometimes a muse will be hovering above, always observing, visible and inspiring.

Creativity often includes an innate desire to please, perhaps going back to infancy and childhood when we want to make mommy happy so we get fed.

There can be a courtship aspect to bemusement -- perhaps not planned or thought about. Even if there is no feedback, a writer can be stimulated to do better and better, to win the heart of the goddess (or god). A writer may even imagine having sex with the muse, and words become a subconscious gift, like flowers or candy or jewelry while dating or trying to seduce. Elton John wrote, "My gift is my song and this one's for you." I'm not sure who the song was written for.

For most of my writing career I wrote about things and about how people related to things. In around 2005 I became comfortable writing about people without the things, and writing fiction as well as non-fiction. This coincided with my reconnecting by email with "D," a girlfriend from college whom I thought would become my wife.

After a while she lost interest in communicating with me, and I stopped writing the book she inspired me to start. I later reconnected with "P," one of the first females I was attracted to. I shared my cookies with her in second grade. Her presence helped me finish the book.

In 2008 I finally became comfortable writing about emotions.

This important evolutionary development coincided with my reconnecting with "R." She was a very important girlfriend from high school, and the first woman I thought about marrying. She became my most powerful muse and is responsible for what I consider to be my completion as a writer.

I've been married for over 42 years, but I never thought my wife was my muse. Perhaps because I did win her heart and we did marry and are still together, there’s less urge to please her. Perhaps her daily physical presence weakens the more spiritual connection necessary for musing. I don’t know. Maybe she really has been one of my muses but I just didn’t realize it.

(some info from Wikipedia)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Internet remembers everything forever. Try not to piss people off.

When many people consider doing business with a company or making a purchase, one of the first things they do is search for comments and reviews online.
  • In 2001 my wife ignored abundant bad reviews and we have been suffering with a big-buck Dacor 'pro-style' gas range ever since. It's a beautiful piece of shit. So is the top-of-the-line GE refrigerator bought at the same time.
  • I almost always check reviews for books and other items before ordering from Amazon. I have avoided several stinkers that I would have bought without researching.
  • I studied comments about the Honda Crosstour before visiting dealers three years ago. (The car is great.)
A search for Outskirts Press on Google shows more than a million results. However, on the critical first page, two of the seven links are NEGATIVE (one is for this blog). The second, third and other pages also have links to negative comments.

(below) A year ago the results were similar.

A search on Bing shows two negative links for Outskirts on the first results page and more on successive pages.

I'm pleased that there are more than 25,000 Google links and 4,000 Bing links to my own Silver Sands Books. The links are apparently all positive except for one false personal attack by a crackpot. To have it removed I have to win a lawsuit against Google (owner of Blogger).

Any person or business with an online existence may accumulate online criticism -- and it may be on the web forever. So, do the right thing, and do things right.

Yes, I know that today's blog post title warns about pissing people off, and I often piss people off with what I write on this blog. I like to think that I am performing a public service (and maybe providing some entertainment). The targets of my criticism deserve to be criticized. So far, no one I've pissed off in this blog has sued me. I am willing to take the chance. I like the First Amendment very much. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hardcover books are very special

Books have always been extremely important to me. As the photo shows, even as a little kid, I used the bathroom as a library so not a moment of potential reading time was wasted. In 2011, the only piece of furniture I can visualize from the Bronx apartment my parents brought me home to in 1946 is a mahogany bookshelf. As a child with an early bedtime, I read books by flashlight under the blanket. Even now, I share my bed with my wife, our dog, and usually a book or my iPad.

Before TiVo gave me the ability to fast-forward, I always read during TV commercials. I read at most meals -- even at restaurants. Some people think it's rude. I think it's efficient.

I've always had a strong reverence for books. Maybe it comes from my parents, who were avid readers. As a Jew, I am part of "the people of the book." When I was in college, I sometimes spent food money on books (and on records, too, I admit). I was still building bookshelves two weeks before I was due to move out of my college apartment.

When I see books in the trash, I rescue them. When a friend's older brother and his friends gathered around a barbecue grill at the end of the school year to burn their school books, I tried to rescue them, but was blocked by superior force. Assholes!

I seldom think of sin, but if sins do exist, book burning is certainly high on the list.

After writing paperbacks since 1977 and ebooks since 2009, I decided to go retro in 2012 and publish a hardcover, a new format for my "stories" book. When I hold it, I feel very strange. The book feels very good. It looks beautiful, with a glossy dust jacket and the title and my name stamped in bright golden ink on the cloth covering the binding.

A hardcover book provides a special experience. Perhaps eBooks will replace paperbacks, but I don't think anything can replace hardcovers.

Torah scrolls are still handwritten, after thousands of years. Grave stones are still chiseled. Initials are still carved on trees. They should still be readable long after the last Kindle and Nook are recycled.

Even though I am the sole employee of my publishing company, this book seems about 96% as "professional" as the Tina Fey book from publishing giant Hachette. Even though I've seen my cover design and read the title hundreds of times, I can't resist holding it, feeling it and studying it. Even though I've read my own words hundreds of times, I can't resist reading again.

I got the idea to write this book way back when I was 11 or 12. I recently became 68. I'm not sure if this book represents my life's work, but if it does, that's OK with me. I'm very proud of the book (I've never thought that pride is sinful.)  I honestly think it's a very good book and fortunately, so do the reviewers.

The hardcover book seems so much more "real" than other formats. I'm almost in awe of it and don’t want to mark it up with a red pen as I do with my paperback proofs. It would seem like defacing a library book -- and that's a sin.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Authors: who cares who published your books? Probably no one

I was at a community social event a few days ago to meet some people I knew only through Facebook. I had taken a few copies of my newest book to give to them. We were seated in a huge room with hundreds of people and we talked to strangers who were sitting near us. 

When I took the books out and signed them for the FB friends, the strangers immediately asked if they could see them. They flipped through the books and smiled (a good sign). 

One said, "I never met an author before." Another asked where she could buy the book. A third asked how long it takes to write a book. Someone asked if I find it hard to write a book. Another asked how I decide what to write about. 

One question that nobody asked is "what company published the book." 

From what I've observed, a publisher's name on a book is very different from a brand name on a bottle of wine or a pair of shoes. It's more like the name of a TV channel -- close to completely irrelevant.

Readers are interested in a book's content and maybe the author's reputation -- not the name of the company that delivered the content. 

  • Zoe Winters writes quirky and sometimes dark paranormal romance and fantasy. She says, “The average reader doesn’t care how a book gets to market. If the book is good, it doesn't matter if your Chihuahua published it.” 
  • Author Simon Royle wrote, “People don't buy books from publishers. They buy them from authors.” 
  • Edward Uhlan founded Exposition Press -- an early and important pay-to-publish company -- in 1936. He said, “Most people can’t tell the difference between a vanity book and a trade book anyway. A book is a book.” 
Concentrate on producing top-quality books. Choose a good name for your tiny publishing company. Don't for a minute fret that readers will reject you because the logo on your books doesn't belong to Penguin or Simon & Schuster.

dog pic from Google Images