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.


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.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I wouldn't trust Apollo Publications to publish toilet paper

Apollo Publications is an apparently new publishing-services provider—and apparently the most inept. It tries to function as both a traditional publisher and a self-publishing company. (This blog post deals with the Apollo Publications based in Illinois, USA, not similarly named businesses in Canada, India or elsewhere.) 

Below: An Apollo online ad has no identification.

Incompetent Apollo makes the dismal dingbats at Outskirts Press, Xlibris and PubishAmerica seem like polished professionals.

The Apollo website—which should be the medium for the company to demonstrate its capabilities—is pathetic. It's hard to find one proper paragraph. The site is filled with bad grammar, wrong words, inconsistent uppercasing, sentences without periods, sentences without initial uppercase letters, misspellings, missing letters, missing words, and design errors. It seems like the total IQ of the Apollo team is around 50, and its professional experience is zero.
  • The company says it is a "full service publisher"—but it is not.
  • Apollo emphasizes the importance of book covers. Strangely (and perhaps uniquely) the Apollo website shows no examples of its covers.
  • The website has no way for potential readers to learn about or order books. I wonder if it has actually published anything.
  • The company touts its "marketplace" (and "marker place")—but I could not find it within the Apollo site or with a Google search.
  • The company says its "review process is focused on quality and not content." Sadly, its website staff focuses on neither. Besides errors in language and design, there are errors that show a lack of understanding of basic book publishing (e.g., barcodes and the timing of copyrights and marketing).
If the company's self-promotion work is this bad, I have to assume that the books it produces for others are both laughable and tragic. I feel sorry for the company's customers and urge you to not become one.
  1. The top of the home page is a large animated "slide show." The slides whizz by so quickly that it's not possible for me to read the text—and I am a very fast reader.
  2. Apollo says, "a top selling book, requires a best-selling author." What the hell does that mean?
  3. "We make money off everyone that we sell" [Should be every one.]
  4. "Once you have submitted your manuscript it be evaluated by our team of editors." [Sadly, no editor noticed that a word is missing from that sentence.]
  5. "Rejected manuscripts will be returned with a letter explaining why it was rejected." [Should be letters and they were.]
  6. "he cover design" [Should be The.] 
  7. "The only piece we don’t do is the copyedit." [That sentence needs copyediting. ALSO: the ad shown up above includes copyediting and real publishers do provide copyediting.]
  8. "there is no cost or no obligation." [Do we get to choose one?] 
  9. "distributer's" [Misspelling, and the plural does not use an apostrophe!!]
  10. "This price covers getting your account setup," [Should be set up.]
  11. "we can copywrite" [copyright; the ad at the top has the same error] 
  12. "We have both Print On Demand, and eBook distributors." [Unnecessary comma] 
  13. "Published Authors tend to sell more books than Self-Published Authors" [Self-published authors are published authors.]
  14. "Formating" [Should be Formatting
  15. "Apollo’s strong relationship with a low volume printer means we can offer extremely competitive pricing for printed copies of your book." [Wouldn't a high-volume printer have better prices?]
  16. "both the content and the artwork is protected." [Should be are.] 
  17. "format compatible for" [Should be with.] 
  18. The website says, "Your ISBN barcode is required for most book stores and contains information about your book’s selling price." [Many book barcodes do not include book prices.]
  19. At least one web page is missing and one has an improper link.
  20. The company's prices are typical (or high) for the industry. Print packages start at $899 and ebook packages start at $549.95. Options can add to the cost.
  21.  The company charges $125 for copyright registration. You can easily register for a copyright yourself for $35.

Above: one sentence with lots of errors. Apollo boasts about its "team of talented writers." Clearly the team lacks both talent and supervision. Stay away.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Author-Publishers Beware! One book page can cost about a penny—or two bucks!

(left-click on charts below to enlarge them for easier reading)

Despite the amazing recent growth in ebook sales, most books sold are still pbooks. Each piece of paper in a pbook costs money, and if you use a self-publishing company (as opposed to a printer), you can get really ripped off on paper charges.

Lightning Source is the dominant Print-On-Demand company, producing books for publishers of all types and sizes, including my own Silver Sands Books. I sometimes use CreateSpace (part of Amazon) and its prices are similar.

At Lightning Source one copy of a 300-page paperback will cost $5.35. If you add two pages (one piece of paper) the price goes up by three cents. Pricing-per-page seems very logical to me, but that's not the way some self-publishing companies work.

Here's the wacky price chart from E-BookTime.com: (Despite the company's name, it also produces pbooks.)

Prices are based on page ranges, not the actual number of pages, When you exceed a range by just one page, the minimum retail price goes up two bucks, and the author's wholesale price goes up $1.40.

The company says it provides "
Book publishing that is . . . affordable." A 351-page paperback selling for $20.95 is waaaaay overpriced for most genres. High pricing can make your book noncompetitive.

(above) Infinity Publishing's book pricing is strange. Its suggested cover price for a book with 129 pages is a buck more than the price for a book with 128 pages. The author pays 54 cents per book for the additional page. Page number 129 is printed on a very expensive piece of paper. Independent self-publishers who have Lightning Source print their books pay .013 for an additional page. Ironically, Infinity's $149 Extended Distribution Package uses Lightning Source to print the books. Infinity pays Lightning .013 cents (or maybe less) for page number 129, but charges authors 54 cents! That's a nice markup. Infinity also says that its own printing and fulfillment are better than Lightningbut they are willing to use Lightning anyway.

(above) Xlibris also has an inflated and weird "delta" between page ranges. As shown above, a 107-page paperback book will sell for $15.99 and the hardcover will sell for $24.99. If you add just one page more, the price goes up $4 or $5. The difference in the manufacturing cost is tiny, and can't possibly justify the difference in cover price.

The price for a paperback with 398 pages is $19.99 (just like the 108-page book), but, at 400 pages the retail price jumps four bucks to $23.99, and that price holds all the way to 800 pages. Xlibris gives away 400 pages for "free," but charges four or five bucks for one page! Xlibris books are printed by Lightning Source, so the price per additional page is insignificant.

You want to sell pbooks. If you want people to buy them, the price is important. Choose your printing partner carefully. If you must use a self-pubco, pay attention to the page count, including the pages added by the company. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I haven't criticized a book about publishing in a long time. Now it's time.

Many of the books I've complained about in this blog deal with self-publishing because so many of those books were terrible and warranted complaints, and I know a bit about the subject.

At some point I stopped doing it. One reason was that I published many books in the field and didn't want to be seen as slamming competitors. Another reason is that I didn't like reading lots of shitty books.

The book shown above is not shitty. (How's that for a compliment?) It's not awful or even bad. It's better than many, worse than some and it rates a solid "OK." There are a number of errors that keep it from being "good." An examination of the book leads to important lessons for self-publishing authors. 

Mike Kowis follows the pattern of endless other authors (including me). He self-published a book and decided that his experience qualifies him to teach others to do the same. He still has much to learn.

Let's start with the cover.
  • The illustration is a dull piece of stock art by Tiero, presumably purchased at Fotolia for a few bucks. There's nothing wrong with using a stock photo or illustration but it's not yours alone, so it's good to customize it.
  • The title starts with "14 steps." It's only natural to count the steps shown on the cover, and find that there are more than 20. That's silly.
  • The number 14 dominates the cover but it's arbitrary and uninteresting. Heinz is known for its 57 varieties and Baskin-Robbins for its 31 flavors, but 14 has no special significance that I know of. A word such as "vital" or "critical" would have been stronger than a number. (I've used 99, 100 and 1001 in my own titles. Those numbers are more interesting than 14.)
  • Most nonfiction books have cover art that is a too-literal interpretation of the title. Maybe someone thought that a staircase made out of books is cute. I don't. A book about infant care doesn't need a baby bottle or diaper on the cover. A book about publishing steps doesn't need steps and books on the cover. I wonder if the illustration led to the title. An all-text cover could have been more of an eye-grabber.
  • The author identifies himself as "Mike Kowis, Esq." I assume his real first name—like mine—is "Michael." If he's a well-known jock like Mike Ditka or in show biz or politics like Mike Todd or Mike Pence, the nickname would be OK on a book. On a serious book where the name is paired with "Esq." which identifies an attorney, the informality seems out-of-place and lessens the author's authority. (I am never Mike or Mickey.)
Mike dedicated the book to his "beautiful wife." I assume she likes the honor, but all wives are beautiful and the dedication seems silly—unless her beauty somehow enabled or affected the book.

Here are Mike's 14 steps:
STEP 1: Finalize your manuscript.
STEP 2: Create a new business to self-publish and market your book. 
STEP 3: Buy a domain name for your book’s website and build the webpages. 
STEP 4: Buy ISBN numbers from Bowker. 
STEP 5: Apply for an LCCN number [sic, redundant] from the U.S. Library of Congress (for print books only). 
STEP 6: Apply for a merchant account at your preferred shipping company. 
STEP 7: Create a social media platform to promote your book. 
STEP 8: Decide where you want to sell your book and in what formats. 
STEP 9: Hire a professional cover designer to make your book cover. 
STEP 10: Hire a professional graphic designer to format the interior pages of your print book and/or convert your manuscript to an eBook. 
STEP 11: Purchase an editorial book review well before the book launch date. 
STEP 12: Upload your book files onto the distributor’s website. 
STEP 13: Register your book with the U.S. Copyright Office within three months after the publication date. 
STEP 14: Market your book.

The proper first step in publishing a nonfiction book has nothing to do with either starting or completing a manuscript. The first step actually includes marketing, which Mike leaves for last. 

The first part of marketing is to identify your potential customers and potential competitors. The more precisely you can define the customers, the easier it will be to reach them and the more efficient your marketing can probably be. Before you start writing a book you need to know if anyone will need it or want it. It would be horrible to invest thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to produce a book that nobody buys.
  • If you’re writing and publishing a dictionary, your potential market is all of the people in the world who can read the language you are publishing in, or are trying to learn it. The potential audience could be many millions, and your potential competitors may number in the hundreds.
  • If your book is about your not-so-famous mother, you probably have no competitors covering the same subject, and your potential audience may be eight people. Or two.
  • Most books fall somewhere in between. Books intended to help fisherman, mechanics and corn growers probably have potential audiences in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, and dozens of competitors. Mike has hundreds of competitors—including me.
Unless you are writing in a very new field, you are likely to face competition from existing books as well as books that are "in the pipeline." Try to write something that is better than the competition—or at least make it seem that way. Powerful marketing can make even ludicrous ideas seem legitimate.

Mike's STEP 6 is very strange—and very wrong—and an 
attorney/college instructor should have known better. A "merchant account" has absolutely nothing to do with shipping. A merchant account is an arrangement with a credit-card-processing company that enables a business to accept credit cards for purchases.

Most books are sold by booksellers, not authors, so the authors have no need to process credit-card orders. Mike recommends "finding at least three experts" to review your book. One of his experts should've caught this blooper. (For occasional sales you can be paid through Paypal with no merchant account.)

Similarly, unless you maintain inventory (unnecessary for ebooks and print on demand) and expect to ship out lots of books, there is absolutely no reason to have an account with a shipping company (but it's not difficult to get one). Many authors keep a few books on hand to send as gifts or for reviews, or to sell with autographs. You can easily send them by going to the Post Office (or FedEx or UPS). No account is necessary. You can even give books to the mail carrier who comes to your place or call for a free pickup.

I disagree with STEP 11. I am absolutely opposed to paid reviews. For a positive review to be meaningful it should be written by someone who likes your book—not by someone who's paid to read and review it. If you pay a prostitute $1,000 to go to bed with you and she or he proclaims love, would you believe it? Of course not.

Mike minimized a vital step: securing blurbs. A blurb is a brief chunk of text written by someone who knows something about you and/or your subject and can help you to sell the book. It means much more than a purchased review. You should start seeking blurbs as soon as your text is good enough to be read by others. Mike says blurbs go on the back cover. They can also go on the front cover, in the front matter and in promotional material, including online book listings.

There are many varieties of self-publishing and Mike's title doesn't make it clear that he is writing for authors like himself and me who want to establish their own little publishing companies.

However, if you are like most authors who think they're involved in self-publishing you will probably be the customer of an inept company such as Xlibris or Outskirts Press that will do most of the work discussed in Mike's book. Mike's first chapter clearly explains some of the possible publishing paths, but I hope that readers don't encounter those words only after buying a book they don't need.

Mike kindly reveals the costs for the various aspects of producing his first book and this one. He spent so much on the first that I doubt that the book made any money. That first book, properly, was a learning experience and his costs were less for the second book.

In the discussion of business names, Mike advises us that "It might be wise to select a name that reflects the value or benefits of your book. For my business, I chose the name Lecture PRO Publishing because it reminds readers of the benefits that you can expect from reading my first book (i.e., you can learn to lecture college students like a “pro” if you read my book)."

I disagree strongly. It's much better to have a neutral name (such as my own Silver Sands Books) that can work with any book genre. "Lecture PRO Publishing" does not relate to Mike's second book. CLICK HERE for advice on naming your publishing company.

Mike asks, "Do you want to sell an eBook? If so, do you prefer Kindle, non-Kindle (e.g., Nook, Apple iBook, Kobo, etc.), or both?"

That's silly. The author/publisher's preference for ebook format is irrelevant. An author/publisher should focus on the preferences and needs of the likely readers, and the more formats the better.

Mike Kowis has provided a lot of useful information for beginning publishers. With a little bit of additional work the book could have been "good," not merely "OK." That's an important lesson.