Monday, July 16, 2018

A fake book can look real and be real useful

This is a cover for a book that does not yet exist.

These cover designs existed long before the books did.

It’s important to have a realistic "3D" picture of a book before it exists—for publicity, seeking orders, and evaluating titles and cover designs with more impact and realism than a flat printout or monitor image can provide. 

Also: A picture of a printed book can help to sell ebooks.


(above) If you have a flat cover image, it can magically become a realistic picture of a book at I've been a happy customer for years. TV shows apparently use the service to provide fakes to accompany author interviews.

You can choose from a huge selection of book types, and even CD-ROMs, loose-leaf notebooks, iPads and multimedia packages. You can pay $14.95 per month or $99 per year for unlimited downloads. 
If you don't want to pay for a membership, you can pay a one-time download fee of $4.95 for a cover. (Prices shown here may not be current.)

The tech support folks respond quickly and have the right answers. Help is also available from users in the online forum.

The service is extremely easy to use, and an image takes less than a minute to render and download. There are nearly 100 designs available. New devices (Nook Color, Kindle Fire, MacBook Air) are added often, and there are format variations (back of book, stacks of books, books lying down and standing up, iPads and iPhones horizontal and vertical).

You can also "make" non-books like DVDs and DVD packages, and you have various editing options including cropping, re-sizing, text formatting and choosing background colors. Images are stored online and you can download both 2D and 3D images for different purposes. The site provides many background images, plus links to free illustrations.

The company even offers business cards and a membership card format. I'm not sure how useful it is, but I had to try it. 

I was able to create the image of a video showing my faces. It's not particularly useful, but it might stimulate some thought.

I've had "photographs" of many books long before they were printed, and realistic renderings helped me avoid major mistakes and make major improvements. 
(above) I designed these covers while I was writing the book. The title and design evolved and I ultimately used the covers shown below. 

My publishing company could not function without MyeCoverMaker. Try it.

Friday, July 13, 2018

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, product or website, 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."
  • I frequently get email from Maybe I have a powerful fixation on Chinese noodles. I always read it as Lomein--not log me in.
  • Watch out for hidden words that may stick out, as in

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Authors and book designers: be careful & creative with clip art & stock photos

While it's possible to design an attractive and powerful book cover with nothing but words—or mostly words—most covers have pictures, either photographs or illustrations.  

An illustrator will provide paintings, drawings, graphs, etc. and you can pay anywhere from $5 to several thousand dollars for original artwork.

photographer could be you or another amateur, or a professional. A pro will probably want from $250 to $3,000. Renting props and hiring models will add to your cost. For the front cover, it’s really important that a photo be first-class. This is an area where an author with a contract from a traditional publishing company has a big advantage over a self-publishing author.

Stock photos and clip art are alternatives to just-for-you photos and illustrations. They cost much lessmaybe even nothingbut are not exclusively yours One instant indication of a self-published book is obvious clip art on a book’s cover. (It's more likely to be obvious to people in the book business than to readers.)

The term “clip art” (or “clipart”) goes back to the time when illustrationsoften for use in newspaper adswere printed on glossy sheets of paper and could be “clipped out” by the person designing an ad.

Today, most clip art is digital, and is purchased in large collections on CDs or DVDs or downloaded from the Internet. Clip art photos, illustrations and cartoons are ubiquitous, but be aware that some clip art is NOT supposed to be used for commercial purposeslike books. There’s no need to risk an embarrassing and expensive lawsuit when high-quality art is available for very low prices, or even for free.

Free photos are available at various state and federal government websites ranging from New Jersey to NASA. Military services, the Library of Congress and the White House have plenty of pix, too. Many corporate websites have excellent free photos, but be sure to follow the rules for using and crediting photos. The Microsoft and Apple websites have fine free portraits of Bill Gates and Steve Jobsbut don't put either photo on the cover of a book attacking Bill or Steve.

While most self-publishing authors do not have the budget to hire a photographer to provide custom artwork, you are more likely to get high quality pix from stock photo suppliers like Fotolia or iStockPhoto than from the mammoth clip art collections. Prices range from under a buck up to about $100. I usually pay $10-$20. Do your best to not choose a photo or illustration that resembles a widely known logo or one that has already been used on a competing book.
My newest book uses a stock photo of Donald Trump by Joseph Sohm, licensed from Fotolia. I think it's a perfect choice, and it was inexpensive.

The cartoon on the cover of this book also came from Fotolia, but it’s so perfect that a custom-made cartoon would not be any better. If you want to write a book criticizing this book, go ahead. Co-author Sheila M. Clark and I can stand it. We’re tough.

Books about the same subject tend to use similar cover illustrations. In the case of publishing, it's usually a photo of someone writing, someone reading, or one or more books. All four book covers shown below use similar photos of books with their pages fanned out. The illustrations are very large and the pages open upward.

When using a stock photo, particularly for a book in a field where similar or identical stock photos may be used, have it modified so it looks a bit different. For this cover, the fanned book is inverted and tilted along with the text to suggest action, motion or flight. The illustration is much less important than the title. It is reduced to become a decoration and does not dominate the cover. Carina Ruotolo, my cover artist, even changed the color of the fanned book's cover to match the purple of the text.

The amazing Carina is a magician with Photoshop and changed a white-haired grandfather into a black-haired father for this book cover.

If you have an unlimited budget, you can hire a famous photographer or artist to enhance your book cover. The cover of the book shown below has art by Leonardo da Vinci, but I didn't pay anything to Leo or his estate.

[below] Carina cropped and flipped the Mona Lisa—one of the most famous pieces of artto give it a new look. We may have violated "The Da Vinci Code," but so far, da Vinci has not complained.

Later on, I ditched Mona and changed the title, too.

Some of my recent ebooks have no artwork at all, so the type can appear as large as possible in the small online "thumbnail" illustrations.

Monday, July 9, 2018

A quick critique of Page Publishing

Last night I saw a commercial on CNN for Page Publishing. It's one of dozens of companies that have appeared and disappeared during recent decades to serve authors who are unable or unwilling to be published by conventional/traditional book publishers.

Originally they were known as "vanity" presses or publishers, and then "self-publishing companies," "publishing-services providers," "hybrid publishers" or other things.

One thing they have in common is that they make most of their money by selling services and overpriced trinkets to wannabe authors—not by selling books to readers.

Book quality from those companies varies from excellent to abysmal, and pricing ranges from fair to confiscatory. I've analyzed a bunch of these companies over the years and found most to deserve a STAY FAR AWAY warning. (The worst are probably Outskirts Press, Xlibris and America Star Books, formerly PublishAmerica.)

I was intrigued by Page Publishing for two reasons:

  1. I had never heard of the company before.
  2. It was advertising on television. This is undoubtedly extremely wasteful. Despite the legend that "everybody has a book in them," the TV audience desiring publishing services is much smaller than prospective purchasers of cars, food, vacations, clothing, movie tickets and medication. If a publishing-services company advertises to a mass audience it must be (a) extremely profitable, (b) extremely foolish, or (c) both.
So, I took a look at Page's website, and here's what I found (and didn't find):
  • The company doesn't seem to offer anything significant that its competitors lack. It does have ties to a New York City radio show with possible publicity potential—if your book's genre appeals to the folks who happen to be tuned in at the right time. (It's possible that the show is aired elsewhere. The website does not make this clear.) A much-more focused PR campaign would probably be more fruitful for selling books.
  • Page says: "We publish and distribute our books through online platforms such as Apple’s iTunes store, the Amazon Kindle store, Google Play, and Barnes & Noble." While Amazon Kindle is mentioned, are Page's printed books sold by Amazon? Prospective authors should be told the answer on the website. (I found some Page p-books on Amazon.)
  • Page says "We are located in New York City" and shows its address as "101 Tyrellan Avenue, Suite 330, New York, NY 10309." While out-of-towners might think that's in Manhattan, it's not. The company is based in (on?) Staten Island. That island is part of New York City, but it is not in the heart of the world's foremost media center. I worked in publishing in Manhattan in a previous life, and it was no great joy. I'm sure there are real advantages to working in Staten Island. It would be better to mention some of them rather than trying to hide reality.
  • I could not find any price list on the site. That's very unusual. Is this an effort to hide the fact that authors have to pay for publishing by Page? The site mentions "a manageable investment" and "a minimal investment on your part and 20 cents per book sold," but what is that investment? One person's "minimal" may be someone else's "HUGE."
  • The top of the website says, "get published today." That's not realistic. The FAQ page says, "We strive for a maximum timeline of 8-10 months, but most authors see their books available through major print and online distribution channels within 6-8 months." That's a loooooooooong time. Three months is definitely doable.
  • The site displays a press release prepared for a new book. The brief release includes FOUR mentions of Page Publishing. These plugs are unusual and unprofessional. The author paid Page to promote the book—not the publisher. Page says that the press release "was disbursed to over 8,501 newspapers, magazines, radio shows, web blogs, and journalists" and provides a poorly edited partial list. That 8,501 number is meaningless. Zillions of press releases are distributed to media every day. The number of media sent-to is not meaningful. What counts is how many and which of the media provided useful publicity because of the press release—and an ad for a publisher disguised as a press release for an author does not help the author.
  • The company has a blog—last updated in 2015. This lapse does not inspire confidence.
  • The "news" page, however, is up-to-date. That's a good sign that someone is paying attention.
  • The company's Twitter and Facebook pages are also up-to-date. Good work!
  • Some of Page's cover designs are very appealing. Most are at least adequate. None are terrible.
  • Page can provide a "Custom Author Web Page" "hosted on the Page Publishing website." I think it's much better for an author's website to be independent of a publisher. The author needs to control her or his media platform. I don't know how much Page charges for web services, but better deals may be available. I use for my book websites.
  • Page warns that " We know that authors need to be free to create—not bogged down with complicated business issues like eBook conversion, establishing wholesale accounts, insurance, shipping, taxes, and the like." I established my own Silver Sands Books ten years ago. It was not difficult and I have not had to do ebook conversions, establish wholesale accounts or deal with shipping. Insurance and taxes are not big deals.
  • Page touts a "FREE Author's Submission Kit (we'll send some information immediately via email)." I waited about 40 hours so far. That's not "immediately."
  • Some book prices seem too high, and are possibly noncompetitive. Will people pay $14.95 for a 143-page paperback from an unknown author, or $9.99 for the ebook version? Maybe. Maybe not.
  • The website has typographical problems including oversize spaces from non-hyphenated full-justified text, and some very strange characters. I hope Page's books don't have these problems.  
I looked at some of the books online and found no fatal signs (but "first originally published by ..." in several books is an inexcusable lapse in editing).

Without knowing the cost of publishing with Page, I can't make a definitive recommendation or warning. The company is far above the worst in its field, and maybe that's all that authors need. If you want to get published, Page is worth investigating. The more companies that compete for authors' dollars, the better it is.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Printing is not publishing, dammit.

(Above: advertising something that doesn't exist. Would you like to buy a unicorn?)

For a business that depends on communication, publishing often has terrible communication. Terms for basic functions are misused and misunderstood by people in the business—and certainly by 'civilians.'

I was reminded of this long-standing problem when someone complimented my for the "fine penmanship" I demonstrated in an online posting a few days ago. He meant to compliment me on my expression, not my formation of letters with an ancient handheld device.

I've been guilty of a similar offense.

When I was a teenager in the summer of 1963 I had a job working in a clothing store. One time I was talking to a customer and she told me that her family owned a well-known local company. I responded with something like, "oh yeah, the publisher." She corrected me saying "we're not that important. We're a printer, not a publisher." 

More than half a century later, the confusion continues.

Publish On Demand is an unnecessary and confusing misnomer using the same initials as Print On Demand. There’s really no such thing as Publish On Demand. It makes no sense. But companies still want you to think they’ll do it for you.

Despite its use by major traditional publishers, the Print On Demand process has been subject to some unfortunate and unjustified stigma because of its association with sleazy companies that print books on demand mostly for their authors rather than for readers.

Therefore, some companies have sought to give a new meaning to the "P" in POD.

Llumina Press, Booksurge, Lulu, Tate, Outskirts, CreateSpace and others have paid Google to run online ads for the stupid phrase aimed at ignorant writers who don’t know the difference between printing and publishing. There have even been stupidly named websites called (now apparently defunct) and (also apparently defunct).
  • Some critics describe and deride "self-publishing companies" as "POD companies" -- which makes the situation even more confusing.
  • Sleazy and dishonest PublishAmerica said, "PublishAmerica is not in any way a POD, vanity press, or subsidy publisher. . . . In the most commonly used context, POD indicates "Publish On Demand." BULSHIT.
Publishing and printing are not the same thing. Printing is often part of publishing. Printing can be done on demand. Publishing can’t

Publishing is a complex, multi-stage process that takes a writer’s words from manuscript to books on sale. The end result of a publishing project, which may be 10,000 books or just one book—whether pbook or ebook—can take weeks, months or even years.

With Print On Demand, books are printed one at a time or a few at a time as orders are placed by readers through booksellers. That does not mean that a publishing company starts the entire publishing sequence whenever an order arrives. With POD, a book is produced (i.e. printed, not published) in minutes, not months. (Of course, with ebooks, publishing occurs without printing.)

So, what's the point of all this?

If you see the phrase "Publish On Demand," be very careful before you spend your money. There's a good chance that the company is fooling around with more than the English language. The shady operators in the publishing field have already distorted the meaning of "self-publishing" and "indie" and now they are demeaning and devaluing "POD."

When I checked, the new Ingram Spark was keeping a much bigger chunk of a publisher's money than corporate sibling Lightning Source did for the same work.

What word or phrase will be the next victim? I don't know, but I'm not optimistic.

Remember what Bill Clinton said: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." And Humpty Dumpty said: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean."

I sure wish publishers and printers would be more careful with the language they and we depend on.

(Clinton photo from the White House. Humpty drawing from Thanks.)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Authors: To detect the most errors, check your book in multiple media

Last weekend I uploaded what I hoped would be the final version of my wonderful new book, What's Wrong With Trump? It's been on sale for a month but I've been tweaking and adding and have held off on promoting the book until the ebook version is available (probably next week). 

Yesterday I received a physical copy and I'll study it carefully. 

I've already made over 700 corrections. Most of them were too tiny for mere mortals to notice or be bothered by--but I was compelled to find and fix them. Perfection is elusive and probably impossible, but I am honor-bound to strive.

Sadly, I find tons of errors in books published by major companies with huge budgets for editors. One of the sloppiest I've recently read is the highly enjoyable American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Every chapter has words that run together. A ten-year-old with no degree in journalism could have found them and fixed them.
Last night I attended a lecture by a very bright doctor. The "handout" he distributed had over a dozen blatant errors. He is apparently a skilled surgeon, who does better with a scalpel than with a keyboard. Anything you write with the hope of generating business deserves professional editing.

Back to my new book: I'm sure I'll find dozens of stupid errors to repair, and each repair can cause still more errors.

That's the way it was in Shakespeare's time in the 1600s, and that's the way it still is. Any time humans are involved in making something, there will be human errors. I guess that's better than inhuman errors.

Even though I'm careful and experienced, I am far from perfect. I am often amazed at the errors that should have been obvious that eluded me through dozens of examination sessions. Sometimes I make changes simply because I've changed my mind and don't like something that seemed just find a few months ago.

While you'll spot many errors in a book manuscript when it's displayed on a computer screen, you'll probably detect even more when it's printed on paper—like a real book.

CreateSpace and Lightning Source will provide PDF proofs on your PC screen for free, or printed proofs for about $20, delivered. If you are planning to have CS print your books, you may as well let them provide proofs. HOWEVER, if you are willing to approve an imperfect book to be on sale temporarily, you can get books faster and for less money by ordering from Amazon!

Years ago, after three brain-numbing read-throughs of a second-generation proof from Lulu, I figured I was ready to upload my PDF files to Lightning Source so I could start selling books.

I realized that it was destined to have as-yet-undiscovered errors, and I had a thought.

If I could get a printout on paper, I could give it one more read-through and make corrections over the weekend, and then upload the PDFs on Monday or Tuesday and still get a pretty proof from Lightning Source by the end of the week.

I was vaguely aware that some of the copy-and-ship franchised stores could print from a thumb drive. I did some checking online and was both surprised and thrilled to learn that UPS Stores (formerly Mailboxes Etc.) could accept files as online uploads, and that there was a UPS store just seven minutes from me.

I quickly established a UPS account online and uploaded the file. This was around noon, and I was informed that my print job would be ready by 4 p.m. The price was just $27.31, including three-hole punching and sales tax and file storage. At a little after 2 p.m. I received an email notifying me that the work was ready for me to pick up. $27.31 was more than the minimum $15.81 that I could have paid Lulu, but I received the "book" in hours—not ten days. It was less expensive—and faster—than the proof from Lightning.

Unlike a Lightning, Lulu or CreateSpace proof, the UPS proof didn't include a coated and colorful bound-on book cover. However, I quickly discovered that the three-hole-punched format is MUCH BETTER for proofing.

When put into a binder, the pages stay flat for reading and marking. And since my pages are formatted for 6 x 9 but UPS used 8.5 x 11-inch paper, there was plenty of extra space for my proofreader's marks and even for copy revisions. I really liked being able to insert tabbed dividers, and quickly started to use the pocket in the front cover to hold my red Sarasa editing pen, Post-Its, bookmarks and a small pad.

I had to go out of town the next day and knew I'd spend some time in my car waiting for my wife to shop. I took the binder with my proof, propped it up on the steering wheel, and got to work. It would have been much more difficult to do this with a normal bound book.

By page 173 I found at least 200 things to fix which I had not noticed on my monitor or in the Lulu proofs. 

It's very important to check your books in multiple media: on-screen as a word-processing file, on-screen as a PDF, as a PDF printed on plain paper, and as a bound volume. Each medium will reveal different errors. Even if you plan to publish only ebooks, paper proofs will help you get a bit closer to perfection.

No matter how many time you check your manuscript, there WILL be errors in your final pbook or ebook.
  • One problem that's almost invisible on PC monitors but can be seen in a printed book are sentences or paragraphs that are gray instead of black. Look closely.
  • And watch out for straight apostrophes and quote marks that really should be curly. This is a common problem when you copy and paste from text that was intended for Web use, where curlies are seldom used. The difference may be hard to spot on a PC screen, so ZOOOOOM up to 120 - 200% of normal size to make the errors stand out.
  • It's easy to accidentally copy-and-paste wrong typefaces from the web or other documents. Look very closely.
  • Also watch out for unintentional hyphens that may move from the end of a line to the middle of a line. This generally won't happen with automatic hyphenating. But if you manually insert a hyphen, and then shift text around, possibly by changing the size or position of a graphic element, hyphens can wander around the page.

Melania Trump advised kids to "be best." The language is awkward, but it's good advice for authors as well as children. (photo from

Monday, June 18, 2018

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 wonderful Typography for Independent Publishers.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Book prices can be mysterious--and amusing

Prices fascinate me. For books, food, anything, everything.
  • There are Chinese restaurants on the upper west side of Manhattan where you can pay $4.95 for a large order of fried rice. However, if you are willing to accept four delicious chicken wings along with the rice, the total price drops to just $2.95.
  • The price for a slice of ordinary American cheese in a Greek diner can be 50 cents, a buck or even $2--depending on what it's attached to.
  • The "list" prices for ebooks almost always end with 99 cents. For pbooks (printed books), the price usually ends with 95 cents. Nobody seems to know who made up the rule.
  • Independent ("self") publishers often have an unrealistically high opinion of their work, and price them too high to sell many. This blog post will help you to price properly.
  • Online prices from major and minor booksellers often make no sense. It's common to see used books advertised for more than new ones, and even 'used' books advertised within minutes of publication--when no used copies should be available.

I just checked the Barnes & Noble website to see if they'd started selling my newest book, What's Wrong With Trump? They don't have it yet, but prices for some of my other books makes no sense at all. Some are selling for more than list price. One paperback is selling for a nickel more than the hardcover version. Three books are priced at $18.95, $19.00 and $19.02. Surely, they could all be priced the same.

B&N has been slowly slipping into the retail sewer for a decade. Is the wacky pricing a cause or an effect?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Your Author Name should become a Brand Name

(not mine)

Although my name is Michael Marcus and I used to paint my face on Halloween, I am not the Michael Marcus who's in the cosmetics business.

Michael and Marcus, and Michael Marcus, are very common names.
For writing, I use my middle initial N as part of my BRAND, to distinguish myself from the many thousands of other Michael Marcuses out there.

If you Google Michael Marcus, you’ll find several hundred thousand links, including a Wall Street trader, the cosmetics manufacturer, a jazz musician, and many, many others.

Sometimes I am on the first page of the Google links for Michael Marcus, but today I am not.

However, if you Google my name with my middle initial, you’ll find over 80,000 links. Apparently there are just two of us. The other guy is a shrink. Today I have all of the ten links on the first page of searches for my name. The first one goes to my page on Amazon and the fourth goes to my "author page" on Facebook. Those links are important to anyone who wants to sell books. (There is also a link to a vile, dishonest, libelous blog that I can't get removed without spending zillions to sue Google. I wrote a book, Internet Hell, about it.)
  • If you want to be searchable and findable so you can sell books or any product or service, it’s important that your name become a BRAND NAME so that people who have heard of you—maybe in a conversation or an interview or an article—can FIND you and PAY you for whatever you want to sell them.
Any writer who expects to write more than one book, blog or article hopes that people who like one thing he or she has written will want to read more.

One good way to help people to find your work is to have a distinctive name, like actors and singers. Jor-El, the name of Superman’s Kryptonian father, is unique and distinctive. So is the name of Marlon Brando, who played the part. Marlon Brando was his birth name. Marion Morrison was less fortunate. He had to change his name to become John “Duke” Wayne.

Stephen King’s name is not unique or distinctive. But, after selling perhaps 300 million books, he probably doesn’t suffer from the existence of others with the same name. (Wikipedia listed about a dozen, including a Congressman, a pedophile and five athletes.)

What about a pen name?

It’s not unusual for a writer to use a pen name (nom de plume in French). Mark Twain is probably the most famous fake. Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but he also used Sieur Louis de Conte. There are many reasons for using a pen name:

• To make the author’s name more distinctive, more glamorous or more interesting
• To disguise the author’s gender
• To protect the author from retribution, especially if the book is an exposé
• To avoid confusion with other authors or famous people
• To hide ethnicity or alter apparent ethnicity
• To develop different personas for different genres such as fiction and nonfiction, or chick lit and sci-fi
• To have a name more appropriate to a genre (male western writer Zane Grey was born Pearl Zane Gray).
• To avoid overexposure by having too many books on sale at one time
• To avoid embarrassment, such as when a professor writes porn, or to shield the author’s family from revelations of an unconventional or illegal past
• To avoid confusion if your name is hard to spell, remember, pronounce or seems too “foreign” or “ethnic.” Author Irving Wallace was born a Wallechinsky. His daughter writes as Amy Wallace, but his son is known as David Wallechinsky. (My father's father was born a Dzmichevitsky (or something like that). I prefer "Marcus.")
• To eliminate the possibility that the book could jeopardize your success in another field

Scott Lorenz, who provides marketing and PR at Westwind Communications, suggests some reasons for using your own name on your books:

• If you are not trying to hide from anyone
• To brand your name for speaking gigs or consulting
• So people you know can find your books
• To build trust and confidence with readers
• To use your real-life expertise to validate the contents of your books

If you have a bland name like “Arthur Williams” you might be more easily found and better remembered if you change to Hamburger Williams or Xavier Nguyen Bacciagalupe III.

English punk rocker Declan MacManus morphed into a more-memorable Elvis Costello.
Don Novello wrote books as Lazlo Toth, and appeared on TV as Father Guido Sarducci. Punk-rock bass player Sid Vicious was born John Ritchie. Cher was Cherilyn Sarkisian.

Sometimes just a slight change can do the job. F. Scott Fitzgerald is probably a better choice than Francis or Frankie Fitzgerald. Bill Smith might be better remembered as William Harrington Smith or Billy D. Smith. Edward Jay Epstein has written more than a dozen books, perhaps with more success than hundreds of ordinary Ed Epsteins.

When I checked a few years ago, “Edward Epstein” was the #254,818-ranked full name in, with 123 occurrences. On the other hand, Juan Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter was unique, with just one listed person in the United States. It may not be a real name, however. Maybe Juan’s real name is Xavier Nguyen Bacciagalupe III, or Sally Smith. apparently has changed its function, but there are other sites that reveal name popularity. This site shows popularity of names on Facebook.

In addition to a distinctive name, visual elements can be part of your branding. My books about publishing all have a purple band. A while ago I bought a purple Nikon and used it as a prop when I gave a talk about self-publishing. I recently bought a purple shirt. Back in 2011 I had my head shaved and my full beard reduced to a goatee. I want to be noticed and remembered. I'd like to be thought of as the bald author with a beard who likes purple, rather than just "some guy." After a few years I let my facial and cranial hairs grow back 

I was shy and introverted as a kid, but I got over it.

If you want to sell books, you can’t be shy. If you're too timid to toot your own horn, you'll have to hire someone to toot for you. You can’t be afraid to speak to strangers. Anyone can be a customer. I recently sold a book to a clerk in a pawn shop. Sometimes it seems like I am selling one book at a time. That may seem pathetic compared to Stephen King—but it's neither pathetic nor bad business. Each person who buys your book may tell others, and they may tell others who'll tell others.

  • Two more tips: Use your Author Name frequently and consistently. If you've decided to write as Frederik W. Miller, eschew Fred and Freddy. They are no longer you.
  • And one more: Don't use hyphens, umlauts or other diacritical marks in your Author Name. They add as much difficulty as distinction. However, if your last name is D'Andrea, it's OK to keep your apostrophe.