Friday, April 18, 2014

Bad news may be good news for your book business

You've probably heard that "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good." It's an ancient proverb that has come to mean that a wind that is bad for many people, can be good for others.
  • The same windstorm that drives a boat off its course and onto the rocks might also help a becalmed sailing ship to reach home swiftly and safely -- and can power the windmills on the land.
  • A wind that is no good for someone is unusual and ill indeed. 
  • Probably nothing is bad for everyone.
When I was in college in the 60s, I operated a slightly profitable business distributing anti-war pins. One said, "War is Good Business. Invest Your Son." Apparently 58,212 Americans were killed and 153,452 were wounded in the War in Vietnam -- plus about 2 million Vietnamese. Nevertheless, the war was good for arms makers, and for college kids who sold anti-war pins and bumper stickers.
 
When Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died in 2011, The Associated Press said, "As macabre as it might seem, Jobs' death Wednesday will only add to the Apple mystique - and profit." The iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac likely got short-term sales boosts as consumers paid the ultimate tribute to Jobs. It's a commercial phenomenon that also occurred when Michael Jackson's album and song sales rocketed after he died in 2009.
Simon & Schuster moved up the publication date of its biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson from November 21 to October 24. Even before publication, the book was ranked #1 on Amazon's overall bestseller list and #1 on three other Amazon bestseller lists, because of pre-orders (including my order).


In my Independent Self-Publishing: The Complete Guide, I wrote, "Remember that the mere publication of your book is not usually sufficiently newsworthy to impress editors and writers. 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.  If an important person just got married, promoted, fired, elected or killed, a book about that person should be newsworthy . . . ."

I certainly don't recommend that you murder someone you wrote about. But, if that person should die without your intervention, be prepared to take advantage of the promotional possibilities, like Simon & Schuster. Biographer Walter Isaacson was interviewed a great many times, and Simon & Schuster sold a great many books.

(top photo from "Gilligan's Island" TV show.)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A minister/book designer committed sins that hurt her book. Don't hurt yours.




Jamie L. Saloff is a minister, metaphysician, counselor, soul healer, publishing adviser and more.

She has written and published a mostly good book that can guide would-be publishers through the sometimes-arduous process of using Lightning Source for printing and distribution.

There is a lot of good in her book. Sadly there is also much wrong with it.


In Christian theology there are seven "deadly sins" -- wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.
  • Pride (hubris in Greek) is often considered to be the worst sin. Jamie preaches about the danger of not having a book professionally edited, but abundant errors made me assume that this book had no editor. I couldn't find an editor mentioned in the book or in its online data. Jamie needs an editor, and her avoiding an editor is the sin of hubris.
  • Acedia is an ancient sin that somehow dropped off the list of the Big Seven. It's apathy -- neglecting to take care of something that needs to be taken care of. Acedia is rampant in this book.
The book is burdened with an absolutely horrid title, Seven Easy Steps to Professionally Self-Publish Your Own Book Using Lightning Source & Print-On-Demand Printing: a quick reference guide for entrepreneurs who want to create 'profitable print products'(tm) to increase their income and visibility while working from home. (The split infinitive is the least of the problems.)

Strangely, the title says "your own book" on Jamie's website and on booksellers' sites, but "own" is not printed on the cover or title page. Also, the printed title begins with "7" but websites use "Seven." In movie and TV production, these inconsistencies are known as a "continuity" errors.
 One big danger of self-editing is that the writer will have words in her head that she thinks are on the page. The converse is also a problem: not seeing what is on the page.




(above) The cover design is as jumbled as the title. The illustration certainly does not imply "easy." A book cover is an advertisement, and any ad must have a focal point. Some part of the cover must have a dominant element that draws the eyes of the viewer.


With Jamie's cover, eyes wander through the wilderness, distracted by multiple, meaningless arrows, seeking something important. The pastel tones are dull, wishy-washy and simply blah. Covers need contrast. The only element on the cover with contrast is the empty-headed guy's black collar.

The visual cues are confusing. 

  • Arrows point up, down and off the page. Why?
  • "Profit" is centered and on a bolder-colored circle than "Visibility" or "Print On Demand" -- but they have bigger circles and are not in the center of the cover.
  • "Dynamic" has a big circle, but the word has so many meanings it is nearly meaningless.
  • High-contrast implies importance. Jamie put the black collar at the bottom -- the least important position on the cover.
A book's title is usually very important, but Jamie's long title requires small type, which makes it hard to read. The subtitle is an important selling opportunity, but Jamie's subtitle is nearly illegible because of the over-fancy typeface and poor contrast.

(In addition to her other roles and activities, Jamie is a book designer who charges at least $450 for a cover design. $450 is a lot of money for a cover. I've seen better covers produced for $5 by artists on
Fiverr.com.)




(above) In reduced size, even on Jamie's website, the cover contents are barely discernible. Jamie's own name is hard to read on the cover in any size -- a major sin for a book designer and author who wants to build her brand. Jamie says, "What will your cover look like when it is two inches tall? . . . Is the main concept still understandable? Or does the whole thing become a blur?" Her cover becomes many blurs.

To balance my bitching about the cover, I will offer a compliment for Jamie's interior design. The oversize pages with larger-than-normal spacing between lines are attractive and easy to read. 


There are multiple minor sins inside the book. Some should have been caught by a copyeditor; some would have required correction by a person with knowledge of the book business. Problems that I found in the review copy Jamie sent me were not corrected in the final version of the book I bought on Amazon. (Yes, I do buy books.)
  • "Forward" should be "foreword." That's a common error for newbies, but an unforgivable sin for a "self-publishing expert."
  • The table of contents lists page numbers for the starts of chapters, but the pages that start chapters are un-numbered "blind folios." That's an ISPITA (Industrial Strength Pain In The Ass).
  • Pages 59 through 65 have no numbers. Traditionally some pages don't get numbers but six consecutive un-numbered pages are very unusual and make it hard for the reader to know where she is.  
  • Page 54 is missing a page number for no good reason.
  • Jamie says that "POD books are published on a high quality, superfast photocopier . . . ." That sentence has two problems: (1) She should have said "printed," not "published." (2) The device that prints POD books is a printer, not a copier. It does not have a built-in scanner as copiers do.
  • She says that many self-publishing companies "hold the rights to your book for a lengthy period of time, preventing you from taking it elsewhere." That may have been common in the ancient days of "vanity presses," but most current self-publishing companies offer non-exclusive contracts. The policy of iUniverse is typical today: "you have the right at any time to grant other entities a similar 'license to publish.' Examples of other entities might include a traditional publisher, another print-on-demand publishing company or an audio book publisher."
  • Jamie warns that Microsoft Word downgrades photographs. I've used MS Word for many books and never had that trouble.
  • "ISBN number" is redundant. The "N" stands for "number."
  • The prepublishing section of the Cost Estimating worksheet includes a line for the cost of "Cataloging in Production Data" (CIP). Self-publishers almost never use CIP.
  • The postpublishing section includes copyright filing (with an incorrect price for manual filing). Books can be copyrighted before publication.
  • That section also includes the LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number). There are two problems: (1) LCCNs are issued prepublication and later Jamie tells us that "you must file for your LCCN before the book is published." (2) An LCCN is free -- so it doesn't need a line on a cost worksheet.  
  •  
  • In her section on preparing text using MS Word, Jamie wisely tells readers to minimize underlined words. I disagree with her statement that "underlining causes text to shrink in height in order to make room for the line beneath." (above) In tests of multiple typefaces and several versions of Word, I never encountered this problem.
  • "PDF" stands for Portable Document Format -- not Portable Document File.
  • "KISS" stands for Keep it Simple, Stupid -- not Keep it Simple and Straightforward.
  • "Error free" should be hyphenated.
  • OTOH, "non-fiction" should be one, non-hyphenated word. Ditto for "e-mail" and "e-book." Those words are now so common that they don't need hyphens.
  • The book has bits of bad sentence structure such as lack of parallelism. Some punctuation marks and spaces are missing. There is at least one unneeded ampersand and there are various grammatical errors. Jamie tells us that "I tend to notice things that others don't." She did not notice enough. That's hubris and acedia, again.
  • Jamie criticizes the free USPS mailing envelopes and recommends purchasing mailing boxes from Uline. Uline's boxes are fine -- but so are the free boxes available from the USPS.
  • Despite having just over 100 pages, the book is padded. For example, it includes warnings about enlarging photos and overpaying attorneys. Those are important warnings, but are not part of the process of having a book printed. Neither is the section about forming a company. Neither is book pricing. Neither is website design. Neither are blogging tips. Neither are marketing tips. Neither is the worksheet for analyzing book-signing costs. Neither is the section on using copyrighted material.
  • There are two or three nearly empty pages before each of the seven steps.
  • The padding makes it hard to find and focus on the "7 easy steps."
  • The book needs a glossary. Newbies may not understand "sidebar." I'm not a newbie but have never heard of "time breaks" in a book.
  •  
  • (above) The text in many places is "full justified" but in the many lists, it's "flush-left/ragged right." The varying justification is disconcerting.
  • The second paragraph above shows that in some cases Jamie places a comma before the final three digits in a number, but not in other cases. A copyeditor should have fixed this.
  •   
  • (above) The script typeface chosen for quotations is hard to read and the swashes are distracting. Fancy type may be OK for a title or other short text block, but is inappropriate for paragraphs. "Cover" does not need to be uppercased. 
  • Jamie chose to use sans serif type for her body text. She is not the only self-pubber to do that, but, in general, serif faces are used in most books' body text and are considered easier to read. I had no trouble reading Jamie's body text.
  • Jamie published quotations from people ranging from Thomas Edison and Steve Martin to "Pro Blogger" Darren Rowse. What the heck is a pro blogger?
  • Jamie says authors will make more money by offering booksellers a 25% discount than a 20% discount. That makes no sense to me. Plenty of author-publishers offer 20%.
  • On the other hand, I do agree with Jamie's warning to avoid paying Lightning Source $60 to have your book in its Advance magazine for booksellers, not to allow returns of unsold books and not to order large quantities of books unless their sale is certain.
Jamie's title has 41 words and more than 260 characters and spaces. There are a couple of intrusive quote marks and a trademark symbol, too. I feel worn out just from typing the title.

(above) The title is so long that it gets chopped off before the last syllable of "entrepreneurs" on Amazon.com and other booksellers' websites! 

It's possible to devise excellent short titles -- and even excellent long titles. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a great short title. So is I, Claudius by Robert Graves and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Zac Bissonnette’s How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better-Looking Than Your Parents and Erma Bombeck’s The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank  are great long titles. (Compare the readability of the authors' names on the covers above with Jamie's name on her cover.)

However, Jamie's 41 words are excessive and those 41 words are not memorable.

  
If someone is interested enough to ask the title of your book, you should not have to inhale oxygen before reciting it or offer to email the title.

Rev. Saloff has written other books such as The Wisdom of Emotional Healing: Renowned Psychics Andrew Jackson Davis and Phineas P. Quimby Reveal Mind Body Healing Secrets for Clairvoyants, Spiritualists, and Energy Healers.


That's certainly a long one, too, but the main title (before the subtitle) has a comfortable five words. It's important for a title to make sense without a subtitle -- and be easy to pronounce, remember and recite without stopping to take a breath.


Even without the subtitle, Seven Easy Steps to Professionally Self-Publish Your Own Book Using Lightning Source & Print-On-Demand Printing is ridiculously long.

Sure, it's good to get important keywords into the title and subtitle of a nonfiction book, but there is such a thing as TOO DAMNED MUCH. The redundant "print-on-demand printing" is simply silly.


Readers and reviewers (like me) resent "keyword stuffing." 


You may have heard of "preaching to the choir." I preach to the minster. (And I confess to occasional hubris.)


Rev. Jamie Saloff provides a lot of information in this book but much of it is not directly related to the title of the book and the abundant small errors are distracting and reduce her authority as an "expert." 

The book sells for just $8.08 on Amazon, and that's certainly a fair price. With appropriate pruning, however, the book could lose half of its 108 pages, and maybe sell for $3.99 -- but there is no profit in $3.99 POD books. (Jamie tells us that "With most Profitable Print Products, you should be able to earn between five to eight dollars per book.")


-   -   -   -   -
Jamie set out to write about working with Lightning Source but ended up writing a general book about self-publishing -- and there are a great many other general books about self-publishing, and other good books that deal with Lightning Source.

Before you write a book it's important to analyze the market. Who are your potential readers and what other books are competing for their attention? (The huge number of competing books caused me to stop writing general books about self-publishing.)


 -   -   -   -   -
The following is aimed at Jamie and other authors:

If a life experience is not related to the subject of your book, leave it out.

  • One author of a book for authors tells prospective readers how many kids he has, what his wife's maiden name was and how well he did as a basketball coach.
  • Jamie tells us that she is a graduate of the Fellowships of the Spirit. That's not the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Yale University School of Art or the Rhode Island School of Design.
  • Also, if you have an abbreviated credential that needs explaining, such as Jamie's "CM" (Certified Metaphysician, or maybe Certified Manager or Condition Monitor), explain it or delete it.


I became a minister online for free. If I was willing to pay $32.95 I could be a Dr. of Metaphysics.

Jamie's "Author Prophet" website says she "offers guidance and soul healing to authors, . . . astrologers, tarot readers . . . ." If you're writing a serious book about acne treatment or the War of 1812, would you want to be grouped with carnival entertainers?  

A promotion for one of Jamie's seminars says: "Are you a healer, medium, or spiritual entrepreneur? Is your spiritual/metaphysical business struggling against a tight economy, preventing you from making the money you want to meet your expenses, comfortably take care of your family, and do the things you love most? Are you constantly exhausted from working long hours, frustrated with dated sales methods that don’t work, and stuck with tactics that offer meager results? Imagine instead attracting lucrative clients who want to pay you what you are worth, giving you the opportunity to earn more in less time. Delight in having clients seek you out and recommending [sic] you to all of their friends. Regain the passion of sharing your gifts by gaining clarity around how to effectively promote your business with ease and grace."


Maybe the metaphysical/carnival side of Rev. Saloff should have been separated from the author-instructing side. Maybe a pen name would be appropriate.


                                                       -   -   -   -   -

Jamie knows a lot about publishing and provides good information in this book -- but the errors and extraneous padding are sinful. The book could be, and should be, much better. The errors I found could have been found by someone else and fixed before publication.

- - - - -

Oxygen mask photo from www.iastate.edu.

Tarot cards from www.onlinepsychicfinder.com.  Thanks. 




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Poor Man's Copyright is useless, no matter what 'experts' tell you


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

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

Its cost is merely the price of a stamp (currently 49 cents in the USA) and an envelope (currently as little as 40 for a buck at Dollar Tree).

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

Sadly, the poor man's myth survives and is perpetuated by ignorant publishing 'experts.'
  • Helen Gallagher’s fault-filled book, Release Your Writing, mentions the poor man’s copyright as a supplement to a real copyright to prove when a document was created. It’s a waste of postage.
  • The following dangerous and naive misinformation was posted on the Facebook page of Peppertree Press, and on the blog of Peppertree boss Julie Ann Howell: "My favorite way to copyright might sound old fashioned; however... it works. Print out your manuscript and then mail it to yourself and do not open it. Tuck it away in a drawer. It will stand up in a court of law." BULLSHIT!
  • Nathan, a foolish "writer and film director" provides visual instructions for achieving non-protection on the YouTube ExpertVillage channel. He is not an expert on copyrights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

--------
mailbox photo from dbking. Thanks.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Music can make life -- especially work -- more pleasant.


I thought that "Whistle While You Work" came from the 1946 Disney movie Song of the South, but it was actually part of the 1937 animated Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The song shows Snow White and a bunch of cute animals happily whistling while cleaning house.

This song even generated an anti-Nazi parody:

Whistle while you work.
Hitler was a jerk.
Mussolini kicked him in the peenie.
Now it doesn't work.


Snow White is the source of another popular work song. "Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work I go" is sung by the seven dwarfs.

When I was a kid, we sang this parody:

Hi-ho, hi-ho
It's off to school I go.
I heard the bell
And ran like hell.
Hi-ho, hi-ho.


In 1957, The Bridge on the River Kwai, showed Allied POWs whistling the "Colonel Bogey March" to maintain morale and dignity while building a bridge under horrid conditions for their Japanese captors. That song was written in 1914, but it, too, was the source of an anti-Nazi parody in the Second World War.

Göring has only got one ball
Hitler's [are] so very small
Himmler's so very similar
And Goebbels has no balls at all


Slaves may have sung since ancient times to mitigate their misery. In the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles, Lyle (played by Burton Gilliam) taunted the mostly black railroad workers: "When you was slaves, you sang like birds. Come on! Let's hear a good, old nigger work song!"


Around 1980, I was writing about 20 hours a day to complete a book with a very tight deadline. I discovered an NPR radio show hosted by Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes. Ed played great jazz after midnight, and the music kept me awake enough to keep writing



Although I enjoy many kinds of music, and my home is filled with radios and recordings and the equipment to play them, I somehow got out of the habit of playing music while I write. I recently rearranged my home office, and rediscovered the great Tivoli radio that has been on my desk for nearly a decade. While I'm in the car, I love talk radio, but when I'm writing I find that voiceless music is less distracting, very comforting, and sometimes even stimulating.

So, turn on some music -- or whistle while you work. It was good for Snow White.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I was a Mad Man


A&E's monster hit series Mad Men has reached 1969 -- shortly before I became an award-wining Mad Ave. copywriter. I don't remember any orgies or the constant boozing, but other parts seem very real to me, particularly and sadly Peggy's new boss Lew, who accepts mediocrity and does not appreciate quality.

I got into the advertising business by accident.
In 1971 and 1972 I was audio-video editor at Rolling Stone magazine, and wrote reviews of lots of products. When I wrote good reviews, it was common for the manufacturers to ask permission to quote me in their ads. This was good for the manufacturers, good for Rolling Stone and extremely good for my ego.
 I almost always agreed, but I insisted on the right to review the ads before publication to make sure I was being quoted cor­rectly and not made to seem like a complete asshole.
At one point I said something nice about a BSR turntable, and I got a call from someone at Kane Light Gladney, the turn­table manufacturer’s advertising agency. He explained that they had done an ad with a quote from my review, and would buy me lunch if I’d come by and take a look at the ad. Their office was near mine, a free lunch was hard to turn down, so I agreed.
I met a couple of their guys at a restaurant, and then the three of us walked to their office where a bunch of “rough” ad layouts were tacked to the walls in a conference room. I took a quick look and saw that, while the quotations were accurate, the ads absolutely sucked and I did not want my name to be asso­ciated with them.
With permission I yanked a couple of layouts off the wall and sat down at the conference table and, within minutes, I was an unpaid copywriter. It was easy, I enjoyed it and my hosts were impressed. They asked if I could come in on the fol­lowing Saturday to do some writing for pay.
The Saturday freelancing went on for about a month and then the agency boss Gerry Light asked me a powerful question: “How would you like us to triple you salary?”
He didn’t realize it, but at the time I was only freelancing at Rolling Stone and making $75 for each column I wrote twice a month, so I didn’t actually have a salary to triple.
The proposed advertising salary was MUCH more than I had been making, and I had a new wife and I could keep doing the freelancing at Rolling Stone -- so I quickly accepted their offer.
It was a strange change in environment, with a whole new set of policies and politics to get used to.
When I started work, there was a plaque on my new door that identified me as “Mr. Marcus.” It was removed a few days later, and the next week a new plaque was attached to the door that said merely “Michael Marcus.”
I found out later that the office manager got into a bit of trouble with one of the partners for labeling me a “Mr.” before I had been on the job for a year.
Office politics suck.
My business card had an impressive title, “Associate Cre­ative Director.” After a few months I learned that the agen­cy’s one other copywriter had the same title. There was no Su­preme Creative Director above the two of us. Perhaps our titles were intended to keep our egos in check or to give us something to strive for.
I guess we were expected to associate with each other.
Although my work was creative and not administrative I also sometimes got to serve as the “account guy.”
Mainly this meant that I got taken out to gaudy and expen­sive restaurants to hear sales pitches from extremely boring me­dia salesmen that the agency partners or the real account executives wanted to avoid dealing with.
I was often in an awkward position, creatively.
My straitlaced bosses were frequently too timid to show our clients what I felt was my best work. They were constantly telling me to “tone it down,” but I had an edgy style and was in my early 20s, writing for my contemporaries as I had done when I was at Rolling Stone. We had several showdowns where I said, “You hired me because you like the way I write, so either show my work, or fire me.” They almost always caved in.
Sometimes I’d come up with far-out ad concepts, and hold secret meetings with our clients and sell them on my ideas. If the clients liked my stuff, my bosses had little choice but to go along.
There were other times I went to another kind of secret meetings.
In addition to our work turning out ads, press releases and sales promotion gimmicks, we also arranged dates for some of our clients, often with magazine models.


Jack, boss of one of our client companies, had a long-running affair with a Penthouse Pet, and sometimes when he was in town to be with her, I went along as the “beard.” If any peo­ple saw the three of us, and they knew that Jack was married, they’d assume that I was with the Pet who had the cleavage deep enough to get lost in for several days.
I suppose I might have been flattered, but it was really a waste of my time and my only pay was food with an incredibly boring conversation. After dinner in a hotel dining room the three of us would go upstairs in an elevator but I’d make a quick U-turn and come back down to the lobby and then go home.
I learned a lot about the ad agency business at Kane Light Gladney, but it was not always a pleasant educational experience. There was a lot of conflict, and they seemed to see me as a threat as well as an asset and their threat assessments had major lapses in logic. 

I had a freelance client that made a unique head­phone design called the Hear­Muff— “the first head­phones you wouldn’t kick out of bed.” It was never very successful and I never made much money from my work. I did the work mostly for fun, and at the end I got paid in HearMuffs. I still have a few.
The KLG partners tried to stop my HearMuff freelancing based on the absurd argument that two of the agency’s hi-fi clients — AR and BSR — might decide to make stereo head­phones in the future and my work could become a conflict of interest.
What these blind assholes somehow missed was that both AR and BSR already made record turntables, a definite conflict of interest that didn’t seem to bother either company. And I wrote the ads for both companies.
 Then the partners started referring to me as a “profit center” and urged me to work faster. In April, my boss told me that I had accomplished so much, that there was no need for any more ads to be done until September, and I was out.
There’s absolutely no job security in advertising and an important rule that I was taught very early by several veterans was that “The day to start looking for a job is the day that you get a job.”
Fortunately I had good contacts from my days at High Fidelity Trade News and Rolling Stone and I very quickly got a job as a copywriter at Muller Jordan Herrick. I then helped them to take the Columbia recording tape account away from the people at Kane Light Gladney, who had taught me the ad business very well.
Revenge is sweet. Very sweet.
Muller Jordan Herrick wasn’t a perfect place to work, but it was much bigger and better than KLG.
Our office was at 666 Fifth Avenue, in the Tishman Building, opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The floor below us was larger than our floor and on nice days we’d open our big windows and move out our chairs, phones, tables and type­writers and use the roof of the lower floor as an outdoor office, dining room and tanning salon.
In 1975 I won a big-deal award from the Advertising Club of New York while at Muller Jordan Herrick. We had mostly good clients with interesting products that I enjoyed writing about and only one absolute idiot client.
That was United Jersey Banks, where marketing was controlled by castrated dullards in the legal department. (If anyone from that miserable bank is reading this, FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! I still hate your guts.)
One time I had the brain-numbing assignment to write a boring ad about savings account interest rates.
The head guy on the bank’s team, a government intim­idated ball-less shyster, insisted that I write “a minimum deposit of at least $500 or more.” I tried explaining to this testosterone-depleted wuss that all this was repetitive and redundant and superfluous and unnecessary, and that we did not need to say all three!
The pathetic castrato would not give in and neither would I. I told him to write his own fucking ad and I left the room. My only regret was that I didn’t shut the light off and slam the door and leave the asshole sitting in the dark, crying and caressing his empty nut sack.
It would have been worth getting fired for.
My office had a weird phone with two number-seven but­tons on it, but no eight, and a very nice couch, inherited from the previous inhabitant.
I liked to close my door at noon time for a siesta, but my boss Andy Weiss hated closed doors and he had a nasty habit of opening the door and interrupting my naps.
For some unknown reason, Andy didn’t mind if I took an hour to eat, but he didn’t like the idea of me taking five minutes to eat and 55 minutes to sleep, even if it recharged my creative battery.
After a while, my couch mysteriously disappeared and I had to sleep sitting up for 55 minutes.

This tale is from my book,
Stories I'd Tell My Children (But Maybe Not Until They're Adults), available as a hardcover, paperback and ebook. 

 

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Great Depression is still depressing the book business

Book returnability is a destructive artifact of the Great Depression (roughly 1930 to 1940).

Sales of books, like most non-necessities, had fallen off greatly. In an effort to get bookstores to take in new books, the publishers offered guaranteed sales. Stores received the books “on consignment,” and, after several months, the money for the books that had been sold would be paid to the publishers. Unsold books would go back. This arrangement kept inventory on the bookstore shelves and helped create exposure for books on obscure topics or by unknown authors -- but the logistics and waste added substantially to the cost of publishing.

When books are bought on consignment, bookstore owners don’t have to care if they order slow-sellers or outright flops because almost all unsold books can be returned to the publisher, or even be destroyed, and still generate a refund or credit from the publisher. This adds to the cost of publishing (increasing the prices of books) and wastes natural resources.
  • There have been accusations that major book chains arrange to send back books — and reorder the same titles at the same time — so the stores always have inventory with no concern about paying for them.
Few if any other retail products are sold that way. Except for special circumstances, a Honda dealer can’t return unsold cars to Honda. A Sony dealer can’t return unsold TVs to Sony. A New Balance dealer can’t return unsold sneakers to New Balance.

Selling on consignment may have been a good solution in 1929, but 80-plus years later it has become very expensive and wasteful. Book publishers and bookstores are in trouble.

If a bookstore operator knows that sales are guaranteed, and if a publisher’s salesperson is sufficiently pushy, and if money is offered for promotion, little thought may go into making a purchase. The store may “overbuy” and inflate the initial sales of a book, but the day of reckoning comes a few months later. If most of the copies of a new title are still sitting on the shelves, they get sent back to the publisher, where they are either remaindered and redistributed for the buck-a-book tables or shredded and pulped to become raw material for new books.
  • Sarah Palin’s second book sold poorly, and many thousands were returned to the publisher. The cost of the waste was partially covered by the profit made on her first book, a bestseller.
The urgency that store operators feel to return books before they have to be paid for shortens the time available for a book to build a market.

The system hurts authors.

It takes time for book promotion to have an effect and for word-of-mouth to build for a new author or niche subject. Nobody knows how many books, which might have been successful with another month or two or three on display in the stores, are considered flops.

Only now, in the 21st century, is there some slight movement away from the burdensome, wasteful process that was an important innovation that kept books available in the 1930s.

HarperStudio was an imprint (brand) of HarperCollins, launched in 2008. It started an experimental program to sell books to booksellers in a one-way transaction, in exchange for providing additional gross profit. The experiment failed and HarperStudio was shut down after two years.

Bookstores are also shutting down. Remember Borders?