Friday, May 22, 2015

To me, authoring is no longer awesome.
To many readers, it is.

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 40-plus years making money by tapping a keyboard, I no longer think writing is a big deal.

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.

When  I was younger, I loved getting fan mail from people who liked my articles and reviews in Rolling Stone. 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 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 2015 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 older -- and accumulating more experiences -- makes it easier to write. (But harder to type accurately.) 

At age 69, 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 meeting -- who share some of my genes, and will share a final address -- it 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 Stone -- but 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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

If authors don't care about their books, why should readers?

This is probably the least-interesting cover design of all time. Maybe the poetry in the ebook is more stimulating than the cover. Will anyone find out?

Sadly, I found out. The typing, spelling and grammar inside the book are probably the worst I’ve ever seen. YIPES!

The book has a four-star review on Goodreads -- posted by the poet himself

Gerard wants us to know that this is his finest work. That's not encouraging. Neither is the sloppy typing in the review itself.

Here's what the pathetic egomaniac put on Goodreads: "wonderful collection of poetry by Irish author ,this is a flowing melodic poetry of raw honesty, this ebook will delight tantalise and frustrate you for sure"

If Gerard didn't care enough to produce a quality book and proper promotion, why should a reader care enough to invest time and money?
  • If you produce crap, maybe the only people you'll attract are critics like me.
  • It's extremely difficult to make money selling poetry books.
  • If you want to have a chance, do it right. 
  • If you can't produce a proper book yourself, hire qualified people to do it for you.
UPDATE: since the first time I wrote about Gerard, he produced a new cover. It's better -- but incredibly dull. The pages inside the book have not been improved.

His other book,
Snatches Of The Mind, has better interior typing, but bad grammar and different titles on the cover and title page. Oops.

Here's the abominable promotional text: "The word's paint pictures , like an artist lovingly applies paint to a canvas , the heart and mind as one, the story between the lines , as revealing, as the tears of a broken hearted lover"

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Roman roman Roman" makes sense, really

  • "Times New Roman" is a common typeface.
  • The opposite of italic is roman.
  • Roman numerals use letters to represent numbers.

I've wanted to type that for years.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on Vespa motor scooter
in Roman Holiday (1953).

I bought a much more modern Vespa "150" in 1964, but never sat behind Audrey Hepburn or in front of Gregory Peck.

I also had a 1978 Fiat 124 Spider. Audrey has never been in it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

There are no secrets in books.
Avoid hackneyed titles.

Are there any secrets in this book? Naah!

"Secrets" are exciting. Starting in childhood, everyone wants to learn some special, restricted bit of information. The American government has a Secret Service and the United Kingdom has an Official Secrets Act. Lots of very smart people spend their careers trying to uncover or protect secrets -- especially "top secrets."

"I've Got a Secret" was an extremely popular TV show that originally aired from 1952 until 1967. It was revived for brief sessions in 1972-'73 and in 1976 and from 2000-'03. There was even an at-home game based on the show.

In Animal House, Delta Tau Chi fraternity was put on "Double Secret Probation" by Faber College Dean Wormer who wanted to find a way to ban the fraternity for bad behavior and bad grades.  

Do you want to know a secret? was an extremely popular Beatles song from the 1963 album Please Please Me, sung by George Harrison.The single reached #2 on the Billboard chart in 1964 and the #1 position in 1981.

Apparently, lots of people want to know secrets, especially "dirty little secrets." Amazon.com lists nearly 300,000 books with "secret" in the title. Some are fiction, and many are nonfiction. The term is a very popular book title cliche. A huge number of books use "secrets of success" in their titles.

Here's a dirty little secret: none of the books promising secrets actually reveal secrets because no secrets are secret after even one person reads the secret.

The author of Secrets of Self Publishing 2 is so proud of his secrecy that he put the title TWICE on the cover of the book. The slim book is badly written, badly formatted and apparently unedited. I found exactly one alleged secret in the book: "The secrets of self-publishing are the same as the secrets of success. One must be willing to research all outlets, and find a method which fits your program." That's not much of a secret.

I questioned the author about the apparent lack of secrets. He wrote to me: "In regards to your question (statement). It kind of reminds me of a many centuries old question millions of Christians and Muslims have about life. They read their holy books, go to services weekly. Yet beyond the parables have not been able to extract the simplicity of life that one does not need a book, treatise, big words or to be around others to understand. They go out into the world, and when they're out of their religious houses they're not good people at all. Yet life is very simple, all things are interconnected. All you have to do is Respect all life. This understanding is Love at its highest form. Both books display this. Yet the people don't see b/c its not spelled out to them. In regards to The Secrets of Self Publishing, self publishing as outlined can be done many ways. A business period in order to be a success needs to be built around the individuals personality and initiatives. Self Publishing is no different, the (book)work speaks about stepping outside of the box and developing a program based around the author/publishers abilities. This is so even though authors and publishers run around following and stealing programs and ideas from others. Some find success, most don't, and some of the ones who find early success will run into problems in the longrun. A copy is nothing like the original.  In so many words the work advises people to learn the basics of self publishing, then develop their own program. In this is the Secret. Be Blessed."

It's nice to be blessed, but I'd rather learn some secrets.

E-Book Publishing Secrets has 24-pages and a $15 price! After nearly three years it has had almost no sales on Amazon. I’m not surprised. Who would pay more than sixty cents per page for a book? (The subtitle has several grammatical errors—bad for a book about publishing.) Of course, there are no secrets in the book. Strangely, the author likes to refer to himself as "Mr." John Wallace Hayes.

Please find some way to attract readers to your book without putting "SECRETS" in the title.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Even highly paid professional designers mess up

Some people who have the title of designer, architect, art professor or art director turn out major failures — like the Pontiac Aztek, above. A poll published by England’s Daily Telegraph put the Aztek at the top of the list of the ugliest cars of all time.

New Jersey’s Pulaski Skyway was called “the ugliest man-made structure in the world” — by my father.

The book below was named one of the ten best books of 2011 by the New York Times, and one of the best books of the year by at least seven other book review media.  It was published by Random House and designed by Casey Hampton.

Sadly, even professionals working for big publishing houses forget to kern and condense. I fixed the first line of the title for them. I’ll let Random’s 'pros' fix the second line—if they care.

(This posting is derived from my upcoming No More Ugly Books!)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Novelists won't make a penny from me. Sorry.

This book was featured on NPR. I was all set to buy it and then I realized it was (GASP!) a novel.

If my memory is correct, I've
read only about 10% of one novel in over 47 years since I finished college. I find reality very entertaining. I buy two or three books each week, but all are nonfiction. For fiction, I use TV and movies, not books. That's just the way I am 

Apparently, at age 69, I have the patience of a two-year-old.

I've been conditioned by years of watching "Law & Order," "Bones," "Crossing Jordan," "The Closer," "The Mentalist," "Criminal Minds," "NCIS" and "CSI" -- where we often see a corpse before the first commercial; and James Bond movies with dozens of corpses and at least one gorgeous woman before the title comes on screen.
  • When I'm reading nonfiction, a leisurely narrative is just fine.
  • But when I'm in the fiction mode, my brain automatically craves ACTION -- and there are few car crashes or murders in the first few pages of most novels.
I have a problem with movies, too. It takes a lot of action to attract and maintain my attention. Sadly, when I go to a movie, it usually turns out out to be a $12 nap (or $24 with popcorn).

I inherited my mother's love of reading, but not her drive to read every bestselling novel. My father read a lot too, but mostly newspapers. I guess I inherited his need for information, not my mother's need for escape.

I've always been an avid reader -- even when I wasn't supposed to be reading.
  • As a young child I read books under the blanket with a flashlight after my official "lights out" time.
  • By around age eight, I employed more advanced technology. I tied a string to the pull-chain that controlled the light in my closet. I attached the other end to a tennis ball with a hole poked through it. I could read with the closet light, and when I heard one of my parents walking down the hallway towards my room, I'd pull on the string to extinguish the light, and then toss the ball and string into the closet to hide the evidence before mom or dad opened my door to check on me.
(That was a long time ago. I wonder if modern parents care how late their kids stay up -- especially if they're reading.)

As a pre-teen, I did not bother with the Hardy Boys series that interested many of my friends. Instead, I eagerly devoured each new book in the Tom Swift, Jr., series. Books like Tom Swift and His Flying Lab, Tom Swift and His Giant Robot and Tom Swift and His Diving Seacopter provided my ideal combination of adventure and technology.

My favorite magazine of the period was Popular Electronics. Although the mag included construction projects (amplifiers and short-wave receivers) and technical discussions (i.e., VOM vs. VTVM?), each issue included a short story seemingly written just for me. Like the Swift series, John T. Frye's Carl and Jerry stories combined technology and adventure, and sometimes the young geeks used electronics to catch bad guys and impress girls.

I remember one story where Carl and Jerry were on a small boat and its outboard motor conked out. The boys used the boat's battery and parts of the motor to build a primitive "spark gap transmitter" and transmitted Morse Code to get help. This was long before MacGyver used his Swiss Army knife to make a nuclear reactor from a vacuum cleaner, a sponge, a pair of snow shoes and a pound of shrimp.

I did most of the assigned reading in public school, but I sometimes cheated and wrote book reports based on the "Classics Illustrated Comics" version of the books. On the other hand, in my senior year in high school, to fulfill an informal bet with with my English teacher Frances Leighton, I did read and report on a book each day for several months.

I've written more than 40 books. One was half-fiction. One was about 10% fiction. I have no desire to write The Great American novel. Or to read it.

As Sgt. Joe Friday said on the ancient "Dragnet" TV series, "All we want are the facts, ma'am"

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A simple, important thing that Amazon, authors and publishers get wrong

(above) While analysts' percentages vary, Amazon clearly has a huge share of the ebook market -- but it could sell more ebooks

I talk to lots of readers online and in the real world. All of them are aware of ebooks. Almost all are aware of Kindles. A few have Kindles. Many who don't have Kindles think they can't read an ebook formatted for Kindles if they don't have a Kindle. 

They seem to think that the ebook business is like the old videotape situation where a VHS player could not play Betamax movies.

While there is still some incompatibility with less important readers (and the availability of adaptive apps and hacks grows constantly), the simple fact is that books formatted for Kindle reading can be read on many kinds of devices. It's time for Amazon, authors and publishers to make that important fact known!

Starting with my 2014 book, Anthology of Third-World Email Scams: learn from the best and worst!, I am promoting the concept that my Kindle ebooks can be read on a PC, an iPad or other tablet, a Nook, a smart phone or other device.

Sure, it's probably good to publish in multiple ebook formats. But, just as many people think that the World Wide Web is the Internet and that Earth is the center of the Universe, there are people who think that "Kindle" is synonymous with "ebook."

Authors: if you can make potential readers know that they can read your books without investing in additional hardware, you may sell many more books.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Plagiarize, don't shade your eyes (but change the words!)

The first part of today's title is from the great song, "Lobachevsky," by singer - writer - pianist - mathematician Tom Lehrer, who has long been one of my literary gods.

Tom claims he “went from adolescence to senility, trying to bypass maturity.” He graduated from Harvard Magna Cum Laude at age 18 and made Phi Beta Kappa. He taught at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California, but is best known for hilarious songwriting, much of it political satire in the 1950s and 60s.

Tom's musical career was powerful but brief. He said he performed a mere 109 shows and wrote only 37 songs over 20 years. Britain’s Princess Margaret was a fan, and so am I. I can still sing Tom Lehrer lyrics I first heard in seventh grade. 

Here's part of the "Lobachevsky lyrics:"

"I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics: Plagiarize!

Plagiarize, Let no one else's work evade your eyes, Remember why the good Lord made your eyes, So don't shade your eyes, But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize -- Only be sure always to call it please 'research'."

So, why am I writing about Uncle Tom today? I am researching typography for a book I am writing about book design called No More Ugly Books! 

I have about 4,000 books in my personal library, and about 100 books are related to publishing.

One my favorites is The Non-Designers Design & Type Books, by Robin Williams (no, not Mork-from-Ork Robin Williams).

Below is part of a scan of one page:

(left-click to enlarge)
The highlighted text made sense to me, but it seemed strangely familiar. I took a look at one of my other favorite books about books, Book Design & Production by Pete Masterson.

(left-click to enlarge)

Yup -- it's about 95% the same thing.

This seemed really strange. The same sentence appears in two copyrighted books that are sort of competitors. It was strange enough to motivate me to do a Google search, and I found this:

(left-click to enlarge)

Yup -- here are Robin's words again, this time in a teaching tool produced by a teacher at a big high school in Texas,

And if that's not enough, I also found the same text on a website operated by the South Newton School Corporation in Indiana. It was apparently copied from Robin's book, but the homepage shows:  "Copyright © 2011 South Newton."

(left-click to enlarge)

And, of course there's more.

I have no idea who wrote the sentence first, but the same text can't have multiple valid copyrights. I wonder if the school teachers who have apparently copied the material from another source would approve of a student submitting a term paper with text copied directly from Wikipedia.

We all do research. I read lots of book in fields I'm interested in, and try to distill what others have said and then REPHRASE IT IN MY OWN WORDS and try to add my own insights and discoveries.

In another song, Tom Lehrer wrote, "Don't write dirty words on walls if you can't spell. Be prepared!" That's good advice -- especially with the Internet. If you copy and publish someone else's work, be prepared for someone to notice.

Back when I was a journalism major at Lehigh I was taught never to copy more than four consecutive words without attribution. That's good advice.

(My own research technique may be imperfect. If I have been an accidental copycat in my 40-plus years of writing, I hereby apologize.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Valuable cheat sheet for menu-makers and foot critics


Mickey pic from Disney.
Bullwinkle pic from
Mouse photo from I don't remember
Marian photo from sunriseresortandmarina.com
Mesclun photo from scarboroughfarms.com
Hamburg photo from Daniel Schwen
Big Mac photo from Mickey Dee's


Monday, May 11, 2015

To tweak or not to tweak, that is the question

When I was writing for Rolling Stone in the early 1970s, I was always rewriting until the last possible minute. This was in the pre-fax, pre-email era, and I'd drive to the airport and pay to have my column air-freighted from NY to CA. There wasn't much profit left.

Words are almost toys for me, like a child's building blocks, Lincoln Logs (above), Lego or an Erector Set. I love to play with words, to rearrange them and try alternatives. Rewriting sentences and changing page formatting -- especially now with a computer -- is fun

The danger is that a perfectionist never finishes anything.

When I was working as an advertising copywriter, I was notorious for not "releasing" an ad until the last possible moment. Fortunately, someone older and wiser taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes "good enough" really is good enough, and I learned to let go.

Now, as the owner of a small publishing company, I have to be a businessman as well as an artist. I realize that no money will come in if I don't approve a proof and let a book start selling.

However, I seldom stop editing. I even re-do old blog entries (including this one).

The New Yorker magazine has an excellent article about Steve Jobs, which says that his real genius was tweaking -- not inventing. You can read it for free online.

I'm a tweaker, too, but being a tweaker can be dangerous because nothing is ever really finished. (When I was in college, I was still building bookshelves a week before I was due to move out of my apartment.)

Printing on demand and ebooks make it easy to keep tweaking. Maybe too easy.

With POD and e I can make improvements to my books whenever I want to. 
Unfortunately, sometimes when I should be working on new books, I instead work on old ones.

Most of my books go through hundreds of revisions but the first one to be published is good enough to not embarrass me. A person who buys version 2.13 gets a better book than the person who bought 1.28, but I know that each version was "good enough" as of a particular moment. 

One time I decided to delay a book by a week so I could change a comma to a period and uppercase the next letter. I doubt that anyone else would have noticed the perceived imperfection -- but I could not let it be.

Steve Jobs, the ultimate tweaker, may have been more of a perfectionist than I am; and my iPad is better because of his obsession. I hope my books are perceived as better because of my obsession. One of my books is now nearly four years behind schedule. It's getting better and better.

(Illustration from The New Yorker)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Jive Talkin' and jibe and gibe talking

CLICK to hear the 1975 song by the Bee Gees
If you read this blog regularly, you know I have a low threshold of pissedoffedness. I get particularly pissed off at people who position themselves as experts on writing and make mistakes that may encourage others to repeat the apparently sanctioned mistakes. (My mistakes, of course, don't count.)

A woman who says she "has guided writers of all levels" wrote: "this doesn’t jive with reality."
Sorry, "jive" is the wrong word. Sadly, there are millions of links for "doesn't jive" online.
  • "Jibe" or "Gibe" (NOT "jive") means to agree.
  • "Jive" also means bullshit. "Jive talking" is being dishonest.
  • "Jive turkey" is a multi-purpose insult implying dishonesty, incompetence, pretension, stupidity, etc.
  • "Shuckin' and jivin'" is a slang term for the behavior of joking and acting evasively. More generally, the term can also refer to the speech and behavioral mechanisms adopted in the presence of an authoritative figure. Shuckin' and jivin' usually involves clever lies and impromptu storytelling, used to one-up an opponent or avoid punishment. (from Wikipedia)
  • A "jive joint" is a joint where you can hear and dance to "jive music."
  • "Hand Jive" is hand movement in dancing and juggling, and a song.
  • Jibe and gibe also mean insult, as a noun or verb.
  • Jibe (and gybe) also mean to shift a boat’s sail to change direction or deal with a change in the wind.

    (I sure hope I got all this right.)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Kindle text does not have to look like crap, so why are so many Kindle pages so ugly?

With most ebook formats, designers don't have the freedom they have with pbooks. The constraint is not an excuse to produce and distribute ugliness. It's possible to publish very nice ebooks -- but knowledge, taste and care are vital.

Text above is from I Call Him King by Quiet Storm, published by Esquire Publications.


Text above is from I Invented the Modern Age by Richard Snow, published by Scribner

(Minor criticism: the diagonal stress of the old style drop cap "O" is disconcerting. Also, maybe the drop cap makes the page too busy. Five stacked-up graphic elements are a lot.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Being a good storyteller doesn't mean you're a good author or publisher

A while ago, on the SPAN website, I read a very poorly prepared book announcement written by a good storyteller who needs help making the transition to publisher.

The book is in a genre (Christian "end times" fiction) that I have no interest in. I probably would not have read beyond the headline, but that headline was so terribly amateurish (and so unnecessarily terrible) that I read more and found more to complain about.

The announcement's title is "Times of Trouble a Christian fiction End Times novel."  (Emphasis added)

Author Cliff Ball says he has published six books and has a BA degree in English.

Hey Cliff, I'd think that by now you'd know that it's not necessary to point out that a novel is fiction (unless it's being compared to a "non-fiction novel" like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood). I realize that Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls
 is not Harvard or Yale, but surely some professor must have pointed that out. Sadly, the ugly template-derived book cover repeats the redundancy error.

The book promo is flawed by sloppy writing and grammatical errors:
  • Cliff says "many Americans had known for over two hundred years." Huh? How many Americans live for more than 200 years?
  • Also, "Told in first person point of view, Brian Atwood, our main character, is . . ." Brian is not told in first-person, the book is.
  • "His work involves mostly cyber terrorism . . . ." That sounds like he is a terrorist, not someone who fights terrorism.
  • Brian's faith is tested every day as he deals with a man that [should be "who"] has no morals . . . ." 
On the SPAN site I pointed out some of the errors and said, "I hope the book is better edited than this promo, and I strongly urge you to re-do the promo before you circulate it further."

Sadly, I then found the same poorly crafted promo on Cliff's website, booksellers' sites, and even on the back cover of the book.

The back cover bio tells us that Cliff "was led to the Lord when he was five by his mother." How could anyone who writes such a crappy sentence have a degree in the English language? Could I be five by my mother? Cliff -- or an editor -- should have rewritten this.

Sadly, the book apparently had no editor ("Delaney's" is not the plural of "Delaney," "withdrawal of Iraq" should be "from Iraq," "look-out" doesn't need a hyphen). Apparently it has no designer, either.

The cover uses a common and uninteresting CreateSpace template. The interior is ugly and screams "AMATEUR." The text is set flush-left and there are no hyphens -- so pages are ragged and jagged. Even if Cliff was too broke or too egomaniacal to hire a designer, a little bit of research could have led to a much nicer book.

The copyright page says that the book was published by Cliff Ball. This is not Cliff's first book. When he produced his first book, he should have established a name for his publishing company.
  • An amateur's book has to compete with professionals' books. It has to look professional. It's not difficult.
  • Cliff's website is as amateurish as his book. The beginning says: "Welcome to the website of Cliff Ball. Hi there! Welcome to my site. . . . Please check out my site." ENOUGH! We get the point. Cliff says, "The Bible . . . is a unique book unlike any other." If it's unique, it's unlike any other. Where's the editor?
  • The book trailer is very simple, a little bit interesting, but as sloppy as the rest of Cliff's work ("Down's Syndrome" should be "Down  Syndrome.")
  • Cliff brags that the book was "Nominated for the 2012 Global Ebook Awards." Anyone who pays $79 can have a book nominated. A nomination is not the same as winning.
  • While I have no interest in Christian fiction (I'm not even sure why it exists) or the "end times," and almost never read fiction, I did read enough of the online preview to know that Cliff is a good storyteller. It's a shame that he doesn't care enough about his words to invest in professional editing and design. Sadly, many other authors make the same mistake.
One Amazon reviewer wrote: "I found myself disappointed with this book, most especially because the cover of the book states that this is the author's sixth book, and his degree is in English. A good editing would have been a great help to the story. While the story line was an interesting one, I found the quality of writing left a lot to be desired. There were enough grammatical and punctuation errors to be distracting."

Another said: "I had ordered and read another book by this author. It was so poorly written that I removed it, didn't even read this one and also removed it from my Kindle. Not worth the effort or the $."

And another: "It was OK, but seemed amateurish. I was hoping for something a little more professional."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Many names get nicked. Scarface is scarier than Alphonse. Bill is friendlier than William. I am not, however, Mike.

Sly Stallone could kick the crap out of Sylvester.
We all have the inalienable right to be called what we want to be called. If we don't like our birth names, we can change them.

It's particularly important for authors and others in public view to enforce their rules. Garrison Keillor doesn't want to be confused with some less-important Gary Keillor. Michael J. Fox is not the same guy as Mike Fox.

If Joanne Rowling thought she could sell more books as J. K. -- it's her right to be called J.K. CLICK for more about author names.

I CAN'T STAND IT when people online or on the phone assume that I like being called Mike. If someone calls my office and asks to speak to "Mike Marcus," I know he never met me and is probably trying to sell me Wall Street stock, printer toner or website optimization. I think only one person who actually knew me called me Mike. That was my father, so I didn't correct him.

  • I've twice been to conventions where someone tried to change my image by putting "Mike" on my badges. I rejected them. 
  • There are probably many wonderful people called Mike. I'm not one of them.
  • NOBODY calls me Mick or Mickey. One stranger tried to get friendly by calling me Mickey. I didn't buy anything from him.

During the last endless GOP primary season with two Ricks, a Mitt and a Newt, I thought a lot about nicknames. Some past presidents have insisted on using their nicknames. William Jefferson Clinton was just plain Bill. Enemies called him Slick Willie. On a campaign button or in an ad or headline, Ike fits much better that Dwight. Ditto for TR, FDR and LBJ.

Ike's veep -- and later a president -- Richard M. Nixon was both Dick and Tricky Dicky. Jimmy takes up about the same space as James (Carter), but sounds much friendlier. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was called Jack, but JFK takes up less space and is more specific. O.J. takes up much less space than Orenthal James Simpson, and everyone knows who O.J. is and what he apparently did. O.J. spawned a secondary nickname: Juice.

A primary nickname may have a secondary meaning. Some people who hated Richard Nixon wore pins that said "Dick (i.e., "fuck") Nixon." I don't know if it happened with Richard Cheney.

Nicknames may be more poetic than full names, as in the "LBJ for the USA" button above. Later on, war critics chanted, "Hey, Hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?"

don't know if the present POTUS has a nickname (maybe Barry), but the New York Daily News frequently prints Bam. Bush can refer to either of two presidents (so far), but Dubya is specific to #43.

Why do some really wussyful names like Melvin, give us such manly names as Mel? Les is more (not less) manly than Leslie or Lester, and Sly Stallone could kick Sylvester's ass.

Tony Soprano sounds much more macho than Anthony. Anthony Anastasio was Tough Tony, the younger brother of Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia. Machine Gun Kelly, Muscles and Sammy the Bull invoke much more fear and trembling than George Kelly Barnes, George Futterman or Salvatore Gravano. Crazy Joey Gallo is not someone to mess around with. Neither is Scarface (Al Capone, above).

On the other hand, Baby Face, Skinny Joey, Fat Dominic, Hymie, Louie Ha-Ha, Louie Lump Lump and Little Nicky are much less intimidating than Kid Blast, Killer Twist or Grim Reaper. Click for more mobster names.

Winnie or Bulldog?
  • British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had two nicknames with opposite images: Winnie and The British Bulldog.
  • Why do some names seemingly never get nicked but others (e.g., Richard) spawn many nicknames, (Rich, Rick, Dick).
  • Some nicknames even have nicknames (Richie, Ricky, Dickie).
  • Why so some nicknames like Peggy sound nothing like their full names (Margaret)?
  • I know a Rosemary who preferred to be called Ricky as a teenager, and later reclaimed Rosemary as an adult. Other Rosemarys (Rosemaries?) are called Ro, Rose and Rosie.
  • My father was called Bud or Buddy, but his legal name was Bertram. No one called him Bert.
  • Why do some nicknames -- like Josh, Luke and Matt -- sound contemporary, even though the full names (Joshua, Lucas and Matthew) go back thousands of years? Isaac and Izzy both sound old-fashioned.
  • Max may be a nickname for Maximilian, but stands on its own. Most current Maxes are merely Max.
  • Why do some people never outgrow their childish names, like Sammy Davis and Stevie Wonder? (And why isn't it Sammie and Stevey?)
  • Nicknames have flexible spelling. I dated an Abigail who went back and forth between "Abby" and "Abbie."
  • Some names apparently never get nicked. A shortened Cynthia sounds like sin. 
  • I know a man who was born Charlie (not Charles) and a Jake who is not really a Jacob.
  • Some nicknames cross the gender barrier. Jack and Jacky(ie) can be nicknames for Jacqueline or John. Chris goes with Christopher and Christina (who may also be Tina). Samantha and Allison are called Sam and Al.
  • Some names like Gregory, Oliver, Frederick, Allison, Charles, Leonard and Timothy are most often said by parents and teachers -- but friends say Greg, Ollie, Fred, Freddy, Al, Alli, Charlie, Chuck, Len, Lenny, Tim and Timmy.
Sometimes a nickname for one person becomes a full name for others.
  • Alexandra has given us Alex, Alix, Alexa, Allie, Ali, Lexy, Lexi, Sandra, Sandy.
  • Elizabeth has a long list of spinoffs:  Betty, Bettie, Bet, Bett, Bette, Betta, Betsy, Betsey, Betsi, Beth, Bess, Bessie, Bessy, Bettina, Elsie, Elisa, Elsa, Eliza, Ellie, Elly, Ilse, Liz, Lizzy, Lizzie, Liza, Lisa, Lise, Lisette, Lizette, Lisbet, Lizbeth, Libby.
My name is Michael N. Marcus. I hate being called "mister." Plain Michael is OK, but please don't call me Mike, Mickey, Mick -- or late for lunch.