.

.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Whistle while you work -- or have a device that whistles, hums or sings to you


Music can make life -- even 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 for their Japanese captors under horrid conditions. 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 had been on my desk for over 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 and the prisoners.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Authors: don't congratulate yourself when your book is accepted by a pay-to-publish company



The news story shown above tells us that author Larry C. York "was offered a publishing contract with Tate publishing."

That fact may have impressed Larry's family and friends, and the newspaper reporter, but it's not really a notable achievement.

Getting a contract from Tate did not require Larry's impressing a literary agent and then the agent's impressing the publisher who paid Larry a magnificent "advance."

Getting a contract from Tate (like other pay-to-publish companies) requires that the author has three things:
  1. Blood pressure above zero
  2. A credit card with sufficient funds available
  3. A manuscript that is not considered to be obscene or libelous
Tate is prudish. It says it "does not accept sexually explicit material. Therefore, you may be asked to remove sexually explicit material or language." Because Tate portrays itself as a Christian company, it might not publish a book of instructions for devil worship. Or, maybe it would.

Literary merit is not a major consideration because companies like Tate make most of their money by selling services and trinkets to naive authors -- not by selling books to readers. If Tate turns down even a horrible book rejected by other publishers, it loses income.


Tate says, "We do not take on every project that is submitted" but it warmly welcomes rejects. I could not find Tate's publishing prices on its website because it masquerades as a "mainline publishing organization."

It tells prospective customers: "Have you searched out and submitted your manuscript to dozens of publishing companies only to be turned away, time and time again? If you've answered yes . . ., Tate Publishing could be your answer."


It can cost THOUSANDS of dollars to get a contract from Tate, and the web is filled with complaints about the company.

Its books have very high prices that make them uncompetitive (e.g., $35.99 for a 234-page paperback that costs a few bucks to print, and many ebooks are ridiculously priced at $15.99).

Stay far away.

There's nothing inherently wrong with using a pay-to-publish company, but:

  • Be very careful
  • Don't sprain your wrist patting yourself on the back when you receive the contract.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More than 25 reasons why books sell poorly



(From the upcoming The 100 Worst Self-Publishing Misteaks by Sheila M. Clark and me.)

Each year hundreds of thousands of different book titles are published. Some sell millions of copies. Many sell thousands or hundreds. Many sell just dozens—or even fewer—copies.

Books “fail” for many reasons. Here are some:


  1. Your book stinks. There are many ways for a book to stink.
  2. Your cover is ugly.
  3. Your cover image conflicts with your title or genre.
  4. Your cover is an indiscernible blob when reduced to "thumbnail" size on websites.
  5. Your title is confusing or vague and your subtitle doesn't help.
  6. Your name conflicts with your genre. Pearl Zane Grey dropped the "Pearl" to write macho westerns. Joanne Rowling became "J. K." to attract teenage boys to her books. If your last name is Hitler or Stalin, get a nicer pen name for romance novels or books about flower arranging or etiquette.
  7. Your title has been used by other books. Maybe many other books.
  8. You are being confused with another author—or maybe someone with a bad reputation. If your last name is Madoff, use another name for books about investing.
  9. There are many other nonfiction books covering the same subject. You have too many competitors and probably should not have published the book. Does the world really need another barbecue cookbook or JFK biography?
  10. There are too many novels in the same genre. Does the world really need another book about post-apocalypse teenage lesbian cannibals?
  11. You wrote poetry.
  12. You didn’t work hard enough at promoting your book. Not enough potential purchasers know it exists.
  13. You’re too bashful to promote yourself.
  14. Your book is hard to find. It’s not available where people expect to buy it.
  15. Your market is too narrow—not enough people care about the subject. You may write an absolutely wonderful book about your absolutely wonderful mother, but your potential audience may be eight people—or two people. 
  16. Your price is wrong. If it’s too low, there’s not enough money left for you, and the low price hurts your book’s credibility. If it’s too high, you may scare readers or lose sales to your competitors.
  17. Your book has received either too many bad reviews or no reviews at all.
  18. You tried to do too much yourself, and did not hire a professional editor and designer.
  19. Your timing is wrong. The book came out too soon or too late. You missed the peak of popularity. The fad either never became big enough or went out of fashion before the book was published. Sales of Jerome Corsi’s book questioning President Obama’s birthplace dropped to almost nothing because it was published after Obama released his birth certificate. Pick a hot topic, and one that may stay hot, or at least warm, for a few years. 
  20. Your thesis has been disproved. Obama was NOT born in Kenya. 
  21. You used a self-publishing company and its services were overpriced or the company did not do all of the work you expected it to do or it did not produce a high-quality book or it did lousy or inadequate promotion.
  22. You spent too much money on original photography or illustrations, and did not have enough money left to promote the book.
  23. You don’t have a website where potential purchasers—and book reviewers—can find more information.
  24. You think that your work will end when you finish writing. Promoting may take more effort than writing.
  25. You don't know enough about your subject.
  26. You have nothing new to say. 
  27. Your books stinks (worth repeating).



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Would you pay $140.11 for the worst book ever published?



(left-click to enlarge)

This overpriced, unprofessional, ugly and weird book has had terrible sales rankings at Amazon.
  • Millions of other books have sold better than it has.
  • It may be the absolute worst-selling book on Amazon.
  • Based on its title, cover, formatting and writing, it may also be the absolute worst book ever published.
  • I would not be surprised if its sales have been ZERO.
  • It was published by AuthorHouse (part of pathetic pay-to-publish behemoth Author Solutions) -- a self-publishing company with just two requirements for an author to be published: blood pressure above zero, and money to buy a publishing package.
  • AuthorHouse brags that it "assigns each author a personal publishing consultant, who provides guidance throughout the self publishing process." I'd like to see the IQ test and eye test for the consultant who guided the author of this trash.
Originally I thought this book was a spoof, a scam, a con job -- published by pranksters to demonstrate the low standards of AuthorHouse. I thought it was like the deliberately bad books published through PublishAmerica: Atlanta Nights by “Travis Tea” (travesty) and The Crack of Death by “Sharla Tann” (charlatan).

Sadly, this book is real.

In the past I've stated that I don’t believe in prior censorship or the licensing of writers or publishers. Unfortunately, the ease of publication means that a lot of worthless crap gets published, and this is probably the best example. Based on this book I may support pre-publication testing and licensing. I am certain that MS. ELIYZABETH YANNE STRONG-ANDERSON would flunk the test.

This book has 648 huge 8.5 x 11-inch pages and a $150 cover price. Amazon discounts it to $140.11, but it's available for just $75 on the AuthorHouse website.

AuthorHouse is one of many brands used by self-publishing empire builder Author Solutions -- a company with a terrible reputation -- which was recently bought by traditional publishing empire builder Random Penguin. When AS was bought by RP some industry observers expressed hope that RP would elevate the quality and business tactics of AS. That didn't happen and apparently RP's deep pockets have enabled AS to spend even more money peddling its crappy and overpriced services to desperate and ignorant wannabe authors. The web is filled with complaints by AS authors.


Strangely, AS recently published a book by funny man Carl Reiner (Rob's papa). I never thought of him as desperate and ignorant, but he sure seems to have made a strange choice for his publishing path. Maybe he figured that his name can enable him to make money on the book despite the publisher's name.

NO LOWERCASE LETTERS ARE USED IN THE WACKY BOOK BY MS. ELIYZABETH YANNE STRONG-ANDERSON.

What follows is a sample of the text, and some "author" info. Keep your barf bag handy.



ARE YOU BARREN AND DISGUSTED?? OR BIRTH CONTROLING AND BUSTED?? THESE QUESTIONS IS >ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT CHAPTERS IN THIS BOOK: > REVEALING > THE SINS OF THE CHURCHES: REVEALING: HOW *THE SINS BIRTH CONTROL IN OUR CHRISTIAN MARRIAGES AND IN THE WORLD MARRIAGES EVEN IN SINFUL SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS: HAS CALLED WORLD SIN IN ADULTERY AND FORNICATING RELATIONSHIP AND FALSE CHRIST LEADERSHIP.

THE PIT OF SPIRITUAL WHOREDOM BECAME OPEN AND THE CAUSE OF ORGANIZED CRIME IN OUR GOVERNMENT AND WORLD LEADERSHIP

THE YEAR OF 1994. THE MILITARY HELP DESTROY MY MARRIAGE OF 17 YEARS. FALSE CHRIST LEADERSHIPS BEGAN TO FORM ON TELEVISION.

BECAUSE OF SPIRITUAL SEDUCING SINS. AND SPIRITUAL DARKNESS IN OUR CHURCHE LEADERSHIP.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: BIRTH CONTROL IS ONE OF THE MAJOR REASON: WHY HUMANS HAVE FALLEN FAILED COMES COMMANDMENTS: AND NOW THEY HAVE BECOME: WARFUL AGAIN: HEARTLESS AND SINFULLY PERSECUTING CHRISTIANS AND HOLY PEOPLE IN MANY COUTRIES. ** SINFULLY STARTING PERSECUTIONS AND RACISM: THROUGH EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATIONS. **RESULTING IN GREED AND EVIL: EVEN WORLD WHOREDOM: CAUSING > HOMOSEXUAL AND GAY SINS: USING THE MEDIA OF TELEVISION, THE INTERNET WIDE WORLD WEBSITES AND RADIO SATANIC WORSHIP.

MY FIRST CHRISTIAN BOOK: ASK THE QUESTIONS:

ARE YOU BARREN AND DISGUSTED?? OR> . BIRTHCONTROLING AND BUSTED?? >REMINDING THE WORLD: > ONE IS A SIN AND THE OTHER IS A CURSE OR PERSECUTION!!

JESUS SAID: YOU CANNOT SERVE TWO MASTERS: BECAUSE > YOU WILL LEARN TO HATE ONE! > AND LOVE THE OTHER!! **

WOMEN AND CHRISTIAN MARRAIGES ON BIRTH CONTROL HAVE LEARN TO HATE HAVING CHILDREN: AND LOVE LIVING WITHOUT THEM. *CAUSING WORK DISCRIMINATIONS AGAINST WOMEN WHO DO HAVE SMALL CHILDREN. AND CAUSING DISCRIMINATIONS: AGAINST OUR CHILDRENS FUTURE BY STARTING WARS AND BY WRITING LAWS AGAINST SCHOOL PROSPERITY.

MY AUTHOR NAME IS:

MS. ELIYZABETH YANNE STRONG-ANDERSON: I AM A HOLYSPIRIT ANOINTED CHOSEN DISCIPLE OF GOD AND CHRIST JESUS. NAMED TO BE A ANOINTED APOSTLE TEACHER BY THE VOICE OF GOD: TO HELP CALLED THE TRUE CHRISTIAN CHURCH INTO TRUE ETERNAL LIFE SALVATION IN JOHN 3:16. THIS BOOK IS DIRECTED BY GODS HOLYSPIRIT VOICE: ALSO BASE ON THE HOLY COMMANDMENTS: EXODUS 20:13 THOU SHALT NOT KILL, GENESIS 1:26-31 GO INCREASE, MULTIPLY AND TAKE DOMINIONSHIP OVER ALL THINGS. AND 1TIMOTHY 2;15 *THE WOMEN WILL BE SAVED IN CHILD BEARING YEARS: IF SHE CONTINUES: WITH FAITH, CHARITY AND HOLINESS. *ALSO REVELATIONS 2 & 3:*GOD IS ASKING THE CHURCHES TO REPENT OF ALL THEIR> SINS: AND TO RESTORE THE TRUE CHURCH BACK INTO GOD EVER LASTING COMMANDMENTS. * GOD HAS CALLED AND CHOSEN: ELIYZABETH TO HELP SAVED THE WORLD AND CHURCH FROM THE FALSE CHRIST TEACHINGS. *THROUGH THIS BOOK HOLYSPIRIT PRAYERS: AND HOLYSPIRIT TEACHINGS: YOU WILL AND CAN FIND TRUE SALVATION IN GOD AND CHRIST JESUS: JOHN 3:3-16 THIS HOLYSPIRIT BOOK OF REPENTANCE AND REMEMBER OF THE WORDS AND COMMANDMENTS OF GOD: WILL HELP YOU BECOME A TRUE: BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN: JOHN 3:3-16 REMEMBER: JESUS SAID: YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN: OF THE WATER AND OF THE SPIRIT . GOD HAS DIRECTED*ELIYZABETH HOLYSPIRIT WRITINGS IN THIS BOOK TO HELP ALL>UNDERSTAND GODS SALVATION CALLS!! GOD HAS DIRECTED THIS BOOK TO HELP ALL WHO SEEK TO BE OBEDIENT TO GODS HOLY COMMANDMENTS: EVEN OVERCOME ALL FALSE CHRIST TEACHINGS: THROUGH REPENTENCE & RESTORATION: GIVING GODS TITHES BACK INTO THE HOLYSPIRIT LEADERSHIP: STARTING WITH: THIS BOOK OF HOLYSPIRIT SERVANT: MS. ELIYZABETH YANNE STRONG-ANDERSON: WHEN YOU GIVE TO MY HOLYSPIRIT DISCIPLESHIP: YOU CAN BE SURE YOUR ETERNAL LIFE AND NAME WILL BE WRITTEN IN THE LAMBS BOOK OF LIFE. **SUPPORT GODS HOLYSPIRIT GOALS: THROUGH THIS HOLYSPIRIT BOOK WITH YOUR CHRISTIAN CHARITY DONATIONS: TO HELP ME BUILD HOLYSPIRIT CHURCHES AND TO HELP ME MENTOR ADOPTIONS OF GODS ORPHAN CHILDREN. I AM A HOLYSPIRIT BRIDE VOICE FOR GOD AND CHRIST JESUS: REPENT AND SEEK TO RESTORE YOURSELF: FROM ALL YOUR SINS: WHEN FOLLOW ME: IN THE CHRISTIAN COMMANDMENTS OF GOD AND CHRIST JESUS: JOIN YOUR HOLYSPIRT CONNECTION: SUPPORTING ME: SISTER ELIYZABETH WITH YOUR CHRISTIAN TITHES AND CHRISTIAN OFFERINGS!! *MALACHI 3:1-16 *AND MATTHEW 4:17-25. & MATTHEW 28:18-20

IT IS WRITTEN: REPENT FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND!!

Is there anything good I can find to say about this book? Sure there is. It's so big and so heavy that it can be used as a doorstop. It's also a powerful example of what writers and publishers should NOT do.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Other people may see the world, and your books, differently than you do


I had a cataract removed from my left eye nearly five years ago, and an artificial lens implanted. I was terrified about the surgery, but it was no big deal. The improvement in my vision was amazing. Not only was the world sharper, but colors were truer. I could now see white walls that had seemed off-white or almost beige. I could appreciate the Hi-Def TVs in my home, and movies looked much better.

I was told that I would need similar surgery in my right eye -- probably in two or three years.

But my right eye suddenly got much worse -- and I had the second surgery and implant just one year later.

During the time between the surgeries, my two eyes saw very differently when used individually, and when used together they distorted reality, which is BAD for designing books.

My "improved" left eye (which no longer needed a corrective eyeglass lens) was optimized for distance vision, like TV and driving. My right eye (with a corrective lens) was optimized for things like books and computer screens.
  • My ophthalmologist explained that I would develop monocular vision. Each eye had a specialty, and the brain selects the input from the proper source.
Most of the time I was not conscious of this weirdness, and I seemed to see pretty well. But my distorted view of the world presented a problem with publishing -- and that's why I am writing this blog post to warn others.


After my first eye repair I revised one of my books to use Adobe Garamond Pro ("AGP") type instead of my former Constantia. I think that AGP is prettier, with thinner, more delicate strokes -- which I could not appreciate with my 'old' vision.

It took me a while to get used to it on my computer screen, and even longer to get used to it in print. Eventually, I started using AGP in most of my print books.

As is common for fiction and memoirs and other non-techie book, the Stories I'd Tell My Children book was printed on cream (or "crème") paper, instead of pure white. Cream is said to be easier on the eyes.

Unfortunately, with my messed-up eyesight, the cream seemed too dark, as if the pages had yellowed with age. And the thin strokes of the Garamond seemed to have inadequate contrast to show up against the dark paper.

I was all set to arrange to switch the book to use white paper, when I decided to ask for opinions from people whom I knew to have excellent eyes. The verdict: "It's fine. Leave it alone."

So, I stuck with cream and I thought I had done the right thing.

The next year, after my second eye was repaired and my vision now "normal", I decided that I still didn't like cream, and I switched the pages to white.

There's an important lesson here for book design and life in general: don't assume that others see things the same way you do. And, it's important that you like your books.

Friday, February 20, 2015

How are we supposed to pronounce "the?"



"The" (known by grammarians as the definite article) is one of the shortest and most common words in the English language. It may even be the most common word.

It can be pronounced as either "thee" or "thuh" (forgetting, for the purpose of this blog post, such aberrations as "duh").


I'm 68 years old, but until very recently I didn't realize that there is a thee/thuh rule.

I assumed that the choice was purely personal.

I've never thought much about the choice and assumed that most English-speakers simply knew which sounds better.

Maybe I was taught the rule 60 years ago -- or maybe I was out sick when a teacher taught that particular lesson. I don't remember either parent correcting me for mispronouncing "the."


But, there is a rule (quoted here from Grammar Girl):
  • If the word following "the" starts with a consonant sound, you pronounce "the" as "thuh."
  • If the word following "the" starts with a vowel sound, you pronounce "the" as "thee."
So, you can give "thuh" bagel to "thee" elephant, but don't give "thee" bagel" to "thuh" elephant, or  "thee" pizza to "thuh" eagle.

Now for an exception: Sometime even if "thuh" is the officially correct pronunciation, you can say "thee" for emphasis, as in "
It may even be the most common word," which I typed up above.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What I hate most about publishing books


  • I can tolerate bad reviews. (Fortunately I've had very few.) 
  • I know that writer's block can be surmounted.
  • I know that few books come out on time, unpleasant compromises have to be made and that not all errors will be caught.
What I can't stand is that everybody is a busybody.
.

Movie studios announce their "weekend gross" and the figures are published by Box Office Mojo -- an online reporting service currently averaging over two million unique visitors per month. Those millions can't possibly all be theater owners, actors, agents, producers, directors and studio bosses. Fans and groupies are intensely interested in ticket sales.

It seems that much of the world's population has an intense desire to know the details of every commercial enterprise.

When people learn that I've written and published a bunch of books, the instant reaction is "how many have you sold?"

These people are friends, relatives and even complete strangers who would not likely ask about my salary, net worth or medical condition -- but they think it's fine to ask about my book sales.

I often feel like saying "It's none of your damn business," but the honest answer is that I don't know how many I've sold. And I don't even care how many I've sold. I make a profit. I pay my bills. Money comes in every month. The amounts go up and down and up again. I like what I'm doing and expect to have an income for the rest of my life.

Some folks seem to evaluate authors based on their bestseller status. Those busybodies can write their own damn books and see how easy it isn't. (More than a dozen of my books are bestsellers and one, strangely, was an Amazon bestseller on the first day it was available.)

And, unless you're an IRS agent or you want to make a movie based on one of my books, my sales figures really are none of your damn business.

I write primarily for personal satisfaction. After that come entertaining, informing and maybe changing the world. Fame is OK, too. I'm no longer 17 and searching for sex. I have plenty of food. I don't need to impress my parents or teachers. Making money is a very pleasant side benefit of writing, but it's not my prime motivator.


Many books about publishing (some that I've written) talk about the profitability of publishing, but there’s nothing wrong with publishing for pleasure. The cost of publishing a book may be much less than the cost of a boat, a vacation or even a pool table -- and nobody expects them to show a profit.

If you can afford to publish for fun, do it. If you can make money while having fun, that’s even better. Your motivation -- and your money -- are nobody's business but yours.


(Chart from BoxOfficeMojo.com. Pool table photo from StarJumper, licensed through fotolia.com

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

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



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


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

Itals” have several purposes in typography. They can provide emphasis and can also highlight:
  •       uncommon foreign words
  •       technical terms
  •       book, magazine, newspaper, CD and movie titles
  •       TV series titles
  •     pieces of art, like The Last Supper
  •       important vehicles, like the Mayflower and Enterprise

Grammar Diva Arlene Miller provides a good rule about using italics or quotation marks: "In general, big things go in italics, and parts of things go in quotation marks."

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

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

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

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


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

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




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


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


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


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

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



 - - - - 

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



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Revising the type on a T-shirt


Many years ago I was a high-paid, award-winning Madison Avenue advertising copywriter. In addition to ads and commercials, I also wrote copy for T-shirts, and sometimes came up with the designs. It was great fun seeing people wearing words that I wrote -- especially a decade or more later.

I had nothing to do with the cute shirt above. It uses a mixture of normal English type plus fake Hebrew type. The Italic type adds nothing and the italic "I" by itself on the top line looks weird.

"Kvetch" is the Yiddish word for "complain" and the text is based on "Cogito ergo sum," Latin for "I think, therefore I am" -- a line attributed to Rene Descartes (1596-1650). He was a French philosopher, mathematician and writer.

"Kvetch" can be a noun as well as a verb. A person who kvetches is a kvetch.

Yiddish is a language that combines German, Slavic, Hebrew and other words and is printed with Hebrew text, from right to left.

Combining characters from two languages, especially when one set of characters is fake, can be tough. If I was redesigning the shirt, I think I'd eliminate the itals, and maybe put "I" in the same line as "kvetch." Maybe I'd use a serif face, with upper- and lower-case letters. I'd remove the dot from the fake "C."

Putting the text in two lines instead of four makes it easier to read, as does having the lines of text approximately the same width.

I provided a little extra space between the "I" and the fake "K."

Here's my quickie redesign:




Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidents' Day lesson for writers from "worst president" James Buchanan


When I was in Mrs. McGarthy's class in fifth grade, each student had to choose an American president to write a report on. I don't remember why, but I picked James Buchanan. It may have been because I was a stamp collector and had a "plate block" of three-cent stamps issued in 1954, showing Buchanan's home, Wheatland. 

Buchanan was the 15th president, serving from 1857–1861, right before Lincoln. I don't remember much more about him. I do remember that he was the only president from Pennsylvania and the only non-married president.

Buchanan's significance to me greatly outweighs my knowledge of him, because that report became the source of a valuable lesson that has served me well for over fifty years: You can sell the same words more than once.

When I was a school kid, I wasn't selling words for money as I did later, but I did have to convince my teachers of the value of my words to get good marks, so the processes were related. Then and now, it's good to maximize income and minimize effort.
  • The Buchanan report I wrote for fifth grade was subsequently improved, modified, lengthened and submitted to my teachers in sixth, seventh and ninth grade, plus my junior year in high school; and was used for an American Studies course in college.
  • I also wrote a report on Warren Harding and used it in at least two classes. I think my brother recycled it, too.
Ironically, U. S. News & World Report ranked Buchanan as the worst president ("He refused to challenge either the spread of slavery or the growing bloc of states that became the Confederacy.") and Harding as second-worst ("He was an ineffectual and indecisive leader who played poker while his friends plundered the U.S. treasury").

Was there a subconscious pattern to my presidential picking? Who knows?

After college, as a freelance writer, I often sold variations of the same article to multiple magazines with different audiences, such as Rolling Stone and Country Music, or Esquire and Ingénue.

It works the same way with books:

Look at what you've already written and figure out how you can recycle, reuse, repurpose, revise, sequelize and serialize. It's the American way.

My first book about phone equipment has had three spinoffs, and more are coming.

My funny memoir has had five spinoffs, so far, plus other editions.
All of those books include material originally posted on my blogs, and some material written for my books eventually shows up on my blogs.

I recently assembled several one-buck, two-buck, $2.99 and $6.99 ebook spinoffs of more expensive pbooks. Each book took less than two days to produce and put on sale.




SPECIAL SALES
Many thousands of books reach readers without booksellers. They are distributed --sometimes for free -- by entities that want information or opinions circulated. These “special sales” can generate high profits, with no risk of returns.

A book you’ve already written may be perfect for use by an association, corporation, government, charity, foundation, university or a political party. Perhaps a book you’ve written needs just slight changes and perhaps a new title and cover to become perfect. Maybe information in your book is fine, but the book needs a new point of view or emphasis. Make a deal.

Oh yeah, this blog post is based on one I published previously. 

(Buchanan portrait is public domain, from the White House)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Writer: force yourself to control yourself

All writers have quirks that need to be controlled by their editors, or by the writers themselves.

Sometimes an editor who is paid by a writer will be inclined
to not make a correction ("heck, it's her personal style") that an editor paid by a publisher would correct. That's why it's important for a self-publishing author to recognize personal quirks and foibles and try hard to keep the undesirable, unnecessary and weird off the published page.
 

Just as your style sheet specifies whether you capitalize the "W" in "web," it's good to have a list -- at least in your head -- of screw-ups to avoid.
 

One of my perpetual problems is giving too many examples. It's partly pedantry, which I inherited from my father. It may also be a bit of egomania, to show off how much I know.


My natural impulse is to write something like, "British automobile manufacturers -- such as Jaguar, Rover, MG, Triumph, Vauxhall, Austin and Morris -- had reputations for unreliable electrical systems."

Under my self-imposed limit, I am allowed ONLY THREE EXAMPLES," so I'd probably ditch Triumph, Vauxhall, Austin and Morris. I'd still make my point, and save some bytes and trees.




More advice in my Self-Editing for Self-Publishers (What to do before the real editor starts editing-or if you're the only editor)

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MG photo from Brett Weinstein. Thanks.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Shun N-word and F-word. Understand important P-words in Publishing




Unless your eyes and ears have been closed, you are probably aware of the "N-word" and the "F-word" (sometimes referred to as the "F-bomb") and maybe even the "C-word."  

Book publishing involves several related and sometimes confusing or nearly synonymous “p” words.

Someone does promotion (which often includes public relations) to achieve publicity for a product.
  • Publicity is lots of people knowing about your book and hopefully buying copies and/or urging others to buy.
  • Promotion is all of the efforts intended to achieve publicity.
  • Although publicity is the end result of promotion, many people call themselves book publicists and relatively few call themselves book promoters. (Publicists used to be called "press agents").
  • The public must be receptive to and stimulated by promotion in order to be convinced to buy your books.
A publicist or promoter can guarantee to provide promotion, or public relations, but cannot guarantee that you or your book will achieve publicity. For book promotion to work, the promotion must stand out among many simultaneous promotions for other books (as well as movies, foods, vacations, sports teams, software, smartphones, stores, cars, banks, restaurants, cosmetics, websites, candidates, countries and maybe even wars). 

Despite its name, public relations is not directly concerned with relations with the public.
 

Media are intermediaries. Writers and their publicists hope to attract the attention of media people by sending out press releases, or by contacting journalists, editors, bloggers, talk show hosts, TV producers and movie makers.

Promotion includes more than public relations. It may include public appearances, publicity stunts and platform building.

Platform is a major buzzword in current publishing. It’s not the same as a political party’s platform. Think of it as a metaphor for a structure that will boost you up and make you visible to potential readers, sources of publicity and bookstore buyers. Components in your platform include websites, blogs, business connections, social media, radio and TV appearances, quotes in media, online men­tions, speeches, articles, friends, neighbors, etc. Your first book is part of your platform and should help sell your later books.

If you want to learn more about press releases, this inexpensive ebook will help:  

The One Buck Author's Press Release Book




Wednesday, February 11, 2015

An effective and easy alternative to celebrity blurbs



Every author dreams of having cover blurbs (endorsements) from famous people who'll say nice things which may entice other people to buy books.

Often, especially for a new author with a new book, it's just not possible to get the attention of a a superstar or an expert who will add authority to yours.

That doesn't mean your book has to be blurbless.

There's nothing wrong with asking for and printing blurbs from friends and family, if it's appropriate to your book. Later on, if Martin Scorsese or another celeb falls in love with your words, you can revise the cover to incorporate the new comments.

My first self-published book I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, deals with my life. So it made perfect sense to use blurbs from people who know me, rather than some distant Nobel Prize winner.

The book is funny. Identifying Howard Krosnick, the source of my front cover blurb as "author's classmate since first grade" is almost a parody of the traditional stuffy IDs ("professor of Indo-Eurasion folk medicine at the University of Guatemala), and reinforces the mood of the book.

Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) is an updated replacement for the flunk book. It has a fantastic cover blurb which says, "This book is so funny that I nearly peed in my pants. My girlfriend didn't think it was funny, so I got a new girlfriend."

The blurber, Nicholas Santiago, is someone I know through business. His words are sufficient. I see no need to explain who he is, and I doubt that Oprah could have written a better recommendation. I received "five stars" and some nice words from the Midwest Book Review -- but those words are not as funny as Nick's words.


There's nothing wrong with your acting as a writing coach for your blurbers. You can even write a complete blurb and ask someone to "adopt" it.

If you’ve written a how-to book, the best blurbs will come from people who have actually been helped by it.

A good way to find “amateur” blurbers who might write sincere comments about actually benefiting from your book is to observe online communities that are concerned with your subject. If you find articulate people with problems your book solves, offer to send them free advance copies (even PDFs if bound copies or ebooks are not yet available) in exchange for their comments. You can say that you’d like to know if the book was helpful and how it can be improved. Mention that you might like to quote their comments, but don’t guarantee it.


Here's a great blurb, from a new author, for one of my books about publishing: "Michael Marcus’s book on self-publishing was detailed, complete and easy to read. It is the best I have read on the subject. It was very helpful. I do highly recommend this instructive book to anyone who wants the complete instruction guide to getting your written works out there.—Charles Eastland, author of The Fire Poems"
  • If you get a good blurb, identify the blurber in some way that may help her or him. In an ebook or online, provide a link. Like it or not, blurbing is often mutual ass-kissing. Play the game if you want the benefits.
  • If you have a connection to a real celeb it may be tempting to ask for a favor -- but make sure the fame is relevant to your book. If your college roommate lives next door to super-chef Mario Batali, Batali's comments about your book about bicycle repair probably won't mean much. 
  • Beware of self-serving blurbs that say more about the blurber than the book, or blurbs that were obviously written without reading the book.


James & Geoff. Which one did I sit next to on a plane?

Don’t be too timid to approach famous authors, politicians, business leaders and celebrities, especially if you have something in common which can create a bond. You might be pleasantly surprised. Write a good letter and explain how you think the book relates to the prospective blurber. Find a reason to compliment the candidate. If possible, refer to a time when you were in the same place, perhaps during a speech or a book signing or on an airplane. (I once sat next to James Earl Jones. Hmm. Actually, it may have been Geoffrey Holder.)

Short blurbs are usually better than long blurbs. Humorous blurbs (if appropriate) are often better than serious blurbs.

Request blurbs as long in advance as possible -- as soon as you have a draft of your book that is good enough to show. The book does not have to be complete. You can probably get by with an introduction, a table of contents, and a few chapters sent as a PDF. If you want a blurb from someone famous, it’s probably better to send an ARC (Advance Review Copy) than a PDF.

Incorporate good “early” blurbs into your back cover and first page as soon as possible. If other blurbers read them, they may be more likely to write similarly positive comments.


left-click to enlarge for easier reading


(Scorsese photo by Georges Biard)