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Thursday, September 30, 2010

BAD BOOK WEEK, #4, a newbie

This author tried to do the right thing--but it turned out wrong. I don't like the book, but I do like the author.


Sadly, the author has some important things to say, but his message is hurt by bad presentation. He knew enough to get help, but he got help from the wrong people. 

Lots of self-published authors write books that try to teach other people how to self-publish. Some--such as those written by Aaron Shepard, Morris Rosenthal, Christy Pinheiro (and me, of course)--are good. Some are OK. A few are very poorly written. Several are physically unattractive. One is like a MAD magazine self-publishing parody, showing what should not be done. Some books are dangerous because of the misinformation and bad advice they provide.

Two days ago, I slammed Theresa A. Moore, author of Principles of Self-Publishing, because she was extremely careless, knows less than she thinks she knows, has an unjustified high opinion of her own editing ability, and frequently ignores her own advice. Her book is ugly, inaccurate and sometimes poorly written. Theresa did the design and editing herself--and it shows.

I have mixed feelings about 11 Secret Steps to Writing, Creating & Self-Publishing Your Very Own 'How-To' Book, Ebook or Manual by Jaime Vendera.

As with Theresa's book, there are a great many things wrong with the book, but the author tried to do things right, and was pleasantly responsive to my emailed questions and suggestions.

Unlike many self-pubbers, including Theresa, Jaime  knew enough to hire a professional cover designer, editor and interior formatter. But they simply did lousy work and Jaime didn't realize it. Jaime talks a lot about the members of his "team" and recommends them to other authors. Based on the evidence provided in the book, other authors should stay far away from this team.

If this book is an audition for Jaime's team members, they failed the audition.

If this book is a crime scene, Jaime Vendera seems to be largely the victim of others, rather than a lone perpetrator like Theresa A. Moore.

Editor/interior designer Amy Chesbro (whom Jaime calls "an amazing woman") did a TERRIBLE job.
  • Jaime wrote about a "forward" (and uppercased  "Forward") but Amy did not eliminate the unnecessary uppercase, or change the word to the proper "foreword." A book editor should know what a foreword is.
  • The book lists one possible book size as 5-1/2 X 8.5"--using both a fraction and a decimal for "one half" within the same designation. A book editor should have caught this.
  • The book says, "every singer with which I've worked." A book editor should have changed "which" to "whom."
  • The book says, "books that I layout are." A book editor should have changed the noun "layout" into the verb phrase "lay out."
  • The book uses curly typographers' quote marks to indicate inches instead of the proper straight double primes. A book editor should have known this.
  • The book repeatedly refers to "Lightning Source Printing." That's not the name of the company, and both the writer and editor should have known this.
  • The book has "self-publishing" (with hyphen) and "self publishing (no hyphen), in successive lines. An editor should have caught this.
  • "Acknowledgements" is spelled British-style. Here in the USA,  there is no "e" after the "g."
  • "Web site" and "website" on the same page.
  • There are silly typos, such as "then" for "ten" and "needles" for "needless." All books have typos, but these should have been easy to spot and fix. Ironically, Jaime quotes his website designer Molly Burnside: "Typos are unavoidable, but easily fixed. Always have 10+ people check your site for silly mistakes. Silly mistakes make you look as if you don't pay attention to details, and in today's society, every detail translates into dollars and cents, so make sure you are focused on every period, quotation, and word!"
  • "Ingram Advanced Catalog" should be "Ingram Advance."
Jaime says, "Make sure to have your book layout completed right." He didn't do that, and he also says that Amy Chesbro is "pretty well fitted in the interior design department." Jaime is not a good judge. Strangely, Daniel Middleton is also identified as the interior designer, so maybe he and Amy collaborated on the disasters.

There are inconsistent spellings, misspellings, improper punctuation, and even a fundamental lack of knowledge of the parts of a book. The book quotes Daniel about the perils of self-publishing: "substandard interior designs and garish covers, with typos, grammatical errors and phrasing issues." This book is a perfect example of what Daniel warns about. The interior shows a lack of knowledge and experience, and bad artistry.

  • Per Jaime's preference (and Theresa's), there are no hyphens, which leads to ugly word spacing, rivers and orphans--and wasted paper. It's OK to skip hyphens for a website or eBook where the settings of the viewing device cause text to reflow--but lack of hypens make a printed book UGH-LEE.
  • Ironically, this is the fifth ugly non-hyphenated book I've read that tries to instruct authors how to self-publish. The others are Worderella on Writing by Barbara Kroll, Release Your Writing by Helen Gallagher, Best in Self-Publlishing & Print on Demand by David Rising,  and Principles of Self-Publishing by Theresa M. Moore. What's the problem with hyphens, folks?
  • The footer on each page (i.e., both verso and recto in each spread) shows an abbreviated version of the title. It's unnecessary--and silly--to have it on both pages.
  • There are no chapter names in the headers. Actually, there are no headers.
  • Paragraphs are separated by empty lines, and are not indented. That's OK for a web page, but not for a book.
  • The body text is sans serif. That's OK for a web page, but not for a book.
  • The chapter titles and subheads appear to be in the same sans serif type face. The only variation is the word "TIP," probably in Courier, in the text boxes. The normal format for a book is to use a serif face for body copy and sans serif for chapter titles and subheads--or at least a different serif face. Using one face for 99.9% of the words in a book is BORING.
  • The index is strange. It was done by a PC with minimal human intervention, and the human who did intervene made some bad decisions,. There are over 100 useless listings for the word "book," but just one each for "Amazon" and "Lightning Source," (which are both on MANY pages in the book),  and none for "acknowledgment." "ISBN" is strangely set in bold face, but no other entry is treated that way. Some terms, such as "voice recorder" and "Mindset"--that nobody would likely look for--are indexed.
  • The book has useful tips presented in text boxes. Unfortunately, the text boxes extend beyond the normal margins and some disappear into the binding.
  • OK, I have a compliment. Despite abundant errors in interior formatting, the pages look infinitely better than Theresa's pages. Margins all around are ample, which make the pages both more attractive and easier to read. I did not spot any widows.
I think it's generally fruitless to argue about esthetics, but I do think the cover, designed by Molly Burnside, is cluttered and ugly, and the clumsy title is hard to read.
  • The author's name is in a barely legible script font that looks like a scribble.
  • The front cover says, "written by..." That's unnecessary and amateurish.
  • The spine of the book is covered with the image of a spiral notebook's coil binding. Upon close inspection, I found that the book's TWENTY-WORD title is buried in the graphic in fly-turd-size type.
  • Upon even closer inspection, I found that the title was printed upside down. A professional book designer should have caught this.
  • When I used a magnifying glass (I'm not kidding), I found the author's name. Unlike the title, it was right-side-up. A tip: if text on the spine (or anywhere else) is too small to read without mechanical enhancement, it's TOO DAMN SMALL.
  • The text on the back cover is in slightly-larger-than-fly-turd-size type. The mini-words are made even more difficult to read because of the multi-colored background. The words use small caps instead of lowercase letters. That's OK for a title or a headline, but not for text.
  • The back cover says the book has "solid advice" and "no filler." Some advice is definitely not solid, and there is lots of filler.
What else is wrong?
  • Jaime is very easily impressed. He notes that printer Lightning Source provides "your own username/password" for ordering books. So what!
  • He says that a book can be set up with Lightning for a little over $100, but another company charged over $500. There's a very good chance that the $500 included interior formatting, cover design and other services. It's not a fair comparison.
  • Jaime urges self-pubbers to open accounts with PayPal to accept credit cards for book purchases. That's a bad idea for two reasons. Some people don't like to use Paypal, and self-pubbers are much better off letting booksellers like Amazon handle sales and shipping and payments. Why should a writer have to operate a warehouse and shipping department? Amazon.com probably gets a million times the traffic of Jaime's website. I bought Jaime's book on Amazon--not from his own site.
  • Jaime had a very bad experience using Adobe Acrobat to produce a PDF file of a book. He warns, "if you convert and submit yourself, I can almost guarantee you that the file will be rejected." Jaime says that PDF conversion is an "art-form" and he even credits Brandy Cross for doing his PDF. Jaime says his recommended experts "both know how to...embed all fonts." It takes just a few minutes and a few mouse clicks to make a PDF with Adobe Acrobat. If I want fonts embedded, I merely uncheck a box to "rely on system fonts only." That doesn't require any artistry or expertise.
  • Jaime is similarly timid about resizing graphic images himself, and pays others to do it for him. (It's really not a big deal for anyone who owns a mouse.) Jaime warns that large photographs can "turn a 500kB book into a 3MB book." The file size for a book is a non-issue unless it's being stored on Jurassic-era floppy disks or uploaded with a Cro Magnon's modem. My newest book's file size as a Word doc is about 35MB, but the final PDF size is less than 6 megs. It  can be uploaded to my printer in less than a minute. There's no need to make the file size smaller.
  • Jaime suggests offering a discount larger than the normal 20% most self-pubbers provide because "Amazon might quit promoting your book in the 'customers who bought this item also bought...' section." The 20% discount has not affected Amazon's promotion of my books--or many other books.
  • The book has self-serving promotions for Jaime's own publishing company and website registration company. He wastes a lot of space extolling the dubious virtues of the people involved in producing the book.
  • It's a very thin book with just 134 pages of text, but it's padded with five pages copied from the Lightning Source website. There are three blank pages in the back that could have contained text, perhaps a larger index. Printers often add extra pages, but it's not difficult to figure out how to use them.
  • In his section on book pricing, Jaime recommends "viewing prices and page counts of books similar to yours." If Jaime followed his own advice, this book would be bigger and less expensive.
  • The title is "11 Secret Steps..." but I could not find any secrets. Steps such as deciding if illustrations are needed, having a cover on the book, and converting a word processing file into a PDF are not secrets equal to the Manhattan Project or Masonic rituals.
  • Jaime cautions against do-it-yourself websites because it fried his brain. It's very easy to do a website. I've done it over 100 times, with no special training. I'm an amateur, but a few of my sites have won awards, and they've sold millions of dollars worth of products (mostly not bocks).
  • Jaime says, "Many authors add an Acknowledgements section at the very end of the book." Every acknowledgment page I've seen is part of the front matter.
  • In a tip about quoting other authors, Jaime recommends using "MLA or APA style to let people know the works you drew from." He does not explain what MLA and APA are. I've heard of a Modern Language Association but don't know if that's the MLA Jaime means, and I don't know what the APA is. Anglican Province of America? American Psychiatric Association?  American Pregnancy Association?  American Poultry Association? Automatic Pizza Apparatus?
  • Jaime writes in a friendly, conversational style, but sometimes it seems juvenile, unprofessional and inappropriate. He wrote, "Hello fellow authors; my name is Jaime Vendera." and  "Now go make me proud by writing..."
So what's good about the book?
  • Jaime provides a detailed look at his bad experience with a company that provided a (failed) campaign to make one of his books an Amazon bestseller for $2,600. I knew these services were bad, but Jaime offers a valuable personal insight.
  • He provides good advice on book promotion, particularly getting reviews.
  • Jaime suggests producing an 8.5 x 11-inch instructional manual as an additional book format. I think I'll try that. Thanks for the tip.
  • His anecdotes about finding suppliers and choosing a URL are interesting.
Jaime claims to be an "internationally known vocal phenom" who has cracked a glass with his voice. He self-pubbed a few books about vocal training and self-improvement, and now thinks he knows enough about publishing to teach others. Unfortunately, he has more to learn before he is ready to teach. It's sad that an author who has some important information and valid insights to present, knew enough to hire others for designing and editing, but chose the wrong people. They produced an ugly and error-filled book.  At $19.95 for just 134 pages, it's also grossly overpriced compared to the competition. (Time for a brief commercial. My newest book, Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company: Make a better deal. Make a better book, has 366 pages and a $17.95 cover price.)

Jaime wrote, "Be ready for a possible retaliation from the other author if you post a bad review." Actually, I don't think Jaime will beat me up or hire a hitman when he reads this. Despite my criticisms, our emails have been cordial. He appreciated my advice, and he has advised others in his field: vocal coaching. I know Jaime knows I want him to succeed. Actually, I want all writers to succeed, in whichever way they define success.

Although I have self-pubbed ten books, I am still an amateur. I never went to "book publishing school" or sat next to a master book designer. All of my knowledge comes from research, observation, experimentation and questioning. Anyone could have learned what I've learned and could make books as good as mine, or even much better than mine. I honestly think that any self-pubber can and should make at least semi-pro-quality books, and most of the mistakes I criticize could have been easily avoided.
  • Every self-pubbed book should be a learning experience. Jaime meant well, and I have reason to believe he'll learn from his mistakes and produce better books in the future.
  • Unfortunately, I strongly doubt that Theresa A. Moore, Helen Gallagher or David Rising will do any better with future books. Their main problem is not ability, but attitude.
They don't know enough to know that they don't know enough. That's a fatal mix of ignorance and ego that affects do-it-yourselfers in every field. Homemade airplanes can crash and kill.

While Jaime's book happens to be about self-publishing, it reveals the potential perils for a writer dealing with any how-to topic, whether it's skiing, cooking or carpentry. Just because you've been successful at something, don't assume you know enough to teach others how to do it. And, check out the competition so you'll know if you can offer something new or better or less expensive--or all three. If you can't do it, you probably shouldn't publish.

6 comments:

  1. You just keep turning up "winners" don't you? It's astonishing to me that this book actually had a cover designer at all, it looks more like an exercise in how to disguise your title so it's unreadable. Keep on shoveling that stuff, Michael, these are great.

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  2. I actually thought this book cover was clever--it looks like choppy art. But it's not a good cover design for online sales, which most of us self-pubbers depend on.

    The "forward" thing is my pet peeve, but also completely terrifying for me-- what if, in an episode of brain-fartedness, I approve a book with a "forward?"-- it sends chills down my spine becasue I once read of an author who self-corrected his own manuscript (after an editor had reviewed it) and changed "Foreword" to "Forward" just before ordering 20,000 offset copies! Augh!

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  3. I loved this review Michael and appreciate the guidance. As said in out emails, I am revising and will give you thanks for all your insight:) If authors cannot take criticism, they are in the wrong business;)

    If you don't mind, I'd appreciate it if you would email this review to me so I can use to do a better job my second time around;)

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  4. I loved this review Michael and appreciate the guidance. As said in out emails, I am revising and will give you thanks for all your insight:) If authors cannot take criticism, they are in the wrong business;)

    If you don't mind, I'd appreciate it if you would email this review to me so I can use to do a better job my second time around;)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Michael,

    I love this review because it is very insightful for me to produce something of better quality for the second edition;)I'll make sure to thank you for your insight as I appreciate your in-depth review. if an author cannot take constructive criticism, then they are in the wrong business.

    My goal isn't to become a self-publishing expert, but to pass on anything of value that I have learned, and i've actually learned a lot more since the release of this title, which is why I know it needs a HUGE overhaul. Luckily for me, you are the first person to care enough to tear it apart, which I see as a very helpful guide to a better book;)

    I will send you a copy of the second edition when it is released; hopefully the second edition won't make you cringe. hahaha;)

    PS- May be revising the title, but I am keeping the cover, haha:)

    Sincerely,

    Jaime Vendera

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  6. Don't be too easy on Vendera. If you looked at the overall picture, you would see that the guy is looking for any and every way to make a buck using shady self promotion.

    He continues to paint himself as a "sought after" vocal coach. Even though he has only taught a few backwoods local people in a town nobody ever heard of. He just happened to get on Mythbusters because he learned how to shatter glasses like many singers have done for years. It's a gimmick that almost anyone can learn to do. But you know television. He was in the right place at the right time. And he's milking every ounce out of it for self promotion. He does not and cannot teach a person to sing. And he himself cannot sing. FACT!

    I advise all reader to use common sense and do your homework before buying products from this guy.

    ReplyDelete