Friday, March 4, 2011

This book is inaccurate, inadequate, cynical, misleading and overpriced. It's ugly, too. But it's not the designer's fault.



First, the customary disclaimer: In late 2009, when I published my first book about self-publishing, I initially decided that I would no longer review other books about self-publishing. A good review for a competing book could help the competition and hurt my book. A bad review might be regarded as unseemly or “bad sportsmanship” — trying to hurt the competition.

I remembered an incident during the election for class officers in third grade. The teacher told us not to vote for ourselves. The ballots were secret so the rule could not be enforced, but I challenged the teacher. I said, “If we don’t think we are the best for the job, we shouldn’t be running for office.” Mrs. Solomon recognized my logic, and changed her policy.

I changed my policy about reviewing competitive books, too. I felt that I would be doing a disservice by not telling people about good books, or by not warning them about bad books. I also feel that if I pay for a book, I have the right to criticize it.

It has been said that "there is no such thing as bad publicity." Well, we'll see...

So, here's a review of another bad book about self-publishing. I'll deal with its appearance before its contents, because I want to call attention to the disaster that can happen when a talented designer is hired -- and ignored or overruled.

The interior of this book is ghastly. It violates almost every rule about book design that I know of, and probably some that I have not learned yet.

  • The book pages were formatted with full justification and no hyphens. This leads to excessive word spacing, plus orphans and rivers.
  • There are headers and folios (page numbers) on otherwise blank pages.
  • First lines are indented below white spaces.
  • The indents are oversize -- more suited to a letter or term paper than to a book.
  • In spreads, some pages are much shorter than the opposite pages.
  • There are oversize spaces between sections.
  • At least one word is set in boldface -- but should not be.
  • Author Mathew Chan warns that using sans serif text type "leaves an unprofessional impression," but his other sins are even more unprofessional.
  • A photo of a stack of books has what looks like a cluster of mouse turds below the books.
  • I could not determine if the book had an editor. If there was one, she or he stopped too soon. There are missing words, misspellings, repetition (even on successive pages!), double hyphens that should be em dashes, bad grammar such as lack of parallelism, misplaced "only" and "less" instead of "fewer," and other textual errors.
In the acknowledgment section at the back of the book, Mathew says, I would like to thank Darlene Swanson for her great typesetting design and layout for the book. I highly recommend her to anyone needing typesetting services for their own book."

It looks like the author of an ugly book is endorsing the person responsible for the ugliness -- but apparently that's not the case. I easily tracked down Darlene Swanson, who with husband Dan, operates Van-garde Digital Imagery. The Van-garde website contains comments from happy customers and some very attractive book design samples -- without the problems I saw in Matthew's book.

I had to find out what was going one. I sent an email to Darlene. She told me, "When I received the project from Matthew, I designed it professionally. After that was done, Matthew informed me that he would be taking over to complete the book. It was his idea to do the full justification with no hyphens. I would never design a book that way. The folios on the blank pages were also Matthew's idea. I have been designing books for more that 18 years and I do not put folios on blank pages."

That made me feel better about Darlene (but sorry for any business she may lose by being associated with a dreadful book).

My impression about Matthew -- already negative because of what I read in the book -- sunk even further.

Near the end of the book, in a section about bad reviews, Mathew says, "Sometimes I find it interesting how some people attack and criticize. I sometimes want to say to them, 'If you could do a better job, why don't you?'"

Well, Matthew, many people, including me, have done a better job.

Here's some of what's wrong with what Matthew has written:

The title is confusing. A turnkey business includes everything you need to immediately start running the business, such as a building, inventory, fixtures, equipment, systems manual and maybe even a customer base and advertising.  The new owner of the business merely has to turn a key in the front door, flip on the lights, and start making money. Matthew does not provide a turnkey publishing business, and his explanation that "In Turnkey Publishing, the business side comes first and the art form is secondary" is both sad, and obvious from reading this second-rate book.

"Authoring and publishing a book is a significant credibility builder. People do not have to read your book to willingly accept your credibility in a subject."
  • But what happens if people read the book and realize that you don't know what the hell you're talking about?
"In Turnkey Publishing, the business side comes first and the art form is secondary."
  • Hey Matthew, did you ever think that maybe it's bad business to publish bad books?
The minimum price you can expect to pay for your book project includes $200 to $800 for a "transcriber."
  • I've published about 15 books and have never paid a penny to a transcriber.
"More and more, actual formal writing is becoming less important because good editors, assistant writers, and proofreaders are able to turn sloppy words and grammar into proper words and sentences."
  • It's not easy to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, or lead into gold, or urine into champagne.
"I expect that as time passes, the need for proper English will continue to lessen. This is bad news for proper English writers and editors. They may have to adjust themselves to writing and editing at a 'lower level.'"
  • Death before dishonor.
"The minimum qualification to enter [the Cataloging in Publication] program is having published three books."
  • WRONG. The requirement is having published books by three authors.
"Be a casual writer, not a professional writer."
  • It's OK to be casual, but it's never OK to be unprofessional.
"To this day, I am still not a professional writer."
  • I won't argue with that.
Matthew thinks a website address should be on the top of a book's front cover.
  • That may be appropriate for some books -- but certainly not all, and maybe not many.
"It is difficult for me to write continuously and transition smoothly from topic to topic without always feeling obligated to provide a smooth transition."
  • Well, maybe you shouldn't publish until you learn how to do it.
"I do not currently include indexes within my books, but that may change some day. Creating indexes for books has traditionally been a cumbersome and expensive process, However, I am currently looking into more cost effective options to one day include indexes within the books I publish."
  • Anyone with Microsoft Word can produce an index in a few hours. It's not fun, but it's not difficult or expensive. It's important in a nonfiction book, and the lack of an index may make a book non-competitive.
"The typesetter (sometimes called a desktop publisher) . . . ."
  • In contemporary book publishing, the person who arranges the words may be called a formatter or an interior designer or even a typesetter (although there is no physical type used), but I've never heard that person called a "desktop publisher."
"I don't have the best cover designs for any of my books, but then again I never have strived to."
  • If you don't strive for the best, you may end up with crap.
"I don't expect I will win any design awards for my book covers."
  • You won't.
"For the beginning publisher, I recommend looking for printers that will allow you to print a minimum of 500 copies using traditional offset printing."
  • In the very next paragraph, Matthew recommends that "your first run be 1,000 or 1,500 books." Matthew's own book, however, is printed on demand by Lightning Source, one at a time! "Do as I say; don't do as I do."
"Don't ask me why they insist on 32-page increments. It has something to do with the offset manufacturing process. I simply accept it as fact."
  • 32-page increments are not necessary with all offset printers and page sizes -- and certainly not in print-on-demand.
"CreateSpace has some attractive features for its program, most notably that you will get preferential treatment if selling books on Amazon is your highest priority.
  • I've had books printed by both CreateSpace and Lightning Source for sale by Amazon, and am unaware of any preferential treatment for the CreateSpace books.
"It generally takes [Lightning Source] nearly two weeks before they will prepare your files and send you a proof to review."
  • Actually, it usually takes just three days.
"Another benefit of having your books listed on Amazon is that Amazon product listings automatically rank high in search results on all the major search engines."
  • No they don't.
"Perhaps the best thing that could have ever happened to independent publishers everywhere is the Amazon Advantage Program."
  • Amazon Advantage’s purchase discount is 55%. You get just 45% of the List Price. When Amazon sells an Advantage book for $20, they pay you $9 -- and that $9 may have to cover $5-$6 for printing and $1-2 for shipping. Amazon Advantage is Amazon’s advantage. They’ll make much more than you do. It's much better to have Lightning Source or CreateSpace supply your books to Amazon and its customers.
"Having studied the publishing industry, I believe Amazon is clearly on the cutting edge of working with independent publishers with their Advantage Program."
  • More study is needed, and the sentence should be rewritten. Who does "their" refer to?
Matthew says that Amazon's "Search Inside" feature requires a physical book to be submitted for scanning.
  • That's not true. A PDF file is fine. CreateSpace books are included in the program automatically, with no work by the publisher.
"I am currently in the beginning stages of utilizing [Lightning Source] and it is too early for me to report."
  • Then you have no business writing a book about self-publishing! 
". . .  I will ask the recipient if they [sic] will be willing to give a favorable Amazon review in exchange for a free book."
  • OMG, Matthew publicly admits to being corrupt. NOTE: he did not bribe me to write this review.
". . . I believe every publisher and author should get involved to some degree in product fulfillment."
  • That's ridiculous. An author should not have to be a warehouse manager and shipping clerk. Let the printer ship books to Amazon's customers, and spend your time writing and marketing.
Matthew recommends shipping books in bubble envelopes.
  • Rigid cardboard boxes provide more protection, and are available free from the Post Office for use with Priority Mail.
"We currently cannot justify the learning curve and costs for an in-house postage system."
  • Both the curve and the cost are minimal.
"I have a lot to learn to market and promote my books."
  • And a lot to learn before writing about publishing.
Matthew's picture is on the back cover and on the "about the author" page,  and at least four pix are elsewhere in the book.
  • I have a big ego -- but not THAT big. Hey Matthew, one is enough.
The book has 222 pages of text.
  • That's much too few to justify the high $21.95 cover price. There are many bigger and better books with lower prices. I wrote some of them.
Matthew's promotional bullshit on Amazon says, "LEARN THE SECRETS OF INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING THAT TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW!"
  • No secrets are revealed in the book, and traditional publishers don't care if you read the book. Actually, if you follow Matthew's advice, you will not be much competition for Simon & Schuster or Random House -- so maybe traditional publishers would like you to read the book and fail at publishing.
It also says, "Nothing transforms your professional image and credibility more quickly than becoming an author of a professional book."
  • Nothing hurts your image and credibility more quickly than an unprofessional book -- like this one.
It also says, "Traditional publishers, bookstores, and literary agents say that you cannot successfully publish or sell your own book without their help."
  • Matthew, please name some of the publishers, stores and agents that said that; and how does a store speak?
It also says, "The myths they perpetuate are: * It is difficult to write a book. * It is expensive to publish a book. * You have to be a good writer. * Your book cannot sell without a bookstore. * You need an agent to get reputably published.
  • Actually, Mathew is creating the myth that you don't have to be a good writer. If you're a bad writer, you may get a review like this one.
It also says, "In this unconventional, revealing book . . . ."
  • It's neither unconventional nor revealing.
Matthew's website says,  "there is a need for more publishers and authors."
  • That's probably not true, and even if it is true, maybe Matthew should not be one of them. 

5 comments:

  1. ...and another one bites the dust.

    Nice analysis, Michael. Keep it up.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "You wont."
    Why won't I?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Matthew Chan is one author too many.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Michael,

    Thank you for taking the time to review and write about my book "TurnKey Publishing". It is clear we disagree philosophically on many points. I will be preparing a more complete rebuttal of the points you raised but allow me some short rebuttal statements.

    1. I began writing this book in 2008 and had to slide in and squeezed in last-minute information updates in 2009.

    2. In 2008, CreateSpace had just debuted then and very few people had any real experience with CreateSpace.

    3. While Lightning Source and their print-on-deman system was fairly well-established in 2008, offset printing still existed and was still a valid option. Hence, I do discuss my experiences with that.

    4. I tell people I am from "outside" the traditional publishing industry. In fact, I am also "outside" the self-described "self-publishing" industry because it does not accurately what I do or represent.

    5. "TurnKey Publishing" is part of a larger series. In Part 2, I discuss the other important part of my business, Audio Publishing. Specifically Audio CDs. Yes, I know CreateSpace produce Audio CDs but they are very limited in its production and packaging options. Hence, Amazon Advantage is still an important part of my overall business for that portion. Amazon Advantage also allows for spiral-bound material that CreateSpace does not.

    6. Almost every book I have ever read (including many from the huge NY publishing houses) have some kind of errors even with all their well-paid editors and proofreaders. Book publishing is simply an unforgiving format for this sort of thing.

    7. I appreciate that you have not made personal attacks against me. You have restricted your remarks to what I wrote, how I wrote, and the presentation. You have given me the opportunity to open a dialog with my readers.

    Those are the high-point rebuttals. I will have a more complete rebuttal later.

    Matthew Chan

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks so much for this review. It really brightened my day. I have degrees in both journalism and graphic design from two esteemed universities, and what I consider to be my high standards of writing and design make me grossly aware of just how prevalent some of these DIY violators are.

    I wish I could get my hands on this book just so I can laugh at it. The design and layout offenses alone are joke enough, but to go as far as to predict that the English language will deteriorate to the point where it excuses him and every other underachieving self-publisher for their misleading and lazy editing, advice and marketing gimmicks, well, that's just blatant ignorance.

    This author seriously needs to be reviewed more often. Also, I love that he is planning a series of rebuttals. Can't wait for the "more complete rebuttal later."

    ReplyDelete