Friday, September 28, 2012

Another weird pay-to-publish company


(Before we get into the details, you should know that the impressive award shown above is provided by a company that makes its money by selling award trophies and plaques. I previously wrote about Outskirts Press promoting its dubious vanity honor. BTW, if you know how to use a PC, you can get the IMAGE of a vanity award for your website or blog without actually having to pay for one.)


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Folks, it's getting hard to keep track of all the new businesses that charge writers to publish their books. Recently, Harlequin Horizons/DellArte Press,  Balboa PressPalibrio, Esquire Publications and Abbott Press jumped into the increasingly crowded pool. The number of companies producing and distributing e-books seems to grow every couple of days.


Writers have yet another option: Light Messages. The name is woo-woo and vague. It could be appropriate for a skywriting company or a company that projects advertising on walls, or maybe a laser engraving business, or someone who sells sermons or teaches semaphore operation. I have no idea what the name is supposed to mean, or what it has to do with writing or books --  but I suppose "Amazon" doesn't  imply books, either. When I was a Cub Scout, I learned to send Morse Code communications with a flashlight. They were real light messages. I got an email from the company explaining that "Good books contain Light." OK, but many good books also contain dark.

I have no proof, but perhaps the company hopes that people will confuse it with on-demand printer Lightning Source, just as the operators of Kennedy Fried Chicken make money selling food to people who confuse it with Kentucky Fried Chicken.


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Anyway, here's the press release with (of course) my cynical comments:

Publishing House Offers Innovative Solution for Independent Authors

Light Messages has introduced the new "Partnership Publishing" model, an innovative solution for independent authors who are seeking publication.

Partnership publishing offers an innovative solution for independent authors. [Actually, it's for dependent authors.]

Durham, NC (Vocus/PRWEB) February 01, 2011: Light Messages has introduced the new "Partnership Publishing" model, an innovative solution for independent authors seeking publication.

Partnership Publishing enables authors to reach worldwide markets inexpensively [or expensively] by sharing the sales profits [which may never come]. This differs from traditional publishers who only print [should be "print only"] books they believe will generate large profits of which they take the lion's share.

Until now, the only other option apart from traditional publishing was what has become known as vanity publishing, or self publishing. [Er, ah, vanity publishing is NOT the same thing as self publishing.] This option not only carries a stigma [I don't think Mark Twain was stigmatized by self-publishing. Nor am I.] but it also gets expensive because the printer/publisher earns an up-front profit from the author who must then sell the books. [Authors don't have to sell books. Booksellers sell books.]

Through Partnership Publishing from Light Messages, the publisher will print the books, provide an ISBN, list the books in all major catalogs, and distribute the books through major book sellers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Light Messages, and "brick and mortar" bookstores. [Just like about 100 competing companies.]

Authors help lower the publisher's cost by following a simple guide to do as much of the preparation work as they can or wish to do. In return, authors retain the full rights of the book after the first year [what about during the first year?] and receive half the profits from all sales of their books. [I wonder how the profits are calculated. With Hollywood-style math, there may be no profits, even if lots of books are sold.]

"Partnership publishing removes the stigma and cost of vanity publishing, while freeing authors to write what they want instead of what the industry says they must write," says Wally Turnbull, author and Light Messages co-founder. "This is the most fair and easy solution available to independent authors today." [If an author pays Wally for publishing, the author is NOT independent.]

The secret to Light Message's low-cost solution for authors lies in the print-on-demand options. [WOW! That's a great idea. It's a good thing that Lulu, CreateSpace, Infinity, AuthorHouse,  Outskirts, Xlibris, Random House and the Yale University Press don't know about the print-on-demand secret. Oh.]  By using print-on-demand, Turnbull says, authors no longer need to tie up money and space in storing thousands of copies of books they then need to sell themselves. [That has not been an issue for about ten years.]

While still in its infancy [BULLSHIT!] , the concept is catching on quickly. [It took Light Messages a long time to catch on.] Some of the recently published featured titles from Light Messages include 'Harry Loves Carrots,' by Laura Baldwin, 'Peace Seekers,' by Jim Abrahamson, and "The True Story of Cinderella and How She Really Became a Princess,' by Deborah Hining. [An interesting mix of single quote marks and double quotes. Doesn't the publisher have a copyeditor?]

Independent authors seeking publication may submit manuscripts to Light Messages or contact the publisher for more details. [Can the publisher be contacted with a light message?]


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Some analysis:

(ONE) The company says, "Cost is less than you might think but it does depend on book size, number of pages, use of color, binding and so many factors that each book must be quoted separately. As a generic example, a typical 5-1/2" X 8-1/2" book of 200 pages printed in black ink with a full-color paperback cover could retail for $15 to $20 with a production cost of about half that amount. That means a cost of $7.50 to $10. With Lightning Source, the production cost is $3.90 (and that fee includes the cost of shipping the book to a bookseller's customer. CreateSpace charges $3.25. Lulu charges $5.60.

(TWO) The "Title setup and registration" fee is $250. That's more than you could pay to companies such as Outskirts Press and Wasteland Press for a basic book with cover design and page formatting. Unless you pay extra to Light Messages, you have to provide the cover design and page formatting. If you can do that, you can have Lightning Source or CreateSpace print and distribute your book.

(THREE) Page formatting costs 75 cents per page, and cover design costs $95 or $300. The first two prices may be too low to get good work.

(FOUR) The company does not edit manuscripts, "but depending on your subject we may be able to refer to you an independent editor." Or, maybe they'll be able to refer you to a publisher that does provide editing.

(FIVE) "Annual distribution fee" is $25 per title -- a nice markup of the $12 fee the company likely pays to Lightning Source

(SIX) "Web promotion" is included in the setup fee. That could mean that your book is listed on the publisher's website, which seven people will see. Or six. Or none.

(SEVEN) The fee for a "Targeted national press release" is $395 -- which may be fair, a bargain or a ripoff, because no details are specified.

(EIGHT) Light Messages says it "helps you get listed with major bookstores such as Amazon.com, Ingram, and Barnes & Noble, maximizing the reach of your potential sales." Actually, since they presumably have books printed by Lightning Source, they do nothing to get your book listed -- and Ingram is a wholesaler, not a bookstore.

(NINE) All payments must be made by check or through Paypal. Light Messages' first book came out over 11 years ago, but the company still doesn't have a "merchant" account to accept credit cards. Even flea market vendors accept plastic.

(TEN) The company says, "You must grant us sale and distribution rights for two years during which time you will receive half the royalties from sales." Even if you hate the way the book was produced, you're stuck for two years.

(ELEVEN) Light Messages is apparently operated out of the home of Wally Turnbull, and even shares Wally's residential phone number. The company doesn't seem to have a business phone listing, or a toll-free number -- even after more than a decade in business. This does not inspire confidence.

I'm certainly in favor of efficiency, saving money and short commutes. I operated a home-based business for many years -- but that business had its own local and toll-free numbers.

If Light Messages wants to compete with the big guys, it needs to beef-up its image. Image can be more important than reality. Just ask the puny Wizard of Oz. Outskirts Press may operate out of the home of boss Brent Sampson, but Brent pays a few bucks each month to use the address of a UPS store.

(ELEVEN) The website features 25 books -- but not much diversity. A mere 12 authors wrote the 25 books, and eight were written by the company boss or his (presumed) wife.

(TWELVE) About half of the company's books shown on Amazon.com have no reviews. Some listings have no cover illustration or description. A publisher should do better.

(THIRTEEN) I saved the best (i.e., worst) for last. The company says, "You retain full rights to your book after the first year." That seems to imply that authors have no rights or few rights during the first year. No rights presumably means no money. Therefore, if you want promotional efforts such as book reviews to help feed your own bank account, don't do anything until your book is nearly a year old. 

In conclusion, while it's quite possible that Light Messages can produce decent books and market them well, the lack of editing, the peculiar financial aspects of "Partnership Publishing," and high production costs may make author profits impossible. I can't think of any reason to publish with Light Messages.

The "Partnership" premise is certainly dubious, because the cost of participating in the partnership -- with an implied sharing of expenses -- is not less than some publishing packages from other companies that don't want to be your partner.

Just as modern technology enables anyone who can type (or dictate) to become an "author," the same technology allows almost anyone to become a "publisher."

Be careful picking your partners.




(Naval semaphore photo from Shoponline2011.com)  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Never texted. Probably never will. Am I missing anything important?


A while ago my local paper published a column titled "You can resist the modern era only for so long," written by Joe Amarante.

Joe says he knows "some defiantly low-tech people" who don't own a GPS, use dial-up modems for web access, and don't own cellphones or send text messages.

I'm certainly not a defiant technophobe or Luddite. I was one of the first purchasers of a Blu-ray player ($1200!). I waited just one week to buy my iPad -- and also have a Kindle Fire. I have four generations of iPods. I have nine flat-screen TVs in my house and four home theaters with surround sound and subwoofers. I subscribed to both XM and Sirius before they merged. I used to build HeathKits. I know HTML and part of the Morse Code. I can solder and weld and wire a house and add the right chemicals to my pool and tune-up a car. I can mix concrete. I can develop film. I have five Tivo boxes. I have at least a dozen digital cameras, GPSes in each car, and I don't even know how many PCs I have. I've been online since the days of 300bps connections and $150 monthly bills from CompuServe.

I've had cellphones for many years, and get a new one every two years even if I don't need one. I'll probably get an iPhone 5 when my current contract ends next month.

BUT, I have never never ever ever sent a text message. I am unlikely to ever send one. I don't even know how to send one. It's possible that I have received text messages. If so, I have never read them. Even my very-low-tech brother-in-law texts to his kids.

I use my Samsung smartphone for talking, or for taking pictures if something important happens and I don't have a better picture-taking device with me, or for checking the time if I forget to wear a watch, or if I need brief Internet access to find an address or phone number or to relieve boredom.

Phones are for vocal communication.

"Phone" comes from an ancient Greek word for "sound" or "voice" -- not "text." Alex Bell was granted a patent for the telephone in 1876 -- 41 years after Sam Morse built his first working telegraph, which sent text messages. Bell provided a better way to communicate than Morse did.

Today it's certainly easier to "dial" a phone number or tap a speed-dial key than to learn Morse Code, or to thumb-type a text message.  Voice response  allows people to "dial" calls by voice, or even to control cars or to type by voice. When you want to check on your American Express balance, you can say your account number into your phone, not tap it on the touch-tone pad. The trend is to less button-pushing and more tongue wagging.

If I want to send messages with my fingertips -- such as a complicated address or a quote from a website -- I send email.

If no one answers my phone call, I can leave voicemail or call again later. Why should I thumb-type a message to be stored for later reading?

Texting seems to be for people who want to send information or ask questions, but prefer to avoid conversation, maybe because they are too bashful. Maybe they can't be spontaneous and must think before each word. I haven't been bashful since fifth grade -- and that was a long time ago.

Except for a few instances where it's too noisy to hear or be heard, or if it's much less expensive to transmit data than to transmit voice, why would I want to text anyone? I just don't get it.

Wikipedia says, "74% of all mobile phone users worldwide or 2.4 billion out of 3.3 billion phone subscribers at end of 2007" are texters.  "Text messaging was reported to have addictive tendencies by the Global Messaging Survey by Nokia in 2002 and was confirmed to be addictive by the study at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 2004."

There are much more pleasurable things than texting to be addicted to. Like blogging. Or sex. Or clams.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The book business is still being depressed by the Great Depression


Book returnability is a destructive artifact of the Great Depression (approximately 1929 - 1940).

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

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

Selling on consignment may have been a good solution in 1932, but 80 years later it has become very expensive and wasteful. Book publishers and bookstores are in trouble.

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

The system hurts authors.

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

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

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

Many bookstores have also shut down.

Print on demand and e-books avoid the perils of returnability; but there are still millions of books that are returned each year, and must be paid for by someone.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Perpetually behind-the-times Outskirts Press still touts former author


Gang Chen (now Gary Chen) is a very smart guy, skilled architect and successful author/publisher/educator who previously paid to have some books published by inept and dishonest Outskirts Press. 

Gary became the Outskirts 'poster child,' featured in online promotions because of his unusually high earnings.

As far back as 2009, on this blog, I pointed out that Gary 'left a lot of money on the table' by using Outskirts. I like to think that I am at least partly responsible for Gary's leaving Outskirts and forming his own publishing company. 


In a comment on the blog post, author/publisher Christy Pinheiro wrote, "I keep hoping that this author will pull his books from Outskirts and try self-publishing for real. His books are almost exactly like the ones published by my own company -- highly specialized, very small niche audience, high price point.  He could be making double with CreateSpace and triple with LightningSource."

In 2009, very soon after Outskirts distributed the press release about him and the first time I blogged about him, Gary became a member of the Yahoo group that deals with print on demand publishing. At first he asked questions and now he provides excellent answers.

Gary's own company, ArchiteG, has republished several books that were first published by Outskirts -- and published many new books. Now Gary can be a symbol of publishing success achieved by not using Outskirts Press.

Despite Gary's rebellion, ethically deficient Outskirts Press is still displaying an undated and stale press release touting Gary's earnings. The release says that Outskirts "today announced that one of its authors has earned over $100,000 in author royalties in six short months." [Unless each of those "short months" were Februaries, the months were probably the normal length.]

Actually, the "today" mentioned in the press release shown on the Outskirts website was May 12, 2009 -- more than 40 months ago. Here's the original release.

Sadly, it quotes Gary saying: "I'm in the process of publishing my next book in the LEED Exam Guide series through Outskirts Press, along with a book on architecture, so I hope to break this record soon. After contacting hundreds of traditional publishers for his first book Planting Design Illustrated, Chen finally landed a deal with one major publisher, only to discover that he was dissatisfied with the substantial revisions they were suggesting. He promptly cancelled the traditional publishing contract and decided to publish the book himself. He compared various publishing options and chose Outskirts Press. 'Their services do not end after the book is published,' Chen stated. 'They continue to provide excellent marketing advice, as well.'

Is it dishonest for Outskirts to point to the success of an author who is no longer a customer? I certainly think so. Honesty means absolutely nothing to Outskirts Press. 

Outskirts boss and head bullshitter Brent Sampson wrote, "The majority of independently self-published authors find it nearly impossible to secure distribution through book wholesalers..." It was very possible for Gary Chen.

Brent's website warns about the “hassles of independent self-publishing, like guessing print-runs, managing inventory, and the responsibility of order fulfillment.” Gary's books are printed on demand, so he has none of those hassles.

Brent says independent self-publishers "are left with thousands of unsold copies and without an effective way of getting their books into the hands of readers" and "The independently self published authors I know all have boxes of books in their garage and park their cars on the street." I doubt Gary Chen has thousands of unsold books that can't reach potential readers, or that he can't park in his garage.

Two lessons:
  1. Stay away from Outskirts Press.
  2. Be cautious about making endorsements. Even if you change your mind, your original words will stay online.



Monday, September 24, 2012

Always use your spell checker, but always check your spell checker

Automated spell-checking now shows up in more places than just word processing software. It's part of web browsers, blogging software, email, Photoshop, Excel, InDesign and who knows what else. Maybe it's even in games.

A spell checker will usually — but not always — spot an improperly spelled word. It may or may not 'notice' an improperly spelled proper name. It may 'insist' that the capital letter in the middle of a proper name like "LeBron" should be lowercase. It may 'suggest' that "LeBron" should really be "Lebanon." It may 'complain' when you use a British version of an English word, like "neighbour." 

Worst of all, a spell checker won’t spot a wrong word that’s spelled correctly. Unless you have a good grammar checker (there is no perfect grammar checker), your computer may not notice typing errors like the "an" that should be "and."

Microsoft Word noticed the error in "I can see for miles an miles" -- but not the error in "I like lox an bagels." When I typed "I applied to Lehigh an Bucknell," Word wrongly suggested that "an" should be "a" and "Bucknell" should be "Bicknell or "Becknell."

In the surprise bestseller, Go the F*ck to Sleep, Adam Mansbach wrote, “The lambs have laid down with the sheep.”
• “Laid” is spelled correctly, but the correct word is “lain.”


In The Successful Writer’s Handbook, Patricia L. Fry wrote, “One writer I know had a cubical constructed in her garage to use as an office.”
• “Cubical” is spelled correctly, but the correct word is “cubicle.”


In Best in Self-Publishing & Print-on-demand, David Rising wrote, “for all participates.”
• “Participates” is not a spelling error; it’s the wrong word. “Participants” was the right word, but the spell-checking robot didn’t realize it.


In Release Your Writing, Helen Gallagher wrote, “They work is not cheap . . . .” 
• “They” is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, the correct word is “Their.”


In an early version of one of my books, I typed “The photographer will be thrilled to have a subject who does not vomit on her, or require funny faces to illicit a smile.”
• “Illicit is a properly spelled but incorrect word. The correct word is “elicit.” Editor Sheila M. Clark caught the error.


While you can’t rely 100% on a spell checker, you should use it.

In Principles of Self Publishing, Theresa A. Moore wrote about an alleged “exhorbitant shipping fee” The fee was actually reasonable, but the spelling is not. There is no “h” in “exorbitant.”

A spell checker would have caught the error.

Theresa wrote, “I don't use the spell checker. I use a dictionary. Oxford American. The standard spelling I learned had an ‘h.’”

She probably was taught properly, but doesn't remember what she was taught, and may have confused “exorbitant” with “exhort.” She also misspelled “propaganda.”

Ironically, Theresa says, “a misspelled word can stand out like a red flag in a cornfield” and “It is vitally important for you to have a clear grasp of spelling . . . .” She’s right about that.

It’s good to have a dictionary, but unless you’re unsure about a word, you won’t check it. A spell checker, while imperfect, is on duty even when you have no doubt.

(Graphic image from http://www.cn-printing.com/. Thanks.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Th-e seco-nd wo-rst hyp-henati-on?


I have frequently complained about shitty hyphenation sanctioned by Microsoft Word.

Some of my favorites include "the-rapist," "proo-freader" and "Fa-cebook."

One important rule for hyphenating is to never leave a one-word syllable by itself. Aware of this, yesterday, the New York Daily News presented a powerful new piece of typography:

iP-hone
That's so much better than "i-Phone," isn't it.




Friday, September 21, 2012

For book covers, white may not be right


I love the crisp and clean look of a white cover on a book, and that’s what I used for my first three books. Unfortunately, they blend into the white pages of websites.

Mark Levine or his designer was much smarter than I was and used a contrasting border on his book about self-publishing companies. Strangely, he followed my bad example for his next edition.




Thursday, September 20, 2012

BE PREPARED to take advantage of book publicity




You probably know the scout motto, "Be Prepared." In various versions, it's used by scouts worldwide, by both boys and girls.

The motto goes back more than 100 years. In Scouting for Boys, Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell explains the motto:

"Be Prepared in Mind by having disciplined yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it.

Be Prepared in Body by making yourself strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it."

Satirical singer/songwriter Tom Lehrer has a different interpretation of the phrase.

OK, back to books . . .

In 2008, eighty-year-old New Jerseyan Alfred Pristash paid Author House to publish a memoir called My Changing World.

Pristash spent 18 months writing the manuscript in longhand, and then dictated it to a son who typed it. The book received extensive and complimentary coverage in NJ.com and in a major New Jersey newspaper. The article mentions that the book sells for $73.99 and is available at Amazon.com.

I was curious to see how an Author House book could possibly justify that high price.

Unfortunately the Amazon page had just basic facts like page count and size. After more than four years there is not even one review on Amazon -- and no information that might convince me to spend $73.99.


[above] The AuthorHouse website is equally barren and useless. Links for “Overview," “About the Author” and “Free Preview” contained nothing. Since April, 2008, the site has indicated that more information would be "coming soon." 

When is "soon?"

How long should potential readers wait?

How long should the author wait?

I did not place an order.

If you are lucky enough to get media coverage of your book, be sure your online presence is ready to back it up and sell some books! If you've paid to be published, don't waste your time and money. BE PREPARED.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stupid Outskirts Press boasts about bad business



I recently wrote about inept and dishonest pay-to-publish company Outskirts Press bragging  about its position in the annual Inc magazine listings of the fastest growing privately owned American companies.

I pointed out that Outskirts's position has been sliding for several years, and had dropped from the top 500 to top 5000 -- but Outskirt hoped that no one would notice the extra zero. 

In past years, Outskirts Press boss Brent Sampson (the same guy who confused "foreword" and "forward") did some advance bragging before the Inc rankings were published.

Perhaps sensing bad news, Brent was uncharacteristically quiet this year.

Finally, on 9/1, he faced reality and tried to make lemonade from the lemon-like news. He wrote a blog post titled, "Is Outskirts Press the most successful self-publishing company?" Of course, Brent thinks it is.

He wrote: "it depends upon who you ask, and by what parameters “success” is being judged, but Inc. Magazine seems to think so, if their list of the top 5000 privately held companies in America holds any merit (which many would argue it does). For the fourth year in a row, Outskirts Press finds itself on this very prestigious list, which ranks the success of private companies (as defined by profitable growth) across a three year span of time.  I won’t delve into the mathematics or business logistics for why accomplishing this feat four years in a row is difficult and, instead, I’ll just post the press release.  We couldn’t have this ongoing (unprecedented in the self-publishing industry) success without the continued support of our amazing authors and our talented production, sales, accounting, IT, and marketing folks. Thank you!"

Brent then posted his self-serving and deceptive press release, linked-to here.

Although frequently a bullshitter, Brent is honest enough -- and foolish enough -- to tell us that: "Outskirts Press first appeared on the Inc. 500 list in 2009 as the 268th fastest growing company in America. In 2010 Outskirts Press was on the Inc. 5000 list again at number 1266 and again in 2011 at number 3088. For the fourth year in a row, Outskirts Press ranks in the top 5000 at number 4530 and continues a healthy annual growth rate of twenty percent."

Healthy growth rate? My ass. If this trend continues, Outskirts Press will disappear. 

Brent Sampson should be embarrassed -- not boastful.

He should be in hiding -- not sending out a really inappropriate press release.

Maybe he should consider changing the way Outskirts operates -- or just close the company.




Tuesday, September 18, 2012

If God self-publishes, it's probably OK

Hmm -- another self-publisher with a beard

The God of the Old Testament did some terrible things -- smiting, plaguing, flooding, destroying cities with fire and brimstone, converting a woman into a pillar of salt, and more. 

God also did a lot of good. I'm glad He (or She or It) created sunshine and water and lobsters and clams and tomatoes and friendly furry animals. I'm not so happy about asparagus, rats, mosquitoes and flies.

Apparently God is also an author, and a self-publisher!

In Jewish tradition, the book of life is opened on Rosh Hashanah (which started Sunday at sundown), when God begins an annual evaluation of everyone. Those who will be allowed to live stay in the book of life. Others are deleted. In the time of the Old Testament, God wrote on a roll-up scroll, or maybe a stack of stone tablets. Today, presumably the Book of Life is a PC with a multi-terabyte hard drive and a delete key. Or, maybe God uses a customized iPad with huge solid-state memory. It seems like God was the first self-publisher, and is now the oldest.

I'll accept that as an almighty endorsement of self-publishing. My name is an old Hebrew name that means "who is like God." If I publish what I write, maybe I'm even more like God than I thought. [Yes, I know that my name could be a question, but today's blog post works better if I ignore that possibility.] 

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (starting at sundown on 9/25) are known as the Days of Awe and also the Days of Repentance. This is a time to consider the sins of the previous year and to repent. It can't hurt for non-Jews to try it, too. You can also repent in February or August, or on every day. Off-season repentance may not buy you another year, but maybe it will help a bit.

God is said to have two "books"-- a book of life and a book of death, and He/She/It records who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will have a bad life, for the next year. It is said that these books are written in on Rosh Hashanah, but our actions during the Days of Awe can alter God's decree. The actions that change the decree are repentance, prayer and good deeds (usually charity). These "books" are sealed on Yom Kippur.

A common greeting at this time of year is L'shanah tovah ("for a good year"). This is a shortening of "L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem" (or to women, "L'shanah tovah tikatevi v'taihatemi"), which means "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."

At this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the previous year. We are supposed to "right the wrongs" committed, if possible.


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  • People of the Book  is a term used by Muslims to refer to non-Muslim followers of religions that have a book of prayer. The three religions mentioned in the Qur'an as people of the book are Judaism, Sabianism and Christianity. Muslim rulers and scholars have included other religions such as Zoroastrianism and Hinduism.
  • Despite all of the rampant violence and evil, the Bible is known as the Good Book.
  • In Judaism, the term "People of the Book" refers specifically to the Jewish people and the Torah (The Five Books of Moses in the Hebrew Bible, a.k.a. "The Old Testament")
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There is an unusually high percentage of Jewish people who are writers, publishers and editors -- and lots of us have beards! (At least, the men do.)

Considering that the Jewish people constitute a mere one half of one percent of the world's population, it's pretty amazing that Jews have won (according to one list) 52% of the Pulitzer Prizes for non-fiction literature, and from 12 to 33 percent of the prizes for other forms of writing. 
 
The prize was established by Joseph Pulitzer, a Jewish newspaper publisher. He left money to Columbia University when he died in 1911. A portion of his bequest was used to found the university's journalism school in 1912. The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded in 1917. Recipients are chosen by an independent board. You don't have to be Jewish to win a Pulitzer prize, but it might help.
 
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Image at the top is from danielrevelationbiblestudies

Monday, September 17, 2012

What year is this? (Also: the Jewish vuvuzela, Sadie Hawkins Day and Chinese food)

This is the Jewish New Year's Day, "Rosh Hashanah." That's a transliteration of the Hebrew words meaning "Head (of) The Year." "Rosh" means "head," "Ha" means "the" and "Shanah" means "year." "Of" is understood, so it doesn't have to be written. A less formal pronunciation is "Rusha shunnah." The picture above shows a "shofar." It's a ram's horn used to make toots and squeaks to celebrate the new year. It's kind of a Jewish vuvuzela. You can hear a shofar here. Shofar humor is here and here
  • In Hebrew the word for "she" is pronounced like "he" and the word for "he" is pronounced like "who." The word for "who" is pronounced like "me." The word for "fish" is pronounced kind of like "dog." (And you thought English was confusing?) My first name means "who is like God." I'm not sure if it's a question or a comparison. Maybe my parents chose the name because they thought I was divine prenatally.
Today is the first day of the Jewish year 5773. Like every other day, it's also the first day of the rest of your life, and my life. In the Jewish calendar, "days" (and holidays) start at sundown -- not a microsecond after midnight.

Adapted from jewfaq.org: The Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical phenomena: the rotation of the Earth around its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon around the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth around the sun (a year). These three phenomena are independent of each other, so they have no direct correlation. On average, the moon revolves around the Earth in about 29½ days. The Earth revolves around the sun in about 365¼ days -- about 12.4 lunar months.

In the Jewish calendar, months have either 29 or 30 days, corresponding to the 29½-day lunar cycle. Years have either 12 or 13 months, corresponding to the 12.4 month solar cycle -- which creates a problem.

A 12-month lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than a solar year and a 13-month lunar year is about 19 days longer than a solar year. The months drift around the seasons on such a calendar. To compensate for this drift, the Jewish calendar uses a 12-month lunar calendar with an extra month occasionally added.

Instead of the February 29th Leap Day (also known as Sadie Hawkins Day, when women are allowed to propose marriage to men) the Jewish calendar can have a leap month.
  • Jewish holidays that have fixed dates in the Jewish calendar have changing dates in the western "Gregorian" calendar. Most western Christian holidays, like Christmas, have fixed Gregorian dates. Easter, on the other hand, moves around. Supposedly Jesus's "last supper" was a Passover seder. Passover and Easter are usually close. Christmas and Chanukah (often inaccurately called the "Jewish Christmas") may be very close together, or weeks apart. In 2013, Chanukah starts on the evening of November 27 -- right before Thanksgiving. In 2016, Chanukah starts on the evening of December 24 -- which is also Christmas eve. More about Easter dates is here.
The year number on the Jewish calendar represents the number of years since creation, calculated by adding up the ages of people in the Bible, back to the beginning. This does not necessarily mean that the universe has existed for fewer than 6,000 years of about 365 days each. Even religious people readily acknowledge that the first six "days" of creation are not necessarily 24-hour days. A 24-hour day would be meaningless until the creation of the sun on the fourth "day."





Adapted from Wikipedia: Parts of 2012 and 2013 constitute the Year of the Dragoin the the Chinese calendar. It started on January 23. It's believed that the Chinese calendar has been in use for almost 5,000 years.

There is no universally agreed upon starting point for the Chinese calendar. Tradition holds that the calendar was invented by Emperor Huang-di in the 61st year of his reign in what is now known under the Gregorian calendar as 2637 BCE. Many people have used this date as the first year of the first 60-year cycle of the Chinese calendar, but others use the date of the beginning of his reign in 2697 BCE as the start. Chinese Americans use 2698 BCE as the basis for numbering the years. Some Chinese people are 60 years ahead (or behind) others.

Adapted from chinese.new-year.co.uk: The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the 12 years after an animal. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all of the animals to come to him before he departed from Earth. Only 12 came, and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality.



The Chinese calendar provides leap months, like the Jewish calendar. There was one in 2006. Jews and Chinese have much in common -- emphasis on family, education, entrepreneurship and love of Chinese food. During World War II, some Jewish refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe found safety in China. Shanghai Ghetto is a great movie about that period.
  • So, if according to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5773, and according to the Chinese calendar, the year is 4709, what did Jewish people eat for the first 1064 years until Chinese restaurants appeared?
Happy New Year to all my Heeb-bros and sisters!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Author Solutions is a $116 million pile of crap


Author Solutions, Inc. ("ASI") says it is the "world leader in the fastest growing segment of publishing," "the leader in self-publishing," "the world’s leading provider of professional self-publishing services," and that it publishes "one of every 15 book titles published in the US every year."

ASI was recently sold to Pearson PLC, the parent of 'traditional' publisher Penguin Group, for $116 million. The seller was  Bertram Capital Management LLC, a private equity company.

ASI has become the colossus of self-publishing by combining former competitors including AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse, Wordclay and Trafford. ASI is the "private-label" self-pub service provider for traditional publishers Hay House, Thomas Nelson and Harlequin. ASI also operates Abbott Press for Writer's Digest magazine.

Publishing and business observers aware of the price and the purchaser said that the deal showed that self-publishing has become legitimate and respectable. 

I have zero respect for ASI, and am losing respect for Penguin.

I criticized the Xlibris brand of Author Solutions for producing a crappy book, with no screening or editing. I also slammed the idots at the AuthorHouse imprint for producing a terrible press release.

I found the following on the home page of the Author Solutions website. It's a promo for a couple who are apparently happy with their publishing experience.
It's too bad that no one in the support team of "experienced professionals" noticed the unnecessary apostrophe in "The Wormley's."

A corporate website intended to win new business -- especially for a book company -- should not have bad grammar. If the company can't get its own website right, can you trust them with your book?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wow! This is the 1501st post on this blog.

I started blogging way back in the Jurassic era -- 2006. My newest blog started this year. The blog you are now reading has been 'on the air' since September of 2008, when I started my own tiny publishing company.

At one time I wrote five blogs a day. It was compulsion, not fun. Some of my blogs lasted just a few days, or months. Others ran for years. I've blogged about history, politics, food, cars, watches, clothes, sports, scams, death, medicine, travel, telecommunications, stupidity, funny stuff, fun stuff, feminism, religion, sex, family, pens, gadgets, doctors, stores, cameras and, of course, books.

Publishing has changed a lot even in the few years since this blog started.

Self-publishing has become much more respectable and more important. I've published many more books than I planned to (but some planned books have not been published). E-book readers have evolved from expensive geek toys to ubiquity. I've gone from ignoring e-books, to hating e-books, to tolerating e-books, to embracing e-books.

Some of my blog posts were later used in books. Parts of some books were later used as blog posts.

Here's what I wrote the first time: 
 
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Many writers have become publishers. Ben Franklin did it. Mark Twain did it. Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein did it. Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for various things, also did it.

And so did I.

It's not usually an indication of failure or desperation.

Mark Twain became his own publisher because he felt another publisher cheated him.

I've had deals with three book publishers in the past.

♦ One cheated me.

♦ One tried to cheat me.

♦ One didn't cheat me, but the book that finally came out was so unlike what I had expected it to be, I was sorry I got involved. I also didn't make much money, and had to wait a long time for the little money that I did get.

♦ The one that did cheat me did such a bad job on the book that I refused to let him put my name on it.

Self-publishing is booming in the early 21st century, for several reasons:

♦ It's part of a general cultural and technical trend that removes middlemen between creative people and their audiences. Musicians bypass record companies and make CDs to sell at concerts, and put recordings online for downloading by fans. Bloggers reach readers without needing newspapers or magazines to publish their words. Videographers can reach a worldwide audience on YouTube. Thousands of people, businesses and organizations publish e-zines, websites, catalogs and newsletters without professional assistance.

♦ Because of consolidation in the publishing business, it has become much harder for a new author to get published. Book publishing is now dominated by the so-called “Gang of Six” publishers that publish about half of the dollar volume of American books, and dominate the shelf space in bookstores. Book publishers seldom take risks today; they like to be sure a book will sell well.

There are lots of reasons why writers want to be their own publishers. Here are some:

♦ Complete control: the author determines the title, the cover design, the page size, the number of pages, the price, the marketing plan, the publication date, everything.

♦ Personal attention: at a big publishing house, a new book from an unknown author may get little or no attention from the sales force that is responsible for dozens or hundreds of books. A self-publishing author can concentrate on one book, and can work as hard as she or he wants to in promoting the book to the public, booksellers, the media and book reviewers.

♦ Complete freedom: self-publishing allows authors to write about anything they want to, without needing approval from anyone.

♦ Speed: with conventional publishing, it can take years to find an agent and a publisher. With self-publishing, a book can be in stores a few weeks after it is written.

♦ Durability: the author determines how long a book remains on the market.

♦ Up-to-dateness: the author determines when a new edition should be published.

♦ Regular income: with conventional publishing, royalty checks (if there are any) arrive twice a year. With self-publishing, money can come in every day, week or month, depending on the sales channels.

♦ Higher income: most book royalties pay about 8% of the cover price. Self-published authors can make more money, even from books that sell for lower prices.

These are the main reasons I established Silver Sands Books to publish my own books.

As of September, 2008, I have started writing five books. Two are nearly completed.