Monday, September 30, 2013

Got damn it! "Got" has got to be used less often.



"Got" is a short word. It doesn't take up much space or require much typing, but it usually adds NOTHING when combined with "have," "has" or "ve." (Sometimes the "have," "has" or "ve" is merely implied, not said.)

Sometimes, "got" is perfect English, but it seems to be imperfect more often.

The sloppy "got" is pervasive. It has invaded
music, television, movies, advertising, government, food, clothing -- even religion. "Got" often makes the speaker or writer seem like a semi-literate hillbilly, ghetto-dweller or recent immigrant.

Think carefully before you use "got."

Does it add anything important to the following?

I've got to go.
You've got a friend in Pennsylvania.
I've got your six.
America has got your six
I've got you, babe.
You've got me.
You got me.
I got it. 
He got game.
America's got talent.
She's got what it takes.

As sloppy English becomes more widespread, it seems normal and acceptable. That's a shame.






























From http://www.gotyour6.org: "In the military, 'Got your six' means 'I’ve got your back.' The saying originated with World War I fighter pilots referencing a pilot’s rear as the six o’clock position. It is now a ubiquitous term in the military that highlights the loyalty and cooperation found in military culture. Inspired by this sentiment, the Got Your 6 campaign creates opportunities for veterans and civilians to join together to reinvigorate our communities. The Got Your 6 campaign embodies the values of duty, selfless service, and mutual respect upheld by those who have served in our military."

That's wonderful, but it's sloppy English, and it's unnecessarily sloppy.

(below) Sadly, even a book for prospective teachers got it wrong.


(below) But some farmers got it right. HURRAY!




Here's a good explanation of "got" v. "have" from Grammar Diva Arlene Miller
Here's a defense of "got" from Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sometimes typography 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.



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Some semi-random book title tips, and some plugs



(above) Every baby needs a name and every book needs a title. Many book titles are cliché phrases which seem to be absolutely perfect for a particular book. Unfortunately, many cliché phrases are absolutely perfect for lots of books, and a title can’t be copyrightedMore than a dozen different books are titled Caught in the Middle. I met Deborah Burggraaf, the author of a very good one, on a plane trip. If you like her title, you can use it, too—but please don’t.

Both Danielle Steel
 and Queen Noor of Jordan wrote books called Leap of Faith. At least five books are titled Fatal Voyage. At least four books, two songs and a movie are named Continental Drift. At least 24 books are titled Unfinished Business. You can write books with those titles, too—but please don’t.

If you want to call your next masterpiece Holy Bible, Hamlet, War and Peace, From Russia with Love or The Da Vinci Code, you can. You might get sued. You might win, but it won’t be a pleasant experience. You’ll probably also confuse and annoy a lot of people—so try to come up with something original.

An identifying term in a book series can be trademarked. If you publish The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Harry Potter, you’ll probably be sued by two publishing companies, and lose twice.

Some people think it’s bad luck to announce a pregnancy before the baby is born. Others start blabbing and buying baby clothes on the day after conception. There is similar disagreement about announcing a book’s title long in advance. You may think that you should keep your title secret so nobody copies your idea. But the loss of advance publicity and the delay in moving up through search engine rankings is probably worse than helpi­­ng a twin title. If you think you have a hot title, try to publish fast, and maybe your book will be on sale before another one with the same title.

One possibly bright note: if another book has the same title but better publicity, people searching for that book may find your book by accident and buy it.

Come up with about a dozen possible titles. Print them up in big type, one title per page. Hang them on the wall. Stare at them. Close your eyes and say the words and analyze what you visualizeor don't visualize. Within a few minutes, you’ll likely eliminate a third of the titles.

Try multiple variations of your favored titles with minor differences, just changing or dropping a word. Sometimes substituting a shorter word will mean that your title can take up two lines instead of three, so you can use bigger type or a bigger cover photo or both. “Club” and “group” take up less space than “organization.” “Pasta” is shorter than “macaroni.” It's OK to use a single-character ampersand instead of a three-character "and" in a title.

When you get down to two or three "finalists," make dummy book covers with appropriate type and artwork. Print them out and wrap them around real books (even if you plan to publish e-only). Hold them at different angles. Carry them around with you. Ask typical purchasers (if you know some) what the titles mean to them. In 2008 I was shocked to learn that people completely misinterpreted my favored title for a future book. I changed it and the book has sold very well.



(above) Here’s an early concept and final version of one of my books. Try for a title that calls for action. The cover that starts with a bold “GET THE MOST” is much stronger than the wimpy “How to Get . . .”

(below) The ebook version has an even stronger title, How to not get Screwed by a Self-Publishing Company. I could have made it "Don't Get Screwed . . ." Maybe I'll change it.




If you’re writing a nonfiction book, the subject will suggest the book’s title. The subject has to be in the title to attract browsers in stores if your books are sold there. The subject-in-title is also critical for online shoppers searching for keywords or key phrases in search engines or on websites. Assuming the core of your title is something like “auto repair,” “retirement” or “sailing,” you need just a few words to fill it out. Some typical phrases are “learn about,” “all about,” “how to,” “plan for,” “introduction to” and “buyers guide.”

(below) Try this handy Title Generator Table to get started. Pick one item from each column:



Any of those titles should make it very clear what your book is about, and—except for the sex—would also be boring and forgettable. With nonfiction, strive for a title that explains the book’s benefits and the problems it solves. Try to inject a little bit of humor, whimsy, mystery or novelty. Find something that will separate your book from competitors’ books without hiding its subject.

(below) Search engines can help you choose words to go in your nonfiction book’s title and subtitle to improve online “searchability.” In the examples below for a book about “vitamin deficiency,” Bing and Google revealed popular related search terms that will help you choose words to appeal to potential book buyers.


(below) Whoopi Goldberg is both funny and smart. Her book’s title, Book, is only slightly funny, and not at all smart.  It provides no indication of the subject (“Whoopi!” might have been a better title). A Google search for “book” shows over ONE BILLION links. Most are not for Whoopi’s book.




(below) Sometimes a title like Star Crossed seems "blah" and forgettable in simple textbut absolutely ignites when combined with the right graphics. Using a title that depends on a visual image to go from "eh" to "WOW!" is a gamble; but this image, while subtle, is so powerful and unforgettable that I think the gamble was worthwhile.


The simple title is absolutely perfect, and intriguing for Bette Isacoff's new memoir about religious intermarriage. Bette was a 21-year-old Catholic student teacher who fell in love with a 17-year-old Jewish student (who lived across the street from me in New Haven). This was in 1968, when Jews and Catholics rarely married each other, and there was lots of opposition. Bette and Richard rebelled, got married and are still very much in love. I'm not exactly macho, but I seldom read love stories or chick-lit; however I strongly recommend Bette's book—and love her title and cover.

(below) Your title should not promise to reveal secrets unless it really does. Few “secrets” are secret—and no secrets are secret after even one person reads your book.


(below) Unlike nonfiction, keywords don’t matter for fiction, humor or poetry titles. You just want something distinctive and mem­orable.  Short is often better than long.



(above) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a great short title. So is I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Zac Bissonnette’s How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better-Looking Than Your Parents and Erma Bombeck’s The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank  are great long titles.

Pick words that sound good together. People like and remember alliterations. If your title uses the name of a fictional character, pick a name that will help your book. Saving Silverman beats Saving Berkowitz. The Great Gatsby beats The Great Murphy. With actual names, you can do an alliteration like The Obama Overture or The Kennedy Killing.

Avoid awkward word combinations like “and end,” “usually use” and “be because” on and in the book.

(Mostly for nonfiction) The subtitle gives you a second chance to sell your book. It’s very important online, and in stores. Pick a good one. Sometimes a title and a subtitle can be switched, or a new title can combine elements of both.



(above) You can also have a 'fake' subtitle loaded with keywords that would be ugly on a cover, but are very effective for capturing searchers on Amazon.com. Publishing expert Aaron Shepard is a wizard with long subtitles. He has a lot to teach you. Pay attention.

I once modified a subtitle on Amazon long before I changed what was printed on the book. No one complained.

The subtitle printed on the cover of Fundamentals of Public Administration is “A Blueprint for Nigeria Innovative Public Sector: Understanding the dynamics and concepts of Public Policy Administration, Local Government Administration in developing countries, Servant Leadership in Public Sector, Leadership, Budgeting and Financial Fiscal Responsibility in the Public Sector.” I think that’s a bit too much.


Want more book tips? Buy my 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice: