.

.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

You can work on two books on the same day. Maybe three


Many writers think they have several books "in them." Usually they are written in sequence, and trouble with one book can delay starting the next one.


As an alternative, consider working on two or more books at the same time. Lots of people read several books during the same week, changing books whenever they feel like it. There's no reason not to switch the books you're writing, too.


This way, if you you hit a writer's block and stall on one book, or simply get out of the mood, you can switch books and keep being productive.


This doesn't work all the time, but if the books are very different the change can be both relaxing and stimulating. I once simultaneously wrote a humor book and a technical book. I'm now working on several books about publishing plus a food book and a religion book.


Also, you may find that a concept or some actual words in Book A can be used in Book B. Or maybe even give you an idea to write Book C.


What was going to be my Book C became my Book B, but parts of B are in C, and A gave me the ideas for D and E.


And, even if you're working on just one book, you can skip around within the book. If you're having trouble with Chapter 3, work on a chapter that happens later in the book, or go back and edit chapter 1.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Finding seven mistakes in a book is better than finding just one.
And, a disgusting worm riddle

(OOPS -- not ready for prime time.)


A while ago I received a fifth-generation proof of my book, Independent Self-Publishing: the complete Guide.

I'd already gone through the book dozens of times, and was reasonably sure that the latest proof would be good enough to approve for printing and selling. It was already a few weeks late (which is normal).

As soon as Bill, our UPS driver, delivered the box from Lightning Source, my printer, I gave it to Dave. He's my youngest employee and has better vision than I have. He also has good artistic judgment and his mother owned a bookstore. Hawkeyed Dave studied each page, and spotted one line of text that was not indented properly in a paragraph with a "hanging indent."



The error (above) was annoying, but not terrible, and one error in 520 pages was not sufficient for me to "stop the presses."

When Dave finished his page flipping, it was my turn.

I was horrified to find a page with ghastly word spacing:


In the book, I point out that it's difficult to achieve good word spacing in a narrow piece of justified text, and I offer some suggestions for solving the problem. I was amazed to see that I had missed this ugly page. It's actually no worse than what is printed in most newspapers and in some books I've seen -- but is unacceptable in a book that preaches the importance of producing good-looking books.

I quickly decided that I could not let the book reach the public in its present form, and read on.

I ultimately found seven pages that could be improved. Other than the page with the bad word spacing, none of the seven would have been bad enough for me to delay publication by a week, but taken together, I had good reasons not to approve the book.

And... as long as I was fixing up the interior of the book, I asked my artist to make some little fixes on the cover. There were three little bits that had bugged me. I doubt that anyone else would have noticed them. But as long as I was going to delay publication to fix the inside of the book, I may as well use the opportunity to fix the outside, too.

No book is perfect -- not even books produced by the big guys in Manhattan -- but it's important for my books (and all books) to be as close to perfect as possible. Because I found seven things to fix, the resulting book is better than if I had found just one problem and decided to ignore it.
_ _ _ _

OK, it's time for an old but appropriate joke:

Q: What's worse than biting into an apple and seeing a worm?

A: Biting into an apple and seeing half a worm.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

My nominations for the two most disgusting bits of literature ever published


Would you want to read any more of Rainbow Gliding Hawk and the Last Stand of the Patriarch by Doug Lambeth after encountering the first page of the first chapter?

The vomit warmth reaches through the shiny leather and as my toes begin to sweat, I pray that rental tuxedo shoes are water/puke proof. I wonder if they’re Gore-tex lined? “It’s just puke,” I say, and to punctuate the point Dirk retches his remaining stomach contents onto my feet.



The next gem is from The Wayward Comrade and the Com­missars, by Yurii Karlovich Olesha.

How pleasant my life is. Ta-ra. Ta-ra. My bowels are elastic. Ra-ta-ta. Ta-ra-ree. My juices flow within me. Ra-tee-ta. Doo-da-da. Con­tract, guts, contract. Tram-ba-ba-boom! (I wrote a book report on this one when I was in junior high school.)

It's probably best to minimize the disgusting stuff unless you're writing for doctors or children.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Should you provide inscriptions and autographs? Do you know the difference? How can you sign an ebook?


I personally have never been an autograph collector, but I do have a few autographed books on my shelves which I got by accident. Lots of people like autographs, apparently to prove or imply that they were once in the same place as a famous person. If readers put you in the same category as Mickey Mantle, Marilyn Monroe or John Lennon, play along with it — no matter how much your wrist hurts.

If you are selling your books from your own website, competing with other booksellers that underprice you, you may be able to justify your price by including your signature and maybe an inscription.

Autographs (just your name) and inscriptions (a comment plus your name) can go on the flyleaf (a thicker-than-normal blank right page just inside the front cover in a hardcover book) or on the half title ("bastard title") or title page; so always leave adequate “white space” up front.

I've never done a formal signing, but I do sell (and sometimes give) books with inscriptions. I try to write something that relates to the book and/or the recipient. For my books on telecommunications, I often write "I hope you never get a wrong number." When a humorous book goes to a doctor, I write "laughter is the best medicine." When my memoir goes to people I know nothing about, I often write "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." Long inscriptions are probably wrong if you have 200 people lined up in a bookstore, but are fine if you are sending out one or two copies with no time pressure.

Several systems have been suggested for signing ebooks. Here's one. And another.

Here's some good advice about book signings from publishing expert Dick Margulis:
  1. Find a black-ink pen that you really like to write with. It should not be such a fine point that you risk snagging on the surface of the paper and ripping it. It should not be an ink that bleeds through the page. It should allow for a smooth, fluid, comfortable motion with little pressure. Buy a box of them. (Note from Michael: I like Sarasa 0.7 and Pilot Precise V7 pens.)
  2. You do not need to use your real, legal signature. Devise a brief, casual signature (just your first name is usually fine, and legibility is not necessary) that you can turn out consistently and quickly while looking at the person for whom you are signing (rather than at the page). Bigger is better than smaller. Practice until it's comfortable.
  3. Keep your wrist straight (to prevent injury). Move your arm from your shoulder, not from your elbow (larger muscles in your upper arm than in your forearm).
  4. Warm up beforehand. Stand up. Do whatever stretches and rotations you would normally do to relax your neck and shoulders. Let your arms hang loosely for your shoulders and wiggle them, paying particular attention to keeping your hands loose.
  5. Take breaks. Stand up and shake out your arms again.
  6. After the session, go to your hotel room and ice your elbow and shoulder for twenty minutes before you agree to meet anyone for dinner.
  7. If only five people show up, ignore everything above, because it's overkill in that situation.
(Back to Michael:) any time you sign or send a book, stick in three to six business cards that show the book cover and "at Amazon and B&N" or your website address if you prefer to sell directly. Make it easy for happy customers to recommend the book to others. While some of the cards may be used as bookmarks, crumb sweepers or be thrown away, I assume that some will be passed on to potential purchasers.

I get my cards from VistaPrint, a major maker of business cards and other printed products for businesses which I've been buying from for many years. For the card shown here, I uploaded a TIF image copied from the PDF of my cover. The book is 6 x 9 inches, and fits fine on the business card with a little white space above and below the cover image for promotional copy.

The price was just $25 for 1500 cards -- less than two cents each with rush shipping. If you spend a little more, you can have VistaPrint use the space on the back to print some blurbs from readers or reviewers who like the book.

My wife and I carry the cards around to give to possible "customers." Marilyn has turned out to be an excellent salesperson. She motivated our dentist to order a copy from Amazon and I signed it for him when I had my teeth cleaned. My podiatrist, however, asked for a freebie. I gave it to him and he displays it in his office. So does my urologist. Nice.

(Gingrich photo from WashingtonPost.com. Thanks.)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Proofread your books in multiple media. Even ebooks should be checked on paper.


While you'll spot many errors in a book manuscript when it's displayed on a computer screen, you'll probably detect even more when it's printed on paper -- like a real book.

In  2008, when I started in self-publishing, POD printer Lightning Source charged $30 for each generation of a proof that I submitted. The fee included next-day shipping (after about three days of their working and waiting), and seemed fair. The Lightning Source website mentioned that a $40 fee could be applied for each file revision, but I was never charged the $40 in those days.


My books typically required about six revisions, and I was glad to be paying $30 each, not $70.


In 2009 one my books went through THIRTEEN generations of proofs, and I was shocked to be charged $30 for the first plus $70 for the next 12. I'd have to sell a lot of books to make up the additional $480 in revision fees. That's equal to the profit on about 60 books!


(I think that Lightning has lowered the price for printed proofs since the last time I used the service.)


I got smarter for my Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company. The book has 366 six-by-nine pages, and I paid Lulu.com just $11.82 for printing (much too high for normal books but OK for a proof) and $16.99 for "expedited" shipping. (Other shipping options range in price from $3.99 to $36.99, so if I was not in a hurry, I could've gotten a proof printed and delivered for just $15.81.)


CreateSpace will provide proofs for about $20, delivered. If you are planning to have CS print your books, you may as well let them provide proofs.


One day, after three brain-numbing read-throughs of a second-generation Lulu proof, I figured I was ready to upload my PDF files to Lightning so could start selling books.

I realized that it was destined to have as-yet-undiscovered errors, but I had not yet seen a proof with my "real" cover (l let Lulu print the proofs with a quick-and-dirty temporary cover) and was willing to make the investment to see a more-finished book.


Then I had a thought.


If I could get a printout on paper, I could give it one more read-through and make corrections over the weekend, and then upload the PDFs on Monday or Tuesday and still get a pretty proof from Lightning Source by the end of the week.


I was vaguely aware that some of the copy-and-ship franchised stores could print from a thumb drive. I did some checking online and was both surprised and thrilled to learn that UPS Stores (formerly Mailboxes Etc.)  could accept files as online uploads, and that there was a UPS store just seven  minutes from me.


I quickly established a UPS account online and uploaded the file. This was around noon, and I was informed that my print job would be ready by 4 p.m. The price was just $27.31, including three-hole punching and sales tax and file storage. At a little after 2 p.m. I received an email notifying me that the work was ready for me to pick up. $27.31 was more than the minimum $15.81 that I could have paid Lulu, but I received the "book" in hours--not ten days. It was less expensive--and faster--than the proof from Lightning.

Unlike a Lightning, Lulu or CreateSpace proof, the UPS proof didn't include a coated and colorful bound-on book cover. However, I quickly discovered that the three-hole-punched format is MUCH BETTER for proofing.


When put into a binder, the pages stay flat for reading and marking. And since my pages are formatted for 6 x 9 but UPS used 8.5 x 11-inch paper, there was plenty of extra space for my proofreader's marks and even for copy revisions. I really liked being able to insert tabbed dividers, and quickly started to use the pocket in the front cover to hold my red Sarasa editing pen, Post-Its, bookmarks and a small pad.

I had to go out of town the next day and knew I'd spend some time in my car waiting for my wife to shop. I took the binder with my proof, propped it up on the steering wheel, and got to work. It would have been much more difficult to do this with a normal bound book.


By page 173 I found at least 200 things to fix which I had not noticed on my monitor or in the Lulu proofs. 


It's very important to check your books in multiple media: on-screen as a word-processing file and as a PDF, printed on plain paper, and as a bound volume. Each medium will reveal different errors. Even if you plan to publish only ebooks, paper proofs will help you get a bit closer to perfection.


No matter how many time you check your manuscript, there WILL be errors in your final pbook or ebook.
  • One problem that's almost invisible on PC monitors but can be seen in a printed book are sentences or paragraphs that are gray instead of black. Look closely.
  • And watch out for straight apostrophes and quote marks that really should be curly. This is a common problem when you copy and paste from text that was intended for Web use, where curlies are seldom used. The difference may be hard to spot on a PC screen, so ZOOOOOM up to 120 - 180% of normal size to make the errors stand out.
  • It's easy to accidentally copy-and-paste wrong typefaces from the web or other documents. Look very closely.
  • Also watch out for unintentional hyphens that may move from the end of a line to the middle of a line. This generally won't happen with automatic hyphenating. But if you manually insert a hyphen, and then shift text around, possibly by changing the size or position of a graphic element, hyphens can wander around the page.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sorry. A good story doesn't compensate for sloppy writing


Writers seeking readers should be very careful.

On an online forum for writers, editors and publishers, someone was trying to attract attention to a new book and get advice for promoting it. He wrote, "My first novel . . . . will soon be relaesed to Amazon, B&N and e-books."

That typing error is not a big deal, but it stands out like a sore thumb and could have been easily fixed before the world saw it. Also, a book is not released "to" e-books.

Sadly, these errors are part of a pattern of carelessness limiting the effectiveness of this new novelist who is trying to sell books in a very crowded field.
  • Some of the errors in one short blog post include "bias" instead of "biased," "wonderous" instead of "wondrous," "existance" instead of "existence," "Capitalism" instead of "capitalism," "was" instead of "were," "socio-economic" instead of "socioeconomic" and "hell bent" instead of "hell-bent."
  • In just a few paragraphs of his online book sample, he wrote "marines" instead of "Marines," "cake walk" instead of "cakewalk," "whaopping" instead of "whopping," "coffee-table" instead of "coffee table," "main-room" instead of "main room," "oak, dining table" instead of "oak dining table" and "table-lamp" instead of "table lamp." There is also improper punctuation.
The author is a good storyteller, but he's a careless author. His book was supposed to go on sale in a few days. Based on the online sample, the book -- like the cast of "Saturday Night Live" -- was not ready for prime time.

The publisher's website says, "Quality is our top concern." In an online forum, a representative of the publisher made multiple errors in English. That's not a good sign. I am not confident in the prospects for this book. I hope a good editor was eventually hired to work on it.

------
photo from Microsoft clipart

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My $2k GE fridge pees on the floor. My dog cost $0 and is smart enough to pee outside.



In the mid-1960s, I bought an old GE refrigerator for my college apartment. I paid $35 for it, and sold it three years later for $50. It's probably still working.

It had to be defrosted manually, did not dispense water or ice through the door, never needed a repair, and always did its job.


More recently, my wife and I spent about two grand on a beautiful stainless steel top-of-the-line GE "Profile Arctica" fridge.
  • This afternoon, it will have repair visit number 44! I will pay $75 to American Home Shield to send a repair guy who actually works for Sears.
  • The "frost-free" freezer section sometimes needs to be manually defrosted.
  • The fridge sometimes dispenses water and ice through the door and often dispenses water onto the floor -- causing people to slip, slide and fall.
  • NASA has delivered photos of ice on Pluto from three billion miles away. Sometimes my fridge can't deliver real ice from one foot away!
  • The fridge sometimes dispenses water onto the wood cabinetry -- causing it to rot. The fridge is destroying my kitchen!
  • Water has leaked through our kitchen floor and ruined ceiling tiles in the basement.
  • The fridge needs three or four service visits each year.
  • The water dispensing feature had to be fixed in July, and stopped working again about ten days ago.
  • GE has twice failed to sell its appliance division to competitors who might manage it better.
The fridge is a beautiful and expensive PIECE OF SHIT. (Like our Dacor pro-style gas range.)

I recently bought a water filter for the fridge. With tax, it cost me $42.27. That's more than I spent to have my fail-proof GE college fridge for three years.

Progress? HAH!

GE: "Imagination at work." YEAH, SURE. A refrigerator that pisses on the floor is very imaginative. My dog is smarter than my fridge -- he goes outside the house to piss.

GE: "We bring good things to life." BULLSHIT. Not to my life.

GE: "For more than a century, GE has been committed to producing innovative products that change the way people live." I'M LIVING WORSE.

GE: "The result of thorough research and rigorous testing, GE appliances are designed for years of dependable performance." BULLSHIT.

GE: "advanced appliances to improve people's lives." BULLSHIT. 

GE: "Leading the Way to a Better Future."  FUCK YOU.

The fridge has miserably failed its "implied warranty of merchantability and fitness." I want a free replacement plus repair of our damaged kitchen and basement.

GE has frequently promised to follow-up on my complaints, and has done NOTHING.


----------
(old fridge photo from "markrto" on ebay.com)

Monday, December 14, 2015

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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




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


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


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


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

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



 - - - - 

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



Friday, December 11, 2015

Writers: The year is almost over, but it's not too late to reduce your income tax



It's still early December, but April 15th is getting closer every second. 

What you do today -- and every day -- will affect what you pay and what you keep next spring.

There's a lot to misunderstand about income taxes. However, my birthday is April 15th, so I am particularly qualified to give tax advice. I don't know everything, however. If you need help in setting up bank accounts in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, ask Mitt Romney.

Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I had a simple formula that worked very well (i.e., no audits ever, and refunds every year):
  1. No more than 10% for the feds.
  2. No more than 5% for the state.
  3. No more than 1% for the city.
For 14 years I've been in Connecticut. There are no city taxes, but life is more complicated. I pay my accountant about $400 for a few hours work necessary to produce my annual business and personal federal and state returns. After much scientific number crunching, he still comes up approximately with the same percentages I established 40 years ago.

I'll pass on a tip for a deduction I developed while working as an advertising copywriter and have continued to use as a webmaster, writer and publisher.

EVERY piece of media you consume should be deducted in the range of 25% to 100%. Deduct movies, CDs, games, concerts, artwork, vacations, MP3 players, big TVs, books, magazines, newspapers, iPad, smart phone, museum visits... all that stuff that helps you stay aware of trends in culture.


Years ago my father owned a chain of clothing stores. He once considered deducting his subscription to Playboy (which did provide news and advice about men's fashions among the airbrushed large-breasted babes). Alas, he was afraid to list a skin mag on his tax return, so he sent too much money to the IRS.  I have no such reluctance -- and may have bigger cojones.


With proper classifications, you can probably get Uncle Sam to subsidize porn, booze and hallucinogens.

Here's some more advice of uncertain value:
  1. A successful small business is one that breaks even each year, with a slightly higher gross income.
  2. Big profits are nice if you're trying to sell the business, but not when you're filing your income tax return.
  3. Write about stuff you like, whether it's wine, sports cars, clothes, travel, cameras, horse racing or sex. Then you can deduct everything you spend on fun -- if you classify it as "research."
  4. There's almost nothing that's too crappy to donate to Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army and claim an appropriate deduction for. Bill Clinton was criticized for claiming a deduction for donating used underwear. I'm not the president and don't care what Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh will say about me. I lost a lot of weight a few years ago, and I donated lots of oversized underwear. Washed, of course.
  5. If you are bad about saving money for a rainy day, it’s tempting to let Uncle Sam save money for you. I did that for years, and even earned interest on the money that was due me. Now there is a limit to how long you can let your money sit in Fort Knox (or wherever they keep the surplus) and the IRS may assess a penalty just for filing late, even if you don't owe anything, so check with a pro. Also: your state tax people may be tougher than the IRS.
I am  not a professional tax adviser  I'm more of a professional wiseass (who usually gets away with his wiseassing).

I put a lot of what I've learned into an ebook. It can save you many times its low cost. 

Writers Can Get Away With Apparently Absurd Tax Deductions That Ordinary People Can't

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Authors: consider an "out-of-town" tryout for your book. Don't let it flop on Broadway.



Traditionally, theatrical productions that were headed to New York's Broadway "tried out" out-of-town, often in Boston and New Haven. In those cities the writer, director, composer and producers could observe audience reactions and make changes before the show was presented for the New York audience and critics.

When I was in junior high school in New Haven in the early 1960s, I saw many tryouts at the Shubert Theatre. My friends and I paid $1.20 to sit in the second balcony, and sometimes sneaked down to better seats -- even box seats -- if no one else claimed them.

  • Self-publishing authors have an advantage over authors who work with traditional publishing houses because they can have an "off-Broadway" tryout, just like a drama or a musical.

With minimal expense, you can get a few dozen copies of your pbook or ebook, and distribute them to friends, relatives, librarians, booksellers, consultants, agents, other writers, teachers, experts -- anyone whose opinions you respect.

You'll probably get lots of good advice that will influence your final text and covers, and you might even get compliments that can be used as "blurbs" to help promote the final version of the book.

One of my books had a limited release in late 2008. While I was pleased with it, and it got consistently good reviews, I realized that the title confused some readers (it's a quote from one of my crazy teachers). I also realized that one chapter should be replaced with other material and I should shift some of the front matter to the back so people would reach the "meat" of the book sooner.

I also decided to add some material and I lowered the price. The new book has gotten great reviews and thousands of copies have been sold worldwide as a paperback, hardcover and ebook.

If my "out-of-town" version became my "Broadway" version, the book would likely have been a flop.



(Top illustration from old Shubert program at the University of South Carolina)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Authors: keep your ego off your book covers until you are famous



A while ago I was speaking to a "book shepherd," a woman who guides wannabe authors through the publishing process. She works with writers with a wide range of ability, experience, expectation and ego. She said that many writers have such strong egos that they expect their portraits to be on their front covers. 

Some authors deserve this super-star treatment but not many, and certainly not many newbies.
  • If you are writing your first novel or a book of poems, it's highly likely that very few people have ever heard of you and that neither your portrait nor your name will provide a good reason for anyone to invest money and time in reading your precious words. It's much more important to have a great title and cover design.
  • If you're writing nonfiction, whether about the Korean War, cooking pizza or climbing mountains, unless you are famous for achievements in the subject you are writing about, neither your name nor face are likely to convince anyone to invest money and time in reading your precious words. It's much more important to have a great title and cover design.

(above) If you are as famous as Martha Stewart or Suze Orman, and an expert in the field you are writing about, by all means put your portrait on the cover.


(above) If you're famous mainly for being famous, it's critical that your smiling face be on the cover of your books.


(above) If you have a lot of fame or a bit of fame and your physical image will enhance the mood of the book, put your pic on the cover.


(above) If you're famous for your written or spoken words, your face belongs on your book covers -- even if you're dead.


(above) If you're well-known for politics, your image gets to smile at book shoppers.


(above) Everyone who wants to be president of the USA -- or to be remembered for what was accomplished while president -- is assumed to be a professional writer. Fortunately ghostwriters are readily available to aid the inept. The photo on the cover shows the politician, not the actual writer, and sometimes serves as a campaign poster.


(above) Sometimes, not often, books by presidential hopefuls do not have faces facing readers.


(above) If your main claim to fame is that you impregnated a relative of a politician, sure, put your photo on the cover.


(above) If you're not famous, but your appearance adds credibility and implies expertise, sure, put yourself on the cover.


(above) If you're not famous and the presumed audience for your memoir consists of people you know, your portrait certainly won't hurt sales. This is a very interesting book, by the way. I recommend it.



(above) Unfortunately, many authors use amateur photos with bad poses, bad lighting, bad focus and distracting backgrounds -- on a bad hair day. The book shown above may be the worst book ever published, so the horrid author photo is sadly appropriate.


(above) Even a well-done photo may be inappropriate if the person has no known connection to the subject of the book. This cover has another, bigger problem -- the text is extremely difficult to read. Also, the circular necklace ornament right in the center is distracting.


(left) My newest book shows my highly modified face on the front cover. It's a very personal book, so it's appropriate for my face to be there. If I was writing about Richard Nixon, chocolate cake or the Peloponnesian Wars, my face would be on the back.

Here's some advice from Hobie Hobart of Bowker (the ISBN and book research company): Many authors think that putting their picture on the front cover will make them famous. This is not necessarily so. Unless you are well known in the media, bookstore buyers will not accept your book which pictures you on the front cover. However, if you are selling exclusively to a tight niche where you are well known, or your intention is to start branding yourself to a specific market, your photo on the front cover or the spine can be an advantage. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Don't use the "poor man's copyright." It's a waste of postage, time and hope.



The practice of mailing a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.”

Ignorant authors, composers and artists assume that the postal service’s cancellation date on the stamped envelope proves that the document inside was created prior to the cancellation date, and that creators can use that date in a suit for copyright violation.

Its cost is merely the price of a stamp (currently 49 cents in the USA) and an envelope (currently as little as 40 for a buck at Dollar Tree).

While 52 cents is much less than the $35 cost of a real copyright from the U.S. Library of Congress, the 52 cents is a complete waste of money, time and emotion. It accomplishes nothing!
  • The scheme has a fundamental flaw because anyone can mail an empty, unsealed envelope, receive it, store it and years later insert a document and seal the stamped-and-canceled envelope. Judges and defense attorneys know this. 
Strangely, the technique is still recommended even though there is no provision in the American copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and the “poor man’s copyright” is not a substitute for proper registration with the Library of Congress.

The poor man's myth survives and is perpetuated by ignorant publishing 'experts.'
  • Helen Gallagher’s fault-filled book, Release Your Writing, mentions the poor man’s copyright as a supplement to a real copyright to prove when a document was created. It’s a waste of postage.
  • The following dangerous and naive misinformation was posted on the Facebook page of Peppertree Press, and on the blog of Peppertree boss Julie Ann Howell: "My favorite way to copyright might sound old fashioned; however... it works. Print out your manuscript and then mail it to yourself and do not open it. Tuck it away in a drawer. It will stand up in a court of law." BULLSHIT! 
  • An inaccurate website called US Intellectual Property Law says a poor man's copyright "can be helpful in some instances." BULLSHIT!
  • (above) Nathan, a foolish "writer and film director" provides visual instructions for achieving non-protection on the YouTube ExpertVillage channel. He is not an expert on copyrights.
  • On the Kidlit.com blog, former literary agent Mary Kole wrote: "print your document out and mail it to yourself. Keep the sealed, postmarked envelope around in the unlikely case that a dispute arises."

The poor man's copyright process is not the only copyright myth.

Some people believe that a creative work must be registered with the government to be protected by copyright. That’s not true. Your precious work is legally protected from copycats from the moment of creation without your having to fill out any forms or having to pay even one penny to the Feds. Your work is copyrighted even if you don’t put the © copyright symbol on it.

However, there are still advantages to going through a formal copyright registration, particularly if you end up suing for copyright infringement.

Copyright registration is voluntary. Many people choose to register their works because they want to have the facts of their copyright as a public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. If registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. Registration within 90 days gives you the most protection.

The fee for filing a copyright application online, using the new electronic Copyright Office (eCO), is just $35. The fee is $65 if you register with a paper application.
  • Self-publishing companies often charge much more to get a copyright. CrossBooks charges $204. Xlibris charges $249 or more. Schiel & Denver (apparently defunct) charged $250.
  • Online legal services supplier LegalZoom charges $149.
  • It takes less than 15 minutes to register a copyright online with the Library of Congress. 
By custom (not by law), if you publish a book during the last three or four months of the year, you can use a copyright date of the next year. This makes the book seem to be a year fresher as it ages. However, DON’T register it until the year shown in the book.

Copyright Office websitewww.copyright.gov 
Electronic Copyright Office: www.copyright.gov/eco/notice.html 
Physical Address:
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
Phone: 202-707-3000

More: DBA, LLC, INC, ©, IRS, LOC, LCCN, ISBN, ETC.: What Indie Authors Need to Know About Dealing With the Government (Silver Sands Publishing Series)