Monday, February 29, 2016

Did Aachanon Publishing deserve to die? I think so.


In June of 2009 I published the following post:

Tom Lehrer is one of my literary gods.

Tom claims he “went from adolescence to senility, trying to bypass maturity.” He graduated from Harvard Magna Cum Laude at age 18 and made Phi Beta Kappa. He taught at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California, but is best known for hilarious songwriting, much of it political satire in the 1950s and 60s. His musical career was powerful but brief. He said he performed a mere 109 shows and wrote only 37 songs over 20 years. Britain’s Princess Margaret was a fan, and so am I. I can still sing Tom Lehrer lyrics I first heard in seventh grade. See www.tomlehrer.org.

In 1960 Tom wrote and sang, "Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell." That warning also applies to non-naughty words, and books, and signs, and websites.

It particularly applies to companies trying to sell publishing and editing services.

Today's Lehrer Award winner Aachanon Publishing says it is a self-publishing service provider that "provides all the necessary services for authors to make their book."

In a discussion of its editorial services, Aachanon says: "The copy-editors role is to help the reader grasp the author’s ideas, to prevent embarrassing errors and to ensure that the typesetter can do a good job."

If a real copy-editor checked that sentence, Aachanon might have avoided the embarrassing error of missing an apostrophe in "editor's."

Aachanon also says: "If you choose one of Aachanon’s professional editor to do your proofreading the proofreader will..."

Apparently the Aachanon editor was not professional enough to realize that "editor" should be "editors" and that a comma should have been inserted after "proofreading."

And Aachanon says: "we wiil send you a listing of self-publishing promotional professionals who will work with you."

If all of Aachanon's human editors were busy, a computer's spell-checker would have noticed "wiil."

In October of 211 I wrote the following about Aachanon. It apparently provided the least-expensive pbook publishing package.


I recently tried to visit the Aachanon website to see what's new. Here's what I found:


I certainly have sympathy for employees who lose jobs and authors who lose publishers. I can't feel very sorry for publishers who don't check spelling and get involved in suicidal price cutting.



Thursday, February 25, 2016

In the ebook era, don't neglect hardcover books

Books have always been extremely important to me. As the photo shows, even as a little kid, I used the bathroom as a library so not a moment of potential reading time was wasted. In 2016, the only piece of furniture I can visualize from the Bronx apartment my parents brought me home to in 1946 is a mahogany bookshelf. As a child with an early bedtime, I read books by flashlight under the blanket. Even now, I share my bed with my wife, our dog, and usually a book or my iPad or Kindle Fire.

Before TiVo gave me the ability to fast-forward, I always read during TV commercials. I read at most meals -- even at restaurants. Some people think it's rude. I think it's efficient.

I've always had a strong reverence for books. Maybe it comes from my parents, who were avid readers. As a Jew, I am part of "the people of the book." When I was in college, I sometimes spent food money on books (and on records, too, I admit). I was still building bookshelves two weeks before I was due to move out of my college apartment.

When I see books in the trash, I rescue them. When a friend's older brother and his buddies gathered around a barbecue grill at the end of the school year to burn their school books, I tried to rescue the books, but was blocked by superior force. Assholes!

I seldom think of sin, but if sins do exist, book burning is certainly high on the list.

After writing paperbacks since 1977 and ebooks since 2009, in 2011 I received a proof of my first hardcover, a new format for my "stories" book. The book feels very good. It looks beautiful, with a glossy dust jacket and the title and my name stamped in bright golden ink on the cloth covering the binding.

A hardcover book provides a special experience. Perhaps ebooks will replace paperbacks, but I don't think anything can replace hardcovers.

Torah scrolls are still handwritten, after thousands of years. Grave stones are still chiseled. Initials are still carved on trees. They should still be readable long after the last Kindle and Nook are recycled.

Even though I am the sole employee of my publishing company, this book seems about 96% as "professional" as a similar Tina Fey book from publishing giant Hachette. Even though I've seen my cover design and read the title hundreds of times, I can't resist holding it, feeling it and studying it. Even though I've read my own words hundreds of times, I can't resist reading again.

I got the idea to write this book way back when I was 11 or 12. I hope to become 70 in two months. I'm not sure if this book represents my life's work, but if it does, that's OK with me. I'm very proud of the book (I've never thought that pride is sinful.)  I honestly think it's a very good book and fortunately, so do the readers.

The hardcover book seems so much more "real" than other formats. I'm almost in awe of it and don’t want to mark it up with a red pen as I do with my paperback proofs. It would seem like defacing a library book -- and that's a sin.

I had no plan to publish this hardcover. I published it because of requests from people who had bought the paperback or ebook and wanted a hardcover to give as gifts. It's important to give readers what they want. I like giving it as a gift, too.

It doesn't cost much to produce a hardcover using print on demand from LightningSource. It gives me another format that some readers prefer, and it might impress book reviewers more than a paperback or ebook would.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Don't let your bad habits hurt your books



You probably know people with annoying habits like snapping fingers, popping gum and inserting “you know what I mean” between sentences.

Printed pages can reveal bad habits, too. Try to identify yours and purge them from your pages.

Almost every sentence from the mouth of my father, Buddy Marcus, was part of a lesson.

Dad was driven to explain things, but he was also driven to keep talking long after the point was made.

I’m the same way. I’m pedantic like my Pop. I don’t like listeners who cheat and figure out the ending before I perform the finale. I tend to say and write too much to make a point.

One of my worst habits is giving too many examples. My natural tendency while discussing a bakery, steel mill or toy factory is to list six or more items it produces. I’ve given myself a three-item limit, and my writing is better because of it.

I often tell others to “learn when to shut up.” It’s good advice for me, too. Think of some advice you should follow.

Be aware of your eccentricities and don’t let them mess up your writing. 

  • Maybe you favor certain words—particularly certain weird words—and use them much too often.
  • Maybe your text is burdened with clichés, especially ancient clichés.
  • Maybe you use too much jargon to impress people with your knowledge. Simpler words could communicate better. Your readers should not have to keep referring to a dictionary.
  • Maybe you use infantile or juvenile terms like “stuff,” “my mom,” or “poop.”
  • Maybe you have an affection for ancient slang like “the fuzz,” “nifty” or “make the scene” that stands out like a sore thumb [that’s a deliberate use of a cliché].
Stick a Post-It Note with a list of your habitual offenses on the side or top of your monitor so you can try to avoid them. 

If you read a lot you’ll probably add to your vocabulary. Try some new words in your writing, and talking.



Pretentious words are just as wrong as juvenile words. Time magazine and William F. Buckley used to deliberately show off their alleged sophistication by using words that few people would understand.

Books are supposed to communicate. When trying to impress readers with your vocabulary, you may actually alienate them.

Eschew obfuscation.


---------------------------

(from my book, Self-Editing for Self-Publishers (What to do before the real editor starts editing -- or if you're the only editor). It's an Amazon Kindle e-book, readable on many e-reading devices, including computers. You don't need to own a Kindle to read it.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

If Dee Stewart doesn't know how to form the plural of "writer" and that "alotof" is not one word, I won't hire her as an editor


(copied and pasted from ChristianFiction.blogspot.com)

>>Hi, I’m Dee Stewart and I write Christian Fiction Blog to support writer’s of Christian Faith. I started Christian Fiction Blog in 2004 to help other writer’s deal with the sometimes overwhelming prospect of book promotion and book events marketing while still running a household and increasing in spiritual maturity.<<
  • Dee says she has been an editor "for ten years." An editor should know that it's "writers" -- not "writer's," "prospects" -- not "prospect," "cool" -- not "kewl," "event" -- not "events," and "faith" -- not "Faith." 
  • "Prior to raising my daughter, Selah(8,) I have spent over ten years as a publicist . . . ." should not use "have" before "spent." The parenthetical text needs to be fixed, too.
  • "alotof words" needs to be more words.
She won't get any editing business from me.

Editors who are promoting their business should make sure that their words don't need to be edited.

EPILOG: After writing this I learned out that Dee (who wrote as "Miranda Parker") died in 2012. Maybe it's wrong to criticize the dead, but her blog is still alive, and so is her bad writing -- possibly leading people to believe that her errors are acceptable.

Just as we need executors for our wills, writers need people to update their online lives when the writers are dead. This morning 
I read on Amazon.com that Dee/Miranda "resides with her family in Georgia near a horse ranch and her daughter's Girl Scout Troop. On a perfect day she can be found curled up with a good book or in a movie theater with a bucket of popcorn."

That sounds nice, but sadly it's no longer true. 



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The curse of Not-Quite-Ready-Yet

When I was writing for Rolling Stone in the early 1970s, I was always rewriting until the last possible minute. This was in the pre-fax, pre-email era, and I'd drive to the airport and pay to have my column air-freighted from NY to CA. There wasn't much profit left.

Words are almost toys for me, like a child's building blocks, Lincoln Logs (above), Lego or an Erector Set. I love to play with words, to rearrange them and try alternatives. Rewriting sentences and changing page formatting -- especially now with a computer -- is fun

The danger is that a perfectionist never finishes anything. Seeing good work as Not-Quite-Ready is a curse.

When I was working as an advertising copywriter, I was notorious for not "releasing" an ad until the last possible moment. Fortunately, someone older and wiser taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes "good enough" really is good enough, and I learned to let go.

Now, as the owner of a small publishing company, I have to be a businessman as well as an artist. I realize that no money will come in if I don't approve a proof and let a book start selling.

However, I seldom stop editing. I even re-do old blog entries (including this one).

The New Yorker magazine has an excellent article about Steve Jobs, which says that his real genius was tweaking -- not inventing. You can read it for free online.

I'm a tweaker, too, but being a tweaker can be dangerous because nothing is ever really finished. (When I was in college, I was still building bookshelves a week before I was due to move out of my apartment.)

Printing on demand and ebooks make it easy to keep tweaking. Maybe too easy.

With POD and e I can make improvements to my books whenever I want to.

Unfortunately, sometimes when I should be working on new books, I instead work on old ones.

Most of my books go through hundreds of revisions but the first one to be published is good enough to not embarrass me. A person who buys version 2.13 gets a better book than the person who bought 1.28, but I know that each version was "good enough" as of a particular moment. 

One time I decided to delay a book by a week so I could change a comma to a period and uppercase the next letter. I doubt that anyone else would have noticed the perceived imperfection -- but I could not let it be.

Steve Jobs, the ultimate tweaker, may have been more of a perfectionist than I am; and my iPad is better because of his obsession. I hope my books are perceived as better because of my obsession. One of my books is now over five years behind schedule. It's getting better and better.

I started writing Typography for Independent Publishers back in 2012. I wrote about 400 glorious pages and then -- for a reason I no longer remember -- I stopped working on it.

Last month I looked at the file and realized that I had written something really good that deserved to be published. I started feverishly editing and adding -- tweaking, in other words.

I uploaded it to Amazon at the end of January. It has consistently ranked in the Top One Hundred ebooks about book design although I've done no promotion and have not sought any reviews.

I'm still tweaking. It's getting better and better every day. It's not quite ready, but if you buy a copy now instead of a few days from now I will not be embarrassed by what you'll read.


(Illustration from The New Yorker)

Monday, February 15, 2016

How long will it take you to write and publish a book?


[above] I just saw this ridiculous ad from the horrid self-publishing company Author Solutions. It's similar to clickbait: misleading text intended to generate revenue for sleazy businesses.

Can you become a published author the same day you read the ad? Maybe, but not if you use the services of Author Solutions.


I got an email from another company telling me that, with its help, I could write and publish a book in 48 hours. Actually I know how to write and publish a book in less than one hour. It would be short, and not very good, but it would be a published book. So what.
-

You’ll probably encounter books, courses and seminars that allegedly teach you to write a book in an absurdly short length of time. Since it’s possible for a book to have just three words in it, it's actually possible to write a book in less than ten seconds!

However, most writers of “real” books take from three months to a year or more to write. And then the book requires more time for revising, editing, designing and marketing.

Books from traditional publishing companies typically take a year or two to go on sale -- after the author submits a manuscript. Independent authors, suspecting inefficiency and bloated bureaucracy, assume they can publish in a small fraction of that time.

That may be so, but apparently very few self-published books come out “on time.”
  • Everything takes longer than you think it will. 
  • If you rush, you will make mistakes that will take additional time to correct. 
  • It’s much more important to be good than to be fast or first.

The book shown below was supposed to go on sale in July of 2010. It should be ready in a month or two. Maybe.


Friday, February 12, 2016

What tiny word on a book cover can hurt the book's sales?


If you saw a sign like this one in a store window, and you hoped to get a job in the store, but the sign did not include the archaic "inquire within" phrase, would you do anything other than inquire within?

Of course not.



If you saw a book cover with one person's name on it, but the text did not include "by," "By:" or "Written by," wouldn't you assume that the name is the name of the author?

A phrase like "Written by Stevie Jones" may be forgivable on a report about dinosaurs written by a child in third grade, but DOES NOT belong on a book. It instantly brands the book as pathetically amateurish. The book may be dismissed by potential reviewers and purchasers -- even before the cover is flipped open.

So, say goodbye to "by."

If you are evaluating book cover designers and the designer's portfolio includes book covers with "by" on them, that's an indicator that the designer does not know enough about designing books.

If you are considering a self-publishing company, take a look at the covers of books it has produced. If you see the word "by" before an author's name, you'll know that the company employs ignorant folks who have no business being in the book business. Stay away!

The cover of the overpriced book shown at the right comes from AuthorHouse. The cover gets extra stupid points for having "by" with a colon.

Even if an author designs her own cover, or employs an independent designer, and submits a cover design with the horrid monosyllable, a knowledgeable publisher should say "NO WAY."

AuthorHouse tells potential author-customers: "
you maintain creative control of your book. From editing and proofreading to cover design . . . you choose what you want for your book."

Creative control is nice -- but it can be self-destructive. Many authors need the guidance that an experienced publisher should be able to provide.

- - - - -


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Books in a series should look like books in a series




"Trade dress" refers to characteristics of the appearance of a product or its packaging or advertising that indicate the source of the product to potential buyers. Trade dress may include shapes, typography and even colors. 

Most former British colonies use red, white and blue in their flags.Target likes red. But so do Coke, Staples and CVS. UPS like brown, as does Hershey -- but Nestle uses non-chocolatey blue. 

When people see a big, bright yellow paperback with a diagonal black band and a title in "reverse," --  they think DUMMIES. Even if a reader doesn't regard herself as dumb, if she was successfully educated by one "dummies" book, there's a good chance she'll consider another. Even when subjects and audience may be diverse, it can be good to make the same type of books look similar. 


  
[below] Books in the "Chicken Soup for the" series use the same ornate letter "C" that Campbell's uses on soup cans.​
 


[below] Scott Prussing hopes that folks who were turned on by one of his vampire sex books will try another. The cover design and titles clearly indicate that the books are closely related.






[above/below] I doubt that any other book series can duplicate the success of "dummies" with another color. However, I am doing my best with purple on my books about publishing. I removed the "beach" logo from the front cover of newer books but retained the "Create Better Books . . ." tag line.




[below] As my publishing plans evolved and it became apparent that I would be producing a series of ebooks, I decided to give them a consistent look, with a comic-book theme and purple band at the bottom. I redesigned the previous books to go with the newer ones. I kept the tag line, but took the logo off the front cover and use it on the title page.
 





[above/below] My recent books that are not about publishing don't relate to each other or to anything else. Maybe they should. With ebooks, I don't have to think about hundreds or thousands of books sitting in a warehouse that won't relate to my other books.









Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Some 'professional' errors make good amateur publishers feel wonderful

I've often pointed out that self-published books are suspect -- often assumed to be substandard even before their front covers are flipped open.

To counter this prejudice, I've preached that self-publishing authors should make their books as good as the books produced by professional editors, typesetters and designers employed by the major "traditional" publishers.

Sadly, sometimes, the work of the pros should not be emulated.

Car Guys vs. Bean Counters was published by Portfolio, an “imprint” of the Penguin Book Group. Penguin is one of the largest book publishers in the world, and started in 1935. It recently merged with competitor Random House and bought and then sold shitty self-publishing behemoth Author Solutions.

A publisher with vast size and long experience should know what it’s doing, but it doesn’t always do the right thing.

A few years ago, Penguin's Riverside imprint published a phony autobiography, Love and Consequences. Before the hoax was revealed and the book was recalled, it received an excellent review in The New York Times.

Bob Lutz’s “Car Guys” book exhibits a much smaller sin -- a silly typesetting error which should have been noticed by one of Penguin’s experts before printing. It’s mostly a good book, otherwise.


In this case, "professional quality" is not good enough. Amateurs should do better.


...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Authors: review your books' reviews


Every author likes to get good reviews, and hates to get bad reviews.

Most published reviews are positive, and that's nice.

Some negative reviews are written by people who are clueless, vindictive or have not even read the book they are condemning. If you write a book it's important that you regularly check for reviews. Good reviews can be used to promote your book. Unjustified bad reviews have to be dealt with.

I recently discovered a review of one of my books on Amazon. It gave me the minimum one-star ranking and said my book must be terrible because it did not have a "Search inside the book" feature (as if I was hiding something). There were a few other meaningless complaints which revealed that the reviewer had never read the book. I assume the review was from a writer I slammed on this blog. (I don't put negative reviews on Amazon to minimize the chance of a flame war or pissing match.)

I complained to Amazon, and the review was deleted within a few minutes.

Another time I was criticized because the typeface I used was allegedly too big. I responded that the 12-pt type I used is the size specified by the U.S. Supreme Court to insure readability of court documents.

And another time one of my books was criticized for being out of date. I responded that the reviewer bought the wrong book, and should have bought the replacement book. I even offered to provide a freebie.

Set up Google alerts for your name and your book titles. You'll get automatic notifications so you'll know what's being said about you so you can respond appropriately.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Your content is more important than its physical beauty




The plain old basic black on white is obviously much easier to read than black or red on blue.

I'll never understand why people who put great effort into their words make it so damn hard for people to read those words. This happens with book covers, websites, magazine articles, advertising, graffiti -- any appearance of text.

People shouldn't have to squint, magnify, adjust, or solve a puzzle to read what you wrote.

If you have an unstoppable urge to use reverse type (light text on a dark background) limit it to a small block of type, such as a headline, but NEVER put an entire page in reverse.



The "opening crawl" from the Star Wars movies is readable in movie theaters and on big TVs -- but don't try it on a book cover or a web page.




Until I complained, the website of an art school was in reverse. Someone thought it was beautiful -- but it was hard to read.



A retail store in New York spent a lot of money on a 'contemporary' sign with navy-blue letters on a black background. Apparently few people could read the sign and the store closed.

If you must use a dark background, provide a lot of contrast. White on black or yellow on navy blue are OK. Red on purple sucks. A web page or book cover is NOT a Day-Glo concert poster.



And don't use a decorative typeface that looks like it was attacked by bacteria, or those annoying distorted letter sequences you have to retype to prove that you're a human being and not a robot in order to subscribe to a blog.

And choose a type size that's BIG enough to be read without a microscope. A book or a website has more space than the back of a credit card. I have several books that I just can't read. This is a frustrating and unnecessary waste of money.

Don't let your medium hide, harm or destroy your message.

Eschew obfuscation and espouse elucidation, in content AND in form.

The statement in the next paragraph appears in my new book, 
Typography for Independent Publishers. (Don't order until next week. I'm making some corrections).
  
"This book is intended to provide information—not to be beautiful. To make it beautiful would make it much more expensive."





Thursday, February 4, 2016

Some timeless advice about type


“Books are not made for show. Books are written to be read, and read easily, without discomfort or annoyance. The conditions of printing that favor easy reading are plain types, clear print, and freedom from surprises. Any peculiarity in the letters or in their arrangement that turns aside the reader from following the written thought is a surprise and an annoyance.”


“The typographic classics are the equivalent of a basic black dress or navy blue blazer. While no one will admire you for being cutting edge, neither will your designs look out of place because of the typography you use.”





Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Errors can hide anywhere, even on your book's cover




No matter how many times you read, re-read and re-re-read, you're bound to find mistakes in anything you've written. It's best to find them before the book is published.

Back in 2009, just minutes before I had planned to send a book to the printer, I decided to check my table of contents. I had a feeling that as I changed the length of some chapters, a page number might have changed.

I actually found three wrong page numbers, and two chapters were missing from the table.

Apparently, I didn't learn the lesson well enough. Another time I was trying to find a chapter in one of my books that has many chapters. I couldn't find it by flipping through the pages, and I couldn't find it by studiously scanning the table of contents.

When I looked even more carefully, I realized that the last entry at the bottom of one page of the TOC was Chapter 51, but the first entry on the top of the next page was Chapter 53.

There was no listing for Chapter 52.

I feel like a blind idiot.

This past Sunday I uploaded the first version of my new Typography for Independent Publishers for sale on Amazon. This morning I realized that it had the wrong version of the cover, with a missing word and an ugly empty space -- a dreadful error for a book about typography.


(IMPORTANT WARNING: Any time you fix an error in a book, you may create more errors.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Listen to Aretha Franklin. Readers deserve R-E-S-P-E-C-T from publishers. Am I wrong to expect that a $6.99 book would be edited?




Aretha Franklin's 1967 hit recording of Otis Redding's Respect won two Grammy awards. It's in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry, Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and the Recording Industry of America's Songs of the Century.

Although Aretha's version of Otis's work became a feminist theme song and her words tell about a woman's demands from a man, some lyrics perfectly demonstrate the relationship between reader and publisher:

"All I'm askin' is for a little respect . . . . I'm about to give you all of my money"

The reader is entitled to a properly produced book. That's literary respect.

The cover shown is from a disrespectful book.

The publisher is named in a strange bit of Hollywood-style text at the top of the book: "La' Femme Fatale' Publishing Presents." Maybe the two unnecessary apostrophes are intended to imply exoticism to ignorant readers.


The author ("Minx") says this on her Facebook page: "Minx is Miami. I’m the glamour of South Beach and the struggle of the hood. That’s why I’m representing so hard for Miami. The 305 made me who I am." (305 is the telephone area code in Miami.)

In a sad preview of sloppiness to come, Minx typed the title in three different ways on Facebook: "...the 305," "...tha 305" and "da 305."

Here's how Minx promotes the book: "Money can’t buy you happiness, and beauty damn sure can’t either. Only In Da 305, introduces Eileen and Chayil. Two of the baddest bitches in Dade County. Different circumstances leave them in fucked up situations. Chayil and Eileen have two things in common. Their both dead gorgeous and they love their thugs. They’ll do anything for the thugs in their life. Cook, clean, fuck, suck and of course even carry their drugs. All in the name of love. The only thing is, the only thing their thugs got love for is the game.

Kirk and Dwayne reinvent the word vicious. After all their ride or die chicks do for them they repay them with abuse, prostitution, and disrespect in the most profound ways. They show Eileen and Chayil the only thing a thug can truly love is his money and the almighty pursuit of it. But like a dog every thug has his day. Who will have the last laugh or shall I say, bullet. In this it’s a thin line between love and hate urban tale."

I've heard that some black teenagers dismiss good grammar as "acting white." I think that bad grammar, misspelling and defective typography on a publisher's website, a book cover, in a promotional paragraph or in book text is not white or black. It is simply sloppy, unnecessary, unforgivable, unprofessional -- and disrespectful to readers.


Below is the horrid first page. You can left-click to enlarge the image -- but don't show it to children.

The abundant red arrowheads show just how pathetically unprofessional this book is. It would receive a grade of "F" in junior high school, and its $6.99 price is literary fraud.

I've seen books selling for 99 cents -- and even books being offered for free -- that are much better prepared for publication than this is.

Ironically, Minx mentions that two men in the book "disrespect in the most profound ways." Minx may not be profound, but she and her publisher are certainly disrespectful. Sadly, Minx is a good storyteller. It's a shame that her publisher didn't care enough to hire an editor, and that Minx didn't care enough to insist on editing. If the author and publisher show so little respect for readers, readers should spend their money elsewhere.

In case you think that I'm being too picky, readers noted the deficiencies, too:

  • "A LOT of grammatical errors. Very poorly edited." 
  • "The editing needed work. I had to go over sentences a couple of time to understand what was being said."
  • "the errors really killed me I had to almost guess a word or go back and reread the sentence."


-----
Aretha photo from http://www.blacktoptens.com. Thanks.