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Friday, September 30, 2016

Books and sins


I've always had a strong (and maybe strange) 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. 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 them, 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.


Books have always been extremely important to me. As the photo at the top shows, even as a little kid, I used the bathroom as a library so not a moment of potential reading time was wasted.

The sales brochure for the Bronx apartment my parents brought me home to in 1946 boasts of "built-in bookcases in every apartment." Now in 2016, I can visualize only two pieces of furniture from that apartment: the bunk beds I shared with my sister Meryl, and a mahogany bookshelf that later moved with us to other homes.

As a child with an early bedtime, I read books by flashlight under the blanket. Even now, I share my bed with my wife and often a pbook 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.

After writing paperbacks since 1977 and ebooks since 2009, I decided to publish my first hardcover in 2011, a new format for my "stories" book. It evokes new emotions from me. 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, my hardcover seems about 96% as "professional" as the 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 the book, 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'll probably become 71 next Spring. 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 reviewers.

Hardcovers make more impressive gifts than paperbacks and maybe they'll even impress book reviewers who would ignore a paperback.

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Write something every day, and save the good stuff.


When I was a journalism major at Lehigh University in the 1960s, a "J" professor suggested that we write a daily column of about 500 words -- about anything, and not necessarily for publication. It could be a reaction to news, some advice, an essay, an interview, a sports report, history, a review, anything.

He said that if we expected to get jobs at newspapers (and that was the likely career choice) we had to be able to write on command -- quickly, professionally and about anything.

While most of my journalism has been practiced at magazines, not newspapers, that experience and discipline has been valuable while writing for a wide range of media plus advertising, PR and books.

Today I seldom write for publication on paper, but I publish multiple blogs, and post a lot on Facebook. Some of the blogs and FB posts later evolve into books.

I recently started to collect some of my daily posts on my personal website, http://www.MichaelMarc.us. It's a convenient place for me to view my own words, and for others to see what I'm all about. Every author should have at least one website, but it can do more than try to sell books.



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Humor is important to me but I learned two important reasons to not use 'funny' spelling in a title


Most people who know me (except for those who hate me) probably think I'm a pretty funny guy.

My wife often complains that I have a reckless sense of humor and I “go too far.” She’s afraid that I’m going to get into trouble like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. I think artistic expression outranks domestic tranquility. In my domicile, we have much more expression than tranquility.

Like Penn and Teller, Bart Simpson (above) and the folks on Jackass, I’ll do almost anything for a joke.

Some people have occasionally described my humor as sick, tasteless or black humor. That’s because I can find humor almost anywhere and anytime -- and that can make people uncomfortable.

I designed and wore the shirt shown up above when I went to the hospital to be treated for a kidney stone. It made people laugh and laughter is the best medicine. Most people are too serious most of the time b
ut I’m frequently able to find humor when others can’t, like when I'm awaiting surgery.

Sure, humor can hurt. Just ask the victims of laughing bullies in school, or those in nightclub audiences singled out by comedians like Don Rickles (at left).

Authors and publishers I've criticized in this blog may not have laughed at what I wrote about them. Too bad.

As it says up at the top/left, "
If you present work to the public, you may be criticized. If your feelings get hurt easily, keep your work private. When you seek praise, you risk derision. Either produce pro-quality work by yourself or get help from qualified professionals."

Some literary critics use sophisticated scholastic analysis in their book reviews. I prefer to go for laughs. A few victims and observers of my criticism say I should be nicer. If you want nice, buy a puppy; don't write or publish crappy books.

Sometimes humor can backfire and hurt the joker. I recently contemplated that possibility and slightly changed the titles and covers of two books. My efforts at humor could limit my books' sales and my income, so I decided that it would be better for me to be more serious than I had planned. 

Both titles had intentional spelling errors. I initially assumed that every potential reader would realize that. But maybe they won't. Maybe some super-serious (or stupid?) people would think I accidentally made the errors and didn't catch them and fix them.
  • Maybe some people would think I'm guilty of the same shortcomings that I criticize in others. (Heaven forbid!)
  • Another reason to not have deliberate misspellings in a book's title is that search engines like Google don't understand jokes (at least, not yet). They will index the misspelled term, and anyone looking for links to the properly spelled phrase will not find my books. That's not good.
Old and New, #1
Old and New, #2

Of course, just because I made these books more serious doesn't mean that I'll stop laughing, even at myself.



Thursday, September 22, 2016

Authors: if you don't care about your books, why should readers?



This is probably the least-interesting cover design of all time. Maybe the poetry in the ebook is more stimulating than the cover. Will anyone find out?

Sadly, I found out. The typing, spelling and grammar inside the book are probably the worst I’ve ever seen. YIPES!







The book has a four-star review on Lulu -- posted by the poet himself!


Gerard wants us to know that this is his finest work. That's not encouraging. Neither is the sloppy typing in the review itself.

Here's what the pathetic egomaniac put on GoodReads: "wonderful collection of poetry by Irish author ,this is a flowing melodic poetry of raw honesty, this ebook will delight tantalise and frustrate you for sure"

This is the garbage he wrote about another book: "
The word's paint pictures , like an artist lovingly applies paint to a canvas , the heart and mind as one, the story between the lines , as revealing, as the tears of a broken hearted lover"

If Gerard didn't care enough to produce a quality book and proper promotion, why should a reader care enough to invest time and money?

If you produce crap, maybe the only people you'll attract are snarkers like me.

UPDATE: since the first time I wrote about Gerard, he produced a new cover. It's better -- but incredibly dull. The pages inside the book have not been improved.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

WTF?! The interrobang is an alternative to ?!?!?!?! What about the rhet?


I -- and maybe you -- frequently type a string of alternating question marks and exclamation points to indicate disbelief and surprise.

There is a neater and underused alternative.

According to Google, American Martin K. Speckter conceptualized the interrobang in 1962. As the head of an advertising agency, Speckter believed that advertisements would look better if copywriters conveyed surprised rhetorical questions using a single mark. He proposed the concept of a single punctuation mark in an article in the magazine TYPEtalks. Speckter solicited possible names for the new character from readers. Contenders included rhet, exclarotive, and exclamaquest, but he settled on interrobang. He chose the name to reference the punctuation marks that inspired it: interrogatio is Latin for "a rhetorical question" or "cross-examination"; bang is printers' slang for the exclamation mark. Graphic treatments for the new mark were also submitted in response to the article.

In 1966, Richard Isbell of American Type Founders issued the Americana typeface and included the interrobang as one of the characters. In 1968, an interrobang key was available on some Remington typewriters. During the 1970s, it was possible to buy replacement interrobang keycaps and typefaces for some Smith-Corona typewriters. The interrobang was in vogue for much of the 1960s, with the word interrobang appearing in some dictionaries and the mark itself being featured in magazine and newspaper articles.

The interrobang failed to amount to much more than a fad, however. It has not become a standard punctuation mark. Although most fonts do not include the interrobang, it has not disappeared: Microsoft provides several versions of the interrobang character as part of the Wingdings 2 character set (on the right bracket and tilde keys) available with Microsoft Office. It was accepted into Unicode and is present in several fonts, including Lucida Sans Unicode, Arial Unicode MS, and Calibri, the default font in the Office 2007 suite.<<


However, most people prefer to express outrage with ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Sometimes I wish that book titles could be copyrighted



Last month I read one of the three similarly titled books shown above. This month I'm reading another one. I'm so confused that I can't tell you which one I'm reading now, but so far I like it better than last month's book about the same subject. If someone asks me to recommend a book about this subject I'd have to do some research before replying.

 
[below]
I recently noticed some online promotion for a 2015 ebook short story called "Internet Hell" by Trisha M. Wilson. I was surprised to see it because Internet Hell is the name of an ebook I published in late 2012. The pbook version has just gone on sale.



While book titles can't be copyrighted, it's both unprofessional and confusing to copy the title of another recent book. 
When I challenged Trisha, she blocked me from viewing her Tweets.    
To hell with her.
Since it's so easy to determine if a book title is already in use, the only reasons for copycatting a recent book title are ignorance, stupidity, laziness or evil. Maybe Trisha is guilty of all four.

Trisha's story is interesting, but poorly edited by the two named editors: Colby Trax and A. J. Wallace. The
third paragraph says "regiment" instead of "regimen." Many paragraphs are choppy, with too many unnecessary pauses. The stop-start-stop-start rhythm made reading it tiring. I also think her cover is amateurish, made with cliché clip art and just one dull typeface. I previously complained that some letters were lost against the background but the cover was modified.

A while ago I noticed a nice review posted online for The Chosen by John G. Hartness. It seems like a good title. Apparently others think so, too, because the title has been used for about six books.

At least one, Chaim Potok's The Chosen, is quite famous. It was nominated for the National Book Award and was on the NY Times bestseller list for six months. More than a million copies were sold, and the novel was made into a movie and a Broadway musical. Hartness could have found it with a few seconds of research.








It's understandable that a new book may duplicate the title of an older, obscure book, but it's just plain unforgivable, and pathetic, and maybe a bit dishonest to copy the title of a well-known bestseller.

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, again, the title of a book can’t be copyrighted. Any writer considering possible titles should check for previous uses.
  • 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 that title, too. 
  • I recently published Do As I Say, Not As I Did. I knew that the title had been used by another book, but the books are very different and the other one was published nearly ten years before mine.
  • More than a dozen different books are titled Caught in the Middle. If you like the title, you can use it, too. You can even use it for several different books.


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.

If your name is Harold Gordon, you could write and publish The Autobiography of Harold Gordon. There is nothing to stop an unknown author -- or Danielle Steel -- from writing a book with the same title. Danielle could also write The Autobiography of Barack Obama.

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.

And, as long as I'm preaching about originality, don't be an obvious thief of another book's design.

It’s smart to study other books and to seek inspiration from successful authors and designers -- but it's stupid to be a copycat. It's embarrassing when you get caught.

The book on the left has sold millions of copies since 2004. It provides guidance for solving personal and professional problems.

The book on the right, which copied the cover design, typefaces and title style of the bestseller, is a promotional piece from evil/inept Outskirts Press.

I saw four five-star reviews for the Outskirts book on Amazon.com. Two were written by Outskirts authors featured in the book, and one was written by an Outskirts employee. That seems a bit sleazy -- just like the cover, and just like Outskirts Press.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

An absurdly overpriced & overhyped book has a ghastly cover

As one who frequently reviews books and writes about the book business, I get lots of press releases trying to get my support.

This morning I received a release with such a hyped-up headline, it was nearly panicky. Of course, there was no "shocking revelation" and no "dirty little secret."

I invested a few precious minutes and discovered more bullshit, stupidity and reasons to doubt the value of the book:

(1) The book is allegedly "
critically-acclaimed." I searched and found no acclamation from any critics.
(2) The small (170 pages) book is GROSSLY overpriced at $39. Many similar books are available for much less money. I've written several.
(3) Strangely, this book about publishing Kindle books on Amazon is not available on Amazon.
(4) The book will teach you to "
Publish and sell a Kindle e-book without writing a single word by repackaging “public domain” content" -- a major source of literary pollution.
(5) Author Kim Stacey has no books available on Amazon. I wonder if Kim is a real person.
(6) The promotional material says, "
In the good old days, becoming a published book author was exceedingly difficult." That's a lie.
(7) The cover is abysmal. The upper-right corner has a box that is illegible in the size shown in the press release and in other online promotion. The typography of "e-Books" is strange, and not used in the promotional material. It's extremely unprofessional to state "written by" before the author's name. It's extremely unusual to have editor names on a book cover. The cover is nearly monochrome, and easily ignored.
(8) Ironically the ugly book provides "
5 proven tips for designing an attractive Kindle e-book cover." I would be very reluctant to use those tips.

 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

I hereby pledge to never watch the San Francisco 49ers play football again.


This announcement has nothing to do with outrage over Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem.

In truth, I have never watched the 49ers play in the past, so I won't sacrifice much by not watching them in the future.

The last football game I watched was between Lehigh University and Lafayette College in the fall of 1964. It was boring, like every football game.

Like most sports, football is a silly substitute for warfare, and the human race is long overdue to evolve beyond it.

Team loyalty is a mystery to me.

Why the hell would someone who never attended college be a fan of Notre Dame or Florida State?

I moved from The Bronx to New Haven when I was in first grade. I was beaten up because I was presumed to be a fan of the Yankees, not the Red Sox. In truth, I had no interest in baseball.

If San Francisco "defeats" Los Angeles, are LA Rams fans expected to move north to show allegiance to their new masters?

Football is only slightly less boring than watching lettuce wilt.

Hockey and basketball have nearly non-stop action and are not boring. I enjoyed two basketball games and one hockey game in the 60s, but have not felt any compulsion to watch more.

I've watched three live baseball games in my life. The first two, when I was five years old, were boring torture. The third, when I was about 55, was interesting, but too long.

I'm impressed by some of the super-human feats shown in the Olympics, but I don't care which countries win the most medals.

Also, getting gold instead of silver because of a difference of a few hundredths of a second is silly.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Try looking at your book without reading it



After you've read your new masterpiece 70 or 183 times, sit a bit farther back from your screen and LOOK at the pages -- don't read them.

You'll probably be amazed at all of the errors you detect when you are not concerned with content, meaning and story-telling artistry.


I aim my eyes at the three-o'clock position and maker a clockwise scan on each page, but do what works best for you.

Check your book for these bloopers:
  1. Wrong typefaces or wrong fonts, (not necessarily the same thing) particularly when text is pasted-in from another source
  2. Commas that should be periods -- and vice-versa
  3. Straight punctuation that should be curly "typographers' marks"
  4. Curlies that curl in the wrong direction
  5. Missing spaces between paragraphs or sections
  6. Bad justification in the last line of a page
  7. Chopped-off descenders where you decreased line spacing or if the bottom of a text box is too close to the text
  8. Wrong-size bullets
  9. Rivers
  10. Too-big word spacing
  11. Normal letters that should be ligatures (more for large type than in body text).
  12. Accidental spaces after bullets
  13. Improper hyphenation
  14. Roman text that should be italic, and vice versa
  15. Ignoring highlighted warnings in MS Word
  16. Automatically accepting MS Word suggestions
  17. Gray text that should be black
  18. Insufficient space adjacent to images
  19. Images or text boxes that floated over the margin
  20. Images or text boxes that "slid' down and covered up footers
  21. Missing periods at sentence ends
  22. Missing opening or closing quote marks.
  23. Periods that should be inside a closing parentheses -- or outside.
  24. Repeated words caught by the software
  25. Wrong headers, missing headers, switched verso and recto headers
  26. Subheads that are too close to the text above and too far from the text below
  27. Too much space between lines in a multi-line title, chapter name or subhead
  28. Pages with numbers that should not show nunbers ("blind folios")
  29. Words that shifted from the bottom of one page to the top of the next page
  30. And one that does require reading: chapter names in the table of contents that don't reflect a change made in the actual chapter name
  31. And another: a topic not in the index because you added something after completing the index

More in my 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice: Learn to plan, write, title, edit, format, cover, copyright, publicize, publish and sell your pbooks and ebooks