Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Writers: tax day is coming. Take advantage of your special advantages.

It's now Mid-January. This year Tax Day in the USA will be 'celebrated' on April 15th.  It's getting closer every second. 

What you do today—and every day—will affect what you pay and what you keep in the 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 20 years I've been in Connecticut. There are no city taxes, but life is more complicated. I used to pay my accountant about $700 for a few hours work necessary to produce my annual business and personal federal and state returns. After much scientific number crunching, he still came up approximately with the same percentages I established 40 years earlier. My life is simpler now, as I ease into retirement, and I again do my own taxes.

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, and equipment and services used with the media, should be deducted in the range of 25% to 100%.

Deduct movies, CDs, games, concerts, artwork, vacations, MP3 players, big TVs, little TVs, books, magazines, newspapers, smart phone, computers, tablets, ebook readers, software, Internet service, 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

Monday, January 11, 2021

Get out of your comfort zone. Try writing something you think you can't write, or hate to write.

I once wrote a poem about a wiper. Could you?
When I was in eighth grade, my English teacher was a miserable bitch—hated by almost every kid in the class.

We were once assigned to write an essay about poetry. At the time, I pretty much hated poetry, except for funny stuff like one of the world's shortest poems, by Ogden Nash:

"The Bronx?
No thonx."

Basically my essay said something like I hated poetry because it is artificial and is much less efficient than prose for delivering a message.

I DESPISED faked/fudged/phony constructions like:

"My country 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty."

I got an "F" on the essay.

Elliot, one of my classmates, got an "A" for a few pages of bullshit about poetry "opening a golden door into the soul of the poet."

I was sent to the guidance counselor for guidance and discipline.

I did not get any discipline but I got some valuable guidance: Give the bitch the same kind of bullshit that earned Elliot the "A."

In other words, if you want to succeed in life, give the audience what it wants, even if you have to lie or sell out.

I didn't think it was good advice then or now. An audience can usually determine if a performer's heart is not in a performance.

A few weeks later, we were assigned to write poems. That was even worse than having to write about poems.

Rhyming is probably a natural activity and source of amusement for every kid.

But going from "Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweet but I hate you" to something of homework quality would have been a major leap for me.

I was desperate to avoid a second flunk from the bitch, so with help from my father I did come up with something that I still think is pretty good. It was about a windshield wiper destroying rain drops. I don't remember it all, but it started with:

"Oh wiper, you viper,
You snake on the glass.
You strike hard and swiftly.
You kill with each pass."

I got an unexpected "A" on that one.

I also got an "A" on a second poem that involved some event in international relations in 1959 or '60. Apparently President Eisenhower was being pressured by the dreaded commies to give in on some diplomatic negotiating.

I need a word to rhyme with "now," and my father suggested the phrase "but Ike would not kowtow."

I had never heard "kowtow" before, and thought my father had made it up just for my poem. Pop explained that it came from a Chinese word meaning "submit" and I kept the word. The bitch knew what it meant and was impressed.

In high school I became a pretty good rhymer. I often wrote silly poems and songs about bad teachers. The worst teacher I ever had was Bertha "Crazy" Frehse (pronounced "frayzee"). We never knew what to expect when we entered her classroom.

Sometimes as we marched in, a student would be pinched on the shoulder and commanded to go to the blackboard and “write 10 beautiful words,” or “write 200 words about tobogganing,” or “explain why striped cats are superior to spotted dogs” or “list 500 reasons why Elvis should be pres­ident.”

One time, a class was ordered to write 500 words on “how Capri pants have been the downfall of western civilization.” (Girls couldn’t wear pants to our school.)

Years later, in college I used "lifestyle" in an essay and the professor put a note on the page about it being an excellent choice of words. In my mind I gave the professor a lower grade for being impressed by such routine terminology. Apparently "lifestyle" was a big deal in Bethlehem, PA in the 1960s.)

In my first semester as a journalism major at Lehigh, our class was assigned to write a large variety of news items. One assignment was to write about an intramural baseball game. I hated baseball and resented the assignment. I knew nothing about the game and felt absolutely feeble. My vocabulary had none of the appropriate idioms for "hit a home run." I read a published report on the game and unconsciously absorbed a phrase. My hawkeyed professor noticed it and flunked me for plagiarism! It was a valuable lesson

  • I've never bought a poetry book, but I do have appreciation for rhyming lyrics, especially:
"Lady Madonna, baby at your breast
Wonders how you manage to feed the rest"
(Lennon & McCartney)


"When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I'll be gone"

I have no plans to write serious poetry, but being forced to succeed at something I hated has probably been useful to me as person and as a writer. I have gained appreciation for those who do write poems well, and I sometimes insert rhymes in my prose just for the fun of it.

This is probably the third time in over 50 years that I used the word "kowtow." It's not part of my normal writing vocabulary, but if I encounter it, I don't need to get a dictionary.

I've been writing nonfiction since I was a journalism major at Lehigh in the 60s. I never aspired to write "the great American novel." Or even a lousy un-American novel.

However, I've often been told that I have a great imagination and maybe I was wrong to shun fiction. 

As an experiment I wrote a novelized back story as the first half of a nonfiction book, Internet Hell. I think it turned out well and readers like it. I enjoyed the freedom of not needing to care about facts, truth and reality—but my training and experience as a journalist made my unreality realistic.

I think all writers should experiment with genres outside their comfort zone. You might enjoy it, or even create something great.

Flexibility and versatility may even help your financial situation. When I first moved to Manhattan in 1970 I lived in a tiny-but-expensive room in a YMCA. The manager knew I worked for a magazine and asked for help writing a fundraising appeal. He liked my work and lowered my rent.

My first job was assistant editor of a magazine that went to hi-fi equipment dealers. I sometimes filled in at other mags that the publisher put out, dealing with health foods and art supplies. Later on I worked for several ad agencies. I was hired because I could write about hi-fi equipment, but I kept my job because I could also write about computers, light switches, motor oil, food, floor tile, wrist watches and bathing suits. 

Specialization can help you get a job. Versatility can help you keep a job!

I can probably write about anything. What about you?

. . . . . 
wiper photo from Thanks.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

American authors can have trouble with Canadian readers

The dual influence of American and British spelling on Canadian English can make life difficult for Canadian writers—and even worse for Americans writing for Canadian readers.

Canadians use standard British spelling for certain words (axe, cheque), use American spelling for others (connection and tire, not connexion and tyre), and will use either version for other words (programme and program, labour and labor, neighbour and neighbor).
  • It's important for authors to be consistent so you don't look silly and confuse your readers.
Set up your own style manual (just a list, really), and stick to it. Don't mix "neighbour" with "labor," for example. Choose one pattern or the other and don't vary.

A Canadian dictionary might help, too (is there such a thing?). Word processor spell-checkers (chequers?) may not be much help. My MS Word rejects Brit spelling, and there doesn't seem to be a Canadian or British "language pack" available.

I could tell my PC to accept "programme" and "neighbour," but that would not make it reject "program" and "neighbor." To be safe, I'd probably have to search for all of the offending Americanisms and change them.

Or, I can just keep writing in American and not worry about the smaller countries that speak sort-of the same language. I don't freak out when I encounter British spelling. "Programme" is not as disconcerting as having to convert pounds and shillings.

Here is a helpful Can-Am cheat sheet (I prefer some of the Canadian spellings, such as "worshipped".)

(Thanks to Dorothy Turner for her work published by the University of Ottawa)

Monday, December 7, 2020

Authors' dilemma: do we hide the truth to avoid embarrassing people?

If you think of New Haven and education, there's a good chance you'll think of Yale University, a superb educational institution and part of the Ivy League. New Haven's public schools, however, frequently did a terrible job educating students.

I was the victim of some terrible teachers in New Haven's schools. Some were merely ignorant or incompetent. Others were absolutely nuts, evil, even sadistic and physically abusive. (Some, however, were OK or even superb).

Back in sixth grade, way back in 1958, I suffered from Julia Quinn, a particularly horrid teacher. I complained to my parents but they insisted that I must respect her because of her position—no matter how evil, incompetent, lazy or deranged she was.

I promised myself that someday I would tell the world what my parents refused to listen to. It took me over 50 years, but I kept the promise with my bestselling memoir, Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults).

I can still visualize exactly where I was standing when I made the decision to write about Quinn. If I go to hell I’m going find Quinn and beat the crap out of her. But I may have to wait in line for my turn because so many others suffered because of her. If you think I didn’t like her, you’re underestimating my passion. I hated her guts. And I still do.

Some people, including my ultra-cautious wife, warned me to not use real names in the memoir. I saw no need to disguise or minimize evil. Here's some text from the book:

[above] When I was in high school, another teacher, with the silly rhyming name of Herman Cherman, repeated a silly rumor to the school's disciplinarian—assistant principal George Kennedy. Herman said that I had traveled to school on a winter day, sitting on the convertible top of my best friend Howie's Triumph.

Not only would it have been very cold up there and hard to keep my balance, but I would probably have broken the top and fallen in on Howie and caused us to crash.

The assistant principal believed Herman, and made a school-wide amplified announcement summoning Howie and me to the detention room.

Fortunately the school cop, Joe Manna, came to our defense. He told Kennedy, “These are good boys; they would never do anything like that.” In the one time he was ever nice to me in three years, Kennedy said, “I wish Cherman would mind his own damn business. I have enough real problems to deal with without him making up fake problems.”

Recently in a Facebook group that deals with New Haven, one of Cherman's kids asked if anyone remembered her father. I responded with the story of my unnecessary embarrassment caused by his lying. The daughter then attacked me, calling me disgusting, evil and a liar. She pointed out that Herman won awards for his teaching.

Her father may indeed have been a wonderful teacher and father—but he was not my teacher or father—and in his only dealing with me, was an evil, lying busybody who caused unnecessary pain to my best friend and me.

I will never know the motivation for his lie. I assume he was trying to win points from Kennedy.

The daughter publicly called me a liar. But her father was the liar; and she, unlike me, did not witness the incident.

I responded that I had no reason to make up the story and that as Shakespeare and others have pointed out, "
the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children."

She has good memories of her father. I have a bad memory of the same person. That's life. I have no reason to hide the truth to shield anyone.

Author's may not use bombs, guns or swords, but books and the Internet can be powerful weapons. Use them with care. 


Friday, December 4, 2020

Marketing books vs. marketing non-books

My mother didn't really look like this.
Years ago, if my mother said she was “going marketing” I knew that she was going to the supermarket, and maybe also to the butcher, the fruit and veggie market, the appetizing store and hopefully even to Carvel for ice cream. She’d load the trunk of her car with the food and supplies the family would need for a few days.

To Mom, marketing was buying.

For authors, especially self-publishing authors, marketing is selling.

It’s not the specific transaction of handing or sending someone a book after they hand you cash or a credit card or place an order online. It’s really all of the steps that lead up to the transaction when a book is exchanged for money.

  • Every activity and occupation seems to have an organization. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
In plainer English, marketing is the process of making people aware of what you want to sell them, and convincing them to buy it.

Each product area—including fresh-caught fish, screwdrivers, nuclear reactors, driveway resurfacing, hair dying and books—has a traditional system for marketing. Alternative channels may sometimes evolve or be discovered, devised or imposed. It’s best to at least understand the system that’s in place before inventing a new one.

The first step in marketing, or in a marketing plan, is to identify your customers and your potential competitors. The more precisely you can define the customers, the easier it will be to reach them and the more efficient your marketing can probably be.
  • If you’re writing and publishing a dictionary, your potential market is all of the people in the world who can read the language you are publishing in, or are trying to learn it. The potential audience could be many millions, and your potential competitors may number in the hundreds.
  • If your book is about your not-so-famous mother, you probably have no competitors covering the same subject, and your potential audience may be eight people. Or two.
  • Most books fall somewhere in between. Books intended to help fisherman, amateur mechanics, guitar repairmen and corn growers probably have potential audiences in the tens or even hundreds of thousands—and dozens of competitors.
Unless you are writing in a very new field, you are likely to face competition from existing books as well as books that are in the pipeline. Try to write something that is better than the competition—or at least make it seem that way. Powerful marketing can make even ludicrous ideas seem legitimate.
  • It’s important to understand the difference between “push marketing” and “pull marketing.” Books of fiction and poetry and most memoirs use push marketing. You must “push” your books on readers who really don’t need to read what you wrote. It can take much more time and effort to push a book than to write it.
  • A non-fiction book about an important subject can be sold with much easier pull marketing. If there is an existing need for the information or advice you are offering, readers will search for it and “pull” the books from the printing presses, warehouses and stores.
In book publishing, your customers are not just the potential readers. You have to court, impress, seduce and convince other potential “partners.” Your partners include booksellers, as well as a wide range of influencers. Traditionally the primary influencers were book reviewers in printed newspapers and magazines. Today many newspapers no longer review books, and magazines are disappearing. In their place is a constantly growing group of online influencers on blogs, websites and social media such as Facebook. You have thousands of potential allies who can recommend your book—or condemn it. This blog both praises and slams books.

Book marketing has a lot in common with the marketing of other products, but it’s also very different.
  • Unlike food, books are not consumed and then replaced with identical items throughout the life of a customer.
  • Unlike clothing, books are not outgrown and replaced with a larger size.
  • Unlike tires or tools, books are not replaced because they’ve worn out.
  • Unlike handkerchiefs, people don’t buy a pack of a dozen identical books to save money.
  • Unlike cars, you probably won’t sell a book to each adult in the family.
  • Unlike cars or videogames, people seldom trade-in older books for the latest model.
  • Unlike televisions, people generally don’t return a book after trying it and finding they don’t like it.
  • Unlike frying pans or screwdrivers, people don’t buy the same type of book in different sizes.

(illustration from Thanks.) 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Authors can travel through time. It can be enlightening, entertaining and disturbing.

My career as a writer started in fourth grade at Davis Street School in New Haven, back when purple dinosaur Barney roamed the planet.

I did not write juvenile poems or stories like other kids. I was a young journalist. My friend Alan and I wrote articles about the other kids in our school, and his father's secretary typed them up and printed our "newspaper" on a mimeograph machine. We priced the paper at a nickel. I don't think we sold many, and may have published only two issues.

I have no copies of our short-lived news medium, and don't even remember its name. The name was probably lame and my writing probably would embarrass me today.

Later, I was a journalism major at Lehigh University and wrote for the student newspaper, the Brown and White (named for the school's horridly dull colors which only a coprophile could be enthusiastic about). I probably saved most of my "clips" from those days, but all but one of them—a major opus—disappeared years ago.

After college I wrote for lots of magazines and some newspapers. At first I saved everything that was published. After a while, seeing my byline in print was no big deal, so I stopped clipping and saving. At one time I had bound volumes of Rolling Stone which included my work. I think the huge books are in my attic, but I haven't seen them in decades. My decedents can decide what to do with them. Will the books be worth money?

I sometimes fantasize about time travel (and space travel, unassisted flight, X-ray vision and feet that don't hurt).
  • One recurring fantasy involves the adult-me encountering the child-me. Would adult-me warn the child-me not to make the stupid mistakes up ahead? Would the adult-me like the child-me? Would the child-me be afraid of the adult-me, or think he's an asshole

[above] I wrote a book about advising myself.

With current technology, time travel has to exist in the mind only.

But even without a time machine or a clipping file, there are ways for writers to go back to an earlier era and evaluate their youthful output. We can determine if indeed "the child is father to the man," or if adulthood strayed far from childhood and young adulthood.

The Lehigh student paper has been scanned back as far as 1894, and the issues are online and searchable.
Traditionally, newspapers have had "morgues," where back issues become yellow and moldy, and sometimes crumble. I know that the New York Times has digitized archives online, but I had no idea that the concept had reached college papers. I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised that Lehigh—a school known for educating engineers—would have a digital, online morgue.

I was somewhat apprehensive about reading what I had written in the mid-1960s. Would I recognize my writing as "my" writing? How badly was my work butchered by editors? Was I any good then? Was I an asshole?

In one of the Back to the Future movies, Marty McFly wonders if his future kids will think he's an asshole. I understand his fear.

Researching and writing my recent memoir stirred up some long-buried emotions and I was initially reluctant to type my name into the search window on the Lehigh website.

I could not resist for long. I typed in "Michael N. Marcus," and found my name listed as a "reporter" in a 1965-66 staff list. Strangely, I found no links for anything I had written.
  • I then typed my name without my middle initial, and my monitor revealed the good, the bad and the ugly.
Apparently I had not yet started using my middle initial in my byline (probably because I despised my middle name until later in my life, when I also realized that there are many other Michael Marcuses and I needed to make my name and byline distinctive).

I did not find all of the pieces I remember writing, and found some I did not remember.

Subjects ranged from mundane (a $50,000 allocation to improve campus safety that few read in 1966 and I did not read in the 21st century) to politics and reviews. I found a mildly critical review I wrote of a jazz concert, and a scathing review of a live electronic music concert performed by ME, that I might wish was not preserved for posterity.

After months of wandering through Antarctic blizzards, female Emperor Penguins return home and are able to identify their mates from among thousands of apparently identical males.

I'm amazed that my writing "voice" in 1965 is not even remotely recognizable to me as me.

If I did not see my byline, I could not have identified my words—and that was very, very weird. My word sequences were not even as distinct as the feathers on a damn penguin!
  • The 19-year-old Michael Marcus does not sound at all like the 74-year-old Michael N. Marcus. In 1965, I had not yet developed an identifiable style.
The young-me was a decent journalist, and his writing style is much more serious than the old-me. At least he doesn't seem like an asshole.

I'm sure there are people who think the old-me is an asshole. At age 74, I don't care.

If your old words are online you can probably find them on the Interenet Wayback Machine website. 

(Barney pic may be from PBS. Photo of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly is from Universal Pictures. Photo of penguins is from Southern California Public Radio.)

Monday, November 30, 2020

It's time to kill the term "published author." It's easier to become a published author than a Cub Scout.

A great many years ago I was a Cub Scout. The lowest rank in Cub Scouting was Bobcat. Every Cub starts as a Bobcat. You can't be a Cub Scout and not be at least a Bobcat. A Bobcat is lower than a Wolf or a Bear. A Bobcat doesn't have to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, build a crystal radio, bandage a wound, walk on snowshoes or help an old lady to cross the street.

To be a Bobcat a kid has to:
  1. Learn and say the Cub Scout motto, promise and the Law of the Pack—and tell what they mean
  2. Show the Cub Scout sign, salute and handshake—and tell what they mean
  3. Show that he understands and believes that it is important to be honest and trustworthy.
Since those requirements were so basic, (if I remember correctly) we were not allowed to wear our Bobcat pins on our spiffy new uniforms.

I thought of that recently when I was reading an introduction from a new member of an online group for authors.

The newbie said, "I am a published author."

I wanted to say, "BIG FUCKING DEAL!"

At one time being a published author implied that either:
  1. A person wrote something so important or wonderful that a publisher paid to publish the book.
  2. A person is so famous (like Levi Johnston, the almost-son-in-law of Sarah Palin) that a publisher paid to publish the book.
  3. A person is egotistical and wealthy enough to pay thousands of dollars to a vanity press to publish the book.
Today, it takes almost no skill, time or money to become a published author.
  1. If you can click a keyboard and move a mouse, you can be a published author.
  2. The cost can be ZERO.
  3. You don't have to impress anyone.
  4. You can be a terrible writer and still be a published author.
  5. You can ignore the traditions and rules of the book business.
  6. You can shun editors and designers.
  7. You can offend potential readers and reviewers and booksellers.
  8. It doesn't matter if nobody reads your book.
  9. It's easier to become an author than to become a Bobcat.
  10. You don't even have to learn to salute.
Since it is so easy to become a published author, it means nothing to say you are one. So, DON'T DO IT.

(By the way, it means almost nothing to say you're a bestselling author, but I'm one.)

Friday, November 27, 2020

Authors: who cares who published your book? Probably nobody

On Wednesday it was announced that publishing behemoth Penguin Random House would buy publishing behemoth Simon & Schuster. There have been some complaints about decreased competition for authors' attention and booksellers' money—but not from me. I just don't care if the book publishing business is dominated by a Big Five, Big Four or Big Three. Maybe not even a Big Two.

I remember the snickers and giggles from a few years ago when Random merged with Penguin. Would the new company be called Penguin House or Random Penguin?

I was at a community social event a few years ago to meet some people I knew only through Facebook. I had taken some copies of my newest book to give to them. We were seated in a huge room with hundreds of people and we talked to strangers who were sitting near us. 

When I took the books out and signed them for the FB friends, the strangers immediately asked if they could see the books. They flipped through the pages and smiled (a good sign). 

One said, "I never met an author before." Another asked where she could buy the book. A third asked how long it takes to write a book. Someone asked if I find it hard to write a book. Another asked how I decide what to write about. 

One question that nobody asked is "what company published the book." 

From what I've observed, a publisher's name on a book is very different from a brand name on a car, a bottle of wine or a pair of shoes. It's more like the number of a TV channel—completely irrelevant to most people.

Readers are interested in a book's content and maybe the author's reputation—not the name of the company that delivered the content.
  • However, since I am an author and publisher as well as a reader, I know to be very wary of books from certain publishers. If a book comes from Outskirts Press or any of the Author Solutions brands, I know to expect poorly edited—or unedited—crap.

  • Zoe Winters writes quirky and sometimes dark paranormal romance and fantasy. She says, “The average reader doesn’t care how a book gets to market. If the book is good, it doesn't matter if your Chihuahua published it.” 
  • Author Simon Royle wrote, “People don't buy books from publishers. They buy them from authors.” 
  • Edward Uhlan founded Exposition Press—an early and important pay-to-publish company—in 1936. He said, “Most people can’t tell the difference between a vanity book and a trade book anyway. A book is a book.” 
Concentrate on producing top-quality books.

Choose a good name for your tiny publishing company that does not limit you to one genre, or sound like another company in the book business. My company is Silver Sands Books. Here's some advice for choosing a name for your publishing company.

Don't for a minute fret that readers will reject you because the logo on your books doesn't belong to Penguin or Simon & Schuster.

dog pic from Google Images
Penguin pic from Penguins Blog 

Monday, November 23, 2020

What's missing from many poorly selling books? PASSION and PROMOTION

The Internet is filled with bad advice on creating bestselling books. Most of it involves finding the most popular online search topics.

According to many of the 'experts' (most of whom want to sell you something), if millions of people are interested in Oprah, Wells Fargo or Obama, you can easily sell millions of books about Oprah, Wells Fargo or Obama—and make millions of dollars.
  • The authoritative ignoramuses say that it doesn't matter if you're a bad writer, know nothing about the subject and don't think professional editing and design are necessary.
Some 'experts' tell you that instead of actually writing a book you can just copy words from the web and paste them together, use any available software to create a cover, and soon untold riches and fame will be yours.

(above) Sadly, many of the ugliest and least-useful books are written to help others publish books.

There is no certainty about selling anything. There are many things a writer—even a very good writer—cannot control.  
  • Research, testing and advance publicity might be useful, but trying to tailor a book to perceived reader interest can lead to yet another redundant barbecue cookbook, stop-smoking guide or celebrity confession.
Market research is no substitute for PASSION for the subject of the book and strong PROMOTION for the book.
  • Without passion, writers are factory laborers.
  • Without effective promotion, potential readers won't know the book exists.
Also, if you delay publication so you can engage in extensive research and test marketing, interest in the subject may pass by the time your book goes on sale—and competitive books may beat you to the marketplace.
  • If an author is aiming at traditional publishing, a year of advance research before beginning a search for an agent and publisher can be an eternity.
  • Self-publishing greatly reduces the time-to-market compared to traditional publishing. A book can be published in a few weeks or months.

[above] Steve Jobs developed amazing Apple products based on his own passion, not on market research.

Over a dozen of my books have been bestsellers with ZERO market research.
My recent book, Do As I Say, Not As I Did quickly became a bestseller without my checking to find out what people were searching for on Google or Bing. I wrote about what I know about and have passion for.

[Jobs photo by Matthew Yohe. Thanks.]

Friday, November 20, 2020

Authors: here are 30 possible reasons your book is selling poorly

Each year hundreds of thousands of different book titles are published. Some sell millions of copies. Many sell thousands or hundreds. Many sell just dozens—or even fewer—copies.

Books “fail” for many reasons. Here are some:
  1. Your book stinks. There are many ways for a book to stink.
  2. Your cover is ugly.
  3. Your cover image conflicts with your title or genre.
  4. Your cover is an indiscernible blob when reduced to "thumbnail" size on websites.
  5. Your title is confusing or vague and your subtitle doesn't help.
  6. Your name conflicts with your genre. Pearl Zane Grey dropped the "Pearl" to write macho westerns. Joanne Rowling became "J. K." to attract teenage boys to her books. If your last name is Hitler or Stalin, get a nicer pen name for romance novels or books about flower arranging or etiquette.
  7. Your title has been used by other books. Maybe many other books.
  8. You are being confused with another author—or maybe someone with a bad reputation. If your last name is Madoff, use another name for books about investing.
  9. There are many other nonfiction books covering the same subject. You have too many competitors and probably should not have published the book. Does the world really need another barbecue cookbook or JFK biography?
  10. There are too many novels in the same genre. Does the world really need another book about post-apocalypse teenage lesbian cannibals?
  11. You wrote poetry. Very few people buy poetry.
  12. You didn’t work hard enough at promoting your book. Not enough potential purchasers know it exists.
  13. You’re too bashful to promote yourself.
  14. Your book is hard to find. It’s not available where people expect to buy it.
  15. Your market is too narrow—not enough people care about the subject. You may write an absolutely wonderful book about your absolutely wonderful mother, but your potential audience may be eight people—or two people. 
  16. Your price is wrong. If it’s too low, there’s not enough money left for you, and the low price hurts your book’s credibility. If it’s too high, you may scare readers or lose sales to your competitors.
  17. Your book has received either too many bad reviews or no reviews at all.
  18. You tried to do too much yourself, and did not hire a professional editor and designer.
  19. Your timing is wrong. The book came out too soon or too late. You missed the peak of popularity. The fad either never became big enough or went out of fashion before the book was published. Sales of Jerome Corsi’s book questioning President Obama’s birthplace dropped to almost nothing because it was published after Obama released his birth certificate. Pick a hot topic, and one that may stay hot, or at least warm, for a few years. 
  20. Your thesis has been disproved. Obama was NOT born in Kenya. 
  21. You used a self-publishing company and its services were overpriced or the company did not do all of the work you expected it to do or it did not produce a high-quality book or it did lousy or inadequate promotion.
  22. You spent too much money on original photography or illustrations, and did not have enough money left to promote the book.
  23. You don’t have a website where potential purchasers—and book reviewers—can find more information.
  24. You think that your work will end when you finish writing. Promoting may take more effort than writing.
  25. You don't know enough about your subject.
  26. You have nothing new to say. 
  27. Your book is too short (it seems like too little for its price, or seems that it may not adequately cover the subject).
  28. Your book is too long (people have limited attention spans, many things to devote their attention to, and they may not want to plow through 800 pages).
  29. Your book is not available in the formats people want (paperback, ebooks, talking books, maybe even hardback).
  30. Your books stinks (worth repeating).

[The fake book cover up above shows my late mother, Rita J. Marcus. She was a wonderful person for many reasons, but probably not book-worthy.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Outskirts Press's Brent Sampson fu**ed up again

Brent Sampson
is the frequently inept founder and boss of the frequently inept Outskirts Press.

Outskirts is a company that specializes in extracting money from naïve wannabe authors who have no idea how to judge the quality of a book or the company that produces it. 

The company was founded in 2002, but even after 18 years, it still uses a UPS store as 'corporate headquarters.' Apparently its employees worked from their homes even long before the COVID-19 disaster. 

[above] Outskirts is so terrible that I wrote a book a
bout it way back in 2010. 

I am amazed that the company is still in business—but each year there is a new crop of hopeful Pulitzer winners who neglect to do even very basic research before selecting a publishing services provider and then paying money to Outskirts.

Outskirts Press has called itself "the fastest-growing full-service publishing provider" and frequently touts dubious awards the company and its books have collected. Some of those books, and the press releases that promote them, are filled with silly errors that should have been avoided.

When authors are disappointed (and enraged), service reps hide behind the fine print of a contract that does not warrant that books will be error-free. Outskirts is also inept (and dishonest) when it promotes itself. Its website, emails, press releases, blogs and promotional literature have factual errors, mistakes in grammar, spelling and arithmetic—and deliberate distortion.

Outskirts uses such grandiose phrases as "a veritable army of publishing professionals" to attract customers—but those professionals tell lies to make independent self-publishing seem much harder than it really is.

Although Outskirts uses such buzzwords as "self-publishing" and "print-on-demand," it's really a vanity publisher. Vanity publishers make most of their money by selling services and overpriced trinkets (even sneakers bearing the images of book covers!) to naïve authors—not by selling books to readers. The books are often ugly, unedited and overpriced. They sell poorly, and are seldom reviewed.

Boss Brent is as incompetent as his staff. I used to pick on him and them regularly in this blog, and it's time to do it again

On the second page of the foreword to Self Publishing Simplified, Sampson refers to "off-set" printing, with a hyphen between the "off" and the "set." The term also appears on four other pages in the book.

That's a really stupid error, especially for a book publisher. The correct term is "offset," and it's been that way for over 100 years since offset printing was invented by Ira Rubel in Nutley, New Jersey.

On his company's website, Sampson urges writers to use an editor and says, "Errors in your writing cause readers to question your credibility." I question his.

The back-of-book bio says Sampson is an "accomplished artist and writer." His personal website has a stupid typo: "earn up to tens-of-thousands a dollars." Based on this, I'm not impressed with his writing accomplishments.

The book has a 'foreword' written by Sampson—which goes against normal book publishing rules. A foreword is not supposed to be written by the author. Sampson should have called it a preface or an introduction or hired someone else to write the foreword.

According to Sampson, "Peter Mark first published the Thesaurus in 1852," strangely ignoring the much more famous Peter Roget who published his Thesaurus in the same year. Actually Mark was the middle name of Peter Mark Roget, so Sampson was two-thirds right.

He also says getting an ISBN (the unique identification number for each book) is a "headache." Sorry, Brent, that's just not true. I ordered five ISBNs in about five minutes. All I needed was my keyboard and a credit card. I never touched the Tylenol bottle.

Sampson also talks about the troubles that "Most self-published authors" have getting their books distributed, the high percentages paid to Amazon, and the high costs of setting up websites. That's self-serving fiction designed to make his own company look good, and he can't possibly know the experiences of "most..."

The company's book prices are often absurd, and seem likely to doom book sales. Should a hardcover cost more than twice as much as the paperback edition? (Probably not.) Would you pay $51.95 for a book about beekeeping, or $28.95 for a book about circumcisions? 

Outskirts issued a press release (prepared by error-addicted Kelly Schuknecht) announcing that six of its authors appeared in an Outskirts ad in the "New York Times Review of Books."

Sorry, Kelly. That's not true. There is no such thing as the "New York Times Review of Books."

The Outskirts ad appeared in the New York Review of Books. It is not the same publication as the New York Times Sunday Book Review section. A book publisher should know the difference. 

Authors' bios include irrelevant info. Does knowing the name of the dead husband of an author motivate you to buy her book? Probably not.

These bits of foolishness and outright deceptions do not inspire confidence. Neither does a silly error appearing TWICE in a recent ad. Brent is identified as an "Ernest & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Semi-Finalist." The correct name is Ernst, and has been since 1903.

I am not perfect, but I strive to avoid errors in my writing. Outskirts Press does not, either in the books it publishes for others or in its own promotional materials. The company's "one-on-one support" and "veritable army of publishing professionals" are highly unprofessional.



Here's a complaint from one Outskirts customer:

BEWARE!  These people are crooks!  I was so excited to publish my first book back in 2013, and they DID NOT Pay my royalties.  I advertised my book myself, despite the fact that I paid Outskirts Press to advertise, which they did not, aside from just placing my book on Amazon and B&N, a service that I also paid extra for on top of the supposed advertising.   When advertising myself, found many people had purchased my book, and one customer actually bought 10 copies to give out as Christmas gifts.  With all that, I received less than $20 in royalties in 7 years, from 2013 thru present, as I saw people purchase my books and even saw them advertised on Ebay.  

Plus, in very small print they state in your contract that you are responsible for a storage fee due every year.  Because I opted for a paper back and hard cover, I was expected to pay $50 every year for storage.  I would not have minded that, if I had received my royalties.  When you first contact them about publishing, they are the absolute nicest people around, UNTIL you are old news and then NO One ever responds to phone calls or emails.   After not receiving royalties for years and not getting return emails or calls, I finally stopped paying Storage fees AFTER paying them on time for 4 years while never seeing a penny of my royalties.  So now, through a complaint with the BBB, Outskirts Press responded to my complaint by saying because I didn't pay the storage fees, I was not entitled to receive any royalties.  This is so underhanded!  They trap you first by not paying your royalties or paying just a very small fraction (Less than $20 over 7 years!), do not answer emails or calls, to where you become so frustrated, you just stop paying the storage fees after paying them on time for 4 YEARS, and after not getting your royalties!  AND this is how they get you!  They turn it around and say you didn't pay your storage fees while continuing to sell YOUR book, collect profits and NEVER pay you a dime afterwards!  I should have read the reviews before I involved myself with them.  I SEE NOW SO MANY PEOPLE WERE CHEATED OUT OF THEIR ROYALITES AS WELL.  THIS SEEMS TO BE A VERY COMMON COMPLAINT WITH THIS COMPANY.  PLEASE BEWARE!  Take a look at the BBB (Better Business Bureau) website and you will see for yourself!  They have full control of the accounting so it's easy for them to cheat you.  If I had known they'd be so underhanded, I would have never gone with them