Monday, August 5, 2019

TIME OUT.
For most of the summer of 2019 I'll be authoring,
not blogging



Due in the fall, 2019
I Didn’t Understand Baseball Until I Was 55.
Can I Figure Our God before I’m 75?
                 A Sporting & Spiritual Journey,
                by Bestselling Author Michael N. Marcus
Author Michael N. Marcus was born in the Bronx in 1946 and spent the first six years of his life just a few miles from Yankee Stadium. Despite this proximity, he never became a baseball fan―probably because he never received a proper explanation of the sport. ​According to Marcus, “When other kids asked me who my favorite player was, I’d quickly say “Mickey Mantle.” It was an easy answer because Mick and I shared initials and nobody would disagree.”
In 2001 a nephew and nieces begged Marcus to take them to a game at Yankee Stadium. He packed a radio with a headset, and a book. Marcus set the radio to WCBS, allegedly an all-news station, and he was shocked to encounter a play-by-play analysis of the game in front of him. Soon he began to understand “the national pastime.” 
In baseball, it had always seemed to Marcus, that it was the hitters who were the heroes. People like Mantle hit the balls that drove up the scores that won games and the World Series. But what he learned from the radio was that it was the pitchers and catchers—not the hitters—who were really in control. Balls―not bats―made the big difference.
​Throwing was more important than hitting, and it was the silent, stealthy, sneaky catchers squatting behind home plate who signaled instructions to pitchers who caused hitters to strike out. ​Because of good pitchers, even good hitters seldom got good hits. And, if they did, the balls were usually caught by good fielders. ​Marcus actually enjoyed baseball that day.
​​The parallel premise of this book is that Marcus’s concept of God was based on inadequate information plus childhood images of an old guy with a long beard up on a cloud. Marcus says, “​I outgrew religion when I was 12 years old and could not get a good explanation for why the mighty Supreme Being who smote the enemies of the ancient Jewish people did not stop Atilla the Hun, the Great Plague, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust and the KKK. ​ I wondered if the allegedly omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent King of the Universe was absent, distracted, no longer cared, or never actually existed. ​I could accept the notion of a creative force (which I label The Prime Catalyst) but I could not make a transition from a Big Bang to a Supreme Being that should be feared and prayed to. ​I recognize that I don’t know everything, but the possibility of there being a super-entity is so remote that I am willing to live my life as if it does not exist.”
​Marcus’s late understanding of baseball made him appreciate the sport, but it came too late to make him a fan. ​Similarly, he had his first coffee on his 70th birthday. He liked it, but never became a fan. In researching this book Marcus hopes to arrive at an ‘adult’ understanding of God.

Will a better understanding make him a believer, or maybe even a fan? Perhaps. The answer is ahead.

This book is a sporting and spiritual journey. Enjoy the ride.

Monday, July 1, 2019

American authors can have trouble writing for Canadians, unless they write in French

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.

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

Friday, June 28, 2019

It's time to abolish 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 and is 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 cross the street.

To be a Bobcat a kid has to learn and say the Cub Scout motto, promise and the Law of the Pack—and tell what they mean; show the Cub Scout sign, salute and handshake—and tell what they mean; and 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:
  • A person wrote something so important or wonderful that a publisher paid to publish the book.
  • A person is so famous (like Levi Johnston, the almost-son-in-law of Sarah Palin) that a publisher paid to publish the book.
  • 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.
  • If you can click a keyboard and move a mouse, you can be a published author.
  • The cost can be ZERO.
  • You don't have to impress anyone.
  • You can be a terrible writer and still be a published author.
  • It doesn't matter if nobody reads your book.
  • It's easier to become an author than to become a Bobcat.
  • You don't even have to learn to salute or promise to follow Akela.
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.)





Monday, June 24, 2019

It's best to not piss off people online. The web never forgets.



In the 21st century, when many people consider doing business with a company or making a purchase, one of the first things they do is to search for comments online.

Eighteen years ago my wife ignored abundant bad reviews and we suffered until recently with a big-buck Dacor 'pro-style' gas range (recently replaced with a fine Jenn-Air.

I check reviews several times a week before ordering from Amazon (recent winners include a dandelion puller, pool-cleaning robot and socks), and I read comments about the Honda Crosstour before even visiting dealers. (The car is great.)

A search for Outskirts Press on Google showed more than 5 million results. However, on the critical first three pages, many are NEGATIVE. Two negative links on the first page are for this blog.

A search on Bing showed two negative links for Outskirts on the first results page and more negative links on other pages.

Any person or business with an online existence may accumulate online criticism—and it may be on the web forever. Do the right thing, and do things right.

Yes, I know that the blog title warns about pissing people off, and I often piss people off with what I write on this blog. I like to think that I am performing a public service (and maybe providing some entertainment). The targets of my criticism deserve to be criticized. So far, no one I've pissed off in this blog has sued me. I am willing to take the chance. I like the First Amendment very much. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

What does an independent author need to do?



I've been writing professionally since 1969. I've had books published by a big-name publisher (Doubleday) and by a small, long-gone publisher—but most of my 40-plus books have been published by my own Silver Sands Books.

When others published my books all I had to do was write. I much prefer the control, speed and income when I publish my own books, but I have to do much more work.

Here's some of what's involved:

1. Have at least one book idea.



2. Unless you are using a publishing services company such as Xlibris or Outskirts Press and are willing to have its name on your books, pick a name for your own publishing enterprise. Think of several acceptable names and do some research so you can select one that’s not already being used by another company in publishing or a related field. Even if you now think you will publish in just one genre, pick a name that won't limit the kinds of books you will publish. You may think you'll publish books only about car repair, ballet or vegetable-growing, but a too-specific name will hurt your chances to expand if you change your mind later. It may be tough to market a sci-fi book if your company name is "Ballerina Books" and your logo is a tutu or ballet slippers.


3. Register the name in the local government office that registers names, often the town clerk's office. You will get an “assumed name” certificate, “fictitious name” certificate, or a “DBA” (Doing Business As) certificate. It probably will cost just a few bucks. You may be required to advertise the business name in a local newspaper.


4. Get whatever licenses or permits that your state or municipality requires.


5. Open a business checking account under the business name.


6. Get business cards.


7. Set up a website.


8. Set up a businesslike email address, not a personal Gmail or Yahoo email account.


9. Write the first book.


10. Have the book copyedited and, if necessary, get more extensive editing.


11. Have the book read by several laypeople and, if the subject is in a specialized or technical field, by one or more experts on the subject.


12. Make the suggested changes.


13. Either gather the necessary photos, graphs and illustrations or have custom artwork made.


14. Either design the interior yourself or hire a pro to do it.


15. Either design the covers and spine yourself or hire a pro to do them. (You should probably hire a pro.)


16. Show several cover alternatives to people whose judgment you respect. Strive to stimulate thought and dialog—not merely “I like it,” “I hate it,” “OK,” “wow” or “hmmm.”


17. Put your manuscript into book-like format, using either Microsoft Word or a more sophisticated program.


18. Insert the artwork in the proper positions.


19. Read, read, read, and have others read, read, read—on the screen in multiple formats and on printed papers.


20. Establish an account with Lightning Source, IngramSpark, Amazon's KDP (which absorbed CreateSpace) or several of them so they will print and distribute your book—or use a publishing service if you want to do less work and are willing to have less control and make less money. If you plan to publish only ebooks you can do everything yourself with Amazon's KDP system (Kindle only). If you want broad distribution, I recommend eBookIt.


21. Promote, promote, promote. Let lots of potential readers know that your book exists and convince them to buy. Promotion includes news releases, book reviews, comments on blogs and websites, email signatures, your own websites and blogs, social networks including Facebook and LinkedIn, distributing business cards, mailing out letters and post cards, signing autographs at bookstore sessions, and whatever else you can think of. Below I have inserted a picture of one of my recent books, Do As I Say, Not As I Did. Here's a link. This is a form of promotion. If you're an author who wants to make money, you have to promote your books. If you are bashful, you may starve.







Friday, June 14, 2019

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 shitty 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 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.
Over a dozen of my books have been bestsellers with ZERO market research. Steve Jobs developed amazing Apple products based on his own passion, not on 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.

 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Authors: Why is your book selling poorly? Here are 30 possible reasons

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, maybe even hardback).
  30. Your books stinks (worth repeating).



Tuesday, May 28, 2019

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.



Monday, May 20, 2019

Some unpleasant facts of life for self-publishing authors



You’ll probably see ads proclaiming “FREE PUBLISHING” and you’ll also encounter publishing packages priced under $200. Here’s the truth: (1) No self-publishing company will print and deliver a book for free. (2) Unless you are prepared to spend $1,000 or more ($3,000 or more would be better), you probably won’t get a high-quality book and will not be able to tell many potential readers that the book exists and convince them to buy it.

Writing your book is just your first assignment as an author. Unless you are prepared to make a major effort to publicize your book, few people will know about it or read it.

Most books lose money—even those published by media giants with huge staffs of highly paid and experienced experts. Million-sellers are very rare in the book business. In self-publishing, thousand-sellers are very rare.

Most writers love to write but few people get rich from writing (or from poker, painting or singing). Learn as much as you can about writing and publishing, and work as hard as you can to produce a fine book. But don’t quit your day job and don’t remortgage your house to finance your publishing.

Although a first book can be profitable, don’t assume that your first will be profitable. Write your first book for the joy of it, or to impress your friends and family, or to change some minds, or as a learning experience or a business builder. Over months and years, as you improve your writing skills and learn more about the publishing business, the profits may come. If writing is not either fun or profitable or both—stop writing.

There’s nothing wrong with publishing for pleasure. The cost of publishing a book may be much less than the cost of a boat, a vacation or even a pool tableand nobody expects them to show a profit. If you can afford to publish for fun, do it. If you can make money while having fun, that’s even better.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Go back, go back. Time travel is possible for writers.

My career as a writer started in fourth or fifth grade, back when Barney roamed the earth.

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 paper, and don't even remember its name. The name was probably lame and my writing probably sucked and 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 columns. 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.

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? (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 is a way 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.

Articles and ads going back over a century have been preserved—perhaps for future centuries.

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 that probably should have stayed underground, 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 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 73-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 73, I don't care.

(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.)

Friday, May 3, 2019

These books may have the worst indexes in the world. Authors: keep your books off my next list.


I previously declared that the world's worst index was in Best in Self-Publishing & Print-On-Demand by David Rising, a charter member of the Self-Publishing Hall of Shame.

The index was apparently assembled by a robot and never checked by a homo sapiens. A smart orangutan or lemur might have made a better index.

(above) In the index, before the “A” topics, we have topics beginning with $, 3 and 7. The index typography is a strange mix of standard, boldface and underlined text, has no system for capitalization and uses different typefaces. Even email addresses appear in the index. There are terms that no one would ever look for, like "hobby" and "private." Some terms are listed twice. Do we really need 72 DPI as well as 72 DPI. with a period after it? (Both are on the same page, BTW.)

Expected terms and names are left out. The front cover screams, “How to Get Published Free.” The word “free” is not indexed, and I couldn’t find anything about free book publishing inside the book.


Helen Gallagher wrote an ugly, sloppy, padded, inaccurate and poorly edited book titled Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way!


(above) Helen produced the second-worst index I've ever seen. Readers really don't need separate listings for both "distributors" and "Distributors," or "marketing" and "Marketing," or "publishers" and "Publishers," or "small press," "small presses" and "Small Presses."

Most nonfiction pbooks need an index. Microsoft Word can produce an index, but it will be ugly and confusing without proper setup—and intervention.

Some important tips:
  1. Remove duplicate listings. The same word shown in both roman and italic type, or with and without Initial Uppercase Letters, or in singular and plural form does not deserve two listings.
  2. Don't include any terms that nobody would look for.
  3. If you add or remove pages, update the index so page numbers will be accurate.
  4. Make sure that you include important terms, especially if they are on your cover or in your promotional material.
  5. Names should be listed under the last name.
  6. Check spelling.
Even some good books have bad indexes. All books don't need indexes. If you are sure you need to have an index, be prepared to invest a lot of time in it (when you might rather be doing something else) or maybe invest money to have someone else do it. There are professional indexers in the UK and in the USA who can do quality work without complaining.

I now have the distinct displeasure to announce a tie for "World's Worst Index," in The Great Black Hope by Constance Kluesener Gorman.



The book is a confusing mix of sports and spirituality. The author claims to be a Christian Mystic "favored with the gifts of prophecy, healing, miracles and private revelation from God."  It would be better if she had the gift of proper indexing.

On an online authors' forum she complained about poor sales despite extensive publicity.

There are many reasons why a book may not sell well. It's important to keep in mind that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising

Book previews on websites plus downloadable free samples can make potential purchasers aware of problems which keep them from buying the book.

The author's website, Amazon description and book badly need editing. Obvious errors in grammar and typography scream AMATEUR.

The index should be severely edited, or just deleted.

Who is going to try to find a page about "birthday" or "Mike?" Why does Lawrence Taylor have one citation under "LT" but eleven without the "LT?" Why is Mentor in boldface and  gunfire in italics? There seems to be no system for uppercasing, italicizing and boldfacing. The index lists both depression and Depression. Levi Jones is listed twice. People are listed under first names, not last. "Kroger's.," should be "Kroger,"

Did anyone look at this stinking mess before I did?


Monday, April 29, 2019

Legibility is much more important than looking cool/hip/exciting/glamorous etc.



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

I'll never understand why people who put great effort into their words make it so hard for people to read them. This happens with books, websites, magazine articles, advertising, store signs, menus, catalogs, maps, 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. And if you do 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.


(above) The text on this cover is much too hard to read.

(above) The third word in the title is "key." It looks like "hey." FAIL.

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

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

Friday, April 26, 2019

Authors & Designers: errors can hide anywhere, even on a book 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 or designed. 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.

A while ago I uploaded the first version of my new Typography for Independent Publishers for sale on Amazon. The next day 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.


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

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Important point for writers to ponder: how long will your writing be readable?




Writers who produce ebooks only should think about future readability.

JERUSALEM (AP) - Archaeologists say a newly discovered clay fragment from the 14th century B.C. is the oldest example of writing ever found in antiquity-rich Jerusalem.

Dig director Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University says the 2-centimeter (0.8-inch) long fragment bears an ancient form of writing known as Akkadian wedge script.

The fragment includes a partial text including the words "you," "them," and "later."

It predates the next-oldest example of writing found in Jerusalem by 600 years, and dates roughly four centuries before the Bible says King David ruled a Jewish kingdom from the city.

Mazar said Monday that the fragment likely came from a royal court and suggested more could be found in the most ancient part of Jerusalem, located in the city's predominantly Palestinian eastern sector.

If there are still people on the planet 3,500 years from now, will they be able to read your ebook?

What about 350 years, or 35 years?


Have you tried to find a device to play Laserdiscs (approx. 1978 - 2002), Elcasets (approx. 1976 - 1980) or quadraphonic 8-track tapes (approx. 1970 - 1975)?

Friday, April 19, 2019

Authors: Bad news may be good news for your book sales


Victor Hugo's 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame reached the top of Amazon's bestseller lists this week in France and elsewhere following the devastating fire at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Hugo, however, will not earn any royalties from the sales boom.

Sales of the French translation of Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of Paris, A Moveable Feast, rose after 2015 terrorist attacks in the Paris area when at least 129 people died. Hemingway, like Hugo, collected nothing.


You've probably heard that "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good." It's an ancient proverb that has come to mean that a wind that is bad for many people, can be good for others.
  • The same windstorm that drives a boat off its course and onto the rocks might also help a becalmed sailing ship to reach home swiftly and safely—and can power the windmills on the land.
  • A wind that is no good for someone is unusual and ill indeed. 
  • Probably nothing is bad for everyone.
When I was in college in the 60s, I operated a slightly profitable business distributing anti-war pins. One said, "War is Good Business. Invest Your Son." Apparently 58,212 Americans were killed and 153,452 were wounded in the War in Vietnam—plus about 2 million Vietnamese. Nevertheless, the war was good for arms makers, and for college kids who sold anti-war pins and bumper stickers.
 
When Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died in 2011, The Associated Press said, "As macabre as it might seem, Jobs' death Wednesday will only add to the Apple mystique - and profit." The iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac likely got short-term sales boosts as consumers paid the ultimate tribute to Jobs. It's a commercial phenomenon that also occurred when Michael Jackson's album and song sales rocketed after he died in 2009.
Simon & Schuster moved up the publication date of its biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson from November 21 to October 24. Even before publication, the book was ranked #1 on Amazon's overall bestseller list and #1 on three other Amazon bestseller lists, because of pre-orders (including my order).


In my Independent Self-Publishing: The Complete Guide, I wrote, "Remember that the mere publication of your book is not usually sufficiently newsworthy to impress editors and writers. Only the most desperate small-town weekly would publish an article with the headline: 'Local Woman Writes Book.' Your news release needs a news hook. The hook is the main point of your release. It can be a theme, state­ment, trend or event on which you “hang” your news release.  If an important person just got married, promoted, fired, elected or killed, a book about that person should be newsworthy . . . ."

I certainly don't recommend that you murder someone you wrote about. But, if that person should die without your intervention, if there's a revolution in a country you wrote about, or if a company you wrote about goes bankrupt or is sued for something terrible, be prepared to take advantage of the promotional possibilities. Step up your publicity, make phones calls. Send out emails and press releases. Biographer Walter Isaacson was interviewed a great many times about Steve Jobs, and Simon & Schuster sold a great many books.

(Fire photo from Ian Langsdon, EPA-EFE). Second photo from "Gilligan's Island" TV show.)