Thursday, October 22, 2020

Authors: Errors can hide anywhere. Check your books in multiple media

 


[above] Despite multiple editing sessions, until after I had a printed book in front of me, I did not see that the photo had moved away from the right margin, and a word was misplaced. 


[above] Here's what a not-ready-for-prime-time book looks like after I found things that needed to be fixed. I did not see the errors until I had a printed book.

A few weeks ago I uploaded what I hoped would be the final version of my wonderful new book, Failure To Communicate. The title is from dialog in the highly acclaimed 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman. 




It's been on sale for about a month but I've been tweaking and adding and have held off on promoting the book until the ebook version was available. Yesterday I received a physical copy and I'll study it carefully. 

I've already made hundreds of corrections. Most of them were too tiny for mere mortals to notice or be bothered by—but I was compelled to find and fix them. Perfection is elusive and probably impossible, but I am honor-bound to strive.


Sadly, I find tons of errors in books published by major companies with huge budgets for editors. One of the sloppiest I've recently read is the highly enjoyable American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Every chapter has words that run together. A ten-year-old with no degree in journalism could have found them and fixed them.
A while ago I attended a lecture by a very bright doctor. The "handout" he distributed had over a dozen blatant errors. He is apparently a skilled surgeon, who does better with a scalpel than with a keyboard. Anything you write with the hope of generating business deserves professional editing.

Back to my new book: I'm sure I'll find dozens of stupid errors to repair, and each repair can cause still more errors.

That's the way it was in Shakespeare's time in the 1600s, and that's the way it still is. Any time humans are involved in making something, there will be human errors. 

Even though I'm careful and experienced, I am far from perfect. I am often amazed at the errors that should have been obvious that eluded me through dozens of examination sessions. Sometimes I make changes simply because I've changed my mind and don't like something that seemed just fine a few months ago. Sometimes I'll take advantage of the delay to add things.


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

Amazon KDP (formerly CreateSpace) and Lightning Source will provide PDF proofs on your PC screen for free, or printed proofs for about $20, delivered. If you are planning to have Amazon KDP print your books, you may as well let them provide proofs. HOWEVER, if you are willing to approve an imperfect book to be on sale temporarily, you can get books faster and for less money by ordering from Amazon! Your purchases may even help your book's sales ranking.


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

I realized that it was destined to have as-yet-undiscovered errors, and I had a thought.


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

No matter how many time you check your manuscript, there WILL be errors in your final pbook or ebook.
  • One problem that's almost invisible on PC monitors but can be seen in a printed book are sentences or paragraphs that are gray instead of black. Look closely.
  • And watch out for straight apostrophes and quote marks that really should be curly. This is a common problem when you copy and paste from text that was intended for Web use, where curlies are seldom used. The difference may be hard to spot on a PC screen, so ZOOOOOM up to 120 - 200% of normal size to make the errors stand out.
  • It's easy to accidentally copy-and-paste wrong typefaces from the web or other documents. Look very closely.
  • Also watch out for unintentional hyphens that may move from the end of a line to the middle of a line. This generally won't happen with automatic hyphenating. But if you manually insert a hyphen, and then shift text around, possibly by changing the size or position of a graphic element, hyphens can wander around the page. Your word-processing software can search for improper hyphens. It's tedious work, but should be done.


Melania Trump advised kids to "be best." The language is awkward, but it's good advice for authors as well as children. (photo from conservativemedia.com)

Friday, October 9, 2020

All authors need business cards.
And what about bookmarks?



Authors—whether self-published or traditionally published—can't afford to be meek. You must get comfortable talking to strangers. If you're afraid to toot your own horn, you'll have to hire someone to toot for you.

A business card is an important accessory to tooting, or pitching. It's a powerful and inexpensive 'souvenir' of a brief encounter or lengthy meeting that can lead to business. (Traditional cardboard bookmarks don't work with ebooks but do have legitimate use. See below.) 
  • Books are often sold one-at-a-time, and each happy purchaser can tell someone else, and each of those purchasers can tell other people, and so on. You hope. Business cards make it easy to pass the word about a book or author.
  • You can have cards that promote specific books, or a series of books, and cards that identify yourself as an author, as a publisher, an editor, designer, illustrator, or provider of other services.
  • Always have several cards of each type in your pocketbook or wallet.
  • If you are going to a trade show, convention, reading, panel discussion, interview, networking session or other business event, take lots of cards.
  • If you have a car, boat, airplane, motorcycle or bicycle, keep lots of cards in it, and keep them easy to get at. One of my books is about my late dog. If I see someone walking a dog while I'm driving, she or he often gets a card about my dog book.
  • If you have a "go bag" for unexpected trips—put cards in it.
  • If you're going on vacation, pack cards and know where they are.

  • Business cards are a good reason for a male author to carry a "murse" (man's purse).
  • Separate your various cards so you can quickly grab the right one.
  • Replace depleted cards from the primary inventory in your office.
Some of my cards:




Any time you sign or send a book, stick in three to six business cards that show the book cover and maybe "at Amazon and B&N" or your website address if you prefer to sell directly. Make it easy for happy customers to recommend the book to others. While some of the cards may be used as bookmarks, crumb sweepers or be thrown away, assume that some will be passed on to potential purchasers.

For years I've gotten my cards from Vistaprint, a major maker of business cards and other promotional products for businesses. For the cards shown here, I uploaded a TIF image copied from the PDF of my cover. Most of my paperback books measure 6 x 9 inches, and fit fine on the business card with a little space above and below the cover image for promotional copy. Keep in mind that the more text you use, the smaller it gets, so write efficiently as well as effectively.
  • The recent price was just $17.02 for 250 cards—under seven cents each with shipping. A thousand cards would cost $33 (just over three cents each), and 5,000 would cost $132 (just over 2-1/2 cents apiece). If you spend a little more, you can have Vistaprint use the space on the back to print some blurbs from readers or reviewers who like the book.
My wife and I carry cards to give to possible "customers." Marilyn has turned out to be an excellent salesperson. She motivated our dentist to order a book from Amazon and I signed it for him when I had my teeth cleaned. My podiatrist, however, asked for a freebie. I gave it to him and he displays it in his office. So does my urologist. Nice.

What about bookmarks?

Years ago many authors had stacks of bookmarks to give to potential readers. Bookmarks obviously don't work with today's popular ebooks, and they take up more space than business cards—but it may make sense to get some.

Bookmarks are available from Vistaprint and other sources for a few cents each.

  1. They are good giveaways if you will be having a book talk, especially if you will be selling books from the back of the room.
  2. If you sell books with autographs or inscriptions, insert a bookmark or two into each one before you send it out.
  3. Some readers collect bookmarks (I have a bunch), so it can't hurt to cater to their addiction.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

I could not hate Your Online Publicist more if it distributed poisonous candy on Halloween

In the past few months I've gotten many phone calls from Your Online Publicist, as often to my private personal unlisted phone number as to the number of my publishing company.

The callers are women with heavy accents, struggling to read scripts.

They tell me that their editorial staff is impressed with my writing style, and other bullshit that does not impress me. They are trying to get me to use the company's services to promote an ancient, obsolete book (published in 2010 and that I am no longer interested in selling), at book fairs outside the United States.
 

I explained this in each call and told the women that I have other, recent, books. But, instead of further engagement that a competent salesperson should provide, I got hung up on.

This happened with "Monica," "Nancy" and other women with apparently fake names. Their script and inadequate training do not prepare them to deal with an author of multiple books. They might've generated income for themselves and their company—but they failed.

The calls persist despite my many requests to the women to remove me from their list, and an email sent to the company on 9/16 (which was not replied to).

I don't know how Your Online Publicist stays in business. From what I've observed, it deserves to go out of business! 
  • Its Facebook page, website and blog are out-of-date.
  • Its website has horrid writing, apparently produced by someone who is not a native English speaker.
  • Uppercasing is illogical, almost random.
  • Centered text is amateurish and hard to read.
  • Incompetence is abundant—including such bloopers as "Grabe your copies Now!" A publisher should never display such mistakes.
  • On Facebook, the company indicates that it loves one of its own posts! Apparently nobody else does.


The company promises "Revolutionary Online Publishing." That claim is repeated, unexplained and a lie. There is nothing revolutionary about the company. It offers the same overpriced incompetence as its competitors.

Authors' websites are sloppy and clogged with extraneous information.
  • Will anyone buy a book because they know the names and occupations of Gene Boffa's children, or what his grandchildren do in the summer? Of course not!
  • Do we need to know the name of William Caudle's wife? Probably not.


Some pages for ordering books do not exist! That doesn't happen with Amazon.

The company's publishing and website prices are absurd. It's extremely unlikely that an author can make any money using this company! Its publishing packages include an allegedly "FREE eBook copy"—but the packages cost from $6,000 to $15,000!  "FREE" is very costly.

Publicity packages are priced at $5k, $9k and $14k per year. YIKES!

I wanted to view some sample press releases, but none are provided on the company's website. I found a few releases online (two are linked here and here), but they seem to have been written by someone who has a limited familiarity with the English language. 

In addition to the language problem, the releases, especially this one, were apparently written by someone with absolutely no knowledge of book publicity. A release should be written in a neutral, journalistic style to make it easy for editors and writers to use. But this one is gushing, like an amateur advertisement (with an unnecessary injection of religion). A Google test shows that the release has been ignored by all news media—certainly not the desired result for the expenditure of thousands of dollars! 

The company's website has links to authors' websites, but there are many missing pages and at least one scary ACCOUNT SUSPENDED notice. That's embarrassing for the author (if anyone sees it).



The company seems to be an incompetent predator like many vanity publishers, taking advantage of ignorant writers. I am not one, fortunately.

It even wants writers to have their own bookstores. That's ridiculous. No writer's store can possibly have the traffic of Amazon, B&N or even a local independent bookseller supporting multiple authors and subjects.

The company's name is confusing and ill-chosen. Your Online Publicist seems to be more of a publisher than a publicist. Was there a translation error? The name is also inconsistent. On Facebook it calls itself "Your Online Publicity." A publisher needs to have a copyeditor, for its own work as well as its authors. 

Your Online Publicist deserves to go out of business. Do not give it even one penny!


UPDATE (30 September 2020): This morning I got a call from a heavily accented woman who said her name is Meg. As usual she tried to get me to promote an ancient, obsolete book I had no interest in promoting. She said her people are "fascinated" by my writing style and I've been chosen by the company's "decision makers." 

She then tried to convince me of the dubious advantages of opening my own bookstore to compete with Amazon (with a link from my Facebook page!!!), and suggested that I use the company to distribute a press release to generate interest in a book.

I asked the price for distribution and I was connected to a "senior publicist" allegedly named Brian Larsen. I asked how he got my personal unlisted number. He initially lied that it was on a press release, and then said that it is in a data base of authors (extremely unlikely).

We chatted a bit more, he looked at my website, asked a few questions, and hung up on me.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Amazon KDP authors can save money and get books faster from Amazon than from KDP

When I began my publishing company, Silver Sands Books, in 2008 I used Lightning Source to print and distribute my books. I also tried Lulu.

For the last dozen books I've used Amazon's CreateSpace subsidiary (now called KDP) to print and distribute. It does good work, quickly, with no upfront cost and good tech support when needed. 

Every author needs copies of books, for error-checking, gift-giving, reviews and just keeping around.


Amazon sells my latest book for $14.95. With sales tax and free "Prime" delivery, my total price is $15.90.  

As the book's publisher, I earn a royalty of $5.96 per book, lowering my delivered cost to just $9.94 if I buy a book at "retail" from Amazon.

Naturally, I could order a book "wholesale" directly from KDP. My direct price per book is a very reasonable $3.01, but shipping and handling add $11.18 for one book, and sales tax is 90 cents, for a total of $15.09. That is significantly more than ordering from Amazon with a royalty.


As shown above, shipping can take up to five business days after printing, and cost as much as $18.97! 


However, the normal shipping time for orders from Amazon (not KDP) was 5-7 days in the late summer, but has recently gone back to normal speed. I ordered a book on Saturday, 9/26. It was printed and shipped the same day, and I should have it today, Monday 9/28—with FREE SHIPPING. 

Strangely, KDP does not seem to offer quantity discounts. Prices for one, 100 and 500 books are the same $3.01 each, but the shipping cost per copy goes down to just 82 cents each for 500 ($409.99 for 500). Total is $1,914.99. 

However, if you need large quantities (1,000 or more), you'd probably save money by using an offset printer, not a print-on-demand ("POD") printer like KDP. 

Shop around and examine samples.
  • BookBaby charges $2,551.04 for 500 180-page 6-by-9-inch books including shipping.
  • Steuben Press wants just $ 987.49 (plus shipping).
  • 48hr Books charges $2,231 plus $280.21 for shipping to me here in Connecticut.
  • Lightning Source's price is $1,983.90, delivered. 
  • Whitehall Printing Co. charges about $3,100 plus shipping.
  • The Book Patch wants $1,938.75 plus shipping.
    [I apologize for any errors above.]

One other thing, if you buy books from Amazon, you may raise your sales ranking, which may increase sales to 'real' customers who are impressed by your number.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Authors: to detect the most errors, check your book in multiple media

 


Last weekend I uploaded what I hoped would be the final version of my wonderful new book, Failure To Communicate. The title is from dialog in the highly acclaimed 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman. 



It's been on sale for about a month but I've been tweaking and adding and have held off on promoting the book until the ebook version was available. Yesterday I received a physical copy and I'll study it carefully. 

I've already made hundreds of corrections. Most of them were too tiny for mere mortals to notice or be bothered by—but I was compelled to find and fix them. Perfection is elusive and probably impossible, but I am honor-bound to strive.


Sadly, I find tons of errors in books published by major companies with huge budgets for editors. One of the sloppiest I've recently read is the highly enjoyable American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Every chapter has words that run together. A ten-year-old with no degree in journalism could have found them and fixed them.
A while ago I attended a lecture by a very bright doctor. The "handout" he distributed had over a dozen blatant errors. He is apparently a skilled surgeon, who does better with a scalpel than with a keyboard. Anything you write with the hope of generating business deserves professional editing.

Back to my new book: I'm sure I'll find dozens of stupid errors to repair, and each repair can cause still more errors.

That's the way it was in Shakespeare's time in the 1600s, and that's the way it still is. Any time humans are involved in making something, there will be human errors. 

Even though I'm careful and experienced, I am far from perfect. I am often amazed at the errors that should have been obvious that eluded me through dozens of examination sessions. Sometimes I make changes simply because I've changed my mind and don't like something that seemed just fine a few months ago. Sometimes I'll take advantage of the delay to add things.


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

Amazon KDP (formerly CreateSpace) and Lightning Source will provide PDF proofs on your PC screen for free, or printed proofs for about $20, delivered. If you are planning to have Amazon KDP print your books, you may as well let them provide proofs. HOWEVER, if you are willing to approve an imperfect book to be on sale temporarily, you can get books faster and for less money by ordering from Amazon! Your purchases may even help your book's sales ranking.


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

I realized that it was destined to have as-yet-undiscovered errors, and I had a thought.


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

No matter how many time you check your manuscript, there WILL be errors in your final pbook or ebook.
  • One problem that's almost invisible on PC monitors but can be seen in a printed book are sentences or paragraphs that are gray instead of black. Look closely.
  • And watch out for straight apostrophes and quote marks that really should be curly. This is a common problem when you copy and paste from text that was intended for Web use, where curlies are seldom used. The difference may be hard to spot on a PC screen, so ZOOOOOM up to 120 - 200% of normal size to make the errors stand out.
  • It's easy to accidentally copy-and-paste wrong typefaces from the web or other documents. Look very closely.
  • Also watch out for unintentional hyphens that may move from the end of a line to the middle of a line. This generally won't happen with automatic hyphenating. But if you manually insert a hyphen, and then shift text around, possibly by changing the size or position of a graphic element, hyphens can wander around the page. Your word-processing software can search for improper hyphens. It's tedious work, but should be done.


Melania Trump advised kids to "be best." The language is awkward, but it's good advice for authors as well as children. (photo from conservativemedia.com)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Warning to writers: perfection is elusive, maybe impossible, probably dangerous.


My latest book, God & Baseball, shown above,went through dozens of on-screen revisions, and six printed proofs before I pronounced it "good enough" to be sold.

I said "good enough," not "perfect."

In its 91,086 words on 382 pages I know it has at least three small errors that few people (or maybe no people) will notice. I also know that it has fewer errors than most books I've read--even books put out by the big traditional publishers with huge staffs of editors, proofreaders and fact checkers.

Lots of books and other media have easily preventable, inexcusable errors. 

  • Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls by Keith & Kent Zimmerman has silly geography errors. It's disturbing that three Teutuls plus two Zimmermans plus fact checkers and editors at Warner Books could let obvious errors get printed. On page 11, Paul Senior talks about his parents charging people to park in their driveway on Cooper Street in Yonkers, to watch baseball games in Yankee stadium, which was within "walking distance." The famous stadium is about 8.5 miles south. The 17 mile round trip is not "walking distance" for most people. I hope he calculates more precisely while building bikes. Twice on page 15, "Senior" mentions his house in "Muncie", New York. Muncie is in Indiana. The Teutuls lived in MONSEY (which is pronounced like Muncie).
  • Principles of Self-Publishing: How to Pub­lish and Market A Book or Ebook On a Shoestring Budget by Theresa A. Moore is one of the most-error-ridden books I've ever read. Theresa  says that Lightning Source “is a full service publisher.” Lightning is not a publisher of any kind. It is a printing house that works for publishers. It does NOT provide services such as editing and page formatting, which a self-publishing company provides. Anyone who is advising publishers should know the difference between a printer and a publisher. Theresa complains that Lightning Source charges an “exhorbitant shipping fee” for a proof. Both her spelling and her assessment are wrong.
I learned the hard way that each time I make a correction, there is a good chance that I will introduce other errors. They'll need to be corrected, and their corrections may lead to more errors, and the cycle never ends.

Perfection is elusive, and perfection may even be dangerous.


  • In Greek-Roman mythology, Arachne was a skilled human weaver who bragged that she was a better weaver than Minerva. Minerva was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Athena and was goddess of weaving (and of other things, and the inventor of music). Arachne refused to acknowledge that her skill came from Minerva. According to Ovid, the goddess was so envious of the magnificent woman-made tapestry that she destroyed the tapestry and loom, slashed Arachne's face and turned Arachne into a spider. In biology, "arachnids" are the group of critters that includes spiders.
  • Blogger Hannah wrote,"The makers of those meticulous Persian carpets made obvious errors in their rugs to show that no one was perfect except Allah. Some people believe that the Gods might be angry about arrogance of a human effort to produce a work of art without imperfection."
So, I'll live with a few mistakes (I spelled "Cortez" as "Cortes" and omitted an apostrophe)--at least until it's time for a major revision. I wouldn't want to be turned into a spider, or a bookworm.

------------
Rug photo from http://www.willishenry.com.  Arachne illustration source is unknown. Thanks to all.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Bookmarks don't work with ebooks. Authors need business cards. They're better than an empty-handed elevator pitch.

People in business, including authors, are advised to develop an "elevator pitch"—a brief description of a project that can be delivered in about 30 seconds. The pitches might be stimulating enough to motivate a stranger or someone just met to continue a conversation  after leaving the elevator and perhaps buy a product or even invest in a company.

Elevator pitches are not just for elevators. They can be delivered at the post office, in a supermarket or a stadium, on a line in a restaurant or dry cleaner's, on an airplane or anywhere people come in close contact. 


Books are often sold one-at-a-time, and each happy purchaser can tell someone else, and each of those can tell others, and so on.

Authors, whether self-published or traditionally published, can't afford to be meek. You must get comfortable talking to strangers. If you're afraid to toot your own horn, you'll have to hire someone to toot for you.

A business card is an important accessory to pitching or tooting. It's a powerful and inexpensive 'souvenir' of a meeting that can lead to business. Cardboard bookmarks don't work with ebooks.

  • You can have cards that promote specific books, and cards that identify yourself as an author, as a publisher, an editor or provider of other services.
  • Always have several cards of each type with you.
  • If you are going to a trade show, convention, networking session or other business event, take lots of cards.
  • Separate them so you can quickly grab the right one.


Any time you sign or send a book, stick in three to six business cards that show the book cover and maybe "at Amazon and B&N" or your website address if you prefer to sell directly. Make it easy for happy customers to recommend the book to others. While some of the cards may be used as bookmarks, crumb sweepers or be thrown away, I assume that some will be passed on to potential purchasers.

For years I've gotten my cards from VistaPrint, a major maker of business cards and other printed products for businesses. For the cards shown here, I uploaded a TIF image copied from the PDF of my covers. Most of my paperback books measure 6 x 9 inches, and fit fine on the business card with a little white space above and below the cover image for promotional copy. Keep in mind that the more text you use, the smaller it gets, so write efficiently as well as effectively.

The recent price was just $20 for 500 cards—just four cents each with shipping. If you spend a little more, you can have VistaPrint use the space on the back to print some blurbs from readers or reviewers who like the book.

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

Monday, October 7, 2019

Book titles and covers must be allowed to evolve while you're writing

I often get an idea for a book title, and even a cover, months or years before I start to write. Sometime an initial idea is so fabulous that it becomes the final idea. But that scenario is very unusual. It's much more common that as I start writing (and interacting with others) that my cover and title will morph many times (hopefully for the better).

Every baby needs a name and 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 a title can’t be copyrightedMore than a dozen different books are titled Caught in the Middle. I met Deborah Burggraaf, the author of a very good one, on a plane trip a few years ago. If you like her title, you can use it, too—but please don’t.

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 those titles, too—but please don’t.

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.

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.

Some people think it’s bad luck to announce a pregnancy before the baby is born. Others start blabbing and buying baby clothes on the day after conception. There is similar disagreement about announcing a book’s title long in advance. You may think that you should keep your title secret so nobody copies your idea. But the loss of advance publicity and the delay in moving up through search engine rankings is probably worse than helpi­­ng a twin title. If you think you have a hot title, try to publish fast, and maybe your book will be on sale before another one with the same title.

One possibly bright note: if another book has the same title but better publicity, people searching for that book may find your book by accident and buy it.

Come up with about a dozen possible titles. Print them up in big type, one title per page. Hang them on the wall. Stare at them. Close your eyes and say the words and analyze what you visualizeor don't visualize. Within a few minutes, you’ll likely eliminate a third of the titles.

Try multiple variations of your favored titles with minor differences, just changing or dropping a word. Sometimes substituting a shorter word will mean that your title can take up two lines instead of three, so you can use bigger type or a bigger cover photo or both. “Club” and “group” take up less space than “organization.” “Pasta” is shorter than “macaroni.” It's OK to use a single-character ampersand instead of a three-character "and" in a title.

When you get down to two or three "finalists," make dummy book covers with appropriate type and artwork. Print them out and wrap them around real books (even if you plan to publish e-only). Hold them at different angles. Carry them around with you. Ask typical purchasers (if you know some) what the titles mean to them. In 2008 I was shocked to learn that people completely misinterpreted my favored title for a future book. I changed it and the book has sold very well.



(above) Here’s an early concept and final version of one of my books. Try for a title that calls for action. The cover that starts with a bold “GET THE MOST” is much stronger than the wimpy “How to Get . . .”

(below) The ebook version has an even stronger title, How to not get Screwed by a Self-Publishing Company. I could have made it "Don't Get Screwed . . ." Maybe I'll change it.



If you’re writing a nonfiction book, the subject will suggest the book’s title. The subject has to be in the title to attract browsers in stores if your books are sold there. The subject-in-title is also critical for online shoppers searching for keywords or key phrases in search engines or on websites. Assuming the core of your title is something like “auto repair,” “retirement” or “sailing,” you need just a few words to fill it out. Some typical phrases are “learn about,” “all about,” “how to,” “plan for,” “introduction to” and “buyers guide.”

(below) Try this handy Title Generator Table to get started. Pick one item from each column:



Any of those titles should make it very clear what your book is about, and—except for the sex—would also be boring and forgettable. With nonfiction, strive for a title that explains the book’s benefits and the problems it solves. Try to inject a little bit of humor, whimsy, mystery or novelty. Find something that will separate your book from competitors’ books without hiding its subject.

(below) Search engines can help you choose words to go in your nonfiction book’s title and subtitle to improve online “searchability.” In the examples below for a book about “vitamin deficiency,” Bing and Google revealed popular related search terms that will help you choose words to appeal to potential book buyers.


(below) Whoopi Goldberg is both funny and smart. Her book’s title, Book, is only slightly funny, and not at all smart. It provides no indication of the subject (“Whoopi!” might have been a better title). A Google search for “book” shows over ONE BILLION links. Most are not for Whoopi’s book.




(below) Sometimes a title like Star Crossed seems "blah" and forgettable in simple textbut absolutely ignites when combined with the right graphics. Using a title that depends on a visual image to go from "eh" to "WOW!" is a gamble; but this image, while subtle, is so powerful and unforgettable that I think the gamble was worthwhile.


The simple title is absolutely perfect, and intriguing for Bette Isacoff's memoir about religious intermarriage. Bette was a 21-year-old Catholic student teacher who fell in love with a 17-year-old Jewish student (who lived across the street from me in New Haven). This was in 1968, when Jews and Catholics rarely married each other, and there was lots of opposition. Bette and Richard rebelled, got married and are still very much in love. I'm not exactly macho, but I seldom read love stories or chick-lit; however I strongly recommend Bette's book—and love her title and cover.

(below) Your title should not promise to reveal secrets unless it really does. Few “secrets” are secret—and no secrets are secret after even one person reads your book.


Unlike nonfiction, keywords don’t matter for fiction, humor or poetry titles. You just want something distinctive and mem­orable. Short is often better than long.



(above) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a great short title. So is I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Zac Bissonnette’s How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better-Looking Than Your Parents and Erma Bombeck’s The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank are great long titles.
  • Pick words that sound good together. People like and remember alliterations. If your title uses the name of a fictional character, pick a name that will help your book. Saving Silverman beats Saving Berkowitz. The Great Gatsby beats The Great Murphy. With actual names, you can do an alliteration like The Obama Overture or The Kennedy Killing.
  • A short title is easier to remember than a long one, and leaves more room for enticing artwork on your book's cover.
  • Avoid awkward word combinations like “and end,” “usually use” and “be because” on and in the book.
  • (Mostly for nonfiction) The subtitle gives you a second chance to sell your book. It’s very important online, and in stores. Pick a good one. Sometimes a title and a subtitle can be switched, or a new title can combine elements of both. 
  • You can also have a 'fake' subtitle loaded with keywords that would be ugly on a cover, but are very effective for capturing searchers on Amazon.com. Publishing expert Aaron Shepard is a wizard with long subtitles. He has a lot to teach you. Pay attention.
I once modified a subtitle on Amazon long before I changed what was printed on the book. No one complained.

The subtitle printed on the cover of Fundamentals of Public Administration is “A Blueprint for Nigeria Innovative Public Sector: Understanding the dynamics and concepts of Public Policy Administration, Local Government Administration in developing countries, Servant Leadership in Public Sector, Leadership, Budgeting and Financial Fiscal Responsibility in the Public Sector.” I think that’s a bit too much.



(above) My newest book has a very different cover and title than what I started with and experimented with (below)
 


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