Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Author: does your face belong on the front cover of your books? Probably not

A while ago I was speaking to a "book shepherd," a woman who guides wannabe authors through the publishing process. She works with writers with a wide range of ability, experience, expectation and ego. She said that many writers have such strong egos that they expect their portraits to be on their front covers. 

Some authors deserve this super-star treatment but not many, and certainly not many newbies.
  • If you are writing your first novel or a book of poems, it's highly likely that very few people have ever heard of you and that neither your portrait nor your name will provide a good reason for anyone to invest money and time in reading your precious words. It's much more important to have a great title and cover design.
  • If you're writing nonfiction, whether about the Korean War, cooking pizza or climbing mountains, unless you are famous for achievements in the subject you are writing about, neither your name nor face are likely to convince anyone to invest money and time in reading your precious words. It's much more important to have a great title and cover design.

(above) If you are as famous as Martha Stewart or Suze Orman, and an expert in the field you are writing about, by all means put your portrait on the cover.

(above) If you're famous mainly for being famous, it's critical that your smiling face be on the cover of your books.

(above) If you have a lot of fame (or even a bit of fame) and your physical image will enhance the mood of the book, put your pic on the cover.

(above) If you're famous for your written or spoken words, your face belongs on your book covers—even if you're dead.

(above) If you're well-known for politics, your image gets to smile at book shoppers.

(above) Everyone who wants to be president of the USA—or to be remembered for what was accomplished while president—is assumed to be a professional writer. Fortunately ghostwriters are readily available to aid the inept. The photo on the cover shows the politician, not the actual writer, and sometimes serves as a campaign poster.

(above) Sometimes, not often, books by presidential hopefuls do not have faces facing readers.

(above) If your main claim to fame is that you impregnated a relative of a politician, sure, put your photo on the cover.

(above) If you're not famous, but your appearance adds credibility and implies expertise, sure, put yourself on the cover.

(above) If you're not famous and the presumed audience for your memoir consists of people you know, your portrait certainly won't hurt sales. This is a very interesting book, by the way. I recommend it.

If you're not famous and your face does not closely relate to your book's topic or genre, keep it off the front cover until your third book, or sixth.

(above) Unfortunately, many authors use amateur photos with bad poses, bad lighting, bad focus and distracting backgrounds—on a bad hair day. The book shown above may be the worst book ever published, so the horrid author photo is sadly appropriate.

(above) Even a well-done photo may be inappropriate if the person has no known connection to the subject of the book. This cover has another, bigger problem—the text is extremely difficult to read. Also, the circular necklace ornament right in the center is distracting.

(left) My recent book shows my highly modified face on the front cover. It's a very personal book, so it's appropriate for my face to be there. If I was writing about Richard Nixon, chocolate cake or the Peloponnesian Wars, my face would be on the back. Also, I previously wrote dozens of other books that did not have my face on the front, and I've become more famous over the years.

Here's some advice from Hobie Hobart of Bowker (the ISBN and book research company): Many authors think that putting their picture on the front cover will make them famous. This is not necessarily so. Unless you are well known in the media, bookstore buyers will not accept your book which pictures you on the front cover. However, if you are selling exclusively to a tight niche where you are well known, or your intention is to start branding yourself to a specific market, your photo on the front cover or the spine can be an advantage. 

I've previously posted about the importance of having a pro-quality author portrait. JCPenney is offering 40% off photos now (if you can find a JCPenney that is still open). 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Don't pick crappy/creepy names for your company or its products

Whenever I read "Moleskine," I think MOLE SKIN and visualize dirt-digging furry critters with extra thumbs, or the zits on the faces of Cindy Crawford and Barack Obama—not expensive notebooks.

If you are considering names for a company or product, do your best to make sure the name's pronunciation is unambiguous in the countries where it will appear and that the name does not have incorrect or unpleasant connotations.
  • Mr. Toyoda decided that "Toyota" sounded better than the family name.
  • "Bich" can be pronounced "beesh" in France but when the company decided to market its lighters and pens in the USA it chose the "Bic" name which would probably not be pronounced "bitch." 
  • At its American debut, Korea-based Hyundai announced that in the USA the company name rhymes with "Sunday."
  • Mr. Morita thought that "Sony" would be easier to pronounce than "Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo." He was right. However, I dated a young woman in New York who insisted on pronouncing the name "Saw-nee." I cringed whenever she said it and the relationship was short-lived. Sony once ran an ad campaign with the tag line "Sony. No Baloney." This was too late to save my relationship.

  • International meanings can be as problematic as pronunciation is. The Chevy Nova caused snickering in Spanish-speaking countries where "no vaya" means "no go."
HERE's some advice on choosing a name for a publishing company.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Every author's portrait is important. Don't look ugly. Don't pay $1,000.

Every author needs a portrait—for books, websites, blogs, Twitter, press kits, posters, etc. and to go on their books. Maybe for business cards.

Famous authors like Suze Orman have their faces on the front covers of their books. Pretentious but not-famous authors like Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson also display themselves on the front. Not-famous and not-pretentious authors usually show their faces on the backs of their books. I'm only slightly famous and slightly pretentious.

The book at the left shows my highly modified face on the front cover. It's a very personal book, so it's appropriate for my face to be there. If I was writing about Richard Nixon, chocolate cake or the Peloponnesian Wars, my face would be on the back.

Unfortunately, many authors use amateur photos with bad lighting, bad focus and distracting backgrounds. The price of a portrait shot in a professional photographer’s studio can easily be in the $300-$1,000 range, which is too steep for many writers who don’t have a big publisher to pick up the check.

Fortunately, there are good, low-cost alternatives which few authors think of—the photo studios inside retail stores such as JCPenney and Walmart  (not Target or Sears anymore). Some shopping malls have portrait studios, too. While most of their business involves babies and family Christmas cards, those studios will take pictures of solitary adults, often at ridiculously low prices (typically $7.99-$65).

The photographer will be thrilled to have a subject who doesn’t vomit or require funny faces to elicit a smile.

If you’re getting one picture, choose a plain white background which can later be altered using Photoshop. Get a CD-ROM, not a bunch of wallet-sized prints.

(below) An author photo should be of the author—only. No kids or pets unless they are important to a particular book.

(below) An author photo should not have any distracting elements.

If you had a portrait produced several years ago, take a look at it and make sure that it reflects the way you look now. Is the hair style, color and amount still current? Are you shown wearing ancient eyeglasses or out-of-fashioned clothes? Have you lost or gained a lot of weight? There are many reasons why a photo might need to be replaced. Look closely.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Every author needs a website. Or two. Or maybe seven.

Writing may be a hobby, but authoring is a business.

And, just as potential customers of restaurants and clothing brands expect them to have websites, so do potential readers of your books.

It’s extremely important to have a website—or even multiple websites—to provide information about you and your books. If you don’t have at least one website, you are missing a major opportunity to impress and interact with potential readers.
  • Readers expect authors to have websites. Don’t disappoint them.
It’s neither difficult nor expensive to build and maintain a website. You can easily produce your own site, or you can pay someone to do it for you, or use the services of your publishing company.

Authors' websites (and blogs) follow several formulas, and you can have one or more.
  1. You can have a website to promote one book.
  2. You can have a website to promote a series of books.
  3. You can have a website to promote a cause you support, and also promote a book.
  4. You can have a website to promote your publishing company.
  5. You can have a website to promote you as an author.
  6. You can have a website to promote you as a person.
  7. You can have a website to promote the subject of a book.
  8. You can have a website that promotes an organization or location related to your book, and also promotes the book.
  9. You can have a website that deals with a subject unrelated to your book, but also promotes the book.
With websites, the more the merrier. The more sites you have, the more likely it is that people will find you, and the more opportunities you will have to sell books. Your site or sites should have information that will be useful and interesting to potential readers, as well as to members of the media, and booksellers.
  • Many potential customers don't know that your book exists, and don't care. While some people will find your site(s) by searching for the book title or your personal name, it's likely that many more will search for a subject—such as the JFK assassination, movie monsters or Italian food—that your book deals with.
  • If your book is not nonfiction, but is a novel or poetry, it will be much more difficult to attract customers with web searches. Some genres such as dystopian fiction or romantic poetry include so many thousands of books that it will be very difficult for your work to stand out.
  • If you have a website for one of your books, it should also help to sell your other books!
Website, blog, or both? A blog ("web log") is a specialized kind of website. It’s somewhat like an online diary or journal, but it’s written for the world to read—not just you and your heirs. If you are an author, you should seriously consider writing a blog, or several blogs. You are now reading one of my blogs. At one time I wrote five daily blogs. Now I write fewer blogs and post less often.

A blog usually consists of some introductory text plus multiple entries (“posts” or “postings”) displayed with the newest post on top, followed by older posts. The main page of a blog typically displays three to ten posts, and there are links to older posts that may be grouped by year, topic or both.

I (mostly) like Blogger, which hosts this blog. It's owned by Google, and it's free. I pay extra for my address. The Google connection makes it easy to “monetize” a blog by carrying small "AdSense" ads on it. I like Wordpress, too. Many authors use it.

A blog can be "free-standing" or it can be a section of a website.

  • Anyone searching for topics you’ve blogged about can find links to your blog, find your blog, and see an ad for your book and maybe buy it. Google typically indexes this blog less than an hour after I publish it. A robot thinks I'm important. Wow.
  • It’s tougher for fiction. Many novelists’ blogs seem to attract only other novelists—not readers. If you are a novelist who specializes in post-apocalyptic gay teenage albino vampire sex, how many blog posts about your novel could you come up with over the years? Three? One? Maybe a better strategy for a novelist would be to blog with news and opinions about something remotely related to the book topic—like teenage sex, vampires or albinos—that might catch searchers who might be interested in reading a related novel.
You also need to be on social media. I have Facebook pages for me as a person, me as an author, for my publishing company, and for various groups—some related to books. I sometimes use Twitter and LinkedIn, but have not yet tried Instagram, which some authors rave about.

[below] Website for Bette Isacoff and her book Star Crossed

[Below] Website for Barbara Barth and her book, The Unfaithful Widow

[below] Website for my book, Do As I Say, No As I Did (no longer online)

[below] Website that provides help for victims of internet harassment, and promotes my book, Internet Hell (no longer online)

[Below] Website for my publishing company, Silver Sands Books

[Below] Website for my books about publishing, Create Better Books (no longer online)

[Below] My personal website,

Fortune magazine once said that a website would take six months to develop and cost $500,000. A well-known book marketing expert wrote that a writer’s website could cost as much as $6,000 to set up. Both costs are very wrong and could needlessly scare off writers who would benefit from having websites.

Today you can develop a website for zero dollars and no cents in less than an hour, and pay less than $10 per month to a “hosting company” to make the site available to the world. I use Wix for my recent sites as well as Network Solutions and previously used Yahoo

Free hosting is available from several companies, but is generally not a good idea because you’ll get a long, clumsy, ugly, amateur-sounding URL (“Uniform Resource Locator” or web address) like http://billsbook. instead of

Try not to get a URL with a hyphen in it (unless it’s a product name or term that is already hyphenated). If the name or term is hyphenated, your website should work both with and without the hyphen. The Coke website can be reached by typing or Or

Short URLs are better than long ones.

While URLs can end in a variety of ways, including the ubiquitous dot-com, as well as dot-net, dot-USA, dot-CA, dot-TV and others, it’s generally best to use dot-com. If your website is, many people will go to They may find nothing—or a competitor. I use a dot-xyz for one site and don't think it hurt me.

Resist the temptation to use the dot-net version of a URL that’s already in use as a dot-com.

There are probably more than 330 million URLs in use! While it’s been said that all of the good URLs have been taken, your book name may be unique, so you have a pretty good chance of getting it as a URL. If you want a URL with your personal name in it, you may face some competition unless your name is unique.

Pay a few bucks so you will own similar URLs to capture bad spellers and to lock out potential competitors. Direct bad spellers to your site. You can register the alternate “phantom” URLs at NetworkSolutions and have traffic forwarded to the real website address.

Many book websites include an “online press kit” that replaces the once-common cardboard portfolio. At a minimum, the kit (which is really a page or a section of a website) should include a news release (“press release”) about the book, plus photos of the cover and the author and a brief author’s biography.

Some book websites sell books. Mine don’t. They have links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble which sell my books. I want to write and promote books, not operate a warehouse and shipping department. I make money when someone follows a link to a bookseller and buys a book. It’s easy money. If your website does not allow people to order books, include links to your books on bookselling sites. Don’t just mention that the book is “available at”

Obviously, your website should inform people what your book is about and try to convince them why it is vital that they buy it. The site is a good place to post reviews and comments from readers, reviewers and previewers, and to note awards the book has won. You can also show your table of contents and some excerpts to get people interested.

(above) There was nothing on Kevin Dorival's website that explains how to get a free copy of his book. The name of the publisher is probably not "Self-Publishing."

Make sure your website is well-written, complete, accurate and has no dead links, wrong links or template artifacts (below).

There's more in The One-Buck Author's Website Book

Monday, November 5, 2018

To save energy and retain readers, use fewer words.

Since the end of the last century, many words have been written and said about minimizing the use of vehicles, fuel, heat, power, water, food, packaging, building materials and more. We are supposed to SAVE vital resources.

I think it's time to say a few words about using fewer words.

The archaic phrase "Inquire Within" has been pissing me off since I was a teenager.

The sign shown above does not display a phone number or a web address. But—if the sign did not say "Inquire Within," and you wanted to get hired, exactly what would you do but open the door, walk in and inquire?

Insecure bureaucrats, lawyers and bankers are often responsible for the excess verbiage that infests our world.

In a previous life I was an advertising copywriter. I won a big-deal award from the Advertising Club of New York, had mostly good cli­ents with inter­esting products that I enjoyed writing about, and only one absolutely idiotic client.

That was United Jersey Banks, where marketing was con­trolled by castrated dullards in the legal department. (If anyone from that miser­able bank is reading this, I still hate your guts.)

One time I had the brain-numbing assignment of writing a boring ad about savings account interest rates.

The head guy on the bank’s marketing team, a government-intim­idated ball-less nincompoop, insisted that I write “a minimum deposit of at least $500 or more.” I tried explaining to this testosterone-depleted wuss that all this was repetitive and redundant and superfluous and unnecessary, and that we did not need to say all three!

The pathetic castrato would not give in and neither would I. I told him to write his own damn ad and I left the room. My only regret was that I didn’t shut off the light and slam the door and leave the overpaid fool sitting in the dark, crying and caressing his empty scrotum!

It would have been worth getting fired for.
  • It's not just lawyers. Many 'ordinary' folks have a strange impulse to pompously inflate their sentences when they speak or touch a keyboard. They'll type "Utilize" instead of the simpler "use" and "terminate" instead of the space-saving "end" or "stop."
  • Avoid lawyerly phrases like "In the process of" and "for the purpose of."
  • Many people overuse adverbs. They often add nothing useful. Purge "basically," "currently" "seriously."

A sign on this gas pump says, "Product Contains Up to 15% Ethanol." If the first two words were deleted from the sign, would the message be less clear?

The same principle applies to writing books, articles, blogs and websites. Almost any page can easily shed a word or ten or more—and be improved by the pruning.

I tend to be pedantic (a trait I inherited from my father). I naturally give lots of examples to prove a point. I recently self-imposed a rule to limit examples to THREE—and my arguments are no less forceful.

Print-On-Demand and ebooks are certainly efficient. But if every writer would eliminate two pages out of every 100 pages, book printers would use less paper, ink, toner, glue, energy and time; the trucks that move the books would save fuel, the UPS driver's knees might last longer—and readers would save time.

AND... the books would probably be better if they were briefer.

In an electronic medium like a blog or ebook where paper isn't purchased or stored, writers have unlimited space to spew all of the words they want to and the lack of limits encourages sloppiness.

Advertising is very different.

Despite the banking horror I described above, there is usually a limit on words.
  • If a copywriter writes too many words to fit in a one-page ad, he shouldn't use tiny type and can't assume that the client will pay $30,000 extra to run a two-page ad.
  • If she writes too many words to fit into a 30-second commercial, she can't decree that the actors must speak faster, or that the client must pay for more air time.
Impose some limits on yourself. It won't hurt, and may help.

Help Wanted photo from I forgot where the gas pump photo came from. Delete key illustration from

Bank story from my Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults). Available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Authors: if you want readers to laugh, put a duck or two in your book

If you want to get some laughs (or even mere smiles) from readers, take advantage of ducks.
Donald Duck and his family have been very good to Disney. Warner Bros. has made lots of money from Daffy Duck.

Maybe a duck can make you rich, too.

David McCallum played agent Illya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E on TV in the 1960s. Since 2003 he has played Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard on NCIS. The doctor's last name could have been Jones, O'Hara, Liebowitz or Spock—but "Mallard" permitted him to be nicknamed "Ducky."

I don't know why, but there seems to be something inherently funny about ducks. Maybe it's the feet, or the beak or the quacks.

“Wanna buy a duck?"
Joe Penner

Q: What’s the difference between a duck?
A: Each of its legs is both the same?
—My Father

Two ducks are sitting in a bathtub.
The first duck says, “Please pass the soap,”
The other duck says, “No soap, radio.”

A duck walks into a pharmacy, and asks for Chapstick. The cashier says, "Cash or check?" and the duck says, "Just put it on my bill."

A duck walks into a bar and asks the bartender, “Do you have any grapes?" 
The bartender says, "No we only have beer here." The duck leaves. 
The next day the duck walks back into the bar and asks the bartender, "Do you have any grapes?" 
The bartender says, "No, I told you we only have beer; and if you ask me again I’m going to nail your beak to the bar.” The duck leaves. 
The next day the duck walks back into the bar and asks the bartender, “Do you have any nails?" The bartender says "no." 
The duck asks, “Do you have any grapes?"

A motorist in a Mercedes was driving through the countryside on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when he came to a large puddle of water from a previous rain storm. Worried that he was going to damage the car in the deep water, he asked a local farmer (who was standing near the puddle) how deep the water was. "Arr", said the farmer "that water only be a few inches deep!" Relieved, the motorist edged his car into the water, expecting to come out on the other side with no trouble. Instead, as he drove in, the water came right up the side of the car, and the engine sputtered to a halt. Sitting there with the water lapping at the window, the motorist yelled at the farmer angrily: "I thought you said this water was only a few inches deep!!!" "Well", replied the farmer "It only come up to the waist of them there ducks."

CLICK for dirty duck jokes. 


“Why a duck?”
—Chico Marx

The Marx Brothers starred in an extremely funny movie called Duck Soup (1933).

On  Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life"  TV quiz  show  (1950 - 1960), contestants could win extra  money by saying an ordinary word while speaking to Groucho. A fake duck would drop down with $100.

Illustrations above came from the obvious sources and I thank them. Quack, quack.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Authors: Write something every day, and save the good stuff.

At hated Hillhouse High School in New Haven I had a demented English teacher, Bertha K. Frehse. Her last name was pronounced "frazy" and she was known by generations of students as "crazy frazy." 

Among other nuttiness, she purred like a cat, made us talk to and wave at a tree, poked pins in students and worshiped Elvis. 

She often ambushed students entering her classroom with such commands as: "write ten beautiful words," “write 200 words about tobogganing,” “explain why striped cats are superior to spotted dogs” or “list 500 reasons why Elvis should be president.” [There's more about the Crazy Cat Woman in my memoir, Stories I'd Tell My Children (But Maybe Not Until They're Adults).]

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

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

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

In my first days after college I lived in a YMCA in Manhattan while working as a low-paid magazine editor. I was able to get a rent reduction at the "Y" in exchange for writing a convincing fundraising letter. Later I became an advertising copywriter. My specialty was hi-fi, but I also wrote ads for food, cars, floor covering and even women's bathing suits.

Today I seldom write advertising or magazine articles, but I publish multiple blogs, and post a lot on Facebook. Some of the blogs and FB posts later evolve into books.

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

Try it.