Friday, February 15, 2019

Roses or tomatoes? Think about your book's margins

I previously discussed white space, also known as negative space or air.

The most obvious kind of white space in a book is its margins.

A margin
 is the space between your text or illustrations and the edges of the paper (or virtual paper in an ebook). I mentioned my rule of thumb: a margin at the side of a page should be big enough to fit an adult human thumb without covering any text or illustration.

Each page has four margins, and they can be the same or different. It’s common for vertical margins to be larger than horizontal margins, and sometimes the top and bottom margins are not the same size. This is where the book's formatter gets to make an aesthetic judgment. Small margins make a book look lousy and hard to read. New designers and cheapskates often maximize the number of words on a page, so fewer pages will be needed and a book can be printed for less money. (A printed page costs about a penny, e-pages cost nothing.)

White space demonstrates extravagance and implies wealth. When I was a child I was advised to eat everything on my plate. When I was a teenager I dated a wealthy girl who had been taught to always leave some uneaten food on her plate so no one would think she actually needed the meal. White space is part of the paper you choose not to print on. If your primary consideration is to get the most for your money, you would leave as little white space as possible.
Ample white space implies that you own the entire page but don’t need to consume it—you can use it for aesthetics rather than for practical purposes. It’s like having rosesnot tomatoesin your garden.
Because of its uniform line length, justified text lacks some of the negative space that flush-left text provides. Experiment with other ways to add negative space to a page. Larger margins can help. Extra space between paragraphs adds negative space which makes a page more attractive, but also makes each paragraph look more independent rather than part of a unified “whole.”

Your publisher or printer can tell you the minimum margins for the page size you’re planning to use. A common minimum size is ½ inch on all sides. You can choose to have bigger margins than the minimum, but not smaller.

[above] The medium affects the margins—and the gutter
If you have either large pages or a spiral binding it’s good to have smaller margins on the inside of a page (the gutter) than on the outer edge. This can make the three vertical white strips (left, center and right) look approximately the same.
In thick books the inside gutter margins often dissipate as they curve into the binding With the common 6-by-9,so I like to use the same-width margins on left and right.
When a printed book has more than about 500 pages, it’s a good idea to provide additional gutter width to compensate for the white space that dissipates into the binding. Your printer or publisher can advise you.
If your book is going to be e-only, you don’t have to think about gutters.

A printed book with large pages simply has more room for white space than does a book with smaller pages. In newspapers where space is fought over by editorial and advertising departments, text gets less air than in books. 

[below] Some good advice from 1907.

[below] Without sufficient negative space, a page seems overstuffed and it repels -- rather than attracts—readers.

[below]  Compare how the same text appears with larger margins.

[below] Compare how it looks with larger margins, indented paragraphs and more leading (space between lines of type).

[below] When leading is too large, the negative space dominates the text.

[below] If your text is set as flush-left/ragged-right, particularly with no hyphenation and in multiple columns, pages can develop oversize and ugly blotches of negative space. Don’t let it happen.

[below] Here’s a much nicer version, with full justification and hyphenation.

[below] If the white space that separates columns of text on one page is too narrow, readers may skip over the space and start reading the next column, instead of moving down through the first column. 

[below] Negative space can be used as an alternative to horizontal lines (rules) to separate sections of text.

[below] Placing more white space above and below a subhead (also known as a breaker head) makes it more dramatic and important. If it introduces a new section, put more space above it than below it so it is more strongly associated with the text that follows.

[below] Placing more white space above the opening of a chapter makes it much more dramatic. Compare these pages from two of my books:

[below] When a graphic element is inserted within text, make sure to provide adequate white space around it. Compare the upper and lower photos in the page shown. The amount of white should be proportionate to the size of the graphic, but there is no specific rule. The more space you provide around a photograph, the more important it will seem to be. The default spacing in Microsoft Word is .13 inch. You probably should not go below .1, but if a photo includes its own white or light border you can get closer without crowding.

This post is adapted from my wonderful new book, Typography for Independent Publishers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Authors: keep ego off book covers until you are famous or have written ten books

Unless you are known for writing, murder, politics, con­ning people out of billions, or winning Olympic medals, keep your name and portrait a lot smaller than the book’s title.

Later on, if you become famous, you can revise the covers of your earlier books.

[above] This is my approximate 35th book, and it's very personal, so it's fine for my face to grace the cover.
More about book covers, The Look of a Book: what makes a book cover good or bad and how to design a good one 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Writers can learn something important from colleges they won't attend: GET FAMOUS

When I was in high school in New Haven, Connecticut, and it was time to apply to colleges (early 1964), those of us who had dreams of attending "good" colleges, were also advised to apply to one or more "safety schools."

A safety school is a college with relatively low entrance requirements, where almost anyone would be admitted. They provide little or no status, but they can provide a bachelor's degree. (In actuality, a safety school can provide an excellent education, and many grads will attest to that. If you attended one, please don't complain about my classification.)

For kids in Connecticut, our major state school, The University of Connecticut ("UConn")—located in a nowheresville called Storrs—pretty much had to accept any high school graduate who lived in the state. Within Connecticut, the school was largely known as a school for farmers, and a place to get good low-priced milkshakes at the store on the experimental dairy farm.

Outside Connecticut, UConn was often confused with "Yukon." The athletic teams—called the "Huskies"added to the confusion, and many Americans assumed the college was located in the frigid 49th statenot in one of the 13 original colonies.

Sports forever and significantly changed the visibility and image of UConn. By becoming frequent champions in both women's and men's basketball, UConn is probably known to most American high school studentsand the number of applicants grows and grows. Along with visibility, and status, UConn has attracted a better faculty, and is now much more than a safety school. Sports coaches are sometimes paid more than college presidents, and they may be worth it.

A few miles north of New Haven is the suburban town of Hamden. It's home to a smaller, onetime safety school: Quinnipiac College.

In 1964, "Quinnie" was considered even less desirable than UConn, because most students would continue to live at home, just like in high school. Being a student at Quinnipiac seemed like thirteenth grade, whereas UConn had dormsjust like a 'real' college.

Today Quinnipiac College is now the highly respected and widely known Quinnipiac University. Its visibility and subsequent increased status and academic ranking were boosted not by basketball, but by gathering and analyzing statistics. Hardly a week goes by without major media mentions of the latest Quinnipiac University Poll.
  • Staples probably sells more staples, paper and computers because of the visibility of Staples Center in Los Angeles. It is the home of four professional sports teams, and has won several "arena of the year awards." I buy a lot at Staples. Even staples.
  • Every Saturday morning I listen to "Wait, wait, don't tell me" on NPR, and I am frequently reminded that it is being broadcast from the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago. I've had multiple accounts at Chase Bank. Actually, too many
  • The New York Mets play at Citi Field. I don't care about the Mets, but I have had several Citibank credit cards. 
  • Kodak camera film and sales were boosted by the Oscar presentations at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. I have several Kodak cameras. So do millions of others. Kodak went bankrupt and lost its naming right and the venue is now the Dolby Theatre.
  • Online dating site Ashley Madison reportedly made an offer to rename New Jersey's  Meadowlands Stadium " Stadium." I have no interest in cheating on my wife, so I don't use Ashley Madison.
While some companies have millions to spend on "naming rights," fame doesn't have to be expensive.
  • The basketball players who first made UConn famous did not go there because the school was already famous and had big-buck coaches. They may not have had athletic scholarships.
  • The early Quinnipiac polls were student projects, announced with inexpensive or free press releases.
  • Unless you win Olympic gold or kill someone important, fame doesn't come quickly. It can be built gradually, and inexpensively.
Think about what you can do to establish yourself as an expert on something, to get your name inextricably linked to some subject you want to be associated with.
  1. Write blogs.
  2. Constantly post on Facebook, online forums and newsgroups.
  3. Tweet.
  4. Publish websites.
  5. Get listed on LinkedIn and other social websites.
  6. Join associations. 
  7. Write book reviews.
  8. Write blurbs for books.
  9. Send out press releases.
  10. Participate in panels at trade shows and conventions.
  11. Write letters to editors.
  12. Get interviewed. 
  13. Do something, everyday.
Google shows over 10,000 links for my name. A few are for a shrink who shares my name, but most are mine. Amanda Hocking has nearly 800,000 links. Ernest Hemingway has nearly 7 million.

The idiots at Outskirt Press describe Monica Bouvie as a "self publishing success story." Her last name is really Bouvier. It ends with an "r"like Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and Marge Bouvier Simpson and sisters Patty and Selmabut Outskirts can't be expected to get anything right, even on its home page.

Despite being affiliated with an inept publisher, Monica does have more than 3,000 Google links.

How many do you have?

Friday, February 8, 2019

Authors who reduce ego (and prices) can increase income

While you may be flattered by a high "cover price" on your book, you may make more money in total if the book has a lower price.

Here are comparisons (rounded off) of an author's monthly income for one independently self-pubbed book:
  • January 2011, for a $15.95 paperback: $64
  • January 2012, for the $4.99 ebook, discounted to $4.12: $220
  • January 2013, for the ebook reduced to $2.99 and discounted to $2.51: $345
Not only did total income increase as the price has been reduced, but sales increased as the book got older—which is not the typical pattern for book sales.

For a Lamborghini, high price is a marketing device. For a book, low price is a marketing device.

The low price enables and encourages more people to buy the book, and they apparently recommend the book to others. Maybe a reader will recommend it to a movie producer.

Writers who use self-publishing service should be wary of mandatory pricing that makes the books non-competitive. 

While no author in 21st-century-America can live on $345 per month, if you have 10, 20 or 30 books generating that income, you can think about quitting your day job.


dollar sign from

Lamborghini Aventador photo from

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

I used to get laid because I was a writer. I no longer do. But that's OK.

I majored in journalism in college. I've written many hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines. I was an award-winning advertising copywriter. I've written more than 40 books.

For a while I kept a "clip file" of all of my published articles, and had a portfolio of my ads that I could use to impress a prospective employer. But, after more than 50 years making money by tapping a keyboard, I no longer think that writing is a big deal.

In the early 70s, I loved getting fan mail and phone calls from people who liked my articles and reviews in Rolling Stone. Free records and free passes to movies and concerts often enhanced my relationships with young ladies.

Later, there was lots of satisfaction when I was told how many dollars my ads and websites generated. It was cool seeing people wearing T-shirts I had designed. In more recent years, I've enjoyed reading the mostly good reviews of my books.

I won't say it isn't fun anymore. One fundamental Marcus maxim is, "If it isn't fun, don't do it." If writing wasn't fun, I wouldn't still be doing it.

I still love to tweak, adjust, manipulate and rework blogs, websites and book pages so they sound and look just right.

But writing a good book in 2019 just does not generate the same smiles and internal giggles as the first big cover story I wrote for High Fidelity Trade News in 1969, or getting into movies and concerts for free when I showed my Rolling Stone press ID in 1971, or getting laid after giving a girl a stack of records I had gotten for free when I worked for Stone.

Maybe the problem—if it is a problem—is that writing is much easier than it used to be, so I don't feel I am overcoming a challenge. I was fired from my job at High Fidelity Trade News when I had a two-week dry spell, but it's been decades since I've suffered with a severe case of "writer's block."

Maybe simply getting olderand accumulating more experiencesmakes it easier to write. (But harder to type accurately.) 

At age 72, I can write about almost anything.

I had a demented high school English teacher [she's in Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)] who made 'surprise attacks' on our class. One day she commanded us to "write 500 words about tobogganing." Another time she wanted 500 words about "How Capri pants are the downfall of western civilization."

I hated the evil idiot, but she provided good preparation for later on when my paycheck depended on my being able to write about things I knew absolutely nothing about (ads for women's bathing suits and the Metropolitan Opera, and a fundraising letter for the YMCA, for example).

Getting published is infinitely easier now than when I was younger. Years ago, if I had a brilliant idea for an article or book, I had to query editors and publishers to try to ignite their enthusiasm and open their checkbooks.

Today, if I have something to say, I write a book and publish it myself, or post something on one of my blogs or on Facebook or Twitter, or comment on someone else's blog, or start a new blog or website. It's infinitely easier than pitching an article to an editor or convincing investors to put money into a new magazine.

Those of us in the book biz know how easy it is to publish now. But many “civilians” are still in awe of authors.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I was at a brunch meeting of about 25 members of a "burial society" that I’ve inherited membership in.

Although I’ve theoretically been a member since birth, this was the first time that a meeting was held near enough for me to conveniently attend. I was surrounded by relatives I am scheduled to spend eternity with, but I had never met any of them before.

During the meeting, someone spoke about a milestone in family history that occurred about 100 years earlier. I casually mentioned that I had written about the incident in one of my books.

I was surprised by the response. Some people were in awe! Someone said, “Oh, you wrote a book!” and there was at least one “Wow.” People asked the name, the subject and where they could buy it.

I answered the questions quickly and politely. I didn’t want to hijack the meeting and turn it into a book promo event.

My extended family (mostly 'sophisticated New Yorkers') thought that meeting a writer is unusual.

I certainly don’t think writing is unusual or that writers are unusual (well, maybe a little unusual). I spend a lot of my online and offline time communicating with writers, editors, designers and publishers. My close relatives and neighbors and employees know that I write and publish and they are not impressed. (Well, actually, a few are.)

I know how easy it is to get published; but to the group of strangers at the meetingwho share some of my genes, and will share a final addressit was a big deal. I’m certainly not a celebrity like Elvis, JFK or Shakespeare, but some of these folks seemed to be a bit excited to be related to an author and maybe even to be buried near one.

It made me feel good. Not as good as getting laid because I was an editor at Rolling Stonebut nevertheless, good.

Magicians don’t explain their best tricks. Maybe we shouldn’t reveal how easy it has become to publish books and have them sold by Amazon and B&N. Maybe I should not publicize this blog post. Oh well.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Authors: Picasso, Tiffany and Laozi and can help you make better books

“Negative space” may sound like a “worm hole,” “alternate universe” or another strange phenomenon encountered by the crew of a star ship. But you don’t have to understand astrophysics to understand negative space, and why books need it.

In graphic design a “thing” such as a piece of text or a photograph is considered to be “positive space,” and everything else on the page (or screen) is negative spaceBecause most book pages are white, negative space is sometimes called “white space.” Even if your page is gray, beige, black or turquoise, any space where nothing else is, is considered to be white.
  • Negative space is not nothing. Negative space is important and has many purposes.
Negative space can seem extravagant and imply wealth and high class. Printed ads for luxury brands often have lots of negative space. Tiffany has used extensive negative space for many years. [below]

Negative space can help to establish a mood. Just as a billionaire’s estate may have hundreds of acres of “nothing,” a page or ad with abundant negative space can seem luxurious and elegant, while a page with tiny margins can seem as cramped as a slum apartment where 20 people fight for space to sleep and sit.

Another term for negative space or white space is “air,” and a new art director at an ad agency might be told by his boss, “Larry, we need more air around the graphic of the lawn mower.”

When you start a new design, whether it’s a book cover, an interior page, a tiny postage stamp or a mammoth billboard, all you have is white space—a blank slate (tabula rasa in Latin).

On a book page or cover, white space includes the tiny indents at the beginnings of paragraphs, the spaces between lines of text, margins, borders around photographs, blank areas between sections or chapters and even just patches of nothingness that a designer decides to provide.

Newbie designers and D-I-Y publishers tend to pack nearly every square micron with text and graphic images: “I paid for the entire cover, and damn it, I’m going to use it.” That’s not a good idea. Attractive covers and interior pages often use lots of negative space where there is nothing but the background color. In art (and life), “nothingness” can be something—something very important.

Chinese philosopher Laozi is credited with writing the following more than 2500 years ago:
Thirty spokes meet in the hub, but the empty space between them is the essence of the wheel.
Pots are formed from clay, but the empty space within it is the essence of the pot.
Walls with windows and doors form the house, but the empty space within it is the essence of the house.

Sadly, both amateur and professional publishers seem to strive to save pages, dollars (and maybe also trees) and the result is often awful.

Authors Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen advise: “Beginners often make the mistake of forgetting to account for space. Too much space, and visuals and type get lost or don't talk to each other. Not enough space, and they start to fight with each other.”

White space provides “visual breathing room for the eye” and also provides contrast that highlights the positive space. Painters—and the people who frame their work—have understood this for centuries. Amateur book formatters should spend some time walking around an art gallery or even viewing the websites of companies that sell art prints.

[above] For example, Pablo Picasso created “Petite Fleurs” with ample white space around the image, and even the hands and forearms are mere outlines around white space to further emphasize the color of the flowers held in the hands. The folks at
 provide additional white space in the matte that surrounds the print in a frame. 

At the right/above, I show how the same-size artwork would look if Picasso and the framer removed the air supply. The lithographic print with ample air draws me in. The airless print pushes me away. Eyes—like noses—need air.

Just as the appearance of a picture is improved by having a matte within its frame, your text needs adequate white space surrounding it. Eyes—like noses—need air.

One of my basic rules of thumb is that the a book’s outside margins must be large enough to comfortably fit human thumbs without covering up any text or illustration. It’s really annoying to have to constantly re-position pages while reading through a book.

The sample books that Infinity Publishing and DiggyPOD distribute to impress potential author/customers have barely enough margin room for a child’s pinky—let alone an adult’s thumb. Some magazines, including Bloomberg Business Week, are guilty of the same sin.

Paper is one of the least expensive parts of publishing, and if a book requires 10 or 20 more pages to be more attractive and more comfortable to read, it’s a worthwhile investment.

While paper is not expensive, it’s not free, so keep printing costs in mind while evaluating suppliers. Each page from Lightning Source or Amazon's KDP (formerly CreateSpace) costs the same, but other companies have wacky price schedules.

With Infinity Publishing, a reader pays a buck more for a book with 129 pages than one with 128 pages and the author pays 54 cents more. Page number 129 is printed on a very expensive piece of paper.

Xlibris also has an inflated and weird “delta” between page ranges. A 107-page paperback book will sell for $15.99 and the hardcover will sell for $24.99. If you add just one page more, the price goes up $4 or $5. The difference in the manufacturing cost is tiny, and can’t possibly justify the difference in cover price.

The price for a paperback with 398 pages is $19.99 (just like the 108-page book), but, at 400 pages the retail price jumps four bucks to $23.99, and that price holds all the way to 800 pages.

Xlibris gives away 400 pages for “free,” but charges four or five bucks for one page!

Xlibris books are printed by Lightning Source, so the price per additional page is $.013 (or maybe even less if they get a discount).


 This post is adapted from my Typography for Independent Publishers.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Should an author also be a bookseller? Maybe

Credit card reader for smartphones, from Square.
You can get one for FREE. Paypal has a similar gadget.
I've written that writers can't be too timid to sell their own books. I was using "sell" as an informal and perhaps more forceful synonym for "market" or "promote."

However, sometimes a writer should be involved in the actual selling transaction and exchange physical books for money.

On a 300-page, $18 book sold from a self-publishing company’s website, you’ll probably make 50% ($9).

Expect few sales, because of limited site traffic. When your publisher sells through and other booksellers, you’ll probably collect a measly 10% ($1.80).

But if you are an independent self-publisher selling that $18 book through an online bookseller, you can make about $10. While this is better than what you could get by using a traditional publisher or a self-publishing company, there are ways to make more money.

You can probably buy books for $9 each from your self-publishing company. If you sell directly to readers, you keep what would normally go to the booksellers. You end up with $9 of the $18—if you can get your customers to pay for shipping, as they often do with Amazon or B&N.

HOWEVER, if you buy books right from Lightning Source, you’ll pay $4.80 plus shipping, and keep about $12 from the $18. The cost from Amazon's KDP (formerly CreateSpace) is $4.45, so you can keep a bit more.

Even if you discount the price by a few dollars or pay for shipping to customers, you could still make more than you normally would, and you’ll get paid immediately.

I don't want to compete with Amazon and other booksellers, but I do sell a few books each month to readers who want personalized inscriptions. I accept credit cards and Paypal, and ship via Priority Mail. Boxes are free.

There are several ways to reach customers directly. They don’t apply to every book and they probably should not replace Amazon and B&N, but they could be a supplement.
  • Sell from your websites and blogs.
  • Sell during or after speeches.
  • Sell at flea markets.
  • Sell to friends, neighbors and business associates.
  • Sell at trade shows and conventions.
  • Sell at book fairs, craft fairs, festivals or events that tie in with your subject, such as boat shows or auto races.
  • Ring doorbells (just kidding).
Writer/blogger Sonia Marsh said, “Known experts should self-publish. Generally, they get $20,000 per speaking gig and sell 700 copies of a book after the gig.” I have no idea where she got her data. But even if her numbers are inflated ten times, the money is still impressive for an hour’s work. 

If you are going to sell, you’d better be prepared to accept credit cards. Some in-person purchasers may pay cash, and you may gamble by accepting checks or a promise for future payment, but most book sales are done with credit cards.

You need a merchant account. You can get one from a bank, warehouse club or merchant service provider. You will probably pay the company between 2% and 5% of each transaction. “Non-swiped” transactions, where you don’t actually see the card, cost extra; and there may be other fees.

For advice on accepting cards and evaluations of service companies, see

It’s also possible to process online sales by accepting payments through PayPal. It may be less expensive than credit cards, but some people don’t like PayPal.

You will need a terminal or PC software. You can get a wireless terminal for use where there is no phone connection from The company can even enable you to use a laptop for wireless authorizations.

Square offers a particularly innovative system for processing credit card sales. It’s a small FREE card reader for smartphones (shown up above) combined with credit card processing with fast funds availability and low fees. See http:/// Paypal offers a similar gadget.

BAD NEWS: If you sell in-person, you’ll probably have to collect and remit sales tax. It’s an ISPITA (industrial-strength pain in the ass) if you sell in several states.

GOOD NEWS: Many thousands of books reach readers without booksellers. They are distributed—sometimes for free—by entities that want information or opinions circulated. These “special sales” can generate high profits, with no risk of returns.

A book you’ve already written may be perfect for use by an association, corporation, government, charity, foundation, university or a political party. Perhaps a book you’ve written needs just slight changes and perhaps a new title and cover to become perfect. Maybe the information in your book is fine, but the book needs a new point of view or emphasis to let you make a deal.

If you want to pursue the special sales market, get a copy of Brian Jud’s How to Make Real Money Selling Books. It includes a huge number of possible purchasers, pus step-by-step instructions for making a sale.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Market research trick is also a bookselling tip

If you plan to write a nonfiction book and know what you want to write about, the Internet will make it much easier to do market research than before the world was online.

With a little bit of typing, clicking and reading you can find out what potential readers are interested in—and where you can reach them when it's time to sell books.

Use search engines to find terms like I’ve listed below. Simply replace “golden retriever” with “super hero” or “Argentina” or "beer" or "horseback riding" or whatever you want to write about.

“golden retriever forum”
“golden retriever message board”
“golden retriever bulletin board”
“golden retriever club”
“golden retriever association”
“golden retriever community”
“golden retriever organization”
“golden retriever news”
“golden retriever newsgroup”

When your book is nearly finished, return to the same websites and mention to appropriately articulate participants that you are writing a book on the subject, and would like to send them a preview copy for their opinion. You can mention that you may want to quote them on the book cover.

After publication, go back again and answer some questions, and point out that your new book provides additional valuable information.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

An author's dilemma: should we hide the truth to avoid embarrassing relatives of evil people?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

I just bought a printed book. After years of ebooks, it's weird to read it.

Above: my first and most-recent hardcover books, separated by about 70 years

Books have always been extremely important to me. As the photo shows, even as a little kid, I used the bathroom as a library so not a moment of potential reading time was wasted. In 2019, the only piece of furniture I can visualize from the Bronx apartment my parents brought me home to in 1946 is a mahogany bookcase. I share my bed with my wife and usually my iPad or Kindle Fire.

Before TiVo gave me the ability to fast-forward, I always read during TV commercials. I read at most meals—even at restaurants. Some people think it's rude. I think it's efficient.

I've been accused of being addicted to reading. Like other kinds of addicts, I've resorted to sneaking and cheating to satisfy my addiction.
  • When I was in first grade, I had a ridiculous 7:30 PM bed time. I got into bed, pulled the blanket over my head, and read with a flashlight.
  • Later, maybe in third grade, when my technical skills improved, I came up with a better solution. I put a bright light bulb in my bedroom closet and it was bright enough to illuminate a book when I was in bed. I attached a long string to the pull-chain that controlled the light, and put a tennis ball at the end of the string. When I heard my parents approach, I yanked the string to shut off the light, and tossed the tennis ball and string into the closet to hide the evidence, and made believe I was asleep.
  • The ultimate evolution of my scam occurred around sixth grade. I installed a photoelectric cell in the garage, aimed outward. If my parents were out for the evening, and then came home when I was supposed to be asleep, the car's headlights would trigger the photocell which then rang a bell in my bedroom—so I could shut off my light and shut my eyes.
  • Later on, my parents didn't care how late I stayed up, and I often read until midnight, and started again around 4 AM. 
  • In my senior year in high school, my English teacher required us to read and report on one book each month, with a bonus if we could read one book each week. I half-jokingly asked her what would happen if I did one a day. She half-jokingly said she'd give me an "A." I read the books, wrote the (short) reports, and got my "A."
  • When I was in college, I was still building book shelves a week before I was going to move out of my apartment and go to New York to be a magazine editor. (Assistant editor, actually.)
I've always had a strong reverence for books. Maybe it comes from my parents, who were avid readers. As a Jew, I am part of "the people of the book." 

When I see books in the trash, I rescue them. When a friend's older brother and his buddies gathered around a barbecue grill at the end of the school year to burn their school books, I tried to rescue the books, but was blocked by superior force. Assholes!

I seldom think of sin, but if sins do exist, book burning is certainly high on the list.

A few years ago I figured out that my house has nearly 400 linear feet of book shelves, which means I must have (GASP!) nearly 4,000 books. There are also books in cartons, and in drawers and in my car, and on my phone, computers, Kindle Fire and iPad. In the old days there would be books on UPS and USPS trucks heading to me.

I order books from Amazon at least once a week.

I'm a fast reader, but I can't possibly read fast enough to keep up with the inflow. The only obvious solutions were to become a faster reader (unlikely at my age) or buy fewer books.

Instead, I started giving away books, and began buying ebooks only. I save space, and can resume reading anywhere.

A few days ago I was in a dollar store. I couldn't resist looking at the one-buck books. The store had about a dozen titles. Four seemed interesting. One was purchased. I started reading it as soon as I got out to my car, to wait for my wife to finish shopping.

I was able to prop up the book on my steering wheel as in the old days—but I tried "swiping" pages with my fingers to flip the pages. It did not work. I was also unable to highlight text or look-up words, and I had to remember to take the book from the car into my house.

I suppose I have become an e-guy.  

Friday, January 4, 2019

My nominations for the most disgusting bits of literature

Would you want to read any more of Rainbow Gliding Hawk and the Last Stand of the Patriarch by Doug Lambeth after encountering the first page of the first chapter?

The vomit warmth reaches through the shiny leather and as my toes begin to sweat, I pray that rental tuxedo shoes are water/puke proof. I wonder if they’re Gore-tex lined? “It’s just puke,” I say, and to punctuate the point Dirk retches his remaining stomach contents onto my feet.

The next gem is from The Wayward Comrade and the Com­missars, by Yurii Karlovich Olesha.

How pleasant my life is. Ta-ra. Ta-ra. My bowels are elastic. Ra-ta-ta. Ta-ra-ree. My juices flow within me. Ra-tee-ta. Doo-da-da. Con­tract, guts, contract. Tram-ba-ba-boom! (I wrote a book report on this one when I was in junior high school.)

It's probably best to minimize the disgusting stuff unless you're writing for doctors or children.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Authors: consider an "out-of-town" tryout for your book. Don't let it flop on Broadway.

Traditionally, theatrical productions that were headed to New York's Broadway "tried out" out-of-town, often in Boston and New Haven. In those cities the writer, director, composer and producers could observe audience reactions and make changes before the show was presented for the New York audience and critics.

When I was in junior high school in New Haven in the early 1960s, I saw many tryouts at the Shubert Theatre. My friends and I paid $1.20 to sit in the second balcony, and sometimes sneaked down to better seats—even box seats—if no one else claimed them.
  • Self-publishing authors have an advantage over authors who work with traditional publishing houses because they can have an "off-Broadway" tryout, just like a drama or a musical.
With minimal expense, you can get a few dozen copies of your pbook or ebook, and distribute them to friends, relatives, librarians, booksellers, consultants, agents, other writers, teachers, experts—anyone whose opinions you respect.

You'll probably get lots of good advice that will influence your final text and covers, and you might even get compliments that can be used as "blurbs" to help promote the final version of the book.

One of my books had a limited release in late 2008. While I was pleased with it, and it got consistently good reviews, I realized that the title confused some readers (it's a quote from one of my crazy teachers). I also realized that one chapter should be replaced with other material and I should shift some of the front matter to the back so people would reach the "meat" of the book sooner.

I also decided to add some material and I lowered the price. The new book has gotten great reviews and thousands of copies have been sold worldwide as a paperback, hardcover and ebook.

If my "out-of-town" version became my "Broadway" version, the book would likely have been a flop.

(Top illustration from old Shubert program at the University of South Carolina)