Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Last-minute reminder:
Super-easy way to make charitable donations, and maybe get a free vacation.

As the year ends, you have only a few more hours to make tax deductable donations to charity. It's not a big deal to write a couple of checks, and lots of charities accept credit card donations and have convenient websites. However, if you want to spread money around, AmEx makes it extremely easy -- and personally profitable.

The Giving Express program connects you to over a million charitable organizations! You can search for them by name, keywords, location, or use an extensive list of categories such as performing arts, education, health care, housing, human rights, disaster relief, religion and much more. The AmEx website has financial reports, mission statements, contacts, and other information regarding the organizations.

Donating online helps nonprofit organizations reduce administrative costs so that they can do more with the money. Your dollar donations are tax-deductible and you’ll receive an e-mail receipt for your records.

• Give to one or more charities and nonprofit organizations
• Donate dollars with your American Express Card
• Donate Membership Rewards points
• Set up recurring donations

When you make a donation, you'll get an immediate e-mail confirmation for each transaction. AmEx will post a detailed record of all your donations on your password-protected Giving History web page, if you need a record for an IRS audit in the future. CLICK

Monday, December 29, 2008

Let others look before you finalize your book

Writers whose books are marketed by conventional publishers have the benefit (or curse) of many pairs of eyes and many years of experience to influence and guide the development of a book before it goes to market.

Self-publishers often rely solely on their own judgement, but that's probably not a good idea.

Later today I will be uploading what I hope will be the final version of a book that I thought I had finished a few months ago (and it has been selling on Amazon.com). But the version that will be sold next week will be better than the "first edition."

I didn't do any formal test-marketing; but in talking to early readers, and noting the reactions (smiles, laughs, frowns, quizzical looks) of people as I passed a copy around the table at a few holiday parties, I realized that the cover could be improved.

Some people just didn't "get" what I wanted them to.

For example, I had a funny photo of a woman on the back cover and lots of people asked who she was. It was a stock photo that represented a character in the book, but it was difficult and awkward to explain her.

I realized that she was simply not needed, was an unnecessary complication, and that the space she was using could be better used for other things.

Additionally, my wife hated the photo and had been begging/nagging me to remove it. I seldom surrender to nagging, and now Marilyn got her wish -- but it was because I did what I wanted to, not because of the pressure.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The justification for justification

Online or printed lines of type are said to be “justified” when most lines are the same length and they fill the space from left to right.

Justified type, which is still the dominant format for book printing, can look beautiful, but takes more time and money to do right. A lot of very ugly justified type gets printed, particularly in newspapers with narrow columns and in self-published and subsidized books.

The lines of type in this website are like most websites and a growing number of magazines and books. The type is set “flush left/ragged right.” Ragged right is much easier to produce, and people accept it.

Justified type has a more formal, polished look. Ragged is obviously less formal, but people can rightfully claim that justified type in abnormal and artificial, and ragged right is normal and natural.

My first self-published Print On Demand book, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students -- stories from school and real life, is very informal. Ragged right seemed to be appropriate for the mood of the book, and it saved time.

My second POD book, Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business & Home, is more formal, more expensive and is intended to be a reference book for business people. Justified type seemed appropriate, and I was willing to invest the extra time to make it look traditional.

When I finished my tedious labor, I was so pleased with the results, that I decided to re-do the "flunk book" with justified type, while I was making other modifications and corrections.

BE CAREFUL if you are justifying a book that was already completed with ragged right type. Most lines will expand to the right margin, and sometimes words that used to fit on one page will "creep" onto another page. You may have to change the page numbering for chapter beginnings, or cut words or make illustrations smaller to get what you want.

Sometimes the spaces between words will look lousy, and you'll have to experiment with hyphenation, and sometimes switch to shorter or longer words, or add or subtract words, to make things look right.

Be very careful to check the last line in a paragraph. Sometimes even three words are spead out full-width, and they'll look very stupid. You can just select the line and re-do it as flush-left, or (in MS Word) tap the Enter key after the last word in the line.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another reason to self-publish

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in business for more than 150 years and one of the country's oldest and most prestigious publishers, said it will stop acquiring new books until further notice, an unusual move that shows how the slowdown in book sales is hurting publishing.

Houghton's large textbook division isn't affected by the stoppage, but the trade and reference division is big enough to publish about 400 titles a year, including the works of Philip Roth. Some of its books for coming years already are under contract, but many others normally would be new acquisitions.

A freeze of, say, three months could mean 50 fewer titles down the road. While some critics think too many books come out every year, publishers say they need a steady stream of fresh titles to attract a fickle reading public.

Book chains including Barnes & Noble and Borders have seen sales slow. Sales tracked by the Association of American Publishers fell 2% in September at $1.06 billion and were down by 1.5% for the year. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Time Out

I'm taking some time off to finish writing a book, so there's less time for me to write about writing.

As Ah-nold said in The Terminator, "I'll be back."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If you use this book, you'll have no excuses for publishing an ugly book

Unfortunately, personal computers have made it too easy for books to get published.

I'm certainly not endorsing censorship or licensing for writers, but some of the books that get printed are so poorly put together that I feel like puking on the pages.

Pete Masterson's Book Design and Production is ideal for self-publishers, and will also help authors who use conventional publishing houses as well as print-on-demand publishing services.

This book will help you understand the book production process and the principles of good cover and interior book design. It will help you to analyze your book's look to find what you or your publisher has done wrong, so you can correct the mistakes that might mark you as an amateur and cripple your sales -- regardless of the validity of what you've written.

There are also extensive sections on publishing software, the publishing sequence, selecting and dealing with printers and hiring a designer. There's also a large and well-picked list of online and printed resources for writers.

The glossary is almost an encyclopedia. It's nearly 100 pages long and could be a book by itself. This section is extremely useful, and I enjoyed just picking a random page to read through. Try it. You'll learn a lot, and might have fun.

List price is $29.95, but I got mine for a third less at Amazon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Free Lexmark software
helps you save paper & ink

Back when brontosauruses roamed the earth, IBM made computer printers in a factory in Lexington, Kentucky. Apparently IBM found it difficult to make money making printers, and in 1991 they spun off the division and it became Lexmark (get it? LEXmark and LEXington.)

Lexmark sells about five billion bucks worth of printers and supplies each year. Some of those printers sell for less than $100, so Lexmark has to sell an awful lot of them. Actually, the real profit in the printer business comes from selling ink and toner, not printers.

Strangely, Lexmark now will give you (not sell you) some super software that will let you use less paper and even less ink or toner, when you print pages from the web. It might seem suicidal for a company that depends on revenue from selling ink and toner to help people to use less of it, but apparently they assume you'll like them because of it, and will be inclined to buy their products.

The Lexmark Toolbar is a program that will let you preview how a webpage will look when you print it, and make selections and adjustments. It also lets you choose to print just the text from a webpage (skipping ads and photos if you like), and you can print with black ink only, to save your color inks. You can even schedule printing, such as printouts of morning traffic reports or evening sports scores to read away from the computer.

It's said to work with all printers, and versions are available for both Internet Explorer and Firefox. Apparently there is no Mac version.

CLICK to download.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Big savings on H-P ink at silly Staples

I've often been amazed and amused by inconsistent pricing. One of my favorite ways to pass the time while waiting for food to arrive at a restaurant table is to analyze the menu.

In many Greek diners, the same slice of American cheese can have prices ranging from a dime to a dollar or more, depending on what kind of sandwich it's plopped onto.

Chinese restaurants seem to be the worst offenders in erratic arithmetic. The price "delta" (difference) among chicken and pork and beef varies without rhyme or reason; and the delta between side dishes of fried rice and lo-mein seems to depend on which main dish it goes with.

The funniest example of Chinese arithmetic is common in many small restaurants in New York City, where a small order of pork fried rice costs $4.00. HOWEVER, if you are willing to accept four fried chicken wings along with the same size portion of fried rice, the total price drops to $2.95 or even less. Maybe there's a surplus of wings that they need to get rid of.

I recently had to visit Staples to buy sets of Vivera ink cartridges for two HP Photosmart printers (wonderful printers, by the way). The store had several packages, with prices that could have come right out of Foo Chow's Hong Kong Garden.

You can get a pack of five ink cartridges for $44.99. It has no black ink.

And, you can get the black ink alone for $14.99, $19.99 or $29.99.

OR, if you pluck your purchase from a different pegboard hook, you can get a pack of six Vivera ink cartridges (with large black cartridge), PLUS ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY SHEETS of 4 x 6 photo paper (worth about $22) for just $35.99.

AND, if you're in the Staples Rewards program, you get a 10% rebate on ink purchases, so you save another $3.59.

Would you like chopsticks or a fork? Fortune cookie or almond cookie?

Friday, November 7, 2008

If you read this book,
you may want to re-do your book

Unfortunately, there are lots of really ugly books being published now.

The rise of desk-top publishing, self-publishing and Print-On-Demand has made it possible for anyone with a credit card and blood pressure above zero to act like a publisher.

There are no licensing requirements, and unlike years ago when future printers worked as apprentices to expert printers, anyone can now put words on paper. A lot of those words are just dumped, with little or no preparation, thought, knowledge, or artistic ability.

(The worst-looking book I've seen lately is Best in Publishing & Print on Demand by David Rising. Rising tries to advise authors on self-publishing, but his own book is a great example of what not to do.)

Fortunately, there's a WONDERFUL book that will tell you what to do.

The Complete Manual of Typography by James Felici is both a beautiful book to look at, and a complete yet easy-to understand reference work that will be invaluable to any self-publisher.

It will help professionals using sophisticated publishing software, and will even help amateurs like me who are trying to make the most out of Microsoft Word.

It will help you avoid stupid mistakes, and enable you to make your books both prettier and more professional. It includes the typographical history, secrets and tricks that used to be passed from father to son (but seldom to daughters).

I had a course in printing back in eighth grade, and a course called Advertising Art Production while in college. I've also worked in advertising agencies, I've designed award-winning websites, and have written several books. But Felici taught me a lot. He taught me so much, in fact, that I am revising two of my books.

Price is $50 (before discounts) but it's worth every penny if it helps you avoid looking like an idiot. If you buy it from Amazon.com, the price is just $31.50.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Try writing two books at one time

Many writers think they have several books "in them." Usually they are written in sequence, and trouble with one book can delay starting the next one.

As an alternative, consider working on two or more books at the same time. Lots of people read several books during the same week, changing books whenever they feel like it. There's no reason not to switch the books you're writing, too.

This way, if you you hit a writer's block and stall on one book, or simply get out of the mood, you can switch books and keep being productive.

This doesn't work all the time, but if the books are very different the change can be both relaxing and stimulating. I simultaneously wrote a humor book and a technical book.

Also, you may find that a concept or actual words in Book A can be used in Book B. Or maybe even give you an idea to write Book C.

What was going to be my Book C became my Book B, but parts of B are in C, and A gave me the ideas for D and E.

And, even if you're working on just one book, you can skip around within the book. If you're having trouble with Chapter 3, work on a chapter that happens later, or go back and edit chapter 1.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An alternative to celebrity blurbs

Every author dreams of having cover blurbs (endorsements) from famous people who'll say nice things that may entice people to buy books.

Often, especially for a new author with a new book, it's just not possible to get the attention of an expert who will add authority to yours.

That doesn't mean your book has to be blurbless.

There's nothing wrong with asking for and printing blurbs from friends and family, if it's appropriate to your book. Later on, If Oprah or another celeb falls in love with your words, you can revise the cover to incorporate the new comments.

My new book I Only Flunk My Brightest Students -- stories from school and real life, deals with my life. So it made perfect sense to use blurbs from people who know me, rather than some distant Nobel Prize winner.

My book is funny. Identifying the source of my front cover blurb as "author's classmate since first grade" is almost a parody of the traditional stuffy IDs ("professor of Indo-Eurasion folk medicine at the University of Guatemala), and reinforces the mood of the book.

Don't forget blurbs for the back cover, and the first inside page. Also, there's nothing wrong with your acting as a writing coach for your blurbers. You can even write a complete blurb and ask someone to "adopt" it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Kudos for Lightning Source

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I favor extreme author involvement in book publishing, as opposed to using a conventional publishing house or an "author service company" (a.k.a. vanity publisher) such as Outskirts Press.

By handling everything myself, I get more control, probably more money, probably faster money, and my books are available to be sold much sooner.

I had been planning to use Lightning Source as my Print-On-Demand (POD) printer for I Only Flunk My Brightest Students -- stories from school and real life. But I was a bit concerned about possible problems "FTP-ing" my text and cover PDF files to them. In the past I've used a program called WSFTP for uploading files. It usually works fine, but a few times a year there is unexplained weirdness, and I didn't want anything weird to interfere with my publishing.

I am very pleased to report that everything went smoothly. The entire interaction with Lightning took less than an hour. There were several forms to fill out online, and two to fax to them. I got encouraging emails from their people, and didn't even have to use WSFTP. To upload, I just clicked on the file names on my PC, and their giant computer just inhaled them.

Next step is to wait a few days for my proof. Then I'll make any necessary corrections, get some real books, and send out review copies. Meanwhile I'm finishing up the next book, and I have two more planned for next year.

The first book took me 50 years from concept to completion. I'm 62 years old, so I'll have to work faster from now on.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Find & replace warning

I recently decided to change a real name to a fake name in my memoir, to avoid embarrassing someone who might not want to be written about.

I used Microsoft Word's Find and Replace feature, which quickly made about a dozen substitutions in a chapter.

But when I read through the chapter I was surprised to find a few instances of the old name, which had escaped the Find function.

It's important to do a manual verification, because Word might not notice hyphenated words, or words with apostrophes or in their plural form, as targets for replacement.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Amazing deals at Staples. ACT FAST.

Staples.com is offering some fantastic deals on a wide variety of refurbished electronic equipment, including printers, multi-function machines, a GPS, a scanner, a portable DVD player and more.

Prices are generally less than half the new price, and even lower than the regular price for refurbs. CLICK

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Check, please

No matter how many times you read and re-read, you're bound to find mistakes in anything you've written. It's best to find them before the book is printed.

This morning, just before I had planned to send a book to the printer, I decided to check my table of contents.

I had a feeling that as I changed the length of some chapters, a page number might have changed.

I actually found three wrong pages, and two chapters were missing from the table.

Don't let it happen to you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A few Microsoft Word tips

If you are using MS Word to produce a book or any other kind of document, there are a few less-than-obvious ways to save space to improve the appearance of a page.

(1) Very often a paragraph or a single line of text in a table turns out to be just a tiny bit longer than you would like it to be, possibly leaving one word (a "widow") on the final line. The easiest way to "kill the widow" is to remove a word or two, but sometimes every word is vital, or there are no shorter alternative words.

If you can't change the number or length of words, you can change the size of the words.

Word's type size pull-down menu gives you many choices, but they're not your only choices. For example, Word shows both 12 points and 14 points, but not 13. If you think 13 points would be the right size, just type 13 into the window, and tap ENTER.

If you need something smaller than 8 points, which is the smallest choice shown, you can type in 7 or 6 if you think they are better options.

You are not even limited to whole numbers. I recently reduced a line that was slightly to wide to fit my margins, from 12 points to 11.5. I doubt that anyone will notice.

(2) Another way to save space on a page is to reduce the spacing between paragraphs, if your document uses blank spaces to separate paragraphs, like this blog.

The default format gives the blank space the same height as a printed line, but you can easily decrease the space if you need to get more text on a page. (You can also increase the space height if you want to fill the page more.)

Put your cursor in the space and change the type size in the drop-down window so you can experiment with different solutions and find what looks best to you.

The combination of changing type size, changing paragraph spacing, and eliminating or substituting words gives self-publishing authors a lot more control compared to being subject to the whims of outside editors and typographers.

You wrote the book. Make it look the way you want it to look.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Skip this over-priced, error-filled,
ugly, padded book

Chutzpah is a great Yiddish word that means having BIG BALLS, unmitigated gall, unlimited arrogance, and brazen egomania.

The classic example of the highest level of chutzpah is a boy, convicted of murdering his parents, who begs the judge for leniency because he is an orphan.

Another great example is the $19.95 price that David Rising put on his Best in Self Publishing & Print on Demand. Actually, I'm not sure if that's the title. It may be just one of two subtitles on the jumbled cover. The actual title might be the deceptive How to Get Published Free.

So why is $19.95 an example of chutzpah?

(1) The book is puny, just 136 pages. Pages 135 and 136 have numbers on them, but nothing else. The next page is completely blank, without a number. Maybe Rising expects his readers to finish writing the book themselves. By comparison, Carolyn Howard-Johnson's excellent The Frugal Book Promoter has 283 much-more-useful pages and a $17.95 price tag. Morris Rosenthal -- the expert on POD publishing, asks just $14.95 for his infinitely superior Print-On-Demand Book Publishing, with 173 pages. Dan Poynter's excellent and authoritative Self-Publishing Manual has 463 useful pages and the same $19.95 price tag as Rising's puny publication.

(2) Of course, someone might argue that $19.95 is a fair price based on the value of what's inside -- but only an idiot would make that argument. 37 pages (TWENTY-SEVEN PERCENT) are instructions on using Lulu to publish your book. Lulu published this book, and I'm not impressed. The same information is available from Lulu, for free.

(3) There's more un-original book padding including eight pages from Dan Poynter that are available for free on Dan's website and six pages from Audrey Owen that are also available online for free. There's also an interview with Richard Paul Evans by Carolyn Campbell that takes up 10 pages. It too, is available as an online freebie. Rising even reprints unedited advertising for publishing services, such as five self-serving pages from Lotus Books.

(4) There's more padding that doesn't use words. Spacing between paragraphs is consistently inconsistent, with large blocks of white space and some silly pictures showing up for no particular reason. I don't know if Rising or someone else did the layout -- but it sucks.

(5) Rising's writing style is amateurish and definitely not ready for print. His up-front disclaimer speaks to "you, the reader." Who could "you" be other than the reader? On the same page, Rising says, "...could result with..." It should be "could result in." Apparently Rising believes that an automated spell-checker is a substitute for a copy editor. It isn't. The very first sentence of his introduction has a stupid error: "level playing field for all participates." That's not a spelling error; it's the wrong fucking word! Rising also has bad grammar: "There isn't going to be thousands of unsold books..." and ..."there is always one or two..." and "Don't be afraid you'll not lose anything..." He also says, "...your writing should at least see the light as for getting published... and "whether you see sells of any significance." I have no idea what the hell he is talking about. There are many more examples, but I'll spare you the agony. If I typed more, I'd puke on my keyboard.

(6) Rising does give some good advice, such as hiring experts when necessary. Unfortunately he was too blind, stupid or broke to heed his own advice. One of the funniest examples is, "...you'll soon see how easy it is to over look mistakes..." Hey genius, it should be overlook (one word). On the other hand, he spells "subtitle" as "sub title" (two words).

(7) The typography is atrocious. Some pages are set justified, some are flush left and ragged right -- depending on where Rising copied the text from. Some paragraphs start with an indent, some start with a skipped line, and some have neither an indent nor a skipped line. The type justification is even worst than I find in newspapers, and Rising did not have a daily deadline as an excuse for ugliness. Some of the word spacing is absolutely grotesque, and is inexcusable.

(8) Rising doesn't understand arithmetic, or at least he doesn't explain it well. He says, "Lulu only charges you 20% commission on your profits. So, for any product you sell on the site you get 80% profit." In the real world, an 80% profit means that something costs you 20 cents and you sell it for a buck, so your (gross) profit is 80 cents, and 80% of the sale. Rising should have said "80% OF THE profit," not "80% profit." There can be a huge difference.

(9) Even the index is stupid, apparently assembled by a robot with no common sense. Before the "A" topics we have lists of topics beginning with the dollar sign, and with the numbers three and seven. If you want to find the page where Rising discussed "$34.95," or "72DPI" you'll love his index.

(10) The front cover screams, "How to Get Published Free." The apparently important word "free" is not indexed, and I couldn't find anything about free book publishing in this book. I didn't actually expect to lean how to publish for free -- certainly not on paper -- but I was cynically curious to find out what Rising had to say about it.

This is the only book I can recall that says nothing about its author. Maybe that's because there is nothing in the author's education or experience that he can claim qualifies him to write about the topic.

I'm a strong supporter of freedom of the press. Until now, I've firmly believed that any writer should be able to publish anything. However, after buying this slim and nearly worthless volume, I might be willing to consider a licensing requirement for writers. I have no doubt that David Rising would fail the test.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Extremely good 2006 book needs an update

Peter Bowerman's The Well-Fed Self-Publisher makes a very strong case for self-publishing as opposed to going through the agony of trying to get published through a traditional publishing house. There's no doubt that you'll get published, you'll have more control over what is published, your books will be available for selling sooner, and you'll probably make more money.

His numbers and other arguments are very convincing, and he has lots of ideas for maximizing and multiplying the income streams from a writer's work.

Peter also does a good job of demolishing what he describes as Print-On-Demand (POD) publishing, which appears to be much more costly than Peter's method of self publishing -- actually paying a printer to produce a pile of books at one time, to be warehoused and shipped when ordered.

Peter's POD targets are companies such as AuthorHouse, which act as a publishing service for authors, but print books on demand to ship to customers.

Where I disagree with Peter is in his ignoring another class of self-publishing where an author becomes the publisher and uses a POD printer (such as Lightning Source) and does not use a third company for design and other services. With these companies you sacrifice control, spend more money, and take more time to publish.

With the direct-to-POD-printer scenario, the author/self publisher has all of the control and freedom that Peter enjoys with his method, but there is no investment in a stack of books that could become obsolete, soggy, mouse-nibbled or have no market.

There is a difference in cost and profits, of course, but the costs are still much lower than using a publishing service, and this is the path I plan to take with my books, and what I would recommend for a new book with unknown sales potential. If sales zoom, then I may follow Peter's principle.

I strongly recommend Peter's book for anyone who wants to self-publish through any channel, and I also recommend that Peter do an update so people don't improperly dismiss POD. There's more to POD than Author House, Lulu, iUniverse and Outskirts Press. Actually, if Peter used POD instead of having invested in thousands of books, it would be very easy to update his book.

Writers who want to self-publish with POD should buy Morris Rosenthal's Print-On-Demand Book Publishing to understand the process, and get Peter Bowerman's book for more help making money.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Publisher with editing trouble
needs help with math, too

A few days ago I complained that a book written by the boss of Outskirts Press and the corporate website had silly errors in spelling, publishing history, book structure and more. My headline declared that the publisher needs an editor.

It now appears that Outskirts employees need a math tutor.

Yesterday I received an email from one of their author services people, who periodically sends me an email blast to try to convince me to use Outskirts Press.

Karl Schroeder (photo from his Facebook page) related an alleged conversation with a happy Outskirts author. He said, "Outskirts Press was her first choice because our authors keep all their rights. And she liked our pricing flexibility. The other publisher pays her 200% less in royalties. Yes, 200% LESS."

I'm no Einstein, but I think there's something very strange about that number.

  • To keep it simple, let's assume that Outskirts would pay a royalty of $100 for some quantity of books sold at some price over some period of time.

  • If the other publisher paid $50, it would be 50% less than Outskirts paid.

  • If the other publisher paid $25, it would be 75% less than Outskirts paid.

  • If the other publisher paid absolutely nothing, it would be 100% less.

    Unless there's a way to receive less than nothing, I can't see how it's possible to be paid 200% less than anything.

    I asked for an explanation but I didn't get one.

  • ...

    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    Great source of very inexpensive artwork

    If you read the headline, you may be wondering why anyone would care about inexpensive artwork when there is so much FREE clipart (photos, drawings, cartoons) available for copying and pasting.

    While there are millions of freebies available for downloading, and near freebies on inexpensive discs with thousands of images, in many cases the artwork is not allowed to be used for commercial purposes.

    I had picked out a fantastic freebie to use as a book cover from Microsoft's collection of over 150,000 illustrations, animations and sounds.

    And then I read the fine print that declared that the clips were not for commercial use. Despite multiple emails and phone calls, I was never able to identify the photographer of the picture I wanted to use. I would have gladly paid $500 for it.

    However, its replacement cost me four bucks.

    The Microsoft clipart page conveniently provides links to several clipart suppliers with no such limitations, and I've been very pleased with Fotolia.

    They have OVER FOUR MILLION images available for immediate and fast downloading. Prices are ridiculously low -- typically $1 to $5 depending on size and resolution. (You use higher resolution for printing than for web work.) If you need lots of pix, you can pay for one-month, six-month or 12-month plans that allow you to get 25 images per day.

    Unlike some other "stock photo" sources, Fotolia is royalty-free, meaning that you don't pay more based on type of use or the number of books that you print that use a picture.

    The pictures are not exclusively yours, of course, but the cost is a lot less than hiring a photographer and models and renting a studio and building a set, or sending a crew thousands of miles; and you know exactly what you are getting before you pay a penny.

    You can even download free "comp" images that are good enough to mock-up a project and determine if a photo is right for you. Even if you do pay and it turns out that you made a wrong decision, or you just change your mind, your loss is minimal.

    There are other services that compete with Fotolia, but I've been so pleased so far that I've had no reason to check out the competition.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Some more reasons to love Amazon.com

    As a writer, I look forward to having my books sell on Amazon.com.

    As a reader, I'm a big fan of Amazon, and seldom go a week without ordering a few things from them. I often order twice a week.

    The obvious reasons are that they have LOTS OF STUFF, the prices are good and they ship quickly; but I'd like to point out more advantages that you folks may not be aware of.

    (1) People who buy a lot, like me, can save a huge amount of money on shipping charges, with the Amazon Prime program.

    You pay $79 a year, and get unlimited FREE two-day shipping on everything Amazon sells, and you can upgrade to next-day shipping for just $3.99. There's no minimum order size, and no maximum weight. You can use it for a two-buck book, or heavy-weight audio or video equipment, and you can even try the program FREE for a month. Yesterday was Tuesday and I received a box of books and the new Dylan CD that had been ordered for two-day delivery on Monday -- so sometimes you get even better service than you pay for.

    (Keep in mind, however, that the Prime deal does not apply to independent merchants who sell through Amazon, so pay attention to whose stuff you are actually ordering. Also, the $3.99 next-day bargain deal is PER-ITEM, not per-order, so be careful how you use it.)

    (2) Amazon has their own branded credit cards, issued by Chase Bank. You can use any credit card to buy from Amazon, but if you use your Amazon card, you can get FREEBIES from Amazon. You earn three points for each buck you spend with your Amazon/Chase Visa at Amazon, and one point for each buck spent anywhere else.

    Once you've accumulates 2,500 points, Amazon sends you a $25 reward certificate that you can redeem online.

    Now here's where it gets even better.

    I have two Amazon cards, one for business and one for personal use. In one recent month I used the business Amazon card to pay about $15,000 in business bills, and they sent me $150 in reward certificates that I was able to use to buy merchandise from Amazon to re-sell. The profit is pretty darn high when both the cost of goods and cost of shipping are ZERO.

    (3) If you are an author whose books are sold by Amazon, this can be an easy and inexpensive way to send out occasional freebie copies of your books, and at the same time you'll boost your sales ranking a bit. (I am not condoning its use for this purpose.)

    If you use print-on-demand, you're still paying to print each book, but your cost is basically the same as if you ordered directly from your printer, and the logistics may be a lot simpler.

    If you have a contract with a conventional publishing house this method will get you free copies of your book to do whatever you want with, and presumably you'll earn royalties on each one you buy for zero dollars and zero cents.

    (4) Amazon makes it easy to send gifts, whether it's books, music, videos or any of the endless variety of other items that Amazon offers. Amazon's computers have stored the addresses of my parents and others I send presents to, and all it takes is a couple of clicks and the gifts are flowing through the pipeline. Sometimes the gifts cost me NOTHING.

    Amazon, I love you!

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Important editing advice I disobey every day

    It's generally not a good idea for a writer to be the final editor of her or his own work. After days, weeks or years of thinking about and staring at words on paper or on a PC screen, it's easy to think words are there that are really in your head, and to miss repeated words and other major goofs or little gremlins.

    Important work deserves a professional editor, or maybe even two.

    But before it goes to the pros, let anyone who happens to be handy read it to you -- out loud -- and see if he or she stumbles or notices anything weird that you didn't pick up.

    For something with a tight deadline or that's less important than a book or magazine article that will sit around for a long time with your name on it -- such as a blog or a website item that you can easily change -- you can skip the professional editing and just let the convenient unpaid amateur read it to you.

    I write five blogs a day. I usually start around 3:30AM and finish by five or six. My wife would be really pissed-off if I woke her up to read to me.

    And even during normal business hours she's often pissed-off when she reads what I've written, so I just have to trust my own editing ability.

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Misleading book title made me waste my money, but there's a much better book for the same price

    As the day quickly approaches when a printing press will start spitting out copies of a book I wrote, I've been reading lots of books that other people have written, to learn as much as I can to help me sell my book.

    One likely title is Red Hot Internet Publicity by Penny C. Sansevieri. Unfortunately, I should have looked at the subtitle, "An Insider's Guide to Marketing Your Book on the Internet," and ignored the title, and maybe ignored the book.

    In the media business, of which I have been a part in various ways for over 37 years, "publicity" has a very specific meaning -- but Sansevieri does not use it that way.

    Maybe there are more people who don't interpret the word the way I did, but the author should have considered all of us.

    Traditionally the term "publicity" has been used to indicate a specific kind of promotion to attract the attention of the public, by first attracting the attention of people in the media.

    There are publicity stunts and publicity agents (also called publicists), and today the term "publicity" means pretty much the same thing as "public relations" (PR) -- getting writers to say nice things about a person or a product, getting someone on a TV show or magazine cover, getting a product endorsed by a celebrity, etc.

    Basically, publicity consists of influencing the news media by distributing information that is perceived to be newsworthy. I've been both the manipulatee and manipulator and I know how the game works. But I've never done publicity for a book before, so I was willing to pay to learn.

    Unfortunately, Sansevieri ignores tradition and she uses "publicity" as a synonym for "marketing," and it wasn't until I reached page 115 of her 193 pages of text that I encountered anything that I considered to be related to the book's title, which was the reason I bought the book.

    The bulk of the book's beginning deals with setting up a website. She provides nothing new, and gives both bad advice and inaccurate information. Sansevieri says that a typical website should cost between $2,000 and $6,000 to build. That number is bullshit and may unnecessarily scare off a lot of writers who could benefit from having a website.

    She also recommends hiring both a designer and a coder to put the website together. More scary bullshit.

    I am not a professional designer or a coder, but I have put together over 50 websites that worked just fine. I've done them for myself, for my businesses, for other businesses, and for friends.

    Some were designed from scratch using Microsoft FrontPage. Some were modifications of templates provided by Yahoo or Network Solutions, the companies that host my sites. I have never paid a penny to anyone else for design or coding assistance, but the sites have won awards, they've supported several families, and have done millions of dollars in sales.

    Anyone who can use a keyboard and a mouse can have a good-enough website functioning in less than an hour, without paying anything to outside experts.

    An added benefit of controlling your own website is that anytime you need to or want to make a change -- even at 3AM -- you just do it, without scheduling a meeting, requesting proposals or reviewing contracts. A do-it-yourself website may not win any awards (although many do) but it can do its job inexpensively and make money quickly.

    Even when I got beyond Sansevieri's instructions on websites, blogs and podcasts and I finally reached the section on "real" publicity, I was greatly disappointed. There was very little there, and she quickly moves on to other topics.

    I won't say this is a bad book, but it certainly has a bad title.

    Any writer looking to learn about real publicity should definitely buy The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson.

    Despite a last name that made me keep thinking about ice cream and fried clam strips, the author provides tons of useful info and advice -- even on websites. Her book belongs on every author's shelf, whether you are a self-publisher or are using a traditional publisher.

    Unless you are absolutely clueless about the website process, buy this book and not the Red Hot book. They both have $17.95 list prices (before big discounts to $12.21 on Amazon) and are written by women for the same audience, but they're very different books.

    The Frugal book has about 80 more pages and more words per page than the Red book, and is the most complete author's aid to marketing, sales and publicity I've yet encountered. Buy it at Amazon.

    Friday, October 17, 2008

    A trick for beating writer's block

    Sometimes it can be very tough to type the first word. Sooner or later "writer's block" affects most people who have to write -- professionals as well as school kids.

    It can be caused by a complete lack of creative inspiration, or by fear of writing the wrong thing, by hatred of the subject matter, by depression, or even by an uncomfortable chair or a keyboard or monitor at the wrong height. The blockage can last for minutes, hours, days or even longer.

    Perhaps the worst case of writer's block involved Henry Roth (photo). His Call It Sleep was published in 1934. After its publication his writing was blocked and he worked as a firefighter, metal grinder, mental nurse, poultry farmer and teacher. His next book was published in 1979.

    For a school kid, writer's block might mean an "F" on a term paper.

    For a professional writer, the effects can be much worse. I was fired from my first job as assistant editor of a magazine when I had a two-week dry spell.

    Since I don't want that to happen to anyone else, I hereby offer a simple and proven trick that should avoid the failure or the firing.

    If you can't write the first sentence or first paragraph, JUST SKIP IT.

    Start with the second sentence, or second paragraph, and just keep on writing.

    Often the beginning of what you have to write is an introduction. So once you've finished writing everything else, it will be much easier to go back and write the introduction because now you'll know what you're introducing.

    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    Don't trust your eyes, or your monitor

    While fixing up a scan of an old photograph for use in a book, I used a graphics program to simply paint some black over various white spots and streaks in the otherwise solid black background.

    Later on, I printed a couple of pages on a color laser printer simply to compare a few different type sizes and fonts.

    I was horrified to see that the photo that had looked perfect on my LCD monitor, had dark black blotches against a grayer backround.

    It was a scary and valuable lesson, and I'm glad I learned it before the book went to press. Apparently most LCD monitors just don't have the ability to display the full range of colors that can be printed -- or even the colors that can be displayed by a clunky old CRT monitor.

    I re-did my retouching.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Free online preview of revised Aiming At Amazon

    For several years Aaron Shepard's Aiming At Amazon has been the authoritative guidebook for self-publishing authors who hope to sell their books on Amazon.com.

    (It's a lot better than the stretched-out Sell Your Book on Amazon by Brent Sampson. Sampson, who would like readers to use his own publishing company, used big type with large "leading" between the lines and huge margins and big blocks of white space to artificially increase his page count by about one third. Aaron's book is not as pretty. It has about the same number of pages, but has MUCH more useful advice and information. Sampson touts "Top-Secret Tips Guaranteed to increase sales." They're not secrets, or guaranteed.)

    I had several books published by "real" publishers before and was screwed and disappointed, so I've decided to try self-publishing my next books. I learned a lot from Aiming At Amazon and Aaron's other book, Perfect Pages.

    I'm particularly grateful for one bit of advice: "Set the book aside for a month or two."

    The book that I am now about to send to the printer was theoretically finished last spring. I put it away and ignored it all summer and when I looked at it again in September, I made it both bigger and better. Thanks, Aaron.

    Self-publishing is a very fluid field, and much has changed since Aaron's book was published in 2007.

    In that book, Aaron advises authors "to keep your books relatively short" and that "people prefer short books."

    The first Aiming At Amazon has 171 pages. The new "2009" version is more than double the size, and I'm glad that Aaron has decided to ignore his own advice. The world has changed a lot in two years. Aaron has learned a lot, and the guru has a lot to teach us.

    Among the new topics in the book is Amazon's Create Space self-publishing print-on-demand program. Aaron says it's easier to use than Lightning Source and I was all set to make the switch -- until I read the rest of the chapter and decided to stay with Lightning.

    Anyone who is considering self-publishing should definitely download the freebie draft of the book, and buy the real thing -- from Amazon of course, when it's printed on paper.

    CLICK for the page to download the free preview. On that page, scroll down a bit and click on "Download the Draft"

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    This book publisher needs an editor

    Outskirts Press makes most of its money by selling services to authors, not by selling books to readers.  It has called its business "custom book publishing," "on-demand publishing" and "independent self-printing." Its Google ad promotes its "Fast Easy Self Publishing," but it's really a vanity press. No company can self-publish for you. The words just don't make sense.

    Its publishing packages include editing services, but the company's own publications can use better editing.

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

    That's a really stupid error, especially for a book publisher.

    The correct term is "offset," and it's been that way for over 100 years since offset printing was invented by Ira Rubel in Nutley, New Jersey.

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

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

    The book has a foreword written by Sampson -- which goes against the book publishing rules I've learned. Forewords are not supposed to be written by the author. Sampson should have called it a preface or an introduction or hired someone else to write the foreword.

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

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

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

    These silly errors and outright deceptions do not inspire confidence.

    Sorry Brent, I'm going to use another company for my books. I'll feel better, and I'll also probably make more money and get paid faster.


    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Finding a freelance editor

    While writers' magazines and directories have lists and ads for professional editors, there is another potential source of high-quality editing that may be available for less money, and the editors may be available to do your work much sooner.

    Check with some journalism departments and college newspapers -- perhaps where you went to school -- and chances are you'll be able to find several bright and eager candidates. Read some samples of their work. Maybe submit a sample chapter for editing. Ask a faculty member for opinions. Then make the deal.

    Skill levels will vary, of course, and so will needs and costs. You can pay per hour or per project. Expect to pay more if you need major rewriting than just copy editing. A student who has a part-time job making minimum wage flipping burgers will probably be thrilled to earn $20 per hour, or $300 - $500 for a project. As a comparison, one publishing company that caters to self-publishing authors recently charged $50 per hour or 1.4 cents per word.

    If the job goes well, be sure to put your editor's name in the book, and send a note to his or her faculty advisor.

    As long as you're investigating colleges, consider hiring a professor, not just a student. If you're writing in a specialized field, it could be worthwhile to hire a faculty member to check your facts, and pay someone else to polish your prose.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Disagreeing with the experts, #2
    When to send out review copies

    As I prepare to launch several books, I've been reading lots of books about book publishing and promotion.

    John Kremer's 1001 Ways to Market Your Books has a confusing cover. Its subtitle states it "includes over 100 proven marketing tips for authors."

    So, even if we generously assume that "over 100" equals 200, that would mean that 801 of the ways to market books inside Kremer's mammoth 700-page book are not proven.

    Kremer would probably respond that the 1001 ways are "for authors and publishers," and not all of them apply to authors. I'll argue that a huge percentage of the tips apply to both, and with the increasing trend to self-publishing, many authors are publishers.

    The silly line appears on both the sixth and fifth edition, and maybe even more. I hope it will be dropped for the seventh.

    But the main purpose of today's blog entry is not to zing a cover, but to disagree with potentially dangerous advice.

    In the section on getting book reviews, John urges that writers "send books as early as possible -- preferably four months in advance of the book's publication date."

    I can't see how it's possible to schedule when (let alone if) a book review will appear. I'd sure hate to have a fantastic review appear in February, if no books will be available for purchase until April.

    We live in a world of instant gratification.

    People who buy online will click the "order" button and then run to their window to look for the FedEx truck. There is no way I would trust someone who reads a review and likes what they read, to remember to buy it two months later.

    I'd much rather delay sending out review copies until I know people can really buy my books.

    Thursday, October 9, 2008

    Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing:
    the big dollar difference

    Unless you are a superstar author , a traditional book publishing contract will pay a royalty rate of about 6 to 10% of the suggested retail price. There's usually a sliding scale based on sales volume with a higher percentage pased on higher sales. There may be a lower percentage applied to certain kind of sales, such as to book clubs or through off-price promotional deals. For the sake of simplicity, we'll pick a flat 8% and ignore any percentage that might have to be paid to an agent.

    Let's also assume an initial print run of 5,000 books with a cover price of $20 each. If they all get sold, the book stores collect $100,000 and maybe $40,000 works its way back to the publisher through wholesale disributors who collect their piece of the action.

    You, the smiling person whose name is on the cover, probably got a $5,000 advance against royalties when you signed your contract. Eight percent of $100,000 is $8,000, and since you already got $5,000, you just get three grand more. That's not much to show for years of blood, sweat and tears.

    If you have to deduct taxes and an agent's commission, you'd probably be better off doing something else than writing books.

    On the other hand, If you self-publish the book, and are willing to self-promote the book, the same sales volume could leave much more money on your table.

    For example, using Print-on-Demand (POD) service from Lightning Source, your cost to print a 250-page paperback is a little over four bucks. Let's say it has a $20 cover price and you offer a 25% discount to Amazon.com. Amazon pays $15 per copy but your cost is just $4.15 per copy. You'll have a little expense for setup and shipping (I'm not sure about the shipping part -- I'll update this later), so you make about $10 per copy. If you sell 5,000 copies, you keep $50,000 before taxes -- infinitely better than what you'd get with a conventional publisher, and you get your money much faster.

    You'll probably have to share a thousand or two with an editor and designer and at the beginning you lay money out instead of having an advance coming in, but if the book sells you'll keep much more money this way.

    Keep in mind that when you self-publish, you (or someone you hire) will be responsible for doing all of the promotional work. But unless you are a superstar, it's unlikely that a traditional publisher would put much effort or money behind you anyway. So if you're going to have to push yourself, you may as well also publish yourself, and reward yourself.

    If you believe in your book, self-publishing can be rewarding on several different levels. It's not right for everyone, and it's probably not right for a first book, but keep it in mind for the second time around.

    Wednesday, October 8, 2008

    The end is here.

    From The Doors' song, "The End":

    This is the end
    Beautiful friend
    This is the end
    My only friend, the end

    Of our elaborate plans, the end
    Of everything that stands, the end
    No safety or surprise, the end
    I'll never look into your eyes...again

    50 years since I planned to write the book that became my memoir, today I finally have declared it finished.

    Undoubtedly, if I lived long enough I could spend another half century "fineschmecking," but it is extremely unlikely that anyone else would notice any improvement, so I think it's OK to stop now and let it be printed. And maybe make some money.

    Although I've never been perfect in writing or anything else, for many years I was a perfectionist.

    In junior and senior high school I frequently stayed up late revising term papers (if the subject interested me) to make them better and better. And this was when we used typewriters, not PCs with word processing software.

    While a writer on my college newspaper, I became copy editor, and even got a part-time job as a proofreader at the printer, to ensure that nobody else screwed up my words.

    When I was an advertising copywriter, I was notorious for not "releasing" an ad, because I wanted to make it better and better.

    I finally ended my obsession when an older and wiser man told me that "sometimes good enough really is good enough, and if you strive for perfection, you'll never complete anything."

    He also revealed the sad results of a study that showed that most people looked at the pictures in an ad and maybe read the headline, but they seldom read the "body copy" that I tried so hard to make perfect.

    I later developed my own corollary: "while lots of things make a difference, few differences matter."

    A lot of what human beings think is important, may not be.

    Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane wisely said, "It don't mean shit to a tree."

    When dealing with someone who could not make an unimportant decision, I often said, "5,000 years from now, who'll give a shit?"

    I knew a man who refused to buy a color television "because it's not perfected yet." A few weeks after he died in 2002, his widow bought one.

    Human beings are not perfected yet, either. Most of us wear eyeglasses because the eye has not evolved fast enough. It was designed to spot distant food and predators, not to focus on books and PC monitors.

    Despite our imperfections, we function pretty well.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008

    Revisionist history & revising my memoir
    during the Days of Awe

    Those who know me and those who've read previews of my memoir, "I only flunk my brightest students -- stories from school & real life," know I hated high school.

    I was not alone. Some of the kids wore pins that proclaimed OHIM (Oh Hell It’s Monday), TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) or IHTFP (I Hate This Fucking Place).

    Despite a few wonderful teachers and many great friends, the school, as an institution, represented illogic and repression, not education or enlightenment.

    Our principal proudly informed us that a magazine described Hillhouse High School as a “public prep school for Yale,” but the kids weren't impressed. School spirit was invisible except when we cheered our football and basketball teams. (However I did buy and still have a bottle of ’64 Moet champagne that was bottled in the year we graduated.)

    Yesterday, as I finished my writing and needed to verify some names, I visited Hillhouse. I felt strangely attracted to the school that repulsed me as a student a great many years earlier. My library research took only minutes, but I did not want to leave my school.

    Accidentally but appropriately, I was there during the “Days of Awe,” the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we Jewish people are supposed to be especially introspective, and to look back and to seek forgiveness.

    Before my visit, the last page of my book was merely going to have a joke on it, but after my visit I don’t want the book to be seen as just an attack on my school. I changed the page to make the book end much more favorably than I previously thought possible or would even have bothered to do so.

    I walked through the hallways and up and down the stairs. I sat in a classroom, peed in a boy’s john, gripped an old water pipe to feel the building’s pulse, sat in the courtyard and marveled at the size and strength of a tree that I wanted to chop down 45 years earlier, to spite the crazy teacher who made us wave and talk to it.

    I spoke to a librarian who had been at the school for over 40 years. And to a coach who had graduated in 1982 and stayed around. And to a secretary who graduated in 2002. None of them would rather work anywhere else.

    Just as parents make mistakes with their first child and do better with the younger kids, maybe this old school learned from what it did wrong with the class of 1964, and that experience made the school better for those who came later.

    I spoke to some students. They were young enough to be my grandchildren. They said Hillhouse is a good school and they like it there. I believe them. I wouldn't mind being a student there again if I had the chance.


    Monday, September 29, 2008

    Morris is a maven and a mensch

    The Yiddish word "maven" means an expert, but the term also implies that the expert has some enthusiasm for his subject and is eager to share his knowledge, and doesn't spend all of his time glued to his microscope or keyboard.

    The Yiddish word "mensch" literally means a man, but it implies much more. A mensch is an upstanding person, a decent guy, someone who does the right thing, who does more than he has to, a man who is worthy of respect.

    Morris Rosenthal is both. Morris is a writer and self-publisher who has become a maven on an important area of modern publishing. He's the author of "Print-On-Demand Book Publishing" and books on building and fixing computers, and the computer service business.

    Morris' website supplements the books, and also offers advice in other areas as diverse as visiting Jerusalem, mortgage interest, car repair, and building a timber frame home.

    Obviously Morris is one busy maven. So what makes him such a mensch?

    Even though I bought exactly one book he wrote, with a cover price of $14.95 which probably only generated a few bucks of profit, Morris still found the time to respond to several emails quickly, courteously and completely. He amplified a topic in his book to help me in my own self-publishing effort.

    There are many mavens out there, but very few are mensches like Morris Rosenthal. I highly recommend his book, and his way of life.

    CLICK for Morris' website.

    Friday, September 26, 2008

    The em dash debate

    The em dash often indicates a parenthetical thought — like this one — or some similar use.

    Em dashes are not available with regular keyboards, so double hyphens (--) are used as a substitute. Em dashes can be generated with word processing software such as MS Word.

    The term is derived from the width of "one em", which is a standard spacing in the typographical measurement "points" system that type font sizes are specified in.

    Years ago, one "em" was the width of the letter "m" in some specific font. That letter m was as wide as it was tall. So, in 11-point type, an em dash is 11 points wide, and so on for other type sizes.

    There is also a shorter "en dash." In theory, it's longer than a hyphen but shorter than the em, but few people will notice if you use a hyphen instead the en.

    Many purists insist that the em dash should be attached to the letters before and after it, like—this, with no visible space. Those on that side of the argument include the Oxford University Press, the Chicago Manual of Style, and Aaron Shepard, author of several books on self-publishing.

    On the other hand, the New York Times puts a space before and after each em dash.

    I followed the Times style in several books I published. Without the space, it looked like the dash was connecting to a letter or a word; but with a little space, the dash appeared, more properly, to be connecting to an entire thought.

    HOWEVER, in later books, I changed my mind and eliminated the adjacent spaces.

    As long as I publish my own books, I can control my em dashes. So can you.

    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    Breaking and starting traditions
    Why my books look the way they do

    Book chapters traditionally begin on right-hand pages (called “recto” in the book business); but unfortunately book chapters don’t always conveniently end on left-hand “verso” pages.

    That’s why lots of books have blank left pages or left pages with just cute little pictures on them. That’s a waste of paper, trees, energy and money; so my books will book ignore that tradition.

    Chapters start on the page after the previous chapter ends. Some start recto and some start verso, whatever comes naturally.

    In my first book, we saved 38 pages this way. That could add up to a lot of paper, and maybe save a few trees. If other publishers would do this, they would probably save lots of trees, energy and money. With concern about the depletion of forests, and the high cost of energy, that’s more important than following tradition.

    We’re also flouting publishing tradition in other ways.

    Normally the first few pages of a book have no numbers printed on them, and then come pages with Roman numerals, and finally come the pages with standard “Arabic” numbers. This system has always seemed silly and unnecessarily complicated to me. Therefore, ►in my books, the first page has number 1 on it. It was much easier to put the books together this way, and I encourage others to follow the new tradition.

    Finally, ► the type is set “flush left/ragged right” rather than “justified,” where most lines are the same length and they fill the space from left to right. Justified type, which is still the dominant format for book printing, can look beautiful, but takes a lot of time to do right; and a lot of sloppy justified type gets printed. The lines of type in my first book are like most websites and a growing number of magazines and books. Ragged right is much easier to produce, and people accept it.

    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    Journalism's silly secret

    If your impression of how news reporters do their work was gained from watching TV programs like Superman and Lou Grant and the cop shows, you're mostly wrong.

    Only a small percentage of reporting — in print, online or in broadcast media — actually comes from snooping around and digging up news.

    When a reporter for the New York Times or Washington Post does get a legitimate scoop that's published in the morning, you can be sure that copycats at CNN, CNBC and the network news shows will quickly be spewing out the same story.

    Investigative reporting remains the holy grail for reporters, the goal that wins praises, raises and Pulitzer prizes.

    But in truth, most reporting is merely rehashing, replaying and relaying the manufactured news that is distributed by newsmakers who want publicity.

    These newsmakers range from presidents, bureaucrats and generals who call press conferences or invite reporters to conduct interviews, to the makers of new gadgets who want the public to think that their stuff is wonderful and buy them, or to invest in their companies.

    If you channel-surf between 6 and 7PM you might wonder how and why all of the TV news shows are reporting on the same events.

    If the event is a war, forest fire, assassination or hurricane, it’s real news and the duplication makes sense.

    But if the event is the announcement of a new Toyota, iPod, quarterback or movie deal, it’s more like free advertising than news. You’re seeing it all over because all of the news editors were fed the same press release, and all of the reporters were fed the same lunch.

    There's an unfortunate trend in contemporary journalism, particularly in online journalism, to reporting by repetition and even reporting by robots.

    Press releases are "read" by robots, that publish them for human beings and other robots to read.

    Sometimes human beings do read the press releases, but they do little or none of the traditional fact checking that was once an important part of journalism. In many media outlets, there is an automatic assumption of accuracy and honesty that allows almost anything to get published and widely permeated.

    If "news" arrives in the proper format, with authentic language, it is almost always believed and is not likely to be challenged by journalists who are in a hurry to publish faster than their peers.

    Early on Thursday April 3, 2008 I launched a 90%-false press release as a joke, a test, and an example.

    Within a few hours, it was picked up and published by websites around the world. Many news writers added original material to demonstrate their extensive knowledge of the subject. Some made silly mistakes that showed that they did not even read what what was in front of them. Only one called me to verify the story and I told him that the news was a spoof.

    Most press releases include a quotation from an executive vice president or director of something. But 90% of the time, the important person who is quoted never said those pithy and powerful words. The quote is a phony, invented by the public relations person (“flack”) who wrote the press release, and is trying to flatter the exec by getting his or her name printed in newspapers and magazines, or into blogs, websites and search engines.

    Some reporters and editors are both lazy and competitive.

    My first job after college was as assistant editor of High Fidelity Trade News, a magazine that went to hi-fi stores. Our direct competitor, aimed at the same audience, was Audio Times. Both publications, and dozens of other media, received the same press releases about new products, with the same fabricated quotes.

    A lot of my work involved re-writing press releases for publication. I was supposed to filter out the superlative adjectives and make the news sound more like news than like advertising. On one of my first days, my boss Bryan returned an article I had written with a quote crossed out and a big PR BS written on it. Bryan told me to assume that the quotes were bullshit, and that we never published them.

    The other guys had lower standards and higher self-image. They enhanced every quote into something like “in an exclusive interview with Audio Times, Sony marketing director Fumio Watanabe explained that the company’s new XRT-707 would revolutionize the...”

    So, you shouldn't believe everything you read. But, you should believe this page.

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    The difference between vanity press
    & self publishing

    When I tell people I'm "self publishing" my books, most of them don't understand what I'm talking about and some simply sneer.

    There's a lot of confusion between self-publishing and "vanity" publishing.

    Mark Twain and Ben Franklin were self-publishers, and they didn't deserve sneers. I hope I don't, either.

    Vanity publishing companies exist to feed the egos and extract money from writers who have no chance of being a financial success, but are willing to pay money to have books printed with their names on the covers. Often their egos are much larger than their talents. They'll pay money even if it means that none of the books will ever be sold in stores and most of them will pile up in the garage rotting away with mildew until they are finally dumped when the author dies or the house is sold.

    Self publishing, on the other hand, is usually done by authors who have some hope of financial success, and want more control of the final product, speed-to-market, and more profit than they would have if they worked through traditional publishers.

    Sunday, September 21, 2008

    Doing it myself

    Many writers have become publishers. Ben Franklin did it. Mark Twain did it. Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein did it. Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for various things, also did it.

    And so did I.

    It's not usually an indication of failure or desperation.

    Mark Twain became his own publisher because he felt another publisher cheated him.

    I've had deals with three book publishers in the past.

    ♦ One cheated me.

    ♦ One tried to cheat me.

    ♦ One didn't cheat me, but the book that finally came out was so unlike what I had expected it to be, I was sorry I got involved. I also didn't make much money, and had to wait a long time for the little money that I did get.

    ♦ The one that did cheat me did such a bad job on the book that I refused to let him put my name on it.

    Self-publishing is booming in the early 21st century, for several reasons:

    ♦ It's part of a general cultural and technical trend that removes middlemen between creative people and their audiences. Musicians bypass record companies and make CDs to sell at concerts, and put recordings online for downloading by fans. Bloggers reach readers without needing newspapers or magazines to publish their words. Videographers can reach a worldwide audience on YouTube. Thousands of people, businesses and organizations publish e-zines, websites, catalogs and newsletters without professional assistance.

    ♦ Because of consolidation in the publishing business, it has become much harder for a new author to get published. Book publishing is now dominated by the so-called “Gang of Six” publishers that publish about half of the dollar volume of American books, and dominate the shelf space in bookstores. Book publishers seldom take risks today; they like to be sure a book will sell well.

    There are lots of reasons why writers want to be their own publishers. Here are some:

    ♦ Complete control: the author determines the title, the cover design, the page size, the number of pages, the price, the marketing plan, the publication date, everything.

    ♦ Personal attention: at a big publishing house, a new book from an unknown author may get little or no attention from the sales force that is responsible for dozens or hundreds of books. A self-publishing author can concentrate on one book, and can work as hard as she or he wants to in promoting the book to the public, booksellers, the media and book reviewers.

    ♦ Complete freedom: self-publishing allows authors to write about anything they want to, without needing approval from anyone.

    ♦ Speed: with conventional publishing, it can take years to find an agent and a publisher. With self-publishing, a book can be in stores a few weeks after it is written.

    ♦ Durability: the author determines how long a book remains on the market.

    ♦ Up-to-dateness: the author determines when a new edition should be published.

    ♦ Regular income: with conventional publishing, royalty checks (if there are any) arrive twice a year. With self-publishing, money can come in every day, week or month, depending on the sales channels.

    ♦ Higher income: most book royalties pay about 8% of the cover price. Self-published authors can make more money, even from books that sell for lower prices.

    These are the main reasons I established Silver Sands Books to publish my own books.

    As of September, 2008, I have started writing five books. Two are nearly completed.