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.