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)