Friday, February 27, 2009

Search engine comparison: Google wins big

I recently sent out a news release about my book I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life.

I was curious to see how well it was circulating, so I did some web searches for the title in quotes.

After about 10 days, Google showed about 10,800 website links for the book title.

MSN displayed 100 links.

Strangely, Excite showed just 19!

Even more strangely, on the first results page, Yahoo indicated they found 26,900 sites with my book on them; but pages 13 and later showed the total is just 2,760.

And even stranger yet is the variety of sites that carried the news of my book. They range from USA Today and Yahoo news, to a porn site in France and "Japan Diaper News."

All in all, except for some specialized purposes, there just doesn't seem to be any reason to search with any engine other than Google. Google also gets all my advertising money in their AdWords program.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Those pesky apostrophes

Three people work in my office. We all have last names that end with the letter "s."

Yesterday we had a spirited discussion (i.e. screaming match) about forming the plural of names like ours.

Dave, citing some long-forgotten college instructor and textbook, insisted that a plural is formed by adding an apostrophe, as in "The Marcus' are going on vacation."

I said that Dave was an idiot, and insisted that except for a few specific cases, the apostrophe indicates POSSESSION, not plural. I said the correct form was "The Marcuses are going on vacation."

In print but not in speech, that construction could be ambiguous, with readers wondering if the singular name is "Marcus" or "Marcuse."

Gary said he had no opinion and tried to avoid sentences where a plural of his last name would be necessary.

Dave demanded that I prove I was right (but he admitted that he wouldn't necessarily accept any authority I would cite).

So, for Dave or anyone else who cares, here are the rules I choose to accept:

When a family name (a proper noun) is pluralized, we almost always simply add an "s." So we go to visit the Smiths, the Kennedys, the Grays, etc. When a family name ends in s, x, ch, sh, or z, however, we form the plural by adding "es" as in the Marches, the Joneses, the Maddoxes, the Bushes, the Rodriguezes. Do not form a family name plural by using an apostrophe; that device is reserved for creating possessive forms.

When a proper noun that ends in "s" needs a plural AND a possessive, the result looks weird, as in "That's the Marcuses' house."

BUT, I might choose to avoid the weirdness and use the name-noun as an adjective: "That's the Marcus house."

When a proper noun ends in an "s" with a hard "z" sound, we don't add any ending to form the plural: "The Chambers are coming to dinner" (not the Chamberses); "The Hodges used to live here" (not the Hodgeses). There are exceptions even to this: we say "The Joneses are coming over," and we'd probably write "The Stevenses are coming, too."

We use an apostrophe to create plural forms in two limited situations: for pluralized letters of the alphabet and when we are trying to create the plural form of a word that refers to the word itself. Here we also should italicize this "word as word," but not the 's ending that belongs to it.

Do not use the apostrophe + s to create the plural of acronyms (pronounceable abbreviations such as laser and IRA and URL) and other abbreviations. (A possible exception to this last rule is an acronym that ends in "S": "We filed four NOS's in that folder.")

Jeffrey got four A's on his last report card.
Towanda learned very quickly to mind her p's and q's.
You have fifteen and's in that last paragraph.

We do not use an apostrophe to create plurals in the following:

The 1890s in Europe are widely regarded as years of social decadence.
I have prepared 1099s for the entire staff.
Rosa and her brother have identical IQs, and they both have PhDs from Harvard.
She has over 400 URLs in her bookmark file.

Unfortunately, spell-checking software is not perfect. Microsoft Word thinks "Marcuses" is wrong, but it’s right. Word accepts “buses” but not “Marcuses.” “Busses” is also an accepted plural of bus, but I don’t accept “Marcusses.”)

(info from Capital Community College, Hartford CT)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The worst thing about publishing a book

Everybody is a busybody.

Now that movie studios announce their weekend "gross" for examination, evaluation and comment by the public as well as by professionals, it seems that most of the world's population has an intense desire to know the details of every commercial enterprise.

When people learn that I've written and published some books, the instant reaction is "how many have you sold?"

These are friends, relatives and complete strangers who would not likely ask about my salary or net worth, but they think it's fine to ask about my book sales.

The honest answer is that I don't know how many I've sold. And at this early stage -- with only a minimum amount of promotion on one book and none on two others -- I don't even care how many I've sold. I expect to gradually build sales and have a steady income over a period of years. Other folks seem to expect an instant best-seller.

So while the truthful answer to the question is "I don't know," I really feel like saying "None of your damn business."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

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 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. I've now pushed back book E and am working simultaneously on D and F.

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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Are you good enough to publish?
Take the crap test.

Many writers turn to self-publishing after accumulating a pile of rejection letters. Their ego, over-confidence or blind ignorance may make them think that all of the agents and editors who rejected them are idiots who don’t recognize the work of a true genius when it’s displayed before them.

If this describes your situation, before you expend any money, time or effort in becoming a self-publisher, and if you want to publish for money and not merely for ego gratification or perceived status, I strongly urge you to take the crap test.

There are three versions of the test:

(1) Submit an article of at least 1,000 words to a newspaper or magazine. Convince an editor that it is not crap and get paid at least $200 for it, and actually see it in print.

(2) Join a writers’ group, actively participate, do the assigned writing exercises, and get the honest opinion of the group leader and at least some participants that what you write is not crap.

(3) Take a college course in journalism or creative writing, do the assigned writing exercises, and get the honest opinion of the instructor that your work is of professional caliber and is not crap.

If you can’t pass the crap test, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t self–publish. But it does mean that it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll make any money at it, and that the money you spend may as well go down the crapper.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Internet Baloney Circulation Experiment #1

Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon went steady in high school.

"I read it on the Internet. It must be true."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Info for writers & publishers:
How long does it take?

These numbers are based on my personal experience, in late 2008 and early 2009. Your mileage may vary.

Time to write a book: a week to a lifetime

Time to design a cover: a few hours to a few weeks

Time to copy-edit: a few days

Time for major editing: a few weeks

Time for Lightning Source to process your files and ship out a proof: four business days

Time to receive a proof from Lightning Source: one business day

Time for Lightning Source to ship a case of 20 books: two days

Time for Lightning Source to ship one book: two days

Time for a book to be listed on after a proof is approved: one or two days

Time for a book to be received after ordering on (with no special shipping, and book is in stock): two or three business days.

Time to be listed on Barnes & and other online booksellers' websites after a proof is approved: two to five days

Time for a book to change from being drop-shipped by Lightning Source to being stocked by Amazon: a few days to a few weeks, or maybe forever

Time for a book to be discounted by Amazon: a few weeks to a few months, or maybe forever

Time until you get your first money from Lightning Source: I'm not sure yet, but I think it's three months. Then you get money monthly, if your book sells.

Time for a book to be noticed by Google: one day

Time for a popular blog (like this one) to be noticed by Google: one hour

Time for press releases distributed by PR Newswire or PR Web to start appearing on other websites: a few minutes

Time for Google to notice your news on those websites: a few minutes to a few days

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New book about phone equipment and services

(press release about my own book)

A hundred years ago, telephones were simple. If you wanted to call someone, you picked up the receiver, cranked the crank, and waited for the nice lady to say, “Operator, may I help you?” Then you said something like, “I want to talk to Daddy,” or “I need the doctor;” and in a few seconds you were connected. You didn’t even need to know the phone numbers.

For equipment, maybe you could choose between an oak box on the kitchen wall, or a metal candlestick model on the hall table. If you lived in a high-tech area, maybe you could get a dial instead of a crank.

Regardless of the telephone style, you would pay to rent it month after month, and there was just one company in your town that you could do business with, and that company owned “your” phone.

Today the choices seem endless. Phones can be analog or digital, rotary or touch-tone, plain or fancy, corded, cordless, or cellular. You can connect through a local phone company, a national phone company, an international phone company, a TV company, a satellite company, a cellular company, or a VoIP company. Phone companies sell TV service. Cable television companies sell phone service. They both sell Internet service.

You can get a phone or phone system or a phone gadget from hundreds of sources, and buy it, rent it, lease it or may-be get a freebie. You can pay someone to install it, you can install it yourself, or you can get something that needs no installation.

An authoritative but easy-to-understand new book, “Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business and Home” by Michael N. Marcus helps people sort out their options. It covers basic phones, multi-line phone systems, add-ons like headsets, music-on-hold, paging systems, backup power and fax equipment — for professional offices, businesses and homes. There are sections on technology trends, telecommunications terminology, tools, wiring, troubleshooting, and much more.

The book will help people pick out the right size phone system, to minimize initial cost, and provide room to grow. It even deals with the important items that people really do need in a phone system, but are often left off sellers’ bids and proposals.

The book also sorts out the various technologies for making phone calls and accessing the Internet: conventional dial tone, ISDN, DSL, cable, fiber, T1 and VoIP.

Marcus’s book includes about 40 detailed hands-on product reviews. Recommendations range from a $12.99 home phone to complex multi-thousand-dollar business phone systems, plus a wide array of add-one to improve communications.

It will help readers avoid the worst mistakes of phone system buyers, and can help them decide if they can save money by installing their own home or business phones. The book will also help people quickly diagnose many common telecom troubles, and often fix them easily and inexpensively or maybe even for free.

Marcus says, “But even if you don’t plan to do your own phone work, by understanding what has to be done, you’re more likely to get the right thing done, and pay the right price. You could save much more than the price of this book.”

Some reader comments:

• Outstanding! An entertaining and sometimes humorous thorough education on phones and telecommunications. It’s a must-read for shoppers as well as salespeople.

• I’ve been in telecommunications for nearly 30 years, but I still learned a lot from this informative and entertaining book.

• After just three minutes I learned that a really annoying telephone problem could be cured for $4, instead of nearly $400. This book belongs in every office and many homes.

• This delightful book makes phones ultra-useful for people who run mini-Fortune 500 companies. Highly recommended.

The illustrated book has 396 pages. It is available from and other booksellers.

This is the third book on communications equipment written by Michael N. Marcus, a writer who has specialized in electronics and telecommunications for over 30 years. Marcus is a successful and popular explainer, known for mixing technology and humor. His humorous memoir “I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life” was published in December.

If you get a new credit card, you can get a $30 certificate to pay for the book.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

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.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Writers: make your name a distinctive brand

Any writer who expects to write more than one book, blog or article hopes that people who like one thing she or he has written, will want to read more.

One good way to help people find your work is to have a distinctive name, like actors and singers.

"Jor-El," Superman's Kryptonian father's name, is unique and distinctive. And so is "Marlon Brando," who played the part. (Marlon Brando was his birth name -- a lucky advantage over Marion Morrison who had to become John "Duke" Wayne.)

Stephen King's name is neither unique nor distinctive. But after selling perhaps 300 million books, he probably doesn't suffer from the existence of others with the same name. (Wikipedia lists about a dozen others including a Congressman, a pedophile and five athletes.)

If you have a common name like Bill Smith, you might be better remembered and found if you change to Xavier Bacciagalupe or Hamburger Smith.

English punk rocker Declan MacManus morphed into a more-memorable Elvis Costello. OTOH, film critic Elvis Mitchell was apparently born an Elvis.

Sometimes a slight change can do the job. Bill Smith might be better remembered as William Harrington Smith. Edward Jay Epstein has written more than a dozen books, perhaps with more success than hundreds of Ed Epsteins.

For my own brand, I've chosen to include my middle initial, N.

A Google search for "Michael Marcus" brings up nearly 70,000 hits. But a search for "Michael N. Marcus" shows just over 2,300 -- and apparently there are just two of us. I'm the writer. He's a psychiatrist.

If you are evaluating potential pen names or just want to have some fun, take a look at The site ranks popularity for first names, last names and first-and-last-together based on listed phone numbers.

Edward Epstein is the # 254,818 ranked full name, with 123 occurrances. OTOH, Juan Epstein, from Welcome Back Kotter, is unique, with just one listed person in the US.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Highly recommended PR distribution service

In the past I've used PR Newswire to distribute news releases, and have been quite pleased with the results.

Last year I used the service to distribute a phony April Fools news story. It got tremendous "pick-up" on websites around the world.

Unfortunately, it also got me banned from PR Newswire.

I've recently completed three books, and I need to publicize them.

Since I could not use PR Newswire (which I had regarded as the number-one in the field), I decided to use PR Web. I've used their services in the past for less-important news when I wanted to save some money.

Both companies offer various packages with different prices based on distribution and the included photos, audio or video. PR Newswire can even display giant photos in Times Square in Manhattan. The prices at PR Web range from $80 to $360. At PR Newswire, you can spend from $680 to several thousand bucks. If you are only interested in state or regional coverage, you can pay less.

I chose the top-level $360 package from PR Web and was amazed by the performance. Within an hour of the distribution, Google showed many news websites picking up the story about I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life

After a week, there were about TEN THOUSAND links in media all over the world. Some of the links were on my own websites or on the sites of stores selling my book, but the vast majority were the results of my $360 payment to PR Web.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Kindle does more for the same price

Amazon's popular Kindle electronic book reader has been on back-order since last fall. A new model was introduced this week that has more features and better performance for the same price, and should be readily available starting on 2/24. People who have ordered and have been waiting for the original version, will get the new Kindle.

The new model offers Kindle’s wireless delivery of content in a new slim design with longer battery life, faster page turns, over seven times more storage, sharper images, and a new read-to-me feature.

Kindle 2 has a high-resolution 6-inch electronic paper display that looks and reads like real paper, which should let users read for hours without the eyestrain caused by reading on a backlit display.

More than 230,000 books are now available in the Kindle Store, including 103 of 110 current New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases, which typically cost $9.99. Top magazines and newspapers plus more than 1,200 different blogs are also available. Kindle 2 is available for pre-order for $359 at and will ship February 24.

The new Kindle 2 features a completely new design. At just over a third of an inch thin (0.36 inches) and weighing just over 10 ounces, Kindle 2 is pencil thin and lighter than a typical paperback. New buttons make it easy to turn the page from any holding position. The new 5-way controller allows for more precise note-taking and highlighting both up and down and side to side in lines of text. The new controller also makes it easy to quickly jump between articles and sections of newspapers. Kindle 2 comes with a redesigned power charger that is more portable than the previous Kindle charger. The cover for Kindle 2, which is sold separately, has an integrated attachment hinge to ensure a secure fit and features a leather cover for style and durability. Patagonia, Cole Haan and Belkin also designed covers for Kindle 2 that are available in the Kindle Store.

Kindle 2’s 6-inch, 600 x 800 electronic paper display provides 16 shades of gray versus 4 shades available in the original Kindle, resulting in crisp text, and sharper images and photos (but still no color). Kindle reads like printed words on paper because the screen looks like ink on paper and doesn’t use a backlight, eliminating the eyestrain and glare associated with other electronic displays. With the latest electronic paper display, pages turn an average of 20 percent faster than the original Kindle for an even smoother reading experience.

With 2 GB of memory, Kindle 2 can hold more than 1,500 books, compared with 200 with the original Kindle. And because Amazon automatically backs up a copy of every Kindle book purchased, customers can wirelessly re-download titles in their library at any time.

Kindle 2 customers can read for four to five days on one charge with wireless on and for over two weeks with wireless turned off.

Kindle 2 comes with the New Oxford American Dictionary and its 250,000 word definitions built-in, and definitions appear instantly at the bottom of the page.

Kindle 2 offers the experimental read-to-me feature “Text-to-Speech” that converts words on a page to spoken word so people have the option to read or listen. People can switch back and forth between reading and listening, and their spot is automatically saved. Pages turn automatically while the content is being read so customers can listen hands-free. Customers can choose to be read to by male or female voices and can choose the speed to suit their listening preference. Using the read-to-me feature, anything you can read on Kindle, including books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and personal documents, Kindle 2 can read to you.

Kindle 2 uses the same wireless delivery system as the original Kindle — Amazon Whispernet. Customers can wirelessly shop the Kindle Store, download or receive new content in less than 60 seconds, and read from their library — all without a PC, Wi-Fi hot spot, or syncing.

Whispernet utilizes Amazon’s optimized technology plus Sprint’s national 3G data network and is expanded to cover all 50 US states. Amazon still pays for the wireless connectivity on Kindle 2 so books can be downloaded in less than 60 seconds — with no monthly wireless bills, data plans, or service commitments.

Amazon’s new “Whispersync” technology automatically syncs Kindle 2 and the original Kindle, which makes transitioning to the new Kindle 2 or using both devices easy for readers. Kindle 2 will also sync with a range of mobile devices in the future.

Author Stephen King is releasing a novella, “Ur,” which will only be available on Kindle. At the center of Ur is lovelorn college English instructor Wesley Smith, who can't seem to get his ex-girlfriend's parting shot out of his head: "Why can't you just read off the computer like the rest of us?" Egged on by her question and piqued by a student's suggestion, Wesley places an order for a Kindle. Smith’s Kindle arrives in a box stamped with the smile logo and unlocks a literary world that even the most avid of book lovers could never imagine. But once the door is open, there are those things that one hopes we'll never read or live through. Ur is available for pre-order and will be released later this month. For Kindle customers who pre-order, King’s new novella will download automatically when it becomes available.

The Kindle Store now includes many additional magazines and newspapers, such as The New Yorker, which is available for the first time on Kindle. Magazines and newspaper subscriptions are auto-delivered wirelessly to Kindle overnight so that the latest edition is waiting for customers when they wake up. Monthly Kindle newspaper subscriptions are $5.99 to $14.99 per month, and Kindle magazines are $1.25 to $3.49 per month.

Over 1,200 blogs are available on Kindle today — up from 250 when Kindle launched. New blogs added to the Kindle Store recently include the Wired blogs, VF Daily and James Wolcott’s Blog from Vanity Fair. Blogs are updated and downloaded wirelessly throughout the day so Kindle customers can read blogs whenever and wherever they want. Wireless delivery of blogs costs as little as $0.99 each per month and includes a free two-week trial.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Don't trust automatic hyphenating

The automatic hyphenating feature built into Microsoft Word and other word processing software can save time when you're working on a big document -- particularly if your lines are set "justified" rather than flush-left, ragged-right.

Unfortunately, the software doesn't know everything. Sometimes it has to guess, and like people, it can make mistakes.

English is consistently inconsistent and its "rules" are often violated or inadequate. ("I before E except after C, except when pronounced 'ay' as in neighbor or weigh" doesn't deal with "seize" or "their" or "science.")

Mr. Gates's software often assumes that the letter "e" indicates the end of a syllable as in "be-come" and "cre-ate" and this results in errors like "se-ize" and "cre-dit."

MS Word recognizes that "par" is a common syllable, which causes it to make bizarre errors like "par-chment."

Words that can have two meanings and can be pronounced in two ways cause problems.

MS Word can't distinguish between "minute" (the noun) and "minute" (the adjective). It assumes you mean the noun, and will give you "min-ute" even when you want "mi-nute."

You're also in trouble if you rely on automatic hypnenation and have proper names. Word broke up "Panasonic" as "Pa-nasonic" instead of "pan-asonic" or "Pana-sonic."

So now you have another reason to proofread very carefully, and never have complete faith in robots.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Inexpensive book promos: viral marketing and book cover business cards

In addition to PR releases to media, and soliciting reviews, I am using "viral marketing" to build sales of my funny memoir I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life.

In case you don't know, viral marketing uses pre-existing social relationships to produce marketing objectives (such as sales) through self-replicating viral links, like the spread of human and computer viruses. At it's simplest, it can be word-of-mouth delivered in-person, and is often enhanced by the Internet, such as through "friends" on

I made a list of about 50 people (friends, relatives, business associates and people who are mentioned in my book) whom I thought would like it and would likely recommend it to others.

I've been sending free copies to each of them. In the book is a one-page note explaining what the book is all about, and asking them to recommend it to others who might enjoy it. I also ask them to post a review on

In addition to the note, each book goes with about a dozen promotional cards that show the book cover on the front, and the name of my publishing company, its web address and "Order from" on the back. While some of the cards may be used as bookmarks or be thrown away, I assume that some will be passed on to potential purchasers.

I got the cards from VistaPrint, a major maker of business cards that I've been buying from for many years. I uploaded a TIF image copied from the PDF of my cover. The book is 6 x 9 inches, and fits fine on the business card with a little white space above and below the cover image.

The price was just $25 for 1500 cards -- less than two cents each with rush shipping. My only regret was that I didn't use some of the space on the back to print a couple of blurbs from readers who liked it.

My wife and I also carry the cards around to give to possible "customers." Marilyn has turned out to be an excellent salesperson. Later today I have an appointment with my dentist. He has a good sense of humor, and I planned to give him a freebie and some cards to pass along. I mentioned my plan to Marilyn yesterday and she told me not to bother taking a book with me.

It turns out that she had already told the dentist about the book and he bought a copy from Amazon, and wants me to autograph it when I have my teeth cleaned.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hunt down misplaced hyphens

As a book evolves before publication, sentences, paragraphs and pages go through many changes.

Sometimes a word that had been on the end of a line of text and needed a hyphen, ends up in the middle of a line and no longer needs a hyphen -- but it's still there.

The problem is most common when hyphens are manually added by the writer, rather than automatically added by the word processing robot.

Misplacements frequently occur when you change the location or size of an illustration.

You'll probably find some of the errant hyphens during regular proofreading, but to be safe you should do a "search" for hyphens.

In a long book it can take an hour or more, but the result will be worth it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Printing with Lightning Source?
Watch your page count.

Few things make a book look worse than a bunch of blank pages in the back, behind the last page of text.

Books always have an even number of pages (the sides of pieces of paper -- usually with numbers -- not the actual pieces of paper, which are called leafs or folios.) Different printing presses handle different size papers that are cut up to make a book.

A big sheet typically contains 4, 8 or 16 pages depending on the size of the book and the press it will be printed on. The group of pages is called a signature, and after printing the signatures are folded, collated, trimmed, and glued or stitched into a binding.

To avoid having those silly blank pages at the back, it's important that your book be designed with the right number of pages, and your printer or publisher should be able to tell you what the proper multiple is.

Unfortunately it's not always so simple.

Lightning Source, the dominant producer of Print-On-Demand (POD) books is going through a transition. In the past, its presses worked with books that had page counts that were evenly divisible by four. Now they're switching to new "Mod 6" presses that have page counts divisible by six.

If your book ends with the wrong page number, Lightning adds blanks. You don't pay for this directly, but it makes the book look amateurish and wastes trees, energy and money.

Unfortunately, at this time it's not possible to know which kind of press a book will be printed on. So to minimize the chance of having those silly extra pages, pick a page count that's evenly divisible by BOTH FOUR AND SIX.

One of my books that had been planned for 208 pages for the four-page presses has been expanded to 216 so it can work right on either type of press.

Another book that was planned to be 388 pages will grow to 396 pages.

Keep in mind that this applies to books printed by Lightning AND books produced by author service companies like Lulu and Outskirts that use Lightning as their printer. Also, Lightning requires that the last (left-hand) page be left blank for a bar code and other information.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My book is being sold in more more places than I expected, and some of them make no sense

My funny book, "I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life" was first sold on in December. Then I withdrew it to make some changes and corrections. Screw-ups by the printer (such as using the wrong cover) delayed my approval of the corrected version until last Thursday.

As expected, it was available on and by Saturday. This week it was being offered by many more booksellers than I had planned on -- which means more exposure and hopefully more sales. (I did absolutely no work to get them on those websites.) Some are Amazon "affiliates" that sell what Amazon sells. Others are independent companies that sell books handled by Ingram, my book distributor.)

The first surprise was I didn't even know they sold books.

But the biggest surprises were dealers that I never heard of. Some of them made sense, like, Shopier Books and Booksamillion.

And there are even five dealers in Europe selling it.

The book has lots of "adult" topics and I was absolutely amazed to see it being sold at ABC Childrens Books and a religious bookseller.

Even stranger were my book's appearances on websites that specialize in Farsi (Persian) dictionaries, Pokemon, golf and gardening.

Also strange is the wide range of prices being charged for the $19.95-list book: anywhere from $17.95 to $35.

I don't know why my book is on those sites, or if they'll sell any copies, but it's certainly funny to see how my message is spreading.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Advice for authors: Don't get too specific

You're inviting trouble if you have "internal referrals" in a book.

You may think you're helping your readers by saying that there's more information about a topic "on page 213" or "in chapter 14."

Pages and chapters often migrate as a book evolves, and it's easy to lose track of your referrals. If you send a reader on a wild goose chase to the wrong page or chapter, she'll waste time, get pissed-off, and you'll look stupid.

It's much safer to say something like "later on in the book."

Similarly, it's dangerous to refer to a photo or illustration "above," "below" or "on this page." Re-write the referral so it's vague but truthful.

I doubt that anyone will refuse to buy a book because of the lack of page-specific referrals.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Buy my book -- or maybe get it for free

I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life is a collection of more than 100 stories -- mostly short and funny, one long and serious and funny and shocking.

They deal with my early childhood, my time in public school and college, and while working in advertising, telecommunications, journalism, and as an amateur attorney. Culture clash is a frequent theme. So is food. And phoniness. There's lots of sex, drugs and rock & roll. Even the sex and drug stories are funny. There are four murders.

The main title is a quote from one of my teachers. She was nuts.

Here are some comments from readers:

“I loved the 3-way sex scene. It seemed familiar. Was I there?”

“You’re a great story teller. I laughed my ass off.”

“I knew the lesbian painter. She was a lousy painter but an excellent lesbian. When does the movie come out?”

“You remember everything. I'm glad you didn't see me doing anything illegal or stupid.”

“Obviously your typing class accomplished something useful. You almost made me pee in my pants. Very, very funny.”

“I didn’t realize what an a-hole I was back then. If this book wasn’t so funny, I’d probably sue you for libel. I'll settle for an autographed copy.”

The 308-page illustrated book has a list price of $19.95 and is discounted at, but if you get a new Amazon credit card, you'll get a $30 certificate which is enough to pay for the book and shipping, and leave a few bucks to buy something else.