Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bad design decisions
can limit readership of a good book

Every book has an interior designer. It might be the author who has never designed anything before, or a skilled professional with years of experience. Someone has to devise (or copy) a standard for the way your pages will look. This includes typefaces, type sizes, margins, indents, subheads, decorations, etc. — all of the little touches that makes a book look unique, or like another book.

Before you commit to a designer (or to your own design) look through a lot of books and try to understand what makes them appealing or unappealing.

Sometimes a stupid mistake can kill the reading experience. I own a book called Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning. I love reading about words and thought I would get a lot of pleasure out of it. Unfortunately my prime emotions are frustration and outrage.

Some unnamed book designer chose to use a smaller-than-normal page size, and in order to squeeze in all of author Sol Steinmetz’s text into a reasonable number of small pages, she or he chose a tiny type face that looks like what gets printed on the back of a credit card. When I was in advertising, this mini-printing was scorned as “FLY SHIT.” It has no place in a mass-market book.

Consider your market when your book is designed. There are special editions of large-type books for people with visual impairments, but the simple act of aging can make bigger letters more appealing. My first self-published book, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, was aimed at my fellow baby-boomers. The oldest of us were born in 1946. I chose to use 13-point type instead of the smaller and more common 12-point size.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The other P-O-D

Publish On Demand is an unnecessary and confusing misnomer using the same initials as Print On Demand. There’s really no such thing as Publish On Demand. It makes no sense. But companies still want you to think they’ll do it for you.

Despite its use by major traditional publishers, the Print On Demand process has been subject to some unfortunate and unjustified stigma because of its association with vanity presses that print books on demand, mostly for its author-customers.

Therefore, some vanity presses have sought to give a new meaning to the "P" in POD.

Llumina Press, Booksurge, Lulu, Tate, Outskirts and others pay Google to run online ads for the stupid phrase aimed at ignorant writers who don’t know the difference between printing and publishing. They’re not the same thing. Printing is part of publishing. Printing can be done on demand. Publishing can’t.

Publishing is a complex, multi-stage process that takes a writer’s words from manuscript to books on sale. The end result of a publishing project, which may be 10,000 books or just one book, can take weeks, months or even years. The book or books constitute an edition — a particular version of a particular book. Each edition, regardless of the printing quantity and regardless of who the publisher is and what kind of printing press is used, can be published just one time. But books in that edition may be printed many times.

With Print On Demand, books are printed one at a time or a few at a time as orders are placed by readers through booksellers. That does not mean that a publishing company starts the entire publishing sequence whenever an order arrives. With POD, a book is produced (i.e. printed, not published) in minutes, not months.

With conventional non-POD “big batch" publishing, if the stock of books sells out, the publisher usually prints more. But this is considered to be reprinting the previous edition, not a new edition.

If there is a major revision, not just minor corrections and updates, the new version is considered to be a new edition, but it’s published because of demand by the author or the publisher — not by readers.

So, what's the point of all this?

If you see the phrase "Publish On Demand," be very careful before you spend your money. There's a good chance that the company is fooling around with more than the English language. The shady operators in the publishing field have already distorted the meaning of "self-publishing" and now they are demeaning and devaluing "POD."

What word or phrase will be the next victim? I don't know, but I'm not optimistic. Remember what Bill Clinton said: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. And Humpty Dumpty said: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean."

I sure wish publishers would be more careful with the language they and we depend on.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Musing upon muses

In ancient Greek mythology, the muses were goddesses or spirits who inspire the creation of literature and art. There were originally three muses, but the group later grew to nine.

In Renaissance and Neoclassical art, the muses were equipped with specific props to help identify them. Calliope (epic poetry) carries a writing tablet; Clio (history) carries a scroll and books; Erato (lyrical poetry) has a lyre and a crown of roses; Euterpe (music) carries a flute; Melpomene (tragedy) has a tragic mask; Polyhymnia (sacred poetry) often has a pensive expression; Terpsichore (dance) is often portrayed dancing and carrying a lyre; Thalia (comedy) is usually portrayed with a comic mask; and Urania (astronomy) carries a pair of compasses and the celestial globe.

The word "muse" is used in modern English to refer to an inspiration, but also exists in "amuse", "museum" (from muselon -- a temple where the muses were worshipped), "music", and "musing upon."

Traditionally muses have been beautiful goddesses. So far I've had three muses, and they are all women. I don't know if women writers, artists and musicians have male muses.

Sometimes a live muse may provide active encouragement, but sometimes a muse may just be lurking in the background of the mind. Sometimes a muse will be hovering above, always observing, visible and inspiring.

Creativity often includes an innate desire to please, perhaps going back to infancy and childhood when we want to make mommy happy so we get fed. When a muse is of the opposite sex, there can be a courtship aspect. Even if there is no feedback, a writer can be stimulated to do better and better, to win the heart of the goddess. A male writer may even imagine having sex with the goddess, and his words become a subconscious gift, like flowers or candy or jewelry while dating or trying to seduce. Elton John wrote, "My gift is my song and this one's for you."

For most of my writing career I wrote about things, and how people related to things.

About five years ago I became comfortable writing about people without the things, and writing fiction as well as non-fiction. This coincided with my reconnecting by email with "D," a girlfriend from college -- and almost my wife. After a while she lost interest in communicating with me, and I stopped writing the book she inspired me to start. I later reconnected with "P," one of the first females I was attracted to. I shared my cookies with her in second grade. Her presence helped me finish the book.

This year I finally became comfortable writing about emotions.

This important evolutionary development coincided with my re-connecting with "R." She was a very important girlfriend from high school, and the first woman I thought about marrying. She has become my most powerful muse and is responsible for my completion as a writer.

This muse and I may write a book together. I hope we'll be able to amuse each other.

I've been married for over 37 years, but I never thought my wife was my muse. Perhaps because I did win her heart and we did marry and are still together, there’s less urge to please her. Perhaps her daily physical presence weakens the more spiritual connection necessary for musing. I don’t know. Maybe she really has been one of my muses but I just didn’t realize it.

(some info from Wikipedia)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Declaring Independence,
and addiction to publishing

Independence from England in the 18th century led to the establishment of a vibrant and strong democracy in the United States, where “anyone can be president.”

In the 21st century, independent self-publishing, made possible by new technology, has led to a democratization of publishing where any writer can be published.

Anyone with access to the Internet can publish information, discoveries, entertainment and opinions to be read by dozens, hundreds or millions — at no cost except for the time invested.

Anyone with a few months and a few hundred dollars can publish a book that looks just as good as books published by the companies that have published books since the 19th century.

Both boring fools and creative geniuses have equal potential to reach the public.

For better and for worse, all creative people now compete on a level playing field, and the ultimate judges of quality are readers, listeners and viewers — not the gatekeepers of traditional media businesses.

Writers are often unable or unwilling to have their books published by “traditional” publishing companies and decide to “self-publish.”

Many of them use the services of a “vanity press” or “self-publishing company” or “author services company” or “publishing services provider” or “print-on-demand company” or “subsidy publisher,” with the thought that the writers will become self-published authors.

They’re not.

They’re not self-publishing.

They’re really just customers of companies that make most of their money by selling services to writers, not by selling books to readers, and they give up a lot.

If you visit the websites of companies such as AuthorHouse, BookSurge, Xlibris, iUniverse, Dorrance or Outskirts Press, you’ll see that the homepages are mainly sales pitches to convince writers to buy services. There are only small sections devoted to the “book store” departments where books are sold. The relative space shows what’s most important to these companies — selling services, not selling books.

While there may be legitimate reasons to use these companies, the writers who use them will often wait longer for books to be sold, have less control over the appearance and quality of the books, spend more money, make less money, wait longer to get their money, and have a lower quality book than if they became independent self-publishers.

It’s not difficult to become an independent self-publisher, and the potential rewards, advantages and enjoyment can be enormous.

I’ve been writing professionally for nearly 40 years. I’ve had books published by big-name traditional publishers and small specialty publishers. One thing these companies all had in common was that I was very disappointed with their results.

I didn’t like the books and I didn’t like my earnings.

In 2008 I decided to form my own publishing company to publish one book. I am nearly finished writing the fourth book to be published in five months. I have about six more planned.

Writing and publishing are addictive. The more you do it, the more you want to do it.

As I get older, my to-do list is growing, not shrinking. That's good, because it gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning (usually around 3:30AM).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Another approach to covers for books sold online

(I generally try to avoid arguing over esthetics, and I admit to unavoidable personal bias in this case, but I really think that my book above on the left looks nicer than the book on the right.)

Some self-published authors, including some who have advice for other self-publishing authors, have the crappiest-looking, most uninspiring book covers.

They assume that their books will never be on the shelves at bookstores where they have to compete with better-looking books.

They assume that people will judge their interior text without considering the exterior package.

They assume that since Amazon and other online booksellers will only show a tiny view of their cover, all they need is a readable title.

Not every assumption is valid. Even an expert's assumption can be flawed.

I think that a self-publishing author should make her or his book as attractive as possible. It doesn't take much effort or money to produce a good-looking book. I typically pay $250 for my cover designs, and have paid from zero to $60 for cover photographs. One of my favorites cost just four bucks.

I'm pleased with the way my books look, and I have to think that purchasers will be happier with -- and perceive greater value in -- a book that looks nice. Maybe they'll even be more likely to show it and recommend it to others.

Back covers are important, too. You may think that if a book is sold online only, that no purchaser will see the back until after the book is delivered. Actually you can show the back cover on so it can be a useful selling tool for you, a "back door" into your book. After purchase, a professional-looking back cover reassures purchasers that they have bought a quality product, and if a book owner shows your book to someone else, two good covers may help you sell more books.

In addition, self-publishers have a special burden to produce quality products to neutralize prejudice that could smear all self-publishers as second-class publishers.

I was on a plane on Monday morning, in the left-side window seat. I was reading one of my books to mark it for corrections. I heard the woman to my right laughing. She was reading my back cover. She asked to look at my book, laughed some more, and said she would order a copy and recommend it to others. (I always carry business cards that show the front cover on one side and some blurbs and ordering info on the back.)

Your book cover is a salesman. Make sure you have a good one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Defending self-publishing

Earlier today I responded to a posting on another writer's blog.

She said she would not be happy self-publishing and mentioned various objections to self-publishing. It should be easy to surmise what she said from my response below:

I don't know what you consider to be "loads of money," but I'm nearly finished with my fourth self-pubbed book since December, and I can give you some typical numbers:

Editing: $250
Cover design: $200
Stock photos: $10 - $100
ISBN: about $30
Setup and first proof from POD printer: $105
Additional proofs: $30 each
Marketing: zero to infinity

I've had books published by traditional publishers (including Doubleday) but was never happy with the book design, the time-to-market, or the money.

Last fall I formed my own publishing company, using Lightning Source for printing and shipping, and I'd never go back to doing it the old way.

You mentioned a "lesser product." It's only lesser if that's what you produce. It can easily be a better product.

You said it would be nice to see it at bookstores. Would it be nice to see it marked down to a buck and sold on the remainder table if sales don't meet the expectations of someone you don't even know?

If I want to see my books at bookstores, I can drive five minutes to Barnes & Noble and see them on the ordering screens. It's not the same as seeing them on the bookshelves, but it's much nicer than seeing them on the buck-a-book-table, or having my income affected by hundreds or thousands of returned books.

I'd much rather see my books selling at Amazon, B&, Target and dozens of other online booksellers around the world, and know that I can make MUCH more money per book, get the money faster, have the books look exactly the way I want them to, and stay on the market as long as I want them to.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cover your book before you write the book.

If you write a book that gets published by a traditional publisher, it can take three years to find an agent and for the agent to find a publisher who will accept you and produce the book. In this long process, one of the last things that gets done is designing the cover.

The author may have some input, but the publisher has the final say on the design -- and even on the title of the book, which can certainly influence the way the cover looks.

If you are working with a vanity press, the time between writing and printing is compressed from years to months, but the cover still comes after the writing.

In independent self-publishing, I've found (speaking after self-pubbing three books and starting about five others) that it can be very useful to have a cover design even before the first word is written.

You don't have to have a final design (in fact, you shouldn't) but even a "rough layout" will help solidify the project in your mind. The more real the book is to you, the more likely you are to keep typing. If you have front and back covers, and maybe a financial investment in what you've paid your designer, it's natural to want to fill the space between the covers and start selling some books.

Living with a cover design over a period of months while you write can be very useful. There can be, and should be, an interaction between the exterior and interior of the book. Exterior and interior will evolve together.

The back cover of the book should have a strong indication of what's in the book -- a reason for book-store shoppers to to carry it from the shelf to the cash register. It could be your last opportunity to make a sale, so make it a strong sales pitch!

But even if your books are going to be sold online only, and no purchaser will read the back until after the book is delivered (although you can show the back on, the back of the book can be very useful to you. It's a summary, a statement of principles, that should help to keep you focused and remind you of what you had in mind when you first conceived the book.

It's normal for the words on the cover to change as you write words for the inside. Sometimes the title may change. Sometimes you just have a "working title" and the final title emerges from deep inside the book. Sometimes you'll come up with a new subtitle, or even swap title and subtitle.

From a strictly-business standpoint, having a preliminary title design allows you to start promotion to build awareness and desire in advance. If you have a "writer" website, your future covers should be shown there, along with brief descriptions and approximate publication dates. If you blog, show your next book on the blog, like I've done up above on the left.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A challenge to Outskirts Press:
prove you're not full of crap

A few days ago Outskirts Press rep Karl sent me an email saying, "Many authors have discovered that switching to Outskirts Press is more profitable for them... For one recent best-selling author on Amazon, switching to Outskirts Press from "Publisher A" was the best decision he ever made. His royalties increased from 15% of his retail price to 55% of his retail price as a result. Instead of $3.74 per book, he started making nearly $14 for every book he sold on Amazon."

Using some basic junior high school math, Karl's numbers point to a cover price for the book of $24.95. Karl claims that the author is getting nearly $14 (likely $13.72).

HOWEVER, if you use the royalty tables on the Outskirts website, the numbers are VERY DIFFERENT.

A 400 page paperback book with a $24.95 price pays royalties of $1.12, $2.12 or $3.12, depending on the publishing package the author decides to buy from Outskirts.

A 300 page book with a $24.95 price pays royalties of $2.72, $3.72 or $4.72.

A 200 page book with a $24.95 price (a bit of a stretch for a 200-page book) pays royalties of $4.32, $5.32 or $6.32.

A puny 45 page book (minimum possible size) with an absurd $24.95 price pays royalties of $5.96, $6.96 or $7.96.

Even if I decreased the page size from the common 6x9" size to a smaller 5x8" size to save bit of paper, the royalties did not increase.

If I "force" the online royalty calculator to work out the numbers for a 300-page deluxe hard-cover jacketed book with a $24.95 price, the royalties are NEGATIVE $1.93, $2.93 or $4.93!

It looks like the only way that Outskirts could pay a 55% royalty on a $24.95 book would be if the book had no pages. I doubt that many people would pay $24.95 for an empty cover.

OK, Karl or Brent, I'd like to see your numbers. I invite you to prove me wrong.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More picking on Outskirts Press

A few readers have complained that I "pick on" vanity press/author-services company Outskirts Press. I don't think that I'm really picking on them, but they do so many wrong things, they invite criticism.

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

Maybe the boss reads this blog. Chief Outskirter Brent Sampson has recently issued the second edition of Self-Publishing Simplified. He apparently realized that I was right and he was wrong about "offset" vs. "off-set" printing. He even followed my advice and changed his foreword into an introduction. In the introduction, he fixed one really stupid error that I pointed out, where he had the wrong name for the author of Roget's Thesaurus.

However, he did not fix the BS about the "headaches" from getting an ISBN and bar code, and "paying thousands of dollars to print thousands of books."

Brent's employees need a math tutor.

A while ago 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 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.

    Outskirts seems uncertain and insecure about the nature of its business. The company has previously said it provided "custom book publishing," and "on-demand publishing," but in the latest version of its puff book, it self-applies a new label: "Independent Self-Printing." Maybe next year it will be apple coring or car washing or dog walking or going-out-of-business.

    Yesterday Karl sent me a "happy anniversary" email (which coincidentally arrived on my birthday). Karl reminded me that yesterday was a year since they first started trying to seduce me.

    Karl wrote, "Believe it or not, it has been 1 year to the day that we first started emailing you about publishing with Outskirts Press. Hopefully our emails over the months have been helpful to you. I know the publishing journey isn't always an easy one. There are many decisions to be made, and sometimes the choices are confusing."

    Despite the usual sloppy writing ("1" instead of "one" and overused cliches) the email made me realize that the more I know about Outskirts, the more reasons I have to stay away from them, and to urge others to do the same. Avoiding Karl's company was certainly not a "confusing" choice. His emails have been very "helpful" -- in convincing me to avoid Outskirts.

    Karl also said, "These are all "tricks of the trade" and things that Outskirts Press avoids. Many authors have discovered that switching to Outskirts Press is more profitable for them... For one recent best-selling author on Amazon, switching to Outskirts Press from "Publisher A" was the best decision he ever made. His royalties increased from 15% of his retail price to 55% of his retail price as a result. Instead of $3.74 per book, he started making nearly $14 for every book he sold on Amazon."

    Outskirts is not exactly trick-free. Their trickery includes outright lies designed to suck in the unwary.

    Brent-the-boss wrote that getting an ISBN number (the unique identification number for each book) is a "headache." That's just not true. I ordered 10 ISBNs in about five minutes. All I needed was my keyboard and a credit card. I never touched the Tylenol bottle.

    Brent also wrote 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. He can't possibly know the experiences of “most...” It costs very little to set up a website. Book distribution is a cinch, and Amazon will work on as little as 10%.

    And as for Karl's claim about one author who "Instead of $3.74 per book, he started making nearly $14 for every book he sold on Amazon." Well, instead of using a lying publisher like Outskirts, I formed my own publishing company, that uses the same POD printer that Outskirts does. On one of my books sold by Amazon, I collect $18.38 per copy.

    Almost any writer can do it, too.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    Some things to think about

    Book writing and publishing are addictive. Like eating Lay’s potato chips, it’s hard to stop at one. In late 2008 I planned to do two books. I’m typing this in April, 2009. It’s book number four. My to-do-list includes four more must-dos, and lots of might-dos.

    Your method of doing business will likely change over the years, both as you learn more and as you publish different kinds of books. For some books you’ll do most of the work yourself, for others you’ll farm out a lot. You may find that the illustrator, designer or editor who seemed just perfect on your first book aren’t right on the third. You may find that one 200-page book should sell for $14.95 and another for $24.95.

    There are many reasons to not start your own business. But for the right person, the advantages of business ownership far outweigh the risks. In independent self-publishing, the risks are minimal.

    You might find that other people start coming to you for advice and even ask you to publish their books.

    You might find that you like publishing better than you like writing. You may find that you hate publishing.

    When you have your own business, you’ll probably work hard and work long hours for an uncertain return. But you wouldn’t become an independent self publisher unless you want to and like doing it. And your efforts will directly benefit you, rather than increasing someone else’s profits.

    When you have your own business, you’re almost never too sick or too tired to go to work, and you’ll work on weekends and vacations, and you’ll love it.

    The two most useless emotions are worry and hope. Worry cripples you, and hope keeps you from making things happen.

    Be decisive! A wrong decision is better than no decision, because you’ll soon know that it’s the wrong decision and can try something else.

    Few things are worth waiting for. If something is really important, get it NOW.

    The loudness of an argument does not compensate for its lack of logic or truth.

    If you pay cash, you pay too much. You can even use your credit card at Dunkin' Donuts and the Post Office, and earn rewards points for trips and toys, or a cash rebate, depending on the card. OTOH, if you don't pay your bill in full and have to pay interest, your savings are gone.

    Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

    Revenge is a waste of time, emotion and resources. Move on to something else.

    You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need. (Jagger & Richards)

    If you act like you have authority, you will have authority.

    Most people prefer to accept than to challenge.

    Everything is negotiable. Even life itself.

    It's easy to get a job if you're an expert in a field, but it's easier to keep a job if you're an expert in several fields.

    Don't assume the person you're following knows where he's going.

    Don't assume anything.

    Don't believe everything you read, especially in the Internet.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    Why should you publish your own books?

    You don’t have to be the smartest person in the world, or know more than everybody else does, to give advice and get paid for it.

    You can make a pretty good living if you know more than 90%, 80% or even 20% of the people in the world — if you can reach them.

    Independent self-publishing makes it much easier.

    I sincerely believe that every human being is born with a unique set of talents, and it is our obligation to identify our talents and find a market for them. This applies whether we are trying to be admitted to a college, get hired for a job, win an election, start a revolution, or write a book.

    Independent self-publishing makes it much easier.

    Communication is one of the most fundamental human urges. Until recently, there were significant barriers that kept most people from distributing their thoughts to others. Now you can communicate online for free, or through books for a few hundred dollars.

    Independent self-publishing makes it much easier.

    When I was in my early 20s, I discussed a business idea with my father. I asked him if he thought I should try it. He said he didn’t know if I’d succeed, but he did know that if I didn’t try it, for the rest of my life I’d wonder what would have happened if I did try it.

    If you wonder what will happen, try it.

    Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    What to do when your mouse craps out

    Most computer mice are quite reliable. Today's models that use lasers instead of rolling balls should last for years.

    A wireless mouse will need new batteries every month or so, depending on how often the mouse is used. Some mice will warn you when your batteries are running low.

    However, even the best of mice will stop working unexpectedly, either because of a malfunction in the PC or mouse, or even because of some wacky stuff built into the page you are trying to copy from. Sometimes mice can be brought back to life by thumping them on the mouse pad, briefly removing batteries, or re-booting the PC.

    If you're in the middle of some important copying-and-pasting, and don't want to take the time to re-boot or hunt for batteries or do other techie stuff, you can always revert to keyboard based functions.

    Here are the basic Windows commands:

    CTRL+C: Copy
    CTRL+X: Cut
    CTRL+V: Paste
    CTRL+Z: Undo
    CTRL+B: Bold
    CTRL+U: Underline
    CTRL+I: Italic

    I actually had to use the shortcuts to paste the list into this page.

    Monday, April 6, 2009

    Do you really want to advertise to stupid people?

    This posting is not specifically about the book business. It concerns online advertising, which could apply to the book business.

    My main business is AbleComm, Inc. -- a company that sells a wide variety of telecommunications equipment. We've been in business since 1977. We have lots of customers including the Federal government, Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, military bases, hospitals, homeowners and high school students. We sell to everybody.

    Because we've been in business for so long and have so many customers, we attract the attention of competitors who want to capture actual and prospective customers.

    We, and some of them, pay for "AdWords" on Google. AdWords are those tiny ads that appear when you do a search for a particular term. In our field, a typical search could be for "phone system," "wireless headset," "telephone tools," etc. Some of those searches would result in links to one or more of our approximately 40 websites.

    Some of our less-creative competitors are actually paying for AdWords targeted at searches for our company name -- not the products we sell. One company's ad has the headline "Better than AbleComm." It states no reasons why it's bettter. Maybe that's because it's really not better.

    Only an Internet idiot would do a search for "Ablecomm," rather than simply type ""

    If my competitors want to waste money trolling for stupid people, it's fine with me.

    In a keyword-based ad campaign for a book or a business, it's common and perfectly OK to include common misspellings in your keyword list to catch careless shoppers.

    However, choose the search terms carefully so you don't end up paying money to attract the completely clueless, not just the careless or spelling-impaired.

    Thursday, April 2, 2009

    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.

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    In a previous life I worked for Madison Avenue ad agencies, and I remember the time, cost, stress and disappointment from "live shoots." Now I can get first quality art for the price of a cup of coffee (which I don't drink), and I know exactly what I'm getting without waiting for the film to be developed.

    Wednesday, April 1, 2009

    Panasonic lawyers lose April Fools' fight
    with author/blogger Marcus

    April Fooler Michael N. Marcus Rejects Panasonic Gag Order, Urges People to Attend Free Speech Rally at Patrick Henry Memorial in Virginia

    Michael N. Marcus is an author, businessman and April Fooler. Born in April, Marcus says April Fools' Day and Halloween are his favorite holidays. For nearly ten years, he's "pranked" electronics manufacturer Panasonic in early April, but this year his perennial victim has gotten tough, and has threatened court action to block the pranking. Marcus remains defiant despite the threat.

    Marcus is president of AbleComm, Inc., a Connecticut-based supplier of telecommunications equipment. The company's main phone system brand is Panasonic. Marcus said, "I also own some Panasonic stock, and I review Panasonic electronic products on my GottaGet1 blog. I have a lot of respect for the company, but that doesn't mean I can't have some fun with it."

    Marcus continued, "Since the mid 1990s, I've distributed an April Fools' news report about a mythical press conference that took place at a non-existent hotel, where fake people announced fake corporate policy changes and fake new products. For those who were in on it, It became an eagerly awaited annual tradition. Lots of people love my spoofs, but gullible victims, of course, don't. Some of my fake news has actually become real news in later years."

    The annual custom reached a new height in April, 2008. Marcus realized that the public and the news media were becoming increasingly sophisticated and skeptical of "news" distributed with a 4/1 date. So, to enhance credibility, he skipped the first of the month and distributed a spoof two days later.

    Early on April 3, 2008 he launched a 90%-false press release. The press release contained several revelations, but the most important was that Panasonic would be manufacturing cellphones with plasma video displays. A few months earlier Panasonic demonstrated the world's largest plasma TV, so Marcus decided they should also have the smallest.

    Through very lucky timing, a few days before the "news" went out, AT&T had announced their Mobile TV service for watching shows and sports on cellphones, which added usefulness and legitimacy to the fictitious device.

    Within a few hours, the story was picked up and published by websites around the world. Many news writers added original material to demonstrate their extensive knowledge of the phony subject; but only one of them called Marcus to check on the story, and Marcus told him that it was a spoof. was particularly fanciful in enhancing the fake news. They said "Panasonic took the stage at CTIA 2008 this week with partner AbleComm to announce that it has been working with AT&T to develop plasma displays for mobile phones, for use with the carrier's new Mobile TV service." There was absolutely nothing in the news release about an appearance at the CTIA event or Panasonic "working with AT&T.". had a headline that read, "AT&T wants Panasonic to develop plasma screens for cellphones." The news release never said that, and neither did AT&T.

    Some people at Panasonic laughed as expected, but some, particularly new employees who were unaware of the tradition, were upset. One outraged exec sent an email saying that Marcus caused "people to lose thousands of productive working hours." Panasonic demanded that the news distribution service that Marcus had used issue a retraction -- and this added fuel to the fire.

    The retraction generated more coverage of the fake news, and personal insults, Marcus explained. "Several websites that received the retraction accused me of forgetting what day it was. One critic with dubious credentials said it was a "late, poorly executed April Fools' joke," and another called me an April Idiot. Actually it was not late, and it was extremely well executed, and my mother didn't have any stupid kids."

    "There's certainly no rule that limits hoaxing to one day per year," Marcus continued. "No one who was filmed for TV's Candid Camera on 3/20 or 10/15 objected because it wasn't 4/1. Similarly the celebrities who were victims on the MTV show Punk'd may have grumbled, but not because they were not punked on the first day of the fourth month. And the subjects of "Stuttering John" interviews on The Howard Stern Show didn't check the date before deciding to participate."

    Many of the websites that ran the news of the retraction, but had not run the original fake news, ran it with the retraction, thus increasing the circulation and readership of the spoof.

    Some victims were complimentary. said, "Yesterday AbleComm sent out a press release that was all very believable talking about how Panasonic was going to be using small plasma displays in a mobile phone designed to be used on the new AT&T Mobile TV service launching in May. The release was professional, interesting and all very plausible replete with quotes from Panasonic and all. It didn't take long before the story was all around the internet…"

    Some websites were actually suspicious of the retraction. said it "Looks like someone let the plasma cat out of the proverbial bag too soon, and is now desperately backtracking to try to salvage a business relationship. It's unclear whether this was a deliberate or accidental occurrence, though the release was sizable and contained multiple quotes from all the parties involved which lends weight to the idea that it was an authentic document prematurely distributed."

    In anticipation of another April Fools "attack" this year, Panasonic's law firm Katz, Honigman, Shapiro and Flynn sent a registered letter to Marcus last week warning him against further spoofing. The attorneys told Marcus that "unless you agree to restrain yourself, Panasonic will go to Court to obtain a restraining order against you."

    Years earlier, Panasonic's in-house legal department had warned Marcus not to contact the then-new head of Panasonic's Business Telephone Systems division, and Marcus refused to obey.

    Now in 2009, Marcus is once again making a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of fun.

    He said, "It's ridiculous that the company that I have invested my money in, and that makes products that I sell and recommend, will spend money and time merely because they have no sense of humor. I will not be silenced. I will not obey a "gag order" even if they convince a court to issue one. We are living in dark times, and Panasonic and the rest of the world need to lighten up."

    "Freedom of speech is a fundamental part of American culture," Marcus emphasized. "In 1791 it was guaranteed in the very first Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. Even earlier, in 1215, free speech was included in the British Magna Carta, and the caliph Umar incorporated free speech as part of Islamic law in the 7th century."

    Marcus invites all supporters of free speech, both serious and spurious, to gather on April 1 at 2:00 p.m. at the Patrick Henry National Memorial in Virginia, about 35 miles south of Lynchburg.

    Patrick Henry is known for his immortal words supporting the American Revolution in 1775: "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" The rally will take place at the Orator's Stage, near Henry's grave and law office. All attendees will be allowed five minutes each to address the audience on any topic. While there will be no censorship, Marcus urges that speakers "keep it clean" because there will probably be children in the audience. The address is 1250 Red Hill Road, Brookneal, VA 24528.

    Marcus noted, "My former spoof victims and passive co-conspirators have been eagerly waiting to see what I would devise for this year. I won't let them down and will not be intimidated by lawyers. I'm reminded of what John Belushi said in his Bluto Blutarski role in Animal House: "Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"

    The merry prankster proclaimed, "I proudly reiterate the defiant words of Bluto Blutarsky. I say to Panasonic and to its uptight attorneys, Hell no!"

    "It's time they realize that pranks, spoofs and put-ons are part of normal American life, and should be responded to with a smile, not an injunction," Marcus concluded. "Besides, most people know not to believe anything they read on the first day of April."

    (Patrick Henry painting by George Matthews from the U. S. Senate website. Michael N. Marcus photo by Cloe Poisson. © 2008 The Hartford Courant.)