Friday, October 30, 2009

"Price War" books are rationed to prevent other booksellers from stocking up

Two weeks ago, Walmart, Amazon and Target got into a price war, selling upcoming bestsellers for about $9 each-- far below their normal selling prices, and also below what the companies pay for the books.

While small independent booksellers lack the "deep pockets" to match the low prices, the price war seemed to offer them a way to stock up on popular titles at a lower cost than if they bought books through normal wholesale channels.

It was not meant to be.

The price warriors are limiting sales to two or three copies per title per order.

It's common for purchase quantities to be restricted on loss-leaders as merchants limit losses from individual customers who might also make more profitable purchases. It's also a way to keep competitors from depleting inventory that is meant for retail customers.

Arsen Kashkashian, head buyer at the Boulder Book Store, in Boulder, Colo., told The Wall Street Journal that he had intended to buy as many as 70 copies of Barbara Kingsolver's "The Lacuna" from Walmart, Target or Amazon, because their prices are "more than $5 cheaper than what we can get it for from the publisher, Harper." Kashkashian said he was surprised to see that the three retailers were limiting the quantities sold. "We're a big store, and if a customer wanted to order 100 copies of anything, we'd sell it to them," he said.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Aging Baby Boomer’s Low-Tech Secret Weapon

If you remove the Caps Lock key, you can’t tap it accidentally.

As you write, be conscious of your habitual errors, which may increase as you get older. I have many “senior moments” (also known as “brain farts”) while typing.

  • Don’t laugh at me if you’re just 30 years old. The 20-year-olds are laughing at you.
  • It takes just about 15 minutes to go from age-30 to age-50. It takes five minutes to go from 50 to 60.

  • I’m a proud member of the first cohort of the Baby Boom. I was born in 1946 along with Billy Clinton, Dolly Parton, Candy Bergen, Donny Trump, Georgie and Laura Bush, Cher, Linda Ronstadt, Lisa Minnelli, Patty Smith, Jimmy Buffet, Reggie Jackson, Ilie Nastase, Sly Stallone, and Oliver Stone.

    In the new system, we are all still middle-aged, and we will remain middle-aged until dirt is shoveled on top of us.

    Lately, I’ve frequently and stupidly held down the shift key as I pressed the key to insert an apostrophe, and ended up inserting a colon. I often type “i nthe,” “hsould,” “nad” and “fro ma.” I now tap the Caps Lock key a lot by accident, the semicolon instead of the apostrophe, and the “Page Down” key instead of “delete.”

    I’ve also degenerated from being the world’s fastest six-finger typist to a pretty-good two-finger typist. (I actually have 10 fingers but I’ve never used them all for typing.)

    If I live long enough, I’ll probably develop even more bad habits that I can’t control. I hope sloppy typing is not an early sign of dementia. I guess having to fix typos is better than dying young and perfect. When I start drooling on the keyboard, someone should take it away from me.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    A reference book you can read for fun

    When Cynical Cousin Dave unpacked a carton from Amazon and saw that it contained two books on “style,” he immediately expressed doubt about my heterosexuality. I had to explain to the Gen-Yer that I was not researching the proper length for cargo shorts or the merits of various grooming products.

    The stylebooks I received were about writing -- specifically the rules to achieve consistency and accuracy in spelling, punctuation, abbreviation, sports scores and more of the nitty-gritty that writers have to deal with any time they tap the keyboard.

    The Associated Press Stylebook was first published as a stapled 60-page booklet in 1953 and it became an important reference for the media members of the Associated Press, as well as many writers and even students.

    Over the years the "Bible of the Newspaper Industry" grew considerably in both size and scope. The 2007 version that I bought is still a rulebook, but it’s also a dictionary, encyclopedia and textbook.

    There are other stylebooks, most notably from The University of Chicago and the New York Times. Sometimes the three agree. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they disagree with popular dictionaries. You can pick which book you want to follow, or pick and choose bits and pieces from each. You can even disagree with all three and make up your own rules — if you have a good reason and don’t do anything too stupid.

    Besides accuracy, the main reason to use this book or your own homemade cheat sheet is to achieve consistency in your writing. Some rules are arbitrary, so if you follow the rules you won’t have to make a decision on the spot, and end up with “homemade” on one page and “home-made” on another.

    Don’t just consider this a book to be kept on a shelf until you need to check on a specific word. Spend a day or a week or a weekend with it. Read it cover-to-cover, flip through, or just stick your finger between two random pages. I promise you’ll be enlightened and maybe even be entertained.

    Cynical Cousin Dave and I have endured and enjoyed a long-term battle about his sloppy generation saying “jive” instead of “jibe.” I checked the entry for “jibe,” expecting to find a warning about “jive.” There was no warning, but Dave and I did learn a new word, “gibe,” to add to the confusion. I won't explain it here. I want you to buy the book and look it up.

    I also learned the difference between “flyer” and “flier,” “flak” and “flack.”

    One big surprise is that “B.C.” goes after the year number, but “A.D.” goes before. Yeah, right.

    The Stylebook also has extensive sections on writing about sports and business writing. I was surprised to learn that "firm" is not a synonym for “business.” It specifically means a partnership, like a law firm -- but not a corporation.

    There’s also a lot of info on media law, to help you get vital information and avoid being sued; and some specific references for handling photo captions and submitting news stories that probably won’t be useful in writing a book.

    List price is just $18.95, making it a very good value for a well-packed 419-page book. I paid just $12.89 at Amazon.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Size DOES matter: think beyond 6 x 9

    The most common size for "trade" paperback books is 6 inches wide by 9 inches high. It's the size I've used for five books.

    It's not the only size available.

    Many "mass market" paperbacks have smaller 5 x 8 pages.

    Some "gift" books and photo books are 8 x 8.

    I have a book about sports cars that measures about 30 x 40.

    Some reference books are small enough to fit into a pocket.

    If your book is only text or mostly text, the size doesn't make much difference -- as long as the combination of page size, typeface, type size, and margins provides a readable book.

    However, if you are going to include photographs, illustrations or charts, bigger is usually better.

    I recently had a rude awakening when I bought The Step-By-Step Guide to Self-Publishing for Profit! by Christy Pinheiro and Nick Russell.

    The book is aimed at writers who want to use Amazon's CreateSpace publishing service. It's good-looking, well-written, accurate and useful.

    But what most attracted me -- and made me jealous -- is its 7 x 10 page size. That size is an inch bigger than my books in each direction, and provides 16 more square inches of page size.

    The big pages have room for lots of "air" (white space) which makes the pages very appealing and accessible, and provide lots of room for computer screen shots and charts.

    The popular "Complete Idiot's" and "For Dummies" books are about 7.2 by 9 inches.

    If I was not such a complete idiot and a dummy, I might have used bigger pages in a couple of my books. I may try it next time.

    If you're still in the planning stage of a publishing project, consider going beyond 6 by 9. Keep in mind, however, that if you have bigger pages, you'll probably have fewer pages. When people read a book's description they are more likely to notice the page count than the page size, and a book with only 96 pages may seem skimpy.

    Another thing to consider: page size may not affect what you pay for printing. A book with pages up to about 7.5 x 9.7 inches may not cost any more than a 5 x 8 book, and since you can get more on each bigger page, with fewer pages you'll pay less to print each book. You can charge less, or make more, or both.

    On the other hand, a book with bigger pages won't fit into the convenient and free 9.25" x 6.25" x 2" Priority Mail "large video box" that can be mailed for $4.95.

    Size isn't everything, but it's important. Think about it carefully.


    Monday, October 26, 2009

    A1 Books, another Pinocchio of Publishing

    A1 Books lies about list prices and lies about discounts. Some of their prices are actually HIGHER than list price. (These are books I wrote, so I am sure of the list prices. I assume they also lie about other books.)

    "I Only Flunk My Brightest Students"

    Real List Price:

    Phony List Price:

    Phony Sale Price:

    Phony Savings:

    Real Difference:

    "Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business & Home"

    Real List Price:

    Phony List Price:

    Phony Sale Price:

    Phony Savings:

    Real Difference:

    "AbleComm Guide to Phone Systems"

    Real List Price:

    Phony List Price:

    Phony Sale Price:

    Phony Savings:

    Real Difference:

    "Become a Real Self Publisher"

    Real List Price:

    Phony List Price:

    Phony Sale Price:

    Phony Savings:

    Real Difference:


    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Bookstore group complains to Feds about price war, and low eBook prices

    Yesterday the Board of Directors of the American Booksellers Association sent the following letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting that it investigate practices by, Wal-Mart, and Target that it believes constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers:

    We are writing on behalf of the American Booksellers Association, a 109-year-old trade organization representing the nation's locally owned, independent booksellers. A core part of our mission is devoted to making books as widely available to American consumers as possible. We ask that the Department of Justice investigate practices by, Wal-Mart, and Target that we believe constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers. We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss this urgent issue at your earliest possible opportunity.

    As reported in the consumer and trade press this past week,,, and have engaged in a price war in the pre-sale of new hardcover bestsellers, including books from John Grisham, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Sarah Palin, and James Patterson. These books typically retail for between $25 and $35. As of writing of this letter, all three competitors are selling these and other titles for between $8.98 and $9.00.

    Publishers sell these books to retailers at 45% - 50% off the suggested list price. For example, a $35 book, such as Mr. King's Under the Dome, costs a retailer $17.50 or more. News reports suggest that publishers are not offering special terms to these big box retailers, and that the retailers are, in fact, taking orders for these books at prices far below cost. (In the case of Mr. King's book, these retailers are losing as much as $8.50 on each unit sold.) We believe that, Wal-Mart, and Target are using these predatory pricing practices to attempt to win control of the market for hardcover bestsellers.

    It's important to note that the book industry is unlike other retail sectors. Clothing, jewelry, appliances, and other commercial goods are typically sold at a net price, leaving the seller free to determine the retail price and the margin these products will earn. Because publishers print list prices indelibly on jacket covers, and because books are sold at a discount off that retail price, there is a ceiling on the amount of margin a book retailer can earn.

    The suggested list price set by the publisher reflects manufacturing costs -- acquisition, editing, marketing, printing, binding, shipping, etc. -- which vary significantly from book to book. By selling each of these titles below the cost these retailers pay to the publishers, and at the same price as each other, and at the same price as all other titles in these pricing schemes,, Wal-Mart, and Target are devaluing the very concept of the book. Authors and publishers, and ultimately consumers, stand to lose a great deal if this practice continues and/or grows.

    What's so troubling in the current situation is that none of the companies involved are engaged primarily in the sale of books. They're using our most important products -- mega bestsellers, which, ironically, are the most expensive books for publishers to bring to market -- as a loss leader to attract customers to buy other, more profitable merchandise. The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war.

    It's also important to note that this episode was precipitated by below-cost pricing of digital editions of new hardcover books by, many of those titles retailing for $9.99, and released simultaneously with the much higher-priced print editions. We believe the loss-leader pricing of digital content also bears scrutiny.

    While on the surface it may seem that these lower prices will encourage more reading and a greater sharing of ideas in the culture, the reality is quite the opposite. Consider this quote from Mr. Grisham's agent, David Gernert, that appeared in the New York Times:

    "If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King's new novel or John Grisham's 'Ford County' for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer's attention away from emerging writers."

    For our members -- locally owned, independent bookstores -- the effect will be devastating. There is simply no way for ABA members to compete. The net result will be the closing of many independent bookstores, and a concentration of power in the book industry in very few hands. Bill Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, an ABA member, was also quoted in the New York Times:

    "You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers. But if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what's going to get published, the business is in trouble."

    We would find these practices questionable were they taking place in the market for widgets. That they are taking place in the market for books is catastrophic. If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.

    We urge that the DOJ investigate and request an opportunity to come to Washington to discuss this at your earliest convenience.

    According to The Wall Streer Journal, antitrust attorney Gary Reback said the ABA bid is unlikely to find its way to court: "Successful predatory-pricing cases are as rare as Bigfoot sightings" and that the antitrust division of the Justice Department now has a "lot on its plate."


    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Tower: another bookseller to avoid

    From 1960 until 2006 Tower Records was a major seller of recorded music and video. It started with one store in Sacramento, and grew to nearly 200 stores in the US and other countries.

    Back in 2000, the Tower website was ranked No. 1 for online music sales -- even ahead of

    According to Forbes magazine, "Tower was the last chain striving to offer an in-store "deep catalog" selection -- stocking... a vast array of titles in ... niche genres.... Yet in straddling the old and new worlds of retailing, Tower reneged on that commitment in all but the biggest stores --maintaining shell operations in stores they should have shed years ago, foolishly trying to hang on to a nationwide retail chain."

    "With a management that would not have known Peter Drucker from Curious George, it was no surprise that staff were treated as a burden, not a resource. For all the lip-service paid to the alleged importance of employees, Tower hyped the 'fun factor' to draw in job applicants but offered next to nothing in pay and benefits. The result was unacceptable staff turnover and an unlikely mix of dedicated aficionados and colorful ineptitude that set Tower employees only marginally above the Kinko's crew. The ones who were savvy and trainable left as soon as they could. Any customer who has to spell "Mozart" or "Coltrane" to the clerk supposedly helping locate a particular album will quickly lose an appreciation for personal customer service."

    Tower Records entered bankruptcy for the first time in 2004 due to heavy debt from aggressive expansion, increased competition from discounters, online music piracy and mismanagement. In 2006, it was bankrupt again and the name and online operation were sold.

    The current has ridiculous rip-off prices, and as with HotBookSale and DiscountBookSale discussed last week, and Booksamillion, there is probably no reason to buy from them

    Example #1. My new book, Become a Real Self-Publisher, has a $19.95 cover price. discounts it to $17.96. sells it for $19.95. Tower strangely charges $38.99. (THAT'S FOR ONE COPY -- NOT TWO!)

    Example #2. Another book with a $19.95 cover price is for sale on the Target website for $24.99.

    Example #3. A book has a $15.95 cover price but the Tower price is $19.53.

    Tower can't be trusted. They deserve to go bankrupt a third time. Spend your money someplace else.


    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    It's now a 3-way fight. Target joins price war with Amazon & Walmart

    Monday I wrote about the escalating price war between and with prices of popular books dropping to $9 or less.

    Later on Monday, Target announced that they would accept pre-orders on for assumed bestsellers at $8.99, with free shipping.

    The $8.99 price applies to select books, including:
    “Breathless” by Dean Koontz
    “Ford County” by John Grisham
    “I, Alex Cross” by James Patterson
    “Ice” by Linda Howard
    “Kindred in Death” by J.D. Robb
    “Pirate Latitudes” by Michael Crichton
    “Under the Dome” by Stephen King

    The $8.99 price for printed books is a buck less than the price of bestsellers sold as eBooks.

    Meanwhile, Walmart has dropped some prices another penny, to $8.98, including the King book which has a $35 cover price.

    If this continues, books will be free, but there won't be any bookstores left to sell them.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    The Phantom Menace in Microsoft Word

    Sunday afternoon I thought I was ready to submit the final version of a book to Lightning Source for printing. I had read, re-read, and re-re-read until my eyes were bulging and blurry.

    I knew it wasn't perfect (no book ever is), but I decided that it was good enough, and knew that it was better than many other books.

    I tapped a few keys to produce a PDF from my Microsoft Word document -- the same procedure I'd previously done at least 100 times.

    This time I had a surprise. And not a happy one.

    When I examined the PDF, there was a BLANK PAGE inserted after page 6.

    Page 7 was marked as page 8, and the total page count showed 433 pages instead of the proper 432.

    I looked at the Word doc again. It seemed perfectly normal. There was no sign of the phantom page. The last page was page 432 as it should be.

    I produced a few more PDFs with the same result. I rebooted and got the same result.

    I realized that my brain was too wilted to be productive, and decided to try again Monday morning.

    Monday morning, after a good rest, I again tried to find where the phantom invasion originated.

    I worked two hours and gave up. In desperation, I decided to invest 50 bucks and call Microsoft.

    I spent nearly two hours on the phone, with no solution. The Micro-Man said he'd call me back about four hours later.

    He did, and he had found what generated the phantom page.

    For some unknown reason, one of my pages had an extra page break in its formatting.

    For some unknown reason, the extra page was invisible in Word, but showed up in a PDF or if I printed a few pages.

    When I eliminated the extra break, the phantom was eradicated.

    The Force was with me. I hope it will be with you.


    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Amazon and Walmart in price war on books.

    Amazon now offering same-day delivery in 7 cities. and are engaged is a costly price war, fighting to win readers even if it means losing dollars. The biggest losers in the war are likely to be other booksellers.

    WalMart fired the first round last Thursday, with $10 prices on upcoming expected big sellers including Sarah Palin's "Mama Moose" and John Grisham's "Ford County." The $10 price is a huge discount from the $28.99 and $24 cover prices and below the wholesale cost of the books. WalMart will also offer free shipping.

    (Palin -- suspected of being semi-literate -- was assisted by ghost writer Lynn Vincent. NBC said Vincent "describes the Democratic Party since its inception as "pro-gangster" and the "party of treason and subversion." Time reported that Palin asked her hometown librarian about the process for banning books. What a team!) soon matched the $10 price. WalMart returned fire by reducing the price to $9. By Friday morning, met the Walmart $9 price. This morning Walmart had cut the price of the Palin book by a penny to $8.99. Amazon was still selling it for $9.

    The low online prices will probably hurt bricks-and-mortar bookstores, especially independent mom-and-pop operations that lack the deep pockets to match the online prices and sell at a loss.

    The Amazon and Walmart pricing is also a major problem for the big bookstore chains Barnes & Noble and Borders, which have been hurt by online competition, competition from electronic books ("eBooks") and the drop in CD sales. Online sellers (including B&N's own website) now charge just $9.99 for many popular eBooks, a price that has antagonized publishers who prefer to sell printed books ("pBooks").

    Walmart boss Raul Vazquez said, "At, we remain committed to providing our customers with the lowest prices available online. That commitment extends to the nation's best-selling books, especially during an increasingly challenging year for many of our customers... Our newest offering -- the Top 10 pre-selling books at just $10, with free home delivery -- is a true reflection of this commitment to better help our customers shop and save money online, just in time for the approaching holiday season."

    Walmart also will offer at least half off the cover prices of over 200 current best-sellers, including Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" and Kathryn Stockett's "The Help."

    Last Friday, Amazon escalated the quick delivery battle with the launch of “Local Express Delivery,” a shipping option providing same-day delivery in seven major cities including New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Seattle and Washington D.C. The service will be extended to Chicago, Indianapolis and Phoenix in coming months.

    Thousands of items are now available for Local Express Delivery. "Amazon Prime" members pay just $5.99 per item for the service. Delivery cut-off times are on each product’s detail page.

    “We want to make online shopping as convenient as possible,” said Girish Lakshman, Amazon's Transportation VP. “We’re continuously working to speed up delivery times and customers receiving items on the same day as ordered is an exciting step. Now, if a customer needs a last-minute present for a birthday or wants a copy of their book club book before the weekend starts, they can order from Amazon instead of the hassle of a last-minute trip to the mall.”

    Amazon has also expanded Saturday Delivery options. Items ordered before the cut-off time on Thursday using Two-Day Shipping will be delivered on Saturday instead of Monday. For Prime members, Thursday-to-Saturday delivery is free using Two-Day Shipping. For all other customers, the service is offered at the current Two-Day Shipping rates. Saturday Delivery is also available for orders placed before the cut-off on Fridays for $6.99 per item for Prime members and an additional charge for all other customers. Details can be found at

    (some info from The Associated Press)


    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Tom Lehrer Award goes to Beckham Publications

    Tom Lehrer is one of my literary gods.

    Tom claims he “went from adolescence to senility, trying to bypass maturity.” He graduated from Harvard Magna Cum Laude at age 18 and made Phi Beta Kappa. He taught at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California, but is best known for hilarious songwriting, much of it political satire in the 1950s and 60s.

    Tom's musical career was powerful but brief. He said he performed a mere 109 shows and wrote only 37 songs over 20 years. Britain’s Princess Margaret was a fan, and so am I. I can still sing Tom Lehrer lyrics I first heard in seventh grade. See

    In 1960 Tom wrote and sang, "Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell."

    That warning also applies to non-naughty words, and books, and signs, and websites.

    It particularly applies to companies trying to sell publishing and editing services.

    One of my Lehrer Award winners is Beckham Publications Group, which says it's a "joint venture publisher," but really seems to be just another vanity press.

    Company boss Barry Beckham taught English at Brown University and Hampton University and has written several books and magazine articles. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, is on the board of the Author’s League Fund and has served on the boards of PEN American Center and the Author’s Guild. He even distributes an email newsletter to help people achieve "Better English."

    It sounds like he should know a bit about writing, editing and publishing. Right?

    The Beckham website says: "When you enter a joint venture arrangement with Beckham Publications, you'll get...professional editorial support." and “Our editors are prepared to correct textual matters like grammar, punctuation and spelling,”

    They may not be prepared quite enough. The website misidentifies Virginia Woolf as “Wolf” and Stephen Crane as “Stephan.” The Virginia with the extra “o” was a writer. The Virginia with just one “o” is a sculptor.

    If you decide to do business with Beckham, I hope you don’t get assigned the editor who worked on their website.

    No one is immune from stupid little errors, but companies that promote their publishing expertise and try to sell editorial services, should be close to perfect.


    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    We need an 11th Commandment.
    A "Christian Publisher" lies about self-publishing and free books

    Folks, this has gone too far.

    It seems like Jesus has made a deal with the devil.

    I've come to expect sleazy vanity presses to falsely advertise that they are "self-publishing" companies.

    But now, Thomas Nelson, "the world's leading Christian publisher" is doing it, too.

    Nelson just announced a partnership with "the world's leading self-publishing company, Author Solutions, to launch WestBow Press--a Christian self-publishing imprint."

    The 10 Commandments forbid theft, murder, adultery, idolatry and bearing false witness against a neighbor -- a specific form of lying. If there was a more general prohibition against lying, or against false advertising, Nelson would certainly be condemned to hell.

    WestBow is NOT a self-publishing imprint and Author Solutions is NOT a self-publishing company!

    There is no such thing as a self-publishing company.

    No person or company can self-publish for you.

    Only you can self-publish you.

    WestBow will function like a typical vanity press with a bit of implied holiness. Its publishing packages cost from $999 to as much as $6,499.

    Like other vanity presses, WestBow lies about providing from 20 to 100 "FREE" books with their publishing packages.

    They're not free if author-customers have to pay thousands of dollars to get them!

    Thomas Nelson needs to go back to the seminary and take a course in morality and ethics.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Jesus picture by Heinrich Hofmann.
    Mask from


    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Warning to readers: some booksellers overcharge,
    and some lie about it.

    In the United States, in general, retailers can charge whatever they want. Some states set minimum prices for liquor and cigarettes or maximum prices for milk, but there is little government involvement for other products, such as books.

    Until around 1980, it was common for manufacturers to dictate minimum resale prices to their dealers. Cynically, the system was called "fair trade." Today they can't control the actual selling prices, but they can control -- or influence -- the minimum advertised prices ("MAP").

    You may have noticed that certain products are almost never "on sale." On e-commerce websites, you may have to do some extra clicking to see the "special low price." Some products can be promoted -- but not actually sold -- online.

    Now, when discounting on everything from airfare to cars is widespread and expected, consumers may assume that hardly any dealer would charge the suggested retail price.

    Actually, lots of products are sold for "list" or even higher prices. Selling at prices above list is generally legal. Years ago New York City enacted a law aimed at controlling the ubiquitous tourist traps that sold luggage, rugs, jewelry, cameras and electronics at inflated prices. The stores could charge whatever they wanted, but were required to display signs that told prospective shoppers that prices were above suggested retail.

    Books are routinely discounted both online and in bricks-and-mortar stores, but not always.

    Some dealers create phony list prices and then provide phony discount prices to entrap the unwary. and the nearly identical lie about “great discounts” and “wholesale pricing.” Discounts are small and their prices are NOT wholesale. The screenshot at the top shows a fraudulent list price for one of my books— it was really $29.95 not a stupid $36.54.

    The company offers a phony 26% discount if you join their “Best Brand Values” plan for about $240 per year. Customers have called the company a “ripoff” and complained about being “hoodwinked” or “tricked” into joining the expensive plan.

    Amazon prices are lower than prices at HotBook or DiscountBook, and you don’t need to pay a membership fee to Amazon to get their best prices.

    Amazon, however, doesn't discount all books all of the time.

    My new book, Become a Real Self-publisher, went on sale last weekend. It has a $19.95 cover price, and that's what Amazon sells it for. Barnes & Noble, however, sells it to "members" for $17.95.

    On the other hand, A1 Books sells It for $22.30. All three booksellers, by the way, pay the same wholesale price for the book.

    My first self-published book, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, has a $15.95 cover price. Prices charged by independent booksellers on range from a meaningless discount of $15.94, to an absurd ripoff of $29.29 (plus $3.99 for shipping.)

    Several dealers are offering USED copies for $29 or more -- nearly twice the price of a new book. High prices for used books make sense if a title is out-of-print or rare. But only an idiot would pay extra for a used book when a new one is readily available.

    Books-A-Million is a major offender. I have never been to a BAM store and can’t comment on their physical environments. The book listings on their website show that there is absolutely no reason to buy from them unless you have no other choice.

    BAM’s web prices are higher than other online booksellers’ prices. They use phony, inflated, “retail prices” and then offer alleged discount club prices that bring the purchase price to just a few pennies below the cover price. Their prices are typically a few bucks higher than Amazon, B&N, or

    To make it even worse, shipping takes much longer than with other online sellers. They want two to three days to process an order and then four to 10 business days for free shipping. They say the total time from ordering a book to receiving a book could be six to 13 business days.

    One of my books has a $19.95 cover price. Amazon and B&N usually sell it for $17.95. BAM falsely claims that the “retail price” is “$21.95 and the “club price” is $19.75. They state that club members will “Save 10%.” In reality, club members will save 20 cents from the list price— a huge ONE PERCENT. They say it “usually ships in 5-15 days,” while competitors ship within 24 hours.

    This is not an isolated incident. Another book of mine has a $29.95 cover price and is frequently discounted to $26.95. BAM claims the “retail price” is $32.95 and “online price” is also $32.95. The “club price” is $29.65— YOU SAVE ONE PERCENT.

    This is not a new problem. The ancient Romans advised, Caveat Emptor ("Let the buyer beware"). It's still good advice.


    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Another publisher to avoid

    Mill City Press is one of many vanity presses that improperly use the term "Self Publishing Company." There is no such thing as a self-publishing company. Just as no one can eat lunch for you or have surgery for you, no one can self-publish for you.

    Like most vanity presses, Mill City is not completely truthful. The company says you'll get "10 complimentary books." They're only complimentary if you ignore the fact that you'll pay Mill City as much as $3,798 to get the free books.

    The price for their basic publishing package is $1,497. That's about $500 more than you'll pay if you hire your own editor and designer.

    Mill City's royalty chart is deceptive. The company says you'll make $10.05 on each $13.95 book. That big royalty applies to books sold on your own website and "fulfilled" by Mill City. Your royalty is reduced by a $1.50 handling fee and a 3% credit card processing fee.

    How many people are going to find your website and order books from you? How much will it cost to drive traffic to your website. What happens if nobody shows up?

    If you become a real self-publisher and use Lightning Source for on-demand printing, your book will be available on, and many other online booksellers, and can be ordered by any bookstore.

    If you set a 20% discount, Amazon pays you $11.16 per $13.95 book. You pay Lightning $3.90 for printing and shipping to Amazon's customer, so your gross profit is $7.26 per book, compared with $8.13 "royalty" from Mill City.

    So, since you will "lose" 87 cents per book by selling through Amazon, B&N, etc. instead of selling on your own website, you have to calculate which sales path will sell more books.

    The Bookseller websites have MILLIONS of customers who spend MANY BILLIONS of dollars each year. The Amazon website attracted at least 615 MILLION VISITORS annually in 2008 (according to a survey).

    How many potential customers will find your website?

    There is probably no good reason to do business with Mill City.


    Monday, October 12, 2009

    The book is REAL
    (but wait about two weeks)

    It took much longer than I expected, but my book about self-publishing has been published.

    It's now available from and will soon be available from and at other online and bricks-and-mortar booksellers.

    The official publication date is 10/15/09, and it has a 2010 copyright. Like cars that debut in the fall, books published during October, November or December often use the following year for copyrights.

    The book has 432 pages, and is a very good value at $19.95. I think it's worth more and I originally planned to price it at $29.95. Ultimately I decided to price it lower, so that no writer would have an excuse for not buying it.

    It has a lot to offer every writer -- not just self-publishers.

    I am quite proud of it. I honestly think its a fantastic book, and much better than most of the other books about self-publishing. It covers a very wide range of topics, in detail, and is based on my personal experience self-publishing several books. I wish I had a book like this one when I began self-publishing a year ago.

    Now for the bad news: Despite an eternity of inspections, the version of the book now on sale has some errors. None of them are factual errors that will cause trouble, but there are improper hyphenations, a plural verb that should be a singular verb, one photo that's too light, a section of type that's too light, a photo that's slightly tilted, and assorted minor typographical bloopers.

    If you are in a hurry to get the book, order it now.

    If you want one that's a bit closer to perfection, wait about two weeks. I'll post a note here when Amazon and other booksellers have the corrected version.


    Friday, October 9, 2009

    My book is finished.
    It looks great.
    So, how come I'm not happy?

    Postpartum depression (also called postnatal depression) is a kind of depression which affects some women, and even men, shortly after the birth of a child. Symptoms include sadness, anxiety, and irritability.

    I started writing my book Become a Real Self Publisher in January.

    Yesterday -- strangely nine months later -- I received and happily approved the final proof. The book should be on sale in a few days.

    Later today I should receive the first proof of my next book, Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults).

    This morning -- as on most other days -- I was at my computer at 4 a.m.

    But for the first time in nine months I did not have a book to write or to edit.

    I feel strangely sad, almost useless.

    It's not that I have nothing to do, because I always have lots to do.

    But I can't do what I usually do, and what I always want to do early in the morning.

    Maybe I'll start writing another book.

    - - - - -
    (photo from

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    How does a company as screwed-up as Lulu stay in business?

    Lulu's founder and Chief Executive Idiot Bob Young

    Lulu is a vanity press.

    Lulu is also a book printing and sales company.

    Lulu is a liar that says it provides publishing "for free." Its publishing is only free if no books have to be published.

    Lulu is a whore. It will manufacture books for anyone who will pay the price, with no consideration for subject or quality.

    Lulu published the worst-looking, worst-written, worst-titled book I've ever seen.

    I'm amazed at the company's incompetence.

    I'm amazed at the company's poor customer service. (Customer support is by email only, and it can take several days to receive an irrelevant robotic response.)

    I'm amazed at the poor quality of its books. (They printed a book for me on wrinkled paper where words disappeared into the wrinkles.)

    I'm amazed that Lulu's Director of Public Relations, Gail Jordan, has not answered phoned and emailed questions for over a month. She was told that I need the information for a book I'm writing. It will be published without her answer.

    I'm not amazed that Lulu's founder Bob Young said, “We publish a huge number of really bad books.” (I am amazed that Bozo Bob said it to an interviewer, and was quoted in Publishers Weekly. He didn't say it in private to an employee or an old buddy.)

    I guess I'm not amazed that Bob misspelled "misspell" and confused “less” and “fewer.”

    I am amazed and extremely pissed-off at Lulu's utterly inept online bookselling system.

    Lulu published an eBook of mine in August, called Telecom Reference eBook.

    A search for its exact title brings up 5078 results taking up 508 pages.

    Some suggestions from the retarded Lulu search computer:

    A Guide to Sacred Drumming,
    Professional Helicopter Pilot Studies
    Gay Girls in Dresses
    How to Study and Interpret the Holy Bible
    Sacred Geometry Design Sourcebook
    Epic Role Playing Game Manual
    Dragon's Den
    Resurrection of the Hellcat
    Thinking Skinny Ebook
    Passion X:
    Film Dollies, Cranes, & Camera Stands
    Disciplinary Dialogues

    I gave up the search before finding my book.

    If I search for books written by my exact name (Michael N. Marcus), I get 4732 results taking up 474 pages.

    Those pages are filled with names that are not mine. including hundreds of other Michaels and Marcuses, and even Edgar Amaya!

    Since I know the exact page where my book is located, I can go directly there.

    That stupid page recommend these "related items":

    Calabazas de Halloween 2008
    Student Manifesto
    Firing Off Blanks
    The Vampyre Prophecy

    It shouldn't be that difficult to develop or buy search technology.

    Obviously Amazon and B&N provides proper searching for books. And so does Google.

    Ironically, a Google search (or a Bing search or an Excite search or a Yahoo search) for my eBook title instantly produces a link to the right page on Lulu.

    If Google and the other search engines know how to do a search on Lulu, why the hell doesn't Lulu know how to do a search on Lulu?

    The best way to search for a book on Lulu, is to not search for it on Lulu.

    Lulu appears to be run by a bunch of uncaring idiots, with computers dumber than dirt.

    How do they stay in business?

    Sadly, maybe their customers know less than they do.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009

    Lower prices and more choices in eBook readers announced today that it is lowering the price of its #1 bestseller Kindle eBook reader to $259, down from $299. The company also introduced a new addition to its Kindle family: a model that works with both U.S. & non-U.S. wireless services. The international model enables readers to wirelessly download content in over 100 countries and territories. Readers can pre-order "Kindle with U.S. & International Wireless" starting today for $279 at Shipping should start on October 19.

    Kindle wirelessly downloads books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and personal documents to a crisp, high-resolution 6-inch electronic ink display that looks and reads like real paper. Kindle utilizes the same 3G wireless technology as advanced cell phones, so you never need to hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot or sync with a PC. Readers can wirelessly shop the Kindle Store, download books in less than 60 seconds, automatically receive newspaper and magazine subscriptions, receive personal documents, and read from their library—now in over 100 countries and territories.

    The U.S. Kindle Store now has more than 350,000 books, including New Releases and 104 of 112 New York Times Bestsellers, which are typically $9.99 or less. More than 75,000 books have been added to the Store in just the last five months. Starting today, Lonely Planet guides are now available in the Kindle Store, joining existing travel guide selection from publishers Rick Steves, Frommers and Michelin.

    Over 50 major U.S. and international newspapers are available in the Kindle Store for single purchase or subscription, and can now be delivered wirelessly in over 100 countries and territories. Over 35 popular and specialized magazines, such as The Newsweek, Time, The New Yorker, and The New England Journal of Medicine are also available. U.S. Kindle customers can also continue to take advantage of the Kindle Store’s selection of over 7,000 blogs and receive new posts while traveling overseas.

    At just over a third of an inch thin (0.36 inches) and weighing just over 10 ounces, Kindle is pencil thin and lighter than a typical paperback. Kindle’s 6-inch electronic ink display reads like printed words on paper because the screen works using real ink and doesn’t use a backlight, eliminating the eyestrain and glare associated with other electronic displays. Kindle’s 2 GB of memory holds up to 1,500 books and Kindle books are automatically backed up by Amazon so customers can re-download titles from their library.

    Amazon recently introduced the larger Kindle DX, selling for $489. It has a 9.7-inch electronic paper display, built-in PDF reader, auto-rotate capability, and other new features.

    Sony, Kindle's main competitor, has updated its line of eBook readers, and should be selling its first wireless model by the end of 2009. The new "Reader Daily Edition" will provide wireless access via AT&T’s 3G network. There are no monthly fees or transaction charges for the basic wireless connectivity, and users can also load personal documents or content from other compatible sites via USB. The Daily Edition has a seven-inch touch display, internal memory for more than 1,000 books, and expansion slots for memory cards to hold even more. Its price is about $399.

    Other new eBook readers are coming from less-well-known electronics brands.

    iRex Technologies expects to sell its "iRex wireless DR800SG" through Best Buy later this month, and through other dealers next year. It will offer free worldwide wireless over-the-air e-book downloads. The iRex will use Verizon service in the U.S. and Qualcomm in other countries. The iRex e-reader has an 8.1-inch screen and works with the Barnes & Noble e-bookstore as well as other open Internet e-booksites. The first model uses a stylus, but the company plans a finger-operated touchscreen model for next year.

    Plastic Logic is partnering with Barnes & Noble to market an eBook reader with wireless downloads, in early 2010. The Plastic Logic Reader is expected to have a larger, lighter and stronger screen than the Kindle. The Plastic Logic Reader's screen will measure 10.7 inches, so it should be easier to read newspapers and magazines.

    Other companies such as Samsung are selling e-readers outside the U.S., and they may eventually come here.

    eBook selection has also increased tremendously this year.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Another publishing expert publishes silly mistakes

    Some people have said that I "pick on" other writers and publishers.

    I'm not picking on them, but maybe I'm picking at them.

    I read a lot, and I read closely and carefully. I try to write that way too, but I readily confess that I'm not perfect.

    I am frequently upset by errors that get published online or on paper that could have and should have been avoided, by either better editing or better fact-checking.

    Many self-published books have no editors, so the authors get all of the blame.

    Stupid mistakes sometimes show up in professionally edited books, perhaps because the editor assumes that the author knows everything about a subject, or because an author who really does know what's right, yields to an editor who is wrong.

    As a relatively new self-publisher, I've been reading a lot of books that try to advise self-publishers. A lot of these books have errors.

    One book says that owns POD-printer Lightning Source. Sorry, Helen. That's not true.

    Another book says that a writer's website can cost $6,000 to develop. Sorry, Penny. That's not true.

    Another book confuses a foreword with a preface and says that Roget's Thesaurus was written by Peter Mark. Sorry, Brent. "Mark" was really the middle name of Peter Mark Roget.

    Charles Jacobs is a book coach and author of “The Writer Within You.” He's been writing professionally for over 50 years and has a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He's been a reporter, editor and publisher, and won an award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

    In yesterday's, Charles said: "Library of Congress Cataloguing is another necessity... but is not always available if you have written only a single book."

    Sorry Charlie, that's not quite right.

    LOC cataloging is nice, but not a necessity -- especially for books that are not likely to be bought by libraries.

    (However, at least one of my books that lacks an LOC number has been bought by at least one library.)

    Any American publisher should be able to get an LCCN (Library of Congress Catalog Number).

    If you've published only books by one author (which could be yourself), you can get a Preassigned Control Number (PCN).

    If you've published books written by at least three authors, you can get Cataloging in Publication (CIP).

    Either system will provide the LCCN, which Charles says is a necessity, but really isn't.

    Charles's website has ugly blocks of centered text. It's difficult to read and violates a basic and important rule of design.

    The site says, "Choose from Traditional, POD, or Self-Publishing."

    Sorry, Charlie. Lots of self-publishing is POD publishing, and even traditional publishers use POD at times.

    The site also says that POD stands for "Publish-on-Demand."

    Sorry, Charlie. There's no such thing as Publish-on-Demand. Despite what sleaze-press PublishAmerica wants you to believe, publishing is not done on demand.

    “Publish-on-Demand” is an unnecessary and confusing misnomer using the same initials as Print-on-Demand.

    Llumina Press, BookSurge, Lulu, Outskirts, and others have run ads featuring the meaningless 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 being sold. The end result of a publishing project -- which may be a million books, 10,000 books or just one book -- can take days, weeks, months, or even years.

    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 when an order arrives.

    Charlie should have known better.

    Monday, October 5, 2009

    Every author needs a website

    It’s extremely important to have a website to provide information about you and your books. It is neither difficult nor expensive to put a website together. If you don’t have a website, you are missing a major opportunity to impress and interact with potential readers. Readers expect authors to have websites. Don’t disappoint them.

    I can remember when Fortune magazine told corporate America to assume that a website would take six months to develop and cost $500,000. In Red Hot Internet Publicity, Penny Sansevieri says that a writer’s website could cost as much as $6,000 to set up.

    Those numbers are ridiculous and may needlessly scare off a lot of writers who could benefit from having a website. Today you can develop a website for zero dollars and no cents in less than an hour, and pay less than $5 per month to a “hosting company” to make the site available to the world.

    Most ISPs (Internet Service Providers) also host websites, often for free. Free hosting is also available from dozens of companies which are not ISPs. Be aware that some once-major free services such as AOL’s Hometown and Yahoo’s GeoCities have been canceled. Free websites are generally not a good idea because you’ll get a long, clumsy, ugly, amateur-sounding URL (“uniform resource locator” or web address) like instead of

    You may want to do a website for a specific book title, or one that covers several books, or one for you as an author, or several sites. My sites include and The more sites you have, the more likely it is that people will find you and the more opportunities you will have to sell books. Your site or sites should have information that will be useful and interesting to potential readers, as well as to members of the media.

    Many book websites include an “online press kit” that replaces the once-common cardboard portfolio. At a minimum, the kit (which is really a page or a section of a website) should include a news release (“press release”) about the book, plus photos of the cover and the author, and a brief author’s biography.

    Some book websites sell books. Mine don’t. They have links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble which sell my books. I want to write and promote books, not operate a warehouse and shipping department.

    Obviously, your website should inform people what your book is about and try to convince them why it is vital that they buy it. The site is a good place to post reviews and comments from readers, reviewers, and previewers, and to note any awards the book has won. You can also show your table of contents, and some excerpts to get people interested.

    You don’t need any special talent, experience, or training to put a website together. Most hosting companies offer adequate and attractive templates that you can use as is or modify if you want to. They are WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and allow you to get online in a few minutes— but you may spend the rest of your life updating, tweaking, and fine-tuning.

    If you have stronger creative impulses, you can design a website from scratch using such software as Microsoft Front-Page (discontinued, but still useful), Adobe’s DreamWeaver, and Microsoft’s Expression Web 2.

    Many companies offer inexpensive hosting. Prices at 1&1 start at just $3.99 per month. GoDaddy will let you pay just $1 per month for the first three months, and then $4.99 per month (or less if you sign up for a year). I use Network Solutions, which has plans starting at $4.95 per month, and Yahoo ($6.47 per month for the first three months, and then $9.95).

    There are books and businesses that specialize in SEO (search engine optimization), the process of getting a website into a top position in Google, Bing, Excite, Yahoo, and lesser search engines. The SEO experts charge for their services, but I’ll gladly give you some free tips based on personal experience.

    People search for “keywords” and it’s important that your book website include all relevant keywords, used as often as possible, without seeming obvious or awkward.

    Keep in mind that many potential readers don’t know your book exists, but may simply be searching for information about buying or using a product. If you have a book about bicycles or amateur beer making, you want to attract people who are shopping for bikes or hops or need advice about fixing a flat or deciding on dry vs. liquid yeast.

    A keyword may actually be a phrase, not just a single word. If you think that people will be searching for “dirt bike” or “comfort bike,” and those phrases are appropriate for your book, they belong in your website, too.

    Google’s legendary algorithm that determines a website’s position has been subject to much speculation, and it’s protected as carefully as the formula for making Coca-Cola.

    One key ingredient in Google ranking is the number of in-bound links to a website. Google assumes that the more sites that link to a particular site, the better that site is, and the higher it deserves to be in the Google list. Google interprets a link from Susan’s website to Charlie’s website as a vote by Susan in favor of Charlie.

    There are lots of schemes for getting other sites to link to yours, but some businesses do very well simply by having a good site with useful information presented in a pleasant way.

    You should also create inbound links in any way you can. If you post a comment in an online forum, put your website address in it. If you’re listed in Linkedin or active in Facebook and other social networks, promote your website there. Every email you send can list your site, and of course the web address belongs on you business cards and letterheads. If you have multiple websites, each one should promote the others. You can also ask the operators of other compatible but not competing websites to exchange links with you.

    To judge your progress, you can use websites such as These are the results for one of my websites: Google PageRank: 4. Google Links: 54. Yahoo Links: 2,940. MSN Related: 309.

    Older sites tend to rank higher than newer ones. Even if your book won’t be out for a year, get a preview online right away so you can gradually make your way upward in the lists.

    Never get a URL with a hyphen in it.

    Short URLs are better than long ones.

    Avoid URLs with a high potential for misspelling.

    Encourage comments from site visitors.

    Track your traffic (“hits”). If few people visit your site , maybe you don’t have enough of the proper keywords or maybe you chose the wrong subject to write about.

    Use search engines to find what people are saying about you or your book. If you find an error, try to correct it.

    While URLs can end in a variety of ways, including the ubiquitous dot-com, as well as dot-net, dot-USA, dot-CA, dot-TV, and others, it’s always best to use dot-com. If your website is, many people will forget it and go to They may find nothing, or a competitor.

    You probably noticed that I spelled the sample URL as The web doesn’t care about uppercase and lowercase (and neither does the email system), but by spelling your URL with uppercase letters where new words start, you make the URL easier to read, remember, and type.

    Avoid URLs with consecutive identical letters and ambiguous syllable breaks, such as They can confuse potential customers and cost you sales.

    Resist the temptation to use the dot-net version of a URL that’s already in use as a dot-com.

    While it’s been said that all of the good URLs have been taken, your book name is probably unique, so you have a pretty good chance of getting it as a URL. If you want a URL with your personal name in it, you may face some competition.

    Pay a few bucks so you will own similar URLs to capture bad spellers and lock out potential competitors. Direct them to your site. You can register the alternate “phantom” URLs at and have traffic forwarded.

    Sooner or later the bots (robot indexers) or web crawlers used by the search engines should find your website, but it can’t hurt to tell them you exist. You may get emails from services that promise to Submit Your Website to 300,000 Top Search Engines for only $299. There are not 300,000 top search engines, or even 30. You should care about only a few. When you launch your website, notify the major search engines.

    In addition to search engines, there are online directories for resources in every imaginable field, from farming to diabetes. Search for them, and submit your URL. Check often, and if your site drops out, resubmit your information.

    A sitemap will help both humans and bots discover all of your site’s pages. A template may create it automatically.

    Keep your website hierarchy relatively “flat.” Each page should be just one to three clicks away from the homepage.

    If you have a website that’s related to your book’s subject, put prominent links on it so people can order your book. My sites that sell phone equipment have links for my books on telecommunications. You can do the same thing for antique birdhouses, woodworking, baking, travel, anything

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    Read your book closely. Read carefully. Read repeatedly.

    When I began self-publishing, I had a lot to learn so I bought about 40 books about publishing.

    Many of the books about self-publishing were self-published or published by vanity presses. Many of them were extremely ugly.

    They had terrible typography.

    The worst sin was bad justification.

    Type is said to be "justified" when all of the lines of type in a paragraph (except for the first line if indented, and the last line) are the same width, and extend from the left margin to the right margin.

    Some self-publishers are content to merely dump words onto pages and rely on their software to arrange the words properly.

    That's not enough.

    A book needs a human touch.

    You must CAREFULLY examine each line so you can improve justification by changing words and hyphenation.

    It's a lot of work and takes a lot of time to do it right -- but it's the right way to produce a book. There's no easy way. There's no shortcut. You must invest the time to go line-by-line, over and over again, or your book will look like crap.

    Bad justification is one of the most obvious signs of amateur publishing. Every book has some problems with justification. Self-publishers seem to have many more problems with justification than professionals do -- and the self-pubbers may not even know that they goofed.

    A self-publisher has an extra burden to produce a high-quality product. Self-pubbed books are initially suspect and must prove their legitimacy, and a bad self-pubbed book reflects badly on other self-publishers. Ironically, the ugliest and worst-written book I’ve ever seen tries to give advice to self-publishers. It was apparently never edited, or checked by its vanity publisher.

    The limitations of the Internet create the need for typographic compromises. As people get used to typographic abominations online, those abominations may become more acceptable in print. However, just because you can get away with ugliness, it doesn’t mean you should.

    Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Avoid mutual ass-kissing in reviews and blurbs

    First, a note: I will soon be publishing a book about self-publishing. I've read most of the other books on the subject, and I've reviewed both good ones and bad ones on this blog.

    I thought about refraining from reviewing books that compete with mine because it might seem somewhat tacky.

    On the other hand, (1) I've paid for the books, (2) I am entitled to have and to publish my opinions, (3) I may be in a better position than other reviewers to analyze these books, and (4) if I don't publish my reviews, the authors may never learn what they did wrong.

    So -- at least for a while -- I will continue to review books that may compete with mine. The other authors, of course, can say whatever they want to about my books.
    . . . . . . . . . .

    Everybody -- especially creative people -- likes to receive compliments.

    The book business uses reviews and blurbs (short positive comments, frequently from somebody more famous than the author) to imply quality and credibility to build sales.

    While it's not possible to control what reviewers say, it is possible to control whom you ask to write a review or a blurb.

    I've noticed a disturbing tendency to you kiss my ass and I'll kiss your ass relationships where authors write glowing words about each other's work.

    Sometimes an editor or a business associate of an author praises a book online or on paper.

    Some authors seem to write more as blurbs and forewords than they write as actual books.

    Here are a couple of offenders who really piss me off:

    (#1) Helen Gallagher wrote an ugly, sloppy, padded, inaccurate and poorly edited book titled Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way!

    It was published by vanity press Virtual Book Worm (I've complained about them before.)

    A Five-Star review on Amazon says, "Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way offers fabulous, practical tips for writers. I had the opportunity to meet the author. She is a great advocate for fellow writers. This book is a 'must have' if you want to complete your writing project, launch it, and market your work."

    The reviewer is Marguerite O'Connor. Marguerite is an author and funeral director and teaches bereavement counseling. Even more depressing than that is the fact that Marguerite's book received a Five-Star review from Helen.

    And by the way, Marguerite O'Connor is also the editor of Helen's poorly edited book. Helen is a decent writer, but from the evidence I've seen, Marguerite is a terrible editor.

    I don't know if it is the fault of the writer or editor that the book has major errors such as claiming that Amazon owns POD-printer Lightning Source, or that "everyone" is hyphenated as "eve-ryone," and "avenues" is hyphenated as "ave-nues."

    I'm not sure who to blame for the sentence "They work is not cheap and it shouldn't be," or that "ten" is printed instead of "10," or that the book has terrible justification.

    I don't know which lady is at fault for one of the worst indexes I've ever seen. Readers really don't need separate listings for both "distributors" and "Distributors," or "marketing" and "Marketing," or "publishers" and "Publishers," or "small press," "small presses" and "Small Presses."

    I don't know who is at fault for underlining Ebook readers in the index, or both underlining and italicizing wait on the page before the introduction.

    I'm not sure who is responsible for the bad advice to use .jpg or .gif images in a book instead of higher-resolution .tif images.

    I do know that an editor should not allow a book to contain both "bestseller" and "best-seller."

    I'm pretty darn sure that Helen is responsible for selecting the ugly, blurry and irrelevant collage on the cover. It's also poorly printed on the title page so it assaults readers twice. It was done by Helen's sister, Peg Miller. Peg is also credited with the ugly cover design, so she apparently also gets the blame for the too-long bars above and below her collage, bad justification on the back cover, and improper spacing after two of the bullets on the back cover.

    (And, as long as I'm bitching about the cover) The cover proclaims that Helen is “author of Computer Ease.” While that first book may be a fine book, it did not win the Nobel Prize for literature and is in a field unrelated to the second book. If the likely reaction to a writing credit is “BFD,” “Who cares,” or “So what,” find something else to put in the space that may help you to sell some books.

    Neither Helen, nor Peg nor Marguerite is to blame for the ugly thick squiggle of glue that runs down the left side of the title page. That's the fault of the printer. My copy of the book should have been recycled, not sold.

    Marguerite says she had the "opportunity to meet the author."

    Helen says, "I thank her for editing my work softly, on lavender paper."

    I have no idea why the paper color was significant, but I do know that this book needed more than "soft" editing" and that an editor should do more than "meet the author" of a book she's editing.

    (#2) Avoid using blurbs from people who have a business interest in the book.

    Shel Horowitz’s Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers has a blurb from John Harnish, special products director at Infinity Publishing.

    Harnish praises Shel and says, "...selling more books is what successful marketing is all about..."

    However, Harnish is in the business of selling Shel's books, because Infinity has co-published an edition.

    That’s a conflict of interest, and tacky.

    Shel has mini-reviews in the back of his book, plugging books written by some of the blurbers who praise him in the front of his book.

    Fern Reiss calls Shel's book "a brilliant potpourri..." Shel calls Fern "an extremely gifted writer."

    Dan Poynter says of Shel's book: " this book now..." Shel says of Dan's book: "If you read just one book before deciding to publish, make it this one."

    There are similar exchanges of back-patting and brown-nosing between Shel and John Kremer, Shel and Marilyn Ross, and Shel and T. J. Walker.

    Tit-for-tat is tacky.

    Shel wants to be known as an "expert on frugal, ethical and effective marketing."

    Shel writes well and he seems to be an expert on book marketing. I don't doubt the truth of the endorsements of him or by him -- but his work is marred by the appearance of sleazy deal-making.

    Mutual ass-kissing may be frugal marketing. But I don't think it's ethical, or effective.