Friday, December 31, 2010

Wow! What a year.

(above) My first book about self-publishing came out in late 2009.

In late 2010, it led to three books. One is for writers who want to use a self-publishing company, one is for writers (like me) who want to set up their own publishing companies, and one is for writers who are not sure of their path to publication. (The two books on the right should be on sale in a few days.)

2008 was my first year as a book publisher. I planned to publish just one book, and I did.

I found that I really liked writing and publishing books, and in 2009, I published three.

In 2010, I surprised myself and published seven.

For 2011 -- which hasn't started yet -- I've started five.

That adds up to a minimum of 16 books that will have been written and published in less than three years. I don't know how many titles Random House or Simon & Schuster produced in their early years (did I beat them?), and their current production is way beyond anything I can imagine for my tiny Silver Sands Books, but 16 books seems pretty damn good.

And the weird thing about it is that my books have gotten excellent reviews and checks come in every month -- but I did not have any special training in publishing, my publishing business is a part-time/one-person gig, and I did not knock myself out to publish the books.
  • I thank the wonderful people who have enough faith in my knowledge and experience to pay to read what I have to say. (And those who appreciate my sense of humor.) 
  • I also thank my wonderful wife who doesn't complain when I'm at the computer at (like now) 1:30 in the morning, instead of in bed next to her. Marilyn says she'd rather share me with a computer than with another woman. Besides, when I'm out of the bed, she sleeps with my furry substitute -- Hunter, our golden retriever.
Sure, I sleep less than most people -- but I love almost every minute of my work. I get up very early because I love my work so much that I can't wait to start tapping this keyboard.

Words are toys for me. As a writer, I get paid to have fun. Writing books and blogs is probably the second best way for a man to make money. I'm scheduled to have my 65th birthday in April, so I have little chance of employment as a gigolo. (Anyway, Marilyn has an exclusive contract for my intimate services.)

If I can self-publish books, so can others. And, of course, my books can help.

When I was 24 years old, I discussed a business idea with my father (Bud, above). I asked him if he thought I should try it. Pop 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 if you write a book, try it.

Or, as the folks at Nike say,

There's no reason to wait until 2011 to start a book. Just do it -- NOW.

Spending New Years Eve at your keyboard will be much better than being in the hospital because some drunken fool smashed into your car.

For today, for tonight, and forever, I say this: Be safe. Be productive. Have fun. Do the right thing. Don't be afraid to piss people off. What you think of yourself is more important than what others think of you. Write to please yourself. It's nice if your words cause others to smile, say "thanks" and pay money; but self-satisfaction is more important. Not everyone has to "get" you. Even a small happy audience can be satisfying. Don't leave the keyboard until you're staisfied with what you've written, because you never know what will be your last words.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

This may be my last chance to make fun of Brent Sampson in 2010. Or, maybe not.

(left-click to enlarge photo)

Brent Sampson is the boss of Outskirts Press, a pay-to-publish company.

Both Brent and Outskirts do so many things so badly, that I often poke fun at them on this forum, and even wrote a book that is appropriately titled Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy: the strange story of vanity publisher Outskirts Press. How do they stay in business?

Brent recently published a photo of the annual Outskirts holiday party on his blog. The photo was apparently taken on 12/14/10. To the right of the party photo, the blog displays Brent's official publicity photo. There's no date for this photo, but it appears to have been taken about 40 pounds ago.

Brent: it's time to get an up-to-date pic that looks like the 2011 version of you. And, this time, pick a different shirt and tie (that go together). Also, dark blue dress shirts died with disco. Make sure your collar point is not flapping in the breeze, and don't pose in front of a shit-brown background.  

A publicity photo is as important as a mug shot. It can help people who are looking for you to find you, and should provide a fairly accurate rendition of your current physical essence.

I have no reason to assume that the cops or the feds have been looking for Brent, but I was.

Back in October, Brent and I were both attending the Self-Publishing Book Expo in Manhattan. He was speaking and I was reporting. I like Brent much more as a speaker than as a writer, but I missed his session.  I wanted to meet him and tell him that I have come to agree with him that there is a difference between a "self-publisher" and a "self-publishing company."

Unfortunately, I searched the show floor for a person who looked like the man in Brent's official photo -- and there was no such person.

Had I realized that the three-dimensional, chubby-cheeked Brent bears little or no resemblance to the two-dimensional Brent, I might have found him. I might have gotten to shake his hand. I might have gotten to like him a little bit more. I might have gotten to understand him and his company a little bit better. I might have come away from our brief interlude with the feeling that maybe I shouldn't dump on him quite so much.

But, alas, my hunt for Brent in October was fruitless . . . so, the dumping goes on.

(Unlike Brent, your humble editor has been losing weight. There is less of me now than when my portrait was taken last spring, and I will get a pic of the 2011 version of me.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Just what the world needs: yet another sleazy, sloppy, egomaniacal pay-to-publish company

(left-click to enlarge)

Christmas is normally a "slow news day." This means several things:

(1) Since most people are busy with Christmas events or on vacation and few people are paying attention to news media, it's really stupid to make an announcement that you want people to notice.

(2) If you do make an announcement on a slow news day, you will have less competition for those few eyeballs that are actually focused on the media.

Apparently, Self-Help Publishers thought #2 was the right strategy. It worked a little bit, at least. It attracted my attention. Maybe the company would be happier if I did not pay attention.

PRLog (Press Release) – Dec 25, 2010 – "! This website is designed for assisting the authors in editing their books and making the book publishing process entirely seamless. The array of tools available on the website allows the authors to select from a range of choices available throughout the book publishing process.

“The website divides the entire publishing process into several cardinal steps such as signing the contract, submitting the manuscript, reviewing the work etc. These steps enable a systematic book publishing process where the authors get a continued support and advice from the professional publishing consultant. ” says CEO 

Yup. The stupid release twice says that the CEO's name is a web address. Who proofreads this shit? Nobody, apparently. You can read the whole thing here.

The horribly written release brags that "This website attracts a large and loyal audience . . . ."  That's pretty impressive for a "New Website."

Like many other self-publishing companies, Self Help is deceptive.

One page on its new website shows a changing strip of book covers, including the cover of a book written by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The presence of these books on a publisher's website strongly implies that the books shown were published by the company that operates the website, and are there to build credibility to attract other authors.
Strangely, the word "advertisement" appears over the top book. Both the word and the covers are part of a clickable link -- but clicking will take you to a blank page. This is not an auspicious beginning for a new company announcing its grand opening.
Refreshing the page shows more book covers, the cover for an old issue of Time magazine and a picture of two men in Victorian apparel. We see a book cover with Arabic text, and the cover of a book written by another former president -- Bill Clinton.
It didn't take much research to determine that the Clinton book was published by Knopf and that Carter's book was published by Simon & Schuster. It's highly unlikely that two American presidents would need to pay to have their books published, or that they would choose a Canadian publisher instead of an American publisher.
The Lyn book is a Kindle edition that sells for a buck-fifty. Amazon says the publisher is Beau To Beau Books -- not Self Help. It's very different from what the ex-prexies wrote. 
Here's an excerpt: "Hunger was in the air, filling the car with desire. Stephanie’s body felt as if it were floating out of the car and into the cool night breeze. Julian’s large hand gripped Stephanie’s thigh harder, more intensely now. He wanted her just as much as he [probably should be "she." When a book sells for $1.50, there's not much money for editing.] wanted him, if not more so. Julian pulled up outside the hotel and a member of the staff directed them to a vacant parking bay. “Paradise Hilton” the bold red sign spelled out. The two lovers got out, and after getting their room key they headed toward the elevator that would take them to their haven of love. [Wasn't "Haven of Love" a song recorded by the Dixie Cups in the 1960s? Oh -- sorry -- that was "Chapel of Love." OK, I now return you to the dirty stuff.]  Once inside the hotel, Julian pulled her toward him and kissed her hard, grabbing and squeezing her butt. He pushed her up against one of the elevator walls and ground his pelvis into hers, over and over and over again. Their bodies made a sweet rhythm that was welcomed by Stephanie’s moans as they escaped her throat, Julian’s tongue moving in and out of her, sucking and massaging it every few seconds. [That's not a good sentence, but WTF.] She pulled his face deeper into hers, devouring him as if she had been deprived of food and water for a very long time. By now the shine from her lip gloss was smeared all over his mouth. Julian’s hot mouth was hovering over Stephanie’s ear, heavy breathing constantly moving about them both. He kissed her and she moaned into his mouth. They continued kissing, passion and heat oozing from every pore of their conjoined bodies."
TIME OUT. I'm going down the hall to be with my wife for a while.
OK, I'm back. That's a pretty hot bit of heterosexuality. Strangely, its publisher, Beau to Beau Books, "celebrates Male Love" but it has a division for straight soft-porn.

But, I digress. It's easy to get distracted by dirty stuff.

So, why the hell is Self-Help displaying books published by other companies? I can think of only two answers:
  1. Self-Help wants people to think it publishes presidential books, dirty books and Arabic books.
  2. Self-Help had planned to make money by selling books from other publishers, but the website designer screwed up
OK, back to what Self Help is trying to do and how they compete with the zillion other companies in the field.

The company says, "Our professional services such as marketing, editorial, and self publishing authors can expect their book to beat the competition available in the market." It seems like something is missing from the sentence. The publisher needs an editor!

And: "Check-out our Publishing Packages and pick up the publishing package that best suit your publishing goals. "Suit" should be "suits." Where is that damn editor? Distracted by smut, maybe.

Self Help claims to be "one of the renowned book publishing houses" and "one of the best book publishing companies." Renowned by whom? Declared one of the best by whom?

The company says, "Our editors help you in maintaining your book’s quality. They will thoroughly check your book for any errors and edit the content to get you the best content." Apparently they can't thoroughly check their own website.

Here's some horrid writing from a section about the company's editing services: "The enhanced editorial is of two types basically, progressive editing and star editorial package. This just not includes the normal spelling checking, punctuation checking, pace, plot, style, or the grammar mistakes but goes beyond that to deliver you the quality work." Blecccchhhh!

I love this one: This includes the line editing where by the proofreaders and the editors checks for each line for any errors.  Apparently those proofreaders and editors do not know that "where by" should be "whereby," "checks" should be "check," and that the first "for" does not belong there. IDIOTS!

The company boasts that "We offer you a complete control over publishing. With us, you will enjoy complete control right from the manuscript submission to the final book publication."

BUT the contract says "We will retain final discretion over style and formatting of the Work and its cover."

The restrictive and unfriendly contract also says, "We will have no obligation to provide to you any submitted materials or production files at anytime [sic] or for any reason." and  "You acknowledge that you may not utilize the formatted Work and cover with any other publisher, if we cease publication of the Work."

The company offers publishing packages priced from $499 to $1999. The packages include from one to 30 "complimentary" books which -- of course -- are not really complimentary since you may be paying nearly two grand to get them.

Even with the most expensive packages, eBooks are provided only in the PDF format. That requires almost no work by the publisher, and is just one out of three eBook formats you should be using.

Like most of its competitors, Self Help will be glad to sell you expensive services of dubious effectiveness and value.
  • For $2,499, the company will send out TEN MILLION emails to promote your book. Most of the ten million recipients will probably hate your guts and spurn your book.
  • You can pay the company $399 to design a website and $29 per month for hosting. Alternatively,. you can design it yourself for free and pay $5 per month for hosting.
  • The company touts several "Unique Offers," including a $5,499 plan that gets your book included in a New York Times ad, plus a press release and a Facebook page. I am not impressed.
  • Self Help charges $49 for a Library of Congress Control Number -- which  you can get for free with a few minutes' work.
  • It charges $149 for a U. S. copyright registration -- which you can get for $35.
The site has a section titled, "The People of Self Help." It lists and describes seven categories of people such as editors and designers -- but there are no names. The company's boss is Tariq Nadeem, who has written several books about immigrating to Canada. He wrote, "For American liberals, Canada represents all that America could be, and should be." He doesn't think much of America, but is glad to take money from American customers.
  • Strangely, I could not find any information about Mr. Nadeem on the website. Perhaps he thinks that his name would discourage customers.
  • I'm more discouraged by sloppiness and empty boasts like "Self Help Publishers is the world's leading provider of  Print-on-Demand book publishing, distribution and marketing services for authors."
The website has abundant bad grammar, sloppy formatting (e.g., text that should be roman instead of italic), missing illustrations and non-functioning links.

The website has an online bookstore which shows dozens of book categories. Nearly every category I clicked on shows "No Records Found."

The poetry section strangely offers a leather bound edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes -- which, of course, is not poetry. Strangely, this edition was published by Barnes & Noble -- not by Self Help.

The Nature category -- which you might expect to deal with trees, rivers and lizards -- includes one book, Men of the Jungle: Book One, Untouched. by Jerri Drennen. It seems to combine murder and sex. I'm not sure, because clicking on the "Free Preview" tab does nothing, as does the "About The Author" tab. This book was published by Self Help. However, $19.95 for a paperback novel by an unknown author, that's not available from Amazon or B&N, is good insurance of failure.  The book description leaves off the first letter, saying "Otanist" instead of "botanist." Maybe it should be "Onanist."

The company's FAQ page is obviously unfinished and not ready to be viewed by potential customers.

The Copyright date shows next year, and shows the company name as "Self Help Publisher" (singular -- not plural, as is shown elsewhere on the site).

And elsewhere, the site says, "Regardless of your publishing goals, the quality of your work matters—no one wants to read a book that's riddled with typos . . .  Should y"

I didn't fake that. In the section about the evil of typos, a sentence consists of "Should y" and nothing more!
To the right is part of Self Help Publishing's section on "Design." it's hard to imagine a worse design than this demonstrates.  
In conclusion, all I can say is that Self Help Publishers is pathetically inept. If they can't get their own website or press release right, there seems to be little chance that they can produce a proper book. Maybe they'll get their act together at some time in the future. But for now, STAY AWAY.

NOTE: The early versions of this posting had some uncorrected typos. I lost electric power before I could fix them. I apologize to those who were offended, particularly dear "Anonymous" -- who loves to flame me but lacks the balls to identify himself (or, perhaps, lacks the ovaries to identify herself).

Although I strive for accuracy, I am imperfect. OTOH, I am not selling editing services or bragging about the talent of my "expert editors."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Your eyes are not everbody's eyes

I had a cataract removed from my left eye last spring, and an artificial "Toric" lens implanted. I was terrified about the surgery, but it was no big deal. The improvement in my vision was amazing. Not only was the world sharper, but colors were truer. I now see white walls that had seemed off-white or almost beige. I can appreciate the Hi-Def TVs in my home, and movies look much better.

I had been told that I would need similar surgery in my right eye -- probably in two or three years.

But my right eye suddenly got much worse -- and I'll be having the second surgery and implant soon.

My two eyes now see very differently when used individually, and when used together they distort reality, which is BAD for designing books.

My "improved" left eye (which no longer needs a corrective eyeglass lens) is optimized for distance vision, like TV and driving. My right eye (with a corrective lens) is optimized for things like books and computer screens.

My ophthalmologist explained that I would develop monocular vision. Each eye has a specialty, and the brain selects the input from the proper source.

Normally I'm not conscious of this weirdness, and I seem to see pretty well (but I definitely want to get the right eye fixed), but my distorted view of the world has presented a problem with publishing -- and that's why I am writing this blog post to warn others.

I recently revised one of my books to use Adobe Garamond Pro type instead of my former Constantia. The "AGP" is prettier, with thinner, more delicate strokes.

It took me a while to get used to it on my computer screen, and I still have not gotten used to it in print.

As is common for fiction and memoirs and other non-techie book, this book is printed on cream (or "crème") paper, instead of pure white. Cream is said to be easier on the eyes.

Unfortunately, with my messed-up eyesight,  the cream seemed too dark, as if the pages had yellowed with age. And the thin strokes of the Garamond seemed to have inadequate contrast to show up against the dark paper.

I was all set to arrange to switch the book to use white paper, when I decided to ask for opinions from people whom I knew to have excellent eyes. The verdict: "It's fine. Leave it alone."

So, I will stick with cream.

There's an important lesson here for book design and life in general: don't assume that others will see things the same way you do.

Monday, December 27, 2010

This is a long-winded recommendation for a book I did not finish reading. It's also an apology to its author, Susan G. Bell.

I have a problem with fiction.
I also have a problem with chick-lit.

I've always been an avid reader  -- even when I wasn't supposed to be reading.
  • As a young child I read books under the blanket with a flashlight after my official "lights out" time.
  • By around age eight, I employed more advanced technology. I tied a string to the pull-chain that controlled the light in my closet. I attached the other end to a tennis ball with a hole poked through it. I could read with the closet light, and when I heard one of my parents walking down the hallway towards my room, I'd pull on the string to extinguish the light, and then toss the ball and string into the closet to hide the evidence before mom or dad opened my door to check on me.
(That was a long time ago. I wonder if modern parents care how late their kids stay up -- especially if they're reading.)

As a pre-teen, I did not bother with the Hardy Boys series that interested many of my friends. Instead, I eagerly devoured each new book in the Tom Swift, Jr., series. Books like Tom Swift and His Flying Lab, Tom Swift and His Giant Robot and Tom Swift and His Diving Seacopter provided my ideal combination of adventure and technology. My favorite magazine of the period was Popular Electronics. Although the mag included construction projects (amplifiers and short-wave receivers) and technical discussions (i.e., VOM vs. VTVM?), each issue included a short story seemingly written just for me. Like the Swift series, John T. Frye's Carl and Jerry stories combined technology and adventure, and sometimes the young geeks used electronics to catch bad guys and impress girls.

I remember one story where Carl and Jerry were on a small boat and its outboard motor conked out. The boys used the boat's battery and parts of the motor to build a primitive "spark gap transmitter" and transmitted Morse Code to get help. This was long before MacGyver used his Swiss Army knife to make a nuclear reactor from a vacuum cleaner, a sponge, a pair of snow shoes and a pound of shrimp.

Of course, I did most of the assigned reading in public school, but I sometimes cheated and wrote book reports based on the "Classics Illustrated Comics" version of the books. On the other hand, in my senior year in high school, to fulfill an informal bet with with my English teacher Frances Leighton, I did read and report on a book each day for several months.

As an adult, I'm typically reading five or six books at a time. I buy about three books each week, and finish about three books each week. At this time, I average about 20% ebooks and 80% pbooks.

Despite my intense consumption of words, I doubt that I've read more than a couple of works of fiction since I was in college. I was part of the class of '68 -- just like Billy Clinton, Georgie Bush and Donny Trump -- so college was a long time ago.

I'm not sure why this is so, but I seem to have developed two parallel media streams.
  1. The books I read are all nonfiction -- but many of them are as entertaining and exciting as they are educational and informative.
  2. If I want pure relaxation, I watch television or movies -- but I don't read novels.
I know it seems weird, so I recently decided to read a novel.

I had encountered author Susan G. Bell on the SheWrites website. Susan mentioned her new novel, When the Getting was Good, which dealt with Wall Street trading in the 1980s, and a woman in a largely men's world.

As one of the few testically equipped members of SheWrites, I can empathize with those in the gender minority. I also enjoyed the "Wall Street," "Barbarians at the Gate" and "The Bonfires of the Vanities" movies, and Susan's book has received excellent reviews. It seemed like a good candidate for my test.

I had one other motive. The book was published by Author House, and I was curious to see the quality of a book they produced.

I had one reservation. The focus of the cover illustration is a woman, and the title is in a pinkish text box. Those are pretty good signs of chick-lit -- which I would normally avoid.

Susan and I had some prepurchase discussion. (slightly edited, below)

Susan: "I don't think my novel is chick-lit, though I'm not completely sure what that term means; I've had positive responses from men too, and I hope that you will feel the same."

Michael: "Not to be confused with Chiclets candy-coated gum, chick-lit is chick literature -- the print equivalent of chick flicks. The books are often romantic and written for women in their 20s and 30s. There are sub-genres for teen, matron, Latina, Christian and Asian chicks. The outward signs of frivolous chick lit are male hunks ravishing women in the bodice-rippers published by Harlequin. The covers of more serious chick lit books frequently use femme colors like pink and lavender that are seldom used on "guy books." I recently read and enjoyed the funny-but-not-frivolous The Unfaithful Widow by Barbara Barth. There were parts of it I didn't "get" or identify with -- like evaluations of mens' butts and a discussion of bra inventory -- but there was plenty in the book to appeal to those of us in the male minority. I expect that your book will be the same . . . ."

Susan: Thanks for the definition. While I hope women younger than I am will enjoy reading When the Getting Was Good, it's not chick lit . . . though there is a rectangle of pink on the cover. A friend, who is director of an angel investment network for women entrepreneurs, likes Kate Munro -- my novel's heroine -- specifically because she is strong, balanced, and 'not neurotic, a nymphomaniac, or a bitch.' Not that there's anything wrong with that type of protagonist, but I wanted to tell the story of how a strong woman responds to a dilemma in her work place."

So, with much apparently in its favor, I paid $18.89 and received the book.

TIME OUT to talk business:
  • The cover price of Susan's book is a strange $20.99, and Amazon has recently raised the selling price to $19.23. Amazon sells a Kindle eBook version for $11.69. AuthorHouse sells the print version for $15.99 from its website, and also sells a $12.99 eBook.
  • $20.99 is a VERY high cover price for 408-page 5 x 8-inch debut novel. For comparison, Tom Clancy's bestseller Dead or Alive has a  $20.95 cover price, but Clancy is a well-known author with a BIG following. To make the comparison even worse, the Clancy book is an 848-page 6 x 9-inch hardcover and Amazon is selling it for just $15.55.
  • While books are not commodities like detergent or asparagus and it may not be fair to compare two very different books on the basis of pages-per-dollar, the comparison does point out a huge disadvantage of novelists who use self-publishing companies.
  • Strangely, while the printed version of Susan's book is more expensive and seems to be a much worse "value" than Tom's book, Susan's eBook sells for less than Tom's eBook. Although Amazon can set the prices of pBooks, Tom's publisher dictates the price of his eBooks.
  • I have no idea why the price of Susan's eBook sells for more money on its publisher's website than on, when Amazon acts as a middleman who has to be paid part of the selling price.
  • Fiction is entertainment. It's an option, often a luxury, and not a necessity like much nonfiction. Novels have to compete with movies, video games, vacations and even walks in the park. The tough economy makes it even harder to compete for the few available dollars.
  • It's very important for novels -- especially first novels -- to be affordable so people are not afraid to take a chance. $1.99 to $5.99 is a lot less scary than $20.99.
I get shipments from Amazon almost every day. Sometimes I open the boxes, and sometimes one of my employees opens them. One box contained Overhaul -- a gender-neutral book about the federal rescue of the car business -- and Susan's book with the female legs on the cover. Dave opened the carton and held the book up and there was immediate snickering, and a suggestion that I have my testosterone level tested.

Susan's book sat on my "to read" shelf at home for a while. It even spent some time on the right-front seat of my car, and it often traveled back and forth to work in my briefcase. I often read while eating lunch in restaurants, but I was wary of being seen with Susan's book. I picked it up and put it down multiple times. The book was daring me to read it, but I was not ready to plunge in.

The back of  the book has three blurbs. Two are from women and one from a man. Janet Hansen, founder of women's network 85 Broads, wrote that the book is "A must read for ambitious, intellectually savvy women everywhere." That was a not a good sign, so the book went back on my shelf and slipped out of my focus. I had other books to read, and to write.

However, Susan is a good self-promoter, and she recently sent me an email as a gentle reminder to read her book.

Since I had already invested nearly twenty bucks in the book, and had made a public commitment to read it, and I wanted to finally try to read a novel, I started turning pages on Christmas night.

Susan is a skilled and entertaining writer who knows her subject perfectly well. She creates believable dialog and I could easily get inside the physical environments she invented. It's a perfectly good novel and well worth the praise it received from others.

BUT... I just could not "get into it."

Apparently, at age 64, I have the patience of a two-year-old.

I've been conditioned by years of watching "Law & Order," "Bones," "Crossing Jordan," "The Closer," "The Mentalist," "Criminal Minds," "NCIS" and "CSI" -- where we see a corpse before the first commercial; and James Bond movies with dozens of corpses and at least one gorgeous woman before the title comes on screen.
  • When I'm reading nonfiction, a leisurely narrative is just fine.
  • But when I'm in the fiction mode, my brain automatically craves ACTION -- and there were no car crashes or murders in the first few pages to hook me on Susan's book.
Page four presented another problem. Susan wrote: "Jim still had the bearing of the college athlete he'd once been. His expensive cotton shirt, boldly striped in sapphire blue, fit snugly, accentuating what good shape he was in."

That sure seems like a sign of chick-lit, or gay-lit.

I'm a happy, horny heterosexual. I'm a 100% supporter of women's rights and gay rights, but I am a bit uncomfortable reading about shapely men in tight shirts, whether they're expensive cotton or cheap polyester.

I'm much more comfortable reading about shapely women in tight shirts, or with no shirts.

I may have been conditioned by sexist literature since I was very young. My parents bought me the Tom Swift books -- not Nancy Drew books.

I'm not a sexist. In fact, I'm a feminist. But I am the product of the 1950s culture and I don't like reading about men viewed through the eyes of a woman.

So, Susan, here's your book review. I bought your book as I said I would. I promised to read it, and I started to read it . . . but I could not continue.

It's an excellent book and I highly recommend it. (You can quote that blurb if you like). However I recommend the book to chicks, and to men who are younger and/or more metrosexual than I am.

Unfortunately, the book is just not for me. You will collect a royalty on the copy I bought, and if you sell the book to Hollywood, I'll definitely see the movie -- if there is some massive mayhem in the first few minutes.

You see, Susan, I have a problem with movies, too. It takes a lot of action to attract and maintain my attention. Sadly, when I go to a movie, it usually turns out out to be a $12 nap (or $24 with popcorn).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Christmas message:
The ability to write is a special gift

After writing hundreds of articles, hundreds of ads and commercials, maybe 1,000 web pages, maybe 2,000 blog posts and about 15 books, and supplying words for uncounted packages, T-shirts and instruction manuals, I don't think writing is a big deal.

If I have to write something, I follow the Nike advice and just do it.

The last time I had "writer's block" was in 1970. I had a two-week dry spell while at my first job as assistant editor of a trade magazine. I got fired. I quickly rebounded, and was hired by another magazine (ROLLING STONE!) to do more interesting work and make more money.

While not everything I write is significant or memorable, I am able to make my eyes, hands and brain work together to do what they have to do, when they have to do it.

I would never dismiss writing as "just a job" like changing tires or pouring coffee.

I could not conceive of a money-making activity that could produce as much pleasure as writing. (At age 64, I am not likely to go into the gigolo business.)

Because writing is so easy for me, and so much fun, and so rewarding, I sometimes forget how special a skill it really is -- and that most non-writers are in awe of people who can put words together with ease, artfulness and speed.
  • A few years ago I was on a plane across the aisle from a woman who happened to be an author. Deborah Burgrraaf was reviewing the artwork for her second book, and soon caught the attention of the flight attendants, and nearby passengers. I might have thought -- but never said -- "big deal, another writer." But the reaction from others was, "WOW! -- You're an author!" I doubt that Michelle Obama, Britney Spears or a sky marshal who interrupted a hijacking could have received as much adulation as Deb did on the flight to Florida.
  • On another flight, I was marking up a proof of a book I wrote, and the hot babe sitting next to me noticed what I was doing. She asked why I was writing in red ink on the pages of a printed  book and I explained what I was doing. She asked if it was OK if she read some of the book, and I handed it to her. She quickly began smiling and laughing (which was my hoped-for reaction for the book. She said, "WOW -- I never met an author before!" If I was inclined to cheat on my wife, I probably could have joined the "Mile High Club" with my new fan.
  • About 15 years ago, my nephew's neighbor (then in junior high school) somehow secured my services to rewrite and retype her book report about Johnny Tremaine. She probably would have gotten an "F" without my aid. I did not want to produce a suspicious A-level report, so I throttled back my brain cells to produce something probably worthy of a B minus. She baked me some really good cookies, and I thought I was properly paid.
  • Around the same time, one of my neighbors arranged with my wife for me to write complaint letters for the neighbor's friends about (1) a train delay, and (2) melted ice cream in an apartment freezer that lost electric power. I never campaigned for the position or auditioned for the role or negotiated my fee. It was just assumed that since I am a writer, I write letters for PEOPLE I DO NOT KNOW. I did not even get cookies for this work.
  • When I first moved to Manhattan in 1970 to begin my writing career ($115 per week), I temporarily lived in a cell at the Grand Central YMCA, which was inexpensive and within walking distance of my job. The manager noticed that I had indicated "Assistant Editor" on my rental application. He said, "WOW -- You're an editor," and asked me if I'd rewrite a fundraising letter. I did the rewrite. He loved the new letter and gave me a significant rent reduction. Ah, the power of the press.
  • In my freshman year at Lehigh, I was a journalism major and one of the few literate students in an engineer-filled dorm. I built a lucrative business editing term papers. I got paid with cash, grass, concert tickets and vodka. The word among the engineers was, "Get Marcus to help you. He can write."
  • My wife frequently asks me for help personalizing greeting cards. I do it, grudgingly. I think that people buy cards to avoid having to write. As long as the person hired by Hallmark or American Greetings came up with an appropriate message, all that needs to be added are names and maybe a date. My wife insists that since I'm a professional writer, no card leaving our home can go without some custom prose.
  • A few years ago I gave a copy of a book I had written to the daughter of my wife's cousin. Her family loved the book, and she said, "We're all so proud of you."
None of the above is intended to be bragging. I assume that most of the people reading this blog have been in similar situations, and we don't think much of it. Yeah, we write. So what. No big deal.

Occasionally it's probably good to consider that it is a big deal. We do have a special talent (maybe a "gift").

Last year over one million books were published in the United States, and apparently there are about two million blog postings each day. But despite all of the words being strung together in print and electronic media, most people hate to write or don't write well or don't write much, and are in awe of professional writers.

So, if you're a writer, take a moment to congratulate yourself or buy yourself a drink. But, as Pa Kent advised the future Superman, "Use your power wisely."
               DO NOT WRITE CRAP!

Friday, December 24, 2010


“Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people once a year.” – Victor Borge

“I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, toys not included.” – Bernard Manning

“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” – Shirley Temple

“You know you’re getting old, when Santa starts looking younger.” – Robert Paul

“Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money.” – Unknown Author

“What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.” – Phyllis Diller

“The one thing women don’t want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning is their husband.” – Joan Rivers

“Christmas at my house is always at least six or seven times more pleasant than anywhere else. We start drinking early. And while everyone else is seeing only one Santa Claus, we’ll be seeing six or seven.” – W.C. Fields

“Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.” – Johnny Carson

“The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” – Johnny Carson

“Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know… the birth of Santa.” – Bart Simpson, The Simpsons

“The proper behaviour all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year’s Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you’re married to.” – P.J. O’Rouke

Jokes from Harry Newton

(may not be visible yet) Dog is Hunter, my golden retriever, slightly modified

Thursday, December 23, 2010

(Not about books) Year-end reminders

As the year ends, you have only a few more days to make tax deductable donations to charity. It's not a big deal to write a couple of checks, and lots of charities accept credit card donations and have convenient websites. However, if you want to spread money around, American Express makes it extremely easy -- and personally profitable.

The Members Give program (formerly "Giving Express")  connects you to over a million charitable organizations! You can search for them by name, keywords, location, or use an extensive list of categories such as performing arts, education, health care, housing, human rights, disaster relief, religion and much more. The AmEx website has financial reports, mission statements, contacts, and other information regarding the organizations.

Donating online helps nonprofit organizations reduce administrative costs so that they can do more with the money. Your dollar donations are tax-deductible and you’ll receive an e-mail receipt for your records.

• Give to one or more charities and nonprofit organizations
• Donate dollars with your American Express Card
• Donate Membership Rewards points
• Set up recurring donations

When you make a donation, you'll get an immediate e-mail confirmation for each transaction. AmEx will post a detailed record of all your donations on your password-protected Giving History web page, if you need a record for an IRS audit in the future. CLICK

This is also the time of year to engage in some intensive house cleaning and office cleaning. I recommend the one-year-test (or six-month test, or pick another appropriate interval). If there is something you haven't used in a year, there is a good chance that you won't use it in the next year...or decade.

Gather these things together and take them to your nearby Goodwill or Salvation Army "store." You'll get rid of clutter, get a tax donation, provide employment, and help someone less fortunate get a bargain on something she needs. While you're there, you may find some bargains to buy, too.

Although not specifically a year-end reminder, think about getting a credit card that will help an important charity or organization with your normal spending. For example, Bank of America works with Susan G. Komen for the Cure® to provide co-branded credit cards, debit cards and checking accounts, encouraging people to "Make every purchase pink." For each new Susan G. Komen for the Cure branded credit card account opened and used, Komen receives a minimum of $3, and a minimum of 20 cents for every $100 you make in purchases with the card. Komen also receives $1 for each annual renewal of the card. CLICK for info.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A very inexpensive book, but still worthless and ugly, is from Outskirts Press, of course.

I had various jobs in retail while in high school and college. I was not paid well but I generally enjoyed my work and learned some good lessons for life.

The pure white cover blends
 into a white web page.
I heard some good stories from the old-timers I worked with, and had a few experiences worth telling to others. When I heard about  A Word About Working in Retail  -- an allegedly humorous book about working in retail -- I ordered it.

If I wanted to be nice, I'd say that the book is a joke.

But, after receiving the book, I'm not in a nice mood. Therefore, I'll say that the book is a sham, a con, a complete ripoff, an ugly piece of shit, and not at all entertaining or informative.

Most of the pages have nothing but a page number and the word "don't" printed on them. Some pages also show crappy pictures of shopping carts in parking lots.

The typography on the back cover and on the few pages that have more than one word of text is absolutely atrocious. The book was apparently designed by a blind retard, and should never have been printed. This is one more in a series of bad books from the frequently inept and dishonest Outskirts Press. The book is promoted, as usual, by a terrible press release and worthless web page.

The book was published over four years ago and has exactly ONE review on (from me), and none at B&N. Cover price is $5.95. That's $5.90 too much.

John Andersen,
Perpetrator of literary fraud

Brent Sampson,
Publisher of shit, enabler of Andersen

Brent's competitor, boss Bob Young, told Publishers Week­ly thatWe publish a huge number of really bad books. It looks like Brent is trying to keep up with Bob.
  • Freedom of the press does not justify bad taste.
  • A publisher should not be a whore who gets into bed with every diseased and foul-smelling drunk with a wad of cash.
  • There is no excuse for publishing bad books.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You never know where a book idea will come from. My newest book is Barbara Barth's fault.

(left-click on image to enlarge)

Earlier this year I encountered author Barbara Barth doing an online book tour to promote her new book, The Unfaithful Widow.

This was during the height of my outrage at companies that called themselves "self-publishing companies" and at their customers who called themselves "self-published authors" or "self-publishers."

I frequently pointed out that no company could self-publish someone else, just as no one can self-medicate, self-educate or self-immolate someone else. And I often said that you can't be a self-published author or a self-publisher if you pay a company to publish your books.

I responded to Barbara's online claim of self-publishing with some highly critical words. In retrospect, I was probably unnecessarily mean and insulting.

Barbara could have been justified in ignoring me or telling me to "fuck off!"

Somehow -- and strangely -- we began an increasingly cordial and mutually beneficial email friendship. We're now good buddies, even though we've never met.

I bought Barbara's book, liked it, and wrote a good review for it. She wrote a good review for one of my books. The two books have much in common. Barbara could have hated my guts, but we unintentionally formed a mutual admiration society.

I had previously written two books condemning self-publishing companies (which I then called "vanity publishers"), and recommended that authors form their own small publishing companies to have more control, make better books, and maybe make more money.

While bitching about Barbara's choice of publishers -- the often inept and dishonest Outskirts Press -- I had a realization. Actually, I had several.
  • I realized that although I personally enjoy formatting the pages of a book, it's possible that there is not even one other person on this planet who shares my joy in kerning words, resizing photos and killing orphans.
  • I realized that not every writer wants to operate a publishing business.
  • I realized that there was nothing I could do to stop the use of the term "self-publishing company." The term was acceptable to the Wall Street Journal, Writer's Digest and other media and people. I had little to gain by banging my head against an unyielding concrete wall or pissing into the wind.
The realizations led to a revelation: even writers who use lousy self-publishing companies could turn out first-class books, if they had some help. So, I decided to write a book to help them. I even used the formerly dreaded "self-publishing company" term on its cover.

Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company: Make a Better Deal. Make a Better Book comes out at a time when self-publishing — both on printed paper and in eBooks — is having tremendous growth. My new book aims to give authors the benefit of the experience I accumulated during over 40 years of professional writing. It’s filled with valuable time-saving and money-saving tips. I think it's a very good book, and so do its previewers. It's now on sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and elsewhere.

Sadly, many customers of self-publishing companies are disappointed in their books. You can minimize disappointment if you are properly prepared — and this book will prepare you. Don’t buy services and trinkets that you don’t need. Pay the right prices for what you do need. Let the publisher do what you don’t want to get involved in, and concentrate on the creative process (perhaps with independent editors and designers) to make a good-reading, good-looking book which you can be proud of and maybe make money from.

The comprehensive, illustrated book has 366 pages and covers all aspects of working with a self-publishing company. It includes selecting a book topic and title, choosing a publisher, writing, editing, proofreading, design, illustration, software, choosing suppliers, getting help, forming a business, copyrights, ISBNs, marketing, publicity, pricing, selling, returns, and much more. I cover recent developments which affect authors, such as the iPad, Microsoft Word 2010, Espresso Book Machine, Nook, Pubit!, AuthorHive, Google eBookstore, etc. There is an extensive section on eBooks and eBook readers, a large chapter on publishing terminology, reviews of recommended books. and even help with grammar and spelling.

My first book was published by Doubleday in 1976. In 2008, I formed Silver Sands Books with the intention of publishing just one book. I've published over a dozen in less than three years. Publishing is addictive. It’s hard to stop at one. This book will share what I’ve learned and — I hope — my enthusiasm.

Cover price is $17.95. The ISBN is 978-0-9816617-7-3. Review copies are available. Email books (at)

Barbara is also responsible for my putting a picture of a dog on my upcoming Brainy Beginners Guide to Self-Publishing.

There are other books about self-publishing for "dummies" and "idiots." Dummies and idiots can't publish books -- and probably can't write them.

This book is for smart writers who need help deciding whether to form their own little publishing companies or use the services of a self-publishing company.

I've done books about publishing with covers that show writers, readers and books. This time, thanks to Barbara Barth. I'm going with a golden retriever. Barbara has six dogs. I have one (a golden).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Do as he says. Don't do as he does.

(from  Steven H. Jackson,

>>Proofreading is just that. – countless passes carefully inspecting each word for typo’s or improper word usage. Look like a pro. Never stop proofing.<<

Hey Steve... The plural of "typo" is "typos."

The plural is not formed by adding an apostrophe before the "s," just because the word ends in a vowel!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Progress?: Congress has finally decided that gay people are moral enough to kill

  • Arlo Guthrie (above, left) sang about being unsuitable to be drafted to fight in Viet Nam because he had been arrested for littering.
  • Lt. Dan Choi (above, right) graduated from West Point, served as an infantry officer in Iraq, and was thrown out of the army after coming out as gay.

From "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie: "I mean I'm sittin here on the Group W bench 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages . . .  If you're in a situation like that there's only one thing you can do and that's walk into the shrink wherever you are. Just walk in say 'Shrink, You can get anything you want, at Alice's restaurant.' And walk out. You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them." (©1966,1967  Appleseed Music Inc.)

From The Associated Press: "The Senate voted Saturday to end the 17-year ban on openly gay troops . . . .  Supporters declared the vote a civil rights milestone . . . . Aaron Belkin, director of the California-based Palm Center - a think tank on the issue - said the vote "ushers in a new era in which the largest employer in the United States treats gays and lesbians like human beings." . . . Repeal means that for the first time in U.S. history, gays will be openly accepted by the military and can acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being discharged. More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law. Before that, they had been explicitly barred from military service since World War I."

Some may be pleased that Congress has decided to stop limiting the supply of cannon fodder based on sexual preference. I'd be more impressed if Congress stopped the nation from participating in stupid wars that kill gays and straights, declared that states can't stop same-sex marriage, and declared that same-sex partners must receive the same benefits as spouses of the opposite sex.

I'm a man who has been married to a woman for 39 years and one week. We would not be less married if a man married a man, or if a woman married a woman, or if a frog married a pencil sharpener.

Why should anyone care who else gets married?

Marriage is not exactly an exclusive club -- like Mensa or the Daughters of the American Revolution -- that is suddenly open to all. The only requirements I remember having to meet were being over 18 and not having syphilis.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

When in Rome...

The opposite of italic is roman.
I've wanted to type that for years.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on Vespa motorscooter
in Roman Holiday (1953).

I've had a much more modern Vespa "150" since 1964, but never sat behind Audrey Hepburn or in front of Gregory Peck.

I also have a 1978 Fiat 124 Spider. Audrey has never been in it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I understand the words,
but not the sentences

Print-on-Demand Book Publishing Review,
What to Consider

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mea culpa: Responding to my critics

I'm pleased and proud that reviews of my eight books on are overwhelmingly positive. The books have received mostly five-star reviews, just a couple of four-star reviews, and nothing worse than four.

However, since I spend a lot of space on this blog criticizing books by other authors, it's seems fair to post the criticisms of my books -- and, of course, my responses.

(1) "The fonts are HUGE, my goodness, I haven't seen fonts this big since elementary school!"

The body type is 12-pt. That's the same size that the U. S. Supreme Court requires in briefs filed for the Court (although I use Constantia and they want Century Schoolbook, which has slightly taller lowercase letters). Both the Supremes and I want words to be easy to read. I've recently bought several books that use fly-poop-size type that is impossible for me to read.

(2) "The embedded images all over the book have very little -- far too little -- whitespace around them."

You're right. This was an early book, and I was experimenting and learning. My later books have more space around the images.

(3) "I noticed numerous repetitious passages in the book where the same argument is made multiple times."

You're right. Some of the repetition is there because I wanted people who chose to read just parts of the book to read important points. Some of the repetition is there because of my sloppiness.

(4) "some of the comments printed in this book are not fact - at least not in my experience."

A comment may be an opinion, not a fact; and people have different experiences.

(5) "For example, the time to get published taking so long. Frankly, what's stated is not true with my experience. If you submit a decent error-free manuscript (like you would to Lightening Source), one read through the galley and if all is okay, you sign off and the next day you're for sale."

  • First of all, speaking of "error free,"  it's "Lightning" Source -- not "Lightening."
  • Second, one reading of a proof is probably not enough to catch the errors.
  • Third, the book says: "Time for a book to be listed on after a proof is approved: 1-3 days."

So, it looks like I've received one-and-a-half valid criticisms for eight books published over two-and-a-half years. I can live with that. The book that received the valid criticism has been on two Amazon bestseller lists and one reviewer called it "the best in its field." The new updated and revised version of that book is bigger and better -- and the price is the same.