Friday, December 30, 2011

There's still time to help charities, and help yourself

As the year ends, you have only a little while left to make tax deductible 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.

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.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Complaining about cable

Today's Wall Street Journal has an excellent article about constantly increasing prices for cable TV, and how subscribers can negotiate better deals.

Journal writer Lauren A. E. Schuker says, "Today, the average cable TV subscriber pays about $128 a month . . .  —nearly three times the $48 they paid each month in 2001 . . . . The increase is largely the result of sharply rising costs of programming, particularly sports. The TV networks pass those additional costs onto the operators, which in turn pass them onto consumers. . . . Cable-company executives have said publicly that they're worried rising costs could drive consumers away. . . . Comcast Corp., lost 442,000 video subscribers in the first nine months of this year . . . . Time Warner Cable Inc. lost 319,000 over the same period."

My wife and I have service from Cablevision, which includes a dozen or more sports channels which we never never ever ever watch.

Why should we be forced to subsidize the jocks who do watch, and the compulsive shoppers, and people who understand languages that we don't?

The NHL Network and the Jewelry Channel and TV Chile are NOT necessities like education, police and highways that should to be paid for by all citizens.

We pay for access to hundreds of channels, but we could be very happy with about a dozen.

On the other hand, there are a few channels and programs that we'd like to have, which Cablevision doesn't provide. We'd like to see Keith Olbermann on Current TV, and Law & Order UK on BBC America -- but we can't.  

It's time for all cable providers to offer access to EVERY channel, and to allow subscribers to pay for only the ones they care about.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pursue your dream. Don't be discouraged by the publishing grinches

Many writers turn to independent self-publishing or "self-publishing companies" after being rejected by agents or traditional publishers. (Of course, many writers -- like me -- prefer the control, speed and income of independent publishing.)

While rejection can be depressing and discouraging, the failure to be approved by the media gatekeepers is not necessarily an indication of bad writing or an uninteresting idea.
  • Books are rejected for many reasons (not only bad quality), but they usually are accepted for one reason: because someone thinks they will make money.
Sarah Palin's Going Rogue and the endless stream of celebrities' addiction/abuse/confession/recipes/weight-loss books are not published in anticipation of glorifying the publisher by winning Pulitzer prizes. They are published in anticipation of making money.

Professional judgment is imperfect. Many books that are rejected by one publisher -- or by many publishers -- are later accepted by another publisher.

Joanne Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected by TWELVE publishing companies. More than 400 million Potter books have been sold, and the Potter movies have been seen by many millions. I wonder if any of the publishing executives who rejected that first book were fired for bad judgment.

Most books published by traditional publishing companies with highly paid experts having years of experience, do not sell well. After a few months they are doomed to be sold on the buck-a-book tables or recycled into the raw materials for more books.

My taste in books apparently puts me in the minority of book buyers. Often I eagerly buy a new book as soon as it is released. As expected, I love the book. Alas, few others care about the subject, and the book is soon available for almost nothing at Barnes & Noble or Dollar Tree. This has become a running joke in my family, and my wife would strongly prefer that I wait a while and pay just one dollar instead of $25.

But I won't wait.

There may be many people like me who are waiting for what you are writing. Find a way to reach us.

If you can't get a contract from a publisher, self-publish... on paper, online, or in e-books. Don't be stopped. Don't be silenced. Don't skip professional editing and design. Don't publish crap. Readers are ready. Get to work.

(Grinch pic from Universal Pictures. I thank them.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Unique abuse

Liberal and gutsy radio talk show host Lynn Samuels died on Christmas eve. Lynn worked at several New York City radio stations starting in 1979, and had broadcasted on satellite radio since 2003. I listened to her often, but not always. She could be entertaining and annoying. (So can I.)

In a few hours Sirius XM will begin an on-the-air memorial. That's nice.

Sirius XM has been running promos for the memorial, describing Lynn as "unique and one of a kind." That's not nice. In fact it's redundant and STOOPID.

"Unique" means "one of a kind." There is no need to say both.

"Unique" is one of the most abused (that's worse than merely misused) words in the English language.

It's very common to read and hear the phrase "most unique." It's used in speeches, ads, commercials, websites, books and news reports. It's used by idiots, and by smart people who should know better.

Since "unique" means "one of a kind," all unique things are equally unique. Nothing can be the most unique. Nothing can be more unique than another.

A unique snowflake is just as unique as a unique person or pencil.

It's OK to say "most unusual" or "more unusual," but NEVER modify "unique."

(photo from NY Daily News. Thanks.)


Sunday, December 25, 2011

In defense of the p-book

From the New York Times

Someone from the distant future who stumbled upon these letters in The New York Times’s digital archives would read them with a sense of whimsy. What a quaint and simple folk the citizens of the 21st century were. How could they have been so naïve and shortsighted as to have confined their greatest thoughts within such an impermanent medium as a bundle of paper, ink and glue?

Well, let me tell you.

I am giving my wife a book for Christmas that was carefully selected at a small local bookshop, where it was warmly inscribed by her favorite author at a book signing and lovingly wrapped. I chose this as my “delivery system,” as Mr. Brown so astutely called it, because you can’t get an author to sign a digital book, as Mr. Danbom pointed out.

I know that she will treasure this book for the rest of her life. And when she has gone from this world, the signed book will be a record that she was the first owner and help her children remember her with fondness, as Mr. Devine would understand.

I hope that Mr. Mattocks’s prediction of the printed book’s demise does not come to fruition any time soon. But if Mr. Mattocks turns out to be prophetic, future generations will miss the joy of coffee-table books, which never translated well to e-readers. Children will miss having their teachers read books to them as they hold up the illustrations on each page, as well as pop-up books, which just don’t seem to “pop” within the digital realm.

And the sheer pleasure of antiquarian book collecting will be a distant memory.

We quaint and simple folk of the 21st century live in a glorious age, where we have the freedom to choose how and where to see movies, view art, listen to music, and buy and read books.

Ms. Abrams’s grandson Caleb encapsulated so succinctly into two wonderful words the state of literature in our time: books work.

East Hanover, N.J., Dec. 22, 2011

  • I read e-books and p-books, and publish e-books and p-books. Choice is good.


Friday, December 23, 2011

The English language is full of baby talk (and other poopy stuff)

Like many old farts, I detest the degeneration of American English, which I frequently witness on streets, in offices, in stores and restaurants, on the phone, in classrooms, in movies and on TV.

I'm particularly pissed off about the substitution of "HEY" for "hello." It seemed to have made a rapid transition from playgrounds to CSI Las Vegas and then to the rest of the world. When I was a child, If I used that word, my mother would scold me with "Hay is for horses -- not for people!"

I'm even more pissed off by the use of "WAS LIKE" as a replacement for "said." It seemed to start with Hollywood's dimwitted blonde bimbettes and even spread to the White House! Time magazine quoted George Dubya Bush using that stupid phrase.

Both Dubya and Barack regularly say "GUNNA" instead of "going to." That's not the way English used to be spoken at Yale and Harvard.

I'm also annoyed by what I see as the rampant infantilization (if that's not a word, it should be) of speech. Kiddie Talk and Baby Talk are creeping into adult conversations, and even book, movie and TV show titles.

I confess to sometimes ending phone conversations with "bye-bye," but I refuse to say "MY MOM" instead of "my mother."

I reserve "boob," "pee," "poo," "poop" and "tummy" for jokes or for conversations with kindergartners. I cringe when I hear a doctor say "tummy." What's wrong with "abdomen?"  (However, I do say "poop" and "pee-pee" to my dog.)

Southern speech is a topic for a possible future posting. For now I'll just say that I find it very difficult to take people seriously if they sound like they just climbed out of some "holler" in the deep south. My ears and brain shut down when someone says "poke" for "bag" or "done" for "did" or "Coke" for all brands of soda -- or TYPES "y'all" in emails.

I know a successful investment banker and publisher in New York, who grew up in Kentucky. When he was in junior high school, a teacher advised his class to study and emulate the TV network news broadcasters if they had hopes of becoming successful outside the South.

OTOH, northeast speech often pisses me off, such as the cliched "Pock yaw cah in Hahvid Yahd."

The beloved Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard recently died at age 99. He was known as "the voice of God" and was complimented for his expert elocution. Although he performed in a stadium in daBronx, he sounded like he was in Fenway "Pock" in Boston -- never pronouncing a final "R." Derek's last name should NOT be pronounced "Jee-tuh." The boss's last name was NOT "Steinbrenn-uh."

Not only do many New Englanduhs (and some New Yawkuhs) drop R's, sometimes an R gets put where it doesn't belong. My ninth-grade English teacher in N'Haven said, "Ameriker."

In Manhattan, you can meet someone at the intersection of "toity-toid and toid."

And back in daBronx (and in Brooklyn and Queens), you can hear "fill-im" for "film," "kern" for "coin" and "terlet" for "toilet."

A bit east of Brooklyn is Lawn Guyland, and if you travel west you'll reach New Joisey. If you go far west, you might hear former Governator Ah-nold say "Cally-fawn-yuh."

Pitcher Waite Hoyt played for the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers (among others) from 1918 through 1938. He was hit by a ball and injured in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. A spectator yelled, "Hurt is hoyt!"

Bad grammar is another -- but related -- subject. Rachel Maddow (who should know better) recently said "less" instead of "fewer" twice in the same broadcast. BOO!

At some time I'll have to deal with "Feb-you-erry," "nook-you-ler," "terr-ist," the silent second "c" in "Connecticut," "the Macy's Day Parade" and "The Port of Authority."

I'm not perfect, of course. Cynical cousin Dave doesn't like the way I pronounce "Saturn," and I confess to twice mispronouncing "kiosk" and using the non-verb "prophesy" instead of "prophesize."

(dog peeing photo and Cain photos from Getty Images  Street sign from brickfeetimages. I thank them.)


Thursday, December 22, 2011

I prefer to write books -- not just words

For much of the 20th Century, writers composed their masterpieces on 8.5 x 11 inch sheets of paper. Later they used word processing software that emulated the same shape on a PC monitor.

Also traditionally, most authors have a specific word-count in mind, such as 70,000 words, as they write their books.

But when I'm working on a book that I will be publishing, I usually have a specific page-count and price in mind, such as 350 pages/$15.95.

And rather than just spray words onto my monitor, I set up MS Word for the actual page size of my book (such as 6 x 9 inches for a paperback) and correct margins, and start writing a book.

left-click to enlarge

By viewing actual pages, it's much easier to judge my progress, and to know if chapters should be chopped or stretched or shifted.

I alway insert a temporary left-hand "page zero" ahead of the real right-hand "page one" so I can view pages as realistic two-page spreads, instead of onesies, or with left-right-reversals.

This is not very important if a book is all-text, but if you have photos or illustrations or tables, it's important to view the spreads as your readers will see them, to avoid graphic disasters.

Viewing two-page spreads on a modern wide-screen monitor makes it easy to judge when illustrations should be enlarged, reduced or moved around; and to eliminate widows and orphans, and to see if a chapter needs to be trimmed to end at the bottom of a page.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's the worst thing about book publishing?

Everybody is a busybody.

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

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

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

I often feel like saying "It's none of your damn business," but the honest answer is that I don't know how many I've sold. And I don't even care how many I've sold. I make a profit. I pay my bills. Checks come in every month. The amounts go up and down and up again. I like what I'm doing and I expect to gradually build book sales and have an income for the rest of my life.

Other folks seem to expect an instant bestseller. They can write their own books and see how easy it isn't.

And, unless you're an IRS agent or you want to make a movie based on one of my books, my sales figures really are none of your damn business.

I write primarily for personal satisfaction. After that come entertaining, informing and maybe changing the world. Fame is OK, too. I'm no longer 17 and searching for sex. I have plenty of food. I don't need to impress my parents or teachers. Making money is a very pleasant side benefit of writing, but it's not my prime motivator.

Many books about publishing (some that I've written) talk about the profitability of publishing, but there’s nothing wrong with publishing for pleasure. The cost of publishing a book may be much less than the cost of a boat, a vacation or even a pool table -- and nobody expects them to show a profit.

If you can afford to publish for fun, do it. If you can make money while having fun, that’s even better.

(Chart from Pool table photo from StarJumper, llicensed through


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Brent Sampson should look in the mirror

Brent Sampson is the often inept and dishonest boss of often inept and dishonest Outskirts Press. He and his staff do so much so badly that I frequently criticize them on this blog and in my books.

Brent blogs, too. Yesterday he pointed out clauses in the contracts of his competitors that he thinks are "funny" because they are so anti-author. You can click on this link to see what bothers Brent -- clauses that limit the rights and income of authors.

A while ago, I examined the Outskirts Press author contract. It was scary -- not funny.

  1. Author receives 100% of the royalties profit for each wholesale print copy sold for which Outskirts Press receives payment. If you work your ass off promoting your book, and pay Outskirts to promote your book, but Outskirts sells copies of your book and doesn't get paid, you don't get paid.
  2. Royalties are paid to Author within 90 days following the end of the calendar quarter in which Wholesale Book Sales occurred If a book is sold on January 1, Outskirts doesn't have to pay you your royalties until 90 days starting on April 1 (i.e., the end of June -- six months later!).
  3. The Outskirts Press online bookstore offers discounts of up to 55% on purchases of 10 or more books to "Wholesalers, retailers, distributors," and requires payment by credit card. A bookseller's money should be in the Outskirts checking account two days after a purchase, but Outskirts doesn't have to pay you until up to 178 days later. You will become Outskirts's bank, potentially loaning it money for nearly half a year, but not being paid any interest.
  4. Outskirts will cancel your book if you don't pay their $25 annual digital storage and hosting fee within 30 days, but you must allow them six months to pay you. Conceivably, your book could be canceled if you owe them $25 for 31 days, even while they owe you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
  5. Outskirts Press does not warrant that the service or product provided will be uninterrupted or error free. That's certainly no surprise.
  6. Outskirts Press disclaims any and all representations and warranties, expressed or implied, including, without limitation, the implied warranties of merchantability, salability, or noninfringement of copyright. In other words, don't expect Outskirts to do anything right.
  7. Outskirts Press’s total liability to Author or any third-party for any and all damages shall not exceed in the aggregate the amount of fees actually paid by Author to Outskirts Press during the one month period prior to Outskirts Press’ act giving rise to the liability. If the author paid $5,000 two months before the screw-up, but didn't pay anything in the immediately preceding month, the author gets nothing -- even if the Outskirts error costs the author a million bucks.
  8. To the maximum extent permitted by applicable law, in no event shall Outskirts Press, its parent companies, subsidiaries, or affiliates, or any of their respective officers, directors, employees, or agents by [TYPO: should be "be."] liable for punitive, consequential, incidental, exemplary, indirect, or special damages, including without limitation damages for loss of profits, revenues, business data, or other intangibles, whether or not such damages were foreseeable and even if Outskirts Press had been advised of the possibility or likelihood of such damages. In other words, if Outskirts Press screws up, don't expect them to pay for any loss caused by their errors -- even if they knew in advance about the problem.
  9. Any legal action related to the terms of or obligations arising under this Agreement shall be brought in the District Court of Douglas County, State of Colorado. If you live in Alaska, Hawaii or New Hampshire, and you don't like what Outskirts did to your book, you have to travel to Castle Rock, Colorado to sue them.

Outskirts says its mission statement is "To exceed the expectations of every author we help publish." Authors can expect crappy books and inadequate promotion from a company that hides behind legal weaseling, denies any obligation to do the right thing, and may deny any liability when they do the wrong thing. 

(Map from Google, Courthouse photo from Thanks.)


Monday, December 19, 2011

Launch your book with a book launch party

A book launch party can generate interest and publicity for a book. Invite friends, neighbors, business associates, politicians and reporters.

It can be at your home, a restaurant, a hotel, a club, a bookstore or a library. Serve refreshments, make a brief speech and read part of the book. Answer questions. To start the dialog, arrange for a couple of friends to ask questions.

Some authors sell books at launches. I think it’s tacky to make friends feel obligated to spend money. A few years ago, a neigh­bor gave a book launch party. My wife felt obligated to support her and spent $25 to buy a book that neither of us will ever read.

  • Give books away if you can afford to. They’ll probably cost you only a few bucks each and will help create buzz.
  • You can also produce inexpensive abridged samples of your book to give away.
  • Maybe provide coupons for free downloads of an ebook.
  • Another approach is to have a free raffle to give away a copy or two of the printed book.
  • You can even give away imperfect proofs that are readable, but not saleable.
  • Be sure to give out bookmarks or business cards, too. I get my cards from VistaPrint. Always have some cards with you. You never know when you'll encounter a potential customer.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bigger is often not better

The bigger the book, the longer it takes to finish writing and formatting it, the more it costs to produce and purchase, the more errors it will have, and maybe the fewer people who will buy it.

I never go to movies that are longer than two hours, because I know the movie will become a $12 nap. I am similarly reluctant to buy books with more than about 350 pages, because I doubt they will keep me interested.

In an online forum for authors, a newbie recently discussed some fine points about his debut novel -- which will have more than 800 pages.

It will be extremely difficult to persuade people to buy a huge and expensive book written by someone they've never heard of. Maybe that book should become three books, or should be drastically cut. Almost any page can sacrifice a sentence or two without suffering. Most sentences can shed a word or two, and no reader will miss them.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Printer Lightning Source works at different speeds, and not always at the speed of lightning

With Print On Demand (POD) it takes less than a minute to print a book, but you can't assume that printing companies will have an available minute immediately.

Lightning Source (LS) is the dominant on-demand book printer. I've used the company for many of my books. LS does good work at a reasonable price, and will make books quickly available at and many other booksellers around the world.

I recently discovered that LS may treat the publishers who use it as second-class citizens, compared to booksellers.

On December 8 I ordered eight copies of the hardcover edition of my
Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults). I need them for gifts and to send out to be reviewed. As of this mornng, LS shows the order status as "printing" -- six days after I placed my order.

On December 12, I placed another order for the same book with The books were printed by LS in Pennsylvania on December 13, and should be delivered to me TODAY in Connecticut (via free "ground" shipping).

So, if your books are printed by LS, and you're in a hurry to get copies, order them from a bookseller -- not from the printer. You'll pay more, but you'll get them faster. (However, you can get free shipping, you'll help your sales rank, and earn money on the books being sold to the bookseller -- so do the math.)

This is not an isolated incident. I've seen it happen before.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Herman Cain is guilty (of using bad grammar)

Today I won't say that Herman Cain is an egomaniacal and ignorant idiot (like Sarah Palin) or is crazy and misguided (like Michele Bachmann), but I will say that there are many reasons why he is not ready to hold a national office.

In addition to his asinine 9-9-9, and Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan, and his trouble with women, and poor performance in interviews -- he has trouble with grammar.

Herman said, "This is the DC culture, guilty until proven innocent."

Sorry, Pizza Man, the correct word is "proved" -- not "proven." Lots of other people make the same mistake, but a president should know better.

By the way, although Herm has "suspended" his campaign, the Herman-for-president website is still online, and it's seeking contributions!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Happy 40th anniversary to my wife

In 1971, our hair colors matched better than our personalities did.

. . . Later I married Marilyn Cafarelli. Marilyn’s father, Joe, was a non-church-going Catholic Italian. Her mother, Sally, was Jewish. That makes a good combination, even if it’s not strictly kosher.

Sally’s culinary repertoire was multi-ethnic. She served luscious lasagna, perfect pasta “fazool” (pasta fagiole) and spaghetti sauce with sausage and pork chops in it, as well as magnificent chopped liver, chicken soup, latkes (potato pancakes) and stuffed cabbage—but not all at the same meal.

Sally’s kitchen was a wonderful place for a gourmand like me and her cooking probably helped Marilyn induce me to pop the question.

In August, 1971 we were introduced by Jill, who worked with her in New York and who used to live across the street from me in New Haven. Marilyn was tired from unpacking after moving from the Bronx to Manhattan and fell asleep the first time we met—not a strong testimony to my conversational abilities—but I was strongly attracted even before I had tasted Sally’s cooking.

Marilyn and I were both dating a few others at the time. My social calendar was full, but I passed the word via Jill that I was interested and I eventually called Marilyn. She thought her falling asleep had turned me off, but I’m a napper, too, and it didn’t bother me. We started dating regularly, and, by October or November, we planned a quick marriage in December. It seems ridiculous now. It probably was ridiculous then.

If we had known each other longer, we probably would not have gotten married. We argued a lot (and we still do). At one time, we considered canceling the wedding, but one of us said (and I don’t remember who said it), “What the hell, the invitations have already gone out, so let’s do it.”

I no longer remember why it was planned so soon, but she wasn’t pregnant.

I do know we got a good deal from a caterer who had a cancellation on the date we picked, so maybe that was an influence. We probably also saved on taxes by marrying by the end of the year. Maybe we were just extremely in love and wanted to get married ASAP. That’s a good reason.

Marilyn’s cousin, Manny, was a printer, and he offered us free invitations as a present. Unfortunately, they were printed with my father’s given name—that few people would recognize—instead of his well-known nickname. When Manny reprinted them, he got Pop’s name right, but he printed the wrong year.

We didn’t want to ask Manny for a third freebie or insult him by taking our business elsewhere. (He kept a gun strapped to his ankle and I used to refer to him as Mafia Manny although I had no real knowledge that he was in the mob.) The wedding date was rapidly approaching, so my future mother-in-law used a pen to correct the year on each invitation. It wasn’t elegant—in fact, it looked like shit—but it was definitely a rare collector’s item.

Unfortunately, the printing was just the first in a series of nuptial fuckups.

Depending on whom you ask, the wedding was either very nice, OK or terrible. The photographer was a tyrant and made Marilyn cry while posing for pictures. And while he had us posing for pictures, we missed what were said to be the best latkes in the world—even better than Sally’s homemade latkes.

Marilyn’s Aunt Hilda (Mafia Manny’s mother-in law) complained because there were no cigarettes on the dining tables, fomenting loud disagreement over whether it was the responsibility of the bride’s family or the groom’s family to finance the wedding guests’ lung cancer.

Marilyn had designed her own wedding gown and, on the day of the wedding, she realized that it was not the right decision to have a vertical seam down the center. It was too late to change.

When we went to cut the cake, the two of us applied all of our power to the ceremonial knife. We tried slicing, sawing, stabbing, pressing and poking, but we just could not penetrate the icing on the beautiful triple-decker. We wondered if the cake was frozen or if we were victims of a joke.

After what seemed like hours of snickering from the guests, the catering manager came out of the kitchen and whispered a little secret to us.

Apparently someone had neglected to tell us that this gorgeous cake was a wood and plaster fake and we were supposed to just make believe to cut it while everyone sings “The bride cuts the cake, the groom cuts the cake . . . .” The servers had a sheet cake in the kitchen already cut and ready to roll out and serve to the guests.

About a month after the ceremony, the photo studio delivered the wedding album with Marilyn’s name spelled wrong on the cover. They eventually provided a corrected replacement, but in 40 years we have not been motivated to switch the covers. I’m not sure if we’re too busy, too lazy or just sentimental. More likely, we just don’t care anymore.

We got some really nice wedding gifts, but the one I liked best was a bunch of McDonald’s gift certificates that Ken Irsay gave us. It’s easy to spend money. It’s harder to make me smile. Jill, the woman who introduced us, stiffed us. Maybe she felt that introducing us was a sufficient gift. Maybe so, but a toaster would have been useful, too.

Marilyn did not approve of my eating habits. She promised to make me homemade soup every day of our married life if I’d give up eating canned Campbell’s soup.

We got married on December 12, 1971, and she’s already made enough homemade soup to take us through January 8, 1972. That’s lunchtime, not supper.

Marilyn is an excellent cook who hates to cook. I would be a lot less frustrated if she was a lousy cook.

She does a great job microwaving the contents of doggy bags and ordering meals to be delivered, but there’s no one in the world who can make a better roast chicken or turkey. Not only do they taste delicious, but they look good enough to be on the cover of Good Housekeeping.

Marilyn can’t resist a bargain at the supermarket and our freezers periodically fill up with large, plastic-wrapped carcasses, bigger than bowling balls. Unfortunately, she seems to give away more frozen poultry than she defrosts, cooks and feeds to me.

Despite abundant and consistent negative reviews, Marilyn insisted on buying a particular $7,000 professional style stove because of the way it looked. On a good day, we’re lucky if two of its six burners work. I would have been happier if she hung up a pretty picture of the $7,000 failure and bought a bunch of $1.59 cans of Sterno that can be reliably ignited with a match.

Marilyn has trouble deciding anything and is constantly replaying decisions made years and even decades ago. Her most common phrase is, “Maybe I shoulda got.” Marilyn is always looking back, but I never look back, except when I’m driving.

Our first house could have been carpeted with the little carpet samples she collected. Our second house has wooden floors because Marilyn couldn’t pick carpet for it.

Big decisions, like picking a house or a car or a husband, come much easier than the little ones, like picking carpet color or deciding on coleslaw versus string beans.

If Marilyn asks for help making a decision, I give her a very quick answer, knowing that it doesn’t matter what I say because she’ll soon change her mind anyway.

Our “regular” waiters have learned to wait a few minutes before telling the chef what to prepare for her because there’s a good chance that Marilyn will soon run into the restaurant kitchen to change her order—maybe even twice.

We disagree on almost everything, and Marilyn and I have been happily at war since 1971.

Her difficulty in deciding and her extreme cautiousness and paranoia can be very frustrating and terribly time-wasting. I grew up in a family where, if you weren’t ten minutes early, you were late. I often refer to Marilyn as “my late wife” and I’m sure she’ll be late for her own funeral.

I know that she really means the best for us and I love her for it—and in spite of it. She’s kept me out of trouble many times. Marilyn is my second-guesser, my censor and my conscience.

Marilyn sometimes says she wishes she could be fearless like me, but it’s probably better that she’s not like me. Opposites attract. But two of me could be in jail—or maybe dead.

Our friends who seemed to get along perfectly well got divorced long, long ago. Apparently they just didn’t care enough to fight.

Michael’s Alternate Victory Plan:
  1. Forget about compromise decisions. If one of you wants black walls in a room and one of you wants white walls, and you get gray walls, neither of you will have what you want. You’ll both be pissed off when you enter the room.
  2. Try alternate victories. Let your mate make some unilateral decisions, and try to ignore the paint, carpet, car, vacation destination and furniture that you hate. Then you make some unilateral decisions, and you’ll get to enjoy your personal victories.
  3. Overall, life together will be a compromise, and that’s nice.
Warning: My alternate victory plan doesn’t apply to everything. It’s probably best that you agree on the city and the house you live in and on kids’ names. My father let my mother pick my middle name. I hated the name for many years and I wish he didn’t give in.

Three in a bed (sort of)
The “why I married your aunt” chapter

When my income at Rolling Stone was reduced from a salary of $400 per week to a freelancer’s fee of $75 every two weeks, I was seriously dating three young ladies.

Actually, it was more than dating. I was auditioning potential wives: Marilyn, Virginia, and I forgot the third one’s name. I do remember that she lived in Brooklyn and she had a southern accent.

Number Three got pregnant by someone else and had a painful abortion. She recuperated in my apartment. I was a very good friend.

Anyway, for a normal bachelor in Manhattan, a drop of over 80% in income would make a serious impact on dating. But things are different for a journalist with abundant freeloading options.

There were plenty of ways to have free dates.

Writers and editors and their companions could go to free movies and concerts just by requesting “review tickets.” There was even plenty of free food at lavish press conferences and sometimes invitations to check out new restaurants and bars.

Even without an invitation, it was easy to crash an event with a free meal at the New York Coliseum or a hotel by wearing a badge from some previous event or showing a press ID or a business card.

The gatekeepers would never risk offending a member of the press, even someone with dubious credentials who was not on the invitation list. The cost of food and booze was minimal compared with the potential benefit of positive press coverage or the risk of negative coverage after turning someone away.

As for gifts, there were always trinkets from trade shows and press conferences, free samples, and plenty of free records and tapes sent to us to review.

When my wife-audition process had narrowed to the three leading contenders, I needed a tie-breaker, and my Marilyn was the only one of final trio who was willing to sleep with me and with Long John Nebel. No, I’m not talking about a Ménage à trois with three living people in the bed. Long John Nebel did a late-night talk radio show, and I like to sleep with the radio on.

Fortunately, Marilyn accepted me and didn’t object to John, and she didn’t ask how much money I was making.

Even in 1971, $37.50 per week didn’t go very far.

1971 was a time of granny gowns, granny glasses, going bra-less and anti-materialism, and it never occurred to Marilyn to ask about my salary. Besides, she had a real job with a decent salary. I knew how much she made.

Marilyn swears that, if she ever remarries, she’ll demand to see the next guy’s paycheck and previous year’s tax return before she says, “I do.”

Anti-material Marilyn didn’t want an engagement ring but she later changed her mind and I gave her a diamond ring on our fourth anniversary. Her mother complained that the stone was cloudy.

Marilyn and I are still together after 40 years, and the radio is still on all night. There is a third real live body in our bed now, but he’s a golden retriever.


Friday, December 9, 2011

An alternative to celebrity blurbs

Every author dreams of having cover blurbs (endorsements) from famous people who'll say nice things which may entice people to buy books.

Often, especially for a new author with a new book, it's just not possible to get the attention of a a superstar or an expert who will add authority to yours.

That doesn't mean your book has to be blurbless.

There's nothing wrong with asking for and printing blurbs from friends and family, if it's appropriate to your book. Later on, If Oprah or another celeb falls in love with your words, you can revise the cover to incorporate the new comments.

My first self-published book I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, deals with my life. So it made perfect sense to use blurbs from people who know me, rather than some distant Nobel Prize winner.

The book is funny. Identifying Howard Krosnick, the source of my front cover blurb as "author's classmate since first grade" is almost a parody of the traditional stuffy IDs ("professor of Indo-Eurasion folk medicine at the University of Guatemala), and reinforces the mood of the book.

Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) is an updated replacement for the flunk book. It has a fantastic cover blurb which says, "This book is so funny that I nearly peed in my pants. My girlfriend didn't think it was funny, so I got a new girlfriend."

The blurber, Nicholas Santiago, is someone I know through business. His words are sufficient. I see no need to explain who he is, and I doubt that Oprah could have written a better recommendation. I received "five stars" and some nice words from the Midwest Book Review -- but those words are not as funny as Nick's words.

There's nothing wrong with your acting as a writing coach for your blurbers. You can even write a complete blurb and ask someone to "adopt" it.

If you’ve written a how-to book, the best blurbs will come from people who have actually been helped by it. A good way to find “amateur” blurbers who might write sincere comments about actually benefiting from your book is to observe online communities that are concerned with your subject. If you find articulate people with problems your book solves, offer to send them free advance copies (even PDFs if bound copies are not yet available) in exchange for their comments. You can say that you’d like to know if the book was helpful and how it can be improved. Mention that you might like to quote their comments, but don’t guarantee it.

James & Geoff. Which one did I sit next to on a plane?

Don’t be too timid to approach famous authors, politicians, business leaders and celebrities, especially if you have something in common which can create a bond. You might be pleas­antly surprised. Write a good letter and explain how you think the book relates to the prospective blurber. Find a reason to compliment the candidate. If possible, refer to a time when you were in the same place, perhaps during a speech or a book signing or on an airplane. (I once sat next to James Earl Jones. Hmm. Actually, it may have been Geoffrey Holder.)

Short blurbs are usually better than long blurbs. Humorous blurbs (if appropriate) are often better than serious blurbs.
Request blurbs as long in advance as possible -- as soon as you have a draft of your book that is good enough to show. The book does not have to be complete. You can probably get by with an introduction, a table of contents, and a few chapters sent as a PDF. If you want a blurb from someone famous, it’s probably better to send an ARC than a PDF.

Incorporate good “early” blurbs into your back cover and first page as soon as possible. If other blurbers read them, they may be more likely to write similarly positive comments.