Monday, February 28, 2011

Word change is usually OK, but word theft is evil. Especially by a publishing company

  • "Don we now our gay apparel" gets a different reaction now than when the lyric was first sung.
  • "Hooking up" doesn't have the same meaning that it did back in the 20th century.
  • "Literally" is sometimes used to mean "figuratively."
  • In England, a "fag" is a cigarette, and something can be "bloody" without bleeding.
  • A comedian can "kill" an audience, but cause no deaths.
  • People seldom notice or complain about the contradiction in "guest host," or if a TV newsguy signs off with "I'll see you tomorrow."
  • "Son of a bitch" was once a nice alternative to calling someone a "dog."
  • "Was like" has come to mean "said."
  • "Hell" probably can't be raised.
  • "Bad" can be good.
  • "Fuck" has dozens of meanings.
  • We often park in the driveway and drive on the parkway.
  • Some people say "eggcorn" instead of "acorn."
  • An "eggcream" has neither egg nor cream in it.
  • My dog doesn't object if I call a "cracker" or "dog biscuit" a "cookie," or if I say "get in the car" when I mean "get in the minivan."
  • Media often say that a writer "published" a book, even though the writer was not the publisher.
  • Some people say "Old Timers' Disease" instead of "Alsheimer's Disease."
  • "An apron" was originally "a napron."
  • Back in the 1960s, "The Boys' Clubs" were cometimes confused with the "W.E.B. DuBois Clubs"  -- a youth organization sponsored by the Communist Party in the USA.
  • "Woulda," "coulda," "shoulda" and "gunna" are widely used.
  • A "cry baby" can be an adult. Even a Speaker of the House of Representatives.
  • "You guys" can include females.
  • "Alumnae" is often pronounced like "alumni."
  • "Flammable" and "inflammable" can be synonyms or antonyms.
  • An iPad is both "hot" and "cool."
  • A "mouse" is not necessarily a small rodent.
  • And the "notebook" used with that "mouse" does not have paper pages.
These shifts of meaning naturally occur. There are shifts in usage, misunderstandings, and even mistranslations.

It's much worse when a person, organization or business deliberately chooses to misuse a word to misdirect, misinform and confuse -- and profit from the deception.

It is especially sad that two of the worst examples of word theft are in the publishing business.

Author Solutions, Inc. claims to be "the world leader in indie book publishing—the fastest-growing segment of publishing."
  • A writer who pays ASI to publish books is NOT indie, but is merely a customer of a huge company.
PublishAmerica says, “In the most commonly used context, POD indicates Publish On Demand.”
  • That's a lie. The "P" in "POD" stands for "print," not "publish." Books can be printed on demand, but they can’t be published on demand.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

It's not perfect, but it's good enough

  • When I was a writer on my college newspaper, I became the copyeditor and got a job as a proofreader at the printer’s shop so I could have complete control of my words, and no one else could mess them up. This also meant that no one else could correct mistakes I missed. That’s not a good way to work.
  • When I was freelancing for Rolling Stone magazine, I was always rewriting until the last possible minute. This was in the pre-fax, pre-email era, and I’d drive to the airport and pay to have my column air-freighted from New York to California. There wasn’t much profit left.
  • When I was working as an advertising copywriter, I was notorious for not “releasing” an ad until the last possible moment. Fortunately, someone older and wiser taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes “good enough” really is good enough, and I learned to let go. He also stold me that a perfectionist never finishes anything.
Last week I received what I both hoped and believed would be the final proof of my long-delayed Independent Self-Publishing: the Complete Guide. (It's the updated replacement for my bestselling Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don't Be a Victim of a Vanity Press and several people think it's a really good book. I agree, of course.)

It was the fifth printed proof, and I was shocked to find two paragraphs that were printed in gray instead of black.

I was even more shocked when I inspected the previous four proofs and discovered they had the same error, but neither I nor Cynical Cousin Dave, my hawkeyed inspector, had noticed the gray.

While I doubt that more than a few readers would have noticed the gray, I could not let the book circulate in that condition. Since I had to delay publication, I decided to do one more read-through of the 520-page book.

Alas. I found 113 other things to fix or improve, but the delay gave me the opportunity to update my section on Borders, to include the bankruptcy. This meant that while my book would go on sale later than planned, it would be more up-to-date -- and that's good.

Yesterday, just before noon, Bill, our smiling UPS driver, delivered proof #6. Instead of tearing open the brown box, I tossed it to Dave so he could have the dubious honor of deflowering it, and providing the first inspection. He flipped through the book several times in each direction, and then went page-by-page and found nothing wrong. (TIP: It's important to LOOK AT, not just read every page in your books.)

Then, with both hope and dread, I went through the book.

I found just one stupid error. On page 351, one header out of hundreds that had previously been gray and was supposed to have been changed to black, was still gray. I decided to let it go. The hairs on my face and my head are now gray, so one gray header is not so terrible.

Actually, it is terrible.

But I can live with it (at least until it's time for a revision).

I decided I could also live with the extra space I found between two words on page 11. (This error was particularly annoying, because Microsoft Word had noticed the error, but I ignored the squiggly green underline.) I knew that if I fixed these bloopers, I would probably create new ones -- and the interminable cycle would go on.

In "professional" books, one error per 50 pages seems to be an acceptable standard, and my standard is higher than that. Maybe striving for perfection in publishing is both futile and an act of hubris. Maybe perfection is a trait of the gods, not us mere mortals.

Besides, I have other books to finish (including one that was supposed to be published last July).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Today, my words are on the blog of another bearded blogger

Book designer Joel Friedlander offers information, discussions and valuable advice on a wide range of topics of interest to self-publishers at

Joel's blog posts are usually published at about midnight on the west coast. Because I'm an early riser who is usually at this computer at about 3 a.m. on the east coast, I am often the first person to comment on Joel's posts.

Today, I am honored to have provided 24 Practical Tips for Using Photos in your Print on Demand Books, rather than mere commentary on what Joel has written. Please take a look, and also read some of the previous posts. Joel will soon be publishing A Self-Publisher's Companion, based on his blog posts. I expect it to be a terrific book.

In about seven hours, Bill, the guy who drives the big brown truck, will deliver what I hope and believe will be the final proof of my long-delayed Independent Self-Publishing: the Complete Guide. I had similar expectations for the proof that was delivered last week, but found 114 little things to fix; and the delay gave me the opportunity to update my section on Borders to include its bankruptcy. You can order the book here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fantastic Amazon Prime just got fantasticker

I'm a huge fan of Amazon Prime.

For just $79 per year, I get free two-day shipping on almost everything Amazon sells (even huge and heavy stuff) and can pay just $3.99 for next-day delivery. I order from Amazon at least twice a week. Until Amazon offers teleportation, or a pneumatic tube from its warehouse to me, I'll have to settle for next-day delivery via the brown truck. I see Bill, our UPS driver, more than I see my mother or siblings -- and Bill brings me much better toys.

Amazon. just announced the launch of a new benefit for Amazon Prime members: unlimited, commercial-free, instant streaming of more than 5,000 movies and TV shows. This new benefit is being added at no additional cost -- Prime membership will continue to be $79 per year. Amazon Prime has already attracted millions of members.

Movies and TV shows included with an Amazon Prime membership can be watched instantly on Macs, PCs and nearly 200 models of Internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players and set-top boxes that are compatible with Amazon Instant Video. The selection of videos available for instant streaming currently includes movies, such as "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy, "Amadeus," "Syriana," and "Chariots of Fire," noted documentaries such as "Food Inc.," "March of the Penguins" and "Ken Burns' National Parks," plus TV shows, such as "Doctor Who," "Farscape," "Fawlty Towers" and children's shows, such as "Arthur," "Caillou," "Super Why!" and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

"In addition to now offering unlimited, commercial-free, instant streaming of 5,000 movies and TV shows to Amazon Prime members, we continue to offer all customers more than 90,000 movies and TV shows through Amazon Instant Video," said Cameron Janes, director of Amazon Instant Video. "With Amazon Instant Video customers can rent or purchase hit movies, such as 'The Social Network' as well as purchase the latest TV shows available the day-after they broadcast."

Customers who receive Prime shipping benefits through the Amazon Student and Amazon Mom programs can upgrade to receive paid Prime benefits for $79 a year.

For more information on Amazon Prime and Prime instant videos and to start an Amazon Prime free trial, visit

For more information on Amazon Instant Video, visit

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Great Bits of Dialog, #447

Boy: "Fagin, this sausage is moldy!"

Fagin: "Shut up and drink your gin!"

(from the 1968 movie Oliver based on the 1838 novel Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Two stupid mistakes in one paragraph
-- in the Publishers Weekly website.

The folks at Publishers Weekly have been contemplating
charging for use of their website.
Maybe the revenue could enable them to hire a copyeditor.

New York's First Espresso Book Machine Debuts at McNally Jackson

By Craig Morgan Teicher 02/16/2011

While New York's downtown indie bookseller McNally Jackson has had the city's first Espresso Book Machine (which can print and bind books from, among other sources, Google Books, Lightening Lightning Source, or from files supplied by authors) for about a month, the store help held a coming out party for it on Tuesday, February 15.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Super deals at Staples TODAY

I was in Staples yesterday to buy some packing tape and stumbled upon some amazing Black Friday-type deals. They'll continue today, so get going.
  1. Full refunds on multipurpose paper, sticky notes, ballpoint pens, photo paper.
  2. Huge savings on HP blank DVDs.
  3. Samsung Bluetooth headset for $4.99 after rebate and discount.
  4. 8-gig thumb drive for $11.99.
  5. Really nice wood-frame 11-inch digital photo display for $19.99 after rebate and discount.
  6. Office chair for $39.99
  7. 320-gig HP portable hard drive for $49.99
  8. Five-handset ATT cordless phone system for $59.99 after rebate and discount.
  9. Kodak touchscreen digital camera for $99.99 (save $200).
There are other deals, including lots of items priced at a buck or two, a BOGO (buy one, get one) on cases of paper, 20% off on copying and printing, 25% off on tech service, and more, and more.

There are online deals, too.

Support the economy. Fill your shelves. Give some gifts. Spend money.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Whose bullshit should we believe?

AuthorHouse: "the leading self publishing company in the world" and "the leading provider of self publishing and marketing services for authors around the globe"

Arbor Books: "the world's premier, award-winning ghostwriting and self-publishing company"

Tate: "the leader in the publishing industry."

Xlibris: "one of the pioneers of the print-on-demand publishing services industry, and still leads the way today."

iUniverse: "the leading print-on-demand company in the self-publishing industry."

"Only iUniverse has professionals with extensive industry knowledge who make it easy for you to affordably self publish your book"

Trafford: "the clear choice for self-publishing your next book."

Self Help: "one of the renowned book publishing houses" and "one of the best book publishing companies."

Outskirts Press:  "the future of book publishing, today" and "the ultimate in convenience and control, every step of the way"

Lulu: "the widest range of selling channels available anywhere"

Colorwise: "your best source for quality book printing with exceptional service," "the best book printer in the nation" and "your absolute best choice"

Bull pic from

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Is Chapter 11 the final chapter for Borders?
GE bets big that it's not.

How can a company with
 in annual sales lose $168 MILLION?

Ask the bosses of Borders.

This weekend could be a great time to save money buying books at Borders.

As part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan filed yesterday, Borders --  the nation's second-largest bookstore chain -- plans to close 200 of its 642 stores in two weeks, with clearance sales starting Saturday. The store near me (which is much less convenient than my nearby B&N) is on the closing list, and up to 136 additional stores could close and 6,000 workers could lose their jobs.

Borders boss Mike Edwards said he hopes the company will become "a potentially vibrant national retailer of books and other products."

Borders received $505 million in  financing led by GE Capital. That's a substantial vote of confidence, which, sadly, may not be justified.

The bankruptcy comes after multiple turnaround plans -- including new management, firing thousands of employees, numerous store closings and bargaining with creditors -- have failed to keep Borders solvent. British Borders stores (no longer related to the US business) closed in 2009.

Borders suffered from online competitors, big-box competitors such as WalMart and Costco, failure to capitalize on eBooks, clinging to the failing CD business, expensive leases, and clueless management.

It had revenue of $2.3 billion last year and recorded losses of $168.2 million through Dec. 25. Borders Group stock, which closed Tuesday at 23 cents a share on the New York Stock exchange, ceased trading upon the bankruptcy filing.

Borders listed $1.27 billion in assets and $1.29 billion in liabilities in its Chapter 11 filing. The filing said Borders has fewer than 50 creditors, mostly publishers. The top creditor is Penguin Putnam, which is owed $41.1 million. OUCH!

Here are some more of the debts:
  • Hachette Book Group $36.9 million
  • Simon & Schuster $33.75 million
  • Random House $33.5 million
  • HarperCollins $25.8 million
  • Macmillan $11.4 million
  • Wiley $11.2 million
  • Perseus $7.8 million
  • F+W Media $4.6 million
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt $4.4 million
  • Workman $4 million
"If publishers are lucky, they'll get back 25 cents on the dollar," said Jed Lyons, chief executive of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, which publishes its own titles and distributes books for other publishers through its National Book Network. Borders owes National Book Network $2 million.

Shopping center owners -- still suffering from the closings of Circuit City, Linens 'n Things and other retail chain stores -- will now have to deal with still more large empty spaces.

It has often been said that book publishing has lost its soul, and that the huge publishing companies are now ruled by ruthless beancounters who care little about literature. It amazes me that the beancounters at these media giants were so deaf, blind and clueless that they kept extending credit to Borders as the company was obviously swirling down the toilet bowl.

I don't have an MBA and am not a CPA, but I knew enough not to try to sell my books to Borders.

  • Is GE Capital as dumb as Simon & Schuster?
  • Is a bookseller as worthy of a federal bailout as a carmaker?

(info  from the Detroit Free Press, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Marketplace. Photo from the Freep.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Great Depression is still depressing the book business

Book returnability is a destructive artifact of the Great Depression

Sales of books, like most non-necessities, had fallen off greatly. In an effort to get bookstores to take in new books, the publishers offered guaranteed sales. Stores received the books “on consignment,” and, after several months, the money for the books that had been sold would be paid to the publishers. Unsold books would go back. This arrangement kept inventory on the bookstore shelves and helped create exposure for books on obscure topics or by unknown authors, but the logistics and waste added substantially to the cost of publishing.

When books are bought on consignment, bookstore owners don’t have to care if they order slow-sellers or outright flops because almost all unsold books can be returned to the publisher, or even be destroyed, and still generate a refund or credit from the publisher. This adds to the cost of publishing (increasing the prices of books) and wastes natural resources.

  • There have been accusations that major book chains arrange to send back books — and reorder the same titles at the same time — so the stores always have inventory with no concern about paying for them.
Few if any other retail products are sold that way. Except for special circumstances, a Honda dealer can’t return unsold cars to Honda. A Sony dealer can’t return unsold TVs to Sony. A New Balance dealer can’t return unsold sneakers to New Balance.

Selling on consignment may have been a good solution in 1929, but 80-plus years later it has become very expensive and wasteful. Book publishers and bookstores are in trouble.

If a bookstore operator knows that sales are guaranteed, and if a publisher’s salesperson is sufficiently pushy, and if money is offered for promotion, little thought may go into making a purchase. The store may “overbuy” and inflate the initial sales of a book, but the day of reckoning comes a few months later. If most of the copies of a new title are still sitting on the shelves, they get sent back to the publisher, where they are either remaindered and redistributed for the buck-a-book tables or shredded and pulped to become raw material for new books.

  • Sarah Palin’s second book sold poorly, and many thousands were returned to the publisher. The cost of the waste was partially covered by the profit made on her first book, a bestseller.
The urgency that store operators feel to return books before they have to be paid for shortens the time available for a book to build a market.

The system also hurts authors.

It takes time for book promotion to have an effect and for word-of-mouth to build for a new author or niche subject. Nobody knows how many books, which might have been successful with another month or two or three on display in the stores, are considered flops.

Only now, in the 21st century, is there some slight movement away from the burdensome, wasteful process that was an important innovation that kept books available in the 1930s.

HarperStudio was an imprint (brand) of HarperCollins, launched in 2008. It started an experimental program to sell books to booksellers in a one-way transaction, in exchange for providing additional gross profit. The experiment failed and HarperStudio was shut down after two years.

Bookstores are also shutting down.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Best use of duct tape:

Although I seldom agree with anything that conservative talk show host Sean Hannity says, I see more danger in the way he says what he says.

I know a very successful man who is now about 70 years old. He is an investment banker, an author, publisher and Yale graduate. He was born in a hamlet in Kentucky -- a potential hillbilly! At an early age, a wise teacher told his class that if the kids wanted to end the pattern of multigenerational rural poverty, the most important things they could do were to lose their southern accents and get good educations.

The Yale diploma certainly helped my friend, but equally critical were the hundreds of hours he spent listening to the national network radio shows in the 1950s and copying neutral northern speech. By the time he entered college, his voice did not reveal his humble origin.

Millions of people now listen to Sean Hannity on the radio and television. His high ratings might make him seem to be worth emulating.

But if young people (or adults) copy Sean's barbaric/infantile "gunna," they will sound like IDIOTS.

According to Wikipedia, Sean "dropped out of New York University and Adelphi University to pursue his broadcasting career."

Sadly, I know of someone who graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School who shares Sean's speech defect. When President Barack Obama says "gunna," I feel like puking.

Also sadly, his predecessor, Yale grad George Dubya Bush, was quoted in Time magazine uttering the teenage synonym for "I said":  "I was like..." Someone, please hand me a barf bag.

I don't expect that every president will have the oratorial abilities of JFK or FDR, or that every broadcaster will sound like H. V. Kaltenborn -- but no one who says "gunna" instead of "going to" should get a diploma or be allowed near a microphone!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Great Bits of Dialog, #74

Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, "Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man."

From Genesis 27:11, author unspecified -- but suggestions have been made.

Photo shows Borat

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Borders nears bankruptcy,
and a prediction for the future of bookstores

(From The Wall Street Journal. CLICK to read full story.)

Borders's finances crumbled amid declining interest in bricks-and-mortar booksellers, a broad cultural trend for which it offered no answers. The bookseller suffered a series of management gaffes, piled up unsustainable debts and failed to cultivate a meaningful presence on the Internet or in increasingly popular digital e-readers.

Its online struggles proved critical as consumers became accustomed to getting books mailed to their doorsteps or downloaded to handheld electronic devices. Among Borders's biggest missteps were decisions to transfer its Internet operations to Inc. about a decade ago, and a stock-buyback program coupled with overseas expansion that swelled the company's debt.
Now, Borders is preparing for a costly and time-consuming trip through bankruptcy court, where it will seek to close about a third of its 674 Borders and Waldenbooks stores, the people familiar with the matter said. Borders also would cut swathes of its 19,500 staff as it attempts to reinvent itself to compete with Amazon and its hot-selling Kindle reader, and Barnes & Noble Inc., the nation's largest bookstore chain and maker of the Nook e-reader.
Whether it can restructure and emerge as a stand-alone company is unclear. Many Wall Street bankers and lawyers who have studied the chain believe it may not be able to avoid liquidation. It is expected to report more than $1 billion in liabilities in its bankruptcy petition, said a person familiar with the matter.
Online shopping, and the advent of e-readers, with their promise of any book, any time, anywhere, and cheaper pricing, have shoppers abandoning Borders and Barnes & Nobles bookstores as they did music stores a decade ago.
"I think that there will be a 50% reduction in bricks-and-mortar shelf space for books within five years, and 90% within 10 years," says Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of Idea Logical Co., a New York consulting firm. "Book stores are going away."

Friday, February 11, 2011

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate."

That classic line was spoken twice in the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke -- first by the warden, played by Strother Martin, and later by Luke, played by Paul Newman.

Unfortunately, writers, authors, editors and broadcasters often have communication failures. Sometimes they hear words, but the words they think they heard are not the words that the speaker spoke.

Years ago, probably in the 1980s, the New York Daily News reported on a teenage fashion trend: "wearing pumice."

In reality, high school kids were not wearing lumps of volcanic rock which are normally used as an abrasive to remove calluses from feet. They were wearing Pumas, a brand of sneakers -- which the reporter was unaware of. (There's a double problem here. When "pumice" is pronounced properly, its first syllable rhymes with "hum" -- not with "room." A reporter should know this.)

Sometimes a print or broadcast journalist will hear a word and think she or he understands what it means, but doesn't.

In 1965, a power blackout shut down the supply of electricity to New York, New Jersey, New England and Ontario, Canada.  Over 30 million people were powerless for up to 12 hours.

I heard a news report broadcast by WOR radio (which was operating with an emergency generator). The newsperson told us that there had been "a failure of the power grid," and as soon as a replacement could be located and installed, power would be restored.

The sincere but ignorant person apparently assumed that a power grid was a simple gizmo that could be purchased at a nearby Radio Shack -- not the network that connects power companies in multiple states.

The misunderstanding probably would not happen today, when independent people proudly "live off the grid."

New Haven, Connecticut (home of Yale University) seems to be a hotbed of mis-speaking, resulting from mis-hearing and mis-reading.

Someone attending the second year of high school in most places is a “sophomore,” from the Greek words for “wise” (sophos) and “foolish” (moros). In New Haven, I heard it pronounced “southmore.”

When a department store advertised a set of bedroom furniture pieces in a newspaper, it was described as a “bedroom suite.” In New Haven, people who were enticed by the ad and went to the store would ask to see a “bedroom suit.” Some of them were probably shown pajamas.

Some local stores — either out of ignorance or in an effort to correct the pronunciation of their ignorant customers — advertised “bedroom sweets,” thereby setting the English language back to the pre-Chaucer era.

As a teenager I sold clothing and shoes in my father’s store, and my ears were offended several times a day.

Many people tried to buy “posturepedic” shoes. Posturepedic is a brand of mattresses made by Sealy. Orthopedic shoes are designed to correct foot problems.

Not everyone in New Haven was educated at Yale.

Men who were buying pants (and the women accompanying them) would discuss having the “crouch alternated” instead of the “crotch altered.” I was often tempted to say, “Yes, madam, we have an extensive line of alternative crouches.”

Working for a clothing store, I got first crack at new fashions. I was one of the first to wear ski gloves to my high school. When I approached the school entrance, a classmate spotted them and exclaimed, “Man, them mother-fuckin’ gloves is co-legent!” I hope he learned how to pronounce “collegiate” by the end of his southmore year.

And don't get me started on malapropisms. My wife has a cousin who says "old timer's disease" for "Alsheimer's" disease.

And don't get me started on editors who replace an author's correct words with wrong words. I once challenged a co-author's vocabulary -- but I was wrong.

This blog post is not complete yet. I must acknowledge the New York newscasters who each November say "Macy's Day Parade" (Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade),  and also "Port of Authority" (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey).

(Newman photo from Warner Bros., RadioShack from Time mag, mattress from Sealy, shoes from, crouch from, crotch from, ski glove form Hestra, parade from Flickr.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Just something silly
(which makes an important point)

Proper use of uppercase letters makes the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The justification for justification

Blocks of text are said to be “justified” or "full justified" when most lines are the same length and they fill the space from left to right.

The lines of type in this blog are like most blogs and websites and a growing number of magazines and books. The type is "flush left/ragged right.” Ragged right ("rag-right") is much easier to produce, and people accept it.

Justified type has a more formal, polished look. Ragged is obviously less formal, but people can rightfully claim that justified type is abnormal and artificial, and ragged right is normal and natural.

Justified type is still the dominant format for book printing. It can look beautiful, but takes more time and money to do right. The block of text shown below is from one of my books. I won't assert that it's beautiful, but it's better than a lot of text from self-publishers -- and it's easy to produce with Microsoft Word. If I can do this, so can almost anyone.

 A lot of very ugly justified type gets printed, particularly in newspapers with narrow columns (below).

The problem exists in narrow book columns, too (below). Sometimes the only way to improve the word spacing is to switch to rag-right, or make the column wider. You can also experiment with changing some words, which can take a long time, may be futile, and may not be an option.
Next is a horrid example of justified full-width text from Release Your Writing by Helen Gallagher. Helen's pages are just five inches wide, and that size leads to pages that are often uglier than the six-inch pages used for most "how-to" paperbacks. It would be better to have wider pages, or go rag-right.

There is an unfortunate trend with self-published books to use justified type, but no hyphens, which leads to really UGH-LEE word spacing.

I recently purchased 5.0, co-authored by Dan Poynter. This book has no hyphens, and the word spacing (below) is atrocious.
Dan boasts that he is “the father of self-publishing,” “the leading authority on how to write, publish and promote books,” and is “on the leading edge of book publishing.” If Dan thinks crappy typography is acceptable, he’s fallen off the edge and into the abyss. I don’t claim to be the leading authority on anything, but I could have made the paragraph much nicer:

Just as poor voice quality with cellphones and VoIP service has led to the acceptance of "low fidelity" phone conversations, I fear that ugly eBooks will increase the quantity and acceptance of ugly pBooks. It is sad, avoidable, and unforgiveable. EBooks designed for reflowable text and user-selectable type size (not PDF eBooks) can produce some terrible-looking pages (below). Kindle’s display flexibility can produce very ugly results. This is part of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

My first (2008) self-published Print On Demand book, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students -- stories from school and real life, is very informal. Ragged right seemed to be appropriate for the mood of the book, and it saved time.

My second POD book, Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business & Home, is more formal, more expensive and is intended to be a reference book for business people. Justified type seemed appropriate, and I was willing to invest the extra time to make it look traditional.

When I finished my tedious labor, I was so pleased with the results, that I decided to re-do the "flunk book" with justified type, while I was making other modifications and corrections.

TIP: Be careful if you are justifying a book that was already completed with ragged right type. Most lines will expand to the right margin, and sometimes words that used to fit on one page will "creep" onto another page. You may have to change the page numbering for chapter beginnings, or cut words or make illustrations smaller to get what you want.

TIP: Sometimes the spaces between words will look lousy, and you'll have to experiment with hyphenation, and sometimes switch to shorter or longer words, or add or subtract words, to make things look right.

TIP: Be very careful to check the last line in a paragraph. Sometimes even three words are spead out full-width, and they'll look very stupid. You can just select the line and re-do it as flush-left, or (in MS Word) tap the Enter key after the last word in the line.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Some commercials I CAN'T STAND

Yesterday there was lots of complaining about Super Bowl commercials that were not as good as they should have been.

I've never seen a Super Bowl game, but I'd like to bitch about three commercials I hear on XM Satellite Radio. I hate them and they DRIVE ME NUTS each night. (My wife, dog and I sleep with the radio on, and hear bits of programs and commercials during periods when we are awake.) Unfortunately, I have no TiVo for radio, and can't fast-forward through the crap.
  1. One is a commercial hyping American gold coins, recently discovered in a "stash" in Europe, that had miraculously escaped the FDR-ordered coin meltdown during the Great Depression. The reader is a pleasant-sounding woman who wants to seem like my friend or neighbor. She tells us about the announcement she heard -- rather than making the announcement herself -- and then says, " the number to call ... here it 1 800..." She's acting like she is not doing a commercial. It was somewhat startling, different and effective the first time I heard it, but not the hundredth time.
  2. Next is a spot for Dr. Something's Secret Formula for removing stretch marks. As part of a special marketing test, the first 100 unhappy ladies in the area of my "local station" are entitled to free samples of the miracle goop. The commercial plays NATIONALLY. There is no limitation to any area, or a limit of 100 samples. Chances are, the handling fee on the "free sample is high enough to provide a nice profit for the drug peddler.
  3. Then there is a whole class of commercials aimed at the financial unfortunates who need to get out of debt. These spots were first aimed at folks who need to negotiate a deal to settle their credit card debts, and then expanded to include money owed to IRS, and then offered help with mortgages and car loans. Some of the spots are designed to sound like government announcements, and have lines like "This is a PUBLIC announcement" and "Incoming phone lines are in operation now." The worst piece of bullshit is the script that says, "People with last names that begin with the letters A through M should call right now, and people with names beginning with N through Z should call tomorrow." I find it hard to believe that if Mr. Newhouse or Ms. Zymanski call TODAY, that their pleas and fees would be rejected. No matter what time Newhouse or Zymanski hear the commercial, it's NEVER the right day to call.
It's all stupid bullshit, and I HATE IT. (However, it's better than political campaign ads.)

(photo from

Monday, February 7, 2011

What can go wrong with a book?
A little bit of everything.

On Friday I received what I honestly thought would be the last proof of my Independent Self-Publishing: the complete guide.

Theoretically, the book was published on December 15th, and has been shown on Amazon and received advance orders.

The book has been gone through dozens (hundreds?) of times by yours truly and my editor and a picky nitpicker.

I've carefully examined the MS Word doc, multiple generations of PDFs, and paper proofs printed by my local UPS store and by Lightning Source, which prints the "real books."

I know that no book can be perfect, but each time I read it I find things that need to be fixed, that somehow had previously eluded the eagle eyes.

Here are some of the bloopers that plagued this book, and may be in yours. Many won't be noticed by readers, and one error per hundred pages seems to be an acceptable standard for major "trade" publishers. However, those of us who self-publish have an extra burden to make our books as good as possible because one bad book reflects badly on all self-pubbed books. I, of course have an extra extra burden, because I frequently criticize other books.

So, here's some of the stuff to watch out for, in no particular order:
  1. Sections of text that print in gray -- not black. This is generally invisible on a computer screen, but is noticeable on paper.
  2. Repeated words. Microsoft conveniently flags the repeats in red, but maybe the red should flash to attract my attention.
  3. Right edges of text blocks that are ragged instead of flush.
  4. Words that are in my head but not printed on the page.
  5. Wrong fonts -- a particular problem when text is copied from the web or another document.
  6. Inconsistent style, such as 8PM on one page and 9:15 p.m. on another page. (I'm usually not guilty of this sin.)
  7. Oversize word spacing -- especially in justified narrow columns.
  8. Headers that should be bold or normal black, but are gray.
  9. Repetition of a phrase or thought a few pages after it first appears.
  10. Widows and orphans (generally not a problem for me).
  11. Drop caps in the wrong typeface, wrong size, or wrong position. (I caught these earlier, I think.)
  12. Inaccurate referrals, such as saying that something is on page 324 but it was moved to 326 -- or even deleted. (I caught these earlier, I think.)
  13. Inaccurate index or table of contents, caused by moving or removing. (I did this in a previous book, but I hope not in this one).
  14. Flopped photos -- It's common to do a left-right reversal for aesthetic reasons, but now a clock or  license plate or name necklace reads backwards. Also watch out for unconventional product appearances, such as a phone with a handset on the right side, or an old TV with knobs on the left. (I've never done this, but I've seen this).
I could go on, but the list could turn into a book. Actually, some of this is in an upcoming book:

I hope it doesn't have too many misteaks. Or mistakes.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Funny error on

We've come to expect great things from huge selection, low prices, fast delivery, impressive technology. employs such awesome geeks that the company even provides technology to other companies. But sometimes its own website geekcraft is imperfect -- just a few nuggets short of a Happy Meal.

(left-click on image to enlarge it)

The product shown above is a telephone headset accessory. The listed product features are for something else entirely.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Journalism's silly secret
(updated rerun from 2008)

If your impression of how news reporters do their work was gained from watching TV programs like Superman and Lou Grant and the cop shows, you're mostly wrong.

Only a small percentage of reporting — in print, online or in broadcast media — actually comes from snooping around and digging up news.

When a reporter for the New York Times or Washington Post does get a legitimate scoop that's published in the morning, you can be sure that copycats at CNN, CNBC and the network news shows will quickly be spewing out the same story.

Investigative reporting remains the holy grail for reporters, the goal that wins praises, raises and Pulitzer prizes.

But in truth, most reporting is merely rehashing, replaying and relaying the manufactured news that is distributed by newsmakers who want publicity.

These newsmakers range from presidents, bureaucrats and generals who call press conferences or invite reporters to conduct interviews, to the makers of new gadgets who want the public to think that their stuff is wonderful and buy them, or to invest in their companies.

If you channel-surf between 6 and 7PM you might wonder how and why all of the TV news shows are reporting on the same events.

If the event is a war, forest fire, assassination or hurricane, it’s real news and the duplication makes sense.

But if the event is the announcement of a new Toyota, iPod, quarterback or movie deal, it’s more like free advertising than news. You’re seeing it all over because all of the news editors were fed the same press release, and all of the reporters were fed the same lunch.

There's an unfortunate trend in contemporary journalism, particularly in online journalism, to reporting by repetition and even reporting by robots.

Press releases are "read" by robots, which publish them for human beings and other robots to read.

Sometimes human beings do read the press releases, but they do little or none of the traditional fact checking that was once an important part of journalism. In many media outlets, there is an automatic assumption of accuracy and honesty that allows almost anything to get published and widely permeated.

If "news" arrives in the proper format, with authentic language, it is almost always believed and is not likely to be challenged by journalists who are in a hurry to publish faster than their peers.

Early on Thursday April 3, 2008 I launched a 90%-false press release as a joke, a test, and an example.

Within a few hours, it was picked up and published by websites around the world. Many news writers added original material to demonstrate their extensive knowledge of the subject. Some made silly mistakes that showed that they did not even read what what was in front of them. Only one called me to verify the story and I told him that the news was a spoof.

Most press releases include a quotation from an executive vice president or director of something. But 90% of the time, the important person who is quoted never said those pithy and powerful words. The quote is a phony, invented by the public relations person (“flack”) who wrote the press release, and is trying to flatter the exec by getting his or her name printed in newspapers and magazines, or into blogs, websites and search engines.

Some reporters and editors are both lazy and competitive.

My first job after college was as assistant editor of High Fidelity Trade News, a magazine that went to hi-fi stores. Our direct competitor, aimed at the same audience, was Audio Times. Both publications, and dozens of other media, received the same press releases about new products, with the same fabricated quotes.

A lot of my work involved re-writing press releases for publication. I was supposed to filter out the superlative adjectives and make the news sound more like news than like advertising. On one of my first days, my boss Bryan returned an article I had written with a quote crossed out and a big PR BS written on it. Bryan told me to assume that the quotes were bullshit, and that we never published them.

The other guys had lower standards and higher self-image. They enhanced every quote into something like “in an exclusive interview with Audio Times, Sony marketing director Fumio Watanabe explained that the company’s new XRT-707 would revolutionize the...”

So, you shouldn't believe everything you read. But, you should believe this page.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Oh Goody! Yet another strange self-publishing company we don't need

(Before we get into the details, you should know that the impressive award shown above is provided by a company that makes its money by selling award trophies and plaques. I previously wrote about Outskirts Press promoting its dubious vanity honor. BTW, if you know how to use a PC, you can get the IMAGE of a vanity award for your website without actually having to pay for one.


Folks, it's getting hard to keep track of all the new businesses that charge writers to publish their books. In the last year, we've seen the debut of Harlequin Horizons/DellArte Press,  Balboa Press, Palibrio, Esquire Publications and others; and just last week Abbott Press jumped into the increasingly crowded pool.

Now writers have yet another option: Light Messages. The name is woo-woo and vague. It could be appropriate for a skywriting company or a company that projects advertising on walls, or maybe a laser engraving business, or someone who sells sermons or teaches semaphore operation. I have no idea what the name is supposed to mean, or what it has to do with writing or books --  but I suppose "Amazon" doesn't  imply books, either. When I was a Cub Scout, I learned to send Morse Code communications with a flashlight. They were real light messages. I got an email from the company explaining that "Good books contain Light." OK, but many good books also contain dark.

I have no proof, but perhaps the company hopes that people will confuse it with on-demand printer Lightning Source, just as the operators of Kennedy Fried Chicken make money selling food to people who confuse it with Kentucky Fried Chicken.


Anyway, here's the press release with (of course) my cynical comments:

Publishing House Offers Innovative Solution for Independent Authors

Light Messages has introduced the new "Partnership Publishing" model, an innovative solution for independent authors who are seeking publication.

Partnership publishing offers an innovative solution for independent authors. [Actually, it's for dependent authors.]

Durham, NC (Vocus/PRWEB) February 01, 2011: Light Messages has introduced the new "Partnership Publishing" model, an innovative solution for independent authors seeking publication.

Partnership Publishing enables authors to reach worldwide markets inexpensively [or expensively] by sharing the sales profits [which may never come]. This differs from traditional publishers who only print [should be "print only'] books they believe will generate large profits of which they take the lion's share.

Until now, the only other option apart from traditional publishing was what has become known as vanity publishing, or self publishing. [Er, ah, vanity publishing is NOT the same thing as self publishing.] This option not only carries a stigma [I don't think Mark Twain was stigmatized by self-publishing. Nor am I.] but it also gets expensive because the printer/publisher earns an up-front profit from the author who must then sell the books. [Authors don't have to sell books. Booksellers sell books.]

Through Partnership Publishing from Light Messages, the publisher will print the books, provide an ISBN, list the books in all major catalogs, and distribute the books through major book sellers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Light Messages, and "brick and mortar" bookstores. [Just like about 100 competing companies.]

Authors help lower the publisher's cost by following a simple guide to do as much of the preparation work as they can or wish to do. In return, authors retain the full rights of the book after the first year [what about during the first year?] and receive half the profits from all sales of their books. [I wonder how the profits are calculated. With Hollywood-style math, there may be no profits, even if lots of books are sold.]

"Partnership publishing removes the stigma and cost of vanity publishing, while freeing authors to write what they want instead of what the industry says they must write," says Wally Turnbull, author and Light Messages co-founder. "This is the most fair and easy solution available to independent authors today." [If an author pays Wally for publishing, the author is NOT independent.]

The secret to Light Message's low-cost solution for authors lies in the print-on-demand options. [WOW! That's a great idea. It's a good thing that Lulu, CreateSpace, Infinity, AuthorHouse,  Outskirts, Xlibris, Random House and the Yale University Press don't know about the print-on-demand secret. Oh.]  By using print-on-demand, Turnbull says, authors no longer need to tie up money and space in storing thousands of copies of books they then need to sell themselves. [That has not been an issue for about ten years.]

While still in its infancy [BULLSHIT!] , the concept is catching on quickly. [It took Light Messages a long time to catch on.] Some of the recently published featured titles from Light Messages include 'Harry Loves Carrots,' by Laura Baldwin, 'Peace Seekers,' by Jim Abrahamson, and "The True Story of Cinderella and How She Really Became a Princess,' by Deborah Hining. [An interesting mix of single quote marks and double quotes. Doesn't the publisher have a copyeditor?]

Independent authors seeking publication may submit manuscripts to Light Messages or contact the publisher for more details. [Can the publisher be contacted with a light message?]


Some analysis:

(ONE) The company says, "Cost is less than you might think but it does depend on book size, number of pages, use of color, binding and so many factors that each book must be quoted separately. As a generic example, a typical 5-1/2"X8-1/2" book of 200 pages printed in black ink with a full-color paperback cover could retail for $15 to $20 with a production cost of about half that amount.

That means a cost of  $7.50 to $10. With Lightning Source, the production cost is $3.90 (and that fee includes the cost of shipping the book to a bookseller's customer. CreateSpace charges $3.25. Lulu charges  $5.60.

(TWO) The "Title setup and registration" fee is $250. That's more than you could pay to companies such as Outskirts Press and Wasteland Press for a book with cover design.

(THREE) Page formatting costs 75 cents per page, and cover design costs $95 or $300.

(FOUR) The company does not edit manuscripts, "but depending on your subject we may be able to refer to you an independent editor." Or, maybe they'll be able to refer you to a publisher that does provide editing.

(FIVE) "Annual distribution fee" is $25 per title -- a nice markup of the $12 fee the company likely pays to Lightning Source

(SIX) "Web promotion" is included in the setup fee. That could mean that your book is listed on the publisher's website, which seven people will see. Or six. Or none.

(SEVEN) The fee for a "Targeted national press release" is $395 -- which may be fair, a bargain or a ripoff, because no details are specified.

(EIGHT) Light Messages says it "helps you get listed with major bookstores such as, Ingram, and Barnes & Noble, maximizing the reach of your potential sales." Actually, since they presumably have books printed by Lightning Source, they do nothing to get your book listed -- and Ingram is a wholesaler, not a bookstore.

(NINE) All payments must be made by check or through Paypal. Light Messages' first book came out over ten years ago, but the company still doesn't even have a "merchant" account to accept credit cards. Even flea market vendors accept plastic.

(TEN) Light Messages is apparently operated out of the home of Wally Turnbull, and even shares Wally's residential phone number. The company doesn't seem to have a business phone listing, or a toll-free number.

I'm certainly in favor of efficiency, saving money and short commutes. I operated a home-based business for many years -- but that business had its own local and toll-free numbers.

If Light Messages wants to compete with the big guys, it needs to beef-up its image. Image can be more important than reality. Just ask the puny Wizard of Oz. Outskirts Press may operate out of the home of boss Brent Sampson, but Brent pays a few bucks each month to use the address of a UPS store.

(ELEVEN) I saved the best (i.e., worst) for last. The company says, "You retain full rights to your book after the first year." That seems to imply that authors have no rights or few rights during the first year. No rights presumably means no money. Therefore, if you want promotional efforts such as book reviews to help feed your own bank account, don't do anything until your book is nearly a year old. 

In conclusion, while it's quite possible that Light Messages can produce decent books and market them well, the lack of editing, the peculiar financial aspects of "Partnership Publishing," and high production costs may make author profits impossible. I can't think of any reason to publish with Light Messages.

The "Partnership" premise is certainly dubious, because the cost of participating in the partnership -- with an implied sharing of expenses -- is not less than some publishing packages from other companies that don't want to be your partner.

Just as modern technology enables anyone who can type (or dictate) to become an "author," the same technology allows almost anyone to become a "publisher."

Be careful picking your partners.

(Naval semaphore photo from  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Great Bits of Dialog, #1063

"Your hump, your hump," cried the girl, "GIVE ME YOUR HUMP!"

(From Candy, by Terry Southern & Mason Hoffenberg).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Great Bits of Dialog, #203

"If I wasn't a lesbian, I'd jump on your bones.  I have a thing for middle-aged men who remind me of my father. "

(Said  to Mandy Patinkin  playing FBI Special Agent Jason Gideon in TV show Criminal Minds, Season 1, Episode 18, "Somebody's Watching." Writer: Ed Napier. First broadcast: 3/29/2006.)

Readers suggestions are welcome.