Thursday, March 31, 2011

President Obama needs
an American Henry Higgins

"My Fair Lady" was a hit musical which debuted on Broadway in 1956, and was followed by a multi-Oscar-winning movie in 1964. They were based on Pygmalion: A Romance in Five Acts, a 1912 play by George Bernard Shaw.

In the story, Henry Higgins is a professor of phonetics. He makes a bet that he can train a slum-dwelling Cockney-speaking flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to be accepted as a duchess at a fancy party by teaching her to speak high-class. Professor Higgins instructed Liza to say "the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" in proper British English.

President Barack Obama seems to need a professor to teach him to speak proper American English.

Like many, I voted for Obama. Like many, I am disappointed in him. I'm disappointed in him for political weakness, and for speech weakness.

George Dubya Bush, Obama's predecessor, was born in New England like his father (and graduated from Yale like his father and grandfather), but was raised in Texas. He has the accent of a hillbilly and says "was like" instead of "said" -- like a 20-year-old.

Obama was raised in several places, but he graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He may not be an all-star orator like FDR, JFK or MLK, but he's good.

His vocabulary is impressive, but his speech is depressing. When he opens his mouth, I shut my ears -- and it should not be that way with the president of the United States.
  • "Our" is not pronounced "are."
  • "To" is not pronounced "tuh."
  • "Going to" is not pronounced, "gunna."
Thank you, Mr. President.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Make your name your BRAND NAME

Any writer who expects to write more than one book, blog or article hopes that people who like one thing he or she has written will want to read more.

One good way to help people to find your work is to have a distinctive name, like Apple, Snapple, Chevrolet, singers and actors.

Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian father’s name, is unique and distinctive. So is the name of Marlon Brando, who played the part. Marlon Brando was Marlon Brando’s birth name.

Marion Morrison was less fortunate. He had to change his name to become John “Duke” Wayne.

Stephen King’s name is not unique or distinctive. But, after selling perhaps 300 million books, he probably does­n’t suffer from the existence of others with the same name. (Wikipedia listed about a dozen, including a Congressman, a pedo­phile and five athletes.)

What about a pen name?

It’s not unusual for a writer to use a pen name (nom de plume in French). Mark Twain is probab­ly the most famous fake. Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clem­ens, but he also used Sieur Louis de Conte.

There are many reasons for using a pen name:
·         To make the author’s name more distinctive, more glamorous or more interesting
·         To disguise the author’s gender
·         To protect the author from retribution, especially if the book is an exposé
·         To avoid confusion with other authors or famous people
·         To hide ethnicity or alter apparent ethnicity
·         To develop different personas for different genres such as fiction and nonfiction, or chick lit and sci-fi
·         To have a name more appropriate to a genre (male western writer Zane Grey was born Pearl Zane Gray)
·         To avoid overexposure by having too many books on sale at one time
·         To avoid embarrassment, such as when a professor writes porn, or to shield the author’s family from revelations of an unconventional or illegal past
·         If your name is hard to spell, remember, pronounce or seems too “foreign” or “ethnic.” The original family name of author Irving Wallace was Wallechinsky. His kids write as David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace.
·         If you’re afraid that the book could jeopardize your success in another field
Scott Lorenz, who provides marketing and PR at Westwind Communications (, suggests some reasons for using your own name on your books:
·         If you are not trying to hide from anyone
·         To brand your name for speaking gigs or consulting       
·         So people you know can find your books
·         To build trust and confidence with readers
·         To use your real-life expertise to validate the contents of your books

Don't use a bland name as a brand name.

If you have a bland name like “Arthur Williams,” you might be more easily found and better remembered if you change to Hamburger Williams or Xavier Nguyen Bacciagalupe III.

English punk rocker Declan MacManus morphed into a more-memorable Elvis Costello. On the other hand, film critic Elvis Mitch­ell was apparently born an Elvis.

Don Novello wrote books as Lazlo Toth, and appeared on TV as Father Guido Sarducci. Punk-rock bass player Sid Vicious was born John Ritchie. Cher was Cherilyn Sarkisian.

Sometimes just a slight change can do the job. F. Scott Fitzgerald is probably a better choice than Francis or Frankie Fitzgerald.  Bill Smith might be better remembered as William Harrington Smith or Billy D. Smith. Edward Jay Epstein has written more than a dozen books, perhaps with more success than hundreds of ordinary Ed Epsteins.

For my own brand, I’ve chosen to include my middle initial, “N.” A Google search for Michael N. Marcus shows over 100,000 links -- and most are mine. Apparently there are just two of us. I’m the writer. He’s a shrink.

When I was younger, I'd probably kill myself rather than admit the following: my middle name is NEUMAN.

  • For the first quarter century of my life, I hated and hid my unconventional and un-American middle name. I was so de­tached from the name that I misspelled it as “Numan” on a school registration form in second grade.
  • Any kid who discovered my secret name compared me to Alfred E. Neuman from MAD magazine. Time magazine once misspelled his name as “Newman” -- like Paul Newman.
  • For a while, when peo­ple asked what my middle initial “N” stood for, I’d say that it stood for “None of your fucking business.”
  • As a little kid, I was sometimes affectionately called “Noony” by my maternal grandmother. I loved her but hated the nickname.
  • In fifth grade, an obnoxious girl who lived near me heard about the nickname and used to follow me to school chanting, “Michael Noony Marcus.” In college, I lived with Indian students who told me that "noony" is the Hindi word for “penis,” which made me feel a bit better. I recently read that "noony" is slang for “vagina.” Now I’m completely confused and may have to consult a guru.
  • I once needed a pen name and used the derivative, Mitchell Newman.
If you are evaluating potential al­ternate names or just want some fun, take a look at It ranks name pop­­ularity based on listed phone numbers. When I checked, “Edward Ep­stein” was the #254,818-ranked full name, with 123 occurrences. On the other hand, Juan Epstein, from Welcome Back, Kotter, is unique, with just one listed person in the United States. And it may not be his real name. Maybe Juan’s real name is Xavier Nguyen Bacciagalupe III, or Sally Smith.

The value of a middle initial

Yesterday I listened to a telephone interview/conference call conducted by author/marketer/speaker/coach Roger C. Parker. Roger was interviewing Joel Friedlander, who was launching his great new book A Self-Publisher’s Companion. (I'll have more to say about it in the future.)

After the interview, I got to say few kind words about Joel, his blog and his book, and then I wanted to speak to the interviewer, not the interviewee.

There may be a million Roger Parkers in the world, but the name Roger C. Parker seemed very familiar to me.

I asked if -- and Roger confirmed that -- waaaaay back in 1970, he freelanced a monthly column about retail advertising for High Fidelity Trade News. At that time, I was employed by the mag as assistant editor, for the fabulous salary of $115 per week. It was my first job after college. The money sucked, but I had an impressive title, and was working in the media in Manhattan. Other former classmates were in places like Allentown and Fresno.

If Roger did not use his middle initial 41 years ago, I probably would not have noticed or remembered his name, and we would not have had our telephonic reunion.

(Roger, Joel, Me, Sigmund)

In another -- but perhaps less remarkable -- coincidence, Roger, Joel and I have facial hair but have lost some cranial hair. Why do so many male writers have beards? It would be a good question for Sigmund Freud. He was bearded and balding, too.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

BAM goes BOOM -- and the lying SOBs deserve it

Books-A-Million (BAM) claims to be the third largest book retailer in the USA (after Barnes & Noble and Borders, and ignoring It sells online at and operates over 200 stores in 23 states, mostly in the Midwest and Southeast and the District of Columbia. The company was founded in 1917 as a newsstand in Alabama.
  • Its annual sales decreased from 2007 to 2008, and from 2008 to 2009, and from 2009 to 2010.
  • Fiscal years end on 1/31 of the following year. For the year ended 1/31/11, sales fell 2.7%, to $495 million, and net income dropped 35.5%, to $8.9 million.The company could earn more from a savings account -- but it did better than Borders.
  • Same store sales fell 4.9% in the year.
  • The company recently started selling the Nook eBook reader -- developed by competitor B&N.
I have never been to a BAM store and can’t comment on their physical environments.

The book listings on the BAM website show that there is absolutely no reason to buy from BAM unless you have no other choice.

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

  • To make it even worse, shipping takes much longer than with other online sellers. BAM wants two to three days to process an order and then four to ten business days for free shipping. They say the total time from ordering a book to receiving a book could be six to thirteen business days.
  • One of my books has a $19.95 cover price. Amazon and B&N usually sell it for $17.95. BAM falsely claims that the “retail price” is “$21.95 and the “club price” is $19.75.They state that club members will “Save 10%.” In reality, club members will save 20 cents from the list price -- a whopping ONE PERCENT. They say it “usually ships in 5-15 days,” while competitors ship within 24 hours.
  • This is not an isolated incident. Another book of mine has a $29.95 cover price and is frequently discounted to $26.95. BAM claims the “retail price” is $32.95 and “online price” is also $32.95. The “club price” is $29.65 -- you save ONE PERCENT.
Stay away!

Monday, March 28, 2011

If a man says "Wow! Yes! Wow! Yes!," would you think he's reading an Outskirts Press press release -- or receiving an oral favor?

Two days ago I ended a multi-month hiatus to once again point out the abysmal press releases produced and distributed by Outskirts Press -- the self-publishing company I love to hate.

I pointed out that Kelly Schuknecht, who is in charge of press release production, is a HORRIBLE WRITER, and that it would have been better if she majored in English in college -- not foreign languages.

I just read the Outskirts Press web page that promotes its press releases. It was hard not to puke on my monitor.
  • How do these idiots stay in business?
  • Why do writers do business with a publishing company that employs bad writers?
The page has an ABSOLUTELY STUPID illustration. It shows a newspaper page with the headline, "For Immediate Release." That phrase goes in the upper-left corner of a press release. No newspaper prints the phrase -- and certainly not as a headline. A knowledgeable publicity person should know this. Of course, Outskirts Press does not employ any.

Here's what Outskirts says, with my customary caustic commentary:

Have our professional [NOT!] press release writer compose an original [NOT!], unique [NOT!] press release for your book . . . 

There are very few events in your life that justifies [justify] sending out a press release. Publishing a book is definitely one of them! Have one of our professional [NOT!] writers [Maybe.] draft an effective [NOT!], engaging [NOT!] custom [NOT!] press release focusing on your book with the intention of driving more sales and increasing the interest of reviewers, journalists, bloggers, and other members of the media. [That probably won't happen. The real intention is to increase the profits of Outskirts Press.]

Once your first draft is written, you can made [make] moderate changes corrections [OOPS! There seems to be a word missing here. What happened to the "professional" writer?] for a final draft. You will then receive a copy of the final release to use as you see fit for your marketing efforts. [An Outskirts release is better-suited for lining the bottom of a bird cage.]

We will also distribute your professional [NOT!] custom press release through the News Wire. [I have not been able to find an entity with that name which distributes press releases. Actually, an Outskirts release will be distributed through several second- and third-rate freebie services which are generally ignored by the media.]

What is News Wire Press Release Distribution?

Distributed electronically to a database of approximately 100,000 media contacts, newsrooms, industry analysts, and freelance writers who receive daily email listings of press releases which match their filter criteria. [Not a sentence.] In the publishing category these include newspapers (Wall St. Journal, New York Times, USA Today, etc.), magazines (Foreword, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.), and applicable websites and ezines. [The names should have been in italics, and it's Wall STREET, not "St." A professional should know this.]

The press release is also posted to [Should be "through."] syndicated news feeds on [Should be "to."] other web sites [OOPS -- in the previous sentence, it was "websites."] through [Better make that "with."] our XML/RSS news feed. Adding this news feed increases exposure to your press release. [Actually, it means that even more people will ignore it. A while ago I checked on the circulation of an Outskirts release. It appeared in exactly ONE place -- a blog sponsored by Outskirts Press.]

For maximum distribution, each distributed press release is optimized for search engines indexing [What the hell is "engines indexing?"]. Search engines regularly spider index [A hyphen would be appropriate. Actually this may be the first time that "spider index" has been used as a verb.] our press releases. Such distribution typically takes place within 1 [should be "one"] month of ordering the Custom Press Release service and changes cannot be made to a press release once it has been distributed, nor are refunds for the Custom Press Release available once the writer has begun composing the release. [Gotcha! No matter how badly Outskirts botches the job, you have to pay for it.]

Author testimonial

What an incredible thrill it was for me, as a first time publisher [He's an author, not a publisher. Outskirts is the publisher. If this guy doesn't know the difference between the two, he is the perfect ignorant customer for Outskirt Press. He didn't even know to hyphenate "first-time."] , to read the customized press release from your ultra-professional [HOLY SHIT!] staff of writers! As I was reading the press release I kept saying to myself, 'Wow! ... Yes! ... Wow! ... Yes!'  [That sounds more like a man's reaction to fellatio, not a press release.] for the entire press release!  [I bet I can sell this guy a bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn, or maybe a machine to convert gravel into diamonds.]

To say that I was enamored [Would his wife be jealous?] by the professionalism of your writers is certainly an understatement! [To say that, is an idiotic and ignorant overstatement.] After reading that press release I was ready to purchase 1,000 copies of my own book! [Uh-oh. Let's add insanity to idiocy and ignorance.] I can feel it! This customized press release will provide the hook that I will need to get my book into all kinds of markets! [Maybe a flea market or a fish market, but probably not bookstores.] I know that this book is special [Like special education?] and unique, but your eloquence [BARF!] has elevated it to a book that many people will read! [OMG! It's a 68-page paperback of poems priced at (GASP!) $32.95, and it has an Amazon sales ranking of worse than 3.5 million. The product description on Amazon is absolute garbage -- with bad punctuation and stray HTML indicators. It has four reviews. One is from a young photographer who contributed to the book and is likely a former student of the author, one review may have been paid for, and the review from the Midwest Book Review says little about the book.  Barnes & Noble shows one review -- from the same apparent former student.

I have to admit that this was the best investment of my life! [This guy is in deep shit.] To everyone out there that [It should be "who" -- and the author was an English teacher.] is getting their [My English teachers called this sin "lack of parallelism."] book published through Outskirts Press, it is an absolute necessity [More likely an absolute waste of money.] to purchase the Custom Press Release after your book is published! You will not regret it! [He should regret it.] A very special thank-you to everyone who works at Outskirts Press!" - Gregory J. Stang, author of Lifelines

[The release for this book has one of the world's most-ignorable, most-sleep-inducing headlines: "Published by Outskirts Press, Lifelines, by Poet Gregory J. Stang." The headline is supposed to attract the attention of a writer, reporter or editor -- not cure insomnia. Writing like this could replace Ambien. Reading it could require NoDoz.  Naturally, the release is poorly written, and has the traditional Outskirts errors.]

Since the author's input is integral to the custom press release [Why did we lose the initial uppercase letters?] , it cannot be composed until the author supplies the necessary information to Outskirts Press regarding their [ITS!] release.

You will receive a Custom Press Release  [Good -- we're back to uppercasing.] Form to complete for the purposes of having this release written. Any personal information submitted to Outskirts Press in conjunction with the Custom Press Release may be incorporated into the press release and distributed. This also means that the city and state of residence, according to the information you supply at the time of order [We need a comma here.] may be incorporated  [Uh-oh -- this sounds like a Miranda warning.] into the release and used to increase effectiveness [Extremely unlikely.] of targeted marketing during the press releases [Missing apostrophe.] distribution. Please specifically mention any information on the Custom Press Release form [Previously, "form" was capitalized.] that should not be included.

Outskirts says it distributes press releases to the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Foreword and Publisher’s Weekly.

It's easy to prove that these publications have little or no respect for Outskirts, its releases, its books or its authors.

Just go to some of the publications' websites and search for some Outskirts book titles -- or even "Outskirts Press." it's highly likely that the search will turn up little or nothing.
  • A search in the Wall Street Journal shows NO mentions of Outskirts Press.
  • Ditto for Foreword and USA Today.
  • The New York Times has mentioned Outskirts Press exactly ONCE. The Times covered a book written by a former Yankees pitcher about Mickey Mantle, and wife-swapping. It's hardly a typical Outskirts book or a typical Outskirts author, and there is no reason to assume that the coverage in the sports section was the result of an Outskirts press release.
Good authors deserve -- and need -- good press releases. If you decide to have Outskirts Press publish your book, DO NOT LET THEM DO YOUR PRESS RELEASE.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sometimes, you just can't trust

Back in 1976 I co-authored a book called CB Bible. It was my first book and I still have a copy. It has 242 pages. Amazon thinks it has just 25 pages and was published in 1909. That was long before Citizens Band radio existed, and long before I existed. Actually, it was even before my parents existed.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kelly Schuknecht should read her own words.
Good writers deserve good press releases.

OK, flub-fans, after a multi-month hiatus, it's once again time to pick on Outskirts Press -- the company I love to hate.

(Apology: there's some weird spacing down below. I could not fix it. Blame Blogger.)

Kelly Schuknecht is Director of the inadequate Author Support Department for inept and dishonest pay-to-publish company Outskirts Press.

Since Kelly's name goes on the horribly written press releases distributed for the Outskirts authors, she either writes them or oversees other people who write them. Either way, she is responsible for the many faults.

Kelly recently put this on her blog:

"Great writing and well planned marketing go hand-in-hand. If your book is full of grammatical errors . . . , all the marketing in the world can only take the book so far."

Sorry, Kelly, "well-planned" is a compound modifier and needs a hyphen -- especially in a paragraph warning people about the peril of grammatical errors, and especially in a blog from a publishing executive. Also, "only" belongs after "book."

Kelly apparently has a B.A. degree in "Modern Foreign Languages" from James Madison University. Too bad she didn't major In ENGLISH!

Kelly and her boss, Brent Sampson, have been frequent targets of my blog since 2008. They do so many things so badly, that they are, quite frankly, fun to write about. I even wrote a funny book about the faults of Outskirts. Kelly's in it, of course.

Years ago, I pointed out press release errors in private emails to Kelly but I never received a response. Now I use a public forum.

Kelly or her PR drones continue to make the same errors I've poked her about many times before. I have to assume that Kelly maintains her employment because her boss and her authors know as little about writing as she does -- and that is very sad.  Her previous title at Outskirts was "Press Release Coordinator." She did such an outstanding job (OMG!) that she was granted a more impressive title.

Here's a headline for a recent press release sent out over Kelly's name:

The End and the Beginning a Novel of Historical Fiction Set on the American Frontier in the Early 1800’s by Author Jim Oleson
  • A press release headline doesn't have to be a complete sentence, but it should have a verb in it.
  • The word "author" is superfluous.
  • We don't have to be told that is both a novel and fiction.
  • The book title should be in italics, or at least within quote marks, to separate it from the rest of the text.
  • The capitalization is confusing.
  • One or two commas would be helpful.
  • No apostrophe is needed in "1800's."

Here's the summary:

Jim Oleson’s most recent novel is a 6 x 9 paperback in the historical fiction category and is available world wide on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites and is published by Outskirts Press.
  • Not only is it Jim's most recent novel, it's apparently his FIRST novel and FIRST book. (Kelly frequently uses the nauseatingly redundant phrase, "most recent book to date.")
  • Is the page size important enough to deserve such prominent placement? This is not exactly the world's first 6-by-9 book.
  • No one cares about the category. (Kelly's releases often specify the color of the paper a book is printed on. No one cares about that, either.)
  • No one cares that Outskirts is the publisher.
  • "World wide" should be "worldwide."
  • The names "Barnes" and "Noble" should be separated by an ampersand, not "and." Kelly has done it properly on press releases for other books. I wonder how she decides which way to go.
And now we start the actual release (have a barf bag handy):

The northwest territories were unlike any other land in America with it’s enormous lakes, great rivers, endless dark forests and vast prairies providing habitat and sustenance to the original people for thousands of years was about to come to an end.
  • OMG!
  • WTF?
  • It's a terrible sentence. Actually it might be two terrible sentences which Kelly spliced together with little thought, care or talent. Exactly WHAT "was about to come to an end?"
  • A reader might wonder if the release is referring to Canada's Northwest Territories, since accurate uppercasing is not an Outskirts priority. Canada's Northwest Territories do have enormous lakes, and Canada is part of "America." Does the book contain scenes set in Yellowknife -- or in Chicago?
  • No apostrophe is needed in "it's."
  • Actually, since the referred-to noun is the plural "territories," Kelly should have written "their" -- not "it's" or "its."
  • A comma is needed after "America."
The short release is filled with additional errors, including spelling the name of an important character with a lowercase initial letter, missing commas, "further" instead of "farther," lowercase "w" in "War of 1812," missing hyphen in "first-hand," "recreation" instead of "re-creation," "that" instead of "who," "on line" instead of "online," (Kelly sometimes spells it "on-line.") a missing paragraph space, "fast paced" instead of "fast-paced" -- and just plain bad writing.

It's also unintentionally funny -- and maybe hurtful -- calling slavery a "dark institution." (Most slaves had dark skin and were sometimes called "darkies.")
  • With his author discount, Jim Oleson paid $197.10 for the press release. That's about $197 too much.
  • The Outskirts Press website section about press releases says: "There are very few events in your life that justifies sending out a press release." Even this has bad grammar. The verb should be "justify."
  • The book's description on is also terribly done. It has other errors, and some of the same errors.

Outskirts Press advertises that it is "the future of book publishing." If that's true, please shoot me.

Even a serious book produced by Outskirts Press may be accompanied by a comedy of errors. BE CAREFUL!

Now for some good news: based on the few pages I previewed online, Jim Oleson is a skilled and engaging story teller. I seldom read fiction, but I will buy his book. Sadly, it seems that even a shitty press release can sell books, but there is no excuse for shitty press releases.

(gun photo from


Friday, March 25, 2011

Sharron Angle could set self-publishing back to the scratch-on-the-cave-wall era

Right-leaning Sharron Angle,
one third of the Silly Sorority
 which includes Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann

There's been a lot of very good news about self-publishing recently. There are frequent news reports and social media murmurings about authors forgoing the traditional publication path to reach readers, and they are happier and perhaps wealthier because of it.
  • Just a few days ago the book world was astounded to learn that thriller author Barry Eisler turned down a $500,000 two-book contract in favor of running his own show.
  • Moving in the other direction, after self-publishing over a million books, Amanda Hocking -- a specialist in teenybopper vampire crap which I wouldn't read with someone else's eyes -- received more than $2 million from a traditional publisher for four books. It's extremely unlikely that she would have received the offer without first being a successful self-pubber.
Self-publishing seemed to be breaking away and surging away from its old "vanity press" image.

And then Sharron got involved.

Tilted-to-the-right Teabagger and failed political candidate Sharron Angle wants to write a book.

She may have been inspired by the financial success of her spiritual sister Sarah Palin. The moosemama's first book Going Rogue is ghost-written garbage (I own a copy) but still managed to become a New York Times #1 bestseller in its first week of release. Its publicity and sales were boosted by a very visible price war among booksellers when it first came out. Sarah's second book was less successful.

Sharron was the losing 2010 Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Nevada, and recently announced that she would run for the House in 2012.

Sharron apparently feels that her candidacy will be enhanced by publication of a memoir. It will called Right Angle, and is "about her life and values." (Where's my barf bag?)

The crackpot has claimed that the 9/11 hijackers entered the United States through Canada (couldn't Sarah see them from Alaska and warn the Feds?), wants to eliminate the Department of Education, wants the U.S. to leave the U.N., opposes abortion -- even in cases of rape or incest, opposes fluoridation of drinking water, doesn't believe that global warming is caused by human activity, and called BP's plan to provide $20 million to oil spill victims a "slush fund."  She favors widespread armament to defend the American population against the government and decried a shortage of bullets in gun stores. Congressman Jim Clyburn said that Sharron's endorsement of "Second Amendment remedies" in her losing campaign contributed to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

It should be obvious that I think that Sharron Angle is a nut job, but I certainly believe she has the right to spew her wacky words at anyone who will listen to or read them.

However, it seems like no traditional publisher was willing to take a chance on Sharron and offer her a deal like Sarah got, so Sharron decided to pay AuthorHouse to produce her book. AuthorHouse's publishing packages start at $599. I don't know how much Sharron is paying, but in discussing the deal,  AH corporate media guy Kevin Gray pointed out that his company's publishing packages can cost up to $15,000.

So, what's the problem?
  • If people, recognizing the limited abilities of Sharron Angle, learn of her decision to pay AuthorHouse, they might assume that other authors who self-publish do so because they have no other choice. That would be very bad.
Since Sharron's parents could not even spell "Sharon" correctly, I have little hope that their darling daughter will turn out a decent book.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I shouldn't have to teach a New York Times reporter about applesauce

I expect to be 65 years old next month. Yesterday I showed up for an appointment promptly at 9:30 a.m. -- but I was 24 hours early. I sometimes forget to mail letters, take all of my pills or put my cellphone in my pocket.

But I seldom forget things my schoolteachers taught me when I was a little kid.

One lesson I remember from second grade (probably in 1953 or '54) is when to use "less" and when to use "fewer."

It was very simple then, and it's very simple now.

  • "Less" goes with things that are measured or weighed, like apple sauce.
  • "Fewer" goes with things that are counted, like apples (or bottles of sauce).
You can have less wine, but fewer bottles and fewer drinks. You can have less time to travel, but fewer days for your trip. Although I did not learn this corollary in second grade, "less" also applies to concepts, like "less freedom." And although I've heard some arguments to the contrary, I still believe that the express checkout lanes in supermarkets should be for buying “10 Items or Fewer,” not “Less.”

Apparently New York Times reporter Ben Sisario did not learn what I learned in second grade. Even worse, neither did his copyeditor.

Subscribers can be counted, so they get the "fewer" treatment.

(Applesauce photo from Mott's, of course. Apples photo from

Wednesday, March 23, 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 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.

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 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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What's the worst thing about
publishing a book?

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 some 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. 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, 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.

My books about publishing, and many others, 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.

(Pool table photo from StarJumper, llicensed through

Monday, March 21, 2011

Writers need better ears, eyes, brains and editors

Readers of this blog have likely noticed (or been pissed off by) my attention (affection?) for errors made by writers.

Inconsistent spelling and improper punctuation should be fixed by editors. Wrong information should be corrected by fact checkers. Unfortunately, the rush to publish, limited budget and egomania ("I doan need no steenkin editor!") of many self-published authors lead to bad books. There are defective articles in magazines and newspapers. Many websites and blogs are very far from perfect, too. And so are some broadcasts.

Time magazine has (or had) the most stringent fact-checking process in periodical publishing. Apparently, their checkers were expected to put a dot over each word in a manuscript to indicate that the word was checked, verified or changed.

Rival Newsweek has been notorious for printing "Newsweek regrets the error" at the end of the letters section.

Esquire once paid me to write an article, and months later one of the mag's fact-checkers called ME to verify something in the article. If I was not trusted to write the piece, why was I trusted to verify it?

The New York Times publishes large sections of corrections.

Some of my favorite errors:
  • The February 2009 issue of Automobile magazine told readers that Thomas Edison said, "Mr. Watson, come here." Actually, Edison was the guy with the light bulb, moving pictures, phonograph and concrete houses. Alex G. Bell was the one who spoke to Watson on the first telephone.
  • In the 1980s, a reporter for WCBS TV news used the Spanish phrase "mano a mano" to mean "man-to-man." It really means "hand-to-hand." This is a common error.
  • Every November, without fail, at least one talking head on TV will refer to the "Macy's Day Parade." The name of the holiday is Thanksgivings Day, and the event in Manhattan is the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," you idiots!
  • Another common New York broadcast blooper, at least for beginning broadcasters, is "Port of Authority." The real name of the organization is the "Port Authority of New York and New Jersey."
  • Brent Sampson is the boss of Outskirts Press and author of a promotional book titled Self Publishing Simplified. Brent wrote, "Peter Mark first published the Thesaurus in 1852," strangely ignoring the much more famous Peter Roget who published his Thesaurus in the same year. Actually Mark was the middle name of Peter Mark Roget, so Brent was two thirds right.
  • Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls by Keith & Kent Zimmerman has silly geography errors. It's disturbing that three Teutuls plus two Zimmermans plus fact checkers and editors at Warner Books could let obvious errors get printed. On page 11, Paul Senior talks about his parents charging people to park in their driveway on Cooper Street in Yonkers, to watch horse races in Yonkers Raceway or baseball games in Yankee stadium, which were within "walking distance." While the track is just a few blocks away, the stadium is about 8.5 miles south. The 17 mile round trip is not "walking distance" for most people. Twice on page 15, Senior mentions his house in "Muncie," New York. Muncie is in Indiana. The Teutuls lived in MONSEY (which is pronounced like Muncie).
  • In Against the Odds. Inter-Tel: the First 30 Years, author Jeffrey L. Rodengen claims that in the early 1970s, "there were no domestic phone system manufacturers except AT&T. He inexplicably ignores GTE, Stromberg-Carlson, ITT, Northern Telecom and Rolm. Jeff also misspells company names, and seems to confuse intercom systems with phone systems.
  • In Desperate Networks by Bill Carter, an otherwise excellent book, there is this strange sentence on page 366: "What do expect for this?" What the heck does that mean? I'm only an amateur, but I found this and other flubs in the book. Where are the pros who get paid to find and fix them?
  • In So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star by Jacob Slichter, another book I liked very much, there's also some silly stuff. On page 237 it says, ". . . and did whatever the man in the headsets shouted at them to do." I've been using and selling headsets for years. I've even designed a few. But in all my experience, I've never seen a man who wore more than one headset at a time. Most men have two ears, and one headset will take care of both them just fine.
  • Steve Vogel's The Pentagon, a History is an extremely good book and I recommend it highly. Alas, it, too, has imperfections. On page 302 Steve describes a 1,000-foot-long vehicular tunnel illuminated by rows of neon lights. Neon lights are used for signs. I'd bet $20 that the tunnel was really illuminated by fluorescent lights. On page 276 Steve says the original Pentagon phone system had "68,600 miles of trunk lines." I'd bet $100 that's not true.
  • Joshua Levine's The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys is a very interesting retail history that details the destruction of a once-powerful institution by the dysfunctional family members who followed its founder. (At least it's very interesting to me, and I read a lot of retail histories.) On page 147 we are told that "inventory shortage is the term applied to discrepancies between the inventory recorded as sold and the actual depletion of stock on hand." The proper term is "shrinkage," not "shortage." Retailers know this, and so should writers and editors doing a book about retailing. On page 186, Joshua mentions "people called factors," who advance payments to stores based on accounts receivable. It's possible that hundreds of years ago factors were individual people, but during the Barneys era, factors have been companies. On page 244, Joshua tells us that Fred Pressman "didn't have the kichas for it . . . a Yiddish expression for intestinal fortitude." The proper term is kishkes. This error is unforgivable for a writer with a name like "Joshua Levine." The word originally meant "intestines," and is now slang for "guts."
  • In Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way!,  Helen Gallagher says, "Expert editing is a requirement." Sadly, Helen calls Stephen King, "Steven" and falsely claims that owns POD-printer Lightning Source. 
  • In a Wall Street Journal article published on April 2, 2008, Amy Schatz wrote, "The Carterfone rule required traditional wireline phone companies such as AT&T to allow consumers to use any phone they wanted in their homes, instead of renting or buying a phone from their local carrier." The Carterfone decision was in 1968, but at that time the phone companies were renting, not selling phones to their customers. Sales did not come until much later, probably in the 1980s, as a defensive reaction by telephone utilities to retailers who were selling phones that could now be legally plugged in. Some smaller phone companies may have sold some equipment earlier, but not AT&T's Bell System, and the Carterfone decision did not permit massive private phone ownership. That was enabled by a Supreme Court decision in 1977. And even then, people could not "use any phone they wanted." Phones had to meet FCC standards or be connected behind a protective coupling device.
  • Back on December 12, 1988, the New York Times published an article by Calvin Sims about the aftermath of the 1984 Bell System breakup. Sims wrote, "consumers have to decide whether to buy their telephones or rent them in a market where dozens of telephone manufacturers offer equipment of varying quality." While that statement was true, it had absolutely nothing to do with the demise of the Bell System. As I stated above, freedom of choice goes back to 1977. Calvin also wrote, "Consumers must choose among the nation's three long-distance carriers -- American Telephone and Telegraph, MCI Communications, and U S Sprint." While those three companies had captured the majority of the long distance calling business, there were dozens of other regional, national, and international competitors, including ITT, Metromedia, RCI, TDX and Allnet. And if consumers did not want to make a choice, a long distance carrier could be assigned arbitrarily by the local phone company. Also, long distance competition existed as far back as 1970, long before the Bell breakup.
  • Years ago, 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 that are normally used as an abrasive to remove calluses from feet. They were wearing Pumas, a brand of sneakers.
  • The Essential Guide to Telecommunications by Annabel Z. Dodd does a pretty good job covering the subject, but has some silly errors. On page 40 she says, "Rotary telephones, called 500 sets, were introduced in 1896." Actually the 500 model designation was not used until after World War II. Before that were the 300, 200 and others.
  • In a review of "Grease" in one of New York City's tabloids, the writer explained that the title refers to the lubricants used in teenage boys' hotrods. Actually, it referred to the grease in their hair. (When I was in high school, those kids were called "greasers" -- or "hoods" or "JDs" (juvenile delinquents).
  • Sadly, I can't give you a citation, but I read an interview where someone was quoted as saying "chalk full" of something instead of "chock full." I've also read "chuck full."
  • Google shows more than 600,000 links for "anchors away." The correct term is "anchors aweigh."
  • On an early job working for a magazine, I wrote something about trading-in an aging model A Ford for a new model T, and submitted my manuscript to my boss, the editor. The editor told the publisher that I made a serious error because the Model A came out after the Model T. He was wrong. What I knew, and what the editor didn’t know, was that there were two Model A Ford cars. One was first built in 1903, before the Model T, which was produced from 1908 through 1927. Another Model A was first built in 1927, after the Model T was discontinued.
Despite this long list and my know-it-all attitude, I readily admit to being human, and therefore both mortal and fallible. I therefore confess to two errors related to publishing.
  1. In 1976 I accused a co-author of bullshitting about the "baobab" tree. I thought he made it up, but the tree is real.
  2. In my first book about self-publishing, I recommended using the prime and double prime to indicate feet and inches, and minutes and seconds. I illustrated that section with vertical ditto marks. I was wrong, and my later books show correctly slanted primes.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Is urine really like brie, havarti, muenster and cheddar?

I have long been fascinated by euphemisms.
  • Some euphemisms, like "gay," have become so common that the earlier use of the word has largely ended.
  • Some euphemisms seem nastier than the words they replace. "Son of a bitch" was devised to replace "dog" -- a horrible epithet in England. In the USA, "bitch" is a bad word, unless you're talking about a female dog.
  • Some euphemisms, like "SOB" and "son of a B," are euphemisms for other euphemisms.
  • Some euphemisms are just plain confusing.
"Pissed-off" is common American slang for "really annoyed." Some people find the reference to the ubiquitous yellow liquid unpleasant and avoid the phrase even if they can't avoid the sentiment. One common euphemism uses what may be an abbreviation: "P'd-off" -- but maybe it's really "pee'd-off, using a gentler synonym of "piss."

We also have people who move one generation farther away, using a rhyming euphemism for the the gentler synonym. They say "tee'd off" instead of "pee'd off." Would Tiger Woods be tee'd off if someone else tee'd off at Tiger's tee time?
  • And then we get to the really silly euphemisms like "ticked-off," "torqued-off," and the silliest of all:
The Brits, who drive on the wrong side of the road and gave us the classic "son of a bitch," use "piss-off" not to mean "annoy" or "bother," but as a gentler alternative to "fuck-off" or "get the hell out of here."

Euphemism fans, slang aficionados and more generalized language geeks will enjoy Euphemania by Ralph Keyes. I just started reading it and am learning things on almost every page. Ralph claims that Midwesterners say "sack" instead of "bag" because they perceive "bag" as slang for "scrotum." Folks in the northeast, where "sack" may mean "scrotum," feel safe with "bag."

I'm not sure if Ralph is right about this, but it's interesting to contemplate. Southerners avoid both "bag" and "sack" by saying "poke."

Y'all be careful now. Don't you be buyin' no pig in a poke. Y'hear?

And men, don't get poked in your bag, or your sack.

And speaking of "nut sacks," I'd long suspected that the "heavenly coffee" Chock full o' Nuts got its name because someone was reluctant to call it "full of beans," although coffee is made from beans, not nuts. Alas, I was wrong. It turns out that the compay's founder William Black opened a nut shop in Manhattan in 1926, and later started selling coffee but used the nut shop's name on the coffee.

When I was in junior high school, we verbally combined the two images above to produce "jock full of nuts."

CLICK for more about the coffee and NYC history.


Brie photo from Southport Grocery & Cafe. Urine sample photo from Mountainside Medical Equipment. Jockstrap photo from Calvin Klein. I thank them.