Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This may be the worst-looking, worst-edited book I've ever seen that names a designer and editor. (Part One)

What happens when a marketing expert who's a sloppy writer hires a designer who doesn't know how to design books and an editor who doesn't notice mistakes?
They make a bad book.

Last week I wrote about silly and serious online errors made by Michelle Dunn.

I did not expect to be writing about her again soon, but I have to. Those online errors turned out to be just a warmup for worse errors in her book, Mosquito Marketing.

Reading the book was a very frustrating experience.

Michelle Dunn knows her subject well. (That is probably the only nice thing I'll say about her. I wonder if she'll use the comment as a promotional blurb.).

Unfortunately,  Michelle Dunn is a careless writer (or maybe an uncaring writer), and she chose an unqualified editor and designer, and together they have produced a bad book. It may be that Michelle is better-suited to be a speaker or a teacher or bill collector than a writer and publisher.

This book has 174 pages, but it has more errors than pages. It is so badly written, edited and designed, it can hurt people it is intended to help. Its audience is new authors, and a new author -- especially a self-publishing author -- who uses this book as an example for publishing a book, will produce yet another bad book. There are already thousands of bad books. We don't need more of them.
  • While this book is not specifically about producing a book, it is dangerous because newbies who read it and are impressed by its reviews and Michelle's apparent success, may assume that it is a proper example of publishing.
  • There is so much wrong with this book that I could write a book about all that's wrong with it. Instead, I'll do two blog posts.
  • Sadly, the author thinks the book is fine. In an online forum, Michelle wrote, "My proof came back perfect -- woo hoo!" (I could be really unkind here and say that only someone who knows nothing about books or can't read or has extremely bad vision would think a proof of this book is perfect -- but I won't say that.)
  • The book has 12 five-star reviews on Amazon.com. One is particularly suspicious. It calls Michelle an "author extraordinaire." Michelle calls herself a "marketer extraordinaire." The reviewer also gave five stars to one of Michelle's books about bill collecting. I find it hard to believe that someone would buy Michelle's books about both bill collecting and book marketing. I call "BULLSHIT!" Another five-star review was written by someone who wrote part of the book and may benefit from its success. Most of the reviewers were blind to the book's abundant errors. The one expert reviewer who noticed what is wrong with the book, awarded the minimum one star.
  • Michelle may not have progressed much from a previous $57.95 book about bill collecting. One reviewer of that book wrote, "poorly edited." Another said, "There is so much nonsense filler  . . .  Michelle goes as far as to define the word 'money.' Come on, are you serious?"
Normally, in any effort -- especially one from a "marketer extraordinaire" -- people know to "put your best foot forward."

With a book, the best foot should be the front cover. Michelle's cover is dreadful, and the book gets worse as it progresses.

Let's start with the silly title. What the hell is "Mosquito Marketing?"

If a book titled "Restaurant Marketing" provides help for those who need to market restaurants, is it not logical to assume that a book titled "Mosquito Marketing" is intended to aid those who have the need or desire to market annoying noisy bugs which cause discomfort, disfigurement, disease and even death?

But wait! If you read some of the smaller type on the front cover, or read the spine, you'll learn that the full title is "Mosquito Marketing  for Authors."

Is Michelle's book intended for authors who have grown tired of writing and now wish to start new businesses breeding and selling bugs? Do psychopathic authors want to help spread malaria, West Nile Virus and eastern equine encephalitis?

Michelle recommends that authors develop niche markets. Just how large is the niche of antisocial authors who want to market mosquitoes?

On the other hand, a book titled "Word of Mouth Marketing" explains how to market products and services by using word of mouth. Is Michelle's title suggesting that authors market their books by using mosquitoes? Could swarms of the needle-nosed disease spreaders be trained to tow banners across the sky, or to fly in formation to spell out a book title?

But, of course, I'm kidding. Michelle seems to have chosen the term "Mosquito Marketing" because it's short, unusual, memorable and provides a theme for a book series -- but the term is misleading and meaningless.

Michelle realized that the book needs two subtitles to explain what it's about. The second subtitle on the cover says that the book should enable readers to "Create and Maintain a Buzz That Cannot be Repelled." Sorry, Michelle, a title should "work" without even one subtitle. A subtitle should AMPLIFY a title, and provide additional searchable keywords. A title has to make sense without its subtitle -- and Michelle's does not.

Imagine this conversation:

Sam: Hi, Michelle. What's new?

Michelle: I just published a book.

Sam: What's it called?

Michelle: Mosquito Marketing for Authors.

Sam: What's it about?
  • Sam should not have to ask that question. IF SOMEONE CAN'T DISCERN THE SUBJECT FROM A BOOK'S TITLE, IT'S A BAD TITLE. (Note: this does not apply to novels or poetry.)
  • The Table of Contents ("TOC") shows a different version of the second subtitle. Perhaps Michelle changed her mind and didn't update the page, or the cover.
The main illustration on the front cover is of a laptop PC with cash flowing from the screen. The original photo came from iStockPhoto, and cost a few bucks. The illustration could be a suitable logo for a website design or hosting company, or a book about selling on eBay or Craigslist, or a logo for a company that does Search Engine Optimization or even PC repair -- but there is nothing about the illustration that is specifically tied to marketing books for authors. (Strangely, the online cover images have the laptop immersed in a turquoise cloud. The actual book is cloudless.)
There is a finite number of illustration themes for books about publishing. Typical cliche pictures include books, readers, writers, money, and such writing tools as pens, pencils, quills, PCs and notepads. Or, a cover could be all-text. I've already used books, a reader, a writer, and all-text. I'm getting bored. My next book about publishing has a golden retriever on the cover. (Most of my covers use inexpensive stock photos, too.)

Michelle's cover also shows the word "Buzz!" in light gray lettering emanating from the laptop three times. (Actually the online cover shows four buzzes but the physical book buzzes only three times.) You have to look closely to see the buzzes -- and one is just an "uzz." Frankly, if my PC buzzes or uzzes, I'll send it out to be repaired.

There are also problems with the text on the front cover. "Award winning" should be hyphenated. "Best seller" should be one word. "That" should be "which" and probably should not be capitalized. The book is shown to be written "by Michelle Dunn." Sorry, Michelle, the word "by" is seldom used before an author's name after third grade.

  • Damn! Look at all the errors I've found, and I have not even flipped open the cover.
Here's some good news: Except for being dull and poorly centered, there is nothing wrong with the book's spine. I'll give Michell a "pass" on the centering, because it's tough to achieve good centering on a thin POD book.

The sins on the back cover include amateur typography (straight quote marks instead of curly "typographer's marks" and an en dash that should be an em dash), bad punctuation, inconsistent uppercasing, and bad writing. "Learn from an industry veteran with over 10 years experience all in a convenient book . . ." sounds like all of Michelle's 10 years of experience occurred within a book.

There's also a factual error. Publicity is not "FREE" if someone is paid to generate it or if money is spent distributing press releases. (Inside the book, Michelle says that most of her own publicity was free.) The paragraph about the difference between publicity and marketing does not provide information about the author or the book, or a reason to buy the book. It does NOT belong on the cover.

The author photo on the back cover shows Michelle leaning away from the text. She has turned her back on her own words, visually rejecting what she wrote. She's facing off the cover, and a psychological barrier is created between her and the text. This is a fundamental design flaw. People tend to look into other people's eyes. Readers tend to be directed by images of faces, eyes or headlights, and readers should not be directed off the page. The lower illustration is from one of my books. Readers see the text while trying to gaze into my eyes. (I'm kidding.)  Ironically, there's a nice portrait of Michelle on her website, where she is facing the right way.

Michelle strangely decided to print an incomplete and unnecessary ISBN and an "EAN-13" below the logo on the bottom of the back cover. The full ISBN is printed above the bar code. "EAN" was originally "European Article Number," but is now used to mean "International Article Number” -- and there is no need to have it on the book.

OK. With significant foreboding, substantial dread and overwhelming apprehension, I opened the book, and stepped into even deeper shit.


Michelle's atrocious first page has so much wrong with it, it's almost a MAD magazine parody of an inept self-published book. (I know I've used that line before, but it's appropriate here.)

(Left-click to enlarge, if you dare. Have a barf bag handy.)

Here's some of what's wrong with the first pages:
  1. In a "normal" book, the first page could be a half-title page (a.k.a. "bastard title"), or a title page, or a page of blurbs, or even a blank page. But, Michelle is anything but a conventional publisher. Her ugly first page combines elements of a title page AND a copyright page -- which is normally the page printed on the back of the title page.
  2. In a recent blog post at SellingBooks.com, Linda Jay Gelding said, "The message that you want to convey through your book would be distorted, tarnished, or even ruined if readers discover that the text is riddled with errors." I was initially pleased to see that Michelle's book had an apparently professional editor. The first page says, "Editing by provided by Arlene Stoppe." HOLY SHIT! Even the simple line about the book's editing was not edited properly.
  3. The page has the name of Michelle's publishing company THREE TIMES. Once is enough, dammit!
  4. However, the book's ISBN is not provided even once on this page or anywhere in the front matter.
  5. The page shows what should be a Library of Congress Control Number ("LCCN"). Michelle strangely puts "control" in lower case, and the number she shows is not an LCCN, and I have no idea what the hell it is. On page 172, Michelle uses the obsolete term, "Library of Congress Catalog Control Number." Michelle is consistently inconsistent.
  6. The bottom of the page has a disclaimer warning readers not to use the book for legal advice. This is just one of THREE DISCLAIMERS which Michelle provides in the first FIVE PAGES. She repeatedly warns the reader to consult an attorney. I wonder if Michelle operates an attorney referral agency. ONE DISCLAIMER IS ENOUGH. ONE DISCLAIMER IS ENOUGH. ONE DISCLAIMER IS ENOUGH.
  7. The second disclaimer says that the author is not giving "professional advice." Should we assume that the book contains UNprofessional advice? That disclaimer strangely starts in the third person, switches to first person, and then goes back to third person.
  8. Although it's the wrong place, the first page indicates a copyright date of 2010, with the name "Michelle Dunn."
  9. However, if you don't like 2010, just flip the page. You will then see a copyright date of 2009, and here Michelle's name appears with the middle initial "A" and there's a comma before her name. Again, consistency is not Michelle's strong suit.
  10. It's also not a prime characteristic of editor Arlene Stoppe.
    Actually, Arlene's main business seems to be real estate. She may be Michelle's landlady or best buddy, but I could not find anything online -- and certainly not in this book -- that qualifies Arlene to be an editor. I will give Arlene a few points because she has a photo of a golden retriever on her website -- but she probably should not be editing books.
  11. Arlene may have a good eye for picking dogs and houses, but not for editing. Neither she nor Michelle noticed that the second page says, "This book is designed to provide information to help you start up and run your own DEBT COLLECTION AGENCY." That's right. Michelle stupidly copied material from a previous book about an entirely different subject and pasted it, unread and unedited, into the mosquito book. If I've already found so much wrong and I'm still on the second page, can I trust anything in this book?
  12. The second page has both a folio (page number) and a header. Folios and headers do NOT go in the front matter. A professional design company, as WoW! Graphic Designs is supposed to be, should know this. WoW! should also know that headers should not go on the first page of a chapter, that most books should not be set ragged-right, that books should not have both indentations and blank pages to indicate the beginning of a paragraph, that a list which appears on the top of a recto page should not have an introduction on the bottom of the preceding verso page, and more. Much more.
  13. I exchanged email and had a phone conversation with Cheryl Microutsicos, owner of WoW! Before criticizing her here, I wanted to confirm that she was indeed involved in the project.  I did not want to criticize her and then find out that she really did not design and lay out the book, or that she started and then someone else completed it. I suppose I was hoping she'd say something like, "Please don't mention me. I had nothing to do with that horrible book." But no. Cheryl did the book.
  14. I mentioned the issue of folios and headers in the front matter and she said, "I really don't know what you're talking about." She said she knows what a header is but not a folio. Someone who does not know what a folio is should not be involved in publishing. I wonder if she knows about "verso" and "recto." I was afraid to ask.
  15. Cheryl can do good design work, but she simply lacks the education and experience to design books. ("I did not major in book design," she told me.) Cheryl said she did what the client wanted her to do. This sounds a lot like the Nazi soldiers who were "just following orders" to torture and murder. Cheryl wrote me, "I certainly hope the review is based more on the content of the book." Sorry -- my reviews discuss both content and design, especially in books about the book business. (In McLuhan terms, the medium and the message are inseparable.)
  16. The website for Cheryl's design company shows a concentration on commercial art such as logos, and websites. The pulldown menu under "portfolio" shows photos of the blessing of the hounds before a foxhunt. I was not surprised that the website has inconsistent typography (e.g., "twenty" and "12" on successive lines). Ironically, the WoW! website says, "Just call a professional graphic designer and let them do their magic."
  17. Strangely, the website also sells saddles and fancy horse whips! I know little about foxhunting, but apparently it is customary to bless the dogs and whip the horses. I don't know how the foxes are treated, but I doubt that they are happy participants.
  18. The WoW! website has strong "testimonials" from seven happy clients. Their work includes a website for a a dog breeder and a pony club, unspecified work for other equine clients, a logo for a company that teaches horseback riding, and unspecified work for an acupuncturist. There is exactly ONE endorsement from an author -- Michelle Dunn. It says, "Cheryl does high quality work—quickly and professionally. She has helped me with the layout and set up [sic] of my books, book covers, websites, and any promotional materials I need. She goes above and beyond what is expected. I highly recommend her." Since Michelle obviously knows NOTHING about book design, her endorsement means NOTHING.
  19. The WoW! website has a section selling 229 pictures of foxhunting. The site also has a link to its Facebook page. That page is about horses -- not design. The Twitter tweets are about horses and hunting -- not design.
  20. The site has an announcement welcoming "award-winning graphic designer" Kelly Bryant as Creative Director. Strangely, Kelly has her own website which appears to be competing with her employer. Kelly's site shows print projects dealing with horses and a bull -- but no books.
  21. I am mystified as to why Michelle Dunn chose an unsuitable and distant designer for her books. Michelle is in New Hampshire. Cheryl is in Virginia. The ladies are not neighbors. Perhaps Michelle loves to hunt foxes. Perhaps Michelle was impressed by a menu Cheryl designed. A nice menu is not enough. Book design is a specialty. The experience, taste and computer skills that can produce an attractive menu, website, advertisement, brochure, spec sheet, store sign or birdhouse are NOT sufficient background for designing a book. Successful book design requires specific talents, training and knowledge that Cheryl and her staff do not seem to have. I fear for any author who hires WoW! for a book project based on Michelle's recommendation. Disaster awaits.
  22. If Cheryl wants to design another book, I hope she learns how, first. She has the talent and technology -- but that is just the beginning. Years ago, my father cautioned me to never go to a restaurant until it's been open for at least a month. "Let them make mistakes with other customers," he said. If you're publishing a book, find a designer who has already designed good books.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you what horrors await beyond the second page.


NOTE: I am not trying to insult or injure the people involved in producing this book; but in reviewing, my loyalty and obligation are to people who read, not write. Also: I've written several books about publishing which include material about marketing, but none of my books are specifically about marketing, so this book is not a direct competitor.  


  1. Well-done. Thanks, Michael.

    This will certainly be a highlight (low light?) of your next Bad Books Week.

    By criticizing writers, you're helping readers -- and that's how it should be.

    It's a shame that so many Amazon reviewers don't notice bad book design, and ignore errors in the text.

  2. Architects need to be licensed.

    Interior designers pass a two-day accreditation exam before joining the ASID.

    Maybe it's time for a test for book designers.

  3. If I need heart surgery, I would not make a deal with a school nurse.

    Book design is not the same as doing logos or websites.

  4. WOW! It looks like you put more effort into the review than the author put into the book.

    It's good that you're "on patrol," but I hope I never do something that pisses you off.

  5. Funny shit.

    You wrote a comedy about a tragedy.

  6. I thought you might have been joking-- except... you never joke about these things, and I did check amazon, and, you aren't joking.

  7. I like your post and thanks for sharing it.