Monday, December 31, 2012

This is the last day for 2012 charity tax deductions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also: walk around your home. Open closets and drawers.  Check the attic, basement, garage and car trunk. Look on the highest shelves and in kitchen cabinets. Check your storage shed and look under the back deck. Chances are you'll find lots of stuff you no longer want, need or use -- and they can be taken to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. The stuff will generate money for the charities, be used by people who need it, and you'll reduce your income tax and remove clutter from your life. What could be better?

Friday, December 28, 2012

How do you start to write a book?

  1. Decide on your primary objective(s): Change the world, entertain the world, educate, inform, preserve memories, personal fulfillment, fun, money, fame, status, revenge, something else.
  2. Decide on your target audience. If your audience is 'everyone,' it will be very expensive to reach them. If your target is too small, you may not sell enough books to make money. Your mother may be wonderful, but your potential sales of a book about her may be seven books. Or two. More on choosing a topic 
  3. Check out the competition. Does the world really need another barbecue cookbook, JFK bio or post-apocalypse teenage vampire sex novel? More about competition
  4. Come up with about ten possible titles, then cut back to three, and then one. More about choosing a title
  5. Even if you have no artistic talent, make some rough cover designs. More about covers
  6. Write a one-paragraph book description that could go on the back of the book cover and on booksellers' websites, and should keep you focused.
  7. Read books for authors. Many are reviewed at Books for Authors
  8. Write. How to deal with writer's block 
  9. Oh yeah, if you plan to write poetry, forget about making money.
  10. Think about how it's going to be published: (A) traditional royalty-paying publisher (difficult for a first-time author), (B) self-publishing company, (C) your own little publishing company. If you are considering A, this book will help. If you are considering B or C, this book will help

Thursday, December 27, 2012

OK, I've tried writing fiction, or at least part-fiction. Is a song next?

I’ve been writing professionally for over 40 years, but until now, only nonfiction (except for one short chapter in my memoir).

I've just published my first attempt at fiction (actually part fact, part fiction).

In college, I majored in journalism. I took no courses in creative writing. I never wrote for high school or college 'literary' magazines. I never planned to write 'the great American novel.' With no 'formal training, for the first time I had to create scenes that never existed outside my mind, and invent dialog for people who never existed. 

I enjoyed the liberty of having almost no limits.What I write must be believable, even if it’s not entirely true.

Some of you may remember that in the summer of 2010 I was the victim of an elaborate defamation attack on Facebook and elsewhere on the web.

I was falsely accused of many horrible crimes including child molestation and rape.

The atta
cker tried to have me put on a registry of child molesters, wrote letters to newspapers, tried to stop my books from being printed and sold, and published a picture of my house on a smear blog with my address and directions so people could get to me.

People called for my incarceration, killing and castration.
I worked with police and the FBI. The perpetrator was never positively identified or prosecuted, but I think I know who he is. 

I've just published an e-book with the factual story of the attack (complete with screen shots), plus a fictionalized back story about my presumed attacker.

The $2.99 e-book also tells how I dealt with the attacks, and provides advice for people who are similarly attacked.

  • Anyone can publish anything on the Internet, and it may be impossible to remove what's been published.
  • Many people will believe what they read, no matter how absurd.
  • People will sign petitions and support causes without determining who started them, or how valid they are, or what effects they may have.

You can read the book on a Kindle, iPad, PC, smartphone or other device. Price is just $2.99. Available at

So, now that I've written nonfiction and fiction, what's next. Will I try poetry, a play, a song? Who knows?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Your content is more important than artsyness

The plain old basic black on white is obviously much easier to read than black or red on blue.

I'll never understand why people who put great effort into their words make it so damn hard for people to read them. This happens with book covers, websites, magazine articles, advertising, graffiti -- any appearance of text.

People shouldn't have to squint, magnify, adjust, or solve a puzzle to read what you wrote.

If you have an unstoppable urge to use reverse type (light text on a dark background) limit it to a small block of type, such as a headline, but NEVER put an entire page in reverse.

The "opening crawl" from the Star Wars movies is readable in movie theaters and on big TVs -- but don't try it on a book cover or a web page.

Until I complained, the website of an art school was in reverse. Someone thought it was beautiful -- but it was hard to read.

A retail store in New York spent a lot of money on a 'contemporary' sign with navy-blue letters on a black background. Apparently few people could read the sign and the store closed.

If you must use a dark background, provide a lot of contrast. White on black or yellow on navy blue are OK. Red on purple sucks. A web page or book cover is NOT a Day-Glo concert poster.

And don't use a decorative typeface that looks like it was attacked by bacteria, or those annoying distorted letter sequences you have to retype to prove that you're a human being and not a robot in order to subscribe to a blog.

And choose a type size that's BIG enough to be read without a microscope. A book or a website has more space than the back of a credit card. I have several books that I just can't read. This is a frustrating and unnecessary waste of money.

Don't let your medium hide, harm or destroy your message.

Eschew obfuscation and espouse elucidation, in content AND in form.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I learned how to Kindle. It's easier than I thought. You should try it.

Until recently, I used eBookIt to produce and distribute all of my e-books. I like the company and recommend it highly and will use it in the future. There are other companies that seem to provide the same services, but I've seen no reason to try any of them despite frequent emails from them and pleasant discussions at publishing events. (Read about my e-book odyssey)

I was aware of Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon's free entry into their e-book distribution system. I actually tried to use "KDP" and Smashwords about two years ago -- and failed.

I've since read a bunch of books about producing Kindle books to include on my new Books For Self-Publishing Authors review website. 

The publishing process made my mind numb, and I again decided to leave e-book formatting to the professionals.

I am a geek, but an old-fashioned geek (I have obsolete skills. I can solder wires, develop film and tune-up an engine). I learned how to sweat-solder copper piping and create websites with HTML. I learned how to build a wall with steel studs and Sheetrock, and can do amazing emergency repairs with duct tape and bungee cords. I always carry a multi-tool on my key ring. I have a growing collection of Swiss Army knives. As a teenager I built Heathkits in one night that were rated as one-week projects. My house has THREE distinct workshops: automotive, electronics and woodworking, and tools at the FOUR desks I use in the house  (yeah, I have a big house). That may seem ridiculous, but it makes sense to me. I could probably supply an incoming class at a trade school with my surplus screwdrivers. I've always been the go-to guy for relatives and neighbors when something needed to be fixed, or a tool needed to be borrowed. I built my first computer as a science project in ninth grade (around 1960) with homemade "Eccles-Jordan Bistable Multivibrators" (also known as flip-flop circuits). It could add numbers inputted with a telephone dial. I also built PCs in the 1990s, and a few robots, and furniture. I can install a phone system and fix ancient phones. I make delicious eggcreams. I can sew. I've installed audio systems, mufflers and shock absorbers in cars and learned how to bet on horses -- and win.

I've formatted thousands of pages for printed books, and designed many covers.

With this background, and my position as an avid proponent of independent self-publishing, I simply had to try to build a Kindle book one more time, despite the intimidating, mind-numbing documentation.

I'll spare you the gruesome details (I may try to sell the details in the Kindle book shown at the bottom), but once you have a document produced in Microsoft word, it takes just a few mouse clicks to make it available on Amazon. com.

Before you do that clicking you have to produce a cover, and probably change some of the formatting in your document, but it's NO BIG DEAL.

I first made many mistakes in uploading the proper files to Amazon, despite constantly referring to books and cheat sheets and calling Amazon. Now I can do it in a few seconds. 

Kindle books don't always look the way you expect them to, so be prepared to make revisions before you announce them to the world and to make compromises you would not settle for on printed pages.

Last week I published three Kindle books, and will probably publish a fourth today. It's easier than installing a sink or removing a car's water pump. Four books in nine days is pretty amazing. Am I turning into Simon & Schuster?

My first homemade Kindle books 

I may even publish this one:

I designed the book cover a few years ago but then abandoned the project. Now I think I will publish it with and about my new expertise.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Obit for a first-class self-publishing service

Regular readers know that I've criticized many self-publishing companies. Back in June of 2010, I was pleased to write a complimentary blog post about Vantage Press. I called Vantage "a refreshingly honest and competent pay-to-publish company."

While others in the field competed on price ("We'll publish your book for just $195!"), Vantage preferred the high road, competing on quality, even if it meant charging authors much more than $195.

Although I never used Vantage, I paid attention to what it was doing and got friendly with David Lamb who took over the ancient company a few years ago.

He visited me in Connecticut and bought me lunch. We had a long talk about the future of self-publishing and our views of its problems and promise. We communicated frequently by email, and I chatted with David and his wife Selina at Self-Publishing Book Expos for three years. She's second from the right in the photo below, next to David. Here's the story about their meeting and wedding. You have to be important to have your love life covered by the N Y Times "Style" section.

At the SPBE in October, Selina told me that most of the Vantage operation would be moving from Manhattan to Great Barrington, Mass. where the Lambs live. I assumed the move was due to a desire by David and Selina to not have a long three-state commute each day.

Lots of businesses move out of Manhattan. Many corporate HQs left Manhattan and are now based in Greenwich, CT, where the drive from the bosses' estates is just a few minutes. Office space in Great Barrington presumably would cost much less than in Manhattan, or Greenwich.

A few weeks ago I started to hear unpleasant rumors about Vantage, and I detected unpleasant signs. It's website was offline, its Facebook page was dormant and some authors complained about non-payment of royalties and un-returned phone calls. My own emails to David were unanswered.

Vantage has gone out of business.

The causes may be debated for years, but I'll offer a few possibilities:
  1. More authors preferred the inexpensive packages offered by competitors.
  2. Many authors became independent self-pubbers like me.
  3. Readers and authors accepted crappy books with ugly covers and unedited text.
  4. Readers expected to buy books for 99 cents -- or get them for free.
  5. Vantage's efforts to expand into 'traditional' publishing drained resources instead of contributing profit.
  6. High personnel turnover (I saw different employees at SPBE each year.)
  7. Failure to offer e-books as soon as it should have
  8. Competitors with very deep pockets for promotion, especially the Penguin-backed ASI brands
  9. Potential customers were convinced they could become "published authors" for FREE with Lulu, CreateSpace, Smashwords, etc.
  10. I can't think of another reason right now, but lists with just nine items seem silly, so this is number ten.
Mick Rooney, operator of The Independent Publishing Magazine has provided extensive analysis and coverage of Vantage's demise. Here's a link and another. And here's the report at Publishers Weekly

If you have published with Vantage, or merely want to be kept up to date on the situation, join the Facebook Group that Mick has set up for Vantage authors.

I wish the best for David and Selina, and for authors who have been hurt by Vantage's closing (and authors who may be hurt by other publishers). I hope you will be able to find another way to reach your readers.

I fear that this episode may encourage other self-publishing services to keep cutting costs by cutting quality.

Authors, please learn to recognize crappy books. Don't tolerate them and don't let your name go on them. Respect yourself and demand respect from companies that provide service to you.

This is probably an appropriate time to plug my Get The Most Out of a Self Publishing Company. David liked and recommended the book.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Can publishing produce energy rather than consume it?

I've decided to finish Internet HELL, a book I started years ago. It's the story of a horrible false attack on me that started on Facebook in 2010. The story finally has a conclusion -- and so does the book. It's not the conclusion I hoped for, but it's good enough. "Justice is served" and I can write the epilogue.

The book is a factual account of the attack, preceded by a fictional back story about my likely attacker.

I've been writing professionally for over 40 years, but this is my first attempt at fiction. I am enjoying the liberty of having almost no limits. What I write must be believable, even if it's not entirely true.

This will be the third book I've published in a week, and I have four more to finish soon. Do I subconsciously think my time is running out?

This week I've been in bed from about 10pm to midnight, and then from about 6am to 8am.

That sounds ridiculous but I am driven and energized. Writing seems to be more important than sleeping. Writing and designing books seem to produce energy, rather than consume it. Weird. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Recycle, rearrange, repurpose, reuse, resell

When I was in Mrs. McGarthy's class in fifth grade, each student had to choose an American president to write a report on. I don't remember why, but I picked James Buchanan. It may have been because I was a stamp collector and had a "plate block" of three-cent stamps showing Buchanan's home, Wheatland, which was issued in 1954.

Buchanan was the 15th president, serving from 1857–1861, right before Lincoln. I don't remember much more about him. He was the only president from Pennsylvania and the only non-married president.

Buchanan's significance to me greatly outweighs my knowledge of him, because that report became the source of a valuable lesson that has served me well for over fifty years: You can sell the same words more than once.

When I was a school kid, I wasn't selling words for money as I did later, but I did have to convince my teachers of the value of my words to get good marks, so the processes were related. Then and now, it's good to maximize income and minimize effort.

  • The Buchanan report I wrote for fifth grade was subsequently improved, modified, lengthened and submitted to my teachers in sixth, seventh and ninth grade, plus my junior year in high school, and for an American Studies course in college.
  • I also wrote a report on Warren Harding and used it in two classes. I think my brother recycled it, too.

Ironically, U. S. News & World Report ranks Buchanan as the worst president ("He refused to challenge either the spread of slavery or the growing bloc of states that became the Confederacy.") and Harding as second-worst ("He was an ineffectual and indecisive leader who played poker while his friends plundered the U.S. treasury."). Was there a subconscious pattern to my picking?

After college, as a freelance writer, I often sold variations of the same article to multiple magazines with different audiences, such as Rolling Stone and Country Music, or Esquire and Ingénue.

It works the same way with books.

A few years ago, I published Become a Real Self-Publisher: don't be a victim of a vanity press, which was written for people who don’t use self-publishing companies. I later published  a spinoff -- aimed at writers who do use self-publishing companies, Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company: Make a better deal. Make a better book. I also updated the original book as Independent Self Publishing: the complete guide and published yet another spinoff, Brainy Beginner's Guide to Self-Publishing, aimed at writers who are unsure of their path to publication. Parts of the first book were also used in my Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy book about Outskirts Press.

All of those books include material originally posted on my blogs, and some material written for my books eventually shows up on my blogs.

I've just assembled several $2.99 Kindle spinoffs of much more expensive p-books. Each book took less than two days to produce and put on sale.

Look at what you've already written and figure out how you can Recycle, reuse, repurpose, revise, sequelize and serialize. It's the American way.

My first book about phone equipment has had three spinoffs, and more are coming.

My funny memoir has had two spinoffs, so far, plus other editions.

Many thousands of books reach readers without booksellers. They are distributed—sometimes for free -- by entities that want information or opinions circulated. These “special sales” can generate high profits, with no risk of returns.

A book you’ve already written may be perfect for use by an association, corporation, government, charity, foundation, university or a political party. Perhaps a book you’ve written needs just slight changes and perhaps a new title and cover to become perfect. Maybe information in your book is fine, but the book needs a new point of view or emphasis. Make a deal.

- - - - -

(Buchanan portrait is public domain, from the White House)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Write something you hate to write about or think you can't write

I once wrote a poem about a wiper. Could you?
When I was in eighth grade, my English teacher was a miserable bitch -- hated by almost every kid in the class.

We were once assigned to write an essay about poetry. At the time, I pretty much hated poetry, except for funny stuff like one of the world's shortest poems, by Ogden Nash:

"The Bronx?
No thonx."

Basically my essay said something like I hated poetry because it is artificial and is much less efficient than prose for delivering a message.

I DESPISED faked/fudged/phony constructions like:

"My country 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty."

I got an "F" on the essay. Elliot, one of my classmates, got an "A" for a few pages of bullshit about poetry "opening a golden door into the soul of the poet."

I was sent to the guidance counselor for guidance and discipline.

I did not get any discipline but I got some valuable guidance: Give the bitch the same kind of bullshit that earned Elliot the "A."

In other words, if you want to succeed in life, give the audience what it wants, even if you have to lie or sell out.

I didn't think it was good advice then or now. An audience can usually determine if a performer's heart is not in a performance.

A few weeks later, we were assigned to write poems. That was even worse than having to write about poems.

Rhyming is probably a natural activity and source of amusement for every kid.

But going from "Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweet but I hate you" to something of homework quality would have been a major leap for me.

I was desperate to avoid a second flunk from the bitch, so with help from my father I did come up with something that I still think is pretty good. It was about a windshield wiper destroying rain drops. I don't remember it all, but it started with:

"Oh wiper, you viper,
You snake on the glass.
You strike hard and swiftly.
You kill with each pass."

I got an unexpected "A" on that one.

I also got an "A" on a second poem that involved some event in international relations in 1959 or '60. Apparently President Eisenhower was being pressured by the dreaded commies to give in on some diplomatic negotiating.

I need a word to rhyme with "now," and my father suggested the phrase "but Ike would not kowtow."

I had never heard "kowtow" before, and thought my father had made it up just for my poem. Pop explained that it came from a Chinese word meaning "submit" and I kept the word. The bitch knew what it meant and was impressed.

(Impressing teachers is not necessarily a major achievement. One time in college I used "lifestyle" in an essay and the professor put a note on the page about it being an excellent choice of words. In my mind I gave the professor a lower grade for being impressed by such routine terminology. Apparently "lifestyle" was a big deal in Bethlehem, PA in the 1960s.)

In high school I became a pretty good rhymer. I wrote some silly poems and songs about bad teachers.

I've never bought a poetry book, but I do have appreciation for rhyming lyrics, especially:

"Lady Madonna, baby at your breast
Wonders how you manage to feed the rest"
(Lennon & McCartney)


"When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I'll be gone"

I have no plans to write serious poetry, but being forced to succeed at something I hated has probably been useful to me as person and as a writer. I have gained appreciation for those who do write poems well, and I sometimes insert rhymes in my prose just for the fun of it.

Today is probably the second time in over 50 years that I used the word "kowtow." It's not part of my normal writing vocabulary, but if I encounter it, I don't need to get a dictionary.

. . . . . 
wiper photo from Thanks.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I'm not as popular as sex or God, but I beat the Tweet

Amazon ranks the sales of all of its products -- books as well as computers and Tootsie Rolls. The competitive ranking can be terrible for an author's ego -- or good.

At around 4 AM today, my ego was pleasantly and surprisingly stroked, and I am definitely stoked. (I like that sentence.)

Amazon’s sales ranking is cryptic, confusing, convoluted, confounding, complicated and not particularly useful. Amazon says, “The calculation is based on sales and is updated each hour to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold.”  The lower the number, the better the book was selling at a particular moment

It can feel really good to crack the top one hundred.

I am using today's blog post to exercise my bragging rights (temporary as they may be).

[below] A book about writing dirty books was ranked #22 in the authorship category.

[below] A book about writing 'Christian novels' was ranked #51 in the authorship category.

[below] My brand-new book about tax deductions and other business issues for writers was ranked  #72 in the authorship category. It's been on sale for just two days. I have not done any significant promotion, so this ranking makes me feel really good. I still have to make a few tiny corrections, but I won't be embarrassed if you read it now. As we enter the season for doing tax returns, this $2.99 book might save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

[below] A book about author tweeting' was ranked #84 in the authorship category. I beat the Tweet. Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book cover inspiration in a Chinese restaurant

Books have been around for centuries, and there are just so many ways to design a cover.

Book covers use just three basic ingredients that can be combined in various proportions:  
  1. text
  2. graphic image (a picture)
  3. negative space (nothingness).
Some books have text but no picture, some have a picture but no text. At least one cover has nothing on it. Some have lots of space, or very little. Some pictures are photographs, others are drawings or paintings. Some images are literal, others are symbolic, or abstract.

 Some covers are beautiful:

Others are deliberately or accidentally ugly:

On some covers the text is vertical, or backwards or upside down or in a spiral or is chopped up or smeared. Some text is tilted, some portraits are rotated, or are blurred, monochrome or converted to line art. Some covers are horizontal instead of vertical -- or square or even oval or round. Some covers are made of leather or metal or bark or parchment or canvas. Some type is metallic or glows in the dark, or feels fuzzy or is embossed, debossed or cut out. Options seem endless.

I often write books about writing and publishing books. In this genre, options are less than endless. Most books in the field show either (a) a book, (b) a bunch of books, (c) a writer, (d) equipment used to make a book, (e) money, or (f) a reader.

For a long time I've wanted to find a new look for books about publishing, and wanted something that would tie a family of books together.

A while ago I happened to notice a calendar in a Chinese restaurant. The top showed a pagoda. Or maybe it was a dragon, or a Buddha or the Great Wall. (The calendar image up above is a fake I produced for this blog post, with illustrations from Fotosearch and

The calendar in the restaurant wasn't great art, but it captured my attention more than a mere restaurant logo or picture of a bowl of chow fun would.

That calendar made me realize that a book cover could perform two jobs: it could be entertaining in itself (in my case, evoking a smile or a chuckle) and identify the book

I decided to use the spirit of a 1950s-era comic book and spent a lot of time over the summer studying stock images from iStockPhoto and writing captions and book titles.

Four e-books are close to complete and will be released over the next few months at $4.99 each.

Last Friday I decided to experiment with a $2.99 quickie. Writers Can Get Away With Apparently Absurd Tax Deductions That Ordinary People Can't is available now. I have to make a few repairs and I want to add some photos, but I won't be embarrassed if you read it now. 

Innovation is important. I'll resist the powerful temptation to tell you to "think outside the box," and will, instead, advise you to
"think outside the book."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Give up, get out, come home

  • The American Revolutionary War was fought from 1775 to 1783 (eight years).
  • The War of 1812 lasted about two years.
  • The Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 (four years).
  • World War One (a.k.a. "The Great War" and "The War to End All Wars") lasted from 1914 to 1918 (also four years).
  • WW2 was fought from 1939 to 1945 (six years).
  • The Korean War was fought from 1950 to 1953 (three years).
  • American troops fought in The Vietnam War from 1965 to 1973 (eight years).
  • The Iraq War (I can call it that) lasted for seven years.
  • The War in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001. We are now beyond eleven years. 
What's the point? What have we gained? What will we gain? What can we gain?

Does anyone honestly believe that if Western troops stay in Afghanistan for five more years or fifty more years, the Taliban won't still be oppressing, abusing and murdering the Afghan people?

According to today's New York Times, "The United States has spent a decade and $39 billion to recruit, train and equip a 350,000-member Afghan security force, including the army and police, that is supposed to defend the country when the Americans leave. President George W. Bush gave the effort short shrift when he shifted focus to Iraq. But even after President Obama’s considerable investment, the Pentagon says that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently, without air or other military support from the United States and NATO."

Morality is probably on the American side. Time, sadly, is probably on the Taliban side. Some wars just can't be won without bombing the country "back into the Stone Age."

The USA gave up on Vietnam after eight years. The Russians gave up on Afghanistan after nine years. The British gave up on Afghanistan after two years (1839-1841).

I feel extreme sorrow for the good people of Afghanistan, but short of a massive effort to resettle them elsewhere -- especially the vulnerable girls and women -- I see no solution.

It's time to bring American troops home. 

Read the Pentagon report. Among other things, it says, "The insurgency’s safe havens in Pakistan, the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government, and endemic corruption remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security in Afghanistan."  

(photo by Fabrizio Bensch)


Sunday, December 16, 2012

I DID IT. I published a book in less than two days.

Yesterday I said that I was trying an experiment to see if I could write and publish a Kindle e-book in less than 48 hours.

I started the project at 1 PM on Friday, and uploaded the cover and interior file to at 9 this morning, finishing with four hours to spare. I didn't work steadily, but took ample time out for various necessary and optional activities. I also neglected to work on some books that were supposed to be finished long ago. That's the nature of the book business.

Writers Can Get Away With Apparently Absurd Tax Deductions That Ordinary People Can’t is not a great book, but it's a good book.

It will not be on the 'short list' for a Nobel or Pulitzer, but I know it will be useful for all writers, including freelancers who sell an occasional article, authors who are published by traditional publishers or self-publishing companies, and folks who establish their own publishing company.

As the book’s title implies, writers and other members of the media can often get away with business tax deductions that ordinary people can’t get away with. I’ve been making my living as part of the media since 1969. My income tax returns have never been audited and my deductions have never been denied. I am not worried if this book attracts the attention of the Feds.

In order to maximize the money you keep, obviously you must maximize the money you make. You must also maximize the income tax deductions you take—but don’t be greedy or stupid about it.

Every piece of media you consume -- and the equipment and services that go with them -- should be deducted in the range of 25% to 100%. Deduct movies, CDs, music downloads, games, concerts, artwork, vacations, pay-per-views, MP3 players, big TVs, little TVs, iPad, smart phone, books, magazines, newspapers, cameras, subscriptions to Spotify, TiVo and Sirius/XM, museum visits. . .  all the stuff that helps you stay aware of news and culture.

Write about stuff you like, whether it’s wine, sports cars, clothes, travel, cameras, horse racing or sex. Then you can deduct everything you spend on fun—if you classify it as “research.”

If you are an author or a journalist, the key to creative tax avoidance is to write about things you like
  •          If you like to travel, write about travel, and then deduct the cost of traveling. 
  •          If you like cars, rent some really cool cars, and write about them. 
  •          If you like to eat—and who doesn’t? -- go to lots of restaurants, attend cooking schools, stock your pantry, and write about food. 
  •          If you smoke, write about pipes, cigars, tobacco, hashish or marijuana—and deduct the cost of your research. A trip to a cigar factory, a bong or nickel bag can be as important to your writing career as Microsoft Word.
  •          If you like sex, deduct the cost of sex toys, enhancement drugs, porn, trips to Bangkok or Nevada, hookers or gigolos—and write about them. 
  •          If you like building things, buy lumber, hardware, tools and paint, write about building, and deduct the cost of your research materials.
  •          If you like to sew or knit, write about craft and deduct the cost of your fabric, patterns thread, yarn, trim, buttons and zippers. 
  •          If you like to take pictures or paint pictures, write about art and deduct the cost of your equipment and supplies—even software.
  •          Be sensible. If your writing specialty is the Peloponnesian War or pizza, the IRS probably will look askance at a deduction for learning how to ride a horse. If you want to deduct the cost of those lessons, write about horses.
  • No matter what you write about, deduct the cost of your computer, fax, Internet access, e-readers, books, magazines and newspapers.
There are lots of books about taxation, financial planning and running a business. Most of them are much more expensive than my $2.99 book, and few are aimed at the same audience as my book.

In Kindle size with 'typical' type, it has 120 pages. That's a respectable size book, and bigger than many other sub-$3 e-books.

In the past, I was pleased to pay eBookIt to format and distribute my e-books, and I will use the company in the future. This is a much simpler book than I normally produce (simple typography and no graphics), and I was curious to see what I could accomplish on my own.

I wasn't completely alone. I had good help from Aaron Shepard's From Word to Kindle. It was just what I needed, and worth much more than its 99-cent price.

The preview turned out much better than I expected for my first effort. I was expecting to have to wait 24 hours until it became available, but WOW -- it went on sale at around 11 AM. I have to make some repairs and additions, but I won't be embarrassed if you read it now

I normally recommend taking six months to write a book. Can it be done faster? Sure. Should it be? Maybe. Stay tuned.

The cover illustration comes from, and coordinates with the covers of other books in my upcoming 'comic book' series to be published in 2013. The artist is Vasja Koman. I neglected to credit him in the e-book, but I'll take care of that soon. I paid $19.99 -- quite a bargain.