Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Medical care makes me sick

What they don’t teach at medical school

In the 1980s I had a severe pain in my foot. I no longer remember which foot it was or what caused the pain, but it hurt so bad that I went to a hospital.

I was interviewed, tested, and X-rayed and given a bill to sign. I was also given one crutch which was adjusted to the right length for my height and a prescription for a few weeks of painkillers.

The crutch is a simple device. It comes without a user’s manual, and it wasn’t hard to figure out how to use it. I raised my bad foot off the ground, let the tip of the crutch serve as a substitute foot, and headed for the exit.

The orthopedic surgeon who had examined me yelled at me to STOP and come back. He explained to me that the crutch is “supposed to be used on the good side, not the bad side.” That didn’t make much sense, but I’m not a doctor.

Then the orthopedic nurse who had assisted the orthopedic surgeon, yelled at him. She said that the crutch is “supposed to be used on the bad side, not the good side.” That did make sense, but I’m not a doctor.

The two medical experts then started a lengthy and spirited debate, each citing appropriate arguments for their divergent opinions. I stood around for a while, and then I plopped into a chair. The audience grew, with supporters for each side cheering and kibitzing.

After ten minutes it became apparent that neither one was going to surrender, and that no higher authority was likely to intervene. My wife was waiting in the parking lot and I had to get to her so I came up with a solution.

I grabbed a second crutch off a rack, grasped it with my other hand, raised my bad foot off the ground, and hopped out of there without looking back.

What they should teach at medical school

In 1999, to help a busy storekeeper I knew, I went behind the front counter to answer his ringing phone.

I looked ahead toward the phone and didn’t notice a step. I fell forward. Reflexively, I put both hands out to break my fall.

My left hand impacted the sharp edge of a metal electrical box. A long flap of skin peeled away from my left thumb and I was quickly bleeding like the proverbial stuck pig. An ambulance rushed me to the hospital and a hand surgeon was summoned from the golf course and the ugly gash was stitched up.

I still have a faded U-shaped scar and limited motion in that thumb. The precisely calculated permanent disability paid me not nearly enough money to retire to Monaco. I was instructed to see my own doctor in a week to have the dressing changed.

When I did, I mentioned that my right hand—not the one with the cut—was swollen and hurt a lot, and I was X-rayed. The film revealed that I broke the fifth metacarpal bone, a bone in the midsection of the hand that connects to the pinky. A week earlier, when I was in the emergency room, I had complained about pain in both hands and the E. R. staff knew I had landed on both hands, and my right hand was obviously red and swollen. But all they cared about was the hand that was gushing blood all over their nice clean floor.

I think it would have been logical to examine both of my hands, but I never went to medical school.

What doctors don’t tell patients

The pinky is a small and not particularly useful finger, but an orthopedic technician constructed a monstrous cast to contain, protect and immobilize it.

My pinky and fourth finger of my right hand were wrapped in gauze and encased in plaster and frozen in a curl, pointed at my palm. The cast covered all of my hand except for three fingers and extended beyond my wrist to just below my elbow.

You might think that still having three functioning fingers meant that life was OK. But, life actually sucked.

I’m right-handed and the cast weighed so much and restricted me so much that I could hardly use the hand. I couldn’t even dress myself. It took so long to unzip my fly that I often peed in my pants.

I’ve saved a Post-it note I wrote on at that time. It’s very hard to read.

Using a computer keyboard and mouse was extremely difficult. I ultimately hung a wire from the ceiling over my desk with a loop that could support my arm while I tried to type. My typing was a little bit neater than my handwriting.

When I got the cast, I was told to come back in eight weeks to have it removed.

It was a miserable eight weeks. I gained new sympathy for amputees. I couldn’t drive, and I had to learn how to urinate lefty if I had the need to pee while out of the house.

At home, it was easier to just “drop trou” and then pee hands-free in the shower. (I hope my wife isn’t reading this.) Wiping my ass was difficult, uncomfortable and unsanitary.

I’ll spare you the gruesome details and just say the cast got dirty.

Eating was sloppy, too, and sleeping was never restful. I went in the swimming pool with plastic bags over both arms, as instructed. I perspired inside the bags so the cast and bandages got wet anyway. I had created my own, personal, enclosed weather system and there was a danger of softening the plaster so I gave up on water sports for awhile.

When I had a mid-arm itch, I shoved a chopstick into the cast to scratch it.

Lovemaking was possible but dangerous, and required caution. Casts are great for S&M fans.

Life goes on.

When the eagerly anticipated date finally arrived, I went back to the orthopedic surgeon’s office, expecting but not receiving quick relief.

A nurse X-rayed me and looked at my cast and told me I was doing fine and should come back in a month. I protested, saying that I had been told that the cast would be removed after two months and my time was up.

She smiled and said, “I know. We lied to you. We always lie about the time casts stay on. If we told patients the truth, they’d get depressed and cut the casts off.”

(from Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults). Available in hardcover, paperback and multiple ebook formats.

(cartoon from ClipArtHeaven.com. Thanks)


Monday, January 30, 2012

Why would anyone use Jexbo to buy or sell books?

Jexbo.com is a book marketing website intended to help authors sell self-published books directly to readers. The selling cost is low. Authors pay just 5% of the selling price. There used to be an additional fee of 99 cents per book title per month, but that fee seems to have been eliminated.

Maybe Jexbo should be eliminated, too.

Many links on the Jexbo site are useless. The media kit and other listed sections and pages are phantoms. Most links to pages off the site go nowhere.

Today is January 30th. The "Newest Books" section says, "There are no new books this month." I have a feeling that there were none last month, or the month before.

Jexbo tells readers, "you'll find unique books in numerous categories and be able to communicate directly with authors."

The site has a few dozen book categories, and apparently just a few dozen book titles available. Unfortunately, the category list is deceptive.
  • In many cases, a click on a category such as "Technology & Applied Sciences: All,"  returned this disappointing message: "There are no items in this category."
  • For "Math," there was one book -- and it's in French and costs $40 including shipping. For contrast, Amazon.com offers nearly a quarter of a million math books -- and most are in English.
  • Jexbo has no books about travel in the USA, South America, Africa or the Middle East (but the categories are listed).
  • There are no books about U.S. history, baking, baseball, art history or animals (but the categories are listed).
  • The religion section shows no books about Islam, Judaism or Mormonism. There are books about Christianity, but a search for "Christianity" shows "no results."
While the cost to sell books seems low, the potential business seems tinyNo one will know you have a book for sale on Jexbo, unless you have a marketing program that will promote your book and send readers to Jexbo. It seems infinitessmally unlikely that someone will go to Jexbo insted of Amazon or Barnes & Noble to search for books in a specific category and find your book.

Sales are further limited because Jexbo doesn't accept credit cards -- only Paypal. If a reader wants to use the nearly universal plastic payment method and does not have a Paypal account, she'll have to open a Paypal account, or she can't buy your book. Some people don't like Paypal.

It can cost more to get a book from Jexbo than from another bookseller.
  • Simple Publicity by Melanie Rembrandt costs $19.99 plus $4.98 for shipping on Jexbo, but $19.99 and either nothing or $3.99 for shipping at Amazon.
If someone actually does find the Jexbo site, and finds your book, and is willing to use Paypal, you should receive an email with the transaction details so you can ship your book to the customer. This means that the author has to also be a warehouse manager and shipping clerk, and probably drive to the post office.

Like eBay, Jexbo is a go-between, not a seller. If a book does not arrive or arrives damaged, the buyer has to deal with the seller -- not with Jexbo. Unlike eBay, Jexbo does not rate sellers or have a system for resolving disputes.

The 5% a publisher will pay Jexbo is less than the 10% or 20% that Amazon usually collects, but you get much less for the money you do spend. If you self-publish with POD printer Lightning Source or CreateSpace, as I and many others do, your books will be quickly available on Amazon, B&N and other book selling sites worldwide. Millions of potential readers can easily find you. They can use credit cards. You don't have to own inventory. You don't have to ship anything. You don't even have to calculate postage.

I know a lot, but I don't know of any good reason to use Jexbo. I first wrote about Jexbo nearly three years ago. It offered little then, and offers little now. In 2009 Jexbo said it provided its author-customers with a no-cost website for book promotion, but I could not find any of those sites in 2009 -- or today.

The Jexbo online forum is nearly empty. Back on May 16, 2011, someone said, "Hello moderator. Are you out there?" There is still no response.

I don't understand why Jexbo is still in business. The corpse is in a hole in the ground. It's time to shovel on the dirt and walk away.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fuck football

Based on increased advertising for taco chips, TVs and frozen pizza, I think the Super Bowl game is today. I think one of the teams which will be playing is called the "Pats." I think they are based somewhere in New England (where I live).

If you paid me a billion dollars I could not name the city where the game will be played -- or the other team. I think it may be the New York Giants or San Francisco Giants or Indianapolis or Dallas Somethings. Or maybe Miami Something. Or Toronto?

Am I the only man in the country who doesn't know -- or care -- who's playing?

I can name exactly two football players: Joe Namath and Roosevelt Greer. I have eight flat-screen TVs in my house and none of them have ever been used to display a football game. I plan to keep it that way.

Do I need a testosterone injection? Or Gatorade?


Saturday, January 28, 2012

This person should not be writing a book -- at least not in English

From an online discussion:

Many you can help me with my problem. Well I think I made a huge mistake by choosing the wrong publishing company. Well I sent my children’s book along with my illustrations and paid close to 500. dollars. Every thing was finally sent to the printer, people began to order my book and suddenly when I received my hardcopy their was atleast 25 text errors. How in the blank could a publishing company do this to a new and inexperienced author. So Im left with resubmitting my book and additional fee’s. What should I do. Please help me.

  • Based on the poor writing in the question, it's possible that the "text errors" were caused by the author, not by the publisher.
  • If the cost of publication was just $500, there was probably no money available for editing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Don't let your title limit your book sales

In a recent posting in an online group for writers, writer/writing trainer/consultant Paul Lima said, "I will soon be publishing a book of short stories, Hockey Night On Ossington Avenue. A couple of people who actually like the title have suggested that I use a title of one of the other stories for the title of my book -- perhaps Rebel In The Back Seat, The Conquest of Kong, The Winter of Whisky. Why? They feel my title might (might, not will) limit my American exposure and sales... And it might. (Overall, I think it's fair to say we're more passionate about hockey in Canada than you are in the U.S. But I'm not going to change it. This is my labour of love, and I'll call it what I feel it should be called, and I'm OK with that...

I responded:

Unless all of the stories are hockey-related, PLEASE consider changing the title. I have absolutely no interest in hockey, and would probably never buy a book with "hockey" in the title, unless it was something like Hockey Sucks. (I watched one Hockey game -- when I visited a friend at Cornell in 1968. It was amusing, but I have never been motivated to see another skating-and-mayhem session.)

You certainly have the right to call your love child anything you want, but exercizing your right may limit your income -- and deprive potential readers of a pleasant experience.

A few years ago I published a mostly humorous memoir intended mostly for "the kids" I went to school with in the 1950s and 60s. The title was a quote from one of my nutty teachers, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: Stories From School and Real Life. The title made sense only to others who suffered in the classroom of "Crasy Frehse" in New Haven. Any time I showed the book to strangers, I had to provide an explanation. That's no way to sell books.

Because of good reviews, I revised the book. I replaced and added some stories, and gave the book a new cover and title to appeal to more people: Stories I'd Tell My Children (But Maybe Not Until They're Adults).

As of the end of December, sales are over 1200, which is pretty amazing for a memoir by an unknown. My name is not Obama, Kennedy or Beyonce.

For your book, even tho you haven't asked me, I vote for The Conquest of Kong & other stories.

One good way to evaluate potential titles is to make a quickie cover and wrap it around a real book and hand it to people to see how they react when they hold it in their hands and verbalize the title.

I wish you luck (but a different title may make you luckier).

(Hockey sticks photo from http://sportsautographsshop.com. I thank them.)


Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Internet blackout

I had to attend a funeral in southern New Jersey near Philadelphia on Wednesday. We stayed at the Westin Hotel in Mount Laurel. It's a wonderful hotel with excellent facilities, a convenient location, nice people, and there's no charge for having a dog in our room (for which other hotels charge as much as $100). We even got a coupon for a free breakfast, which saved about $16.

Because of our accumulated points from using our Starwood American Express cards, the room -- which normally costs over $200 -- was a freebie. So far, so good.

I took my iPad with me for blogging and Facebook. Unfortunately the hotel charges $9.95 a day to provide Internet access in my room, and I thought that was a bad deal, since so many hotels have free Internet service.

I was briefly thrilled to see that the Internet fee for the PC in the "business center" was just 49 cents per minute (I could have done what I had to do in about three minutes). And then I found that the minimum charge was five bucks.

Altho I am not Mitt or Newt, I can certainly afford $5 or $9.95 (especially with a free room); but I resented having to pay for what other hotels provide for free, and what is likely a high-profit item for the hotel. I decided to follow Wikipedia's example with a one-day blackout.

I was able to use my smart phone for a one-line blog entry ("Not today"), but the tiny screen would have made my normal work/play miserable.

There is no excuse for a hotel
to charge for Internet access in 2012.

It's a basic service, as necessary as running water -- and much more important than the minibar, in-room coffee maker, in-room safe, 2-line cordless phone, bathrobe, pile of five pillows, free mouthwash, 250-thread-count sheets and a free copy of USA Today.

I'm not cheap or ungrateful. I tipped the bellhop and the maid. I'm thrilled that Starwood properties have an enlightened pet policy. I just hope that this blog post will encourage management to realize that, in 2012, Internet access should not be an extra-cost option.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's time to stop fighting about what "self-publishing" means

Online writers' groups and forums have lots of complaints about the term “self-publishing company.”

I agree that the term makes no sense (but it doesn't matter).

Just as no one can self-educate you, self-medicate you or self-immolate you, no one can self-publish you.

I fought that battle for a year in blog posts and in a book. I even formed an organization for what I called “independent self-publishers.”

After a year, I realized that I was wasting my time. My protests were as pointless as peeing into the wind.

Neither I, nor anyone, can stop changes in language, or prevent ambiguities and imprecision.
  • At one time a “kid” was a young goat, but not a young human being.
  • A girl (“gyrle”) could be a boy.
  • “Don we now our gay apparel” does not now mean what it did when the lyric was written.
  • “Shacking up” seldom happens in a shack -- and a “Radio Shack” is not a shack.
  • A “notebook” can be a notebook -- or a laptop.
  • A “bike” can be a bicycle or a motorcycle (or an athletic supporter).
  • A “jock” can be an athletic supporter or an athlete.
  • An athletic supporter can be a jockstrap or someone who supports athletics.
  • A “cordless phone” usually has two cords.
  • “You guys” often includes females.
  • A “joystick” may not provide joy.
  • A telephone’s “ring” may not sound like a bell, and people “dial” calls on phones with no dials.
Like it or not, companies which used to be derisively called vanity presses or subsidy publishers are now using the term “self-publishing company.” It’s a fact of life. It can’t be stopped. Use of the term is not restricted, like “Realtor” is.

Several years ago I formed my own tiny publishing company. I buy and assign ISBNs, hire editors and designers, buy type and photographs, select printers and execute marketing programs. I’m not the only one who does this.

Some folks have claimed that it’s unfair that we and our books are excluded for reviews for major publications, or that we have to pay to be considered for a review by PW Select and Kirkus Discoveries, and that terrestrial booksellers won’t put our books on their shelves.

On the other hand, some independent (I hate the term “indie”) self-publishers sneer at authors who use self-publishing companies. It's like the members of a minority group who are discriminated against by a larger group, and then take out their frustrations on members of a smaller group.

I have recently and reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is really not a lot of difference between me and the customers of self-publishing companies. I like to be involved in all aspects of publishing, and I like complete control of the process, but my way is not the only way.

Just as my books are not necessarily worse than a book from Random House or Simon & Schuster, they are not necessarily better than a book from CreateSpace or Vantage Press.

Some authors who choose to pay to publish may lack the time, knowledge or inclination to hire designers, editors and publicists. They prefer the “one-stop shopping” that self-publishing companies can provide.

The path to publication is irrelevant. All that matters is the quality of the book.

Edward Uhlan founded Exposition Press—an early and important pay-to-publish company—in 1936. He said, “Most people can’t tell the difference between a vanity book and a trade book anyway. A book is a book.”


Monday, January 23, 2012

An unintended consequence of selling on Craigslist

I've recently used Craigslist to sell an old motor scooter, an older bicycle and a picnic table.

I've also listed an assortment of hooks, shelves and other display devices for the "slatwall" panels often used in stores.

I got some stupid questions, some too-low offers, and Friday I received these two emails:

From Arthur Delgado: Michael N. Marcus, someone sexxy is looking to hook up with you and sent you a secret note below:

"Hey is your stuff still on for sale? I got cash prepared. And umm, I saw your post and thought I would give this a shot. Im all yours tomorrow after work around 3:30pm ish so let's have dinner. My cell # is 445-79XX (last 2 digits are covered up) so text me. Can you send me your pictures to my cell so I know you are real and I will reply back with mine too. I even uploaded a video for you on my profile, do you like it? I promise Im not a weirdo just want to become friends and maybe more!"
  • I'm relieved to know that Arthur is "not a weirdo."

From Todd Mitchell: I read your ad and decided to ask you something important. I am married and caught my partner cheating on me so I must get even! My coworker said cl would be the best place to find somebody who I can hook up with for one time only so thought the hell, I would email someone I thought sounded incredible in the ad and came across yours! You seem real and interesting so would you be maybe interested in chatting online first to see if we're feeling each other? To prove to you that I am real, I uploaded all of my pix, phone #, and a special note for you only under my private profile page. Can you call me today if you think I am hot? This way I can weed out bots and scammers as I'm sick of them! I bet you'll be astonished to see who I am! :)
  • Hmm, I wonder if I can fix up Arthur and Todd. I wonder if they need any shelf brackets or hooks.

But wait -- there's more. This just came in from Jeffrey King:

Are you real? This might be unusual but I see that you live nearby and was inquiring if you would like to join our secret adult fun club. Basically we are seeking out local members with needs to to test their sexual fetishes or sexual needs in 5 star hotels. You'll be introduced to lots of hotties and you will pair up with whoever you want. There's no cost, very discreet and safe!

One and only thing we do require is that you must create a free adult facebook profile to verify that you are not underage and local. That is all. Once you do so, sexy locals will send you a private message with their phone # and pictures. Why don't you see to see who's available for you? You'll be surprised!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sorry Newt. Those are not my values.

In his victory speech last night, Newt said, "I articulate the deepest-felt values of the American people."

Dishonesty, egomania, intolerance, bombast and hypocrisy?


Friday, January 20, 2012

Musing upon my muses

In ancient Greek mythology, the muses were goddesses or spirits who inspire the creation of literature and art. There were originally three muses, but the group later grew to nine.

In Renaissance and Neoclassical art, the muses were equipped with specific props to help identify them.

Calliope (epic poetry) carries a writing tablet; Clio (history) carries a scroll and books; Erato (lyrical poetry) has a lyre and a crown of roses; Euterpe (music) carries a flute; Melpomene (tragedy) has a tragic mask; Polyhymnia (sacred poetry) often has a pensive expression; Terpsichore (dance) is often portrayed dancing and carrying a lyre; Thalia (comedy) is usually portrayed with a comic mask; and Urania (astronomy) carries a pair of compasses and the celestial globe.

The word "muse" is used in modern English to refer to an inspiration, but also exists in "amuse", "museum" (from muselon -- a temple where the muses were worshipped), "music", and "musing upon."

Traditionally, muses have been beautiful goddesses. So far I've had three muses, and they are all women.

I don't know if women writers, artists and musicians have male muses. Would Fabio be amusing to J. K. Rowling or Yoko Ono?

Sometimes a live muse may provide active encouragement, but sometimes a muse may just be lurking in the background of the mind. Sometimes a muse will be hovering above, always observing, visible and inspiring.

Creativity often includes an innate desire to please, perhaps going back to infancy and childhood when we want to make mommy happy so we get fed.

There can be a courtship aspect to bemusement -- perhaps not planned or thought about. Even if there is no feedback, a writer can be stimulated to do better and better, to win the heart of the goddess (or god). A writer may even imagine having sex with the muse, and words become a subconscious gift, like flowers or candy or jewelry while dating or trying to seduce. Elton John wrote, "My gift is my song and this one's for you." I'm not sure who the song was written for.

For most of my writing career I wrote about things and about how people related to things. About seven years ago I became comfortable writing about people without the things, and writing fiction as well as non-fiction. This coincided with my reconnecting by email with "D," a girlfriend from college whom I thought would become my wife.

After a while she lost interest in communicating with me, and I stopped writing the book she inspired me to start. I later reconnected with "P," one of the first females I was attracted to. I shared my cookies with her in second grade. Her presence helped me finish the book.

In 2008 I finally became comfortable writing about emotions.

This important evolutionary development coincided with my reconnecting with "R." She was a very important girlfriend from high school, and the first woman I thought about marrying. She has become my most powerful muse and is responsible for what I consider to be my completion as a writer.

I've been married for over 40 years, but I never thought my wife was my muse. Perhaps because I did win her heart and we did marry and are still together, there’s less urge to please her. Perhaps her daily physical presence weakens the more spiritual connection necessary for musing. I don’t know. Maybe she really has been one of my muses but I just didn’t realize it.

(some info from Wikipedia)


Thursday, January 19, 2012

It's time for realism, immodesty and encouragement

It's difficult to get meaningful sales numbers in publishing. When the "big six" traditional publishing companies announce first print runs, those numbers don't indicate how many books were actually purchased by readers (and certainly not how many books were actually read), because bookstores can return books that haven't been sold in a few months.

Any writer should be able to sell between a few dozen and a few hundred copies of a book, but if you want to sell thousands or tens of thousands, you’ll have to work very hard, and get lucky, and maybe even make your own good luck. Despite a few notable success stories—mostly involving selling a self-published title to a traditional publisher—apparently most self-published books sell fewer than 200 copies, and many of those 200 are sold to people the author knows.

You probably won’t get rich by self-publishing. You may feel good and receive some compliments, and maybe even advance your career. But, unless you pick the right topic, produce an excellent book, work your ass off promoting it and are very lucky, don’t quit your day job.

  • Don’t let advertising blind you to reality or make you star-struck. Schiel & Denver is an outrageously dishonest self-publishing company. It said, “You can rest assured your book will go on sale at over 160,000+ online and traditional retail stores, in over 100 countries.” That’s extremely deceptive. While a book may be orderable at thousands of stores, that’s not the same thing as “on sale at” with the implication of on-the-shelf availability.
  • Vantage Press is one of the few honest self-publishing companies. It has some good advice: “Please be realistic. Most books by new authors do not sell well, and most authors do not recoup the publishing fee.”
Sales information for self-published books is hard to get because authors seldom reveal the numbers.
  • Morris Rosenthal—who had the right topic and knows much more about self-publishing than most people—revealed that sales of his Start Your Own Computer Business totaled 1623 copies in 2003. If you can net $5 to $10 per copy, that’s a nice part-time business.
  • In an interview with WBJB radio, David Maturo, then the Finance VP of Xlibris, said that some of its authors sell as few as one or two books. Maturo revealed that the average number of books sold per author is 150. He said 64% are bought by the author. That leaves just 54 books out of 150 to be sold to real customers. OUCH.
    According to Maturo, the average author expenditure at Xlibris was $1,400. The math is depressing. Authors spent about $26 to produce each of the books that were sold to the public—typically priced from $8.50 to $19.99.
  • Author Solutions CEO Kevin Weiss, told the New York Times that the average sale per title from any of the company’s brands is around 150.
  • iUniverse VP Susan Driscoll told the Times that “most writers using iUniverse sell fewer than 200 books” and 40 percent are sold directly to authors. The Times said, “If a title sells more than 500 copies its first year, [iUniverse] may invest in marketing the book and invite the author to become a “Star.” But of iUniverse’s 17,000 published titles, the authors of only 84 have been chosen as Stars, and only a half-dozen have made it to Barnes & Noble store shelves.”
  • Lulu founder Bob Young told ABCtales.com, “A publishing house dreams of having ten authors selling a million books each. Lulu wants a million authors selling 100 books each.”
According to Publishers Weekly, in a recent year only 2% of book titles sold more than 5,000 copies and the average book from a mainstream publisher sold about 500 copies.
I formed my own tiny publishing company and wrote this book mostly for family and friends. Although I know it's a good book, I am amazed (and thrilled) that so many people are reading the life story of someone they never heard of. (I'm not Sarah Palin or Bill Gates.)

I wish I could hang out with a few hundred of my "customers" some place with good music and beer. I'm sure we'd swap some great stories.

I thank all of you who have bought the book, and reviewed the book and recommended the book. (For those of you who have not yet read it, please do so. It's available as a hardcover, paperback and in multiple e-book formats.)

Also, if any of you have stories to tell -- tell them. Don't be silent. Don't be discouraged. E-books and print-on-demand make it easy for any writer to try to find an audience.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

2012-vintage JuJu Hearts report

January is named for Janus, the Roman god of doors. I'm not sure why the Romans needed a door god; but they had loads of gods, so they could certainly spare one to watch the door. Maybe Janus was the first bouncer.

Anyway, January is the door to the year, and I like January a lot. Each day we get a few more minutes of daylight. Five p.m. now comes during the day, not at night. Even though we had a bit of snow yesterday, the earth is warming. Spring is coming. Crocuses will be popping in about 40 days. In about 73 days, the cover comes off the pool, and my ancient and beloved bright-red 1978 Fiat convertible comes out of the garage. (I may have to push it out because there's a good chance it won't start. Turning the key on an ancient Fiat is like playing Russian Roulette.)

But the best thing about January can be found in chain drugstores like CVS and Rite Aid. That's where you can get JuJu Hearts, the magical chewy-gooey red cherry candies I've been addicted to since babyhood. If I close my eyes when I open the package, the sweet aroma transports me to Cherry Blossom Time in Washington DC -- or at least to my grandmother's apartment in the Bronx.

When I was a kid, my Grandma Del would buy pounds and pounds from Krum's -- the pre-eminent candy store in the Bronx, or maybe in the world.

Some years she even arranged to buy the huge pile of hearts on display in the window, at a special price after Valentine's Day. We grandchildren would get a few pounds in February, and Grandma would stash the rest in her freezer, to be gradually defrosted and doled out throughout the year. (In later years, when Grandma Del moved to Florida, I provided JuJu Hearts for her.)

Krum's was famous for its candies and ice cream sodas, and used to be on the Grand Concourse between 188th Street and Fordham Road. In the front of the store was a huge display case of chocolates and other candies, and farther back you could sit and slurp. The landmark Loew's Paradise Theater was across the street, and before McDonalds and Taco Bell came to town, teenagers went to Krum's for a post-picture snack.

The Loew's Paradise has been reincarnated as a mostly-Latino concert venue, Grandma Del and Krum's are long gone, but JuJu Hearts have survived. The price has gone from 15 cents a pound to 99 cents for a 9 ounce bag in 2009, to $1.59 for 12 ounces in 2011 to 99 cents for 6 ounces at CVS or $1.99 for 12 ounces at RiteAid in 2012. This year, Walgreen doesn't have JuJus. 

In most years, we get a bit less for our money, but addicts don't care about the cost of their fix.

Product names, candy size, flavor, retail availability, manufacturers and even the country of origin vary over time. 

My first fix of 2012 was at CVS, which has their own brand on small expensive packages. When I opened a bag, it smelled a bit too sweet. The candy also tasted a bit too sweet, and was too sticky. I quickly adjusted.

Rite-Aid is once again selling Jujus with the "Brach's"  brand -- which now belongs to candy giant Farley's and Sathers. F&S now supplies such vital foods as Chuckles, Jujyfruits and Jujubes. The product name has morphed, too. It's now "Jube Jel Cherry Hearts."

The taste is fine -- just a tad sweeter than the 2010 vintage, but not as sweet as 2011. (I have samples preserved in my freezer.) There is also a weird smell I couldn't identify when I first opened the bag. Texture was a bit waxy, but after about four pieces they seemed OK to me.

JuJu/Jube Jel Hearts' taste and texture are unique: sweeter and softer than red hot dollars, but not as sweet or slimy as Gummi bears or worms.

Strangely, the JuJu/Jube Jel Heart formula doesn't seem to be used for anything else, at any other time of year -- not even for JuJubes or Jujyfruits. But that's OK. JuJu Heart season is only a little longer than the bloom of the Cherry Blossom. The rarity makes them more special, and less destructive to teeth and glucose levels... and freezers make it possible to prolong the pleasure.

2011 is not a great year for JuJu Hearts, but 2011 is a pretty good year -- except for the price -- and it's much better than the dreadful 2009). 

JuJu Hearts are like pistachio nuts or sex. When they're great, they're fan-tastic. When they're pretty good, they're good enough; and when they're bad, they're terrible

JuJu history
  • The JuJu name apparently comes from the jujube, a red fruit first cultivated in China over 4,000 years ago, that can be used for tea, wine, and throat medication, or eaten as a snack.
  • A jujube tree in Israel is estimated to be over 300 years old.
  • The jujube's sweet smell is said to make teenagers fall in love, and in the Himalaya mountains, young men put jujube flowers on their hats to attract hot Sherpa babes.
  • In West Africa, a Juju refers to the supernatural power ascribed to objects or fetishes. Juju can be synonymous with witchcraft, and may be the origin of the American voodoo.
Some of the first JuJu Hearts were made by the Henry Heide Candy Company, founded in 1869 by Henry Heide, who immigrated to New York from Germany. Heide Candy became known for Jujubes, Jujyfruits, jelly beans, Red Hot Dollars, Gummi Bears and Mexican Hats, which have been perennial favorites in movie theaters and five-and-dime stores.
The business stayed in the Heide family through four generations, and was sold to Hershey Foods in 1995. In 2002, Farley's & Sathers Candy Co. acquired the Heide brand products from Hershey.

Although F&S owned Heide, they did not produce Heide's hearts.

Through the 2009 season, the hearts were distributed by Mayfair Candy, in Buffalo, NY.  Over the years, I've encountered some really crappy hearts. Mayfair made the real thing. My dog loves them, too -- but he never refuses anything that's remotely edible.

Strangely, there were two (maybe more) kinds of JuJu Hearts distributed by Mayfair. The "original" version was sold by Rite-Aid (and possibly others). I discovered another inferior version for the first time in 2007, at CVS. The individual candy pieces were smaller than the originals, and they had a second heart shape molded onto the front of each piece. They didn't taste nearly as good as the originals: they were too sweet and not as chewy. Strangely, the same packaging, with same ingredients and same stock number, was used for both.

You can get JuJu Hearts online. Metro Candy offers 5-lb and 30-lb batches from Ferrara Pan. I have not tasted them

Special thanks to Philip Heide,
and Roger McEldowney of Mayfair.
Loew's photo from http://www.agilitynut.com/ 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cover your book before you write it

(My first book, published by Doubleday in 1977)

If you write a book that gets published by a traditional publisher, it can take three years to find an agent and for the agent to find a publisher who will accept you and produce the book. In this long process, one of the last things that gets done is cover design.

The author may have some input, but the publisher has the final say on the design -- and even on the title of the book, which can certainly influence the way the cover looks.

If you are working with a self-publishing company, the time between writing and printing is compressed from years to months, but the cover still comes after the writing.

In independent self-publishing, I've found (speaking after self-pubbing about 20 books) that it can be very useful to have a cover design even before the first word is written.

This preliminary cover was designed last year. I hadn't started writing the book yet.

You don't have to have a final design (in fact, you shouldn't) but even a "rough layout" will help solidify the project in your mind. The more real the book is to you, the more likely you are to keep typing. If you have front and back covers, and a financial investment in what you've paid your designer to produce, it's natural to want to fill the space between the covers and start selling some books.

  • Living with a cover design over a period of months while you write can be very useful. There can be, and should be, an interaction between the exterior and interior of the book. Exterior and interior will evolve together.
The back cover of the book should have a strong indication of what's in the book -- a reason for book-store shoppers to to carry it from the shelf to the cash register. It could be your last opportunity to make a sale, so make it a strong sales pitch!

But even if your books are going to be sold online only, and no purchaser will read the back until after the book is delivered, the back of the book can be very useful to you. It's a summary -- maybe even a statement of principles -- that should help to keep you focused and remind you of what you had in mind when you first conceived the book. (Remember, you can show the back cover on Amazon.com -- so make it powerful and useful.)
  • It's normal for the words on the cover to change as you write words for the inside. Sometimes the title may change. Sometimes you just have a "working title" and the final title emerges from deep inside the book. Sometimes you'll come up with a new subtitle, or even swap title and subtitle.
From a strictly business standpoint, having a preliminary title and cover allows you to start promotion to build awareness and desire in advance. If you have an "author" website, your future covers should be shown there, along with brief descriptions and approximate publication dates. If you blog, show your next book(s) on the blog, like I've done.

Below/left is the latest version of the 'Mona Lisa' cover. It has a new title and is now part of a series of books with comic-book style covers.:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Don't trust your eyes. Don't trust your monitor.

While fixing up a scan of an old photograph for use in a book, I used a graphics program to simply paint some black over various white spots and streaks in the otherwise solid-black background.

Later on, I printed a couple of pages on a color laser printer simply to compare a few different type sizes and fonts.

I was horrified to see that the photo that had looked perfect on my LCD monitor, had dark black blotches against a grayer backround.

It was a scary and valuable lesson, and I'm glad I learned it before the book was printed. Apparently most LCD monitors just don't have the ability to display the full range of colors that can be printed -- or even the colors that can be displayed by an ancient CRT monitor.

I re-did my retouching.


Friday, January 13, 2012

What to do when your mouse dies

Most computer mice are quite reliable. Today's models that use lasers instead of rolling balls should last for years.

A wireless mouse will need new batteries every month or so, depending on how often the mouse is used. Some mice will warn you when your batteries are running low. Some won't.

However, even the best of mice will stop working unexpectedly, either because of a malfunction in the PC or mouse, or even because of some wacky stuff built into the page you are trying to copy from. Sometimes mice can be brought back to life by thumping them on the mouse pad, briefly removing batteries, or re-booting the PC.

If you're in the middle of some important copying-and-pasting, and don't want to take the time to re-boot or hunt for batteries or do other techie stuff, you can always revert to keyboard based functions.

Here are the basic Windows commands:

CTRL+A; select All
CTRL+C: Copy
CTRL+V: Paste
CTRL+Z: Undo
CTRL+B: Bold
CTRL+U: Underline
CTRL+I: Italic

I actually had to use shortcuts to paste the list into this page. There may be similar shortcuts for the Mac, but I don't speak Applish.

Photo from SuperStock.com. Thanks


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Check, please

No matter how many times you read, re-read and re-re-read, you're bound to find mistakes in anything you've written. It's best to find them before the book is printed.

Back in 2009, just minutes before I had planned to send a book to the printer, I decided to check my table of contents.

I had a feeling that as I changed the length of some chapters, a page number might have changed.

I actually found three wrong page numbers, and two chapters were missing from the table.

Apparently, I didn't learn the lesson well enough.

Last week I was trying to find a chapter in one of my books that has many chapters. I couldn't find it by flipping through the pages, and I couldn't find it by studiously scanning the table of contents.

When I looked even more carefully, I realized that the last entry at the bottom of one page of the TOC was Chapter 51, but the first entry on the top of the next page was Chapter 53.

There was no listing for Chapter 52.

I feel like a blind idiot.

(IMPORTANT WARNING: Any time you fix an error in a book, you may create more errors.)


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bullshit, high prices and stupidity at InstantPublisher.com

According to its website, "InstantPublisher.com is the short run book publisher division of Fundcraft Publishing Company, the world's largest personalized cookbook publisher. Fundcraft started as a small publishing house in eastern Kansas in the early 30's specializing in short-run custom cookbooks for groups and organizations across the country. Today, Fundcraft ships millions of personalized cookbooks each year to every state."

InstantPublisher.com ("IP") is one of many pay-to-publish companies that demonstrate very few reasons to do business with them. IP is overpriced, inept, boastful and dishonest.

The page above makes some ridiculous claims:
  • InstantPublisher says it is everyon'e favorite book publishing company. It is not my favorite book publishing company. Maybe it's not yours, either. Maybe it's not the favorite of millions of other people. The statement is absurd.
  • InstantPublisher says it is "nationally recognized." By which people, in which nation, for doing what?
  • InstantPublisher says it is "quickly becoming the #1 Book Publishing Service." I'm not sure how IP defines "#1," but since most of its competitors are privately held companies, IP does not have their sales figures or other statistics and can't back up the claim.
  • This page, like others, has errors in English that should not be committed by a publishing company. "10-years" should not be hyphenated. Other terms that the company uses, like "cost effective," need hyphens.
IP tells us that "As a self-publisher, you can receive 50% to 200% profit, when self publishing."
  • That short statement is redundant, and demonstrates very bad math. It's impossible to receive 200% profit. Profit on book sales is usually somewhere in the 20% to 60% range. If you are able to get a book printed for a dollar and sell it for ten bucks, your (gross) profit is 90%. If you can get a book printed for nothing, and sell it for a penny -- or a dollar, ten bucks or a million bucks -- your profit is 100%. It can never be more than 100%

The company says that "InstantPublisher simply cannot be beat in the short run book printing industry." 
  • IP gives us an example of "250 copies of a 150 page book, which is 5 ½ x 8 ½ inches perfect bound with a color cover, your cost would be $3.17 per book." The price from CreateSpace ("CS") is just $2.65 per book (even if I order just one copy), with me providing my own cover design (for which IP charges 25 cents extra per copy).
  • The IP chart above shows a total price of $410.72 for 25 books. That is MANY TIMES the price from other printers, and probably eliminates the chance of making any profit.
  • CS provides distribution to Amazon, B&N and other booksellers, but IP has NO distribution.
  • IP requires customers to buy at least 25 copies. CS has no minimum.
  • IP charges $50 for an unbound proof. I can get a bound proof from CS for $2.65 plus postage.
The company says that "any person who writes a book can design the cover and text pages in any Microsoft Windows or Mac based program." The text samples below from IP's own promotional publication, show that the alleged professionals at "one of the top book publishing companies" have a lot to learn about formatting pages. IP's "high quality" work is as bad as I have seen from some first-timers who know nothing about typography. Apparently no one at IP even knows how to hyphenate. A publication that is intended to impress printing customers should not be ugly.

IP says, "InstantPublisher.com does not . . . distribute your books, except for free listings on our web site."
  • Other companies, including CS and Lightning Source, provide worldwide distribution to booksellers -- and charge less. The value of a listing on the IP site is approximately zero. IP expects its authors to become booksellers. Other companies do not.
The IP website provides information on its authors' books -- but does not allow prospective readers to order the books.
  • Competitors such as CS, Lulu and Outskirts do sell books for their authors. 
IP says, "With an extra $0.25/book cost, you can optionally select plastic lamination for your cover finishing."
  • Other companies provide laminated covers at no additional charge.
IP says, "If you already have an ISBN number, Instantpublisher.com . . . can create the barcode for $15.00 during the order process.
  • Other companies will provide the barcode for free.
IP says it "offers two different ISBN options. The first ISBN option retails for $75. This number will list Instantpublisher as the publisher of record and we will be listed as the main contact for your book."
  • CreateSpace and other companies can provide an ISBN for free.
IP says, "By accessing, using or browsing this SITE, you (the "USER") are deemed to have read, understood and agreed to each of the terms, conditions, and notices set forth in this AGREEMENT. In addition, when using any particular content or service on this SITE, USER shall also be subject to and deemed to have read, understood and agreed to any posted guidelines or rules applicable to such content and services that may contain terms and conditions in addition to the terms, conditions and notices set forth in this AGREEMENT.
  • Amazing. If I read anything on the website, IP assumes that I agree to all of its terms, even if I did not see or read the terms.
IP says that "Black and white books will be printed on 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper. Color book proofs will be trimmed to size. If you do want a proof copy of your book before printing, there will be a flat charge of $50.00 for any color book order and any black & white book order that is under 200 copies. For black & white book order that is over 200 copies, the proof copy cost is $30.00. With the proof copy option, you will be mailed an unbound proof of your book and cover."
  • I can get a bound proof (with proper color cover and proper-size pages) from CS for about three bucks plus postage.

In conclusion, there seems to be little or no reason to use Instantpublisher.com. I sent IP an email asking, "Do you have some advantage that I did not see?" I did not receive a response.