Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thinking about vanity and vanity publishing

Is Mick "so vain?"
There’s a lot of confusion between self-publishing and vanity publishing.

For many years, there have been ads in magazines aimed at writers, with headlines like “For the writer in search of a publisher," “We want to read your book,” “Manuscripts wanted” and “Authors wanted.” The ads and affiliated websites promise to enable you to become a “published author.”

The ads are not from traditional publishers or from literary agents, but from “vanity” publishers — companies that use the author’s money to produce, promote and distribute the books.

However, no publishing companies that were perceived to be (or derided as) vanity publishers used that label themselves. If they used any description at all, it was usually "subsidy publisher." Today most of them use the term "self-publishing company."

I have previously spent lots of time fighting the term, pointing out that no one can self-publish you, just as no one can self-educate, self-immolate or self-medicate you -- but I gave up the fight. Pissing into the wind is pointless. Language does change, and I am now willing to accept the term which I know is illogical.

There is one major difference between the old-fashioned vanity publishers and today's self-publishing companies.
  • In the old days, a writer could have spent many thousands of dollars to receive heavy cartons of offset-printed books which often rotted away in garages or basements, or took up valuable space elsewhere in the house. The books were seldom sold, and remained in place until the writer moved or died.
  • Today, a writer can spend as little as a few hundred dollars and books are printed on demand when orders are received from readers or booksellers or the writer.
  • Also today, people like me can set up there own tiny publishing companies, hiring designers and editors and other specialists as needed. I call this "independent self-publishing."

There is only one customer a vanity publisher or self-publishing company is interested in selling to — the author/customer. A non-vanity publisher, whether a one-person self-publisher or a giant like Random House, hopes to sell books to thousands or millions of readers. Companies like Random House don’t have to advertise to attract writers and receive manuscripts.

The word “vanity” implies excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements and appeal. Vanity has been considered a sin. It can lead to wasted resources and wasted lives. It can also lead to useful activities and important accomplishments.

Most or all artistic people have some degree of vanity, or they would not produce or perform.

Most people seem to like themselves. There are gradations in vanity, ranging from justified confidence to outrageous, obnoxious egomania.

In You’re So Vain, Carly Simon wrote and sang (possibly about Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger or both of them): “You walked into the party… You had one eye on the mirror… And all the girls dreamed that they'd be your partner… You're so vain you probably think this song is about you.”

Vanity publishers (whatever they call themselves) stay in business because many vain people are willing to spend money to flatter themselves. A vanity publisher depends on the vanity of writers who strive to become “published authors.” They make most of their money from writers, not readers. If you work with a vanity publisher, you pay all of the expenses of publishing, and have all of the possible financial loss.

Although less true now than in the 20th century, a book published by a vanity press is often assumed to have been rejected as unworthy of publication by traditional publishers.

Here’s another way of looking at vanity and publishing: Maybe the most vain writers are those who will delay publication for years or decades in hope of getting accepted by a traditional publisher instead of quickly self-publishing, reaching the public, and maybe even making some money.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Self-publishers: at least try a little bit harder.

Yesterday, on the SPAN website, I read a very poorly prepared book announcement written by a good storyteller who needs help making the transition to publisher.

The new book is in a genre (Christian "end times" fiction) that I have no interest in. I probably would not have read beyond the headline, but that headline was so terribly amateurish (and so unnecessarily terrible) that I read more and found more to complain about.

The announcement's title is "Times of Trouble a Christian fiction End Times novel."  (Emphasis added)

Author Cliff Ball says he has published six books and has a BA degree in English. Hey Cliff, I'd think that by now you'd know that it's not necessary to point out that a novel is fiction (unless it's it's being compared to a "non-fiction novel" like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood). I realize that  Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls is not Harvard or Yale, but surely some professor must've pointed that out. Sadly, the ugly book cover repeats the reduncancy error.

The book promo is flawed by sloppy writing and grammatical errors:
  • Cliff says "many Americans had known for over two hundred years." Huh? How many Americans live for more than 200 years?
  • Also, "Told in first person point of view, Brian Atwood, our main character, is . . ." Brian is not told in first-person, the book is.
  • "His work involves mostly cyber terrorism . . . ." That sounds like he is a terrorist, not someone who fights terrorism.
  • Brian's faith is tested every day as he deals with a man that [should be "who"] has no morals . . . ." 
On the SPAN site, I pointed out some of the errors and said, "I hope the book is better edited than this promo, and I strongly urge you to re-do the promo before you circulate it further."

Sadly, I then found that the same poorly crafted promo is on Cliff's website, booksellers' sites, and even on the back cover of the book.

The back cover bio tells us that Cliff "was led to the Lord when he was five by his mother." How could anyone who writes such a crappy sentence have a degree in the English language? Could I be five by my mother? Cliff -- or an editor -- should have rewritten this.

Sadly, the book apparently had no editor ("Delaney's" is not the plural of "Delaney," "withdrawal of Iraq" should be "from Iraq," "look-out" doesn't need a hyphen) -- or a designer.

The cover uses a common CreateSpace template. The interior is ugly and screams "AMATEUR." The text is set flush-left, and there are no hyphens, so pages are ragged and jagged. Even if Cliff was too broke or too egomaniacal to hire a designer, a little bit of research could have led to a much nicer book.

The copyright page says that the book was published by Cliff Ball. This is not Cliff's first book. When he did his first book, he should have established a name for his publishing company.

An amateur's book that has to compete with professionals' books has to look professional. It's not difficult.

While I have no interest in Christian fiction (I'm not even sure why it exists) or the "end times," and almost never read fiction, I did read enough of the online preview to know that Cliff is a good storyteller. It's a shame that he doesn't care enough about his words to invest in professional editing and design.


The mission of SPAN (Small Publishers Association of North America) is to support self publishing authors and independent publishing companies as a non-profit trade association. It provides a lot of valuable services to both established pros and newbies. I've been a SPAN member for several years, and recommend it.

Writers often use its website as a venue to announce new books, and perhaps to get the attention of other members, and maybe get them to buy, read and recommend the books.

Since SPAN is an alliance of sympathetic supporters of small publishers, I'd think that someone with a new book to promote would try really hard to impress members.


Monday, February 27, 2012

This year, Donny Trump, Billy Clinton, Cher, Dubya and I can start collecting Social Security

I'm a proud member of the first cohort of the baby boom.

I was born in 1946 along with Dolly Parton, Candy Bergen, Donny Trump, Billy Clinton, Georgie and Laura Bush, Cher, Linda Ronstadt, Lisa Minnelli, Patty Smith, Jimmy Buffet, Reggie Jackson, Ilie Nastase, Sly Stallone, Oliver Stone, Gianni Versace and Suzanne Somers.

This year we can start collecting Social Security.

I need the money.  Donny probably doesn't. I'm not sure about Reggie.

As you type, be conscious of your habitual errors, which may increase as you get older.

In the last few years I’ve frequently and stupidly held down the shift key as I pressed the key to insert an apostrophe, and ended up inserting a quote mark.

I also often type “i nthe” instead of “in the” and “fro ma” instead of “from a.” I also tap the Caps Lock key a lot by accident, and the semi-colon instead of the apostrophe next door.

I solved part of the problem by removing the Caps Lock key from some of my keyboards.

While writing a recent book, I started tapping the “Page Down” key instead of “delete.”

I've also degenerated from being the world's fasted six-finger typist to a pretty-good two-finger typist. (I actually have 10 fingers -- but I don't use them all for typing.)

If I live long enough I’ll probably develop even more bad habits that I can’t control. I hope sloppy typing is not an early sign of dementia.

I guess having to fix typos is better than dying young and perfect. When I start drooling on the keyboard, maybe I'll stop writing.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Bookpal got better

This blog posting previously condemned Australian self-publishing company Bookpal. Apparently the lashing was effective, because the company has made some big improvements, and I see no reason to warn prospective customers away.

It's a shame that other self-pub-cos  have not been as responsive to criticism. I will continue to kick ass when appropriate, and also to re-evaluate.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

There are some advantages to being old

Despite deficiencies in appendages and sensory organs, we old farts have a definite advantage over the young 'uns. We may not remember where we put the car keys or what we ate for breakfast, but if we still have long-term memory, we have PERSPECTIVE. We can look back, remember, analyze and compare. We remember things that kids have merely read about (and maybe their sources were wrong.) And, because we can remember when things like cellphones did not exist, we can appreciate -- and maybe even marvel at -- things that younger people take for granted.

After walking around the planet for four or five or six decades, we've seen, heard, smelled, tasted and done a lot.

  • Despite the current GOP's fondness for "The Great Communicator," I can remember when Ronnie Reagan was a doddering old fool in the White House. (For me, the highlight of his career was starring in "Bedtime for Bonzo.")
  • I remember the thrill when finally more than 50% of Americans were opposed to the war in Viet Nam, and when LBJ decided not to run for re-election.
  • I remember when presidental candidates were selected at the conventions, not in primaries.
  • Today, a burger at Mickey Dee's can cost six bucks. I remember the commercial that chanted "Forty-five cents for a three course meal? Sounds to me like that's a steal." (A burger, fries and a shake cost 15 cents each.)
  • I remember when one-gig hard drives and plain-paper fax machines finally became available for less than $1,000.
  • I remember when people were crippled from polio.
  • I remember when most kids had married parents and few mothers worked.
  • I remember when men were not nurses and did not teach at elementary schools.
  • I remembered when it was shocking that politicians and priests were involved in sex scandals.
  • I remember seeing two movies, seven cartoons and a newsreel for 25 cents.
  • I remember penny candy that actually cost a penny.
  • I remember cars that rusted and overheated and had windup windows and no air conditioning.
  • I remember when it was unusual to see an imported car in the USA. Or Ikea.
  • I remember the discoveries of quiche and fondue.
  • I remember when most women used hair spray, and only strippers wore thong underwear.
  • I remember when it was weird for a woman to run for political office.
  • I remember when pregnant girls left high school.
  • I remember door-to-door salesmen, and notebooks that were not computers.
  • I remember typewriters and correction fluid.
  • I remember shotgun weddings, people going to Europe for abortions and sex-change surgery, and to Nevada for divorces.
  • I remember when people were shocked by Playboy magazine.
  • I remember newspapers that did not print color pictures.
  • I remember having to choose from three TV channels.
  • I remember TV antennas (not dishes) on the roof.
  • I remember when headsets were for pilots and telephone operators.
  • I remember when people rented telephones and answering machines.
  • I remember when answering machines were actually machines.
  • I remember when it was weird to buy water.
  • I remember Pennsylvania Station, Bethlehem Steel, and phone numbers with letters.
  • I remember when a doctor made home visits for five bucks, drove a $5,000 Cadillac and lived in a $25,000 house.
  • I remember when an expensive college cost $3,000 per year.
  • I remember paying a nickel to ride on the Staten Island Ferry, and for a bag of potato chips.
  • I remember life before Starbucks, Serbia, Keurigs, plastic shopping bags, Star Trek and Star Wars, bungee cords, The Pill, cordless phones, reality TV, recycling bins, ZIP Codes, email, word processing, sports bras, $200 sneakers, unisex salons, apps, Silly Putty, The Czech Republic, Trumps, Palins, Kardashians, Lohans, Kims, networking, self-realization, permanent press, videos, value propositions, airplane hijacking, Lojack, GPS, VCR, DVR, LSD, HIV, ATMs, PDFs, FAQs, sex surrogates, texting, sexting, Nigerian scams, men going to weddings without neckties, and seatbelts.
  • I remember when 1950s music was not "oldies."
  • I remember when the USA had 180 million people and 48 states. 
  • I remember commercials for "your DeSoto-Plymouth dealer."
  • I remember the USSR.
  • I remember co-features.
  • I remember mink stoles.
  • I remember when Howdy Doody was "live."
  • I remember when Dick Clark was young.
  • I remember "Kukla, Fran and Ollie."
  • I remember "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet."
  • I remember when Johnny Carson replaced Steve Allen on the Tonight Show.
  • I remember being concerned about 1984 and Y2K.
  • I remember when it was unusual for women to wear pants to work.
  • I remember pizza selling 25 cents for a slice. Maybe even 15 cents.
  • Althought I never drank it, I remember ten-cent coffee.
  • I remember soda vending machines that poured liquid into cups.
  • I remember when "gay" merely meant "happy."
  • I remember when there were just three Radio Shack stores in the entire world, and no BestBuys or Circuit Cities.
  • When our family drove cross-country in 1959, gas cost less than 25 cents per gallon.
  • I remember preparing for World War Three. Duck and Cover.
  • I remember when American men did not wear necklaces, and most women did not have tattoos, or piercings other than in their ears.
  • I remember paying for long-distance calls, and keeping them short.
  • I remember tube testers at Radio Shack, being able to select either mono or stereo LPs, when mobile phones cost $3,000, and when going online could cost $20 per HOUR.
  • I remember when color TVs, touch-tone phones and microwave ovens were luxury items.
  • I remember when TVs had knobs and no remote controls.
  • I remember having a $1,000 VCR with a wired remote  control.
  • I remember open-reel tape, 78s, 45s, 33s, 4-track, 8-track, cassettes, Elcassettes, videodiscs, quadraphonic sound, and record players in cars.
  • I remember wristwatches with tiny LED displays.
  • I remember when there was a Disneyland but no Disney Worlds.
  • I (sadly) remember life without TiVo and satelite radio.
  • I remember when cars had just three-speed transmisisons. (The first Corvette had just two.)
  • I remember when turbocharging was exotic.
  • I remember paying to have new cars rustproofed by Ziebart.
  • I remember calling relatives to let them know we had arrived safely -- after a 50-mile drive.
  • I remember when there was no President's Day, but there was a Decoration Day, and weekends had just two days.
  • I remember when it was unusual to see nude bodies or hear dirty words in movies, or hear dirty words on TV or radio.
  • I remember when tacos were exotic, and pizza was not available with eggplant.
  • I remember when pocket calculators were exotic.
  • I remember when people stayed home to watch TV.
  • I remember when a science magazine said that it would never be possible to produce a color video camera that could be sold for less than $25,000.
  • I remember predictions of helicopters in every driveway, flat-screen color TVs, pocket-size phones and the end of war and disease.
  • I also remember when cigarettes cost 27 cents per pack, had no cancer warnings, and were advertised on TV. "More doctors smoke camels than any other brand."
  • I remember when magazines cost a quarter, paperback books cost 35 cents, computers cost millions, and homes had one phone and one TV.
  • I remember when milk and eggs were delivered to homes, mommy was home to cook lunch for the kids, and freezers had to be defrosted.
  • I remember hearing about nickel lunches, but I actually remember drinking nickel Cokes.
  • I remember when kids walked to school and it was up-hill in both directions.
  • I remember when KFC was called Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • I remember when females were not supposed to like sex.
  • I remember when schools, public lavatories and water fountains got integrated.
  • I remember when Ivy League schools had quotas for Jews, and fancy hotels did not allow Jews or dogs to stay in them.
  • I remember when few Jewish people bought German cars and when few WW2 vets bought Japanese cars.
  • I remember when computer screens and printers were monochrome.
  • I remember floppy discs, and laser discs.
  • I remember changing spark plugs.
  • I remember snow tires, even studded snow tires.
  • I remember when radar detectors were illegal in some states.
  • I remember Montgomery-Ward, Gimbel's, Bambergers, Korvette's and Crazy Eddie.
  • I remember when people couldn't buy liquor with a credit card, or lots of things on Sunday.
  • I remember when cable TV was unusual. So were shopping malls. And wearing jeans and sneakers to school.
  • I remember when Howard Johnson's restaurants were ubiquitous, and the signs at McDonald's bragged, "Over One Million Sold."
  • I remember when you had to get phone service from the phone company.
  • I remember when nobody used lasers at home.
  • I remember when most pens and batteries leaked.
  • I remember the appearance of the Magic Marker.
  • I remember when Negroes became Blacks and Afro-Americans.
  • I remember when black people started using the N-word.
  • I remember when it was unusual to see black people in commercials.
  • I remember when "Protestants" became "Christians."
  • I remember when Mormons were considered weird. Hmm.
  • I remember when it was shocking to consider that a Catholic could become president.
  • I remember when Americans went to Cuba for vacation -- but not to China.
  • I remember the iron curtain and iron lungs.
  • I remember my Diners' Club card and receiving Telegrams.
  • I remember stores that let people charge purchases without using charge cards, and when Macy's started accepting American Express.
  • I remember when McDonald's started selling breakfast, and bagels.
  • I remember when banks closed at 3 p.m. and on weekends.
  • I remember when mail order items were ordered and delivered by mail.
  • I remember the switch from steel to aluminum SCUBA tanks, from dual-hose to single-hose regulators, and from ski boots with laces to ski boots with clips.
  • I remember when people without legs did not compete in sports.
  • I remember when Saturn was not a car but Mercury was.
  • I remember back in the 1950s when banks paid less than three percent on savings. Hmm.
  • I remember hearing about the Great Depression and that it could never happen again. 
Of course, one big disadvantage of this perspective and memory may be that nobody wants to hear about it.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yesterday I flipped the bird at a plastic surgeon

I had a small piece of wire embedded in the tip of the "finger" finger of my left hand for about five years.

I often work and play with wire, so the intrusion was not a surprise.

As with most splinters I've gotten, I first tried to remove it with a tweezers -- but was unsuccessful. So, I put a Band-Aid on it and got on with my life. I figured it would eventually work its way to the surface and I'd try some do-it-myself surgery again.

It stayed buried.

Most of the time I was unaware of it, but sometimes -- particularly while I was typing -- it hurt like hell.

Yesterday I had an appointment with a plastic surgeon of some renown to have it removed professionally.

The doc thought he knew where the wire was, so he sliced my finger open and poked and prodded for 45 minutes and could not find it. He then asked me if I was sure it was really there. I said I was sure. (I had seen it in an X-ray taken by another doc last year). He then suggested the possibility that it might have been absorbed by my body. I then suggested that since it had been there for at least five years prior to the X-ray, I doubted that my body would suddenly decide to attack it in the months since the X-ray. I also suggested that it would be a good idea to get new X-rays. (Although I didn't tell him, I couldn't help thinking that he should have X-rayed me before opening me up.)

Sooooooooo, the doc stitched up his newly created slice and sent me to another place to get X-rays. The technician showed me the digital images, and the wire was very obvious. The tech put the images on the Web so the plastic surgeon could see them, and I went back to the surgeon. (My dog was waiting in the car.)

He (doc, not dog) removed my new bandages, removed my new stitches, and after 45 more minutes was pleased to announce that he had found and removed the wire.

He was obviously proud of himself and pointed out that the metallic intruder was just two millimeters long. Apparently most of the time, this doc (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and chief of plastic surgery at a hospital) does tummy tucks, breast resizing and Botox injections, so my splinter was a real challenge.

Super-surgeon then gave me six more stitches (which will stay in for two weeks), and advised me that the finger might not feel any better even with the wire removed (!!!), and gave me a prescription for Tylenol with codeine.

It's been a long time since I had any interest in recreational drugs (and back then I never used the evil codeine), but the pain from the surgery is so friggin' bad that I'm popping pills around the clock.

My damn finger is on fire. The pills taste bad. Typing is tough. So are lots of other things.

Maybe I was wrong to have surgery. I could have lived with the wire. And, if I left the wire in, it might have provided an education for the future medical student who gets to dissect me. If the wire is removed post-mortem, I might not require the codeine.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why do so many names need nicknames?

With the endless GOP primary season including two Ricks, a Mitt and a Newt, I've been thinking about nicknames.

Some past presidents have insisted on using their nicknames. William Jefferson Clinton was just plain Bill. Enemies called him Slick Willie."

On a campaign button, Ike fits much better that Dwight, Ditto for TR, LBJ and FDR.

Ike's veep -- and later a president -- Richard M Nixon became Tricky Dicky.

Jimmy takes up about the same space as James (Carter), but sounds much friendlier.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was called Jack, but "JFK" fit much better in newspaper headlines. I don't know if the current president has a nickname, but the New York Daily News frequently prints "Bam."

Why do some really wussyful names like Melvin, give us such manly names as Mel? Les is more (not less) manly than Leslie or Lester, and Sly Stallone could kick Syslvester's ass.

Tony Soprano sounds much more macho than Anthony. Anthony Anastasio was Tough Tony, the younger brother of Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia. Machine Gun Kelly, Muscles and Sammy the Bull invoke much more fear and trembling than George Kelly Barnes, George Futterman or Salvatore Gravano. Crazy Joey Gallo is not someone to mess around with. Neither is Scarface (Al Capone, above). Baby Face, Skinny Joey, Fat Dominic, Hymie, Louie Ha-Ha, Louie Lump Lump and Little Nicky are much less intimidating than Kid Blast, Killer Twist or Grim Reaper. Click for more mobster names.

Why do some names (e.g., Richard) spawn so many nicknames, (Rich, Rick, Dick).

And some nicknames even have nicknames (Richie, Ricky, Dickie).

Why do some names that invoke ugly people (Gwendolyn) lead to nicknames that evoke cute faces (Gwen)?

Why so some nicknames like Peggy sound nothing like their full names, like Margaret? My father was called Bud or Buddy, but his legal name was Bertram.

Why do some nicknames, like Josh, Luke and Matt, sound contemporary, even though the full names (Joshua, Lucas and Matthew) goes back thousands of years? Isaac and Izzy both sound old-fashioned.

Why do some people never outgrow their childish names, like Sammy Davis and Stevie Wonder?

Sometimes a nickname for one person becomes a full name for others. Alexandra has given us Alex, Alix, Alexa, Allie, Ali, Lexy, Sandra, Sandy. Elizabeth has a long long of spinoffs:  Betty, Bettie, Bet, Bett, Bette, Betta, Betsy, Betsey, Betsi, Beth, Bess, Bessie, Bessy, Bettina, Elsie, Elisa, Elsa, Eliza, Ellie, Elly, Ilse, Liz, Lizzy, Lizzie, Liza, Lisa, Lise, Lisette, Lizette, Lisbet, Lizbeth, Libby. 

I know a man who was born Charlie (not Charles) and a Jake who is not really a Jacob.

Some nicknames cross the gender barrier. Jack and Jacky(ie) can be nicknames for Jacqueline or John. Chris goes with Christopher and Christina (who may also be Tina). 

Some names like Gregory, Oliver, Frederick, Allison, Charles, Leonard and Timothy are most often said by parents and teachers -- but friends say Greg, Ollie, Fred, Freddy, Al, Alli, Charlie, Chuck, Len, Lenny, Tim and Timmy.

If someone calls my office and asks to speak to "Mike Marcus," I know he never met me and is probably trying to sell me Wall Street stock or copy paper. I think only one person who actually knew me called me Mike. That was my father, so I didn't correct him. NOBODY calls me Mickey or Mick.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidential Firsts (mostly true)

  • Former President Herbert Hoover became the first politician to use a teleprompter in 1952, when he gave the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention in Chicago.
  • The presidential election on November 7, 2000 was one of the closest presidential elections in the history of the US. It was a contest between Democrat Al Gore, the Vice President, and Republican George W. Bush, Governor of Texas. On election night, news media twice prematurely declared a winner in Florida based on exit polls, before deciding the race was too close to call. Both candidates needed Florida's electoral votes to win the presidency. A month of court challenges and recounts followed, until the US Supreme Court halted recounts by ruling for Bush. Bush was certified as the winner in Florida by a margin of 537 votes, defeating Gore, who received more votes than Bush nationwide. It was the third time in American history that a candidate won the the Electoral College vote without winning the popular vote, and the first time a president was elected by the Supreme Court.
  • President Millard Fillmore (1850-53) is most often credited for the first bathtub in the White House, in 1851; but he doesn't deserve the credit. Journalist and satirist H.L Mencken wrote a fictional history of the bathtub for the The New York Evening Mail in 1917, and mentioned the Fillmore tub's installation. Mencken recanted the Fillmore tub tale later, saying "My motive was simply to have some harmless fun in war days. It never occurred to me that it would be taken seriously." In reality, fourth president James Madison was probably the first to bathe in the White House, in 1814; but the water had to be heated on a stove and carried in a bucket. Real plumbing apparently came in 1834 during the Andrew Jackson administration.
  • William Henry Harrison was president only 30 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes. He was the first president to die in office, and served the shortest term of any American president. When Harrison arrived in Washington, he wanted to show that he was still the mighty hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, an extremely cold and windy day. He wore no overcoat and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. It took nearly two hours to read, even after his friend Daniel Webster had shortened it. Harrison later caught a cold, which then got much worse. His doctors tried everything, applying opium, castor oil, plants, and even snakes. The treatments made Harrison worse and he went into delirium. He died on April 4, 1841, of pneumonia, jaundice, and septicemia.
  • In 1812, Dolley Madison, wife of fourth president James Madison, arranged the first marriage ceremony to be held at the White House – the wedding of her widowed sister, Lucy Payne Washington, to a Supreme Court Justice, Thomas Todd.
  • Argentine president Juan Perón died on July 1, 1974, less than a year after his third election to the presidency. His wife Isabel assumed the position and became the first non-royal female head of state and head of government in the western hemisphere.
  • On May 16, 1981, two weeks before her death, Soong Ch'ing-ling was admitted to the Communist Party and was named Honorary President of the People's Republic of China. She is the only person ever to hold this title, and apparently the first president in the eastern hemisphere.
  • Geraldine Anne Ferraro (1935-2011) was a Democratic politician and former member of the US House of Representatives. She is best known as the first woman to represent a major US political party as a candidate for Vice President (with Walter Mondale in 1984).
  • Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (born in 1938) was Liberia's first elected female president, and Africa's first elected female president. Elected in 2005, she is the second elected black woman head of state in the world and also second female leader of Liberia after Ruth Perry (who assumed leadership after an overthrow. She is known as the "Iron Lady."
  • Barack Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Committee chose the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, with members from across the country, to march in the inaugural parade in Washington on January 20, 2009. It was the first time that a gay and lesbian band marched in a presidential inauguration.
  • Following the normalization of US-Cuban relations in 2009, Obama visited Cuba in August, 2010, an became the first American president to visit Cuba since Teddy Roosevelt invaded in 1898. Obama met with new Cuban President Nicholas Santiago, the first non-Castro to head Cuba in 50 years, and was warmly greeted by the Cuban people in several public appearances. President Obama was in Cuba with his wife and daughters for three days. They stayed at the US Naval base in Guantanamo, but visited Havana and several other cities. They even swam at the Playa Girón beach that was the site of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion during the Kennedy administration.
  • The first five Presidents wore knickers to their ceremonies, with John Quincy Adams the first to move into trousers.
  • In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt was the first to deliver his Inaugural Address bareheaded.
  • In 1999 Ruth Dreifuss  took over as President of the Swiss Confederation — the first woman and the first Jew to hold this office. This was considered a significant personal achievement in Switzerland, where women received the right to vote only in 1971 and which was the last country in Western Europe to recognize Jewish rights.
  • And, of course, JFK was the first Catholic president to have sex with Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon was the first president whose Attorney General went to jail and veep resigned for cheating on income tax, Ronnie Reagan was the first to put black shoe polish in his hair and have Alzheimer's Disease while still in office, Bill Clinton was the first to sort-of have sex with Monica Lewinsky, Barack Obama is the first half-black president who was born in Kenya, Mitt Romney wants to be the first president with four wives, Newt Gingrich wants to be the first president of the Moon, and Sarah Palin may yet become the first really stupid, retrograde and uninformed female president.

This material is from my For the First Time (or maybe the last time) blog, which is no longer being updated, but has a lot of interesting things to read.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Don't let your flips flop

In designing books, ads, websites and other graphic projects, it's common to do a left-right "flip" to make a picture or layout look better. Unfortunately, it is also common for photos to get accidentally flipped, and sometimes no one notices the flopped flip until publication -- when it's too late.

If you flip a photo, watch out for a text reversal in such things as name tags, keyboards, initial jewelry, clocks, wristwatches or signs or license plates in the background. Watch for reversed flags or logos. Make sure wedding rings are on the correct hand (usually the left in the USA).

Some products, even if made by hundreds of different manufacturers, have standard formats. Don’t reverse a telephone and end up with the handset on the right side instead of on the left, as shown above. On old televisions, knobs were almost always on the right.

Be careful if you flip a photo of a car or a truck. Remember which side the steering wheel is supposed to be on.

Sometimes a flag is supposed to be “backwards.” When the American flag is on the right ("starboard") side of an airplane (including Air Force One) or on the right sleeve of a uniform, the stars go on the right. This mimics the way the flag would fly from a mast on a moving ship or when carried into battle.

The image above, from the White House Museum, has the flag going the wrong way. Those folks should know better.

On the right side of the Marine One chopper, the flag rightly faces the wrong way.

But someone designed, and someone approved, a model with the flag facing the wrong, right way.

It’s important not to have a person or a vehicle looking or traveling “off the page.” It’s natural for the reader to follow the eyes of the person (or the headlights of the car), so don’t direct a reader’s eyes away from the page. If you are using stock photos or clip art, you can easily flip the photo to keep the readers’ eyes focused inward. Be careful of the effects on your flipping if you change pages from recto (right) to verso (left). If you use a photo of a well-known person where the flipping would be noticeable (such as moving a pimple, wart, pierced eyelid, missing tooth, tattoo or nose ring from the left to the right), rearrange the page so the eyes lead into some text instead of off the page.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Publishing advice from someone who can't write

Text copied from

Borat's English is much better.

Almost everyone who write any books or even ebook are need a copyright. Moreover, you’ll recommended to obtained an ISBN as soon as possible. If you have considered all your choices and have decided that “self-publishing” makes the most fit for you. Please get ISBN to your as soon as possible. You may know that there is an extra in the need to “self-market” your eBook or books, but you must know that it’s also have correlation to boost your profits.

Do you Know about ISBN ?
Yeah..!! ISBN is stands for: “International Standard Book Number”. Most people aren’t know and understand what is an ISBN. ISBN is a number (commonly 10 digit)that would helps to recognize your book, ebook or even brand. The ISBN is commonly placed on the back of the book or product. This is look like a bar-code in a supermarket, wholesale and retail store. It’s capable to identify any products. It’s typically used to identify a book by the author or publisher. It’s so useful for any instance like booksellers, universities, libraries, wholesalers and many more as it’s capable to identify book or products easily and rapidly. Furthermore, it’s also applied on internet, I have seen ISBN search on That’s means you’re enabled to get books and any product rapidly and simply online.

Is it Important For Me ?
The answer of this question is depending on your needed. You would really really need ISBN if you are wanna sell or distribute your products like ebook or even book on major websites. However, it would be useless if you just purposed to distribute your ebook or books on your own sites. In a few case, this is needed to be one point of products qualification, some retailers and store won’t accept any products that doesn’t contain an ISBN. So, do you know whether or not it’s important for you ?

How To Obtaining an ISBN Number?
If you decide you’ll like to get an ISBN for your eBook or books, you could easily get it. There are various ISBN agencies in the worldwide that could aid you to joining your ebook or books to ISBN. If you’re published your book by a book publishing deal, you’ll most likely obtain the ISBN. You could also get the ISBN by self publishing agency especially through internet, if you wanna sale book yourself. Typically ISBN already provided for the publisher.

The cost
The price to buy an ISBN may seem to expensive for most people. The cost of getting an ISBN is about $80 to $ 500 or even more, it’s depending on the amount that you’ll purchase. In the worldwide, there are plenty resellers that provide and sell a single ISBN for about $50 to $ 65. Other way for the buy of an ISBN is by your book printer. The printing company usually give this as a service to the customers because they understand that you may not require a lot of ISBN numbers.

Self-publishing may looked so daunting, but if you know and understand about the strategies needed, it’s potentially could be successfully done. Furthermore, an ISBN is needed, you’ll also require to manage copyright issues.

In other words, you actually need to get an ISBN if you have a goal to market and sell your eBook on major sites, in store and many more. But, if you just wanna sell books on your sites, you could ignore this on your consideration. Firstly on your publishing, please ensure that you have already deciding your goal, so that you could prioritize the budgets for your publishing like the budget for getting ISBN.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

I am willing to give in a little about bad Engish

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I can be very intolerant about bad English (and intolerant about other things, as well).

However, my feet are not so firmly planted back in the 20th century, or the 13th century, that I can't change my mind.

I recognize that, like minds, languages do change. Words get new meanings (at one time girls could be boys), additional meanings (cats and chicks can be people, hook up means more than to connect wires, a hood can be a head covering, a hoodlum, or a place), and even contradictory meanings (a gay person may be unhappy, an iPhone is both cool and hot, the latest Nikes can be so good that they're bad).

I am therefore ready to publicly cave in today, to announce that I will henceforth not complain about two pieces of illogical English.

#1: The misplaced "only." If you say you "only eat vegetables" or "only buy European cars," you are implying that you do not sleep, read, watch TV, breathe, have conversations, go to movies, make love, or anything else. The correct sentence structure would be "eat vegetables only" or "buy European cars only."

However, people do manage to understand what you mean when the "only" is up-front, and that placement provides a bit of dramatic emphasis that proper placement does not. My first self-published book (shown above, and replaced by Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) has the "only" where it does not belong. The title is a quote from a nutso teacher I had in high school -- an English teacher. 

She and I are not the only ones who misplace the "only." The song title "I only have eyes for you" is definitely ungrammatical, as is the book title above.

#2: The modified "unique." As I have pointed out in this blog and in books, "Unique" means "one of a kind." all unique things are equally unique. Nothing can be the "most unique." Nothing can be "more unique" than another. A unique snowflake is just as unique as a unique person or pencil.

However, President Obama, people who want his job, and countless millions of others use the phrase and understand it to mean "a bit more unusual than 'most unusual.'" Google shows more than 14 million links for the phrase, so I surrender to the will of the masses. For now, I refuse to use the phrase, but I probably won't criticize others who do.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Xlibris is ruining self-publishing by not providing the help its authors need (rerun)

Self-publishing companies make most of their money by selling services to writers. If a self-publishing company rejects a book, the company makes no money. That's why self-publishing companies accept nearly every book submitted to them, except for books that appear to be obscene or libelous.

The lack of selectivity is the prime cause of self-publishing’s bad reputation. Even though traditional publishers make many bad decisions, their selectivity and financial commitment provide a powerful endorsement for the writers and books they choose to accept.

Self-publishing companies try to evoke an image of quality and service.

Xlibris says, "you can count on Xlibris' extensive experience to provide dependable, long-term, individualized support through the publishing process and in the years that follow." The company boasts about its "proficient team of publishing professionals" and says it has a "comprehensive range of publishing, editorial, add-on and marketing services."

Xlibris is one of several former competitors including iUniverse, Wordclay and Trafford which were absorbed by Author Solutions, Inc. "ASI" is also the private-label service provider for some traditional publishers such as Thomas Nelson. ASI says it publishes "one of every 15 book titles published in the US every year."

At last year's Self-Publishing Book Expo, marketing director Joe Bayern told me that ASI's best editors work on Xlibris titles.

Xlibris says, "One of our founding principles, dating back to when we were newly incorporated and making books out of a basement office, is that authors should have control over their work. This principle still stands today as we help hundreds of authors every month publish their work in the manner and form that they envision," and "When you publish with Xlibris, you completely control the book design."

That's not necessarily a good thing. If an author has bad ideas for a book's design, or is simply a bad writer, crap gets published. The "proficient team" and "best editors" don't control the quality of what gets published with an Xlibris label on it.

One of the best examples (i.e., one of the worst books) that shows the failure of Xlibris is the awkwardly named, physically ugly, poorly written and unedited The Truth and the Corruption of the American System. The 95-page hardcover sells for (OMG!) $24.99. There are also paperback ($15.99) and e-book ($9.99) editions.

The author has some important things to say (more later), but her message is diluted and distorted by bad presentation, and lack of help from Xlibris. The company wanted to collect money for the publishing package they sold her, but made no effort to improve the book.

Sales are probably infinitesimal. Did I buy the only copy?

After more than two years, there is not even one review on or the Barnes & Noble website.

Author Eunice Owusu tells us on the back cover, and inside the book, and on multiple websites: "I was born in Ghana and came to America about twenty-five years ago. I was married for twenty years and now separated with one child, who is seventeen years old. He lives with me in Houston, Texas. I attended Northern Virginia Community College and graduated in the year 2002 with Associate Degree in Legal Assisting. I transferred to George Mason University in Virginia, Texas Southern University in Texas, and now I am in my final year at the University of Houston in Texas, major in Political Science and eventually transfer to Law School."
  • Does any of this provide a reason to buy a book about what's wrong with America?
  • Do we care about her bad marriage?
  • Do we care about her bad writing?
  • Are we impressed by Northern Virginia Community College?
  • Do we care about the age of the author's son?
  • Do we know or care how old he is now, or that at one point he lived in Houston?
  • Should we have to do research to determine if the author graduated from the University of Houston and went to law school?
Xlibris says it offers "seven comprehensive publishing packages, each with a unique combination of marketing, editorial and publishing services."  It appears that unless an author pays $3,299 for the "premium package," the unique editorial service is no editorial service.

Five of the packages do not include editing, but the company says that "Writing that is worth publishing is worth a careful edit. Your message deserves it, and so do your readers. It is what distinguishes a professional book from an amateur one."
  • That's very true. Xlibris knows what's right, but lets its author customers do what's wrong.
Xlibris would rather sell a package for $649 with no editing and publish a crappy book, than lose the sale because a writer won't pay $0.12 per word for editing. (The charge to copyedit the Owusu book would have been about $600.)

The book badly needs copyediting. Problems include lots of improper punctuation, non-sentences, wrong tenses, wrong words (e.g., "having ends meet" instead of "making ends meet"), missing words, misspelling, missing possessives, improper uppercasing, inconsistent uppercasing, inconsistent time designations (e.g., "6:30" and "six-thirty" in successive sentences, "seven sixteen" and "7:20" in the same paragraph), repeated words ("do do" and "on on"), singular nouns that should be plurals, plural verbs that should be singular, sentences that should be two sentences, paragraphs that should be three paragraphs, unattributed quotations, numbers stuck in the middle of paragraphs for no discernible reason, unnecessary italics, etc.

There is lots of just plain crappy writing, such as:
  1. "The state Capitol is in Washington D.C. where Congress and Senates meet."
  2. "Something I did not understand about John McCain, when he was running for president, he run in favor of veterans."
  3. "Excuses are not accepted as there will also be an excuse."
  4. "I belief there are many homeless..."
  5. "What can kind of normal person will eat and drink from trashes..."
  6. "I make complain to..."
  7. "...he was asked to do sports physical done."
  8. " run a series of tests."
  9. "...this was her respond."
  10. "I had to taken all my problems to bed..."
  11. "It has to start from home, yes, and to schools."
  12. "Third ward in Houston don't even have head start."
  13. " me out."
  14. "...unplanned pregnancies that want to have an abortion."
  15. "Who will want to put their selve in..."
Eunice was born in Ghana and came to America as an adult. I know little about the schools in Ghana, but Ghana was a British colony until 1957 and the official language is English. Apparently, Eunice's English was good enough in her native country, but I am horrified to read what she writes now.

The book contains a lot of criticism of American schools. Eunice attended at least four colleges in the United States and intended to become a lawyer.
  • Didn't any of her instructors or professors notice her bad writing? How did she get her diplomas?

The design and production work done by Xlibris is also substandard. Page margins are much too small. It's silly to have the author's bio in two places. The author's photo on the back cover is awful. The text on the back cover is nearly illegible. There is no title on the spine. (The spine is small, but has room for a title.)

The copyright page includes this absurd notice: "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental."
  • Oh, come on! Is this sentence fiction: "A fixed interest loan is a loan where the interest rate doesn't fluctuate during the fixed rate period of the loan." Did the author invent Houston or the State Department? Is it a mere coincidence that the author conceived of a presidential candidate named John McCain?
Didn't anyone at Xlibris read -- or even skim -- this book?
The promotional work for the book is confusing, inadequate and incompetent.
The author says: "Our leaders are so blind to the truth and instead of searching for the truth or the things that will bring peace and make America a better place to live, they go on, on a wild goose chase which brings nothing but destruction to our country. This book also deomonstrate [sic] how we can keep kids off [sic] jail and minimize the high school drop off [sic] rate. How we can provide shelter for our return [sic] soldiers and civilian homeless. How we can make our streets and our community safe."

Somehow, this book of social and political commentary is classified as "JUVENILE FICTION / Social Issues / Emotions & Feelings" and the reading level is "Ages 9-12."

There are many other things wrong with Xlibris which should keep potential customers away. For example:
  • Xlibris charges $99 for a Library of Congress Control number. You can get one yourself in a few minutes -- for free!
  • Xlibris charges $249 for a copyright registration. You can easily register a book yourself for $35.
  • Xlibris charges $99 for a CD-ROM of you book's interior and cover files. The disk is worth about 25 cents and the file copying is done with a few mouse clicks.
  • Xlibris says, "When you publish with Xlibris, you are essentially self-publishing in the most efficient way possible." Grossly overpaying is not efficient.
  • Xlibris has a very strange system for pricing books. A book with 108 pages sells for $4 more than one with 107 pages. Page #108 must be very special. However, if you want to determine the price of your own book, you'll pay Xlibris $249 for the freedom of choice.
The New York Times said, “Xlibris charges no­thing for its basic service, but because of the fees it charges writers for things like galleys and copyediting, its chief executive, John Feldcamp, says the company will be profitable even if it never sells a book.” I believe him, because his company’s publishing packages can cost as much as $14,999!

Xlibris says, "you will be treated with professionalism and courtesy and provided with all the self-publishing help you need." That's simply not true. Eunice Owusu was not treated with professionalism, and Xlibris did not provide all of the help she needed.

As an immigrant and a single mother, Eunice Owusu has a special perspective. She has seen aspects of America that many Americans are unaware of -- or care little about. Her outrage at shortcomings and inequalities is justified. She has important things to say. She deserves to be heard. She has experience and passion and provides needed recommendations. She may be a powerful public speaker, but she is not ready to write a book by herself. Maybe she needed a ghostwriter or a co-author. At a minimum, she needed editing, but she got none from Xlibris.

That is a tragedy, and Xlibris and its parent, Bertram Capital Management, should be embarrassed by the terrible book they published for Eunice Owusu.
  • Self-publishing companies have to stop behaving like crack whores who will provide service to anyone who can pay the price.
  • Xlibris's press releases start out with "Xlibris Publishes Book About . . ." The Xlibris website says, "Xlibris is a book publishing company," but it also says, "Xlibris is not a publisher. We are a publishing services provider." Authors and readers would be better served if Xlibris would decide exactly what it is, and acted more like a publisher, not just a provider.
  • Xlibris says, "At Xlibris, the writer is the publisher." It also says it will "assign an ISBN number." If the writer is the publisher, the writer -- not Xlibris -- would assign the ISBN.
  • Self-publishing companies need to develop some pride, and to grow some balls. They need to be able to say, "I'm sorry, but your manuscript is just not good enough to be published unless it gets professional editing." Some manuscripts are beyond help.
  • There is no solution if Xlibris and AuthorHouse reject books, and the penurious or egomaniacal author then goes to Outskirts Press or Lulu and they don't enforce editorial standards.
  • Until and unless ALL of the self-publishing companies develop and insist on high standards, readers will be buried in crap and writers' dreams will never come true.
  • It's time for self-publishing companies to develop some pride in their products. Lulu boss Bob Young told Publishers Weekly that "We publish a huge number of really bad books." Did Bob make Xlibris boss Kevin Weiss jealous? Are the companies competing to publish the greatest number of really bad books?