Saturday, June 30, 2012

A very familiar face

Cooper Black may be the only typeface used for book covers, two Beach Boys albums, and an airline.

Friday, June 29, 2012

What should self-publishers call themselves?

My first book was published by Doubleday in 1977. My second was published by a tiny publisher about 20 years later. I didn't like the books or my earnings.

In 2008 I formed Silver Sands Books, intending to publish exactly one book. Publishing is addictive, and I've published over 20 books so far.

At first I called myself a "self-publisher," or a "self-publishing author," or an "independent self-publisher." Someone else in the same situation calls herself a "publishing author."

The term "self-publish" (and its variations) has been taken over by the companies that used to be called "vanity presses," "subsidy publishers" or even "author mills" -- so the label can be confusing. A while ago a well-known self-published author told a new acquaintance that he was a self-publisher. The other person misunderstood and said, "how much do you charge?"

If an author uses the services of a "self-publishing company," is the author really engaged in self-publishing?

If an author forms her own publishing company, is that the same as paying Outskirts Press or Xlibris to do the work?

Even "indie publishing" has been co-opted -- by the Author Solutions brands.

Now I'll say I'm a writer, publisher, author -- or "author and publisher." Benjamin Franklin and Bennet Cerf were authors and publishers, so the description works well, even though I'm not in their league.

No one seems to care about the business mechanism behind my books. If anyone asks, I sometimes say I'm one of the owners of the company that publishes my books. I don't have to explain that the other owner is my wife -- not Bain Capital or Warren Buffet.

I've written and published books aimed to help self-publishers. My new books -- aimed at the same audience -- don't use that term. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Children are not disposable

There are been two extremely disturbing news themes lately: cannibalism and child abuse, including abandonment, neglect and even murder.

While cannibalism is so rare and so wacky, it's common to smile a little bit when reading about the bizarre incidents.

There is nothing even remotely amusing about mothers who drop their children from a 15th-floor balcony, starve them or throw them in the trash.

It's too damned easy to get pregnant.

In order to get married in New York State, back in 1971, my fiancée and I had to prove that we were at least 18 years old and did not have syphilis or gonorrhea.
  • In 2012, 14-year-olds can get married in New York -- even with venereal diseases -- if parents and a judge approve.
In order to get a divorce, a spouse once had to prove adultery, abuse, desertion, drunkenness, etc.
  • Now, with common "no-fault divorce," spouses can split up simply if they feel like splitting up.
One aspect of family life that has not changed in decades -- or in millennia -- is the ease of becoming pregnant. Almost any fertile female who has sexual intercourse or artificial insemination can become pregnant and probably become a mother.

There is no need to prove mental or physical health, no need for the approval of a parent or judge, no need to demonstrate the knowledge and ability to care for the child until adulthood.

Because it is so easy to get pregnant, many children are neglected, abused or even murdered.

It's difficult to get permission to adopt a human child -- or even a Chihuahua.

No permission is needed to get pregnant.

Unlike when voting or buying liquor or tobacco, there is no need to reach a minimum age to become pregnant.

Unlike when renting a SCUBA tank or an airplane, there is no need to prove training and certification to have a child.

If human beings thought more about becoming parents than dogs and fish do, maybe there would be fewer abused and dead children.

Yes, I know that some potentially wonderful mothers have difficulty getting pregnant. I am sorry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Even after 50 years, revenge is sweet.

I think that Sarah Silverman is a very funny lady, but maybe I'm funnier. In a recent sales ranking, my "Stories" paperback book was ahead of Sarah's "Bedwetter" paperback.

Sarah's hardcover was ahead of my hardcover, and Amazon's rankings are updated every hour, and the stats frequently change. But, for one brief shining moment I felt absolutely ecstatic and I thank everyone who has bought and recommended my book.

To wacko English teacher Bertha K. Frehse -- who flunked me for a marking period back in 1962: Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah! (The story is in my book.)

And, to Sally C. -- who didn't want to dance with me when I won "best boy" at the dancing school Halloween costume party in 1958: Ha-fucking-ha! (The story is in my book.)

Available as a hardcover, paperback and e-book

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tough guy Muhammad Ali wants us to all get along

"My mother was a Baptist. She believed Jesus was the son of God, and I don’t believe that. But even though my mother had a religion different from me, I believe that, on Judgment Day, my mother will be in heaven. There are Jewish people who lead good lives. When they die, I believe they’re going to heaven. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, if you’re a good person you’ll receive God’s blessing. Muslims, Christians and Jews all serve the same God. We just serve him in different ways. Anyone who believes in One God should also believe that all people are part of one family. God created us all. And all people have to work to get along."

Read more:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Don't trust book reviewers who can't read

Apex Reviewers says: "We are a team of experienced authors and editors with a combined total of over 75 years experience in the publishing industry. Under our guidance and direction, numerous titles have gone on to receive widespread acclaim, win countless awards, and enjoy multiple printings."

Apex said the following in a five-star review on for a bad little book, The Secrets Of Self Publishing by Therone Shellman: "A Must Read For Authors Worldwide... any author serious about publishing and promoting his/her writings would be remiss not to take advantage of his considerable expertise. Highly recommended."

Here's what some other reviewers said:
  • "There were multiple grammatical/capitalization/other errors in the pages I viewed...including two in the first sentence....  For such a critical topic as self-publishing, and a book which recommends the importance of professional editing, I'm a bit wary about purchasing this item.... this is the sort of book that gives self-publishers a bad name."
  • "... a prime example of why many people look down on the business of self publishing.... he needs to hire an editor to proofread his work."
  • "... it cannot be taken lightly that there are so many editorial oversights (typos, misspellings, punctuations, etc.) just in the first few pages.... evidence of little or no editing  was pure madness, especially for someone who is giving advice on the subject of publishing."
I bought and read the book. The negative reviews are accurate. Don't trust any review from Apex.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Old words used in new ways

Although I don't always approve, I am nevertheless fascinated at how language changes.
  • I am horrified when people -- not just airheads, but even Mrs. Obama -- use "was like" as a synonym for "said."
  • I feel like screaming when the President says "gunna."
  • I'm particularly pissed off about the substitution of "HEY" for "hello." It seemed to make a rapid transition from playgrounds to CSI Las Vegas and then to the rest of the world. When I was a child, If I used that word, my proper mother would scold me with, "Hay is for horses--not for people!"
However, I have come to accept the "misplaced only," as in "I only eat fruits and vegetables" and I no longer scream when "most" modifies "unique."

I seldom mourn the passing of unused words like "affuage" or "egrote," and I welcome new ones like "staycation" and "vlog."

One new word is the unplanned child of and eBay. "Showrooming" is the process of researching and examining a product in a physical store (such as the suffering Best Buy) and then ordering it  from a competitor online. Best Buy may be hurrying its own demise by selling the smart phones that people use to order televisions and cameras elsewhere.

I am particularly fascinated by the transition of the word "street."

It started as a noun, and has worked as an adjective ("street clothes") and a sort-of-adverb ("he talks street"), and now functions as at least two kinds of verb:

When there's not enough evidence to hold a suspect, the precinct lieutenant or captain may tell the detectives, "We'll have to street him," meaning release him so he can go out on the street.

In retailing, the "street price" is a typical selling price for an item "on the street" -- usually lower than the suggested retail price. A sales manager might say, "The list price for our new KZR-202L is 799.95, but it will probably street for $699."

In video games, music and movies, the "street date" is the date when a new release is allowed to be sold "on the street." The sales manager might say, "The street date for the 3D Blu-Ray is May 10."

Yesterday my company received an order and the customer requested that we attention her on the shipping label.

A marketing magazine carried an interview with a sales manager who said his company would trialize several new package designs.

Another manager wrote that "I cut the majority of my spend each month for the preceding 12 months."

Party has been used as a verb since at least the 1970s.

The spell-checkers in Blogger and Microsoft Word don't recognize "trialize." Neither do Merriam-Webster, or the Free Dictionary. Some references thought that i really wanted "trial size," "tribalize" or "trivialize," however, both Google and Bing found uses of the new word. I suppose the dictionaries will catch up in a few years.

I wonder when "dictionary" will become a verb -- like "Google," "Xerox," "phone" and text."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Oldstyle and other styles

You’ve probably been unaware or maybe dimly aware that some numbers are the same height as uppercase letters and some are the size of lowercase letters; and some — not all — of the smaller ones have ascenders and descenders.

Below is a comparison of the numbers in two serif faces,  Times New Roman ("TNR") and Constantia:

The full-height numbers are called lining numbers, and the variable-height numbers are called old oldstyle figures. In the years shown on the coins below, the American penny used oldstyle figures and the Canadian penny had lining numbers.

The advantage of oldstyle figures is that they don’t POP OUT from the text like uppercase letters, but instead blend in with the words. Strangely, the digits 6 and 8 are the same  height in both systems, so “6668886868” would pop out just as much in TNR as in Constantia.

If you are using a face with lining numbers in a large size where you want to decrease the line spacing, you must allow more space than with numbers without descenders.
If you are using a face with oldstyle figures in text, you can have problem if you have a reference to a zero (o) which looks just like the letter “o.” Temporarily switch to another face with a full-height zero.

Some “expert set” type packages for faces that normally use oldstyle numbers also include lining numbers to provide extra design freedom.

(from my upcomng Typography for Independent Publishers.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mona and me: trying to make a distinctive book cover

Evolution? Yes. Advancement? Maybe.

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

Book covers use just three basic ingredients that can be combined in various proportions:  text, graphic image (a picture) and negative space (nothingness). Some books have text but no picture, some have a picture but no text. Some have lots of space, or very little. Some pictures are photographs, others are drawings or paintings. Some images are literal, others are symbolic, or abstract.

Some covers are beautiful.

Others are deliberately or accidentally ugly.

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

It’s important that your book be noticed -- and remembered. Try to be different from your competitors, but don’t be so different that your book costs a fortune to produce.

I’ve produced a lot of books about publishing. Most books in the field show either (a) a book, (b) a bunch of books, (c) a writer, (d) equipment used to make a book, (e) money, or (f) a reader.

Here are seven books about self-publishing. Only mine stands out.
(left-click to enlarge)
My upcoming book about book design has gone through many changes. 

Many self-published books are ugly (inside as well as on the covers). My original title was A Self-Published Book Doesn't Have to be Ugly, and early covers used various graphic images including reactions to ugliness, a trophy for beauty, a beautiful woman reading a book, and Mona Lisa -- symbolizing beauty. I even manipulated Mona to make her look different from Leonardo's original painting, but still keeping her recognizable.

Then I decided to make the book an e-book so I could include color artwork at a reasonable price, and I simplified the title to No More Ugly Books! with an image of a flame implying that I might want to burn ugly books. (In truth, I don't think any book should be burned, but I'd be much happier if ugly books don't exist.)

Just before this book was finalized I came up with a different look, and for a series of related books. About 60% of each cover is devoted to a retro-comic-book panel with some exaggerated emotion. I think they’re fun and I hope they'll be remembered.

(Left-click to enlarge)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I've often said that there is no point in debating aesthetics. ("Whatever turns you one," "De gustabus non est disputandum," "Chacun à son goût" and all that.) However, ugliness is apparent to most people, and my book may help to lessen it a bit.

Although I like to consider myself a Renaissance Man as was the great Da Vinci, I am certainly no Da Vinci. I would never say that my book covers are beautiful, but I don't think they are ugly -- and I'll settle for "nice."

I'd still like to use the cropped and reversed Mona Lisa for some book in the future. That could be beautiful. Whenever I stare into Mona's face (and I do that a lot), I am mesmerized. Leo was a master.

Monday, June 18, 2012

If you're going to give advice about publishing, first learn how to write

Text copied from

Borat's English is 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.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Even professional designers fuck up

Some people who have the title of designer, architect, art professor or art director turn out major failures — like the Pontiac Aztek, above. A poll published by England’s Daily Telegraph put the Aztek at the top of the list of the ugliest cars of all time.

New Jersey’s Pulaski Skyway was called “the ugliest man-made structure in the world” — by my father.

The book below was named one of the ten best books of 2011 by the New York Times, and one of the best books of the year by at least seven other book review media.  It was published by Random House and designed by Casey Hampton.

Sadly, even professionals working for big publishing houses forget to kern and condense. I fixed the first line of the title for them. I’ll let Random’s 'pros' fix the second line—if they care.

(This posting is derived from my upcoming No More Ugly Books!)

Friday, June 15, 2012

What's Roman? What's Gothic?

The field of typography, which is vital to much human communication, has a communication problem: some terms have multiple meanings.
  • “Roman” may mean a typeface with serifs. Times New Roman is a “new” roman typeface designed for the Times newspaper in London and first used in 1932.
  • “Roman” may also be used to mean type that is vertical, as opposed to slanted “oblique” or “italic” fonts.
  • “Gothic” may mean an ornate typeface like Waters Gothic.
  • “Gothic” may also mean a simple, sans serif face like Century Gothic. 
By one standard, both of these Gothic typefaces are also roman. By the other standard, only Waters is roman.
The “Roman” in “Times New Roman” is part of a proper noun and should be uppercased, but when “roman” is used as a description for a kind of typeface, it is lowercased. "Roman numeral" usually gets a uppercase "R" because it refers to the Roman Empire. However, "french fries" and "danish pastry" are not uppercased. Maybe the fierce Romans demand more respect than Danes or French folks. There's no logic here, so don't worry about it.

(Today's post is derived from my upcoming No More Ugly Books!)

Photo of Roman Centurion is from Photo of woman with large balloons is from Thanks very much to both. Yes, I know that she's Goth, not Gothic, but it's a great photo.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to show how many

There are several standards for printing numbers ("figures"). One calls for spelling out one through nine, another says you should spell out one through ten. In “serious” literary books you may even see “ninety-three” or “four thousand.”

Select a system and stick to it. One book in the For Dummies series has “10” and “ten” in the same paragraph!

One of my personal rules is to use the same style when numbers are nearby: “eight to twelve” or “8 to 12”—not “eight to 12.” However, to avoid confusion and misreading, I write “four 10-lb bags, not “4 10-lb bags.”

I don’t spell out numbers in addresses or prices, except for low numbers like “One Main Street” or “five bucks.”

When numbers are approximate and used to present a mood rather than data, I usually spell the number, as in: “The chairman was surprised when more than fifty people showed up for the meeting.”

(from my upcoming No More Ugly Books!: design help for writers who don't hire artists)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

More from Book Expo: how chick-lit led to publishing books for gay guys

It seems like I've been attending trade shows and conventions for most of my life. As a young child I often accompanied my father to the mens' clothing shows at the Hotel New Yorker, where I collected lots of pens, key chains, candy and other "loot." In later years, I loved the food show, advertising premium show and the (wacky) inventors show at the New York Colosseum, and the Consumer Electronics Shows in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas. The final Comdex in Atlanta was a disappointment, but the food was good.

One important lesson I've learned from decades of show-going is that some of the most interesting products and services are shown in booths that are at the far edges of the show floor, and/or which I have no legitimate business purpose for visiting.

That was the case at Book Expo America last week when I noticed and stopped at the exhibit of Dreamspinner Press, purveyors of "quality m/m romance novels, novellas, short stories and anthologies."

I've been a happy heterosexual since I first noticed sex, and have never written nor read a "gay book" and probably never will. I'm researching a book about book design, and was attracted by a wall filled with great book covers. Only on close examination did I realize that most of the covers had two men on them. There seemed to be more horses on covers than women on covers.

Apparently, horses are very popular with gay men -- and 12-year-old girls. Maybe they're simply popular with lots of people. I was once bitten and stomped by a horse I was trying to train, but I get along just fine with Hunter, my golden retriever. I've never been kissed by a horse, but Hunter is an excellent kisser, and I am able to suppress the facts that he is (a) male, and (b) not a human being.

As a supporter of equality, civil rights and all the usual leftie/liberal/progressive goals, I was pleased to see a publisher of gay romance in the middle of the show floor, and I wondered how it happened.

There were no gay hunks manning the booth, but there was an attractive woman. Sadly, her name is not on the business card she gave me, but maybe I'll be able to update this post later. The mystery woman told me that she has a gay relative and was surprised to see him reading a romance published by Harlequin -- a company known for "bodice rippers" and other chick lit.

A Harlequin book for chicks, and a Dreamspinner book for guys.

Two book covers showing men in frilly shirts.
If not for the typefaces, could you tell which gender the books are aimed at?

The gay guy explained that he preferred the Harlequin books (despite the presence of females) because they have happy endings, but most gay fiction is tragic.

And so, an idea was born and Dreamspinner opened for business.

Apparently there was a big need, and authors and readers quickly found the company. Through Book Expo, Dreamspinner was reaching out to the broad range of booksellers.

I was surprised to learn that lots of M/M books are written by women, and that M/M lit includes about as many genres as straight lit.

The company says: "We encourage tales that cross genres; for example, a science-fiction mystery or romantic fantasy. Stories can stand alone or be part of a well-developed series. 

ROMANCE – Modern or historical love stories with strong characters.
SCIENCE FICTION – Science fiction, urban fantasy worlds, futuristic, time travel, and alternate reality stories.
FANTASY – Dragons, elves, fairies, and knights in shining armor.
WESTERNS – Cowboys, ranchers, rodeo riders, and Native Americans.
MILITARY/PARAMILITARY/MERCENARY – Political thrillers, espionage, and in-the-field stories. 
MYSTERY/SUSPENSE – Provincial country detectives, fast-paced thrillers, or hard-boiled PI's.
PARANORMAL – Scare us with your vampires, zombies, and things that go bump in the night.
HOLIDAY STORIES – Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and more.

The books are sexy, of course, but not porn: "Dreamspinner Press will not publish gratuitous depictions of incest, rape, and other extreme material included for the express purpose of titillating the reader."

I guess I'll have to look elsewhere for titillation (one of my favorite words for one of my favorite activities). Maybe I should check out some lesbian lit.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

HOLY SHIT! Another book with the same damn title.

A book title can't be copyrighted, but duplication can be avoided.
Some foolish publishers don't even try.
I was at Book Expo America in Manhattan's humongous Javits Center last week.

"BEA" is the American book industry's annual extravaganza where publishers and companies that service publishers tout what's new to publishers, booksellers, librarians and members of the press. One vital ancillary purpose of BEA is to provide autographed FREE BOOKS to people who are willing to waste their lives in slowly moving lines, and to provide Tootsie Rolls, pens, bookmarks (will they be the "buggy whips" of the future) and various other tchotchkes to people like me who roam the half-million square feet.

In a pleasantly progressive gesture, BEA treats lowly bloggers as well as journalists from more traditional media the same way. All reporters wore the same "PRESS" ID tags, shared one huge press room and had access to the same excellent chocolate chip cookies and too-sweet brownies and too-sweet lemonade. When I last attended the even huger Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, bloggers (who ironically use ELECTRONIC media) were regarded as second-class journalists and were restricted to an unimpressive out-of-the-way second-class bloggers' room, with less food, supplies and hardware. Because my own CES press credentials dated back to 1970, I was able to gain access to the 'adult' press room, along with the folks from 'real' media like the Wall Street Journal.

While heading for the corner of Javits where the press room used to be, I encountered a friendly, intelligent and attractive young lady who coincidentally was also trying to find the press room, also blogged about books, and also was from Connecticut. (If I was single, those commonalities would have given me the confidence to ask her out.)  Fran Coleman writes Books and Beyond, which concentrates on young adult ("YA") fiction. 

In her blog post on Saturday, Fran described me as "witty and funny." My own dear wife has seldom thought I'm amusing in 40-plus years, so I was very pleased to learn of Fran's impression -- especially in a public proclamation. If my wife frowns at one of my attempts at humor, now I can say, "But Fran thinks I'm funny."

Fran also gets extra brownie points (which, until recently, I thought were called "browning points," earned by brown-nosers [i.e., ass-kissers], not a reference to pre-green-stamps given to shoppers to reward loyalty with freebies) for not believing I am as old as I am. [If I was still an editor, I would scream at the person who wrote the previous sentence.] Sincere flattery merits extra coverage in this blog. Hi, Fran.

Since it's been many years since I've read Young Adult fiction, I was curious to hear what Fran had to say about the subject, and at what age one becomes a "YA."

I had assumed that today's teens read Harry Potter and books about teenage lesbian dystopian vampires from Mars -- but Fran explained that there were many more choices.

When I was a "YA" (heck, I'm not even sure that at age 66 I am ready to be considered an "A"), I was addicted to Tom Swift and his Diving Seacopter, Tom Swift and his Electronic Retroscope and other books in the series. My friends and I even came up with our own Swiftian titles. One of my best (from about 1957) was Tom Swift and his Ultrasonic Grandmother. I may have to write it some day.

Fran and I began our long march along the wall of shelves containing press releases and free books.

One of the first freebies I spotted was titled Caught in the Middle. It was impossible to contain my mirth and I quickly ignited my Kindle Fire to show Fran the illustration you see up above, in an e-book proof I had studied on the train. Before the new "Caught," I knew of at least TWELVE OTHER BOOKS WITH THE SAME DAMN TITLE, and I discuss the problem in my upcoming  499 Essential Publishing Tips for a Penny Apiece.

Many book titles are cliché phrases which seem to be absolutely perfect for a particular book. Unfortunately, many cliché phrases are absolutely perfect for lots of books, and a title can’t be copyrighted.

I met Deborah Burggraaf, the author of a very good Caught in the Middle, on a plane trip. If you like her title, you can use it, too — but please don’t.

Both Danielle Steel and Queen Noor of Jordan wrote books called Leap of Faith. At least five books are titled Fatal Voyage. At least four books, two songs and a movie are named Continental Drift. At least 24 books are titled Unfinished Business. You can write books with those titles, too — but please don’t.

If you want to call your next masterpiece Holy Bible, Hamlet, War and Peace, From Russia with Love or The Da Vinci Code, you can. You might get sued. You might win, but it won’t be a pleasant experience. You’ll probably also confuse and annoy a lot of people — so try to come up with something original.

An identifying term in a book series can be trademarked. If you publish The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Harry Potter, you’ll probably be sued by two publishing companies, and lose twice.

Coincidentally (and it was a day of coincidences), while roaming the BEA show floor I encountered a booth where Sirius XM radio was interviewing (drumroll, please) Danny Quintana, author of the latest "Caught."

I wanted to speak to him about the title problem, and flipped through a copy of the book while waiting for him to finish the interview.

I quickly realized that the book was published by Beckham, a pay-to-publish company that I have previously slammed for charging so much that it is extremely unlikely that any author could make a profit. A few years ago, Beckham proposed a publishing package to me that would've supplied 100 books for $4,555. I'd have to sell them for $70-$80 each. How many would you like to buy?

I was pleased to see that Danny was able to get recognized as a 'real' author by the satellite radio folks, and admired his drive for getting the interview. I sure hope he didn't invest a fortune in Beckham's dubious "joint venture" publishing process.

While company boss Barry Beckham knows a lot about the English language (he distributes a fine email newsletter about grammar), the company's website has shown some silly errors.The site misidentified Virginia Woolf as “Wolf” and Stephen Crane as “Stephan.” Virginia with the extra “o” was a writer. Virginia with just one “o” is a sculptor.

The Beckham website says, “Our editors are prepared to correct textual matters like grammar, punctuation and spelling.”

Sadly, they were not prepared to change "ordinance" to "ordnance" in Danny's book. It's a common error, but it should have been avoided — just like giving a book a title that has been used by many other books.

Danny told me he is "competitive" and not concerned about the shared title. He has written a fine book, and I wish him well. It's sad that his publisher did not do a better job for him.

Apparently Danny likes Beckham, because he has paid the company to publish three other books over ten years. Sadly, none of them has received even a single review on Amazon. I admire his persistence (but not his choice of publishers) and hope his new book receives a better reaction than its predecessors.

So, now I've met two authors of books named Caught in the Middle. Will I meet a third, or a tenth?

And one more coincidence: as I was leaving Javits, I got to see a humongous crane lifting up the space shuttle Enterprise to place it on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid. It was a very impressive lift-off.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The yearn to kern

“Kern” is the way Archie Bunker pronounced “coin.”

In typography, "kerning" is a specific kind of letterspacing that allows one letter, number or punctuation mark, to share some of the space of its neighbor, often “tucking under” an overhanging element such as the top of an “F” or a “T.”

Almost everyone is exposed to kerning, but probably few pay attention. It's an important design tool used by professional graphic artists (including book designers) and amateurs should learn to kern, too. Kerning does not work with all typefaces. [below] The lowercase “r” nicely tucks under the uppercase “T” in Baskerville, but not in Rockwell.

The AVAYA brand name is a "word picture," chosen because it looks pretty. AW, WA, AV and VA are common kerning combos, and the letters in AVAYA fit together unusually well.

The logo for the Law & Order TV shows has one of the most widely seen examples of kerning. Did you ever notice how the "A" tucks under the "W?"

The type in the United Way logo below uses both uppercase and lowercase letters, unlike "LAW" and "AVAYA." However, the designer still used kerning, tucking the lowercase "n" under the "flag" of the uppercase "U," and the lowercase a under the flags of the uppercase "W" and the lowercase "y."

Kerning is not usually important in the type sizes used in book text, but can make a big improvement in chapter titles and in the large type on book covers and title pages.

Compare the normal and kerned versions of a book title of mine:

(The "T" and "e" in "Tell" probably need a bit more kerning.
The "e" and "l" in the same word are too close.
The beginning of "Stories" is too tight.)

[below] Kerning is not just for adjacent letters. Examine your punctuation and tighten-up where needed.

[below] Kerning is seldom necessary for adjacent numbers, but you may need to kern a number and a letter or a number and a punctuation mark. Look closely.

I used Microsoft Word to make the "Stories" book, and other books. They don’t look too much worse than books composed with Adobe InDesign or Quark Express, which are used by professional designers and a few do-it-yourselfers.

InDesign can provide automatic kerning to adjust space within specific letter pairs. With Word, you manually condense the space between letters. It’s a lot of work that few folks bother with. I do it for book titles and some chapter names and subheads—but not for body text.

The “adult” software packages can cost over $800 and can take a long time to learn how to use properly.

On the other hand, most self-publishing authors already own Word and know how to use it. They can quickly learn how to use some of its often-untapped power to produce a nicer book.

If you are using Word, you can kern by selecting "character spacing" within the "font" section. Experiment with different settings for different parts of the word. Look at "professional" books and magazines and even product packages for inspiration.

(This material is from my upcoming No More Ugly Books!)