Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Maybe a book cover designer should not design the pages

Cathi Stevenson operates Book Cover Express. The company's website says, "With 30 years of publishing experience, and more than 1200 covers to our credit, you know you're in good hands with Book Cover Express. . . . You need a book cover designer because professional book cover design is essential."

That's good advice, and the company has designed some excellent book covers. 

The site says that Cathi has "a strong background in printing and publishing that goes back to 1981. She also worked as a writer, editor and page designer for many years . . . she can offer sound advice based on practical experience when it comes to designing for print."

Sadly, while Cathi can design fine book covers, her experience is apparently inadequate for designing what goes between the covers.

Below is a page from Cathi's own e-book, How to Sell Your Competitor's Book Online. It is a PDF book, so the pages should look just like a printed book.

The page exhibits several fundamental errors which should neither be expected nor tolerated from a professional book designer:

  1. The first page of a chapter should NOT have a header.
  2. Justified text needs hyphens to eliminate the UGHLEE gaps between words.
  3. "Cross-over" is hyphenated on the page, however, because Cathi apparently thinks the hyphen is part of the word. It's not. "Crossover" is not a hyphenated word. Cathi says she is a "writer and editor." She should know better.
  4. The book uses en dashes when longer em dashes should be used.
  5. In books, dashes generally do not get adjacent spaces. (They often do get spaces in newspapers.)
  6. Instead of using curly "typographer's marks," Cathi uses straight quote marks and apostrophes, like on an ancient typewriter. This is unforgivable in a book, especially from a pro who points out the danger of a book "self-published by an amateur."
  7. The book identifies the author as "Cat Stevenson," "Cathi Stevenson" and "Catherine A. C. Stevenson." Inconsistency is silly -- and bad design.
  8. There's also some bad grammar in the book, such as "The author and publisher, accepts no..." This is not bad design, but should have been noticed and fixed. 
Sadly, Cathi (or Cat or Catherine) does not seem to have taken advantage of her own people. She says that her company "is associated with several wonderful, freelance editors and proofreaders." 

I have no reason to believe that Cathi is selling book interior design services, and her company certainly has the skill to design high-quality book covers (and websites and brochures). I am publishing today's blog to make two important points:
  1. If you are hiring a book designer -- or anyone else -- discuss the person's qualifications and experience. The best brain surgeon in the world may not be a good choice for removing a wart.
  2. If you are in the design business, everything you design should look good. If you design clothing or cars, you should not live in an ugly house. If you specialize in book exteriors, you should not exhibit a bad interior.
There is no excuse for ugly books!

Monday, April 29, 2013

If you want work as an editor, make sure you don't need an editor

Bev Wieber's "EditorEtc" Facebook page makes her seem to be the publishing equivalent of a "one-man band." Bev seeks business providing a wide range of functions including editing and proofreading -- but she needs editorial assistance.

From her page:


Complete writing, editing & graphic design services for any project type, size, frequency, including manuscript critiques, proof reading [ONE WORD, DAMMIT!] . Ghostwriting also available. PR services include branding, copyrighting [COPYWRITING!], press releases & social media campaigns.
Major player [DOESN'T SEEM LIKE A MISSION] with influence & relevance impacting the future of media & publishing, guided by a moral compass of accuracy [OOPS], integrity, honesty, compassion & dignity.
Content creation, curation & aggregation. Editor [EDITORIAL] services, photos, graphics, layout/design. Print, online & mobile formats. B2B or B2C. Research, consulting, marketing.

Bev's Facebook page reminds me of an important lyric from Tom Lehrer's Be Prepared song: "Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell."

If you want to attract attention to your work as an editor (or as a painter, chef, mechanic or anything) make sure your promotional efforts are first-class.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Authors' names should be unique brand names

J. J., J. J., A.J., E. J., O. J., A.J.

I keep confusing J. J. Abrams, J. J. Goldberg and A. J. Jacobs. They all have Jewish last names. They all write, but they write different things. I wish it was easier to remember who's who. Fortunately, I don't confuse them with writer E. J. Dionne, singer Jay-Jay Johanson, presumed-murderer O. J. Simpson or actress Jennifer "JJ" Jareau on Criminal Minds. JJ is played by A. J. Cook. It figures.

Any writer who expects to write more than one book, blog or article hopes that people who like one thing she or he has written, will want to read more.

If you want to be searchable and findable so you can sell books or any product or service, it’s important that your name become a BRAND NAME so that people who have heard of you — maybe in a conversation or an interview or an article — can FIND you and PAY you for whatever you want to sell them. 

One good way to help people find your work is to have a distinctive name, like actors and singers. Please pick something more distinctive than all those folks who use "J."

Two tough guys, one born Marlon, one born Marion

The name  of "Jor-El," Superman's Kryptonian father's name, is unique and distinctive. And so is "Marlon Brando," who played the part. (Marlon Brando was his birth name -- a lucky advantage over Marion Morrison who had to become John "Duke" Wayne.)

Stephen King's name is neither unique nor distinctive. But after selling perhaps 300 million books, he probably doesn't suffer from the existence of others with the same name. (Wikipedia lists over a dozen others including a Congressman, a pedophile and eight athletes.) If you use the name Stephen, you have the additional problem of people thinking you are a Steven. The same goes for Jon and John, and Bette, Betty and Bettye.

If you have a common name like Bill Smith, you might be better remembered and found if you change to Xavier Huynh Bacciagalupe or Hamburger Smith. Hamburger is easier to spell than Huynh. Some people think I'm a Marcos or Marquez.

It’s not unusual for a writer to use a pen name (nom de plume in French). Mark Twain is probably the most famous fake. Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but he also used Sieur Louis de Conte. There are many reasons for using a pen name:

• To make the author’s name more distinctive, more glamorous or more interesting
• To disguise the author’s gender
• To protect the author from retribution, especially if the book is an exposé
• To avoid confusion with other authors or famous people
• To hide ethnicity or alter apparent ethnicity
• To develop different personas for different genres such as fiction and nonfiction, or chick lit and sci-fi
• To have a name more appropriate to a genre (male western writer Zane Grey was born Pearl Zane Gray)
• To avoid overexposure by having too many books on sale at one time
• To avoid embarrassment, such as when a professor writes porn, or to shield the author’s family from revelations of an unconventional or illegal past
• If your name is hard to spell, remember, pronounce or seems too “foreign” or “ethnic.” The original family name of author Irving Wallace was Wallechinsky.
• If you’re afraid that the book could jeopardize your success in another field

Declan prefers to be Elvis
English punk rocker Declan MacManus morphed into a more-memorable Elvis Costello. OTOH, film critic Elvis Mitchell was apparently born an Elvis.

Sometimes a slight change can do the job. Bill Smith might be better remembered as William Harrington Smith. Edward Jay Epstein has written more than a dozen books, perhaps with more success than hundreds of Ed Epsteins.

For my own brand, I've chosen to include my middle initial, N.

A Google search for "Michael Marcus" brings up about 600,000 links -- and most are not me. But a search for "Michael N. Marcus" shows about 100,000 -- and apparently there are just two of us. I'm the writer. He's a psychiatrist. I have many more links.

If you are evaluating potential pen names or just want to have some fun, take a look at WhitePages.com. At one time, the site ranked popularity for first names, last names and first-and-last-together based on listed phone numbers. Namestatistics.com ranks first and last names, but not full names. There are lots of lists of baby names, too.

Edward Epstein was the # 254,818 ranked full name in WhitePages, with 123 occurrences. OTOH, Juan Epstein, from Welcome Back Kotter, was unique, with just one listed person in the USA. It's probably not his real name.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A classic WTF? email

My name is Mrs Yetunde Owolabi from Repulic of Benin.

I gave birth to three plates [?], 3 children at a time after the death my husband on 18th of June 2011 by auto car accident. Already we have received 5 children from God, right now I can’t take care of them so I have decided to give them out for adoption, if you are interested let me know, I am not selling them but you will only pay for adoption fees to the ministry in concern and the Lawyer will legalized all the relevant documents and the baby will become legally yours.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate."

That classic line was spoken twice in the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke -- first by the warden, played by Strother Martin, and later by Luke, played by Paul Newman.

Unfortunately, writers, authors, editors and broadcasters often have communication failures. Sometimes the words they think they heard are not the words that the speaker spoke.

Years ago, probably in the 1980s, the New York Daily News reported on a teenage fashion trend: "wearing pumice."

In reality, high school kids were not wearing lumps of volcanic rock which are normally used as an abrasive to remove calluses from feet. They were wearing Pumas, a brand of sneakers -- which the reporter was unaware of. (There's a double problem here. When "pumice" is pronounced properly, its first syllable rhymes with "hum" -- not with "room." A reporter should know this.)

Sometimes a print or broadcast journalist will hear a word and think she or he understands what it means, but doesn't.

In 1965, a power blackout shut down the supply of electricity to New York, New Jersey, New England and Ontario, Canada.  Over 30 million people were powerless for up to 12 hours.

I heard a news report broadcast by WOR radio (which was operating with an emergency generator). The newsperson told us that there had been "a failure of the power grid," and as soon as a replacement could be located and installed, power would be restored.

The sincere but ignorant person apparently assumed that a power grid was a simple gizmo that could be purchased at a nearby Radio Shack -- not the network that connects power companies in multiple states.

The misunderstanding probably would not happen today, when independent people proudly "live off the grid."

New Haven, Connecticut (home of Yale University) seems to be a hotbed of mis-speaking, resulting from mis-hearing and mis-reading.

Someone attending the second year of high school in most places is a “sophomore,” from the Greek words for “wise” (sophos) and “foolish” (moros). In New Haven, I heard it pronounced “southmore.”

When a department store advertised a set of bedroom furniture pieces in a newspaper, it was described as a “bedroom suite.” In New Haven, people who were enticed by the ad and went to the store would ask to see a “bedroom suit.” Some of them were probably shown pajamas.

Some local stores — either out of ignorance or in an effort to correct the pronunciation of their ignorant customers — advertised “bedroom sweets,” thereby setting the English language back to the pre-Chaucer era.

As a teenager I sold clothing and shoes in my father’s store, and my ears were offended several times a day.

Many people tried to buy “posturepedic” shoes. Posturepedic is a brand of mattresses made by Sealy. Orthopedic shoes are designed to correct foot problems.

Not everyone in New Haven was educated at Yale.

Men who were buying pants (and the women accompanying them) would discuss having the “crouch alternated” instead of the “crotch altered.” I was often tempted to say, “Yes, madam, we have an extensive line of alternative crouches.”

Working for a clothing store, I got first crack at new fashions. I was one of the first to wear ski gloves to my high school, probably in the 1962-'63 winter. When I approached the school entrance, a classmate spotted them and exclaimed, “Man, them mother-fuckin’ gloves is co-legent!” I hope he learned how to pronounce “collegiate” by the end of his southmore year.

And don't get me started on malapropisms. My wife has a cousin who says "old timer's disease" for "Alzheimer's" disease.

And don't get me started on editors who replace an author's correct words with wrong words. I once challenged a co-author's vocabulary -- but I was wrong.

This blog post is not complete yet. I must acknowledge the New York newscasters who each November say "Macy's Day Parade" (Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade), and also "Port of Authority" (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey).

(Newman photo from Warner Bros., RadioShack from Time mag, mattress from Sealy, shoes from MyPrideAside.com, crouch from TheBackPacker.com, crotch from Zimbio.com, ski glove form Hestra, parade from Flickr.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It's time to abolish the term "published author."
It's easier to become a published author than a Cub Scout.

A great many years ago I was a Cub Scout. I have four memories of scouting:

(1) At one meeting some of us stood behind cardboard 'rocks' and held up a flag to re-enact the Iwo Jima flag-raising scene.

(2) At another meeting my father won a prize for bending some pipe cleaners into a horse and cart.

(3) As part of a fundraising project three of us went door-to-door trying to earn money. The kid in charge would ring bells and ask "Do you have any chores to do?" He should have asked if there were any chores that WE could do for money. This sinful sentence was spoken 60 years ago but so hurt my ears that I have not forgotten the sin nor forgiven the sinner.

(4) The lowest rank in Cub Scouting is Bobcat. Every Cub starts as a Bobcat. You can't be a Cub Scout and not be at least a Bobcat. A Bobcat is lower than a Wolf or a Bear. A Bobcat doesn't have to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, build a crystal radio, bandage a wound, walk on snowshoes or help an old lady cross the street. To be a Bobcat a kid has to learn and say the Cub Scout motto, promise and the Law of the Pack -- and tell what they mean; show the Cub Scout sign, salute and handshake -- and tell what they mean; and show that he understands and believes that it is important to be honest and trustworthy.

Since those requirements were so basic, (if I remember correctly) we were not allowed to wear our Bobcat pins on our spiffy new uniforms.

I thought of that recently when I was reading an introduction from a new member of an online group for authors.

The newbie said, "I am a published author."

I wanted to say, "BIG FUCKING DEAL!"

At one time being a published author implied that either:
  • A person wrote something so important or wonderful that a publisher paid to publish the book.
  • A person is so famous (like Levi Johnston, the almost-son-in-law of Sarah Palin) that a publisher paid to publish the book.
  • A person is egotistical and wealthy enough to pay thousands of dollars to a vanity press to publish the book.
Today, it takes almost no skill, time or money to become a published author.
  • If you can click a keyboard and move a mouse, you can be a published author.
  • The cost can be ZERO.
  • You don't have to impress anyone.
  • You can be a terrible writer and still be a published author.
  • It doesn't matter if nobody reads your book.
  • It's easier to become an author than to become a Bobcat.
  • You don't even have to learn to salute or promise to follow Akela.
Since it is so easy to become a published author, it means nothing to say you are one.

(By the way, it means almost nothing to say you're a bestselling author -- but I'm one.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Postpone procrastination

I've always been a procrastinator. Lots of people are, but maybe I'm better at it than most people. Is a better procrastinator a worse procrastinator?

I was born a day late.
  • Even though my birthday is also Income Tax Day, I've filed my tax return on time only once in the last 40-plus years. Fortunately, I get refunds, not penalties.
  • When I freelanced for Rolling Stone magazine in the early 70s (before fax machines were common and long before email) I often drove to Laguardia airport to have my column flown to the main office in San Francisco. The air freight fee was at least half of what I got paid for writing. Stupid.
  • In high school, I often did homework for sixth-period English class in fifth-period chemistry class (or maybe it was vice versa).
  • When I was a teenager, I once backdated the Pitney-Bowes mailing machine in my father's office so it would look like the holiday cards I sent out in January were delayed by the Post Office -- not by me.
  • I'm now working on a book that will be published two years late.
  • In college, I made up a list of "Marcus Maxims." One was "Don't put off 'til tomorrow things you can put off 'til the day after tomorrow." (Other maxims are "Never buy less than a pound of anything" and "Nothing is worth waiting for.")
Recently, that maxim came in conflict with a genuine fact of life: "Nothing lasts forever." 

In my Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults), I have a chapter about my name. I mention visiting the restaurant at the Marcus Dairy in Danbury, CT, to buy a milkshake and a newspaper. I jokingly showed the cashier my driver's license and asked if I get the family discount. She apparently took me seriously, and said, "Everything in the store is free."

I'm not really related to the Marcus milk makers.

Marcus is a common name, and many Marcuses have no connection other than the name. Many families now named Marcus used to have other names. My great grandfather was Isaac Dzmichevitsky (or something like that) before he came to the United States. I have no idea why Marcus was selected to be his American name, but I'm glad I'm not Michael N. Dzmichevitsky.

My father used to have a Marcus Dairy hat, that he apparently bought from one of their milk delivery men. I used to have a Marcus Dairy milk crate, and I still have a Marcus Dairy wooden toy truck. I guess pop and I were trying to borrow fame. Now I have to generate my own.

Danbury is about 45 minutes from where I now live. I have not had a reason to go there recently, but have long intended to stop by the dairy, seek out one of the owners (maybe even Michael Marcus) and present a copy of my book. I'd accept a free milkshake, if offered.

A while ago I had to drive past Danbury, on my way to and from Fishkill, New York where my wife and I get haircuts (that's another story).

I Googled to get the address for the dairy, and found that the dairy bar, opened in 1947, had closed months earlier. The land is going to be used for a Whole Foods store. Many people will miss the dairy, including bikers.

I read that the milk packaging plant moved east from Danbury to Oxford. It's actually closer to me now. Maybe I'll take a ride there some day.

Or, maybe not.

Monday, April 22, 2013

20 Big blunders of self-publishing authors

1. Not assessing the marketplace before you write the book. Who are your potential readers? Who are your competitors? What are the prices of competing books? Will your book be better, more important, less expensive, have better distribution? Does anyone need your book? Will anyone want your book?

2. Not having professional editing and design

3. Paying too much for a self-publishing package (If you pay $5,000 or $50,000 it will be nearly impossible to earn back your cost of publishing.)

4. Paying too little for a self-publishing package (If you pay under $400, you will probably get terrible books.)

5. Not budgeting for promoting your book

6. Allowing a big “discount” for bricks-and-mortar booksellers which probably won’t stock your book anyway, and giving up the additional profit you could get from online sales

7. Assuming that your publisher or printer will do a good job of promoting your books

8. Assuming that your book will be reviewed without trying to get it reviewed

9. Not having a website and blog (novelists and poets don't need blogs.)

10. Assuming that your work is finished when your book is finished

11. Assuming that your publishing company’s website will sell lots of books for you.

12. Pricing your book too high

13. Pricing your book too low

14. Producing your book in only one format: you should have one or two print formats, plus multiple  e-book formats (unless you decide that an exclusive deal like KDP Select is best for you)

15. Waiting until the book is published to start marketing

16. Not having an understandable title

17. Not having a distinctive title

18. Not having a distinctive 'author name.'

19. Not having a subtitle that can help sell the book

20. Not having cover text that can be read in small "thumbnail" size online.

More help in my new 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice.   

Friday, April 19, 2013

I did not answer this question

"I have been reading through your posts during my smoke break, and I've to admit the whole article has been incredibly useful and quite properly written. We have a question for you personally. Would you thoughts swapping website roll links?"

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How long will your writing be readable?

Writers who produce ebooks only should think about future readability.

JERUSALEM (AP) - Archaeologists say a newly discovered clay fragment from the 14th century B.C. is the oldest example of writing ever found in antiquity-rich Jerusalem.

Dig director Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University says the 2-centimeter (0.8-inch) long fragment bears an ancient form of writing known as Akkadian wedge script.

The fragment includes a partial text including the words "you," "them," and "later."

It predates the next-oldest example of writing found in Jerusalem by 600 years, and dates roughly four centuries before the Bible says King David ruled a Jewish kingdom from the city.

Mazar said Monday that the fragment likely came from a royal court and suggested more could be found in the most ancient part of Jerusalem, located in the city's predominantly Palestinian eastern sector.

If there are still people on the planet 3,500 years from now, will they be able to read your ebook?

What about 350 years, or 35 years?

Have you tried to find a device to play Laserdiscs (approx. 1978 - 2002), Elcasets (approx. 1976 - 1980) or quadraphonic 8-track tapes (approx. 1970 - 1975)?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

With numbers, consistency may or may not be a virtue

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!

Today's Wall Street Journal says: "And the bombs blew up within 3 miles of six level-one trauma units."

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.”

"A million years ago" is assumed to be an approximation. If you type "1,000,000 years," people will slow down and notice the digits and may assume that the number is precise. 

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Fancy" is too fancy for me. Archaic, too

In the past I've complained about old-fashioned words like "dungarees," "radio car," and "tennis shoes" which sometimes pop up in 21st-century conversation and writing.

One particularly quaint term that should have been put to sleep before the dawn of the 20th century is "fancy."

I'm not talking about the basic adjective meaning the opposite of "plain," i.e., decorated or ornamental.

And I don't mind uses such as "fancy foods," meaning high quality victuals, er... food.

What I can't stand is when the word is used to imply liking something. (Maybe it's related to being a "fan.")

If I close my eyes, I can visualize scenes in TV and movie westerns. A thirsty and dusty cowpoke dismounts from and ties up his horse in front of a saloon. He goes inside and walks up to the bar. The bartender says, "Howdy, stranger, what'll it be."

The cowboy responds, "I've been on the trail for a week and have a powerful thirst." The helpful bartender says, "How about a tall, cool Sarsaparilla? We just got a barrel from back east."

The cowboy dismisses the suggestion with, "I don't fancy that. Gimme something stronger!"

One of the dumbest magazine names is Dog Fancy. It has a feline companion called Cat Fancy. Strangely, the mags were recently modernized and the unfashionable "Fancy" was   significantly reduced in size. More recently, "Fancy" has come back to full-size. WTF?

I encountered what has to be the absolutely worse use of the term at an "Inventors Show" at the New York Coliseum in 1970. Various scientists, engineers, dreamers and lunatics paid to rent space to display what they though might change the world and make them rich.

One guy was showing some experimental hi-fi equipment. His business card had his name, and the ancient and redundant phrase "Fancier in Audio Sound."

Fancy that.

Saloon illustration from http://fineartamerica.com/featured/saloon-keeper-valerian-ruppert.html

Monday, April 15, 2013

What's better for children: milk or magnetism?

Here's the Mission Statement from my recently rebuilt grade school:

"Davis Street Arts and Academics Interdistrict Magnet School develops reflective programs that foster a child’s ethical, psycho-social, physical and intellectual development through explicit instruction and collaboration within a professional learning community. The school nurtures a student’s capacity to think strategically and critically in preparation for leadership and optimal success in our global society. Together, as a collective community of leaders, we strive to deepen our commitment to social values such as kindness, responsibility and respect for others."

We didn't have magnetic schools with reflective programs and mission statements back in the 50s, and kids were not part of the community of leaders. We did, however, have mid-morning milk-and-graham-cracker breaks, and dodge ball.

Back then kids got punished for verbalizing their critical thinking. So, despite the edu-babble, maybe there has been progress. 

I can still name the six teachers I had from 1952 through 1958: Gold, Nuht, Solomon, Dickstein, McGarthy, Quinn. Two were wonderful. Two were sadists. One was too easy. One was ignorant. That blend did not foster my psycho-social or intellectual development, but maybe being exposed to a mixture of people in power prepared me for life after school. I hope there are no sadists teaching now.

- - - - - - - - 

And now, a true and disgusting story from that school:

Wendy sat next to me in first grade, where she once dropped a milk bottle. It smashed on the floor at our feet, and then she peed into the milk puddle.
I got even in third grade when I was drinking milk in class. I started laughing at something, and sneezed milk at Wendy. 

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

Friday, April 12, 2013

It's never too late to reduce your income tax

April 15th is normally Income Tax Day in the USA. (In truth, I don't care about the deadline because I almost never file on time, anyway.)

There's a lot to misunderstand about income taxes. However, my birthday is April 15th, so I am particularly qualified to give tax advice. I don;t know everything, however. If you need help in setting up bank accounts in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, ask Mitt Romney.

Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I had a simple formula that worked very well (i.e., no audits ever, and refunds every year):
  1. No more than 10% for the feds.
  2. No more than 5% for the state.
  3. No more than 1% for the city.
For 12 years I've been in Connecticut. There are no city taxes, but life is more complicated. I pay my accountant about $700 for a few hours work necessary to produce my annual business and personal federal and state returns. After much scientific number crunching, he still comes up approximately with the same percentages I established 40 years ago.

I'll pass on a tip for a deduction I developed while working as an advertising copywriter and have continued to use as a webmaster, writer and publisher.

EVERY piece of media you consume should be deducted in the range of 25% to 100%. Deduct movies, CDs, games, concerts, artwork, vacations, MP3 players, big TVs, books, magazines, newspapers, iPad, smart phone, museum visits... all that stuff that helps you stay aware of trends in culture.

Years ago my father owned a chain of clothing stores. He once considered deducting his subscription to Playboy (which did provide news and advice about mens' fashions among the airbrushed large-breasted babes). Alas, he was afraid to list a skin mag on his tax return, so he sent too much money to the IRS.  I have no such reluctance -- and may have bigger cojones.

With proper classifications, you can probably get Uncle Sam to subsidize porn, booze and hallucinogens.

Here's some more advice of uncertain value:
  1. A successful small business is one that breaks even each year, with a slightly higher gross income.
  2. Big profits are nice if you're trying to sell the business, but not when you're filing your income tax return.
  3. Write about stuff you like, whether it's wine, sports cars, clothes, travel, cameras, horse racing or sex. Then you can deduct everything you spend on fun -- if you classify it as "research."
  4. There's almost nothing that's too crappy to donate to Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army and claim an appropriate deduction for. Bill Clinton was criticized for claiming a deduction for donating used underwear. I'm not the president and don't care what Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh will say about me. I lost a lot of weight recently, and a few years ago I donated lots of oversized underwear. Washed, of course.
  5. If you are bad about saving money for a rainy day, it’s tempting to let Uncle Sam save money for you. I did that for years, and even earned interest on the money that was due me. Now there is a limit to how long you can let your money sit in Fort Knox (or wherever they keep the surplus) and the IRS may assess a penalty just for filing late, even if you don't owe anything, so check with a pro. Also: your state tax people may be tougher than the IRS.
I am  not a professional tax adviser  I'm more of a professional wiseass (who usually gets away with his wiseassing).

I put a lot of what I've learned into an ebook. It can save you many times its low cost. 

Writers Can Get Away With Apparently Absurd Tax Deductions That Ordinary People Can't


Thursday, April 11, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[below] My new book about tax deductions and other business issues for writers was ranked  #72 in the authorship category. It had been on sale for just two days and I had not done much promotion, so this ranking makes me feel really good.

As we enter the last few days for filing on-time tax returns, this $2.99 book might save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Studying math, English and culture at Chinese and Greek restaurants

I am an American Jew. Therefore, I eat a lot of Chinese food. It's the Eleventh Commandment.

After that brief introduction, it's time for some humor:
  • According to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5773, and according to the Chinese calendar, the year is 4710. What did Jewish people eat for the first 1063 years until Chinese restaurants appeared?
  • Q: What do Jewish people do on Christmas? A: Go to a movie and eat Chinese food.
As an avid reader and language critic/cynic, I've spent a lot of time analyzing the text and math in Chinese restaurant menus.

When I worked in Manhattan, many small Chinese restaurants on the upper west side sold a large order of fried rice for $3.95. However, if you were willing to accept four chicken wings along with the same amount of rice, the price for the entire meal dropped to just $2.95.

It should be noted that in Greek-American diners the price of a slice of cheese can vary from a dime to a dollar or more, depending on what it is attached to.

My local Athenian Diner III offers "
Broiled London Broil." I guess that's better than boiled London Broil.

Greek-American diners tend to have many Jewish customers. Years ago my food-wise father warned me to never order chopped liver at a non-Jewish restaurant -- unless it was a Greek restaurant.  

I lived in Yonkers New York for 24 years (but for much of the time had a classier Scarsdale address). The nearby Seven Stars Diner always had fresh baked challah on the tables as a special treat for Jewish customers. During Passover, the restaurant manager ordered that matzoh be put in the bread baskets, too. The matzoh was 'polluted' by the challah -- but it was a nice gesture.

Another favorite restaurant in Yonkers, the Golden Wok, stated, "The order of eating in is much larger than the order of taking out." They also said," We can alter the spicy to suit your taste."

The Wok was owned by three brothers. Jerry split away from his brothers and opened a KOSHER Chinese restaurant about a mile north, planning to attract many observant Jewish eaters. His expectations were not met. Jerry prepared to do a big business on Friday nights. Friday nights are traditionally big money-makers for Chinese restaurants. Jerry didn't realize that observant Jews don't drive on Friday night -- the beginning of the Sabbath. Jerry gradually cut his staff, and then closed the restaurant and opened one on Long Island.

Many Chinese restaurants have trouble with English plurals and possessives. It's common to see "General Chicken" instead of "General Tso's Chicken" or "General's Chicken." If I don't want "General Chicken," could I get "Specific Chicken?" 

What should be plural nouns are often singular, like "direction to the restaurant." In the other direction, I've seen "beefs with broccoli."

"Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet" recently opened in Orange, Connecticut -- a few miles from my house. Part of its website was copied from another restaurant and states it is "the largest restaurant in Danville and surrounding area." There is no Danville near Orange.

The newspaper ad for the grand opening touted the restaurant as being the best "on the peninsula." The town of Orange is landlocked. It is not on a peninsula; but apparently some other restaurant is on a peninsula and the Orange restaurant copied its ad.

The menu includes "salmon fish." Apparently they have no salmon vegetables. (Some non-Chinese restaurants offer clam chowder soup.)

However, the food is excellent. The people are extremely nice. The selection is huge and you get a lot for your money. I'm a regular customer.

All the place needs is a good copyeditor.

However, because of my high regard for the Chinese people, I hereby grant a perpetual "pass" for imperfect menus and websites. If my stomach is happy, my brain will go along. A good chef is more important than a good writer.

Besides, If I had to write a menu in Chinese, it would be a disaster!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why Self-Publish?

Despite some prejudice and erroneous assumptions, self-publishing is not an indication of failure or desperation.

Back in the “gilded age” of the late 19th century, self-publishing was a leisure activity for rich businessmen and politicians. They produced expensive leather-bound, gilt-edged books for their own homes, for family and friends, and to donate to libraries.

Edith Whar­­ton and other female writers self-published because most publishers were men who favored male writers. In 1921, Whar­ton became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature.

Mark Twain is said to have become his own publisher because he thought another publish­er had cheated him.

Because of sexual content and “dirty words,” publishing houses in Britain refused to print D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  Lawrence arranged to have it printed in Italy in 1928 (allegedly, the print shop employees couldn’t read English).

 “Chatterley was judged to be obscene in Japan in 1957 and in India in 1964. Copies were confiscated by the U.S. Post Office until the publisher won an obscenity trial in 1959. The book wasn’t openly published in Brit­ain until 1960.

You can get a copy of an ordinary paperback “Chatterley” for less than a buck, but copies of the original self-published book were offered for sale at over $30,000.

Walt Whitman’s self-published Leaves of Grass is one of the most important collections of early American poetry. In 1855, it was printed in a Brooklyn print shop where Whitman did some typesetting himself—perhaps because he wanted more control than other publishers would permit. A copy of this edition was on the market for $175,000—not bad for a do-it-yourself book.

In the early 21st century, as it becomes harder to make a deal with a traditional publisher, thousands of writers take advantage of economical printing processes and publicity opportunities to publish their own work.

I’ve had deals with three traditional book publishers.
·      One cheated me.
·      One tried to cheat me.
·      One didn’t cheat me, but the book that finally came out was so unlike what I had expected it to be, I was sorry I got involved. I also didn’t make much money and had to wait a long time for the little money that I did get.
·      The publisher that did cheat me did such a bad job on the book, and it was so unlike the vision I had for it, that I refused to let my name be printed on it.


There are lots of reasons why writers want to self-publish. Here are some:

More control: The author determines the title, the cover design, the page size, the number of pages, the price, the marketing plan, the publication date—everything. You even get to write the “about the author” section and choose the promotional blurbs (endorsements) that go on the cover. You are the boss and can’t be fired. There is a downside to all of this control, however. If your book is ugly or filled with mistakes, you have no one to blame but yourself! Even if you hire people to help, you are the ultimate designer, editor, fact-checker and proofreader.

Personal attention: At a big publishing house, a new book from an unknown author may get little or no attention from a sales force which is responsible for dozens or hundreds of books. A self-publishing author can concentrate on one book. She can work as hard as she wants to in promoting the book to the public, booksellers, the media and book reviewers.            

Complete freedom: Self-publishing allows authors to write about anything, without needing approval from anyone. (Self-publishing companies may refuse to publish books they consider obscene or libelous.) There’s also freedom to ignore publishing traditions if the author wants to try some­thing new.
Fun: Many people who could afford to pay for an oil change like to work on their own cars. Many people who could buy beer or wine or pizza like to experiment with their own special formulas. Lots of people who can buy food, like to grow vegetables or go fishing. Do-it-yourself seems to be a common human urge, and now it is possible with publishing. My first book was published by Doubleday in 1976. I’m much prouder of the books I’ve published myself—and they were a lot more fun to work on.
Niche marketing:  Because of personal, professional or business connections, a writer may feel she or he is better able to market books to a specific group of potential customers than a traditional publisher could reach through traditional sellers.
Speed: With conventional publishing, it can take years to find an agent and a publisher. With independent self-publishing, a book can be selling a week after it is written. If you use a self-publishing company, it usually takes a few months.
Durability: The author determines how long a book remains on the market.
Keeping the book current: The author determines when a new edition should be published.
Regular income: With conventional “trade” publishing, royalty checks (if there are any) arrive twice a year. With self-publishing, money can come in every day, week, month, or every three or six months—depending on the sales channels.
Higher income: Book royalties from traditional publishers pay about 8% of the cover price. Self-published authors can make more money, even from books that sell for lower prices. (You may make more money per book if you are an independent self-publisher than if you use a self-publishing company.)
Rejection: Most books submitted to traditional publishers are rejected. Major publishers want books that are bought in the tens of thousands, but their judgment is not perfect. Most books do not become bestsellers, and in a few months they’re sold on the buck-a-book tables. Aside from bad writing, there are other reasons why a book may be rejected—such as an unknown author, a subject’s limited appeal, a too-controversial subject, an abundance of other books on the subject or the inappropriateness of the book for a particular publisher. Rejection doesn’t mean that a book shouldn’t be published at all.
Keeping an old book in print: At some time, the sales volume of almost every book drops to the level where its publisher decides to discontinue it. It becomes “out-of-print.” If that has happened to a book you wrote, you may be able to negotiate a deal with the original publisher to return the rights to you so you can republish it yourself. 
Chance of attracting a traditional publisher: According to the New York Times, “Louise Burke, publisher of Pocket Books, said publishers now trawl for new material by looking at reader comments about self-published books sold online. Self-pub­lishing, she said, is no longer a dirty word.” At least one book from a self-publishing company was later reissued by a mainstream publisher and got on the New York Times Bestseller List. While dreaming of writing a bestseller is a pleasant diversion, and perhaps a good motivator to write a high-quality book, it should not be your prime objective.
Some of the reasons above are my reasons. I established Silver Sands Books to publish one book in the fall of 2008. In less than one year, I had published four books, started three others, and had more on my to-do list.
Writing and publishing are addictive.  The more you do it, the more you want to do it. The investment is low and the potential rewards are high.