Friday, May 31, 2013

Try writing a book, not just a stream of words

For much of the 20th Century, writers composed both flops and masterpieces on 8.5 x 11-inch sheets of paper. Later they used word-processing software that emulated the same size and shape.

  • Most authors have a specific word-count in mind, such as 70,000 words, as they write their books. (Apparently, the average book has 64,500 words.)
  • But, as the owner/operator of my own tiny publishing company, when I'm working on a book, I usually have a specific page-count and price in mind for a pbook (Printed on Paper book), such as 350 pages and $15.95. Each piece of paper costs me money.
And rather than just spray words onto my monitor, I set up MS Word for the actual page size of my book (usually 6 x 9 inches) and correct margins, and start writing a book.

By viewing actual pages, it's much easier to judge my progress, and to know if chapters should be chopped, stretched or shifted, and when illustrations should be enlarged, reduced or moved around. [Pages shown are from my Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults), available as ebook, hardcover and paperback. You'll find lots of funny stories and a few murders.]

I always insert a temporary left-hand "page zero" ahead of the real right-hand "page one" so I can view pages as realistic two-page spreads, instead of onesies, or with left-right-reversals.

This is not very important if a book is all-text (or an ebook), but if you have photos or illustrations or tables, it's important to view the spreads as your readers will see them, to avoid graphic disasters.

I was copyeditor on my college newspaper in dreadful Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and often had to trim text to fit the page.

After college I was assistant editor of High Fidelity Trade News in Manhattan, and had to do the same thing.

Later I worked for advertising agencies and had to write to fit the available space (or available time for commercials). I couldn't tell an ad client to spend thousands of dollars extra to buy an additional page or 30 more seconds to contain my precious words.

If my background was in writing fiction or web pages or reporting for NPR (with no limits of space or time) my book production style might have evolved differently.

There are many different types of workflow for writers. Writers whose words will be formatted by others may work very differently than die-hard D-I-Yers like me. But, if your end-product is a book, consider making one from the very beginning.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Advice for trade show goers

In a few hours I'll be getting on an early train to take me into Manhattan for Book Expo America. BEA is the annual mammoth gathering of book publishers, booksellers, book printers, librarians, authors, author groupies, bloggers (who may be author groupies), journalists, broadcasters, PR people, suppliers of products and service to the book biz, and other hangers-on.

The most exciting thing I've ever seen at BEA is the Espresso book machine.

My report from last year is here.

This will be the sixth BEA I've gone to. I go as an author, publisher and blogger. I am going to try to learn WHAT'S NEW in the book business, to say hi to some old friends, and to see the faces of and shake the hands of and maybe hug some new friends I know only online. (Rebecca and Orna -- this means you.)

Events like BEA, which can be called trade shows or conventions, exist in many industries and are held all over the world -- usually in exciting places. The Consumer Electronics Show is probably the biggest in the USA, and I've been attending since my first journalist job, back in 1970. Back then it was in Manhattan and later in Chicago. Now it's in Las Vegas. It will probably never be held in Duluth.

My experience with these events actually goes back to early childhood, probably around 1950. (SHIT -- that makes me seem old.) My father frequently attended shows for the clothing business and would always bring me back what he called "loot." Loot consisted of key rings, pens, pencils, candy, pads, more candy, whistles, flashlights and more candy. Also known as "tschotchkes" in Yiddish, or "swag" at the Oscars, loot was and is provided by show exhibitors in an effort to gain the attention and affection of show goers, and perhaps to stay in their memory after the show.

If I examine the bottom of my shoulder bags, I can find loot from several years of show-going. When I was a kid I looked forward to my father's return with a pile of loot for me. Wife Marilyn will expect me to return with candy and pens for her.

Now some advice for show-goers, in no particular order:
  1. Wear comfortable shoes or sneakers. Forget about fashion.
  2. Carry a big shoulder bag, with a comfortable, wide, padded strap.
  3. Go through the online show directory in advance and make a list of the companies you MUST want to visit. Try to list them by location so you can walk through efficiently.
  4. Have a good supply of business cards, and have separate places to stash your cards and the ones you collect.
  5. Make sure your phone (and camera if you'll be taking one) are charged and loaded.
  6. Make sure you have an extra memory chip for the camera.
  7. Carry a bottle of water (not a heavy one). You can refill it from water fountains.
  8. If possible, eat before or after the show. Show snacks are as expensive as stadium snacks.
  9. If you collect cookies, put them in a plastic bag so they don't crumble all over the other stuff in your bag.
  10. If you expect to be collecting LOTS of brochures (or heavy, bulky items like books at Book Expo) take a bag with wheels and a handle -- but try not to crash into other folks.
  11. Make appointments in advance if you want to meet people. Get their cellphone numbers in case you need to make a change.
  12. Here's an important tip from my old man: If you have, say, four appointments spaced an hour apart, and you know you'll be late for the first one, call the first person and change that appointment to the end, or even cancel the appointment. This is better than calling everyone to reschedule.
  13. If you wear eyeglasses, take a spare pair.
  14. Take eyeglass cleaning pads, too.
  15. Dress like the others dress, with minimum formality ("business casual") if possible. 
  16. Make sure your name is spelled properly on your badge. My father often used fake names on his show badges as a joke. I have huge collection of my badges going back more than 40 years. I have a huge collection of huge collections. I'll let my heirs deal with them.
  17. Take a pad and several pens that work and don't leak.
  18. Take any necessary medications and don't forget to take them at the appropriate times.
  19. Make sure you get a show directory, and any supplement. The directory can help you find exhibitors you may not have thought of, and is a good reference after the show.
  20. Get the show daily newspaper each day and take it home to devour.
  21. Try to walk through the center of each aisle, scanning ahead and to each side. Exhibitors will try to entice you with key chains, Tootsie Rolls and gorgeous models but don't waste time in booths that have nothing you need.
  22. Many booths (called "stands" in Britain) will be very crowded and you may have to wait to talk to someone. If you can't wait, grab literature and maybe try to go back later.
  23. Some booths will be empty because an exhibitor changed places or didn't show up. If there's a table and chairs, use the facility as your own temporary office. 
  24. At the end of the show, go through your accumulation and ditch what you don't need. There is no reason to carry (or FedEx) stuff that will be thrown out when you get home.
  25. Some booths will have nobody but the booth people. Booths may be unpopular because the companies are unknown, they have crappy tschotchkes, or other reasons. Booth personnel may try to seduce you or harangue you into listening to a pitch. If you have no interest, be polite -- but firm -- and move on. If you have time, invest a minute. You may start a friendship or learn something that will turn out to be important.
Well, it's now 3:24 AM. My normal wake-up-and-blog time is 3:30. Should I try to grab some sleep, or decide that I'm up for the day? I think it's best to load my shoulder bag and make sure my phone is charged up and maybe read the list I just typed.

EPILOGUE: The show was great but I left my damn cellphone home.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Should a "Christ-Centered Publishing House" deceive prospective customers?

Schiel & Denver is a blatantly dishonest publishing services company.

It says it is a "Christ-Centered Publishing House" and "we employ staff who think critically and creatively, lead with high ethical and professional standards . . . ." 

The company also says, "You can rest assured your book will go on sale at over 160,000+ online and traditional retail stores, in over 100 countries."

That claim is a big pile of steaming bullshit. While a book may be orderable at thousands of stores, that's not the same thing as "on sale at" with implied on-the-shelf availability.

The company also bullshits about its printing facilities. It said, "The company operates printing and distribution centers in the following locations:  Lavergne, Tennessee; Nr Bangor, Maine; Allentown, Pennsylvania." It's 99% likely that the facilities in Tennessee and Pennsylvania belong to Lightning Source, not to Schiel & Denver. I doubt that S&D owns the Maine printing plant.

The company's website shows the following photos. A prospective customer who is impressed by S&D's clams to be Christ-centered and having high ethical standards might logically assume that the photos were taken at S&D facilities.

Not so. The photos were either purchased from stock photo suppliers or copied from other websites: 

from ShutterStock

from iStockPhoto


If you can't trust a company to be honest about its printing plants, warehouses and photographs, can you trust it at all? Probably not.

It's quite common to use stock photos on websites. But a company that brags about ethics and claims a Christ connection with web pages devoted to a statement of faith and vision and values should be held to a higher standard.

Stay away from Schiel & Denver!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Naming rights require naming right

Many years ago I was taught that there is no improper way to spell a proper noun.


My first name is a perfect English analog to the original Hebrew version.  Anyone who spells it “Micheal” deserves an "F" in spelling. Anyone who spells it “Mykul” is being innovative and denying history but not making a spelling error. At least there’s no doubt about how it’s pronounced. My first name is certainly not pronounced like the letters M-I-C-H-A-E-L seem to indicate. I’ll allow Mykl, Mykul and Mikal to exist, but not MiQuale, M’quil, Miquail, Mykell or Mykale.

I find it ironic that the first name of Mikhail Poopy-Head Gorbachev, last leader of the officially atheist USSR, is pronounced so closely to the original Hebrew Biblical mee-cha-ayl, which means “who is like God.” I wonder if he knows or cares. (I’m talking about the real Russian pronunciation, not the lame Americanized “mee-kale.”)

The first name of basketballer Isaiah Thomas (up at the top/left) should not be spelled "Isiah." His parents fucked up. Condoleezza could shed an "e" and a "z" and not lose anything important.

Parents can create kids, but don't have to create new names or new spelling. Parents should not give kids gender-neutral names like Morgan, Pat or Randy until someone decides that ALL names should be gender-neutral.

If the parents of a new girl like the name Michael, name the kid Michelle or Michaela -- not Michael (as in Michael Learned, up above/right).

My sister Meryl (a little older than Meryl Streep) and our Aunt Fanchon were cursed with weird names. Meryl has a granddaughter named Jacy. At first I thought the name was weird (and I kept thinking about JC Penney), but I've gotten used to it. It's short, easy to spell, and there is little doubt about its pronunciation. Those are very important nomenclature requirements.

(Jacy and brother Dylan decided to name their FEMALE dog "Leroy."  When Aunt Fanchon was a kid she had an invisible friend named "Sanny Boy." I'll allow kids more freedom in naming than I'll allow parents.)

First grade is tough enough without having to explain that "D'gixx73PPP" is pronounced "Billy" or "Sally" or that "DW" doesn't stand for anything.

Hear Johnny Cash sing about A Boy Named Sue. (Not the only version)


Gorby photo from Thanks.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book publicity is wasted if you're not prepared for it

You probably know the scout motto, "Be Prepared." In various versions, it's used by both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts worldwide.

The motto goes back more than 100 years. In Scouting for Boys, Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell explains the motto:

"Be Prepared in Mind by having disciplined yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it.

Be Prepared in Body by making yourself strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it."

Satirical singer/songwriter Tom Lehrer has a different interpretation of the phrase.

OK, back to books . . .

In 2008, eighty-year-old New Jerseyan Alfred Pristash paid Author House to publish a memoir called My Changing World.

Pristash spent 18 months writing the manuscript in longhand, and then dictated it to a son who typed it. The book received extensive and complimentary coverage in and in a major New Jersey newspaper. The article mentioned that the book sells for $73.99 and is available at

I was curious to see how a book from Author House (which often publishes crap and alienates its authors)  could possibly justify that high price.

Unfortunately the Amazon page had just basic facts like page count and size. After more than five years there is not even one review on Amazon -- and no information on Amazon  that might convince me to spend $73.99. The sales ranking is abysmal -- nearly nine million.

[above] The AuthorHouse website is equally barren and useless. Links for “Overview," “About the Author” and “Free Preview” contained nothing. Since April, 2008, the site has indicated that more information would be "coming soon." 

When is "soon?"

How long should potential readers wait?

How long should the author wait?

I did not place an order.

If you are lucky enough to get media coverage of your book, be sure your online presence is ready to back it up and sell some books! If you've paid to be published, don't waste your time and money. BE PREPARED.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What language do they speak at Mickey Dee's?

I was at The Inn of the Golden Arches (Mickey Dee's) yesterday. The dollar menu featured a "Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger" which sounded really good because I like grilled onions, cheddar and burgers.

However, since I don't like the pickles, mustard or ketchup that are plopped onto normal McBurgers, I asked what I foolishly thought was a simple question: "what comes on the Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger?"

The cashier looked at me with puzzlement. I repeated my question. She then said something that I assumed to be "what you mean?" in an accent that could have been a mixture of Hmong, Chilean, Jamaican and Klingon.

I repeated my question. She repeated her question.

Finally, a manager who had overheard the semi-conversation, rescued me and explained that there was nothing on the burger but cheese and onions.

The burgers (I ordered two) were fine, but the overall experience was not. People who are hired to deal with English-speaking customers need basic competency in English.

It was easier to order at McDonald's in Quebec than in Connecticut.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Juliet Capulet was right about roses, but not about publishing company names

Shakespeare's Juliet told Romeo, "That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet." Juliet's admonition is bad for publishing.
  • Don't use the name of a self-publishing company on your books.
  • Don't give your publishing company a name that stinks.

Independent authors have to make many choices. One of the most important choices -- which is often ignored -- is whether to have the name of a self-publishing company on their books, or a name that makes it seem like the book was not published by one of those companies.

Booksellers, readers and reviewers may have strong opinions about publishers. I confess that if I see that a book was published by Outskirts Press, PublishAmerica and some others I assume that the book is crap.

Some self-publishing companies allow authors to use a different brand name and logo on their books. Do it.
Fortune 500 companies often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and many months to develop names for household products, cars and websites. It's possible to do it in less time and at little or no cost, but be careful.

Here are some tips:

(1) Pick a name that sounds substantial. If your name is Joe Smith, don't use "Joe's Book Company." "Smith Publishing" sounds a little bit better, but I recommend not using you own name in the company name. When you write a letter on your new letterhead, it's better if the name in the logo at the top is not the same as the name in the signature on the bottom. Let people at least think that there might be more than one person on your staff.

Obviously not a big company

Too small to have a name?
(2) Don't use a name that's too limiting. You may think you'll publish books only about car repair, ballet or vegetable-growing, but a too-specific name will hurt your chances to expand if you change your mind later. It may be tough to market a sci-fi book if your company name is "Ballerina Books" and your logo is a tutu or ballet slippers.

(3) Don't pick a name that's already in use. You probably don't have to pay a lawyer to do a trademark search, but at least do a web search with several search engines, and check Writer's Market to make sure that no other publisher is already using your proposed name.

It's not a good idea to grab the name
of another company in a similar field.
(4) Don't pick a name that sounds like another publisher. Calling your new company "Random Home" or "Random Books" will invite a lawsuit from Random House. I don't know if Esquire Publications (above) has been sued by Esquire Magazine. Be cautious about using the name of another company even in an unrelated field. Although Cadillac pet food and Cadillac cars coexisted for years, the Toyota Motor Company sued the company that intended to market Toyota recording tape. You could go broke defending a lawsuit.

(5) Pick a name that works with a logo. It could be an actual photo or drawing, or just interesting typography. It's nice to have more than a name to put on your books, business cards, letterhead and website.

(6) Unless your specialty is grunge or mayhem. Try for a name that sounds pleasant. I named my company "Silver Sands Books," after a local beach.

(7) Try for a short name. It will be tough to fit "Xylophone Publications Internationale of Philadelphia" on the spine of a thin book. Also, the longer a name is, the more likely it is to be spelled wrong in emails and web searches.

(8) Register the name in the local municipal office that registers names, often the town clerk's office. You will get an “assumed name” certificate or a DBA (Doing Business As) certificate. Even if you are not incorporating as "ABC Books, Inc." you should get a legal document to prove that you have the right to use the "ABC Books" name. You'll need that paper to open a bank account in your new business name. You should also consider registering your business name and logo as a trademark with the Feds. Ask an attorney about it.

(9) Start using the name. Even if your first book is six months away, establish a website immediately to announce your planned books and talk about your company. Send out a press release to announce the new business. Order business cards. These simple and inexpensive activities will help establish "prior use" if another company later wants to grab your name. Within a few weeks of registering your name, you'll probably start to receive letters from local insurance companies and accountants and the Chamber of Commerce who pay your local government to receive lists of new businesses. Even if you have no plans to use their services, the letters addressed to your business may help to establish legitimacy later on.

(10) Get a business-like email address. "" is more impressive than

(11) For your website and email address, avoid hyphenations and top-level domains other than "dot com." The more unusual your company name is, the more likely you are to get a dot com web address.I have  

(Cadillac photo from Thanks.)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

there are no secrets in books

The American government has a Secret Service and the United Kingdom has an Official Secrets Act. Lots of very smart people spend their careers trying to uncover or protect secrets -- especially "top secrets." Secrets are exciting. Every child wants to learn some special, restricted bit of information. 

"I've Got a Secret" was an extremely popular TV show that originally aired from 1952 until 1967. It was revived for brief sessions in 1972-'73 and in 1976 and from 2000-'03. There was even an at-home game based on the show. (I think it should have been called "I Have a Secret.")

In Animal House, Delta Tau Chi fraternity was put on "Double Secret Probation" by Faber College Dean Wormer who wanted to find a way to ban the fraternity for bad behavior and bad grades.  

Do you want to know a secret? was an extremely popular Beatles song from the 1963 album Please Please Me, sung by George Harrison.The single reached #2 on the Billboard chart in 1964 and the #1 position in 1981.

Apparently, lots of people want to know secrets, especially "dirty little secrets." lists 186,862 books with "secret" in the title (up from a mere 150,000 or so a year ago). Some are fiction, and many are nonfiction. "Secrets of success" is a very popular book title cliche. Thousands of books use the phrase in their titles.

Here's a dirty little secret: none of the books promising secrets actually reveal secrets because no secrets are secret after even one person reads the secret.

The author of Secrets of Self Publishing 2 is so proud of his secrecy that he put the title TWICE on the cover of the horrible book. The slim volume is badly written, badly formatted and apparently unedited. I found exactly one alleged secret in the book: "The secrets of self-publishing are the same as the secrets of success. One must be willing to research all outlets, and find a method which fits your program." That's not much of a secret.

E-Book Publishing Secrets has 24-pages and sells for $15! When I checked, it had no reviews on Amazon and almost no sales. I’m not surprised. Who would pay more than sixty cents per page for a book? (The subtitle has several grammatical errors—bad for a book about publishing.) Of course, there are no secrets in the book. Strangely, the author likes to refer to himself as "Mr." John Wallace Hayes. His books are notable for egomania, bad grammar and poor sales.

Please find some way to attract readers to your book without putting "SECRETS" in the title.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sometimes professional designers produce amateur work

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!)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Writers should try being copyeditors

Regular readers of this blog know that I frequently write lengthy critiques of books. In addition to the critiques I publish here, I sometimes critique books for authors -- privately and for free -- if I think a book is worthy of 'fixing' but don't want to embarrass the author. I've formed some nice online friendships this way.

I even have a business called Rent A Book Reviewer that provides pre-publication critiques

I recently posted an online critique for a book on a website that announced the book.

Although some may see my critique as "unmerciful," the author realized that I was right, and hired me to be a copyeditor. 

Back in the 60s I became the copyeditor on my college newspaper, the Brown & White at Lehigh. While my main motivation for becoming "copy ed" was to keep others from butchering what I had written, it turned out that I really liked copyediting, and apparently I did it well.

The skills I developed editing in college helped me later in the 'real world' when I worked as a magazine editor, advertising copywriter, journalist -- and author.

There is probably no page, paragraph or sentence that can't be improved by chopping or shifting some words. That's part of what a copyeditor does. Other duties include fixing grammar and spelling errors, and maintaining editorial "style" -- such things as making sure "5:30pm" is not on one page but "7:15 AM" is on another page. The copyeditor has to have a good memory, and sharp eyes to notice a missing close-quote, wrong font, oversize or undersize indents and extra spaces between words.

  • While every author must edit her own work, I think you can become a better writer if you try editing someone else's work. Without your own ego protecting the sanctity of your words, you can be unmerciful, and the techniques and tools you develop will improve your own books.
Pick almost any book and start marking it up or make notes on your PC. If you can get a text in editable form, that's even better. Even a Kindle book viewed on your PC allows you to make notes. You can also work on blog posts and websites, even advertising.

This exercise may not lead to a second career as an editor, but you'll probably become a better writer.

I've written a (bestselling) book about editing your own work which should also help you edit others' work. It's called Self-Editing for Self-Publishers: What to do before the real editor starts editing or if you're the only editor. If you find it useful, I'd appreciate a complimentary comment on Amazon. If you hate it, write an unmerciful critique. I can take it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The whores of publishing: trade magazines

When I was a kid, I loved electronics. I went to Lehigh University to major in electrical engineering. I quickly realized it was a mistake and for my second semester I switched to journalism. During summers, I worked in retailing.

This combination made me the perfect candidate for my first post-college job, Assistant Editor of High Fidelity Trade News. It was  a magazine that served hi-fi dealers.

My starting salary (in 1970) was just $115 per week, but I had an impressive title. And unlike some of my classmates, I was working on a slick magazine in Manhattan, not a weekly newspaper in Duluth.

One thing I did not learn in life or at Lehigh, however, was how "trade journalism" works.
  • Publications that provide free subscriptions to hi-fi dealers (or gas station operators,  dentists or practitioners of any occupation) are completely dependent on advertising revenue.
Because of this dependency, there was none of the "church-and-state" separation of the editorial and advertising staffs that I had been taught was normal in journalism.

At The New Yorker, a Lehigh professor told me, editors and ad salesmen were not even allowed to be in an elevator together. Upper management feared that an ad guy would try to get an editor to provide positive coverage for an actual or potential advertiser even if there was nothing newsworthy happening.

Trade journalism is completely different.

At my first job, any news, no matter how insignificant, was treated as BIG NEWS, if it would help win or keep an advertising contract.

The magazine's boss was not really the editor, but Ken Nelson, the advertising manager. He planned our editorial coverage, i.e., ass-kissing.

At one press conference where a manufacturer was showing new products, we had two real editorial people, plus the production manager making believe he was a reporter, and an ad salesman making believe he was a photographer. He flashed his strobe light at dramatic moments, but there was no film in his camera. (Back then, cameras used film.)

We were not the only ones. Some other magazines were even worse whores than we were. I remember an industry event where Stanley Kermish, an over-eager ad man, was introduced to the boss of a hi-fi equipment manufacturer. The second sentence out of Stan's mouth was, "We're thinking of putting your new product on the cover."

I've been away from trade journalism for about 40 years and hadn't thought much about it until recently.

Publishers Weekly is an important magazine and I read nearly every issue to keep up with trends and news. One issue of the usually respectable magazine took me back to the bad old days. I felt like puking.

Although PW does charge for subscriptions (for its paper edition) it is very dependent on advertising, and now appears to be willing to get into bed with the sleaziest of the sleazy if the relationship might bring in a few bucks.

On March 29, 2010, PW referred to Author Solutions as a "vanity publishing company" which probably really pissed off Author Solutions. The company prefers to be known as "the world leader in indie book publishing." 

The PW management apparently realized that most of the ad money of the growing self-publishing business has been spent in Writers Digest and for online ads -- and PW wants a piece of the action.

In a dramatic reversal (I know that's a hackneyed phrase, but it's appropriate here), the 12/21/09 issue of PW contains some of the most blatant, ill-advised and ignorant ass-kissing I've ever read. A puff-piece by Lynn Andriani portrays Kevin Weiss, "CEO of self-publishing giant Author Solutions," as a combination of Moses, Jesus, Washington, Franklin, Ghandi, Salk, Jobs and Gates.

Apparently, PW badly needs advertising revenue from Author Solutions. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

My stupid popcorn mistake will NOT be repeated today

I've been a James Bond fan since I was a teenager. I missed Dr. No in 1962, but starting with From Russia With Love in 1963, I've seen every movie in a theater, usually on opening day. Hot babes and cool cars are hard to resist. From Russia is probably my favorite bit of Bondage.

I have every JB movie at home. Some I have on VHS tape, laserDisc and DVD! That's devotion.

Movies in theaters are usually expensive naps for me, so I only go for really important flix. Last one I saw was Jimmy Bond in Skyfall, in 2012.

At 4pm today, I'll see Star Trek Into Darkness. It's 129 minutes long, but there should be enough zooming, smashing, crashing and blasting to keep me awake. 

Skyfall was 143 minutes long, and though there was less zooming, smashing, crashing and blasting than in a Trek movie, I stayed awake thru the entire thing. I'd probably enjoy the new Great Gatsby, but it's too pokey to keep me awake for 142 minutes. I'll see it at home, where I can repeatedly rewind and restart.

I made a dumb mistake at Skyfall last year that I will not repeat today. I paid about $40 (well, not quite) for a humongous tub of popcorn which I thought would last for 143 minutes if I paced myself. Alas, I hit bottom at the 84-minute mark and had to watch the rest of the movie unassisted. On the way out of the theater, I noticed a sign offering FREE REFILLS on humongous tubs of PC. Today I'll know what to do.

I saw J. J. Abrams's first ST flick, simply called Star Trek, on opening day in 2009. I saw it mid-afternoon in a nearly empty theater. There were a few Gen-X mommies with babies, and some aging baby boomers like me. It was a great flick, with delicious doses of retro humor that only a few of us senior citizens laughed at. I hope for more geezer guffaws today.

Beam me up! (And put extra butter on the popcorn, please.) 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Does Publishers Weekly need a new editor?

New York's First Espresso Book Machine Debuts at McNally Jackson

By Craig Morgan Teicher 

While New York's downtown indie bookseller McNally Jackson has had the city's first Espresso Book Machine (which can print and bind books from, among other sources, Google Books, Lightening Lightning Source, or from files supplied by authors) for about a month, the store help held a coming out party for it on Tuesday, February 15.

That's two silly bloopers in one paragraph. Ouch!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tweaking your work can be terrible -- or wonderful

When I was writing for Rolling Stone in the early 1970s, I was always rewriting until the last possible minute. This was in the pre-fax, pre-email era, and I'd drive to the airport and pay to have my column air-freighted from NY to CA. There wasn't much profit left.

Words are almost toys for me, like a child's building blocks, Lincoln Logs (above), Lego or an Erector Set. I love to play with words, to rearrange them and try alternatives. Rewriting sentences and changing page formatting -- especially now with a computer -- is fun

The danger is that a perfectionist never finishes anything.

When I was working as an advertising copywriter, I was notorious for not "releasing" an ad until the last possible moment. Fortunately, someone older and wiser taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes "good enough" really is good enough, and I learned to let go.

Now, as the owner of a small publishing company, I have to be a businessman as well as an artist. I realize that no money will come in if I don't approve a proof and let a book start selling.

However, I seldom stop editing. I even re-do old blog entries (including this one).

The New Yorker magazine has an excellent article about Steve Jobs, which says that his real genius was tweaking -- not inventing. You can read it for free online.

I'm a tweaker, too, but being a tweaker can be dangerous because nothing is ever really finished. (When I was in college, I was still building bookshelves a week before I was due to move out of my apartment.)

Printing on demand and ebooks make it easy to keep tweaking. Maybe too easy.

With POD and e I can make improvements to my books whenever I want to. 
Unfortunately, sometimes when I should be working on new books, I instead work on old ones.

Most of my books go through hundreds of revisions but the first one to be published is good enough to not embarrass me. A person who buys version 2.13 gets a better book than the person who bought 1.28, but I know that each version was "good enough" as of a particular moment. 

One time I decided to delay a book by a week so I could change a comma to a period and uppercase the next letter. I doubt that anyone else would have noticed the perceived imperfection -- but I could not let it be.

Steve Jobs may have been more of a perfectionist than I am, the ultimate tweaker; and my iPad is better because of his obsession. I hope my books are perceived as better because of my obsession. One of my books is now nearly two years behind schedule. It's getting better and better.

(Illustration from The New Yorker)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Choose a headline:
(a) Christie Storm is a misinformed journalist who misinforms her readers.
(b) Newspaper's religion editor provides publicity for evil Author Solutions.

"Print-on-demand or 'indie' publishing . . ."

"Print-on-demand or self-published books . . ."

(from an article by Christie Storm, Religion Editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in Arkansas Online.)

Hey, Christie:
  1. POD is not the same thing as either indie publishing or self-publishing.
  2. Indie publishing existed long before POD, and POD is used by many kinds of publishers, not just indie publishers.
  3. Self-publishing existed long before POD, and POD is used by many kinds of publishers, not just self-publishers.
  4. If you want to be taken seriously as a journalist, stop using press releases from  Author Solutions as a source of information about the book business. Don't help the company to spread self-serving misinformation. Its agenda should not be a newspaper's agenda.
  5. If you want to be taken seriously as a journalist, change your name. "Christie Storm" sounds like a stripper or a porn star -- not a religion editor or a winner of the Pulitzer prize.
  6. Tell your boss to hire a fact-checker.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Cheap self-publishing is getting more expensive.
Free self-publishing isn't really free.

Self-publishing companies sell their services in packages priced from under $200 to many thousands of dollars. A few companies even advertise FREE publishing. It’s very important to know what you need, what you’ll get, and what you won’t get.

Can you really get a book published for less than $200, or for free? Maybe.

Strangely named Aachanon Publishing, which had offered a $195 publishing package, has apparently gone out of business.

Strangely named Wasteland Press has raised the price of its least expensive package from $195 to $245.

Inept and dishonest Outskirts Press still offers a nearly useless $199 package. 

The $199 Emerald publishing package from Outskirts actually provides what looks like a “real” book. The package is notable not for what it includes, but for what it excludes.

Most notable is the lack of an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), which means that the book can’t be sold by bookstores. An Emerald book is not even available on the Outskirts online bookstore.

For $199 you are limited to one book size (5.5 by 8.5 inches) and a choice of two cover designs. You get exactly one book which you can read, give away, sell or display on your mantelpiece. You can order more books if you want to. They won’t be pretty, but they are books.

The top package from Outskirts costs $1,099. Some other publishers may charge over $50,000. Be careful. A big investment won’t guarantee a great book, and may kill any chance of making a profit. Be sure of your goals and your budget, and act accordingly.

Some of the websites and ads for self-publishing companies tout “free” publishing programs. What you get for free is hot air. Create­Space, Lulu, UniBook and others will not charge you when you upload your book’s files—but if you want real books, you pay real money. (These companies assume you will do all of the design, editing and promotional work yourself or hire others to do it.)

How can they publish a book for free? They can’t. They’re lying.

Their publishing is free as long as you don’t expect any books to be produced. Every book they print, or distribute as an ebook, is paid for. Their notion of publishing does not include the final product—a book.

CreateSpace is an Amazon subsidiary that says it lets you “Self-Publish a Book-Free.” The only free things I could find on its website are “free tools to prepare your content for publication” and an ISBN that identifies CreateSpace (not you) as the publisher. If you want CreateSpace to do more of the work in designing, producing, promoting and distributing your books, you can pay up to $4,999 for a publishing package. (I sometimes use CreateSpace for printing and distribution, but nothing else.)

Beware of companies that don’t provide distribution to booksellers. DiggyPOD can produce excellent books and will ship cartons to you or to any place you specify. However, the company has no system to make your books available to booksellers.

In a comparison webpage, DiggyPOD claims that CreateSpace charges extra for laminated covers and it’s hard to find a phone number for support. Both claims are untrue.

UniBook says, “Your book is instantly available for purchase worldwide in the UniBook online bookstore.” Unfortunately, like DiggyPOD, UniBook has no way to get your books to stores or online booksellers, and its books are very expensive.

InstantPublisher has a helpful website, but no distribution to booksellers and its minimum order quantity is 25 books. Other companies—such as CreateSpace—have no minimum.

Maverick Publications says it provides “full-service book printing” and “self-publishing.” Its prices are MUCH higher than Lightning Source or CreateSpace, it takes MUCH longer, and has no distribution.

Maverick’s online bookstore shows exactly one book—from 2001. After 12 years, it has ZERO reviews on Amazon and a sales rank below 5,000,000. That's not very impressive for a company that promises "Marketing Strategies and Promotional Materials" and "Help with Selling your book on Amazon."