Saturday, June 29, 2013

Today is my Unhappy Anniversary. Thanks to the Internet, you could be very unhappy, too. People can can use your words against you, try to have your books banned, and try to have you killed.

Early on the last Saturday morning of June in 2010, I received an alarming call from an old friend. She said that she had received an email saying that I was a convicted child rapist, published child pornography, burned my wife, had been in prison for four years, drove drunk, used the Internet to find children to have sex with, was part of an international pedophile ring, was a threat to my neighbors, and had even RAPED MY DOG.

As shocking as these false accusations were, things rapidly got worse.

The anonymous accuser sent similar emails to my friends, relatives and business associates and members of the media, wrote accusatory letters to newspapers, set up online petitions to have me put on a list of sex offenders, and established a libelous blog with a huge number of false accusations. He even published pictures of me and my house -- and directions to get here.

The attacker created multiple false identities to join in the attack, formed a phony organization to add credibility, and tried to halt printing and sale of books I wrote. 

People called for my imprisonment, castration and execution.

From the very beginning, there was only one obvious suspect, but police and the FBI could not prove who the perpetrator was. I was able to get some lies removed from the web, but some are still there -- and may remain there for as long as the Internet exists.

"Don't be evil" is the unofficial corporate motto of Google, but the Google bosses don't seem to care if their products and services are used by others to be evil.

Google owns Blogger. Blogger hosts the blog that has been the main attack venue against me. That blog contains untrue, vicious, hurtful and absurd accusations (e.g., I was imprisoned in California for four years, I am on a government list of sex offenders, I am a danger to local children, I burned my wife and I raped two human beings and a dog). You can laugh at the last one.

This would seem to be pretty obvious defamation, a violation of Google's terms of service, as defined by Google, and a sufficient reason to have the blog shut down: 

Google says:

What is Defamation? 

•False and untrue communication published with the specific intent of injuring another person’s reputation 
•Injured person must be identifiable 

HOWEVER, as absurd and obviously defamatory as the blogger's claims are, Google lacks the confidence to make an official judgment of defamation and to protect my family from our online attacker and from those he or she may incite.

The company says, "We do not remove allegedly defamatory content . . . . The only exception to this rule is if the material has been found to be defamatory by a court, as evidenced by a court order."

I tried to convince Google that the material is so obviously defamatory that they don't need a judge's declaration, but they are committed only to protect their corporate ass against a possible suit by their blogger, not to protect people injured by their blogger. 

I don't want to have to go to court to get a judgment. It could be extremely expensive, and could take a long time to get the judgment. Google has the money to keep appealing judgments against it.

Under the protective umbrella of the First Amendment, companies that host websites allow anyone to say anything about anyone, and some people will believe the most absurd accusations without any effort to verify them.

I've written an ebook about my ordeal. It includes a fictionalized back story about the likely attacker, the truthful story of the attacks (with color screen shots), the aftermath, recommendations for those who are similarly attacked, and an appropriate joke.

Here's a link to the book:

Here's a link to a newspaper article about the attack:

The Internet is wonderful -- except for when it kicks you in the ass.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Crackpot Sharron Angle didn't know how to write a book. AuthorHouse didn't know how to publish it.

Right-leaning Sharron Angle,
one third of the Silly Sorority
 which includes Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann

Tilted-to-the-right Teabagger Sharron wanted to write a book. She was a Republican member of the Nevada Assembly from 1999 to 2007. She lost the race for the U.S. Senate to Ralph Reid in 2010, despite endorsements from the Teabaggers, paranoid/nasty radio talker Mark Levin, the Club for Growth, Pat Boone and Phyllis Schlafly. 

Joe The Plumber endorsed her, too.

According to Wikipedia, "Angle was criticized during the campaign for largely avoiding answering questions from the press, both local and national. In September, the Las Vegas Review-Journal sued her for copyright infringement after she allegedly posted entire articles from the publication on her campaign website without permission. After the campaign ended, it was revealed that the campaign developed a code word to alert office workers if the media entered the campaign headquarters: "It's time to water the plants."

  • Angle believes that the U.S. Department of Education is unconstitutional and should be eliminated.
  • She said that the U.S. should withdraw from the United Nations, saying it is a bastion of liberal ideology.
  • She believes that global warming is "fraudulent science."
  • Angle supports the Federal Marriage Amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
  • Angle opposes abortion, including in cases of rape or incest ('against God's plan')
  • Angle does not believe that the United States Constitution mandates the separation of church and state.
  • She voted against fluoridating drinking water.
  • Angle proposed a bill that would have required doctors to inform women seeking abortions about a controversial theory linking an increased risk of breast cancer with abortion. 
  • She sponsored a bill to remove the requirement that health insurers cover mammograms and colonoscopies. 
  • Angle said that the Social Security system should be "transitioned out".
  • Angle favors eliminating the complete Internal Revenue Service code and abolishing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
  • She favors widespread armament to defend the American population against the government and decried a shortage of bullets in gun stores. Congressman Jim Clyburn said that Sharron's endorsement of "Second Amendment remedies" in her losing campaign contributed to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
  • Crackpot Sharron even claimed that the 9/11 hijackers entered the United States through Canada.

Sharon may have been inspired by the financial success of her spiritual sister Sarah Palin. The moosemama's first book Going Rogue is ghost-written garbage (I own a copy) but still managed to become a New York Times #1 bestseller in its first week of release. Its publicity and sales were boosted by a very visible price war among booksellers when it first came out. Sarah's second book was a flop.

Sharron may have felt that her candidacy would be enhanced by publication of a memoir "about her life and values." (Where's my barf bag?)

It should be obvious that I think that Sharron Angle is a nut job, but I certainly believe she has the right to spew her wacky words at anyone who will listen to or read them.

However, it seems like no traditional publisher was willing to take a chance on Sharron and offer her a deal like Sarah got, (even Sarah's daughter's baby-daddy got a 'normal' book deal from Simon & Schuster).

So, Sharron decided to pay AuthorHouse to produce her book. AuthorHouse's publishing packages start at $599 and can cost up to $15,000.

Since Sharron's parents could not even spell "Sharon" correctly, I had little hope that their darling daughter would turn out a decent book.

My pessimism was justified.

The book has two introductions (by Mark Levin and Lee Cary, a writer for the American Thinker website). Normally, a book has one introduction, written by the author.
It's unusual for a book to have two introductions (and Sharron is certainly unusual).

However, the book's fatal flaw is that its foreword was written by Sharron, herself.

OK, Sharron is an ignoramus, and an inexperienced author, but someone at AuthorHouse should've known that the foreword is 
not supposed to be written by the author. It’s often written by someone who knows the author, or — even better — by someone famous.

In one of the introductions, Lee Cary says that the book was edited. Apparently Sharron's editor knows as little about books as do Sharron and her support staff at AuthorHouse. 
AuthorHouse boasts that it is "committed to providing the highest level of customer service in book publishing, AuthorHouse assigns each author a personal publishing consultant, who provides guidance throughout the self publishing process."

Sharron's consultant doesn't know enough about publishing.

Sharron's book, like others, shows that the Author Solutions people are incompetent, ignorant, uncaring or all three. The web has a great many complaints by authors about Author Solutions brands. Author Solutions is the target of a class action suit by authors. STAY AWAY.  


The Amazon sales rank for Sharron's book is in the toilet -- almost two million, and much worse than Baby Daddy Levi Johnston's book. Strangely, Sharron's paperback sells for $6.75 (producing a tiny royalty, if any, for her), but the Kindle edition is overpriced at $9.99.

AuthorHouse has a lot to learn about publishing.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Try not to piss people off. The web has a very long memory.

In the 21st century, when many people consider doing business with a company or making a purchase, one of the first things they do is to search for comments online.

Twelve years ago my wife ignored abundant bad reviews and has been suffering with a big-buck Dacor 'pro-style' gas range ever since. I usually check book reviews before ordering from Amazon. I read many comments about the Honda Crosstour before even visiting dealers. (The car is great.)

A search for Outskirts Press on Google showed more than 650,000 results. However  on the critical first page, two of the seven links were NEGATIVE (one was for this blog). The second, third and other pages also had links to negative comments.

A search on Bing didn't show anything bad about Outskirts on the first results page, but there were negative links on the second, third and other pages.

Any person or business with an online existence may accumulate online criticism -- and it may be on the web forever. Do the right thing, and do things right.

Yes, I know that the blog title warns about pissing people off, and I often piss people off with what I write on this blog. I like to think that I am performing a public service (and maybe providing some entertainment). The targets of my criticism deserve to be criticized. So far, no one I've pissed off in this blog has sued me. I am willing to take the chance. I like the First Amendment very much. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Authors: Don't let readers think you're an idiot. Every word you write is an audition.

Every word a writer writes must be considered to be an audition, a tryout, part of a competition, the equivalent of a performance on America's Got Talent, American Idol, etc.

It would be a shame to turn off a prospective reader and lose a book sale (or many sales) because of silly, easily corrected errors. Read, re-read, and re-re-read everything you write.

It's important that those of us who have writing careers never go "off-duty." We must produce professional-caliber work all of the time, even if it's just a 20-word Tweet or a three-word reply to an email. Never excuse your own sloppiness. Never say, "It's only an email," "it's only Facebook" or "it's only a blog."

Words intended to promote your books deserve and require extra attention to spelling and grammar. Search for improper punctuation or wrong words. Insert words and punctuation marks that may be in your mind but not on the screen. Make sure everything makes sense. Delete material that may be juvenile, unprofessional, irrelevant or distracting.

Here are some online comments I recently read from authors:
  1. I am interesting in your opinion of my new book.
  2. my new book shall be available soon a true story I am a first time writer who went for the self publishing road e book and pod I am looking forward to the launch date shall be announce soon.I shall keep you all posted. many thanks for reading this article for an extract from my book go to my blog page
  3. It's about a girl, Julien, that's trying to adjust to life in a new place after her parents divorced. Just as she is starting to settle in, an "attack" by a Breaker, a person who can enter a persons mind and control thoughts and actions, shakes the town. Before she knows it, her life takes a difficult turn and it could be more than she can handle. Again, you reading it would be super kick ass
  4. For a short period of time the ebook addition will be on sale for only 99 cents.
  5. It seems no one will ever run out of questions about ISBN's - least of all me!
    When you fill in your short & long descriptions on your
    ISBN numbers
  6. I've published an analogy
  7. My first novel, Darkness Forbidden, was published in December on Kindle the paperback should be released shortly.
  8. In the early 90s, Sheila and I selling my art at malls and arts & craft shows, decided to create a few in-demand original titles 
  9. they should have went with Vantage
  10. I need some good honest and reallistic advice. I used AuthorHouse to publish my historical fiction and was very unhappy with their work. I want to format the book myself and then find a link to a POD arrangement bor printing.
  11. Author presently resides in Easton, Pennsylvania and remains in close contact with his family members. Who cares? Is this a reason to buy the book?
  12. The writers adventures as both a military officer and quality professional add greatly to the writings contained in this epic tail of adventure.
  13. My book and movie is going to catch the world on fire! 
  14. Myself and two other authors in the same genre are thinking of . . . 

- - - - -

Even alleged publishing 'pros' make stupid mistakes for the world to see:

Outskirts Press founder Brent Sampson wrote that Roget's Thesaurus was published by Peter Mark (actually, Peter Roget published it), confused a foreword with a preface, and misspelled "offset." Brent advises that "Errors in your writing cause readers to question your credibility."  He's right about that.

Lulu founder Bob Young misspelled "misspell" and confused "less" and "fewer." A publisher should know better. 

- - - - -

A while ago I read a writer's blog.

The writer said that someone "range" [rang] the doorbell, wore "sheek" [chic] clothing and that something is "cheep" [cheap].

This person also wrote "nation-wide" [nationwide], "main stream" [mainstream], "self published" [self-published] and more.

This person mentioned "the hard work of revising and polishing" a book.

The blog deserved similar hard work.

Confession: I am not perfect, but I try to be. Some people don't try.

keyboard photo is Microsoft clip art

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Some bad advice for authors seeking book reviews

The advice below is from Rev. Michael Bresciani, and appeared on Facebook and other websites. Bresciani is author of Hook line and Sinker or What Has Your Church Been Teaching You. (published by PublishAmerica -- the worst publishing company in the world) and An American Prophet and His Message, Questions and Answers on the Second Coming of Christ (Xulon Press). His website is The site "believes in the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God. Our doctrine is the Bible from cover to cover."

Apparently the rev believes that it's proper to stone-to-death adulterers, non-virgin brides, disobedient children and people who gather sticks on the Sabbath. I'm not surprised he's afraid of book reviewers and bloggers.

- - - - -
  1. You will be sorry if you do not take the time to get a pretty good picture of your reviewer. Use e-mail, snail mail or anything else you've got to pop a few questions to your reviewer. If the review is on radio or TV place a few phone calls in advance. Why? You must get a fix on your reviewer's position and general inclination. If your writing is in religion, check the doctrinal position of the reviewer. A Pentecostal book is bound to come up short in a conservative catholic review. If your book is written with a conservative political bent, it will not do well under the scrutiny of a liberal democrat. You must check out every aspect of the reviewer's mindset that you can by any means you can. If you disregard this advice you will suffer for it.
  2. Read carefully everything you can find that your reviewer has previously written. They can be aggressive without being hyper critical or belligerent. Some reviewers have a pompous attitude. Usually they are not writers themselves. If you find some that are writers they will be far easier to work with because they know all the problems and pitfalls in this profession. A reviewer has opportunity to rub elbows with some people that the rest of us will only know in name only. This does tend to give them an exploded sense of their own importance. How will you know if this is the case with your reviewer? Simple, read their stuff. An attitude is an easy thing to spot. Don't get the idea that your book is so good that no one could possibly find anything bad to say about it. Cranky people are usually very consistent, don't take a chance.
  3. Avoid the Reviewer who is Too Personal: Don't let someone who is having a bad hair day remove your first chance to get a little press for the great American novel.
  4. Grammar and Spelling Snafus:  Here is the bottom line when it comes to a reviewer noticing and dancing with your mistakes in a review. It stinks. First it is the sign of a very unskillful reviewer, especially when it comes to first time authors with POD books. It is almost understood that first tries will have a few more mistakes than the veterans do and for a reviewer to make a big deal of those problems is hitting below the belt by any standards. Don't even approach such reviewers if you see they make a practice of this. If they feel a need to say that a book is a self published work they are miserably out of touch. This is the day of the POD and thousands of books are coming through this conduit that can stand beside any of the big boys from the major houses.
  5. Look for the Honest but Skillful Reviewer: An honest reviewer won't hide the negatives and failings of your book but they will skillfully blend them into a larger picture without burning down the city. Such people are artist [sic] experienced in balancing of literary achievement and fledgling endeavor. How do you find such people? Once again review the reviewer's reviews!
  6. Beware Of Blogs: For a new author to submit the contents of their new release to a blog in whole or in part is like running the gauntlet. Blogs are all too much of a free for all. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has got an opinion. They are certainly entitled to their opinion [sic] but be sure of one thing, an opinion does not a review make. The chance of getting a fair review on a blog is in general about zero. What you will have is a lot of people passing around a lot of second hand information. You may have someone praising your stuff and in the next minute calling you something that is several notches hotter than PG-13. Till you have a better rep as an author, do not expose you're [sic] writing to the free for alls.
A few responses:

It's unrealistic to expect a potential reviewer to answer "audition" questions before being deemed qualified to review a particular book. Most reviewers have large stacks of incoming books, with little time to deal with interrogations from over-sensitive authors.

There is no way an author can control who writes a review. Book review media determine which people are assigned to review books. Even if a book is specifically addressed to Friendly Fred, it may be reviewed by Hostile Harry.

Not submitting a book to any blogs can't possibly guarantee that bloggers won't review or comment on a book. I've reviewed about 20 books in this blog -- and I paid for every book but one that I reviewed. I may buy a Bresciani book just so I can review it here. A few writers have asked me to review their books, but I turned them down because of the subject matter.

As a reader and reviewer (and a writer and publisher) I cannot and will not ignore errors in spelling and grammar, and certainly don't have extra forgiveness for a first book. In general, I neither know nor care if a book is a first attempt by an author. I expect there to be some spelling and hyphenation errors (typically one per 50 pages). I expect the same standards from self-pubbed, vanity-press and Big-Five books. Publishing a book with significant grammar errors is absolutely unforgivable, and it is not "hitting below the belt" to point them out.

I note that Bresciani had one book published by PublishAmerica -- a company known for turning out really crappy books. I therefore assume Bresciani's book is loaded with errors which he wants to be ignored. Even if a writer makes spelling and grammar errors (as demonstrated in Bresciani's website and the posting above) there is no excuse not to have professional editing. If you can't afford an editor, you can't afford to publish!

POD is not the same thing as "self-published." POD is used by publishers of all types and sizes.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Archaic magazine title terms are too "fancy" for me

Two of the strangest survivors of an earlier era in speaking and publishing are Cat Fancy and Dog Fancy magazines.
  • In the 1880s, a thirsty cowboy might stroll into a saloon and say "I'd fancy a sarsaparilla" (pronounced "sasperilla").
  • In the 1970s I attended an "invention expo" at the New York Colosseum. The inventor of a weird hi-fi gadget gave me a business card that identified him as a "fancier in audio sound."
Well, fancy that!

Obviously he was not a fancier in the removal of redundancies. 

In the 21st century, does anyone fancy anything? Is this usage officially dead? 

When I was a teenager, I subscribed to Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Popular Photography, Popular Electronics and many similar mags. 

Some publishing competitors favored the "Illustrated" term. I subscribed to Electronics Illustrated, Mechanix Illustrated and Sports Cars Illustrated (which later became Car and Driver). Apparently, 50 years ago it was important to point out that a magazine contained pictures.

Some magazine publishers thought it was important to include "magazine" or "monthly" in their titles. I thought it would be fun to publish Popular Illustrated Monthly Magazine.

Few print magazines are started now, but if one was, would it be called "Popular" anything?

People are popular, but People magazine doesn't have to be called Popular People. Politics is/are very popular. But instead of Popular Politics, we have HuffPost and Mother Jones.

Fancy that!

Friday, June 21, 2013

WARNING: In publishing, the pursuit of perfection may lead to imperfection

The book shown above was published a few years ago. It went on sale about three months later than planned. It went through hundreds of on-screen revisions, and at least a dozen printed proofs before I pronounced it "good enough" to be sold.

I said "good enough," not "perfect." I know it has three small errors that few people (or maybe no people) will notice. I also know that it has fewer errors than most books I've read -- even books put out by the big traditional publishers with huge staffs of editors, proofreaders and fact checkers.

Lots of books and other media have easily preventable, inexcusable errors. If you self-publish, you have an extra burden. You have to be better than the "big boys."

  • Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls by Keith & Kent Zimmerman has silly geography errors. It's disturbing that three Teutuls plus two Zimmermans plus fact checkers and editors at Warner Books could let obvious errors get printed. On page 11, Paul Senior talks about his parents charging people to park in their driveway on Cooper Street in Yonkers, to watch horse races in Yonkers Raceway or baseball games in Yankee stadium, which were within "walking distance." While the track is just a few blocks away, the stadium is about 8.5 miles south. The 17 mile round trip is not "walking distance" for most people. I hope he calculates more precisely while building bikes. Twice on page 15, Senior mentions his house in "Muncie", New York. Muncie is in Indiana. The Teutuls lived in MONSEY (which is pronounced like Muncie).
  • Principles of Self-Publishing: How to Pub­lish and Market A Book or Ebook On a Shoestring Budget by Theresa A. Moore is one of the most-error-ridden books I've ever read. Theresa  says that Lightning Source “is a full service publisher.” Lightning is not a publisher of any kind. It is a printing house that works for publishers. It does NOT provide services such as editing and page formatting, which a self-publishing company provides. Anyone who is advising publishers should know the difference between a printer and a publisher. Theresa complains that Lightning Source charges an “exhorbitant shipping fee” for a proof. Both her spelling and her assessment are wrong.

However, I learned the hard way that each time I make a correction, there is a good chance that I will introduce other errors. They'll need to be corrected, and their corrections may lead to more errors, and the cycle never ends.

Perfection is elusive, and perfection may even be dangerous.

  • In Greek-Roman mythology, Arachne was a skilled human weaver who bragged that she was a better weaver than Minerva. Minerva was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Athena and was goddess of weaving (and of other things, and the inventor of music). Arachne refused to acknowledge that her skill came from Minerva. According to Ovid, the goddess was so envious of the magnificent woman-made tapestry that she destroyed the tapestry and loom, slashed Arachne's face and turned Arachne into a spider. In biology, "arachnids" are the group of critters that includes spiders.
  • Cathy Thomas, also known as Cat, blogs about quilts. Cat wrote, "A humility block is a quilt block with a mistake in it. Either the quilter didn’t notice the mistake until after the quilt top was assembled, or she intentionally left the mistake in the block, not wanting to take the time and effort to correct it. Over time, some superstitions arose about these blocks. One story says that the humility block must always appear at the lower right corner of the quilt. Another story says if a bride makes a perfect quilt, her marriage will be unhappy. . . .  I have heard that Amish quilters intentionally make a mistake in their quilts because only God is perfect and making a perfect quilt is prideful. This is the classic example I use when justifying a piecing mistake in one of my quilts. However, when I researched the subject of humility blocks, I was surprised to learn that this information is a myth rather than a fact. Quilt historians, who have asked Amish quilt makers about the humility block, write that these women are shocked by such a suggestion. To the Amish, having to make a mistake on purpose suggests that their work is already perfect, which is prideful in and of itself. It’s like saying, “I’m so good at quilting that unless I mess up on purpose, I am perfect.” Obviously, there’s no humility in that!
  • An anonymous blogger wrote, "This quilter's decision to put a deliberate mistake into her work unites her with countless other artisans from around the world. The makers of those meticulous Persian carpets made obvious errors in their rugs to show that no one was perfect except Allah. Some people believe that the Gods might be angry about arrogance of a human effort to produce a work of art without imperfection. Navajos thought evil spirits could escape only through an error in art.
So, I'll live with a few mistakes -- at least until it's time for a major revision. I wouldn't want to be turned into a spider, or a bookworm.

Rug photo from  I'm not sure of the origin of the Arachne illustration.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What's behind the Christian compulsion to self-publish?

Why don't Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others have that compulsion?

First, a few prefatory remarks:

(1) The chart above was done a while ago, but I have no reason to assume current figures differ greatly.

(2) The answers to some of the questions may be obvious to Christians, but I am Jewish, not Christian, and I don't know the answers.

(3) The table above is both revealing and mystifying. The data comes from Google, which is not 100% perfect, but does offer a pretty good snapshot of the world. The table leads to some questions:
  1. Why do Christians have a much stronger need or desire to self-publish than followers of other religions?
  2. There are about 150 Christians to every Jew on the planet. However, the ratio of links for "Christian publishing" to "Jewish publishing" is only about 3.7 to one.
  3. The ratio of "Christian self-publishing" to "Jewish self-publishing" is 4,370 to one!
  4. Why do the members of my tribe -- who do a huge amount of writing and publishing -- have such a tiny need for religious self-publishing compared to Christians?
  5. Do Christian writers think they are blocked by traditional secular publishing companies, or merely feel more comfortable dealing with Christian self-publishing companies than with secular self-publishing companies?
  6. Why do followers of Islam ("people of the book" like Christians and Jews) who make up over one-fifth of the world's population, and are strongly involved in publishing, have such a tiny need for self-publishing that reflects Islam?
  7. Why do Hindus and Buddhists -- who comprise one-fifth of the planet's population and have substantial involvement in publishing, have no apparent need for self-publishing that reflects their faiths?
  8. Why do the millions of Sikhs, Baha'is, Confucians, Jains and Shintos have no need for self-publishing services that cater to followers of their faiths. (Yes, I know that the English version of Google may not reflect links to websites in other languages, but since it does show links to "X-publishing" but not "X-self-publishing," I think it's valid to consider the Google numbers).
Monk drawing from the Jane Austin Society of Australia. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

If you're an American writing for Canadians it might be better to write in French than in English

The dual influence of British and American spelling on Canadian English can make life difficult for Canadian writers, and especially for Americans writing for Canadian readers.

Canadians use standard British spelling for certain words (axe, cheque), and use American spelling for others (connection, tire), and will use either version for other words (programme and program, labour and labor, neighbour and neighbor).

It's important to be consistent so you don't look silly and confuse your readers.

Set up your own style manual (just a list, really), and stick to it. Don't mix "neighbour" with "labor," for example. Choose one pattern or the other and don't vary.

A Canadian dictionary might help, too (is there such a thing?).

Word processor spell-checkers (chequers?) may not be much help. My MS Word rejects Brit spelling, and there doesn't seem to be a Canadian or British "language pack" available.

I could tell my PC to accept "programme" and "neighbour," but that would not make it reject "program" and "neighbor." To be safe, I'd probably have to search for all of the offending Americanisms and change them.

Or, I can just keep writing in American and not worry about countries with people who speak almost the same language.

I don't freak out when I encounter British spelling. "Programme" is not nearly as disconcerting as having to deal with quid, shillings, pennyweights, roods, Imperial gallons and barleycorn.

Biblical shekels and cubits are a pain, too. 

(Thanks to Dorothy Turner for her work published by the University of Ottawa)

(really from Tuesday 6/18, not Wednesday 6/19)

Writers: If you want to be able to afford to buy food, learn to write things you think you can't write

I once wrote a poem about a wiper. Could you?
In the 1970s I was an "award-winning Madison Avenue copywriter." (Yes, there was as much hurtful politics, late-night work and extra-marital sex as on Mad Men, but much less drinking.) 

I had a specialty -- hi-fi equipment. I wrote ads for many major brands of that era, like Pioneer, Fisher, AR, BSR, Garrard, Sansui and Maxell. I also worked on other tech-ish brands, like Volvo and Castrol and makers of computers and electrical hardware.

If an ad agency "won" or was "pitching" an "account" in a tech field, the agency needed someone like me, and paid dearly for our services. 

However, there was disturbing disruption in the ad business. There was absolutely no job security. A sad/funny truism was that in advertising  the day to start looking for a job is the day you get a job.

There were many cases where an agency and manufacturer were "partners" for decades, or even through several generations, of management on both sides. BBD&O worked for Pepsi for more than 50 years 

But, with increasing mergers and acquisitions, customary loyalty changed. An account with 50 years' history could vanish in 30 days because the chairman of the conglomerate who just bought the toilet-paper-maker went to high school with someone whose next-door neighbor's cousin was dating the boss of another ad agency. Pepsi left BBD&O for TBWA\Chiat\Day in 2008. The recent Beyonce commercial was done by another agency, 180 LA.

Just as when an account is won there are opportunities for writers to get hired, when an account is lost, there are opportunities for writers to get fired.

Specialization makes it easy to get a job. Generalization makes it easier (not easy) to keep a job. 

I kept copywriting jobs (and kept being able to afford food and rent)

When I was in eighth grade, my English teacher was a miserable bitch -- hated by almost every kid in the class.

We were once assigned to write an essay about poetry. At the time, I pretty much hated poetry, except for funny stuff like one of the world's shortest poems, by Ogden Nash:

"The Bronx?
No thonx."

Basically my essay said something like I hated poetry because it is artificial and is much less efficient than prose for delivering a message.

I DESPISED faked/fudged/phony constructions like:

"My country 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty."

I got an "F" on the essay. Elliot, one of my classmates, got an "A" for a few pages of bullshit about poetry "opening a golden door into the soul of the poet."

I was sent to the guidance counselor for guidance and discipline.

I did not get any discipline but I got some valuable guidance: Give the bitch the same kind of bullshit that earned Elliot the "A."

In other words, if you want to succeed in life, give the audience what it wants, even if you have to lie or sell out.

I didn't think it was good advice then or now. An audience can usually determine if a performer's heart is not in a performance.

A few weeks later, we were assigned to write poems. That was even worse than having to write about poems.

Rhyming is probably a natural activity and source of amusement for every kid.

But going from "Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweet but I hate you" to something of homework quality would have been a major leap for me.

I was desperate to avoid a second flunk from the bitch, so with help from my father I did come up with something that I still think is pretty good. It was about a windshield wiper destroying rain drops. I don't remember it all, but it started with:

"Oh wiper, you viper,
You snake on the glass.
You strike hard and swiftly.
You kill with each pass."

I got an unexpected "A" on that one.

I also got an "A" on a second poem that involved some event in international relations in 1959 or '60. Apparently President Eisenhower was being pressured by the dreaded commies to give in on some diplomatic negotiating.

I needed a word to rhyme with "now," and my father suggested the phrase "but Ike would not kowtow."

I had never heard "kowtow" before, and thought my father had made it up just for my poem. Pop explained that it came from a Chinese word meaning "submit" and I kept the word. The bitch knew what it meant and was impressed.

(Impressing teachers is not necessarily a major achievement. One time in college I used "lifestyle" in an essay and the professor put a note on the page about it being an excellent choice of words. In my mind I gave the professor a lower grade for being impressed by such routine terminology. Apparently "lifestyle" was a big deal in Bethlehem, PA in the 1960s.)

In high school I became a pretty good rhymer. I wrote some silly poems and songs about bad teachers.

I've never bought a poetry book, but I do have appreciation for rhyming lyrics, especially:

"Lady Madonna, baby at your breast
Wonders how you manage to feed the rest"
(Lennon & McCartney)


"When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I'll be gone"

I have no plans to write serious poetry, but being forced to succeed at something I hated has probably been useful to me as person and as a writer. I have gained appreciation for those who do write poems well, and I sometimes insert rhymes in my prose just for the fun of it.

. . . . . 
wiper photo from Thanks.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Authoring isn't awesome anymore -- but maybe we shouldn't reveal our tricks to the public

I majored in journalism in college. I've written many hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines. I was an award-winning advertising copywriter. I've written more than 30 books.

For a while I kept a "clip file" of all of my published articles, and had a portfolio of my ads that I could use to impress a prospective employer.

But, after 40-plus years making money by tapping a keyboard, I no longer think writing is a big deal.

I won't say it isn't fun anymore. One fundamental Marcus maxim is, "If it isn't fun, don't do it." If writing wasn't fun, I wouldn't still be doing it.

When  I was younger, I loved getting fan mail from people who liked my articles and reviews in Rolling Stone. Later there was lots of satisfaction when I was told how many  dollars my ads and websites generated. It was cool seeing people wearing T-shirts I had designed. In more recent years, I've enjoyed reading the mostly good reviews of my books.

I still love to tweak, adjust, manipulate and rework blogs, websites and book pages so they sound and look just right.

But writing a good book in 2013 just does not generate the same smiles and internal giggles as the first big cover story I wrote for High Fidelity Trade News in 1969, or getting into movies and concerts for free when I showed my Rolling Stone press ID in 1971, or getting laid after giving a girl a stack of records I had gotten for free when I worked for Stone.

Maybe the problem -- if it is a problem -- is that writing is much easier than it used to be, so I don't feel I am overcoming a challenge. I was fired from my job at High Fidelity Trade News when I had a two-week dry spell, but it's been decades since I've suffered with a severe case of "writer's block."

Maybe simply getting older -- and accumulating more experiences -- makes it easier to write.

At age 67, I can write about almost anything.

I had a demented high school English teacher [she's in Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)] who made 'surprise attacks' on our class. One day she commanded us to "write 500 words about tobogganing." Another time she wanted 500 words about "How Capri pants are the downfall of western civilization."

I hated the evil idiot, but she provided good preparation for later on when my paycheck depended on my being able to write about things I knew absolutely nothing about (ads for women's bathing suits and the Metropolitan Opera, and a fundraising letter for the YMCA, for example).

Getting published is infinitely easier now than when I was younger. Years ago, if I had a brilliant idea for an article or book, I had to query editors and publishers to try to ignite their enthusiasm and open their checkbooks.

Today, if I have something to say, I write a book and publish it myself, or post something on one of my blogs or on Facebook or LinkedIn, or comment on someone else's blog, or start a new blog or website. It's infinitely easier than pitching an article to an editor or convincing investors to put money into a new magazine.

Those of us in the book biz know how easy it is to publish now. But many “civilians” are still in awe of authors.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I was at a brunch meeting of about 25 members of a "burial society" that I’ve inherited membership in.

Although I’ve theoretically been a member since birth, this was the first time that a meeting was held near enough for me to conveniently attend. I was surrounded by relatives I am scheduled to spend eternity with, but I had never met any of them before.

During the meeting, someone spoke about a milestone in family history that occurred about 100 years earlier. I casually mentioned that I had written about the incident in one of my books.

I was surprised by the response. Some people were in awe! Someone said, “Oh, you wrote a book!” and there was at least one “Wow.” People asked the name, the subject and where they could buy it.

I answered the questions quickly and politely. I didn’t want to hijack the meeting and turn it into a book promo event.

My extended family (mostly 'sophisticated New Yorkers') thought that meeting a writer is unusual.

I certainly don’t think writing is unusual or that writers are unusual (well, maybe a little unusual). I spend a lot of my online and offline time communicating with writers, editors, designers and publishers. My close relatives and neighbors and employees know that I write and publish and they are not impressed. (Well, actually, a few are.)

I know how easy it is to get published; but to the group of strangers at the meeting -- who share some of my genes, and will share a final address -- it was a big deal. I’m certainly not a celebrity like Elvis, JFK or Shakespeare, but some of these folks seemed to be a bit excited to be related to an author and maybe even to be buried near one.

It made me feel good. Not as good as getting laid because I was an editor at Rolling Stone -- but nevertheless, good.

Magicians don’t explain their best tricks. Maybe we shouldn’t reveal how easy it has become to publish books and have them sold by Amazon and B&N.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Your (type) face is familiar but I can't recall your name

A typeface is a distinctive type design, like those above.

The varieties within each face, such as bold, italic and roman (i.e., not italic) are fonts. Rockwell is a typeface. Rockwell bold is a font. Sometimes “font” is used to mean all of the varieties within a typeface (e.g., “The Rockwell font has 832 characters.”)—or even the typeface itself. The terms “font” and “typeface” seem to be merging. 

Sometimes “font” is used for a very specific typeface description like “24-point Century Gothic bold italic.”

Lots of people and programs, including Microsoft Word and CorelDraw call typefaces “fonts.” It’s probably an irreversible trend. Adobe sometimes uses “font” to mean “typeface,” but also explains the difference between the terms.

Just as companies like Chevrolet and Chanel were named after their founders, typefaces are often named after their designers, such as Goudy, Caslon or Lubalin.

Sometimes a typeface is named to honor a person important in type design (Garamond), a place (Memphis) or an event (Renaissance). The Inland Type Foundry named typefaces such as Studley to honor important customers. Robert P. Studley was a printer in St. Louis.

[above] Some names imply a mood or genre. “Harlow” implies glamour. “Asylum,” “Trashco” and “You Murderer” do not. Typefaces named “Goofball” or “Carnival” are probably not suitable for the annual report of an insurance company.

[above] Some “Grotesk” and “Grotesque” faces are not grotesque at all. Wikipedia says that grotesque "was originally coined by William Thorowgood of Fann Street Foundry, the first person to produce a sans-serif type with lower case, in 1832. The name came from the Italian word 'grottesco', meaning 'belonging to the cave'. In Germany, the name became Grotesk. German typefounders adopted the term from the nomenclature of Fann Street Foundry, which took on the meaning of cave (or grotto) art. Nevertheless, some explained the term was derived from the surprising response from the typographers."

What can you learn about a typeface from its name? Maybe a lot. Maybe a little. Maybe nothing.

[above] Typefaces with similar or identical names may not look similar.

Several typeface names seem humorous—even if they were not intended to be so—like “Zapf Dingbats,” “Friz Quadrata,” “Bodoni Bold” and “Harry Heavy.”

[above] “Roman” may mean a typeface with serifs. “Times New Roman” (“TNR”) 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. You can use Times New Roman roman or Times New Roman italicThe “Roman” in “Times New Roman” is part of a proper noun and is uppercased, but when “roman” is used as a description for a kind of typeface, it is lowercased.

[above] “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. They both could be considered grotesque -- or just one could.

[above] Some typefaces with different names look very similar.  Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. “Helvetica”  comes from “Helvetii,” a tribe occupying part of current Switzerland over 2,000 years ago.

[above] The “Alpine” typeface looks nothing like the other “Swiss” faces. (The Alps are also in Germany.)

Some typeface names seem to be deliberately deceptive.  “Helvetic” is likely named to make people think they are getting “Helvetica.”  You can download Helvetic for free while seeing advertising and possibly infecting your computer with a virus. Genuine Helvetica (from Linotype) costs $49 for one variation or $832 for the complete set.
[below] There are even websites offering free (i.e., illegal) downloads of genuine Helvetica and other faces.

This blog post is adapted from my new ebook, Typography for Independent Publishers .