Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It's the last day for 2013 tax-deductible charity donations. Amex and Amazon can help.

As the year ends, you have only a few hours left to make tax-deductible donations to charity. It's not a big deal to write a couple of checks, and lots of charities accept credit card donations and have convenient websites. However, if you want to spread money around, American Express makes it extremely easy -- and personally profitable.

The Members Give program (formerly "Giving Express")  connects you to over a million charitable organizations! You can search for them by name, keywords, location, or use an extensive list of categories such as performing arts, education, health care, housing, human rights, disaster relief, religion and much more. The AmEx website has financial reports, mission statements, contacts, and other information regarding the organizations.

Donating online helps nonprofit organizations reduce administrative costs so that they can do more with the money. Your dollar donations are tax-deductible and you’ll receive an e-mail receipt for your records.

• Give to one or more charities and nonprofit organizations
• Donate dollars with your American Express Card
• Donate Membership Rewards points
• Set up recurring donations

When you make a donation, you'll get an immediate e-mail confirmation for each transaction. AmEx will post a detailed record of all your donations on your password-protected Giving History web page, if you need a record for an IRS audit in the future.

The Amazon.com Smile program will give 
0.5% of the price
of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the charitable organization of your choice. Amazon will also donate a total of as much as one million bucks extra ($5 at a time) until midnight, Pacific time, tonight. Tens of millions of products on AmazonSmile are eligible for donations. You will see eligible products marked “Eligible for AmazonSmile donation” on the product detail pages. Donations are made by the AmazonSmile Foundation and are not tax deductible by you, but if you're going to be shopping anyway, you may as well help a charity. My "Stories" book is eligible.

This is also the time of year to engage in some intensive house cleaning and office cleaning. I recommend the one-year-test (or six-month test, or pick another appropriate interval). If there is something you haven't used in a year, there is a good chance that you won't use it in the next year... or decade. Walk around your home. Open closets and drawers.  Check the attic, basement, garage and car trunk. Look on the highest shelves and in kitchen cabinets. Check your storage shed and look under the back deck. Chances are you'll find lots of stuff you no longer want, need or use.

Gather these things together and take them to your nearby Goodwill or Salvation Army "store." You'll get rid of clutter, get a tax donation, provide employment, and help someone less fortunate get a bargain on something she needs. While you're there, you may find some bargains to buy, too. 

Although not specifically a year-end reminder, think about getting a credit card that will help an important charity or organization with your normal spending. For example, Bank of America works with Susan G. Komen for the Cure® to provide co-branded credit cards, debit cards and checking accounts, encouraging people to "Make every purchase pink." For each new Susan G. Komen for the Cure branded credit card account opened and used, Komen receives a minimum of $3, and a minimum of 20 cents for every $100 you make in purchases with the card. Komen also receives $1 for each annual renewal of the card. CLICK for info.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My first New Year's resolutions in about 55 years: read more and write more

The last time I remember making New Year's resolutions was in junior high school, where a 7th-grade teacher commanded our class to turn in lists of resolutions. The lists were filled with bullshit like "I promise to be a better citizen" and "I promise to help my sister do her homework." 

I don't think I've ever made New Year's resolutions as an adult. 

It seems silly to announce changes on an arbitrary date instead of when the need for change becomes apparent. Maybe I also realized that since resolutions are so easily ignored or revoked there was little point in making one.

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took effect in 1919 and banned the manufacture and sale of booze. The 21st Amendment -- repealing the 18th -- was ratified by conventions in 36 states and took effect more than two decades later. Deciding to not care about a resolution to eat less or exercise more is a much simpler and quicker procedure. In fact, it's not even a procedure.

Today (not quite 2014 yet) I am publicly announcing two resolutions that I really want to keep. Wanting to keep them may help me to keep them.

I resolve to read more books. My home now contains several thousand books (many unread) and new ones come in from Amazon once or twice a week via UPS or downloading. On Christmas Eve I received three "perfect" books plus a generous Amazon gift certificate. (Thanks, Michelle.) I really want to read my books.

I resolve to write more books. I've started -- but not finished -- writing about eight books, announced four others and thought about still more. I have things to say, and can use some more income. I really like to write and design books, but I have to get into the mood.

The top illustration with the ugly gap between the zero and the one is from  www.zanebenefits.com.

Maybe Zane's designer will read my book about typography, next year. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

"Beauty" should not interfere with content

The plain old basic black-on-white is obviously much easier to read than black or red on royal blue.

I'll never understand why people who put great effort into their words make it so hard for people to read them. This happens with books, websites, magazine articles, advertising, store signs, menus, catalogs, maps, graffiti. . . any appearance of text.

People shouldn't have to squint, magnify, adjust, or solve a puzzle to read what you wrote.

If you have an unstoppable urge to use reverse type (light text on a dark background) limit it to a small block of type, such as a headline, but NEVER put an entire page in reverse. And if you do use a dark background, provide a lot of contrast. White on black or yellow on navy blue are OK. Red on purple sucks. A web page or book cover is NOT a Day-Glo concert poster.

And don't use a decorative typeface that looks like it was attacked by bacteria, or those annoying distorted letter sequences you have to retype to prove that you're a human being and not a robot in order to subscribe to a blog.

And choose a type size that's big enough to be read without a microscope. A book or a website has more space than the back of a credit card. I have several books that I just can't read. This is a frustrating and unnecessary waste of money.

Don't let your medium hide, harm or destroy your message.

Eschew obfuscation and espouse elucidation, in content AND in form.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Street" is a noun, an adjective, an adverb, and several different verbs

From the University of Ottawa: "Traditional grammar classifies words based on eight parts of speech: the verb, the noun, the pronoun, the adjective, the adverb, the preposition, the conjunction, and the interjection. Each part of speech explains not what the word is, but how the word is used. In fact, the same word can be a noun in one sentence and a verb or adjective in the next."
Often, a word first appears as a noun, and then becomes a verb. "Ship" made the transition long ago. "Party" is a notable recent example. "Party on, Garth."

As a grammar geek, I am particularly fascinated by the transition of the word "street."

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

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

Patients released from mental facilities are also streeted: "As long as Burnside stays on his meds, we can street him."

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

In video games, music and movies, the "street date" is the date when a new release is allowed to be sold "on the street." This date allows manufacturers and retailers to unite their promotional efforts when they will be sure that products will be available in stores. The sales manager might say, "The 3D Blu-Ray will ship on December 3 and street on December 10."

Retailers usually receive merchandise before the street date and can be punished by manufacturers for "breaking street."

Books often have a "release date" instead of a "street date." Many books are sold before their release dates.

The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary says that to street ("streeting," actually) is the action or process of building a street or streets.

An online comment from Alan W.: "
Yet another use of streeting that I kept coming across was in expressions like "streeting the field" and "streeting the opposition", used in sports writing to mean achieving a decisive victory. The origin of this sense isn't obvious to me - from the phrase streets ahead, perhaps?"

"Boulevarding" is a gathering or stroll on a boulevard, so maybe someday streeting will come to mean walking on the street.

(photos from Google Images [photographer unknown],  NBC, Disney, SMU)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

There's no "L" in "Christmas, etc.

Ho, Ho, Ho

What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus?


What do you call Santa's helpers?
Subordinate Clauses

Why does Santa have three gardens? 
So he can ho-ho-ho.

Why was Santa's little helper depressed? 
Because he had low elf esteem.

What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? 

What do snowmen eat for breakfast? 
Ice Crispies.

What do you get when you cross an archer with a gift-wrapper? 
Ribbon hood.

There was once a great czar in Russia named Rudolph the Red.
He stood looking out the windows of is palace one day while his
wife, the Czarina Katerina, sat nearby knitting. He turned to her
and said, "Look my dear, it has begun to rain!" Without even 
looking up from her knitting she replied, "It's too cold to rain. It
must be sleeting." The Czar shook his head and said, "I am the
Czar of all the Russias, and Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear!"

T'was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care. They'd been worn all week and needed the air.

Q. What do you get if you cross Santa and a duck? 
A. A Christmas Quacker.

Q. What do we call Santa when he stops moving? 
A. Santa Pause!

Q. Where does a snowman keep his money? 
A. In a snow bank.

Q. Why do mummies like Christmas so much? 
A. Because of all the wrapping!

Did you know that according to the song, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", Santa has twelve reindeer? Sure, in the introduction it goes "There's Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen..." That makes eight reindeer. Then there's Rudolph, of course, so that makes nine. Then there's Olive. You know, "Olive the other reindeer used to laugh..." That makes ten. The eleventh is Howe. You know, "Then Howe the reindeer loved him..." Eleven reindeer. Oh, and number 12? That's Andy! "Andy shouted out with glee." The proof is in the song!

Q: What do you call Frosty the Snowman in May?
A: A puddle!

Q: If Frosty the Snowman married a vampire,what would they name their child?
A: Frostbite!!

Q: What's red, white and blue at Christmas time?
A: A sad candy cane!

Q: Who hides in the bakery at Christmas?
A: A mince spy!

Q: What Christmas song is hidden in the alphabet:
        A B C D E F G H I J K M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z?
A: Noel (No "L")

It's a romantic full moon, when Pedro said, "Hey, mamacita, let's do Weewitchu."
"Oh no, not now, let's look at the moon!" said Rosita.
"Oh, c'mon baby, let's you and I do Weewitchu. I love you and it's the perfect time," Pedro begged.
"But I wanna just hold your hand and watch the moon." replied Rosita.
Please, corazoncito, just once, do Weewitchu with me."
Rosita looked at Pedro and said, "OK, one time, we'll do Weewitchu."
Pedro grabbed his guitar and they both sang, "Weewitchu a Merry Christmas, Weewitchu  a Merry Christmas, Weewitchu a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A low-key promo for an inexpensive Christmas gift for yourself:

Some people have paid $15, $20 or more for the paperback and hardcover versions of my hysterically funny, bestselling, "Stories" book. Amazon is willing to sell you the ebook version for a ridiculously low $2.51. It's a Kindle ebook, but you can read it on a Nook, PC, tablet, smart phone or almost anything.

It includes a great Christmas story: "Silent Night: a mostly true memoir about steel, sex, drugs, rock & roll, food and murder." It takes place in Bethlehem (Pennsylvania).

Free sample:

          The Bethlehem that I passed through, in west-central Connecticut, was serene and unsullied at Christmas.
         The Bethlehem that I lived in, in east-central Pennsylvania, had loud noises and dirty snow.
         Despite declining business and eventually a complete shutdown, Bethlehem Steel Corporation dominates the city.
In the mid-1960s, I spent my sophomore college year living with a local family. “Poppy George” Webster started working at “The Steel” at age 15 and he was close to retirement when I moved into his home. It was a suburban split-level, several miles northeast of the steel mill’s noise, flames and filth.
I rented the master bedroom with a private bathroom. Mrs. Webster (“Annie-Love”) slept in one of the children's bedrooms, and George slept downstairs in the family room.
He said that this was because he was Catholic and she was Episcopalian. They did have a child, so I assume they were once in the same bedroom for a few minutes.
The son, Wayne Webster, was 21 years old and could have been mistaken for Jethro Bodine on TV’s Beverly Hillbillies — but Jethro was smarter.
A neighbor told me that the family had paid bills for a few of Wayne’s teachers to get him promoted; but he was ultimately forced to leave junior high school on his 18th birthday.
Wayne volunteered for military service during the war in Viet Nam and was trained to drive a truck, but he confused oil and gasoline and couldn't shoot straight. Despite the Army’s need for large quantities of warm bodies, Wayne was not permitted to re-enlist.
Wayne was working in a fabric store when I moved in with the family, but was soon fired because he confused inches and yards and couldn't cut straight. He spent a few weeks in a junk yard, and then found his true calling as a cab driver.
He awoke each morning a little after four, had breakfast, and was behind the wheel of a taxi from six to six. He then came home, had supper, watched TV, and nodded-off before nine. The schedule never varied except for one weekend each month when he had Sunday free. That meant that he could stay up late the night before, and he often went to the burlesque (pronounced with three syllables) in neighboring Allentown to “look at the naked ladies.”
Wayne loved his job and frequently urged me to leave college and drive a cab because of all the ladies I'd get to meet.
Wayne never had a date or went to a disco or dance while I lived with the family, but he kept porn magazines under his bed. And whenever the Websters’ dog Flower was in heat, she seemed particularly attentive to Wayne. Flower would often raise her tail and wiggle her bottom in his direction, and she spent an awful lot of time in his bedroom.
Mr. and Mrs. Webster were troubled by Wayne and they fretted about his future. Most childhood problems had been solved with cash and kisses; but adolescence, adulthood and aging were not so simple.
The Websters had long planned to retire to Florida when George stopped working at 65. Unfortunately, Wayne assumed he would retire with them, at age 24, and they were afraid to tell him otherwise.
They were also afraid to die.
Mrs. Webster said she could never rest in peace knowing she had left Wayne behind “with no one to make him a home.” Sometimes she and George darkly joked about suicide pacts and hired killers.
Annie had given birth to Wayne when she was 40, and was physically worn and emotionally drained from dealing with his problems for two decades; but was a loving mother who remained compassionate and tried to appear cheerful and optimistic.
She'd kiss Wayne goodbye and look him over carefully before he left for work each morning, and made a point of complimenting Wayne whenever there was the remotest reason — even the disappearance of a pimple. She tried to help him make the most of his cabby career, advising him on grooming (“shine your shoes and zip your fly”), manners (“don't tell riders how much to tip you”) and corporate politics (“be nice to the dispatcher even if he's not nice to you.”)
Mr. Webster had no patience for Wayne; he avoided physical contact and hated it when Wayne called him “dad” or “poppy” in public. He felt his son was a disgrace to the family, and regarded him with a combination of disgust and amusement, apparently much like the sixteenth-century Londoners who paid money to watch the lunatics in the Asylum of Our Lady of Bethlehem (source of the word "bedlam.") 

For more, please buy the book at Amazon.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hershey's has wonderful chocolate -- but bad typography

Hershey's has been running a very pleasant, very effective and very simple animated Christmas commercial featuring its iconic Hershey's Kisses. 

Sadly and inexplicably the company -- with sales of about $6 billion, a city named after it and an advertising budget of about $580 million -- used amateur typography in the commercial.

Instead of a proper curly or slanted apostrophe, the company name at the end of the commercial has an inappropriate straight apostrophe. That's what comes from an old-fashioned typewriter or the primitive software used in a blog like this one, not what can come from word processing or graphics software that produces proper typographers' marks. The text line includes two copyright symbols, so the software certainly could have produced a curly apostrophe. Did the designer fuck up, or was she or he being deliberately incorrect?

Am I the only one who notices and cares about this stuff?

With primitive equipment or software the same straight symbol is used for an apostrophe, a foot, a minute or a quotation.

In packaging, logos, advertising and on books, it's important to use a proper curly apostrophe.

Hershey's has been in business since 1876. Early packaging used traditional curly apostrophes. The typographer did a nice job kerning the apostrophe and "Y."

The Hershey products now use modern, non-curly, slanted apostrophes. That's OK, too.

Friday, December 20, 2013

25 big blunders of self-publishing authors (and other 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. Not doing enough research before selecting a self-publishing company

4. Refusing to believe abundant negative comments about a self-publishing company

5. Not negotiating for a better deal -- you can probably get the "October Special" in January, or get more books and fewer bookmarks

6. 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.)

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

8. Not budgeting money and time for promoting your book

9. (For self-pubbers) 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

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

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

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

13. Rushing.

14. Not reading the book often enough and closely enough to catch as many errors as possible.

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

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

17. Pricing your book too high

18. Pricing your book too low

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

20. Waiting until the book is published to start marketing

21. Not having an understandable title

22. Not having a distinctive title

23. Not having a distinctive 'author name.'

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

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Stupid Outskirts Press once again shows it doesn't know what the fuck it's doing

Outskirts Press, which persists in spouting a highly dubious claim that it is "the fastest growing self-publishing and book marketing company," again demonstrates its abysmal stupidity.

In the past, Outskirts people misidentified the author of Roget's Thesaurus, confused "foreword" and "forward" and misspelled "offset." One of its press releases even misspelled "Outskirts."

A few days ago Outskirts issued a press release (prepared by

error-addicted Kelly Schuknecht) announcing that six of its authors appeared in an Outskirts ad in the "New York Times Review of Books."

Sorry, Kelly. That's not true. There is no such thing as the "New York Times Review of Books."

The Outskirts ad appeared in the New York Review of Books. It is not the same publication as the New York Times Sunday Book Review section.

A book publisher should know the difference. 

They're not the same damned thing!

But maybe Outskirts does know the difference. Maybe it's not being stupid and ignorant. Maybe it's being deliberately dishonest and hopes its authors and prospective authors will confuse the 135,000-circulation Review of Books with the 2,300,000-circulation Sunday Times.

So, is it better to be stupid or deceptive?

Neither is acceptable.

Authors should stay far away from a 
publisher who is either or both.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Authors: review your books' reviews

Every author likes to get good reviews, and hates to get bad reviews.

Most published reviews are positive, and that's nice.

Some negative reviews are written by people who are clueless, vindictive, or have not even read the book they are condemning. If you write a book, it's important that you regularly check for reviews. Good reviews can be used to promote your book. Unjustified bad reviews have to be dealt with.

I recently discovered a review of one of my books on Amazon. It gave me the minimum one-star ranking and said my book must be terrible because it did not have a "Search inside the book" feature (as if I was hiding something). There were a few other meaningless complaints which revealed that the reviewer had never read the book. I assume the review was from a writer I slammed on this blog. (I don't put negative reviews on Amazon to minimize the chance of a flame war or pissing match.)

I complained to Amazon, and the review was deleted within a few minutes.

Another time I was criticized because the typeface I used was allegedly too big. I responded that the 12-pt type I used is the size specified by the U.S. Supreme Court to insure readability of court documents.

And another time one of my books was criticized for being out of date. I responded that the reviewer bought the wrong book, and should have bought the replacement book. I even offered to provide a freebie.

Set up Google alerts for your name and your book titles. You'll get automatic notifications so you'll know what's being said about you so you can respond appropriately.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Book plagiarism, or amazing coincidences?

Singer - writer - pianist - math professor Tom Lehrer has long been one of my literary gods. 

Tom claims he “went from adolescence to senility, trying to bypass maturity.” He graduated from Harvard Magna Cum Laude at age 18 and made Phi Beta Kappa. He taught at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California, but is best known for hilarious songwriting, much of it political satire in the 1950s and 60s.

Tom's musical career was powerful but brief. He said he performed a mere 109 shows and  wrote only 37 songs over 20 years. Britain’s Princess Margaret was a fan, and so am I. I can still sing Tom Lehrer lyrics I first heard in seventh grade. 

One of his best songs is "Lobachevsky," about a Russian mathematician who lived from 1792 to 1856. An asteroid was named to honor him. Here's part of the "Lobachevsky lyrics:

"I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky. In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics: Plagiarize!

Plagiarize, Let no one else's work evade your eyes, Remember why the good Lord made your eyes, So don't shade your eyes, But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize -- Only be sure always to call it please 'research'."

So, why am I writing about Uncle Tom today? I am researching typography for a book I am writing called Typography for Independent Publishers.

I have about 4,000 books in my personal library, and about 100 books are related to publishingOne my favorites is The Non-Designers Design & Type Books, by Robin Williams (no, not Mork-from-Ork Robin Williams).

Below is part of a scan of one page:

(left-click to enlarge)
The highlighted text made sense to me, but it seemed strangely familiar. I took a look at one of my other favorite books about books, Book Design & Production by Pete Masterson.

(left-click to enlarge)

Yup -- it's about 95% the same thing.

This seemed really strange. The same sentence appears in two copyrighted books that are sort of competitors. It was strange enough to motivate me to do a Google search, and I found this:

(left-click to enlarge)

Yup -- here are those words again, this time in a teaching tool produced by a teacher at a big high school in Texas.

And if that's not enough, I also found the same text on a website operated by the South Newton School Corporation in Indiana. It was apparently copied, but the homepage shows:  "Copyright © 2011 South Newton."

(left-click to enlarge)

And, of course there's more.

I have no idea who wrote the sentence first, but without attribution the same text can't have multiple valid copyrights. I wonder if the school teachers who have apparently copied the material from another source would approve of a student submitting a term paper with text copied directly from Wikipedia.

Most writers do research. I read lots of book in fields I'm interested in, and try to distill what others have said and then REPHRASE IT IN MY OWN WORDS and try to add my own insights and discoveries.
  • With the Internet, if you copy and publish someone else's work you must assume that someone will notice. (It takes big balls to steal intellectual property but it takes a small brain to exhibit the stolen material where millions can see it. I've caught more than 100 copycats of my own work.)
  • Back when I was a journalism major at Lehigh I was taught never to copy more than four consecutive words without attribution. That's good advice.
  • My own research technique may be imperfect. If I have been an accidental copycat in my 40-plus years of writing, I hereby apologize.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Marketing books v. marketing non-books

My mother doesn't really look like this.
Years ago, if my mother said she was “going marketing” I knew that she was going to the supermarket, and maybe also to the butcher, the fruit and veggie market, the appetizing store and hopefully even to Carvel for ice cream. She’d load the trunk of her Plymouth with the food and supplies the family would need for a few days.

To Mom, marketing was buying.

For authors, especially self-publishing authors, marketing is selling.

It’s not the specific transaction of handing or sending someone a book after they hand you cash or a credit card or place an order online. It’s really all of the steps that lead up to the transaction when a book is exchanged for money.

Every activity and occupation seems to have an organization. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

In my own plainer English, marketing is the process of making people aware of what you want to sell them, and convincing them to buy it.

Each product area — including fresh-caught fish, screwdrivers, nuclear reactors, driveway resurfacing, hair dying and books — has a traditional system for marketing. Alternative channels may sometimes evolve or be discovered, devised or imposed. It’s best to at least understand the system that’s in place before inventing a new one.

The first step in marketing, or in a marketing plan, is to identify your customers and your potential competitors. The more precisely you can define the customers, the easier it will be to reach them and the more efficient your marketing can probably be.
  • If you’re writing and publishing a dictionary, your potential market is all of the people in the world who can read the language you are publishing in, or are trying to learn it. The potential audience could be many millions, and your potential competitors may number in the hundreds.
  • If your book is about your not-so-famous mother, you probably have no competitors covering the same subject, and your potential audience may be eight people.
  • Most books fall somewhere in between. Books intended to help fisherman, amateur mechanics, guitar repairmen and corn growers probably have potential audiences in the tens or even hundreds of thousands — and dozens of competitors.
  • If you're writing a novel and you think your audience is "everyone" — can you afford to deliver a promotional message to everyone?
Unless you are writing in a very new field, you are likely to face competition from existing books as well as books that are in the pipeline. Try to write something that is better than the competition — or at least make it seem that way. Powerful marketing can make even ludicrous ideas seem legitimate.

It’s important to understand the difference between “push marketing” and “pull marketing.” Books of fiction and poetry and most memoirs use push marketing. You must “push” your books on readers who really don’t need to read what you wrote. It can take much more time and effort to push a book than to write it.

A non-fiction book about an important subject can be sold with much easier pull marketing. If there is an existing need for the information or advice you are offering, readers will search for it and “pull” the books from the printing presses, warehouses and stores.

In book publishing, your customers are not just the potential readers. You have to court, impress, seduce and convince other potential “partners.” Your partners include booksellers, as well as a wide range of influencers. Traditionally the primary influencers were book reviewers in printed newspapers and magazines. Today many newspapers no longer review books, and magazines are disappearing. In their place is a constantly growing group of online influencers on blogs, websites and social media such as Facebook. You have thousands of potential allies who can recommend your book — or condemn it. This blog both praises and slams books.

Book marketing has a lot in common with the marketing of other products, but it’s also very different.
  • Unlike food, books are not consumed and then replaced with identical items throughout the life of a customer.
  • Unlike clothing, books are not outgrown and replaced with a larger size.
  • Unlike tires or tools, books are not replaced because they’ve worn out.
  • Unlike handkerchiefs, people don’t buy a pack of a dozen identical books to save money.
  • Unlike cars, you probably won’t sell a book to each adult in the family.
  • Unlike cars or videogames, people seldom trade-in older books for the latest model.
  • Unlike televisions, people generally don’t return a book after trying it and finding they don’t like it.
  • Unlike frying pans or screwdrivers, people don’t buy the same type of book in different sizes.
There's much more in my ridiculously inexpensive One Buck Book Marketing Book.             

(top illustration from http://greenlotus.hubpages.com/hub/The-Real-Housewives-of-1955. Thanks.) 

Friday, December 13, 2013

A negative review for a book I have not read in the nearly four years I've owned it

Back in February 2010 I bought a copy of Wingnuts: how the lunatic fringe is hijacking America. Written by John Avlon, it deals with the wackos on the far-right and far-left wings of politics, such as the 9/11 "truthers," the "birthers" who insist that President Obama was born in Kenya, and those who accept MooseMama Palin's "death panel" paranoid fantasy.

  • This is the debut publication from Beast Books, a joint venture between the Perseus Book Group and The Daily Beast, a website dealing with politics and pop culture.

Tina Brown is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Beast. She's an author, talk show host, and an award-winning editor. She edited Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, created Talk magazine and is in the Magazine Editors Hall of Fame.

Although she is apparently not a trained designer, she is credited with redesigning The New Yorker and hiring Richard Avedon as staff photographer. So, Tina should know something about publishing production values. She cares enough about her own work to have claimed a copyright for the foreword she wrote for Avlon's book -- an extremely uncommon practice.

So why am I pissed-off about a book I have not read yet?

It looks like crap, feels like sandpaper, and costs too much.

  • The designer, Jane Raese, chose a compressed, bold sans serif typeface for the chapter titles, headers and other spots. The words are both ugly and hard to read. With the huge selection of available typefaces, both sins are unforgivable.
  • The pages are rough, pulpy semi-sandpaper, of a low grade I have not had the misfortune to touch since I bought 35-cent Signet paperbacks more than a half-century ago. I almost felt the need to wear thick work gloves to protect my fingers from splinters. This book has a cover price of $15.95 -- not 35 cents -- so the budget could certainly have covered a nicer, smoother grade of paper. I'm just an amateur publisher, but my own $15.95 books have paper that's as smooth as a baby's ass. I would not insult my readers by using  cheap paper that might be found in a hotel room john in a third-world country that just made the transition from wiping with tree leaves.
  • The book has 284 pages and measures just 5 by 7-3/4 inches. That size is commonly used for the "mass market paperbacks" which sell for less than $10 and are displayed near the cash register at supermarkets and Walmart. Wingnuts is not vital for college or business. It's basically entertainment, and not important enough to warrant an inflated price. Other entertaining books often sell for $2.99 or less.
According to The New York Times, "Perseus is paying The Daily Beast a five-figure management advance to cover the costs of editing and designing the books."

Based on what I've seen and felt, Perseus grossly overpaid.

An author's words are important, but so is the package that contains them. Be aware and be careful.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Happy 42nd anniversary to my wife

In 1971, our hair colors matched better than our personalities did.

. . . Later I married Marilyn Cafarelli. Marilyn’s father, Joe, was a non-church-going Catholic Italian. Her mother, Sally, was Jewish. That makes a good combination, even if it’s not strictly kosher.

Sally’s culinary repertoire was multi-ethnic. She served luscious lasagna, perfect pasta “fazool” (pasta fagiole) and spaghetti sauce with sausage and pork chops in it, as well as magnificent chopped liver, chicken soup, latkes (potato pancakes) and stuffed cabbage—but not all at the same meal.

Sally’s kitchen was a wonderful place for a gourmand like me and her cooking probably helped Marilyn induce me to pop the question.

In August, 1971 we were introduced by Jill, who worked with her in New York and who used to live across the street from me in New Haven. Marilyn was tired from unpacking after moving from the Bronx to Manhattan and fell asleep the first time we met—not a strong testimony to my conversational abilities—but I was strongly attracted even before I had tasted Sally’s cooking.

Marilyn and I were both dating a few others at the time. My social calendar was full, but I passed the word via Jill that I was interested and I eventually called Marilyn. She thought her falling asleep had turned me off, but I’m a napper, too, and it didn’t bother me. We started dating regularly, and, by October or November, we planned a quick marriage in December. It seems ridiculous now. It probably was ridiculous then.

If we had known each other longer, we probably would not have gotten married. We argued a lot (and we still do). At one time, we considered canceling the wedding, but one of us said (and I don’t remember who said it), “What the hell, the invitations have already gone out, so let’s do it.”

I no longer remember why it was planned so soon, but she wasn’t pregnant.

I do know we got a good deal from a caterer who had a cancellation on the date we picked, so maybe that was an influence. We probably also saved on taxes by marrying by the end of the year. Maybe we were just extremely in love and wanted to get married ASAP. That’s a good reason.

Marilyn’s cousin, Manny, was a printer, and he offered us free invitations as a present. Unfortunately, they were printed with my father’s given name—that few people would recognize—instead of his well-known nickname. When Manny reprinted them, he got Pop’s name right, but he printed the wrong year.

We didn’t want to ask Manny for a third freebie or insult him by taking our business elsewhere. (He kept a gun strapped to his ankle and I used to refer to him as Mafia Manny although I had no real knowledge that he was in the mob.) The wedding date was rapidly approaching, so my future mother-in-law used a pen to correct the year on each invitation. It wasn’t elegant—in fact, it looked like shit—but it was definitely a rare collector’s item.

Unfortunately, the printing was just the first in a series of nuptial fuckups.

Depending on whom you ask, the wedding was either very nice, OK or terrible. The photographer was a tyrant and made Marilyn cry while posing for pictures. And while he had us posing for pictures, we missed what were said to be the best latkes in the world—even better than Sally’s homemade latkes.

Marilyn’s Aunt Hilda (Mafia Manny’s mother-in law) complained because there were no cigarettes on the dining tables, fomenting loud disagreement over whether it was the responsibility of the bride’s family or the groom’s family to finance the wedding guests’ lung cancer.

Marilyn had designed her own wedding gown and, on the day of the wedding, she realized that it was not the right decision to have a vertical seam down the center. It was too late to change.

When we went to cut the cake, the two of us applied all of our power to the ceremonial knife. We tried slicing, sawing, stabbing, pressing and poking, but we just could not penetrate the icing on the beautiful triple-decker. We wondered if the cake was frozen or if we were victims of a joke.

After what seemed like hours of snickering from the guests, the catering manager came out of the kitchen and whispered a little secret to us.

Apparently someone had neglected to tell us that this gorgeous cake was a wood and plaster fake and we were supposed to just make believe to cut it while everyone sings “The bride cuts the cake, the groom cuts the cake . . . .” The servers had a sheet cake in the kitchen already cut and ready to roll out and serve to the guests.

About a month after the ceremony, the photo studio delivered the wedding album with Marilyn’s name spelled wrong on the cover. They eventually provided a corrected replacement, but in 40 years we have not been motivated to switch the covers. I’m not sure if we’re too busy, too lazy or just sentimental. More likely, we just don’t care anymore.

We got some really nice wedding gifts, but the one I liked best was a bunch of McDonald’s gift certificates that Ken Irsay gave us. It’s easy to spend money. It’s harder to make me smile. Jill, the woman who introduced us, stiffed us. Maybe she felt that introducing us was a sufficient gift. Maybe so, but a toaster would have been useful, too.

Marilyn did not approve of my eating habits. She promised to make me homemade soup every day of our married life if I’d give up eating canned Campbell’s soup.

We got married on December 12, 1971, and she’s already made enough homemade soup to take us through January 8, 1972. That’s lunchtime, not supper.

Marilyn is an excellent cook who hates to cook. I would be a lot less frustrated if she was a lousy cook.

She does a great job microwaving the contents of doggy bags and ordering meals to be delivered, but there’s no one in the world who can make a better roast chicken or turkey. Not only do they taste delicious, but they look good enough to be on the cover of Good Housekeeping.

Marilyn can’t resist a bargain at the supermarket and our freezers periodically fill up with large, plastic-wrapped carcasses, bigger than bowling balls. Unfortunately, she seems to give away more frozen poultry than she defrosts, cooks and feeds to me.

Despite abundant and consistent negative reviews, Marilyn insisted on buying a particular $7,000 professional style stove because of the way it looked. On a good day, we’re lucky if two of its six burners work. I would have been happier if she hung up a pretty picture of the $7,000 failure and bought a bunch of $1.59 cans of Sterno that can be reliably ignited with a match.

Marilyn has trouble deciding anything and is constantly replaying decisions made years and even decades ago. Her most common phrase is, “Maybe I shoulda got.” Marilyn is always looking back, but I never look back, except when I’m driving.

Our first house could have been carpeted with the little carpet samples she collected. Our second house has wooden floors because Marilyn couldn’t pick carpet for it.

Big decisions, like picking a house or a car or a husband, come much easier than the little ones, like picking carpet color or deciding on coleslaw versus string beans.

If Marilyn asks for help making a decision, I give her a very quick answer, knowing that it doesn’t matter what I say because she’ll soon change her mind anyway.

Our “regular” waiters have learned to wait a few minutes before telling the chef what to prepare for her because there’s a good chance that Marilyn will soon run into the restaurant kitchen to change her order—maybe even twice.

We disagree on almost everything, and Marilyn and I have been happily at war since 1971.

Her difficulty in deciding and her extreme cautiousness and paranoia can be very frustrating and terribly time-wasting. I grew up in a family where, if you weren’t ten minutes early, you were late. I often refer to Marilyn as “my late wife” and I’m sure she’ll be late for her own funeral.

I know that she really means the best for us and I love her for it—and in spite of it. She’s kept me out of trouble many times. Marilyn is my second-guesser, my censor and my conscience.

Marilyn sometimes says she wishes she could be fearless like me, but it’s probably better that she’s not like me. Opposites attract. But two of me could be in jail—or maybe dead.

Our friends who seemed to get along perfectly well got divorced long, long ago. Apparently they just didn’t care enough to fight.

Michael’s Alternate Victory Plan:
  1. Forget about compromise decisions. If one of you wants black walls in a room and one of you wants white walls, and you get gray walls, neither of you will have what you want. You’ll both be pissed off when you enter the room.
  2. Try alternate victories. Let your mate make some unilateral decisions, and try to ignore the paint, carpet, car, vacation destination and furniture that you hate. Then you make some unilateral decisions, and you’ll get to enjoy your personal victories.
  3. Overall, life together will be a compromise, and that’s nice.
Warning: My alternate victory plan doesn’t apply to everything. It’s probably best that you agree on the city and the house you live in and on kids’ names. My father let my mother pick my middle name. I hated the name for many years and I wish he didn’t give in.

Three in a bed (sort of)
The “why I married your aunt” chapter

When my income at Rolling Stone was reduced from a salary of $400 per week to a freelancer’s fee of $75 every two weeks, I was seriously dating three young ladies.

Actually, it was more than dating. I was auditioning potential wives: Marilyn, Virginia, and I forgot the third one’s name. I do remember that she lived in Brooklyn and she had a southern accent.

Number Three got pregnant by someone else and had a painful abortion. She recuperated in my apartment. I was a very good friend.

Anyway, for a normal bachelor in Manhattan, a drop of over 80% in income would make a serious impact on dating. But things are different for a journalist with abundant freeloading options.

There were plenty of ways to have free dates.

Writers and editors and their companions could go to free movies and concerts just by requesting “review tickets.” There was even plenty of free food at lavish press conferences and sometimes invitations to check out new restaurants and bars.

Even without an invitation, it was easy to crash an event with a free meal at the New York Coliseum or a hotel by wearing a badge from some previous event or showing a press ID or a business card.

The gatekeepers would never risk offending a member of the press, even someone with dubious credentials who was not on the invitation list. The cost of food and booze was minimal compared with the potential benefit of positive press coverage or the risk of negative coverage after turning someone away.

As for gifts, there were always trinkets from trade shows and press conferences, free samples, and plenty of free records and tapes sent to us to review.

When my wife-audition process had narrowed to the three leading contenders, I needed a tie-breaker, and my Marilyn was the only one of final trio who was willing to sleep with me and with Long John Nebel. No, I’m not talking about a Ménage à trois with three living people in the bed. Long John Nebel did a late-night talk radio show, and I like to sleep with the radio on.

Fortunately, Marilyn accepted me and didn’t object to John, and she didn’t ask how much money I was making.

Even in 1971, $37.50 per week didn’t go very far.

1971 was a time of granny gowns, granny glasses, going bra-less and anti-materialism, and it never occurred to Marilyn to ask about my salary. Besides, she had a real job with a decent salary. I knew how much she made.

Marilyn swears that, if she ever remarries, she’ll demand to see the next guy’s paycheck and previous year’s tax return before she says, “I do.”

Anti-material Marilyn didn’t want an engagement ring but she later changed her mind and I gave her a diamond ring on our fourth anniversary. Her mother complained that the stone was cloudy.

Marilyn and I are still together after 40 years, and the radio is still on all night. There is a third real live body in our bed now, but he’s a golden retriever.