Friday, May 30, 2014

Surprise: the Kindle can be an important editing tool

I did more editing on my work-in-progress, Do as I Say, Not as I Did,  on the train to and from Book Expo America in Manhattan yesterday. I was amazed (and horrified) at how many errors I found when reading the book on my Kindle Fire that I missed on a giant 27-inch monitor.

In the past I have urged writers to check their work on a PC screen in Word, on a PC screen in PDF and on paper -- because each viewing environment will reveal different mistakes. Now I'll add a Kindle to the toolkit.

I'm not sure why this is so. The typographical characters just look different so I notice different things. It may have to do with contrast between type and background, or maybe smoothness of the letter forms. I'm not sure, but I know the phenomenon is real.

This book is about my stupid mistakes and I found lots of stupid mistakes in the book. It figures. 

The official "pub date" is Sunday, 6/1, so I'll have a busy weekend. It's turning out to be a really good book (he said immodestly). I wrote 51,814 words in 17 days. That's a lot of words per day. It will initially be an ebook. If it was a paperback it would have about 212 pages.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Can you trust what you read?

When words are printed on paper or put on a computer screen they seem to have much more authority than when they are merely spoken.

I personally have put hundreds of thousands—maybe even millions—of words on the pages of books, newspapers, magazines, websites and even on packages of food and motor oil. (My books generally have from 35,000 to 75,000 words. My newest book has about 52,000 words.)

Take it from me, those words have no more authority than when they are in my head or emanate from my mouth.

I’ve published some highly successful April Fool’s scam news reports. Supposedly “you can’t bullshit a bullshitter,”  but I confess to being fooled several times.

  • At one time, before words were published, they were checked, edited, verified, vetted, sanctioned and approved by a series of people with knowledge and standards.
  • In the 21st century, there is little or none of that. Just as anyone can sue anyone for anything, anyone can say—and publish—anything about anyone or anything.

While there are many reliable sources of information, there are many that are unreliable (some, such as satirical websites, are deliberately unreliable). Sadly—or humorously—the unreliable sources often seem as reliable as the reliable sources.

The digital manipulation that makes modern sci-fi movies so realistic could create realistic—and phony—videos of events that never happen.

So, how can you determine which sources to trust and which words to believe?
  • Follow multiple media, with different political viewpoints, from different cities and maybe even from different countries.
  • Apply common sense. If something seems truly outrageous, it may be not true.
  • Ask experts who have been truthful and accurate in the past.
  • Don’t automatically accept news, advice or information from people and institutions that want to sell you something.
  • Most people know that The Onion publishes untrue satire, but there are many similar but less-known sites such as The Daily Currant and The Borowitz Report. Some satire sites have fine print that explain that they are not to be believed—but some don’t.
  • A few days ago I published a satirical post on this blog—but it was taken seriously by at least one person who should have known better.
  • Don’t believe anything published on April first. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Outskirts Press recommends copy editing -- but needs copy editing

(Left-click to enlarge image. "Readers" should be "reads.")

Here's an email from an author who paid Outskirts Press for editing:

"I wish I would have read your blog before I published my first novel with Outskirts. I have had some scathing reviews due to the errors that were left in my book after I paid a small fortune for editing with the Outskirts editing team.

I was so excited when my book was first released, but after a few family members pointed out the mistakes left behind, I can't describe the restraint it took for me not to explode.

I tried to reason with my so-called marketing representative, but she simply hid behind the "fine print" they give you after they receive payment from you. It would have cost me another small fortune to revise the book, and I am still in debt from publishing it in the first place. The marketing representative simply would not assume any responsibility for mistakes that Outskirts made.

Outskirts made me feel paranoid about not getting their editing service, but when I did it was as if I had no editing at all. The only consolation that I have, is that I have a few fans that were willing to give me a chance as a new author. They loved my book.

I'm sure other writers would hate to be scammed out of their money for a service as unreliable as Outskirts' editing. I purchased the editing service for peace of mind, not to hold my breath each time a review comes out, only to be criticized for editing I paid for but did not receive."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What does an independent author have to do?

I've been writing professionally since 1969. I've had books published by a big-name publisher (Doubleday) and by a small, long-gone publisher -- but most of my 40-plus books have been published by my own Silver Sands Books.

When others published my books all I had to do was write. I much prefer the control, speed and income when I publish my own books, but I have to do much more work.

Here's some of what's involved:

1. Have at least one book idea.

2. Unless you are using a self-publishing company such as Xlibris or Outskirts Press and are willing to have its name on your books, pick a name for your own publishing enterprise. Think of several acceptable names and do some research so you can select one that’s not already being used by another company in publishing or a related field. Even if you now think you will publish in just one genre, pick a name that won't limit the kinds of books you will publish. You may think you'll publish books only about car repair, ballet or vegetable-growing, but a too-specific name will hurt your chances to expand if you change your mind later. It may be tough to market a sci-fi book if your company name is "Ballerina Books" and your logo is a tutu or ballet slippers.

3. Register the name in the local government office that registers names, often the town clerk. You will get an “assumed name” certificate, “fictitious name” certificate, or a “DBA” (Doing Business As) certificate. You may be required to advertise the business name in a local newspaper.

4. Get whatever licenses or permits that your state or municipality requires.

5. Open a business checking account under the business name.

6. Get business cards.

7. Set up a website.

8. Set up a businesslike email address, not a free Gmail or Yahoo email account.

9. Write the first book.

10. Have the book copyedited and, if necessary, get more extensive editing.

11. Have the book read by several laypeople and, if the subject is in a specialized or technical field, by one or more experts on the subject.

12. Make the suggested changes.

13. Either gather the necessary photos, graphs and illustrations or have custom artwork made.

14. Either design the interior yourself or hire a pro to do it.

15. Either design the covers and spine yourself or hire a pro to do them. (You should probably hire a pro.)

16. Show several cover alternatives to people whose judgment you respect. Strive to stimulate thought and dialog—not merely “I like it,” “I hate it,” “OK,” “wow” or “hmmm.”

17. Put your manuscript into book-like format, using either Microsoft Word or a more sophisticated program.

18. Insert the artwork in the proper positions.

19. Read, read, read, and have others read, read, read—on the screen in multiple formats and on printed papers.

20. Establish an account with Lightning Source or CreateSpace or both so they will print and distribute your book—or use a self-publishing service if you want to do less work and are willing to have less control and make less money. If you plan to publish only ebooks you can do everything yourself with Amazon's KDP system (Kindle only). If you want broad distribution, I recommend eBookIt.

21. Promote, promote, promote. Let lots of potential readers know that your book exists and convince them to buy. Promotion includes news releases, book reviews, comments on blogs and websites, email signatures, your own websites and blogs, social networks including Facebook and LinkedIn, distributing business cards, mailing out letters and post cards, signing autographs at bookstore sessions, and whatever else you can think of. Below I have inserted a picture of one of my new books, Anthology of Third-World Email Scams. Here's a link. This is a form of promotion. If you're an author who wants to make money, you have to promote your books.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Authors donot need a editors

There are at least a dozen different kinds of book editors. Do you know the difference between hard editing and soft editing, or what developmental editors, technical editors and copy editors do? Of course not -- and neither do most people.You can go broke hiring book editors, and delay making money by years while these high-priced, thick-lensed nerdy English majors destroy your work.

Editors are notorious for distorting an author's 'authentic voice,' turning macho into effeminate or vice-versa, rearranging your sentences and paragraphs or even removing words and entire sentences. Lots of editors create errors while trying to correct what they think are errors. Editors are just a bunch of pompous, power-mad manipulators who can't write well enough to be actual authors. They are jealous of authors and want to destroy them. Things that snotty and snobby editors think are mistakes are your personal style, and should be preserved. It's ridiculous for you to pay money so someone you don't even know can mess up your great book.

The most popular book of all times is the Holy Bible -- and the Holy Words of God didn't need any editors. The Good Book is perfect just the way it is, and readers should read your precious words just the way they come out of your head. 

Microsoft Word has a built-in spell checker and it will take care of any spelling misteaks just fine.

The courageous people who make political signs don't need editors, and their messages are powerful just the way they are. Nobody cares if words are not spelled the way an English teacher prefers, or if some funny curly thingees are in the wrong place or are left out.

Do you even know what a subordinate clause is? Or a gerund? Or an adverb? Of course not. Don't worry about it. Just write.
Languages are not 'fixed' or 'static.' Languages evolve, and you can help to make English more suitable for the 21st century. Write what you want the way you want. Shakespeare invented words. You can, too.

More great advice at 99 Buck Books.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Printing is not publishing, dammit.

(Above: advertising something that doesn't exist. Would you like to buy a unicorn?)

For a business that depends on communication, publishing often has terrible communication. Terms for basic functions are misused and misunderstood by people in the business, and certainly by 'civilians.'

I was reminded of this long-standing problem when someone complimented my for the "fine penmanship" I demonstrated in an online posting a few days ago. He meant to compliment me on my expression, not my formation of letters with an ancient handheld device.

I've been guilty of a similar offense.

When I was a teenager in the summer of 1963 I had a job working in a clothing store. One time I was talking to a customer and she told me that her family owned a well-known local company. I responded with something like, "oh yeah, the publisher." She corrected me saying "we're not that important. We're a printer, not a publisher." 

More than half a century later, the confusion continues.

Publish On Demand is an unnecessary and confusing misnomer using the same initials as Print On Demand. There’s really no such thing as Publish On Demand. It makes no sense. But companies still want you to think they’ll do it for you.

Despite its use by major traditional publishers, the Print On Demand process has been subject to some unfortunate and unjustified stigma because of its association with sleazy companies that print books on demand mostly for their authors rather than for readers.

Therefore, some companies have sought to give a new meaning to the "P" in POD.

Llumina Press, Booksurge, Lulu, Tate, Outskirts, CreateSpace and others have paid Google to run online ads for the stupid phrase aimed at ignorant writers who don’t know the difference between printing and publishing. There have even been stupidly named websites called (now apparently defunct) and
  • Some critics describe and deride "self-publishing companies" as "POD companies" -- which makes the situation even more confusing.
  • Sleazy and dishonest PublishAmerica said, "PublishAmerica is not in any way a POD, vanity press, or subsidy publisher. . . . In the most commonly used context, POD indicates "Publish On Demand." BULSHIT.
Publishing and printing are not the same thing. Printing is often part of publishing. Printing can be done on demand. Publishing can’t

Publishing is a complex, multi-stage process that takes a writer’s words from manuscript to books on sale. The end result of a publishing project, which may be 10,000 books or just one book -- whether pbook or ebook -- can take weeks, months or even years.

With Print On Demand, books are printed one at a time or a few at a time as orders are placed by readers through booksellers. That does not mean that a publishing company starts the entire publishing sequence whenever an order arrives. With POD, a book is produced (i.e. printed, not published) in minutes, not months. (Of course, with ebooks, publishing occurs without printing.)

So, what's the point of all this?

If you see the phrase "Publish On Demand," be very careful before you spend your money. There's a good chance that the company is fooling around with more than the English language. The shady operators in the publishing field have already distorted the meaning of "self-publishing" and "indie" and now they are demeaning and devaluing "POD."

The new Ingram Spark keeps a much bigger chunk of a publisher's money than corporate sibling Lightning Source does for the same work.

What word or phrase will be the next victim? I don't know, but I'm not optimistic.

Remember what Bill Clinton said: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." And Humpty Dumpty said: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean."

I sure wish publishers and printers would be more careful with the language they and we depend on.

(Clinton photo from the White House. Humpty drawing from Thanks.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

AMAZING: Michael N. Marcus confesses to being imperfect

Readers of this blog have likely noticed (and maybe been been pissed off by) my frequent snarking about errors made by other publishers and writers. I think it's both educational and funny.

As I say up above, "
If you present work to the public, you may be criticized. If your feelings get hurt easily, keep your work private. When you seek praise, you risk derision. Either produce pro-quality work by yourself or get help from qualified professionals."

Despite my snotty, know-it-all attitude, I readily admit to being human, and therefore both mortal and fallible. I hereby confess to three errors related to publishing.
  1. In 1976 I accused co-author Porter Bibb of bullshitting about the "baobab" tree (shown above). I thought he made it up, but the tree is real. Sorry, Porter.
  2. In my first book about publishing, I recommended using the prime and double prime to indicate feet and inches, and minutes and seconds. I illustrated that section with vertical ditto marks. I was wrong, and my later books show correctly slanted primes.
  3. In another book I reversed my description of British and American quote marks. A reviewer on Amazon caught the error and slammed me for it. I fixed it.
I've also made some errors not about publishing:
  1. I once used "prophesy" (pronounced like "prophesigh") as a verb, instead of prophesize.
  2. I twice pronounced kiosk as "ky-osk."
  3. I once pronounced acai as "ah-ky."
  4. When I was a little kid I pronounced synagogue as "sy-na-gog-you" the first time I saw it on a sign.
  5. Cynical cousin Dave doesn't like the way I pronounce "Saturn" or "buffet" -- but that's his opinion, not official errors.
Inconsistent spelling and improper punctuation should be fixed by editors. Wrong information should be corrected by fact checkers. Unfortunately, the rush to publish, limited budget and egomania ("I doan need no steenkin editor!") of many self-published authors lead to bad books. There are defective articles in magazines and newspapers. Many websites and blogs are very far from perfect, too. And so are some broadcasts. (Rachel Maddow sometimes exhibits terrible grammar, but I like her anyway.)

Time magazine has (or had) the most stringent fact-checking process in news media publishing. Apparently, their checkers were expected to put a dot over each word in a manuscript to indicate that the word was checked, verified or changed. Their checkers are not perfect. The mag once spelled the last name of MAD's Alfred E. Neuman as "Newman." I'm very sensitive to this because my middle name is Neuman. I hated the name for many years.

Rival Newsweek had been notorious for printing "Newsweek regrets the error" at the end of the letters section. Newsweek is is now a website, not a magazine.

Esquire once paid me to write an article, and months later one of the mag's fact-checkers called ME to verify something in the article. If I was not trusted to write the piece, why was I trusted to verify it?

The New York Times publishes large sections of corrections.

Some of my favorite errors:
  • The February 2009 issue of Automobile magazine told readers that Thomas Edison said, "Mr. Watson, come here." Actually, Edison was the guy with the light bulb, moving pictures, phonograph and concrete houses. Alex G. Bell was the one who spoke to Watson on the first telephone.
  • In the 1980s, a reporter for WCBS TV news used the Spanish phrase "mano a mano" to mean "man-to-man." It really means "hand-to-hand." This is a common error.
  • Every November, without fail, at least one talking head on TV will refer to the "Macy's Day Parade." The name of the holiday is Thanksgivings Day, and the event in Manhattan is the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," you idiots!
  • Another common New York broadcast blooper, at least for beginning broadcasters, is "Port of Authority." The real name of the organization is the "Port Authority of New York and New Jersey."
  • Brent Sampson is the boss of Outskirts Press and author of a promotional book titled Self Publishing Simplified. Brent wrote, "Peter Mark first published the Thesaurus in 1852," strangely ignoring the much more famous Peter Roget who published his Thesaurus in the same year. Actually Mark was the middle name of Peter Mark Roget, so Brent was two thirds right.
  • 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. 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).
  • In Against the Odds. Inter-Tel: the First 30 Years, author Jeffrey L. Rodengen claims that in the early 1970s, "there were no domestic phone system manufacturers except AT&T. He inexplicably ignores GTE, Stromberg-Carlson, ITT, Northern Telecom and Rolm. Jeff also misspells company names and seems to confuse intercom systems with phone systems.
  • In Desperate Networks by Bill Carter, an otherwise excellent book, there is this strange sentence on page 366: "What do expect for this?" What the heck does that mean? I'm only an amateur, but I found this and other flubs in the book. Where are the pros who get paid to find and fix them?
  • In So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star by Jacob Slichter, another book I liked very much, there's also some silly stuff. On page 237 it says, ". . . and did whatever the man in the headsets shouted at them to do." I've been using and selling headsets for years. I've even designed a few. But in all my experience, I've never seen a man who wore more than one headset at a time. Most men have two ears, and one headset will take care of both them just fine.
  • Steve Vogel's The Pentagon, a History is an extremely good book and I recommend it highly. Alas, it, too, has imperfections. On page 302 Steve describes a 1,000-foot-long vehicular tunnel illuminated by rows of neon lights. Neon lights are used for signs. I'd bet $20 that the tunnel was really illuminated by fluorescent lights. On page 276 Steve says the original Pentagon phone system had "68,600 miles of trunk lines." I'd bet $100 that's not true.
  • Joshua Levine's The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys is a very interesting retail history that details the destruction of a once-powerful institution by the dysfunctional family members who followed its founder. (At least it's very interesting to me, and I read a lot of retail histories.) On page 147 we are told that "inventory shortage is the term applied to discrepancies between the inventory recorded as sold and the actual depletion of stock on hand." The proper term is "shrinkage," not "shortage." Retailers know this, and so should writers and editors doing a book about retailing. On page 186, Joshua mentions "people called factors," who advance payments to stores based on accounts receivable. It's possible that hundreds of years ago factors were individual people, but during the Barneys era, factors have been companies. On page 244, Joshua tells us that Fred Pressman "didn't have the kichas for it . . . a Yiddish expression for intestinal fortitude." The proper term is kishkes. This error is unforgivable for a writer with a name like "Joshua Levine." The word originally meant "intestines," and is now slang for "guts."
  • In Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way!,  Helen Gallagher says, "Expert editing is a requirement." Sadly, Helen calls Stephen King, "Steven" and falsely claims that owns printer Lightning Source. 
  • In a Wall Street Journal article published on April 2, 2008, Amy Schatz wrote, "The Carterfone rule required traditional wireline phone companies such as AT&T to allow consumers to use any phone they wanted in their homes, instead of renting or buying a phone from their local carrier." The Carterfone decision was in 1968, but at that time the phone companies were renting, not selling phones to their customers. Sales did not come until much later, probably in the 1980s, as a defensive reaction by telephone utilities to retailers who were selling phones that could now be legally plugged in. Some smaller phone companies may have sold some equipment earlier, but not AT&T's Bell System, and the Carterfone decision did not permit massive private phone ownership. That was enabled by a Supreme Court decision in 1977. And even then, people could not "use any phone they wanted." Phones had to meet FCC standards or be connected behind a protective coupling device.
  • Back on December 12, 1988, the New York Times published an article by Calvin Sims about the aftermath of the 1984 Bell System breakup. Sims wrote, "consumers have to decide whether to buy their telephones or rent them in a market where dozens of telephone manufacturers offer equipment of varying quality." While that statement was true, it had absolutely nothing to do with the demise of the Bell System. As I stated above, freedom of choice goes back to 1977. Calvin also wrote, "Consumers must choose among the nation's three long-distance carriers -- American Telephone and Telegraph, MCI Communications, and U S Sprint." While those three companies had captured the majority of the long distance calling business, there were dozens of other regional, national, and international competitors, including ITT, Metromedia, RCI, TDX and Allnet. And if consumers did not want to make a choice, a long distance carrier could be assigned arbitrarily by the local phone company. Also, long distance competition existed as far back as 1970, long before the Bell breakup.
  • Years ago, the New York Daily News reported on a teenage fashion trend: "wearing pumice." In reality, high school kids were not wearing lumps of volcanic rock that are normally used as an abrasive to remove calluses from feet. They were wearing Pumas, a brand of sneakers.
  • The Essential Guide to Telecommunications by Annabel Z. Dodd does a pretty good job covering the subject, but has some silly errors. On page 40 she says, "Rotary telephones, called 500 sets, were introduced in 1896." Actually the 500 model designation was not used until after World War II. Before that were the 300, 200 and others.
  • In a review of "Grease" in one of New York City's tabloids, the writer explained that the title refers to the lubricants used in teenage boys' hotrods. Actually, it referred to the grease in their hair. (When I was in high school, those kids were called "greasers" -- or "hoods" or "JDs" (juvenile delinquents).
  • Sadly, I can't give you a citation, but I read an interview where someone was quoted as saying "chalk full" of something instead of "chock full." I've also read "chuck full."
  • Google shows more than 600,000 links for "anchors away." The correct term is "anchors aweigh."
IMPORTANT: If you feel the urge to make a correction, be sure you are correct. On an early job working for a magazine, I wrote something about trading-in an aging model A Ford for a new model T, and submitted my manuscript to my boss, the editor. The editor told the publisher that I made a serious error because the Model A came out after the Model T. He was wrong. What I knew, and what the editor didn’t know, was that there were two Model A Ford cars. One was first built in 1903, before the Model T, which was produced from 1908 through 1927. Another Model A was first built in 1927, after the Model T was discontinued. So, there!

This new book reveals lots more that I did wrong. It's funny, too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Today I honor a superb subhead

A book's subtitle is an amplification of the title. It says more than can be squeezed into a few words of large type. It helps sell the book to potential readers and often includes "key words" specifically chosen to attract people using search engines to find those words.

In journalism -- either on paper or online -- a subhead ("sub-headline") serves a similar purpose.

Sometime the writer of an article suggests a headline and subhead, but it may be edited or even conceived by the copyeditor.

Headlines are tougher to write than subheads because they often have very restrictive spaces to hold them. I remember struggling to write "heads" that fit in a magazine column that was just 2-1/4 inches wide at my first job as assistant editor of High Fidelity Trade News in 1969.

While the subhead is mostly utilitarian, sometimes it becomes great literature, like the following from Slate. I don't know who wrote it, but I honor that person.

There is a cost to being perpetually outraged. We have nothing left when something genuinely terrible is exposed.

(And for those of you who complain that I use this blog just to bitch about bad writing: I don't.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Humor is important to me but I learned two important reasons to not use 'funny' spelling in a title

Most people who know me (except for those who hate me) probably think I'm a pretty funny guy.

My wife often complains that I have a reckless sense of humor and I “go too far.” She’s afraid that I’m going to get into trouble like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. I think artistic expression outranks domestic tranquility. In my domicile, we have much more expression than tranquility.

Like Penn and Teller, Bart Simpson (above) and the folks on Jackass, I’ll do almost anything for a joke.

Some people have occasionally described my humor as sick, tasteless or black humor. That’s because I can find humor almost anywhere and anytime -- and that can make people uncomfortable.

I designed and wore the shirt shown up above when I went to the hospital to be treated for a kidney stone. It made people laugh and laughter is the best medicine. Most people are too serious most of the time b
ut I’m frequently able to find humor when others can’t, like when I'm awaiting surgery.

Sure, humor can hurt. Just ask the victims of laughing bullies in school, or those in nightclub audiences singled out by comedians like Don Rickles (at left).

Authors and publishers I've criticized in this blog may not have laughed at what I wrote about them. Too bad.

As it says up at the top, "
If you present work to the public, you may be criticized. If your feelings get hurt easily, keep your work private. When you seek praise, you risk derision. Either produce pro-quality work by yourself or get help from qualified professionals."

Some literary critics use sophisticated scholastic analysis in their book reviews. I prefer to go for laughs. A few victims and observers of my criticism say I should be nicer. If you want nice, buy a puppy; don't write or publish crappy books.

Sometimes humor can backfire and hurt the joker. I recently contemplated that possibility and slightly changed the titles and covers of two books. One book was published about two weeks ago and the other will be published soon. My efforts at humor could limit my books' sales and my income, so I decided that it would be better for me to be more serious than I had planned. 

Both titles have intentional spelling errors. I initially assumed that every potential reader would realize that. But maybe they won't. Maybe some super-serious (or stupid?) people would think I accidentally made the errors and didn't catch them and fix them.
  • Maybe some people would think I'm guilty of the same shortcomings that I criticize in others. (Heaven forbid!)
  • Another reason to not have deliberate misspellings in a book's title is that search engines like Google don't understand jokes (at least, not yet). They will index the misspelled term, and anyone looking for links to the properly spelled phrase will not find my books. That's not good.
Old and New, #1
Old and New, #2

Of course, just because I made these books more serious doesn't mean that I'll stop laughing, even at myself.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Authoring is not awesome anymore (at least to me).

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 40 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 2014 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 68, 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.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Authors: if you don't care about your books, why should readers?

This is probably the least-interesting cover design of all time. Maybe the poetry in the ebook is more stimulating than the cover. Will anyone find out?

Sadly, I found out. The typing, spelling and grammar inside the book are probably the worst I’ve ever seen. YIPES!

The book has a four-star review on Lulu -- posted by the poet himself!

Gerard wants us to know that this is his finest work. That's not encouraging. Neither is the sloppy typing in the review itself.

Here's what the pathetic egomaniac put on GoodReads: "wonderful collection of poetry by Irish author ,this is a flowing melodic poetry of raw honesty, this ebook will delight tantalise and frustrate you for sure"

This is the garbage he wrote about another book: "
The word's paint pictures , like an artist lovingly applies paint to a canvas , the heart and mind as one, the story between the lines , as revealing, as the tears of a broken hearted lover"

If Gerard didn't care enough to produce a quality book and proper promotion, why should a reader care enough to invest time and money?

If you produce crap, maybe the only people you'll attract are snarkers like me.

UPDATE: since the first time I wrote about Gerard, he produced a new cover. It was better -- but incredibly dull. The pages inside the book have not been improved.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What should self-publishers call themselves?

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

In 2008 I formed Silver Sands Books, intending to publish exactly one book. Publishing is addictive, and I've published about 40 books so far.

At first I called myself a "self-publisher," or a "self-publishing author," or an "independent self-publisher." Someone else in the same situation calls herself a "publishing author." Others like "entrepreneurial author" -- a particularly awkward and un-revealing term.

The worst term I've heard yet is "artisanal publisher." What does an artisanal publisher do? Does he chop down trees and carve type out of the logs and then wipe them with homemade ink and press them against parchment?
  • A publishing technology or business process should not take a paragraph or a page to explain.
  • There is no need to invent a new label if an existing label does he job.
  • Publishers are supposed to communicate, dammit.
The term "self-publish" and its variations have been taken over by the companies that used to be called "vanity presses," "subsidy publishers" or even "author mills" -- so the label can be confusing. A while ago a well-known self-published author told a new acquaintance that he was a self-publisher. The other person misunderstood and said, "how much do you charge?"

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

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

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

Now I'll say I'm a writer, publisher, author -- or "author and publisher." Benjamin Franklin and Bennet Cerf were authors and publishers, so the description works well, even though I'm not in their league. I have one business card that identifies me as a publisher and another one for me as an author. Cards are inexpensive business-builders and I can afford to have several. I get mine from VistaPrint.

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

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