Thursday, July 31, 2014

Authors: don't ignore your back covers, even for ebooks

Most authors -- but not enough authors -- pay a lot of attention the front covers of their books.

Every book that has a front cover also has a back cover (unless someone tore it off, or it’s an ebook). 

In a terrestrial bookstore, the back cover is an important selling tool. Your back cover is an advertisement. Make the most of it. It gives you an excellent opportunity to convince a prospective customer to purchase the book he or she has plucked from a shelf or display.

It’s very different when you are selling online. Amazon does not automatically show your back cover. If you want potential customers to see it and read it, you have to upload the image yourself by clicking on "Share your own customer images."

(above) It’s customary to indicate the book’s classification, such as “humor” or “gardening,” so bookstore people know where to put the book. There’s no rule against listing two classifications such as “history” and “geography” if they both apply. My newest book suggests four classifications.  Find out how competitive books are classified, and check the huge book subject list at the Book Industry Study Group. The classification is usually printed at the top of the back cover but it can be on the bottom.

(above) If you want your book to be sold by booksellers, your back cover must show an ISBN and its associated bar code, which usually go at the bottom of the back cover.

Many books have their prices printed near the ISBN bar codeand many don’t. If you don’t have a printed price, it makes it easier for you to experiment with price changes.

Here’s what else you should include on the back:
  • What the book is about and why people should buy it
  • Comments (blurbs) from readers and reviewers if available (see top photo)
  • Unless you are a superstar, your brief biography, to establish yourself as an authority in the field you are writing about (less important for fiction and poetry)
  • Your photo -- a studio portrait, not an amateur snapshot (unless it is elsewhere in the book)
  • Name of publishing company, with city, state and web URL
  • (Optional) list price for United States and possibly other countries, particularly Canada

Your back cover needs as much attention as your front cover -- in writing, editing, design and formatting. The back cover shown above has many problems:
  • The first two ‘sentences’ are not really sentences.
  • The second ‘sentence’ has three unnecessary apostrophes.
  • The last sentence has one unnecessary apostrophe.
  • The third sentence has an unnecessary comma -- and probably should be several sentences.
  • The text has full justification, but lacks hyphens, so there are horrible gaps between words.
  • The writing also has problems. In the last sentence in the second paragraph, “poses” is probably not the best word to use. In the last paragraph, Malik is described as “conscious.” The proper word is probably “conscientious.” Where was the editor?
IMPORTANT: If you are publishing an ebook, you can show an "artificial back cover" on booksellers' websites. It can be the back cover of the print edition, if there is one, or an image made specifically for selling the ebook. Make it a powerful selling device. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How do you start to write a book?

  1. Decide on your primary objective(s): Change the world, entertain the world, educate, inform, preserve memories, personal fulfillment, fun, money, fame, status, revenge, something else.
  2. Decide on your target audience. If your audience is 'everyone,' it will be very expensive to reach them. If your target is too small, you may not sell enough books to make money. Your mother may be wonderful, but your potential sales of a book about her may be seven books. Or two. More on choosing a topic 
  3. Check out the competition. Does the world really need another barbecue cookbook, JFK bio or post-apocalypse teenage vampire sex novel? More about competition
  4. Come up with about ten possible titles, then cut back to three, and then one. More about choosing a title
  5. Even if you have no artistic talent, make some rough cover designs. More about covers
  6. Write a one-paragraph book description that could go on the back of the book cover and on booksellers' websites, and should keep you focused. Now produce a one-sentence summary you can recite if someone asks what your book is about.
  7. Read books for authors. Many are reviewed at Books for Authors
  8. Write. How to deal with writer's block 
  9. Oh yeah, if you plan to write poetry, forget about making money.
  10. Think about how it's going to be published: (A) traditional royalty-paying publisher (difficult for a first-time author), (B) self-publishing company, (C) your own little publishing company. If you are considering A, this book will help. If you are considering B or C, this book will help

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Don't clutter your bio with irrelevant crap

It's common to have an "about the author" section on the back cover and/or inside a book, as well as on booksellers' and publishers' websites.
  • For a nonfiction book, the primary purpose of the "about" is to convince prospective purchasers that the author has appropriate experience and knowledge so the book can be relied on.
  • For fiction or nonfiction, the section may reveal a bit about the personal life of the author. It may even be entertaining if entertainment is appropriate to the mood of the book.
  • The section may also list awards the author has won.

(left-click to enlarge)
The back cover excerpted above is from Confessions of a Disco Queen...30 Some Years Ago by Veronica Page. 
  • Is the fact that Veronica now lives (or previously lived) in Phoenix an important reason to buy a book about what happened in New York City four decades earlier?
  • Should potential readers care that she graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Wilfred Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture?
  • Does her "Certificate of Completion in Independent Filmmaker and Producer's Diploma from Dov S-S Simens" mean she is a good writer?
  • Should we care that she has been in Los Angeles and Brussels?
  • Does her ownership of two hair salons imply writing talent?
  • Should we ignore the sloppy writing in the bio?
(left-click to enlarge)
The text above is from 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing by Kevin Sivils.)
  • Knowing that his teams won 464 times does not mean he knows a lot about book publishing. Or anything about book publishing.
  • Knowing that he had studied social studies and kinesiology does not imply that he knows a recto from a verso, or a recto from a rectum.
  • Knowing that Kevin is happily married does not guarantee that he knows a serif from a fleuron.
  • Knowing that he taught gym and that his wife's maiden name was Green and that she comes from Jackson, Michigan does not mean that we should believe him when he says that the copyright page often goes opposite the title page. (It does not.)
  • Knowing the names of his kids and dogs, or that he thinks that Texas is great (actually he uppercases it as "Great"), provides absolutely no reason to buy, read or believe the book.

Eunice Owusu wrote the awkwardly named, physically ugly, poorly written and unedited The Truth and the Corruption of the American System. The 95-page hardcover sells for (OMG!) $24.99. The author has some important things to say but her message is diluted and distorted by bad presentation, and lack of help from publisher Xlibris. Sales are apparently infinitesimal. 

Eunice tells us on the back cover, and inside the book and on multiple websites: "I was born in Ghana and came to America about twenty-five years ago. I was married for twenty years and now separated with one child, who is seventeen years old. He lives with me in Houston, Texas. I attended Northern Virginia Community College and graduated in the year 2002 with Associate Degree in Legal Assisting. I transferred to George Mason University in Virginia, Texas Southern University in Texas, and now I am in my final year at the University of Houston in Texas, major in Political Science and eventually transfer to Law School." 
  • Does any of this provide a reason to buy a book about what's wrong with America?
  • Do we care about her bad marriage?
  • Do we care about her bad writing?
  • Are we impressed by Northern Virginia Community College?
  • Do we care about the age of the author's son?
  • Do we know or care how old he is now, or that at one point he lived in Houston?
  • Should we have to do research to determine if the author graduated from the University of Houston and actually went to law school?

Jamie A. Saloff wrote the useful-but-sloppy book shown above. The title is so long (more than 260 characters and spaces), I don't feel like typing or even pasting it in here.
  • Jamie tells us that she is a graduate of the Fellowships of the Spirit. That's not the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Yale University School of Art or the Rhode Island School of Design. Does that information convince you that Jamie knows about preparing a book for printing on demand?
  • Also, if you have an abbreviated credential that needs explaining, such as Jamie's "CM" (Certified Metaphysician, or maybe Certified Manager or Condition Monitor), either explain it or delete it.

The websites of businesses, including publishing companies, frequently include bios of executives. The "Meet the Executives" section of the Morgan James Publishing site provides the following useless information:

  • Cindy attended Elim Bible College in Lima, New York . . .  Cindy and her husband, David, live in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia.
  • Rick and his wife Robbi live in Long Island, New York with their two Havanese puppies, Cody and Cooper. They have three children: Adam, Rachel, and Stephanie.
  • He has appeared on stage with notables such as Sir Richard Branson, The Dalai Lama, T. Harv Eker, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Tony Hsieh, David Bach, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar and Brendon Burchard.

If a life experience is not related to the subject of your book, leave it out (or make it the last part of your bio).

Avoid the presentation of stale news. Maybe you were a student at the Vermont Academy of Veterinary Dentistry when your book was written, but if someone reads your bio a decade later your situation will probably have changed.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Authorhouse employs a bunch of idiots who should be banned from publishing, and maybe from the planet.

Many observers, including me, have repeatedly pointed out that the various book brands of Author Solutions produce overpriced crap that earns the wrath of authors and readers.

I've just uncovered one more bit of evidence. No legitimate publisher or author services company would turn out a book with a back cover filled with as many errors as this one:

Tammie Paige may be "a woman of many passions and talents" -- but writing in English is not one of her talents.

This is what she submitted to an online writers' group:  "Many you can help me with my problem. Well I think I made a huge mistake by choosing the wrong publishing company. Well I sent my children’s book along with my illustrations and paid close to 500. dollars. Every thing was finally sent to the printer, people began to order my book and suddenly when I received my hardcopy their was atleast 25 text errors. How in the blank could a publishing company do this to a new and inexperienced author. So Im left with resubmitting my book and additional fee’s. What should I do. Please help me."

I feel sorry for the disillusioned author, but she was clearly not prepared to write a book without major assistance.

The company brags, "you collaborate with a personal team of AuthorHouse consultants . . ." Apparently their average IQ is somewhere below the level of a sponge. 

The thin 44-page paperback has a cover price of $17.60. It's no wonder that its Amazon sales rank is around 4.5 million!

Friday, July 25, 2014

A book's press release should not sound like an advertisement

The press release -- sometimes called a "news release" or "media release" -- is a vital part of book promotion. It is used to attract the attention of writers, editors and book reviewers who may become allies in creating publicity which can sell books.

Remember that the mere publication of your book is not usually sufficiently newsworthy to impress anyone. Only the most desperate small-town weekly would publish an article with the headline: “Local Woman Writes Book.”

Your news release needs a news hook.
  • The hook is the main point of your release.
  • It can be a theme, statement, trend or event on which you “hang” your news release.
  • It’s also a hook with delicious bait on it that you hope will attract the attention of writers, reporters and editors.

To grab the attention of news people, you have to think and act like one of them. You need to be a partner, not just a salesperson. Think like a news writer, not a book writer. If you were reporting news, what would interest you and your readers?

A press release should be newsworthy and read like a news story -- not an advertisement. It should adhere to fundamental journalistic standards, using the five W’s and one H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How). Write something that you’d like to read about your book if someone else wrote it.

Some “reviewers” are too busy or too lazy to actually read your book, and will merely rewrite or reprint your release. Many websites automatically redistribute press releases.

The release that follows is a gushing advertisement -- not news. It's the same text that was used as product descriptions on booksellers' websites and was easily ignored by the news media. It has some silly errors. Also, the book has an awkward title and is terribly overpriced ($29.95 for the hardcover, $21.95 for the paperback). 

For Immediate Release

“Confessions of a Disco Queen…30 some years ago”
Marries Fashion with Passion

Set in the tumultuous time of the 1970's, “Confessions of a Disco Queen…30 some years ago” dares to ask provocative questions about race, culture, and the human need to connect.

Sensual and heart breaking in turns, author Veronica Page takes readers through the true story of her desire to succeed in the fashion industry amid the hot box of racial struggle in New York City. Told in the tune of disco against the sweeping backdrop of elaborate fashion shows, “Confessions of a Disco Queen…30 some years ago” immerses the reader in the day to day hardships of living as a black woman in a world that balks at both her gender and race.

Page weaves narrative with her own published newspaper articles, lush fashion descriptions with steamy romance, and cruel reality with laugh out loud honesty to create a novel that brims over with life.

Deidre Berry, author of The Next Best Thing and All About Eva, says, "Pazge [sic] has lived a life worth reading about. Hold on to your seats as she takes you on a thrilling ride through New York City during the decadent disco era."

To arrange a book signing, radio and print interviews, please contact Managing Partner, Talib Tauhid at or call (480) 208-5510. Or to purchase the book, visit the website or or

If you want to avoid disasters like this one, my one-buck-ebook will help.

Fish cartoon from Thanks.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Your author portrait is important. Don't have a bad one.

Every author needs a portrait -- for books, websites, blogs, Twitter, press kits, posters, etc. and to go on their books.

Famous authors like Suze Orman have their faces on the front covers of their books. Pretentious but not-famous authors like Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson also display themselves on the front. Not-famous and not-pretentious authors usually show their faces on the backs of their booksI'm only slightly famous and slightly pretentious.

My newest book shows my highly modified face on the front cover. It's a very personal book, so it's appropriate for my face to be there. If I was writing about Richard Nixon, chocolate cake or the Peloponnesian Wars, my face would be on the back.

Unfortunately, many authors use amateur photos with bad lighting, bad focus and distracting backgrounds. The price of a portrait shot in a professional photographer’s studio can easily be in the $300-$1,000 range, which is too steep for many writers who don’t have a big publisher to pick up the check.

Fortunately, there are good, low-cost alternatives which few authors think of -- the photo studios inside retail stores such as JCPenney and Target (not Sears or Walmart anymore). While most of their business involves babies and family Christmas cards, those studios will take pictures of solitary adults, often at ridiculously low prices (typically $7.99-$65).

The photographer will be thrilled to have a subject who doesn’t vomit or require funny faces to elicit a smile.

If you’re getting one picture, choose a plain white background which can later be altered using Photoshop. Get a CD-ROM, not a bunch of wallet-sized prints.

(below) An author photo should be of the author -- only.

(below) An author photo should not have any distracting elements.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What can go wrong with a book?
Here are 50 ways I messed up

Some sad rules of life in book publishing: 

(1) The bigger the book, the more errors it will have.
(2) Every time you try to correct an error, you risk creating more errors.
(3) If you strive for perfection, you will never complete the book.
(4) No book is perfect.
(5) Errors will be caught by readers, reviewers and nitpickers like me.

Carefully check your book for bloopers. (I've been guilty of all of them.)
  1. Factual errors
  2. Spelling errors
  3. Grammar errors
  4. Words or dates you meant to fill in "later" but didn't
  5. Wrong typefaces, particularly when text is pasted-in from another source
  6. Commas that should be periods -- and vice versa
  7. Straight punctuation that should be curly "typographers' marks"
  8. Curlies that curl in the wrong direction
  9. Missing spaces between paragraphs or sections 
  10. Flush-left justification that should be full justification
  11. Bad justification in the last line of a page
  12. Chopped-off descenders where you decreased line spacing (leading) or if the bottom of a text box is too close to the text
  13. Wrong-size bullets
  14. Text not aligned at tops of pages. (Professional page formatters try to align tops and bottoms.)
  15. Rivers
  16. Too-big word spacing
  17. Normal letters that should be ligatures (more for large type than in body text).
  18. Accidental spaces after bullets
  19. Improper hyphenation
  20. Misaligned numbers in a list
  21. Roman text that should be italic, and vice versa
  22. Normal text that should be boldface, and vice versa 
  23. Ignoring highlighted warnings in MS Word.
  24. Automatically accepting MS Word suggestions 
  25. Gray text that should be black.
  26. Insufficient space adjacent to images
  27. Images or text boxes that floated over the margin.
  28. Images or text boxes that 'slid' down and covered up footers
  29. Missing periods at sentence ends 
  30. Missing opening or closing quote marks.
  31. Missing page numbers
  32. Pages with numbers that should not show numbers (blind folios)
  33. Periods that should be inside a closing parentheses -- or outside
  34. Repeated words 
  35. Wrong headers, missing headers, switched verso and recto headers
  36. Subheads that are too close to the text above and too far from the text below
  37. Too much space between lines in a multi-line title, chapter name or subhead
  38. Inconsistencies such as 3pm on one page and 3 P.M. on another.
  39. Inaccurate internal referrals such as "see comments on page 164" 
  40. Words that shifted from the bottom of one page to the top of the next page
  41. Chapter names and page numbers in the table of contents that don't reflect a change made in the actual chapter name or the first page of the chapter
  42. Chapters missing from the TOC.
  43. A topic not in the index because you added something after completing the index
  44. Words that should have been deleted but were not
  45. Names that were changed in some places but not in all places
  46. Paragraphs that accidentally merged
  47. Missing photo or illustration credits 
  48. Credits for deleted photos or illustrations.
  49. Photos or illustrations accidentally flipped left-to-right
  50. Wrong ISBN or other information on the copyright page 
I'll discuss errors on book covers in the future.

(dog photo from

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Another reason to update your old books

In the old (pre-print-on-demand) days, popular books were "reprinted" when inventory was exhausted but readers and booksellers wanted to buy more. A second printing often had corrections of the errors that had escaped the editors and proofreaders of the first version.

Successive printings may have more corrections and updates (if someone died or a war ended, for example).

A major revision -- if warranted by sales -- would be called a "second edition," a "new edition," a "revised edition," an "enlarged edition" or maybe an "updated edition" and would likely have additional material as well as updates and corrections.

With POD, since there is little or no inventory that would be obsoleted by the existence of newer versions, it's easy and inexpensive to make corrections and updates at any time. With ebooks, of course, there is no physical inventory. With either POD or E, the cost of updating a book is probably somewhere between zero and a couple of hundred bucks.

For an active author, it can be worth the expense of updating books even if they don't need corrections or updating.

If readers like one book you've written you hope they will buy your other books. There is no better place to let happy readers know what else you've written than inside the book they are reading. Of course you can provide a list of titles, but you can also have brief summaries, maybe a blurb or two and maybe display the covers. An ebook can even have hyperlinks to booksellers' websites where the books are on sale.

My early books listed just a handful of other titles. My recent books show dozens and I am gradually expanding the lists is my older books.

Every book is an advertisement for an author's other books. Take advantage of a captive audience.

If your book list is short enough to fit on one page, put it in the front matter. If you need more than one page, put it in the back matter. You should also have lists of your blogs, websites and social media pages.

Monday, July 21, 2014

You love your book but don't give it a hickey

A hickey (also known as a love bite or kiss mark) is a bruise formed by bursting blood vessels under the skin while biting or sucking the skin. The marks typically last a week or two and can be concealed with makeup or clothing -- or displayed proudly.

Jean Shepherd, one of my literary gods, wrote Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories.

(above) In printing, a hickey (also known as a bull’s eye or fish eye) is a spot or imperfection on a printed paper caused by dirt.

(above) When newspapers were “pasted up” by hand it was common for extraneous strips of paper with text on them, or nothing on them, to get dropped onto what would become the printing plate -- and their images would be printed. (Newspaper article above was written by yours truly for the Brown & White at Lehigh University in 1966 -- when college students used slide rules, cigarettes cost 27 cents a pack and there were no iPads. However, sex had been invented.)

(above) It’s unlikely that you will encounter those problems in a book made with software, a PDF and print on demand -- but there is a 21stcentury version of the hickey.

If you use the "Print Screen" function of your computer, or software such as Snagit, you might accidentally capture an image with a cursor or pointer in it. Be careful.

Top photo from Janek B. via Wikipedia. Thanks.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Back list, midlist, front list, winter list, black list, listless?

Traditional publishers plan long in advance for books to become available at specific times. There's generally a “fall list” and “spring list” (or maybe a “fall/winter” and “spring/summer” list) of new books. Books may also debut for the winter holiday season, summer vacation, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Election Day, etc.

Although I have not been able to find any, I assume that at one time publishers’ book lists were simple one-page price lists that salesmen used when selling to bookstores. Now many “lists” are thick color catalogs, website pages or PDF downloads.

In addition to the seasonal lists, books are listed (i.e., classified) according to importance.
  • A “front list” book is new, expected to sell well and receives a lot of promotional effort.
  • A “back list” book was probably published years ago. Sales are not so dismal that the book goes out-of-print, but it receives little or no promotional effort.
  • A “midlist” book, as you might assume, is between front and back. Most books are midlist.
  • Midlist and backlist books are important in publishing because they bring in money year after year with little or no effort or expense. Some writers are referred to as “midlist authors.”
The front, mid and back designations relate to the position of a book in a publisher’s catalog, or state of mind. Being on the backlist is not necessarily an insult. Simon & Schuster’s backlisters include Pulitzer-Prize-winner David McCullough and Nobel-Prize-winner Ernest Hemingway.

A black list, on the other hand, is a list of things or people to avoid. Try not to be on one of those.

(From my new 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cover your book before you write it

(My first book, published by Doubleday in 1977)

If you write a book that gets published by a traditional publisher, it can take three years to find an agent and for the agent to find a publisher who will accept you and produce the book. In this long process, one of the last things that gets done is cover design.

The author may have some input, but the publisher has the final say on the design -- and even on the title of the book, which can certainly influence the way the cover looks.

If you are working with a self-publishing company, the time between writing and printing is compressed from years to months, but the cover still comes after the writing.

But in independent self-publishing, I've found (speaking after self-pubbing more than 40 books) that it can be very useful to have a cover design even before the first word is written.

This preliminary cover was designed a few years ago. I hadn't started writing the book yet.

You don't have to have a final design (in fact, you shouldn't) but even a "rough layout" will help solidify the project in your mind. The more real the book is to you, the more likely you are to keep typing. If you have front and back covers, and a financial investment in what you've paid your designer to produce, it's natural to want to fill the space between the covers and start selling some books.

  • Living with a cover design over a period of months while you write can be very useful. There can be, and should be, an interaction between the exterior and interior of the book. Exterior and interior will evolve together.
The back cover of the book should have a strong indication of what's in the book -- a reason for book-store shoppers to to carry it from the shelf to the cash register and for online shoppers to click to buy. It could be your last opportunity to make a sale, so make it a strong sales pitch!

The back of the book will also be very useful to you while you're writing. It's a summary -- maybe even a statement of principles -- that should help to keep you focused and remind you of what you had in mind when you first conceived the book.
  • It's normal for the words on the cover to change as you write words for the inside. Sometimes the title may change. Sometimes you just have a "working title" and the final title emerges from deep inside the book. Sometimes you'll come up with a new subtitle, or even swap title and subtitle.
From a strictly business standpoint, having a preliminary title and cover allows you to start promotion to build awareness and desire in advance. If you have an "author" website, your future covers should be shown there, along with brief descriptions and approximate publication dates. If you blog, show your next book(s) on the blog, like I've done.

At the top/left below is the latest version of the former 'Mona Lisa' cover. It has a new title and is now part of a series of books with comic-book style covers.:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ampersand Aversion? Was a book cover altered because of complaints?

The ampersand is often used in business names and logos such as A&P, AT&T, Barnes & Noble, Bain & Company and Simon & Schuster.

It is inappropriate in book text, but is sometimes used to save space on book covers.

I have used the ampersand on at least one of my covers (in subtitles). Some language purists hate the ampersand.

While researching a book I'm writing about typography, I spent a lot of time trying to find a book cover with an ampersand on it, that I did not publish.

I ultimately gave up, but a few hours later the FedEx guy brought me two good books -- about typography and graphic design -- with ampersands on the covers.

Strangely, as shown on, the text on the cover of the white space book was later altered to replace one ampersand with “and.”

Maybe the publisher expected people to complain. Maybe people did complain.

But why was the second ampersand allowed to stay?

Will the cover be changed again now that I've published this?

Stay tuned for future unimportant developments.

I'm happily persnickety and probably the only one in the world who notices or cares about this stuff.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It's dangerous to trust a sepll-checker, or to not use one

While the spell-checking function in word processing software will usually — but not always — spot an improperly spelled word, it won’t spot a wrong word that’s spelled correctly.

In the surprise bestseller, Go the F*ck to Sleep, Adam Mansbach wrote, “The lambs have laid down with the sheep.”
• “Laid” is spelled correctly, but the correct word is “lain.”

In The Successful Writer’s Handbook, Patricia L. Fry wrote, “One writer I know had a cubical constructed in her garage to use as an office.”
• “Cubical” is spelled correctly, but the correct word is “cubicle.”

In Best in Self-Publishing & Print-on-demand, David Rising  wrote, “for all participates.”
• “Participates” is not a spelling error; it’s the wrong word. “Participants” was the right word, but the spell-checking robot didn’t realize it.

In Release Your Writing, Helen Gallagher wrote, “They work is not cheap . . . .” 
• “They” is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, the correct word is “Their.”

In an early version of one of my books, I typed “The photographer will be thrilled to have a subject who does not vomit on her, or require funny faces to illicit a smile.”
• “Illicit is a properly spelled but incorrect word. The correct word is “elicit.” Editor Sheila M. Clark caught the error.

While you can’t rely 100% on your spell-checker software, you should use it.

In Principles of Self Publishing, Theresa A. Moore wrote about an alleged “exhorbitant shipping fee” The fee was actually reasonable, but the spelling is not. There is no “h” in “exorbitant.”
  • A spell checker would have caught the error.
Theresa wrote, “I don't use the spell checker. I use a dictionary. Oxford American. The standard spelling I learned had an ‘h.’”

She probably was taught properly, but confused “exorbitant” with “exhort.” She also misspelled “propaganda.”

Ironically, Theresa says, “a misspelled word can stand out like a red flag in a cornfield” and “It is vitally important for you to have a clear grasp of spelling . . . .” She’s right about that, but did not heed her own warning. Pathetic.

It’s good to have a dictionary, but unless you’re unsure about a word, you won’t check it. A spell-checker, while imperfect, is on duty even when you have no doubt.

(Graphic image from Thanks.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sometimes it's better to not read your new book. But LOOK at it closely

Here's an important proofreading tip I discovered the hard way: after you've read your new masterpiece 183 times, sit a bit farther back from your computer screen and LOOK at the pages -- don't read them.

You'll probably be amazed at all of the errors you detect when you are not concerned with content, meaning and story-telling artistry.

I aim my eyes at the nine-o'clock position and make a clockwise scan on each page, but do what works best for you.

Check your book for these bloopers:
  1. Wrong typefaces, particularly when text is pasted-in from another source
  2. Commas that should be periods -- and vice versa
  3. Straight punctuation that should be curly "typographers' marks"
  4. Curlies that curl in the wrong direction
  5. Missing spaces between paragraphs or sections (!!!!!!)
  6. Flush-left justification that should be full justification
  7. Bad justification in the last line of a page
  8. Chopped-off descenders where you decreased line spacing (leading) or if the bottom of a text box is too close to the text
  9. Wrong-size bullets
  10. Rivers
  11. Too-big word spacing
  12. Normal letters that should be ligatures (more for large type than in body text).
  13. Accidental spaces after bullets
  14. Improper hyphenation
  15. Misaligned numbers in a list
  16. Roman text that should be italic, and vice versa
  17. Normal text that should be boldface, and vice versa 
  18. Ignoring highlighted warnings in MS Word.(!!!!!!)
  19. Automatically accepting MS Word suggestions (!!!!!!)
  20. Gray text that should be black.
  21. Insufficient space adjacent to images
  22. Images or text boxes that floated over the margin.
  23. Images or text boxes that 'slid' down and covered up footers
  24. Missing periods at sentence ends (!!!!!!)
  25. Missing opening or closing quote marks.
  26. Periods that should be inside a closing parentheses -- or outside
  27. Repeated words (!!!!!!)
  28. Wrong headers, missing headers, switched verso and recto headers
  29. Subheads that are too close to the text above and too far from the text below
  30. Too much space between lines in a multi-line title, chapter name or subhead
  31. Inconsistencies such as 3pm on one page and 3 P.M. on another.
  32. Pages with numbers that should not show numbers (blind folios)
  33. Words that shifted from the bottom of one page to the top of the next page
  34. And one that does require reading: chapter names and page numbers in the table of contents that don't reflect a change made in the actual chapter name
  35. And another: chapters missing from the TOC.
  36. And another: a topic not in the index because you added something after completing the index
  37. And another: words that should have been deleted but were not, and may have accidentally been shifted into another part of a paragraph
  38. And another: names that were changed in some places but not in all places (!!!!!!)
(Eye photo from Microsoft. Thanks.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Do these books have the worst indexes in the world?

I previously declared that the world's worst index was in Best in Self-Publishing & Print-On-Demand by David Rising, a charter member of the Self-Publishing Hall of Shame.

The index was apparently assembled by a robot and never checked by a homo sapiens. A smart orangutan or lemur might have made a better index.

(above) In the index, before the “A” topics, we have topics beginning with $, 3 and 7. The index typography is a strange mix of standard, boldface and underlined text, has no system for capitalization and uses different typefaces. Even email addresses appear in the index. There are terms that no one would ever look for, like "hobby" and "private." Some terms are listed twice. Do we really need 72 DPI as well as 72 DPI. with a period after it? (Both are on the same page, BTW.)

Expected terms and names are left out. The front cover screams, “How to Get Published Free.” The word “free” is not indexed, and I couldn’t find anything about free book publishing inside the book.

Helen Gallagher wrote an ugly, sloppy, padded, inaccurate and poorly edited book titled Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way!

(above) Helen produced the second-worst index I've ever seen. Readers really don't need separate listings for both "distributors" and "Distributors," or "marketing" and "Marketing," or "publishers" and "Publishers," or "small press," "small presses" and "Small Presses."

Most nonfiction pbooks need an index. Microsoft Word can produce an index, but it will be ugly and confusing without proper setup -- and intervention.

Some important tips:
  1. Remove duplicate listings. The same word shown in both roman and italic type, or with and without Initial Uppercase Letters, or in singular and plural form does not deserve two listings.
  2. Don't include any terms that nobody would look for.
  3. If you add or remove pages, update the index so page numbers will be accurate.
  4. Make sure that you include important terms, especially if they are on your cover or in your promotional material.
  5. Names should be listed under the last name.
  6. Check spelling.
Even some good books have bad indexes. All books don't need indexes. If you are sure you need to have an index, be prepared to invest a lot of time in it (when you might rather be doing something else) or maybe invest money to have someone else do it. There are professional indexers in the UK and in the USA who can do quality work without complaining.

I now have the distinct displeasure to announce a tie for "World's Worst Index," in The Great Black Hope by Constance Kluesener Gorman.

The book is a confusing mix of sports and spirituality. The author claims to be a Christian Mystic "favored with the gifts of prophecy, healing, miracles and private revelation from God."  It would be better if she had the gift of proper indexing.

On an online authors' forum she complained about poor sales despite extensive publicity.

There are many reasons why a book may not sell well. It's important to keep in mind that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising

Book previews on websites plus downloadable free samples can make potential purchasers aware of problems which keep them from buying the book.

The author's website, Amazon description and book badly need editing. Obvious errors in grammar and typography scream AMATEUR.

The index should be severely edited, or just deleted.

Who is going to try to find a page about "birthday" or "Mike?" Why does Lawrence Taylor have one citation under "LT" but eleven without the "LT?" Why is Mentor in boldface and  gunfire in italics? There seems to be no system for uppercasing, italicizing and boldfacing. The index lists both depression and Depression. Levi Jones is listed twice. People are listed under first names, not last. "Kroger's.," should be "Kroger,"

Did anyone look at this stinking mess before I did?