Friday, August 29, 2014

Are you as stupid as I am? (sometimes)

Sheila M. Clark, my hawk-eyed editor, noticed that I had used the word "illicit" instead of "elicit" in a new book ABOUT PUBLISHING MISTAKES we're working on. Some of my books share material so I checked and found the error in three books. It was also on one of my websites and on this blog.

As a renowned and committed nitpicker, I am deeply embarrassed by this horrible senior moment (a.k.a. "brain fart").

OTOH, I am greatly disappointed that none of you folks caught the error. It would have been a great opportunity to dump on me for being a damn hypocrite.

There are lessons for all writers and publishers in this, of course:
  1. A spell-checker won't let you know if you have used the wrong word, but spelled it properly.
  2. Heterographs and homophones are dangerous. 
  3. All writers need editors. Even editors who write need editors.
  4. The English language is a minefield.
  5. Nobody is perfect -- even nitpickers like me.
Will this recent failure mean that I'll become mellow, tolerant, compassionate and understanding? Will I stop complaining about other people's fuckups?

Naah! To err is human. It can also be funny.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Is this book promotion, or is it a joke?

KALKIE and the Paranormals
of The Third World War

"It is year 2055 and the whole world is grip with panic. There are thousands of death world over due to strange reasons. The first is brain cancer of a special type in which there is slow paralysis. Firstly the leg stops working, and then the hands stop working. Next there is vision loss and finally a person dies. The second major cause of death is snake bite. A special kind of snake had started appearing in parts of USA, Europe, Australia and India. The snake bites the people and people die within 20 minutes. The strange thing about the snake was that it was biting only important and successful people. The locations of snake bite were strange- sometimes in the bedroom, sometimes in the kitchen and sometimes even in the office. The people are baffled how snakes are appearing in such inaccessible locations. A team of experts and detectives gathered in Atlanta to discover the root cause of this menace. And what they discovered was startling. It lead to the third world war and kalkie- the defence minister of India plays a major role in establishing a new world order. The prophecies of Nostradamus come true and Mabus – the king of Terror is born. When Kalkie rides the white horse to defeat Mabus with the Bow in his hand, the people of the world are revered. They think that Kalkie is none other than avatar of Lord Vishnu."


The 74-page apparently unedited paperback has an Amazon sales rank below 10 million.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why is Outskirts Press still alive?

Outskirts Press is an often-awful pay-to-publish company. Its people do so many things so badly that they are a frequent topic for this blog. The web has many complaints from unhappy author-customers.

A few years ago I wrote a book, Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy: The Strange Story of Vanity Publisher Outskirts Press. How Do They Stay in Business? The book needs to be updated but I now think I know what the last chapter will be: "Outskirts Press goes out of business."

For several years Outskirts had decent positions in the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing private companies in the USA. Four years ago Outskirts plummeted from the 500 into the 5000. The company still touted its dubious achievement, assuming that readers would not notice that FIVE THOUSAND is not the same number as FIVE HUNDRED."

Well, I noticed.

Last year at this time I wrote: "Prior to 2012, Outskirts Press boss Brent Sampson (the same guy who confused 'foreword' and 'forward') used his blog to brag in advance about his company's pending Inc. position. This year -- and in 2012 -- Brent had nothing to say in advance of the announcement, a wise move."

Now, in 2014, Brent has nothing to brag about. Strangely -- and ominously -- he stopped blogging last January and had nothing to say until two days ago, with a post that kisses the asses of some of his publishing customers. 

  • In 2009, Outskirts had a ranking of #268 (part of the top-performing "Inc. 500").
  • In 2010, Outskirts dropped out of the 500 and was ranked #1266.
  • In 2011, the Outskirts ranking dropped to #3088.
  • In 2012, the company ranked #4530, getting perilously close to the bottom of the barrel.
I wrote, "In 2013, if the trend continues, Outskirts will not even be in the 5000."

Well, it happened.
 - - - -

So, is it over for Outskirts? Are we just waiting for the fat lady to sing? 

Consider the following:
As recently as this morning, Outskirts Press still called itself "the fastest-growing full-service publishing provider." It would be hard to justify that boast -- and Inc. disagrees. [below] Last year and this year Outskirts completely vanished from the Inc. lists of the 500 and 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the United States.

(2) Outskirts faces considerably richer competitors with bigger staffs possessing broader experience. The multi-brand Author Solutions behemoth now belongs to publishing giant Penguin Random House. CreateSpace is now part of Lulu had to cancel its planned public stock offering but seems to be reinvigorated, recently broadening distribution, reducing prices and adding executives and programs.

(3) Other small self-publishing companies such as Vantage, Aachanon and McKinney have recently closed. They failed to deal successfully with the same pressures facing Outskirts. Arbor Books emphasizes ghostwiting over self-publishing. Other companies' websites show no recent books. Horrible PublishAmerica has renamed itself America Star Books, with a new niche -- helping ignorant non-Americans to publish in the USA.

(4) According to the info published by Inc., sales at Outskirts dropped from 2010 to 2011 and there was a tiny increase from 2011 to 2012 -- a time of tremendous growth in self-publishing -- and Outskirts employment has remained at three lonely folks since 2009. The Outskirts website contains just three "executive profiles," and two of them are Sampsons. Judging by the many errors in the company's website and press releases, and complaints by authors, the tiny staff is inadequate. 

(5) Many new competitors have appeared, particularly concentrating on ebooks.

(6) More and more authors realize that they can publish without the hand-holding provided by Outskirts, and can probably publish faster and more profitably.

(7) Outskirts Press skipped recent Self-Publishing Book Expos and does not exhibit at Book Expo America -- where an increasing number of competitors vie for attention of authors and media.

(8) Even after 12 years, Outskirts is apparently still a home-based business, using a UPS Store as a mailing address. 

(9) Boss Bent Sampson has drastically reduced and weakened his blogging. Instead of posting about a wide range of book-publishing topics nearly every business day, now Brent does little more than tout his own company, and seldom does even that. I don't know if Brent has earned so much money that he can spend his days fishing or golfing, or if he is so depressed that he can't stand going to work. An un-engaged Chief Executive Officer/Chief Marketing Officer is not good for the company's future. He no longer calls himself president. I wonder why?

(10) The growing importance of inexpensive ebooks means less revenue per book for publishers, fewer physical books to be sold to authors, and less need for such profitable tchotchkes as bookmarks. 

(11) The Outskirts website continues to tout the success, in 2008 - '09, of author Gang Chen ("Self Publishing Author Earns Over $100,000 in Just Six Months with Outskirts Press") even though Chen left Outskirts to form his own publishing company. Apparently Outskirts has no recent superstar to brag about.

(12) Outskirts is trying to broaden its base by offering "Full-service Christian publishing" in competition with experienced specialists including Xulon, Westbow and Crossbooks. Is this a desperate Hail Mary pass? 

(13) I realize that it's natural for companies' growth to slow down as they mature. I realize that the Inc. ratings are relative rankings of growth, and a company's rank may drop simply because other companies are having growth spurts. However, Outskirts's claim to be "the fastest-growing full-service publishing provider" seems to be unprovable and should be dropped if not provable.

(14) Perhaps the most revealing -- Brent wrote: "No company plans to fail . . . Being prepared for that possibility is the responsibility of the executives at every company. That’s why, at Outskirts Press, we have a cash-flush savings account devoted solely for our authors exclusively for this purpose, so that all outstanding royalties would still be paid to them and any remaining authors in the pipeline would receive refunds." 

I've never seen a similar statement on any other publisher's website. Brent wants to instill confidence in authors and prospective authors, but it sure sounds like he is anticipating going out of business. 


Gravestone photo from Thanks 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

And now I'll attack what may be the world's worst book announcement

Analyzing an announcement for a book I'll NEVER read -- even if the book was not absurdly overpriced and did not have a dreadful video.

In his latest book, self-publishing Outskirts Press author [a horrible adjectival phrase] , Charles Hall, perches readers [Hmm. I didn't know that "perch" could be a transitive verb.] on the pinnacles [Is that more fun than being on "tenterhooks?"] of suspense as the retired mercenary, Gylfalin, [Isn't he the guy who discovered the Hidden Kingdom of Haagen-Dazs?] and his cousin, Pendaran the Archer [Named after a mythical island in a role-playing game, or maybe it's an employee-training company], try to rescue captives and mount a defense against the Khan, an Eastern despot [Played by Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan -- not to be confused with Kublai Khan, Agha Khan, Aly Khan, Alyy Khann, any of the Bollywood Khans, or Herman Kahn.]

intent on gaining control of all the magic objects in the world. [Ooh. What will David Copperfield and David Blaine do?]

A magical falcon, a magical owl and crystal orbs [I dated a girl with alabaster orbs.] -- each with the power to allow their owners to pierce the veils [I wonder if the author paid extra for this fine chunk of creativity. WAITAMINUTE! "Pierce the Veil" is the name of a band.] of space and time ["Two to beam up, Scotty."] -- are the long sought after treasures now pursued by the greedy Khan. These ancient magical devices have over time been scattered across the globe [Needs to be rewritten. "Across" doesn't work with spherical objects.], some in the hands of a primitive pastoral people, some in the possession of the community of Endylmyr [A rival of Haagen-Dasz], and some under the control of the Khan himself.

After several misguided attempts to retrieve and save the magic objects, Gylfalin and Pendaran discover through Angmere the Historian [The tutor of Ming the Merciless?]
Ming the Merciless, Emperor of the planet Mongo, from Flash Gordon
that the key to their success lies in the words of an ancient rhyme ["Salagadoola means mechicka booleroo. But the thingamabob that does the job is bippity-boppity-boo"] that leads them to the three witches of Endylmyr -- Gwynyr, Hellwydd and Hilst [Outrageous. This is another creative ripoff! Those are names of shelf brackets sold by Ikea.]

-- who magically harness the spectacular powers of a lightning storm [Good choice. It powered a DeLorean in Back to the Future.] to destroy the Khan’s armies.

The struggle of the two magic-empowered warriors to free the peoples of the woods, steppes and plains from the clutches of the Khan climaxes in intense single combat [One guy fighting himself?] between Gylfalin and the Khan’s eastern commander, Tzantzin [Isn't Tzantzin a breath mint, or a Russian dance?] providing a satisfying end to this adventuresome tale. [People can be adventuresome, but probably not tales.]

I find it extremely hard to believe that anyone would pay $27.95 for a paperback fantasy novel by an unknown author, when a real J. K. Rowling hardcover Potter is available for less than half the price.

Also, the ineffective promotional video has the MOST INAPPROPRIATE MUSICAL SOUNDTRACK possible. It apparently was produced by inept Outskirts Press -- of course.

Monday, August 25, 2014

When should an author's face go on the front book cover?

A while ago I was speaking to a "book shepherd," a woman who guides wannabe authors through the publishing process. She works with writers with a wide range of ability, experience, expectation and ego. She said that many writers have such strong egos that they expect their portraits to be on their front covers. 

Some authors deserve this super-star treatment but not many, and certainly not many newbies.
  • If you are writing your first novel or a book of poems, it's highly likely that very few people have ever heard of you and that neither your portrait nor your name will provide a good reason for anyone to invest money and time in reading your precious words. It's much more important to have a great title and cover design.
  • If you're writing nonfiction, whether about the Korean War, cooking pizza or climbing mountains, unless you are famous for achievements in the subject you are writing about, neither your name nor face are likely to convince anyone to invest money and time in reading your precious words. It's much more important to have a great title and cover design.

(above) If you are as famous as Martha Stewart or Suze Orman, and an expert in the field you are writing about, by all means put your portrait on the cover.

(above) If you're famous mainly for being famous, it's critical that your smiling face be on the cover of your books.

(above) If you have a lot of fame or a bit of fame and your physical image will enhance the mood of the book, put your pic on the cover.

(above) If you're famous for your written or spoken words, your face belongs on your book covers -- even if you're dead.

(above) If you're well-known for politics, your image gets to smile at book shoppers.

(above) Everyone who wants to be president of the USA -- or to be remembered for what was accomplished while president -- is assumed to be a professional writer. Fortunately ghostwriters are readily available to aid the inept. The photo on the cover shows the politician, not the actual writer, and sometimes serves as a campaign poster.

(above) Sometimes, not often, books by presidential hopefuls do not have faces facing readers.

(above) If your main claim to fame is that you impregnated a relative of a politician, sure, put your photo on the cover.

(above) If you're not famous, but your appearance adds credibility and implies expertise, sure, put yourself on the cover.

(above) If you're not famous and the presumed audience for your memoir consists of people you know, your portrait certainly won't hurt sales. This is a very interesting book, by the way. I recommend it.

(above) Unfortunately, many authors use amateur photos with bad poses, bad lighting, bad focus and distracting backgrounds -- on a bad hair day. The book shown above may be the worst book ever published, so the horrid author photo is sadly appropriate.

(above) Even a well-done photo may be inappropriate if the person has no known connection to the subject of the book. This cover has another, bigger problem -- the text is extremely difficult to read. Also, the circular necklace ornament right in the center is distracting.

(left) 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.

Here's some advice from Hobie Hobart of Bowker (the ISBN and book research company): Many authors think that putting their picture on the front cover will make them famous. This is not necessarily so. Unless you are well known in the media, bookstore buyers will not accept your book which pictures you on the front cover. However, if you are selling exclusively to a tight niche where you are well known, or your intention is to start branding yourself to a specific market, your photo on the front cover or the spine can be an advantage. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Never texted. Probably never will. Am I missing anything important?

A while ago my local paper published a column titled "You can resist the modern era only for so long," written by Joe Amarante.

Joe says he knows "some defiantly low-tech people" who don't own a GPS, use dial-up modems for web access, and don't own cellphones or send text messages.

I'm certainly not a defiant technophobe or Luddite. I was one of the first purchasers of a Blu-ray player ($1200!). I waited just one week to buy my iPad -- and also have a Kindle Fire. I have four generations of iPods. I have nine flat-screen TVs in my house and four home theaters with surround sound and subwoofers. I subscribed to both XM and Sirius before they merged. I used to build HeathKits. I know HTML and part of the Morse Code. I can solder and weld and wire a house and add the right chemicals to my pool and tune-up a car. I can mix concrete. I can develop film. I have five Tivo boxes. I have at least a dozen digital cameras, GPS, and I don't even know how many PCs I have. I've been online since the days of 300bps connections and $150 monthly bills from CompuServe.

I've had cellphones for many years, and get a new one every two years even if I don't need one. My newest is a wonderful Nolkia Lumia 1020.

BUT, I have never never ever ever sent a text message. I am unlikely to ever send one. I don't even know how to send one. It's possible that I have received text messages. If so, I have never read them. Even my very-low-tech brother-in-law texts to his kids.

I've use three smartphones for talking, reading books, or for taking pictures if something important happens and I don't have a better picture-taking device with me, or for checking the time if I forget to wear a watch, or if I need brief Internet access to find an address or phone number or to relieve boredom.

Phones are for vocal communication.

"Phone" comes from an ancient Greek word for "sound" or "voice" -- not "text." Alex Bell was granted a patent for the telephone in 1876 -- 41 years after Sam Morse built his first working telegraph, which sent text messages. Bell provided a better way to communicate than Morse did.

Today it's certainly easier to "dial" a phone number or tap a speed-dial key than to learn Morse Code, or to thumb-type a text message.  Voice response allows people to "dial" calls by voice, or even to control cars or to type by voice. When you want to check on your American Express balance, you can say your account number into your phone, not tap it on the touch-tone pad. The trend is to less button-pushing and more tongue wagging.

If I want to send messages with my fingertips -- such as a complicated address or a quote from a website -- I send email.

If no one answers my phone call, I can leave voicemail or call again later. Why should I thumb-type a message to be stored for later reading?

Texting seems to be for people who want to send information or ask questions, but prefer to avoid conversation, maybe because they are too bashful. Maybe they can't be spontaneous and must think before each word. I haven't been bashful since fifth grade -- and that was a long time ago.

Except for a few instances where it's too noisy to hear or be heard, or if it's much less expensive to transmit data than to transmit voice, why would I want to text anyone? I just don't get it.

Wikipedia says, "74% of all mobile phone users worldwide or 2.4 billion out of 3.3 billion phone subscribers at end of 2007" are texters.  "Text messaging was reported to have addictive tendencies by the Global Messaging Survey by Nokia in 2002 and was confirmed to be addictive by the study at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 2004."

There are much more pleasurable things than texting to be addicted to. Like blogging. Or sex. Or clams.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why did "in" become out?

I've previously bitched about the disturbing tendency of Gen-Xers and Gen Yers (and Michelle Obama and Dubya Bush) to use "was like" as a synonym for "said."

I've recently become aware of another linguistic abomination.

Young people are saying "shit my pants" and "peed my pants" instead of doing it "IN my pants"

It's interesting that the use of the immature phrase coincides with an immature activity. What's next for these kids? "I'm through, Mommy. Come wipe me."

Does it take so much energy to utter the simple two-letter monosyllable, "in?"

If mental energy conversion is the issue, I have a solution: just say "said" instead of "was like," and use the saved brain exertion to restore the missing "in."

(photo above shows genuine J-Lo, but the poop stain may have been faked.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I am willing to tolerate a little bit of bad English

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I can be very intolerant of bad English (and intolerant of other things, as well).

However, my feet are not so firmly planted back in the 20th century, or the 13th century, that I can't change my mind.

I recognize that, like minds, languages do change. Words get new meanings (at one time girls could be boys), additional meanings (cats and chicks can be people, hook up means more than to connect wires, a hood can be a head covering, a hoodlum, or a place), and even contradictory meanings (a gay person may be unhappy, an iPhone is both cool and hot, the latest Nikes can be so good that they're bad).

I am therefore ready to publicly cave-in and announce that I will henceforth not complain about two pieces of illogical English.

#1: The misplaced "only." If you say you "only eat vegetables" or "only buy European cars," you are implying that you do not sleep, read, watch TV, breathe, have conversations, go to movies, make love, or anything else. The correct sentence structure would be "eat vegetables only" or "buy European cars only."

However, people do manage to understand what you mean when the "only" is up-front, and that placement provides a bit of dramatic emphasis that proper placement does not. My first self-published book (shown above, and replaced by Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) has the "only" where it does not belong. The title is a quote from a nutso teacher I had in high school -- an English teacher. 

She and I are not the only ones who misplace the "only." The song title "I only have eyes for you" is definitely ungrammatical, as is the book title above.

#2: The modified "unique." As I have pointed out in this blog and in books, "Unique" means "one of a kind." all unique things are equally unique. Nothing can be the "most unique." Nothing can be "more unique" than another. A unique snowflake is just as unique as a unique person or pencil.

However, President Obama, people who want his job, and countless millions of others use the phrase and understand it to mean "a bit more unusual than 'most unusual.'" Google shows more than 14 million links for the phrase, so I surrender to the will of the masses. For now, I refuse to use the phrase, but I probably won't criticize others who do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Damn. I'll probably die before I finish reading my books

I'm typing this in a room filled with books, in a house filled with books. A quick estimate indicates that I have about 400 linear feet of books (100 feet more than the length of a football field, with the books standing up, not lying in the grass).

With an average thickness of one inch, and 12 books per foot, those 400 feet mean that I have a frightening total of about 4,800 books. That can't compare with the Library of Congress's collection of several million books, but it's pretty good for an amateur bibliophile.

And that 4,800 doesn't include hundreds of other books on my iPad, Kindle Fire, desktops, laptops and smart phone, and on the UPS truck coming from Amazon. Or what I might pick up at Barnes & Noble this afternoon. Or the books in my car or loaned to other people.

When I was in college, I was still building bookshelves a week before I was due to move out of my apartment. Even now, with those 400 feet of shelving, I still have books in cartons and on tables and desks. And on the pool table and on and in my night table. There are some in drawers, too.

I'm what is called an avid reader. I'm also a collector. That can be fun -- or a dangerous combination.

I read everything. I read labels, cereal boxes, signs and even magazines that I should have no interest in (including one for tow truck operators, one for poultry farmers, one for appliance dealers and another one about air compressors).

When I was a young teenager I subscribed to about two dozen magazines -- everything there was about science, cars, cameras and electronics. They took up a lot of space. One summer I decided that instead of going to the beach club every day, I would devote three days each week to going through my collection. I'd cut out the interesting articles and file them for future reference.

This was actually a problem, not a solution.

At the age of 14 I could not afford to buy a photocopier and therefore could not resolve the dilemma caused by pages with important articles on both sides -- but about different subjects that should go into separate folders.

But even worse was the depressing realization that the magazines were coming in faster than I could read, cut and file them. I stopped being a librarian and swam more.

And that brings me back to 2014.

I assume that I've read about half of my books. To make it simple, I'll assume I have about 2,500 pbooks and ebooks to go. According to my theory, I have about 21 years left. I acquire about 80 books a year. I read about 100 books a year. I'll assume that as I age my acquisition rate may diminish, and my reading speed may also diminish, However I'll probably have more time to read.

Although my College Board scores in "verbal" were much better than in math, my quick computation makes me think I'll die with about 2,400 unread books.


What should I do?

Should I read faster, live longer, stop buying or get rid of a lot of books.

Sadly, none of the options seem likely.

(Top photo is from

Monday, August 18, 2014

A book series should look like a series

"Trade dress" refers to characteristics of the appearance of a product or its packaging or advertising that indicate the source of the product to potential buyers. Trade dress may include shapes, typography and even colors. 

Most former British colonies use red, white and blue in their flags.Target likes red. But so do Coke, Staples and CVS. UPS like brown, as does Hershey -- but Nestle uses non-chocolatey blue. 

When people see a big, bright yellow paperback with a diagonal black band and a title in "reverse," --  they think DUMMIES. Even if a reader doesn't regard herself as dumb, if she was successfully educated by one "dummies" book, there's a good chance she'll consider another. Even when subjects and audience may be diverse, it can be good to make the same type of books look similar. 

[below] Books in the "Chicken Soup for the" series use the same ornate letter "C" that Campbell's uses on soup cans.​

[below] Scott Prussing hopes that folks who were turned on by one of his vampire sex books will try another. The cover design and titles clearly indicate that the books are closely related.

[above/below] I doubt that any other book series can duplicate the success of "dummies" with another color. However, I am doing my best with purple on my books about publishing. I removed the "beach" logo from the front cover of newer books but retained the "Create Better Books . . ." tag line.

[below] As my publishing plans evolved and it became apparent that I would be producing a series of ebooks, I decided to give them a consistent look, with a comic-book theme and purple band at the bottom. I redesigned the previous books to go with the newer ones. I kept the tag line, but took the logo off the front cover and use it on the title page.

[above/below] My recent books that are not about publishing don't relate to each other or to anything else. Maybe they should. With ebooks, I don't have to think about hundreds or thousands of books sitting in a warehouse that won't relate to my other books.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Check, please

No matter how many times you read, re-read and re-re-read, you're bound to find mistakes in anything you've written. It's best to find them before the book is published.

Back in 2009, just minutes before I had planned to send a book to the printer, I decided to check my table of contents. I had a feeling that as I changed the length of some chapters, a page number might have changed.

I actually found three wrong page numbers, and two chapters were missing from the table.

Apparently, I didn't learn the lesson well enough.

Another time I was trying to find a chapter in one of my books that has many chapters. I couldn't find it by flipping through the pages, and I couldn't find it by studiously scanning the table of contents.

When I looked even more carefully, I realized that the last entry at the bottom of one page of the TOC was Chapter 51, but the first entry on the top of the next page was Chapter 53.

There was no listing for Chapter 52.

I feel like a blind idiot.

(IMPORTANT WARNING: Any time you fix an error in a book, you may create more errors.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"We're not in Indiana anymore." Publishing has a deceptive 'Wizard of Oz'

When I was a little kid, I went to see The Wizard of Oz. The Wizard scared the shit out of me, I cried, and left early.

It wasn't until years later that I learned that the Wizard was merely an illusion. When Dorothy's dog Toto opened a curtain, it became obvious that the Wizard was an ordinary man with an amplified voice and animation machinery.

Today I am emulating Toto, opening the curtains to reveal the operator of two deceptive Wizard-ish websites.
You may have received emails from -- or clicked on links to -- and
The websites' wizards want you to think that the sites are operated by some impartial and knowledgeable entity that will help you select the proper company to publish your book, based on such criteria as genre and reason for publishing.
Unless you look closely (i.e., 'behind the curtain') you might not notice that the sites are not competitors. In fact, they are both operated by pay-to-publish behemoth Author Solutions, Inc. ("ASI") and serve to steer wannabe authors to ASI brands such as Xlibnris and Palibrio.
Even if the best choice for you is CreateSpace or Infinity, neither "Choose" nor "Find" will tell you that.

There is actually not much difference among the Author Solutions brands (other than Palibrio publishing in Spanish). Author Solutions also operates pay-to-publish businesses for other companies including religous publisher Thomas Nelson.

At Self-Publishing Book Expo, marketing director Joe Bayern told me that ASI's best editors work on Xlibris titles. The 'best' is often not good enough. Xlibris publishes some dreadful books.

Author Solutions is guilty of other illusions.
  • It invented the phony "Jared Silverstone" (with a purchased stock photo) to hype the company in social media. Jason was deactivated after being exposed as an illusion. Emily Suess played the part of Toto.
  • It co-opted the term "indie publishing" to replace what used to be called vanity publishing and what its competitors call self-publishing. For many years "indie" described small publishing companies who were not part of the "Big Six" (now five). Author Solutions was recently purchased by the parent of Penguin -- one of the Five -- for $116 million. That doesn't seem very indie to me.
  • The websites of the Author Solutions brands promise "free" or "complimentary" books to authors. The books are free only if you ignore the payment of as much as $15,249 to get published. (Authors have to pay a fee for shipping and handling of the free books, by the way.)
  • After being offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax benefits by its home state of Indiana, the company has fired American employees and is building up its staff in the Philippines.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The least meaningful word in the English language

A few days ago I saw a TV commercial for a "professional" refrigerator. The appliance was good-looking and expensive, but probably not intended for people who make their living storing lamb chops and manufacturing ice cubes.

Then I saw an ad for a GMC "Professional Grade" SUV. Is it intended for mommies who are paid to schlep their children to school, ballet lessons and soccer practice?

This rampant professionalism reminded me of an unpleasant experience I had at the end of the 20th century.

In the 1990s I lived in a townhouse condominium in Westchester County, New York. I was one of the original residents, and had moved there in 1978.
When the place was built, the builder, like other builders, needed to establish rules and regulations. He apparently went to an office supply store and paid a few bucks for an all-purpose document written by a lawyer who never lived in our condomin­ium, never knew the people who would live there, and certainly had no idea how society would evolve over the following decades.
One important way that society did evolve was the emergence and popularity of the “home office.”
Once home offices were limited to doctors, but by the mid-1990s, inexpensive computers and the Internet enabled a wide range of occupations to be carried out in underwear or pajamas, at any hour of the day or night.
Our condominium’s bylaws specifically outlawed carrying out any occupation other than “professional” activities on condominium property.
The attorney who wrote the rule in 1970 knew what he had in mind, just as the folks who wrote and approved that “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” in 1792 knew what they had in mind.
But in both cases, there has been lots of disagreement and interpretation over the years, selective prosecution, perhaps some persecution, and ample income opportunities for attorneys.
In my condominium, lots of occupational activities were carried out in apparent violation of the rules. School teachers corrected exams and read term papers. Salespeople wrote proposals. Bartenders mixed drinks. The ice cream man sold pops. Landscapers planted, mowed and trimmed. Lifeguards guarded lives. Carpenters remodeled kitchens. Doctors prescribed medication. Plumbers replaced water heaters. Cops and insurance agents investigated burglaries. Our managing agent managed. Our maintenance men maintained.
Lots of people — residents, visitors and even employees of the condominium — worked there every day in flagrant violation of the holy writ, and life went on just fine.
But one day, and I don’t know why, the Board of Managers decided to sue me for violating the rules against operating a “non-professional” business on the premises.
My main business at the time was installing business phone systems. I installed them at the premises of my customers. Many of them were in Manhattan, or in New Jersey, or Long Island, or Connecticut — but certainly not in my own living room.
I made most of my money outside the house, but I did have a few business visitors each month. Some were salespeople showing me new products, and some were prospective customers, and a couple were customers picking up phones.
I certainly had no store. There was no showroom, no sign in the window, no bright lights, no factory with loud noises or noxious odors that would have violated the bylaws or zoning regulations. I had no employees. My business certainly drew less traffic than a perfectly legal doctor or a 17-year-old girl.
The traditional examples of permitted “professional” occupations, as envisioned by the ancient unknown lawyer who wrote our rules, were doctors, dentists, architects, and — of course — other lawyers. I had to prove to the judge that this group was much too narrow, and an unrealistic interpretation for the late 20th century.
I told the judge that many occupations were widely recognized as professions, and deserved to be included, starting  most obviously and in chronological order, with “the world’s oldest profession”— prostitution. Wasn’t a hooker as worthy as a dentist?
I then told the court about professional wrestlers, professional golfers, professional tennis players, professional musicians, professional divers, professional gamblers and pro­fessional assassins.
I showed the judge a copy of Professional Boatbuilder magazine and Professional Hair Salon magazine, and told him about magazines called Professional Woman and Quilting Professional and Christian Professional.
I also told him about the Professional Drivers Association and the Association of Professional Body Piercers and I showed packages labeled “pro­fessional screwdriver,” “professional duct tape,” and “professional toilet plunger.”

The judge ruled that the term “professional” was now synonymous with “business,” and merely meant the opposite of an amateur or non-business activity; and unless the condo­min­­ium rules were rewritten to include or exclude specific occupations, neither the oldest profession, nor mine, were against the rules.