Friday, October 31, 2014

Should I get castrated to save 35% on a Lenovo laptop? And how should I spell "Star?"

I received the following email from the National Association of Professional Women:

Star (or Starr) Jones (former Celebrity Apprentice contestant) is the national spokeswoman and Ivanka Trump was keynote speaker at NAPW's first conference. Is The Donald the boss?

NAPW Membership benefits have included a course in FBAR and FATCA Reporting Requirements, discounts on Lenovo laptops, AT&T and Sprint phones, televisions at BestBuy and tickets to Disney World.
Sorry, Donnie and Star/Starr. While I'm honored to have been chosen, I'm not likely to cut off my balls to save money on a Samsung or a chance to meet Goofy.

Hmm -- one NAPW press release features STARR Jones. In another it's merely STAR Jones. 
  • "the 2013 NAPW National Networking Conference is on April 26th in New York City and will feature NAPW National Spokeswoman Starr Jones and keynote speakers Martha Stewart and Arianna Huffington."
  • Star Jones is one of the most accomplished and recognizable women in the country,” says Matt Proman, founder of National Association of Professional Women. “Star’s personal and professional story is unique and compelling. She is a self-starter who opens her own doors and makes the most of every opportunity. Each of our members is sure to identify with and learn from some aspect of Star’s life.” 
  • Apparently the NAPW Jones is really "Star."
  • "Starr Jones" is a male actor and makeup artist.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Authors: What should you write? What shouldn't you write?

Your new novel may have
3,000-year-old competition

1. (Modified) Nonfiction outsells fiction in terms of dollar volume and number of titles, but not in the number of books (because there are so many 99-cent novels). Poetry sales are tiny. It’s been said that poets and novelists are interesting to talk to, but nonfiction writers have nicer homes. Fiction and poetry are not necessary to readers. People who want to read a novel may be content to borrow a copy from a friend or the library instead of buying it—even if they have to wait a few weeks. Fiction books are entertainment. That means they are options. They are expendable when money is tight; and they have to compete with movies, ball games, video games, music and more.
2. Novels may be read just once or twice. A nonfiction book—particularly an important reference—might be referred to hundreds of times and be a vital part of a personal or business library. 
3. Fiction is usually timeless. We still read the works of Dickens and Homer (above). Your new novel must compete with other books written centuries or even millennia ago. 

4. Nonfiction is usually information or instruction, and may have a lim­ited lifespan before it becomes ob­solete. Readers want the latest information. They may replace your book bought just a year ago with your new version—or a new book from another author. 
5. People will generally pay more money for information than for entertainment. The more important the information is, the more you can charge for it. However, the more people who are likely to be read­ers of your book, the more expensive it will be to reach them.
6. Obviously, if you are a self-publishing writer, you can publish anything you want to. HOWEVER, if you want to make money rather than just fulfill a dream, impress your family or inflate your ego, it’s better to think carefully about what you publish.
7. It’s extremely difficult to sell many copies of self-pub­lished fiction or poetry—or the memoir of a non-famous person—on paper. In order to sell thousands of copies, you’ll have to be either extremely lucky (not likely) or generate a huge amount of “buzz” through viral marketing, public relations and advertising (time-consuming and often expensive), or you’ll have to impress one or more reviewers enough to praise you in the media.
8.  If you are a novelist, poet or memoirist, your ebooks can sell for much less money than printed books, and may allow you to build an audience and make money. It’s easier for an unknown author to sell 99-cent ebooks than $19.95 pbooks (books printed on paper). 
9.  Another reason not to self-publish fiction (unless aimed at a narrow and easy-to-reach audience) is that most fiction is aimed at the mass market. You’ll be competing with big publishing companies with much more experience, much bigger budgets and much better distribution than you have. The world is not waiting for your novel, poetry or memoir to be published. If your book should appeal to “everyone,” can you afford to let everyone know about it? 
10.  It’s much easier to target a market and devise a promotional strategy for nonfiction. If you write a book for owners of small businesses, Little League coaches, obstetricians or pig farmers, it’s much easier to reach them with your marketing. Novels, memoirs and poems depend on push marketing—you have to “push” books on a public that has no need for them. On the other hand, if you write nonfiction about an interesting and important subject or—even better—a how-to book, you can use much simpler pull marketing and have a much greater chance of success. With pull marketing, you take advantage of an existing desire by the public to know more about a subject. Readers will “pull” the books from you.
11. Find a niche! People who want to know more about growing strawberries, raising an autistic child, getting a college scholarship or traveling with a dog will search for that information on Google, or elsewhere, and there’s a good chance they’ll find your book. (But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll buy it.)
12. Timing is important. The world’s best written, most authoritative book about Sarah Palin probably sold a lot better before she lost the election in 2008. If she runs for office again, the Palin specialists get another chance to sell books.
13. Pick a hot topic, and one that may stay hot, or at least warm, for a few years. Consider combining two hot topics such as “Gay weddings on a tight budget.”

14.  It’s important to investigate the competition before you start publishing. Pick something you know about, which you can contribute something new about, which lots of people care about, and which lots of people have not already written about. If there are other books on the same topic (and there probably are), make sure you have something important to add so your book can be better than the others.
15. Price, value and speed count, too. A $2.99 ebook is available instantly and competes against pbooks that cost three and four times as much and don't have color or hyperlinks.
16. If you go ahead, don’t print lots of copies the first time. For test marketing, print on demand (POD) or an ebook will be much less expensive than a large “offset” print run.
17. If you’ve put information online with websites and blogs that people can read for free, your book will be competing with your own free words. Make your book more complete than what you give away. Modify your online content to plug your book and to point out that the pay-for book is better than the online freebie.

From my 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice

(Bust of Homer from The British Museum, Palin photo from, Gay guys from

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Launch your book with a book launch party

A book launch party can generate interest and publicity for a book. Invite friends, neighbors, business associates, politicians and reporters.

It can be at your home, a restaurant, a hotel, a club, a bookstore or a library. Serve refreshments, make a brief speech and read part of the book. Answer questions. To start the dialog, arrange for a couple of friends to ask questions.

Some authors sell books at launches. I think it’s tacky to make friends feel obligated to spend money. A few years ago, a neigh­bor gave a book launch party. My wife felt obligated to support her and spent $25 to buy a book that neither of us would ever read. It went to Goodwill.
  • Give books away if you can afford to. They’ll probably cost you only a few bucks each and will help create buzz.
  • If you can't afford to give away a lot of books, have a raffle for about three books (either with free tickets or tickets sold to benefit a charity).
  • You may get extra publicity (and sales) if you tie your launch to a holiday or the start of season, or have it honor someone or raise money for a charity.
  • You can produce inexpensive abridged samples of your book to give away.
  • Maybe provide coupons for free downloads of an ebook.
  • You can even give away imperfect proofs that are readable, but not saleable.
  • Be sure to give out bookmarks or business cards, too. I get my cards from VistaPrint. (Always have some cards with you. You never know when you'll encounter a potential customer.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A good reason for writers to get away from their desks

Sellf-Publishing book Expo, Manhattan, Saturday November 15th

In a previous life (roughly 1969 to 1989) I was a magazine editor and advertising copywriter in Manhattan.

Fresh out of college, I loved the creative energy of the Big Apple. I soon came to hate office politics and the crowded streets, sidewalks, stores and restaurants. Getting around was an ISPITA (Industrial Strength Pain In The Ass). Although I was born in daBronx, I am a creature of the suburbs. Mass transit has no appeal to me. I like to drive my car to wherever I have to go, and park in front. That doesn't happen often in a city of 8.5 million.

I moved away from New York to comfortable Connecticut in 2001. I don't miss the crowds. I don't miss the restaurants. I don't miss the subways. I don't miss Broadway, Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building, Miss Liberty or the Staten Island Ferry.

Actually, I probably don't miss anything in the city of my birth.

I still go back twice a year, not for sentimental reasons but because Manhattan is the media capital of the world and the center of the book business and I am part of that business, or the book business is part of me.

I go to Manhattan for Book Expo America in May and Self-Publishing Book Expo in November. I am older now than when I commuted from daBronx, Flushing or Scarsdale. I no longer have to be at a desk before 9 AM so I can easily get a seat on an uncrowded train AND get the senior citizen discount.

This year's Self-Publishing Book Expo will be on Saturday, November 15th. Mid-November is a great time to be in New York -- much more comfortable than August, yet you probably won't need a heavy coat.

After previous stays at the Sheraton New York and the Hotel Pennsylvania, the 2014 SPBExpo will be at
the Roosevelt Hotel, 45 East 45th Street. That's super-convenient for people like me who will be arriving at Grand Central Terminal. Hours are 9:00 am–5:00 pm. The main NY public Library and a zillion stores and restaurants are nearby. SPBE provides a great opportunity to have a tax-deductible weekend getaway. If you will be flying or taking a train to Penn Station, getting to the Roosevelt is no big deal.

SPBE "is a learning center for published as well as aspiring authors. Attendees will have the opportunity to gain valuable information about how to successfully self-publish and market their books. Key members of the publishing community offering a variety of services to authors will be on hand, as will representatives from all facets of publishing and the media. Top-notch pros will lead a wide variety of seminars and panels on diverse subjects including how to raise the funds necessary to publish, build a team, work effectively with an editor, market and publicize your work, create an ebook and much, much, more."

The exhibitors change from year to year. There are always some companies I did not expect to be there, and some I do expect do not show up. Some exhibitors leave after one year, others skip a year or two and then return.

Admission to the exhibit hall is FREE to all. Exhibitors include authors selling and displaying their books, and companies showcasing their products and services. SPBE features a series of informational sessions hosted by important, knowledgeable people in self-publishing. The sessions are designed to broaden attendees' knowledge on a wide array of topics, expand audience reach and assist in making crucial decisions for a book’s success. ​Sessions will run concurrently throughout the day -- so check the schedule carefully. In the past some sessions were so popular that people were standing in the backs of rooms, or even in the hallways. 

Ticket price for admission to as many sessions as you can fit into your schedule is $125.00. If you are a self-pub newbie, or even a veteran, it will be money well-spent.

You will learn from at least three groups of people:
  1. Experts (and questioners) at the informational sessions
  2. Exhibitors
  3. People like you wandering around
Info and reservations at 

(above) It's probably too late to become an exhibitor to promote and sell your books, but you can ask. Maybe your table and stack of books will attract someone who'll want to give you a million-dollar movie deal. Maybe not. 

Mixing and Mating? In the past, attendees were overwhelmingly female, so SPBE could be a good opportunity to meet a smart, good-looking lady. Photo above shows Isobella Jade, model and author of Short Stuff. Isobella says she's a bit under 5', 4" tall. When I was four years old, I was a model, too, and was even shorter than Isobella. The tall guy on the right is Jason Kuykendall, Jeff Bezos's Kindle man in New York. Jason was impressed that I could pronounce his last name and knew the name was Dutch. I was impressed when Jason told me I could format a Kindle book myself. That tip more than paid for the round-trip train ticket and the overpriced chicken wings in Grand Central Terminal. (BTW, it is "Terminal" -- not "Station.")

Friday, October 24, 2014

Authors: should your face be on the front of your book?

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. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Heteronyms are dangerous. Try to keep them out of book titles, blog posts and website names.

Does the team drink polish?

In an online group for authors, Jessica Bell announced that she is writing a book called Polish Your Fiction: A Quick & Easy Self-Editing Guide.

I started reading her post twice and each time -- for an instant -- I thought that "Polish" was referring to someone from Poland. 

Polish and polish are heteronyms -- words written identically (or identically except for uppercasing the first letter) but having different pronunciations and meanings.

The meaning of a heteronym usually becomes apparent because of its context, but if you can avoid ambiguity and delay -- do so.
  • Try to keep heteronyms out of the titles of your books, blog posts and websites. If you cause a reader to hesitate, you may lose her.
  • Push a homonym out of the first position in a sentence. Try inserting a 'helper' word to precede a homonym so readers know what's going on. "Please Polish . . . " or "Why You Should Polish . . ." prepares readers to absorb the correct word.
  • Heteronyms can cause problems even within text. Does "I read a lot of books" take place in the present tense or in the past? A 'helper' like "did" or "do" or "last year" can remove the ambiguity, as can rewriting the sentence.
  • The position of a word in a line of text can cause a stumble. If the last two words in a line of text are "A sewer," "The bass" or "I read," the pronunciation and meaning might not be apparent until the reader reads the words on the next line.
  • Uppercasing and lowercasing can clarify the difference between Polish and polish, but not between Bass and bass.
Wikipedia provides many examples of heteronyms, including:
  1.    A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  2.    Do you know what a buck does to does?
  3.    They were too close to the door to close it.
  4.    The buck does funny things when does are present.
  5.    Don't desert me here in the desert!
  6.    When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  7.    The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  8.    How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
  9.    With every number I read, my mind gets number and number.
  10.    He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  11.    After a number of injections my jaw got number.
  12.    I did not object to the object.
  13.    We must polish the Polish furniture.
  14.    He thought it was time to present the present.
  15.    The farm was used to produce produce.
  16.    The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  17.    There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  18.    A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
  19.    To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  20.    I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  21.    Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
  22.    The weather was beginning to affect his affect
  23.    The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  24.    The bandage was wound around the wound.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Some self-congratulations, and some tips about blogging

I started writing this blog in September, 2008. Since then I have posted more than 2,100 times and the blog has had more than 1,000,000 "page views." I wish I could have charged the viewers a dollar each, or a dime, or a penny.

My blog traffic has had ups and downs but has gradually increased from the original one page view (mine) to more than 3,000 on most recent days.

That's nothing compared to Huffington Post (which has gazillions of readers and more than 9,000 people doing the writing). However, there are apparently more than 150 million blogs online, some get hundreds of daily visitors, many get dozens and some get none -- so I am quite pleased with 3,391, or even half that number.

I have no secrets to divulge but I will pass on some tips:
  • Write regularly. Three or more times per week. Five is best. You want your blog to become a daily habit with your readers. Some blogs get new posts just once or twice a year. Why bother?
  • Publish in the morning. As early as possible.
  • Don't bother posting more than once a day. If you feel the need to spout more frequently, use Facebook or Twitter.
  • Have a reason to blog: Do you want to sell something, entertain people, change the world, satisfy yourself? For me it's "all of the above."
  • If you're a writer -- and many of my readers are writers -- be aware that writers of nonfiction will probably find it much easier to blog than will novelists or poets. There is just not much to say five times a week about lesbian cannibals from Venus, or your poems about daffodils. If you have a very specific, artsy genre, a website is probably better than a blog.
  • It's nice to publish guest posts but don't let guests replace your own unique voice. One blogger I used to like a lot but now often ignore has become more of a publisher than a writer because he publishes so much material that he does not write. A blog should have a personality, not dozens of personalities.
  • Promote your blog on other media -- websites, Facebook, etc.
  • Mention your blog in anything you control, including books, comments on other blogs and websites, business cards, letterheads, etc.
  • Cover a variety of topics, even if not closely related to your blog's title or premise. Up at the top I say that I discuss "writing, editing, design, publishing, language, culture, politics and other things." Other things allows me to write about anything I feel like without violating my "charter."
  • Variety allows the blogger to preach about world events or personal emotions, and maybe grab readers who don't care about the main topic. Most of my readers come here via Google. They may be searching for topics I discuss (eyeglasses, food, politics), and not necessarily searching for me or my books.
  • Don't be afraid to publish reruns. You should be attracting new readers every day, and someone who reads your blog today may not have read the same material three months or three years earlier.
  • If you do publish a rerun, update it if necessary (this post is an updated rerun). Add, correct, provide new illustrations, change the title. Pick reruns of popular postings, not ones that attracted few readers.
  • Once a year or so change the look of your blog. You can use a different template, change colors, shift things around.
  • Allow readers to comment and respond to the comments promptly. Comments should be moderated so jerks don't spout obscene or libelous material before you can reject it.
  • Blog spam is a BIG problem. Some blogs automatically distribute the spam to all email subscribers before the blogger has a chance to kill it.
  • Write about things that interest you. If you're disinterested -- if blogging becomes a chore -- readers can tell and will turn away.
  • Few things are bigger turn-offs than an abandoned news blog. I've started and stopped several blogs but they were not presenting news and they can stand as completed works, almost like books. Brent Sampson, boss of Outskirts Press, skipped posting on his blog for more than six months. A Book's Mind is a strangely named competitor of Outskirts. It started and stopped publishing a blog. Did Outskirts win?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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

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

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

Yesterday I read a thoughtful and useful guest posting about the importance of editing by Shayla Eaton on a popular blog about publishing. Ben Lunt, an alleged writer (and a nasty SOB and immature egomaniac) posted a response including the word "sight" instead of the proper "site." When challenged, Ben said his comments were a "spontaneous and unedited rant" and that he "never even looked through this before posting."

That's not good enough, especially for someone like Ben who brags that his writing is better than the work of others. His later comments are filled with sloppy errors and childlike insults. A writer must have pride in her or his craft -- regardless of the venue -- and respect for readers.

A while ago I read a writer's blog.
  • The writer said that someone "range" [rang] the doorbell, wore "sheek" [chic] clothing and that something is "cheep" [cheap].
  • This person also wrote "nation-wide" [nationwide], "main stream" [mainstream], "self published" [self-published] and more.
  • This person mentioned "the hard work of revising and polishing" a book.
The blog deserved similar hard work. (Confession: I am not perfect, but I try to be. Some people, like Ben Lunt, don't try.)

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

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

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

- - - - -

Even alleged publishing 'pros' make stupid mistakes for the world to see:
  1. Outskirts Press founder Brent Sampson wrote that Roget's Thesaurus was published by Peter Mark (actually, Peter Roget published it), confused a foreword with a preface, and misspelled "offset." Brent advises that "Errors in your writing cause readers to question your credibility."  He's right about that.
  2. Lulu founder Bob Young misspelled "misspell" and confused "less" and "fewer." A publisher should know better. 

keyboard photo is Microsoft clip art