Thursday, April 30, 2015

Which Newark? Which Greenwich? What about Lima?

A while ago I warned about using heteronyms in the titles of books, blog posts and websites. Heteronyms are words written identically (or identically except for uppercasing the first letter) but having different pronunciations and meanings.
Some place names are heteronyms and require clarification to avoid ambiguity.

If you write that someone is from Newark, what state is she from?

By the way, Newark, NJ is pronounced "noo-urk" (or even "nurk") but Newark, DE is "new ark."

Houston in Texas is pronounced "hyoo-stin" but Houston Street in Manhattan is pronounced "house-tin." Houston Street is a major-east-west road and passes through such important places as the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village.

That Village, and Greenwich in both CT and England, are pronounced "grenn-itch."

The Greenwich Savings Bank was based in New York City and operated from 1833 to 1981. It paid for singing commercials with lyrics something like "Call us green-witch, call us grenn-itch, call us anything at all."

Wikipedia has a list of lots of Greenwiches, with multiple pronunciations. There's a Greenwich Pizza chain in the Philippines. The company pronounces itself "Green-itch," which does not sound Italian to me.

Lima (lime-uh) beans may not be grown in Lima (leem-uh), Peru or lime-uh, Ohio.

Thanks to all the photographers whose work is above. I slept late today and didn't have time to provide all of the photo credits. I may fix this later.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Authors, it's important to review your books' reviews

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

Most published reviews are positive. That's nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's also nice to thank people who say they like what you've written.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Every word a writer writes is an audition. Be careful.

I read the following in an online group: "For a short period of time the ebook addition will be on sale for only 99 cents."

Ouch. "Addition" should be "edition." This is very bad advertising for a book. It's an immediate turn-off. 

Most writers have specialties. They can be novels, plays, poems, travel brochures, magazine articles, ads, fortune cookie inserts, skywriting, sermons, almost anything.

Despite our favorites and specialties, most of us write in multiple venues and formats. We frequently have websites and blogs, and post comments on blogs and in forums. We write love letters and hate mail, send thank-you notes, help kids with homework, write letters to editors and submit resumes and pitch-letters.

It's important that those of us who have writing careers never go "off-duty." We have to 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 sloppiness. Never say, "It's only an email."

It would be a shame to turn off a prospective reader or lose possible business because of silly, easily corrected errors. It could be a disaster to let the sloppiness of an informal medium infect professional writing.

A while ago I read the blog of a writer who had attended a writing conference.

I see no point in embarrassing the writer, so I won't reveal the name or even the gender.

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. It's wrong not to try to write right, or to rely on a computer's spell-checker.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Want to work as an editor? Make sure you don't need an editor.

Bev Wieber's "EditorEtc" Facebook page makes her seem to be the publishing equivalent of a "one-man band." Bev seeks business providing a wide range of functions including editing and proofreading -- but she needs editorial assistance.

From her page:
  • About: Complete writing, editing & graphic design services for any project type, size, frequency, including manuscript critiques, proof reading [ONE WORD, DAMMIT!] . Ghostwriting also available. PR services include branding, copyrighting [COPYWRITING!], press releases & social media campaigns.
  • Mission: Major player [DOESN'T SEEM LIKE A MISSION] with influence & relevance impacting the future of media & publishing, [EGO RUNNING WILD] guided by a moral compass of accuracy [OOPS], integrity, honesty, compassion & dignity.
  • Description:Content creation, curation & aggregation. Editor [EDITORIAL] services, photos, graphics, layout/design. Print, online & mobile formats. B2B or B2C. Research, consulting, marketing.
Bev's Facebook page reminds me of an important lyric from Tom Lehrer's Be Prepared song: "Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell."

If you want to attract attention to your work as an editor (or as a painter, chef, mechanic or anything) make sure your promotional efforts are first-class.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Don't assume that a book cover designer can design book pages. The best brain surgeon in the world may not be a good choice for removing a wart.

Cathi Stevenson operates Book Cover Express. The company's website says, "Professional book cover design is essential because readers, retailers, and reviewers glance at a book for only a few seconds before they make a choice™. Make sure it’s your book they’re choosing."

That's good advice, and the company has designed some excellent book covers. 

The site says that Cathi has "a strong background in printing and publishing that goes back to 1981. She also worked as a writer, editor and page designer for many years . . . she can offer sound advice based on practical experience when it comes to designing for print."

Sadly, while Cathi can design fine book covers, her experience is apparently inadequate for designing what goes between the covers.

Below is a page from Cathi's own e-book, How to Sell Your Competitor's Book Online. It is a PDF book, so the pages should look just like a printed book.

The page exhibits several fundamental errors which should neither be expected nor tolerated from a professional book designer:

  1. The first page of a chapter should NOT have a header.
  2. Justified text needs hyphens to eliminate the UGHLEE gaps between words.
  3. "Cross-over" is hyphenated on the page, however, because Cathi apparently thinks the hyphen is part of the word. It's not. "Crossover" is not a hyphenated word. Cathi says she is a "writer and editor." She should know better.
  4. The book uses en dashes when longer em dashes should be used.
  5. In books, dashes generally do not get adjacent spaces. (They often do get spaces in newspapers.)
  6. Instead of using curly "typographer's marks," Cathi uses straight quote marks and apostrophes, like on an ancient typewriter. This is unforgivable in a book, especially from a pro who points out the danger of a book "self-published by an amateur."
  7. The book identifies the author as "Cat Stevenson," "Cathi Stevenson" and "Catherine A. C. Stevenson." Inconsistency is silly -- and bad design.
  8. There's also some bad grammar in the book, such as "The author and publisher, accepts no..." This is not bad design, but should have been noticed and fixed. 
Sadly, Cathi (or Cat or Catherine) does not seem to have taken advantage of her own people. She says that her company "is associated with several wonderful, freelance editors and proofreaders." 

I have no reason to believe that Cathi is selling book interior design services, and her company certainly has the skill to design high-quality book covers (and websites and brochures). I am publishing today's blog to make two important points:
  1. If you are hiring a book designer -- or anyone else -- discuss the person's qualifications and experience. The best brain surgeon in the world may not be a good choice for removing a wart.
  2. If you are in the design business, everything you design should look good. If you design clothing or cars, you should not live in an ugly house. If you specialize in book exteriors, you should not exhibit a bad interior.
There is no excuse for ugly books!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Critical typography lesson: provide adequate space between words.

It's supposed to say "wig & pen is . . ." 

The sign was erected for a pub in Truro, Cornwall, England when a street was closed. 
The pub is named after the local royal court.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Awful authoring arithmetic.
What's a word worth in 2015?

When authors think about income they are usually concerned with the dollars or percentages earned from writing complete books.

But when they are in the mode of being writers, not specifically authors, the math shifts to money per word, not per book.

I frequently freelanced for magazines and newspapers back in the early 1970s.

I generally got ten or fifteen cents a word. I knew of publications that paid writers as little as a penny or a nickel a word, and heard that some mags, such as Playboy, paid a buck a word.

I recently decided to get back into freelance writing and editing, both for fun and for money.

I paid to join to get leads on possible gigs.

It's "a secure, online marketplace where individuals and businesses can safely and easily outsource their jobs to a large talent pool of freelancers worldwide. As a freelancer on, we will provide you with the resources necessary to showcase your talents, allowing you to connect with thousands of business owners in need of your services. is a smarter and easier way to grow your business and connect with clients looking to hire someone with your skillset. We will match you with recommended projects, connect you with clients, and help you every step of the way so you can get the best results. We also balance the quote to job post ratio, so that your chances of being hired are very high.

We have three different 6 month subscription packages for you to choose from. Each package gives you a monthly allotment of credits to use towards sending quotes."
Each day I receive about three offers. Some I'm not qualified for. Some are filled before I can respond. Most pay so little that they seem like slave labor.

The posting up at the top is typical. Rikki wants someone to write about 40,000 words for less than $500. Not only is that pathetic "chump change," (maybe a penny per word) but Rikki wants the book completed in no more than five days.

I suppose that the limited time and money may work for a beginning, desperate writer with time to kill. But the deal does not appeal to me and I'll probably cancel my Outsource membership.

Many of the job offers on Outsource are from people who want to masquerade as authors and sell ebooks they are unqualified to write. 

Offers on Outsource are a symptom of a sad trend advanced by other websites like

Various writing and artistic projects that were once worth hundreds of dollars are priced at five bucks each -- about the same as a couple of slices of pizza and a soda.

Talent and experience are valuable.

Artists and writers should not sell their work for next to nothing. They should not compete with other artists and writers as if illustrations and books were interchangeable commodities like tons of ore or barrels of oil.

In related depravity, I've been getting emails from This company is a ghostwriting service that provides termpapers for lazy, inept, corrupt students--and wants to run ads on this blog. Students pay $19.95 per page for custom papers. You can imagine how little the actual writers get paid.


Pizza/Pepsi photo from Thanks.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's time to dump on pathetic Outskirts Press, again

(left-click image to enlarge)

Outskirts Press is the inept and dishonest pay-to-publish company that I love to hate. Outskirts does so many things so badly, that it is a frequent target of this blog.

Outskirts -- like most of its competitors -- sells few books, so it must make its money by selling high-profit services and trinkets to its author-customers.

Every author needs a press release to announce books, and Outskirts is eager to provide an "original, unique press release for your book" for $219. Sadly, most Outskirts releases are absolutely dreadful, apparently hacked together by a not-very-bright robot supervised by a not-very-bright mammal.

"Original, unique" is blatant bullshit. There is little original or unique in an Outskirts Press release.

A Google search for the phrase "author's most recent book to date"  shows over 300,000 links -- in Outskirts book announcements.

  • The phrase is bad English (if the book is "most recent," then "to date" is superfluous -- a publisher should know this).
  • It's also inaccurate. A quick check of online info shows that the vast majority of "most recent book to date"  books are first books by their authors.
(left-click image to enlarge)
I wasn't surprised to find two errors (bad grammar and a typo) in two successive paragraphs on the Outskirts web page that describes its press release service. If the company's "professionals" can't even produce proper paragraphs for their own company, the chance of them producing a decent book for you is pretty close to ZERO.

Stay away from Outskirts Press.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Let's abolish the meaningless term "published author"

I recently read an introduction from a new member of an online group for authors.
The newbie said, "I am a published author."

I wanted to say, "BIG FUCKING DEAL!"

At one time being a published author implied that either:
  • A person wrote something so important or wonderful that a publisher paid to publish the book.
  • A person is so famous (like Levi Johnston, the almost-son-in-law of Sarah Palin) that a publisher paid to publish the book.
  • A person is egotistical and wealthy enough to pay thousands of dollars to a vanity press to publish the book.
Today, it takes almost no skill, time or money to become a published author.
  • If you can click a keyboard and move a mouse, you can be a published author.
  • The cost can be ZERO.
  • You don't have to impress anyone.
  • You can be a terrible writer and still be a published author.
  • It doesn't matter if nobody reads your book.
  • It's easier to become a published author than a licensed driver or a spouse.
Since it's so easy to become a published author, it means nothing to say you are one.

(By the way, it means almost nothing to say you're a bestselling author -- but I'm one.)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Check, please. And check your book again and again

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.)
Photo from Thanks.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How long does it take to write a book?

You’ll probably encounter books, courses and seminars that allegedly teach you how to write a book in an absurdly short length of time. Since it’s possible for a book to have just three words in it, it is actually possible to write a book in less than ten seconds!

However, most writers of “real” books take from three months to a year or more to write. And then the book requires more time for revising, editing, designing and marketing.

Very few self-published books come out “on time.” Everything takes longer than you think it will. If you rush, you will make mistakes that will take additional time to correct. It’s much more important to be good than to be fast or first.

The book shown below was supposed to go on sale in July of 2010. It should be ready in a month or two. Or three.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

IndieReCon online conference starts today.
It's free and can help all authors, anywhere

IndieReCon is a global conference focusing on all stages and levels of self-publishing. Running for three days, it provides live events online and offline.

IndieReCon was founded in 2013 by authors S. R. Johannes and Ali Cross. This year, IndieReCon has partnered with the Alliance of Independent Authors -– a non-profit, professional association for self-publishers -– to make IndieReCon bigger and better.

There will be over 30 bestselling indie authors and experts covering topics that cover the entire process of indie publishing. 

The offerings include online seminars, workshops, discussions and masterclasses culminating in a reader-centered Indie Author Fringe Fest live from The London Book Fair’s Book and Screen Week, on Friday.

CLICK for details, including schedule.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

20 major f**kups of self-publishing authors

1. Not assessing the marketplace before you write the book. Who are your potential readers? Who are your competitors? What are the prices of competing books? Will your book be better, more important, less expensive, have better distribution? Does anyone need your book? Will anyone want your book?

2. Not having professional editing and design

3. Paying too much for a self-publishing package (If you pay $5,000 or $50,000 it will be nearly impossible to earn back your cost of publishing.)

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

5. Not budgeting for promoting your book

6. Allowing a big “discount” for bricks-and-mortar booksellers which probably won’t stock your book anyway, and giving up the additional profit you could get from online sales

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

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

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

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

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

12. Pricing your book too high

13. Pricing your book too low

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

15. Waiting until the book is published to start marketing

16. Not having an understandable title

17. Not having a distinctive title

18. Not having a distinctive 'author name.'

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

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

More help in my 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice.   

Monday, April 13, 2015

Bad justification can't be justified

When I began my little publishing company in 2008, I had a lot to learn, so I bought about 40 books about publishing.

Many of the books about self-publishing were independently self-published or published by self-publishing companies. Many of them were extremely ugly.

They had terrible typography.

The worst sin was bad justification.

Type is said to be "justified" (or  "full-justified") when all of the lines of type in a paragraph (except for the first line if indented, and the last line) are the same width, and extend from the left margin to the right margin.
Examples of full,  flush-left, and flush-right justification
Some self-publishers are content to merely dump words onto pages and rely on their software to arrange the words properly.

That's not enough.

A book needs a human touch.

You must CAREFULLY examine each line so you can improve justification by changing words and hyphenation, and maybe alter the spaces between letters and words.
Failure to hyphenate justified text leads to ugly books. Don't be lazy.
It's a lot of work and takes a lot of time to do it right -- but it's the right way to produce a book. There's no easy way. There's no shortcut. You must invest the time to go line-by-line, over and over again, or your book will look like crap.

Bad justification is one of the most obvious signs of amateur publishing. Every book has some problems with justification. Self-publishers seem to have many more problems with justification than professionals do -- and the self-pubbers may not even know that they goofed.

A self-publisher has an extra burden to produce a high-quality product. Self-pubbed books are initially suspect and must prove their legitimacy, and a bad self-pubbed book reflects badly on other self-publishers. Ironically, the ugliest and worst-written book I’ve ever seen tries to give advice to self-publishers. It was apparently never edited, or checked by   publishing service that produced it.

(above) The limitations of the Internet and ebooks create the need for typographic compromises. As people get used to typographic abominations in electronic text formats, those abominations may become more acceptable in print. However, just because you can get away with ugliness, it doesn’t mean you should.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dear Supreme Court: please read this

I know you folks may be nearly ready to make marriage equality the law of our land, presumably with a 5-4 decision.

I sure hope there are at least five.

I am getting really annoyed by religious right-wingers who view marriage equality (i.e., same-sex marriage) as a threat to "traditional marriage" as sanctioned by the Bible.

I fail to see why a thousands-year-old, inconsistent, error-ridden document of dubious origin should set the standards for civil law in 21st-century America.

Sure, the Bible mentions monogamous heterosexual marriage, but it also says that:
  1. Rape victims should marry their rapists.
  2. A man can have multiple wives, and concubines.
  3. Male soldiers can capture female virgins and have sex with them.
  4. A slave owner can be a matchmaker for his slaves, and female slaves must have sex with their appointed mates.
In 2001, Holland became the first country to approve same-sex marriage. In the United States, although same-sex marriages do not have federal approval, same-sex couples can marry in a growing number of states plus the nation's capital, and approval is pending in other states. (So is disapproval.) Some states that do not allow same-sex marriages recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Thousands of same-sex marriages have occurred, much to the horror of organizations such as the American Family Association and Republican politicians that seek to defend "traditional marriage."

I hereby challenge them to identify even one heterosexual marriage that was damaged by a gay marriage.

There are millions of married straights. Did any of them divorce because gay married people moved in next door, or live in the next state or 2,000 miles away.

Being married is no big deal
(except for people who are not allowed to marry).

The institution of marriage is not a particularly exclusive club. It's not like winning a Harvard scholarship or a Nobel prize or being admitted to Phi Beta Kappa or Mensa.

When I wanted to get a marriage license back in 1971, I had to pay a few bucks and prove that I was at least 18 years old and did not have syphilis or gonorrhea.
I've been married to a woman for over 40 years. I would not be any less married if Jane married Louise, if Pedro married Waldo, or if a chipmunk married a frog -- and a flashlight.


Why the hell should anyone care who else is married?

There is not a limited number of marriages available. If Ted and Sam get married, there will still be marriage licenses available for Cynthia and Ira. It's not as if Ted and Sam ordered the last extra-crispy wings at KFC, and there were none left when Cynthia and Ira walked in.

"Pro-family" organizations and politicians should be pro-ALL-families. Republicans and other conservatives who want to minimize government involvement in citizens' private lives should keep government out of our bedrooms.

In an ironically named 1967 case, "Loving v. Virginia," a unanimous Supreme Court Decision said, "Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man." And men. And women.

(left-click to enlarge for easier reading)

(Chipmunk photo from  Powerful Intentions. Frog photo from National Geographic)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Will your writing be readable in 3,500 years? 350 years? 35 years?

Writers who produce ebooks only should think about future readability.

JERUSALEM (AP) - Archaeologists say a newly discovered clay fragment from the 14th century B.C. is the oldest example of writing ever found in antiquity-rich Jerusalem.

Dig director Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University says the 2-centimeter (0.8-inch) long fragment bears an ancient form of writing known as Akkadian wedge script.

The fragment includes a partial text including the words "you," "them," and "later."

It predates the next-oldest example of writing found in Jerusalem by 600 years, and dates roughly four centuries before the Bible says King David ruled a Jewish kingdom from the city.

Mazar said that the fragment likely came from a royal court and suggested more could be found in the most ancient part of Jerusalem, located in the city's predominantly Palestinian eastern sector.

If there are still people on the planet 3,500 years from now, will they be able to read your ebook?

What about 350 years, or 35 years?

Have you tried to find a device to play Laserdiscs (approx. 1978 - 2002), Elcasets (approx. 1976 - 1980) or quadraphonic 8-track tapes (approx. 1970 - 1975)?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Consistency may or may not be a virtue--with numbers,

There are several standards for printing numbers ("figures"). One calls for spelling out one through nine, another says you should spell out one through ten. In “serious” literary books you may even see “ninety-three” or “four thousand.”

Select a system and stick to it. One book in the For Dummies series has “10” and “ten” in the same paragraph!

One edition of the Wall Street Journal says: "And the bombs blew up within 3 miles of six level-one trauma units."

One of my personal rules is to use the same style when numbers are nearby: “eight to twelve” or “8 to 12”—not “eight to 12.” However, to avoid confusion and misreading, I write “four 10-lb bags, not “4 10-lb bags.”

I don’t spell out numbers in addresses or prices, except for low numbers like “One Main Street” or “five bucks.”

When numbers are approximate and used to present a mood rather than data, I usually spell the number, as in: “The chairman was surprised when more than fifty people showed up for the meeting.”

"A million years ago" is assumed to be an approximation. If you type "1,000,000 years," people will slow down and notice the digits and may assume that the number is precise. 

(from my upcoming No More Ugly Books!: design help for writers who don't hire artists)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Simple steps: How do you begin to write a book?

  1. Decide on your primary objective(s): Change the world, entertain the world, educate, inform, preserve memories, achieve personal fulfillment, have fun, make money, become famous, achieve higher status, get revenge, something else. Multiple objectives are fine--but not conflicting objectives. 
  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.
  7. Cut that down to one sentence so you have a quick, comprehendable answer to "what's your book about?"
  8. Read books for authors. Many are reviewed at Books for Authors
  9. Write. How to deal with writer's block 
  10. Oh yeah, if you plan to write poetry, forget about making money.
  11. 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

Monday, April 6, 2015

Your book's back cover is important. Make fakes 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 physical bookstore, the back cover is an important selling tool, an advertising medium. Make the most of it! It gives you an excellent opportunity to convince a prospective customer to purchase the book 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. 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.

(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. Many books have their prices printed near the ISBN bar code -- and 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 your country and possibly other countries.

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 (not shown here) 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?
While ebooks don't have 'real' pages or covers, they customarily get 'fake' front covers to help in marketing. Since Amazon and possibly some other booksellers allow you to post additional images, there is no reason not to design a back cover which will be another sales tool.

If your ebook is a version of a pbook, you can simply post an image of its cover (modified, if appropriate). If there is no pbook, you have a 'blank slate' -- so take advantage of it. Make your fake back cover a real sales tool. Keep in mind that since the fake back cover doesn't have to be attached to a real book, you can make it any shape you want. (Don't abuse your power.)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Authors: My father said it before Nike. They're both right. Just do it.

When I was 24 years old, I discussed a business idea with my father. I asked him if he thought I should try it. He said he didn’t know if I’d succeed, but he did know that if I didn’t try it, for the rest of my life I’d wonder what would have happened if I did try it.

If you wonder what will happen if you write and publish a book—try it! The risk is low and the potential benefit is huge.

Words are toys for me. As a writer, I get paid to have fun. Writing books and blogs is probably the second best way for a man to make money. I'm close to my 69th birthday, so I have little chance of employment as a gigolo. (Anyway, wife Marilyn has an exclusive contract for my intimate services.)

If I can publish books, so can others. (And, of course, my books can help.)

There's no good reason to wait until next year, next week or tomorrow to start a book. Just do itNOW.

Be productive. Have fun. Be useful. Be innovative. Don't be afraid to piss people off. What you think of yourself is more important than what others think of you. Write to please yourself. It's nice if your words cause others to smile, say "thanks" and pay money; but self-satisfaction is more important. Not everyone has to "get" you. Even a small happy audience can be satisfying.

Don't leave the keyboard until you're satisfied with what you've written, because you never know which words will be your last words.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Writers: here's how to reduce your income tax!

April 15th is normally Income Tax Day in the USA. (In truth, I don't care about the deadline because I almost never file on time, anyway.)

There's a lot to misunderstand about income taxes. However, my birthday is April 15th, so I am particularly qualified to give tax advice. I don't know everything, however. If you need help in setting up bank accounts in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, ask Mitt Romney.

Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I had a simple formula that worked very well (i.e., no audits ever, and refunds every year):
  1. No more than 10% for the feds.
  2. No more than 5% for the state.
  3. No more than 1% for the city.
For 14 years I've been in Connecticut. There are no city taxes, but life is more complicated. I pay my accountant about $700 for a few hours work necessary to produce my annual business and personal federal and state returns. After much scientific number crunching, he still comes up approximately with the same percentages I established 40 years ago.

I'll pass on a tip for a deduction I developed while working as an advertising copywriter and have continued to use as a webmaster, writer and publisher.

EVERY piece of media you consume should be deducted in the range of 25% to 100%. Deduct movies, CDs, games, concerts, artwork, vacations, MP3 players, big TVs, books, magazines, newspapers, iPad, smart phone, museum visits... all that stuff that helps you stay aware of trends in culture.

Years ago my father owned a chain of clothing stores. He once considered deducting his subscription to Playboy (which did provide news and advice about mens' fashions among the airbrushed large-breasted babes). Alas, he was afraid to list a skin mag on his tax return, so he sent too much money to the IRS.  I have no such reluctance -- and may have bigger cojones.

With proper classifications, you can probably get Uncle Sam to subsidize porn, booze and hallucinogens.

Here's some more advice of uncertain value:
  1. A successful small business is one that breaks even each year, with a slightly higher gross income.
  2. Big profits are nice if you're trying to sell the business, but not when you're filing your income tax return.
  3. Write about stuff you like, whether it's wine, sports cars, clothes, travel, cameras, horse racing or sex. Then you can deduct everything you spend on fun -- if you classify it as "research."
  4. There's almost nothing that's too crappy to donate to Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army and claim an appropriate deduction for. Bill Clinton was criticized for claiming a deduction for donating used underwear. I'm not the president and don't care what Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh will say about me. I lost a lot of weight recently, and a few years ago I donated lots of oversized underwear. Washed, of course.
  5. If you are bad about saving money for a rainy day, it’s tempting to let Uncle Sam save money for you. I did that for years, and even earned interest on the money that was due me. Now there is a limit to how long you can let your money sit in Fort Knox (or wherever they keep the surplus) and the IRS may assess a penalty just for filing late, even if you don't owe anything, so check with a pro. Also: your state tax people may be tougher than the IRS.
I am not a professional tax adviser  I'm more of a professional wiseass (who usually gets away with his wiseassing).

I put a lot of what I've learned into an ebook. It can save you many times its low cost. 

Writers Can Get Away With Apparently Absurd Tax Deductions That Ordinary People Can't