Monday, August 31, 2015

How to become a freelance writer

I am the administrator of a Facebook group for writers. One member recently asked, "How do I become a free lance writer?" Here's my reply (slightly edited):

First of all, "freelance" is one word.

The term comes from medieval times, when a mercenary warrior would provide himself and his lance to a lord who would pay for his services, rather than to a lord he had a long-term relationship with.

I freelanced for dozens of magazines, newspapers and advertising agencies back in the 1970s. I had majored in journalism in college and then moved to NYC and got a job as ass't editor of a magazine. I used my contacts gained at that magazine, plus samples of what I had written, to sell work to other publications as well as ad agencies.

The specific paths may vary, but three vital ingredients are 

(1) experience that generates published writing samples,
(2) knowledge of potential media clients,
(3) story ideas. (In journalism, an article is called a "story" or a "piece.")

It will probably be tough to sell your first article if you have no experience. Many writers start writing for low-paying (or even no-paying) community newspapers. If you can write very well about even dull news events, such as school board meetings, Little League or high school sports, or community bake sales, your published samples should help you to move up to more interesting assignments at better-paying media.

It's important to become familiar with publications, broadcast stations and online media that might publish your work. My first job was at a "trade" magazine that went to hi-fi dealers. My knowledge of hi-fi equipment got me work writing for Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy and Country Music magazines. My experience there helped me make the transition to more mainstream magazines such as Esquire as well as newspapers, ad agencies and PR agencies.

  • It's much easier to get freelance work if you have a specialty, or multiple specialties, hopefully with little competition.
If you are one of just three people in the world who know all about left-handed nuclear reactors, and an editor needs a story about that subject, it will be easier to get the assignment than if you are one of a million people who like to write about cars, decorating kids' rooms or cooking turkey.
  • You should constantly be sending out "pitch letters" (which can be emails), suggesting stories to appropriate media. Even if you don't sell the pieces you suggest, once you become known to editors, they'll probably contact you when they need a story in a field you are qualified to write about.
You have to learn the appropriate contacts at the media you are interested in. That info can be gleaned by reading the staff listings in the publications, and through directories. In general, publishers are concerned with finance, not writing, so don't contact them. At a small publication, contact the editor. If there are multiple editors, contact those who are in charge of departments that are appropriate for your work.

Don't pitch an article about do-it-yourself bicycle repair to a cooking magazine or a website for funeral directors.

  • While specialization makes it easier to get work, it's important to be able to write about anything. Even if you normally write about fashions or funerals, if you are first-on-scene at a train crash, particularly if it is not covered by others, try to sell the news report.
One other path to publication is blogging. With a blog you just have to make readers happy, not impress an editor. Over the years I've written blogs that specialized in multiple subjects, and some of them led to freelance writing gigs.
  • Be aware that there are probably as many writers looking for work as there are unemployed actors and singers. The oversupply reduces the money that publications will pay, except for the top tier of writers.
Freelancers can be paid by the word, by the "column inch" (in newspapers) by the number of pages published (in a magazine), or by other systems. In the early 70s I was paid from a dime to a dollar per word. I was shocked to discover that some current publications pay as little as two cents per word.

Writers Market is an excellent directory of possible buyers of your words and should be on your shelf. In addition to its directory function, it has lots of helpful advice on the business of writing.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Some ligatures are used to murder people. Other ligatures improve books.

On TV cop shows, a ligature is a wire, necklace, shoelace, rope or cord used to strangle a “vic.” The photo above shows a "ligature mark," frequently analyzed by the coroner, medical examiner or forensic pathologist.

(Leslie Hendrix played Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Elizabeth Rodgers, the longest-running recurring character in Law & Order and one of only five characters who appeared in all four Law & Order TV shows set in New York.)

[above] In typography, a ligature is seldom deadly. It's several letters joined together to save a little space and improve appearance. Some fonts include more ligatures than others. In Microsoft Word, you can select ligatures from the symbols section, or apply ligatures in the Open Type section of the Font dialog box. It’s much more important to use ligatures in the large type on book covers and title pages and perhaps on chapter openings, than in normal text.

[below] Some ligatures are much less common than others, and some are downright mysterious. The “i-j” ligature looks like  a “y” with two dots over it. The “s-t” combo doesn’t seem to save any space. The “a-e” and “o-e” are too similar to figure out without the rest of the word, and the “f-s” is hard to decipher without a cheat-sheet. It could be a “j-3.” 

[below] The ampersand is the most common ligature, but most people don’t think of it as a ligature because it is so common. It is probably the only ligature commonly drawn by hand, and is on most keyboards.

In most typefaces it’s hard to tell which letters have been combined to make the ampersand. The two letters are “E” and “t,” which spell “et” — the Latin word for “and.” In English it is pronounced “and,” not “et,” except in the rare case of  “&c,” which is pronounced “et cetera.”  In the examples above, only the last one (Trebuchet MS) clearly reveals the original “E” and “t.”

Although the ampersand is often used in business names and logos such as A&P, AT&T, Barnes & Noble, Bain & Company and Simon & Schuster, it is inappropriate in normal text. Ampersands are sometimes used in book titles to save space on covers. I spent a lot of time looking for a book cover with an ampersand. After I gave up, on a Saturday morning FedEx brought me this excellent book — about typography — with an ampersand on the cover.

This blog post is adapted from my upcoming Typography for Independent Publishers

Top photo from Hendrix photo from NBC. Thanks.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

There are at least 50 ways to mess up your book

Paul Simon sang about the 50 ways to leave your lover. I've found 50 ways to mess up my own books. How about you?

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

Here are some sad rules of life in book publishing: 

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hyp-he-na-ti-on c-an b-e h-ila-rio-us. B-e ca-ref-ul

I take a perverse joy in discovering stupid hyphenations produced by Microsoft Word. One recent discovery is "bin-aural," instead of "bi-naural." It's not as good as "the-rapist," "of-fline" "fi-ne" and "proo-freader," but is worth including in my li-st.

Here's some classic hy-phen humor from Saturday Night Live.

Microsoft, however, is not the only offender. The New York Daily News has presented us with a powerful piece of innovative typography:


Ebooks, where word flow is controlled by software -- not sentient beings -- produce some gems. I recently savored a wonderful memoir, the Kindle edition of The Brothers Emanuel, by Ezekiel J. "Zeke" Emanuel. On one page I encountered "swit-ching." Is it related to the I Ching?

Automatic hyphenation by ebook readers is both funny and sad. I’ve seen “booksto-re,” “disappoin-ting, “depen-ding” and “increa-sing” -- within a few pages in the same book.

Microsoft Word often seems to guess or to follow a rule based on recognizable patterns rather than consult an internal dictionary. It sometimes makes bad guesses. Word 2010 is a little bit better than 2007. 

[above] Strangely, hyphenation is debatable. Microsoft Word and accept “eve-ryone.” Merriam-Webster does not. Neither do I. My own rule for hyphenation is that the first part of a hyphenated word should not be pronounced differently by itself than when it’s part of a larger word. I think most people expect “eve” to be pronounced “eev”—not “ev” or ev-uh.” The “eve” in “eve-ning” is not pronounced like the “eve” in “eve-ryone.”

Word’s hyphenation system sometimes makes bad guesses and you’ll have to overrule its decisions. Proofread very carefully and never have complete faith in robots.

“The-rapist” is my favorite abomination sanctioned by Microsoft. I also really like “of-fline” “who-lesaler,” “Fa-cebook,” “books-tore,” “upl-oad,” “wastel-and,” “proo-freading,” “apo-strophe,” “li-mited,” “identic-al,” “firs-thand,” “fru-strating,” “whe-never,” “foo-ter,” “miles-tone,” “grays-cale,” “distri-bute,” “percen-tage,” “prin-ter,” “fami-liarity,” “misunders-tanding,” “mi-nimize,” “sa-les,” “me-thod,” “libra-rian,” “mi-spronounced,” “alt-hough” and “bet-ween.”

Word often assumes that the letter “e” indicates the end of a syllable as in “be-come” and causes errors like “Ste-ve,” “the-se,” “cre-dit” and “se-tup.”

Word recognizes that “par” is a common syllable, 

which leads to “par-chment.” Maybe Bill Gates retired too soon.  Someone has to fix this stuff.

You may want to override Word’s hyphenation decision with “heteronyms” -- words that are spelled the same way but have two meanings and are pronounced in two ways. Word gives you “min-ute” when you want “mi-nute” and rec-ord even if you want “re-cord.” The automatic hyphenation “inva-lid” makes it seem like you are writing about someone who is ailing, not an “in-valid” contract. Word 2007 and 2010 won’t hyphenate either “Po-lish” or “pol-ish.”

Word’s automatic hyphenation can give weird results with proper names, such as “Fe-dex,” “Publi-shAmerica” and “Pa-nasonic.”

The free “Writer” software from Open Office has problems, too. It produced “unders-tanding.”

I once read a book that advised, “If you do not use a professional your manuscript will not be perfect. Do not proofread it yourself and declare it perfect.” The professional approved “loo-ked,” “winso-me” and “proo-freader.” Ouch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

FUCK YOU, Henry Holt & Co.
DROP DEAD, Nation Books.
High book prices hurt both readers and authors

On Sunday I heard an interview with author Carl Safina and decided to buy his new book about animal communications. I went to to place my order and I was horrified. 

As an author, publisher, reader and animal lover, this book really pisses me off.

The hardcover costs a reasonable $17.96, but I'm trying to stop buying printed books. My bookshelves are overwhelmed with over 3,000 pbooks. I expect to move to a smaller house next year. I love the convenience of e-reading on multiple devices.

The ebook costs a ridiculous $16.99.

With no expense for paper, cardboard, cloth, printing, storage, packing, shipping or returns, the price difference between p and e should be much more than 97 cents.

For now I will refuse to buy the book. I feel deprived and enraged. I offer an apologetic I'm sorry to the author and a disgusted FUCK YOU to publisher Henry Holt and Co.

I could certainly afford $16.99 for a book I want to read, or even $50, but I don't like feeling ripped off. No ebook should cost more than $9.99. Even at that price there should be plenty of money for the author and the publishing company.

I had a similar problem on Monday.

I heard about a book about post-Katrina New Orleans written by
Roberta Brandes Gratz and went to to buy it.

The hardcover has a very reasonable price: $17.88.

The Kindle ebook shows contempt for readers with a price of $15.39.

I hereby send a disgusted FUCK YOU to publisher Nation Books, and an apologetic I'm Sorry to the author.

As an author and publisher I certainly know that words have value and that books should provide a profit. I detest the trend to sell ebooks for 99 cents, or zero cents. However, high prices are as destructive and counter-productive as low-low prices.

Back in early 2010 I wrote about the ebook pricing problem:
Just what ebooks are worth is a matter of debate. Publishers argue that printing and distribution represents a small proportion of the total cost of making a book.

“There are people who don’t always understand what goes into an author writing and an editor editing and a publishing house with hundreds of men and women working on these books,” said Mark Gompertz, executive vice president of digital publishing at Simon & Schuster. “If you want something that has no quality to it, fine, but we’re out to bring out things of quality, regardless of what type of book it is.”

To consumers who do not pay much attention to the economics of publishing, though, such arguments are trumped by the fact that ebooks have been available for $9.99 for more than a year.

One reason consumers may be sensitive to pricing is that they have so many other types of entertainment to occupy their time. (Next sentence added today) The same $15 or more that can pay for a book can pay for a movie, videogame, sports event, train ticket, a visit to a museum or a zoo, or a meal.

Walmart, Costco, Amazon, Vizio and Hyundai have proven that when prices come down, sales go up.

It seems highly likely that many more copies of a book can be sold at $9.99 than at $17.96, and the higher sales volume means MORE MONEY for author, bookseller and publisher -- with NO ADDITIONAL EFFORT OR COST.

It seems obvious that the only reason that publishers don't want to have $9.99 ebooks is because they don't want to hurt sales of more expensive pbooks -- not because they can't make enough money on the ebooks.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  If pbooks could be sold without the archaic and wasteful unlimited returns by booksellers, the price of pbooks could come down, too. Maybe we could get either p or e for $9.99.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A writer who doesn't know right from left should not give advice about publishing

"Self Publishing a Book explained in one minute"
From Lull Mengesha:
  1. Register for a copyright.
  2. Get ISBN and Barcode.
  3. Find Print on Demand Publisher.
These are just the things that took me a LONG time to figure out that really shouldn’t have been so difficult. 


From Michael N. Marcus:
  1. The first thing you do is NOT to register for a copyright. That’s one of the last things you do, and you can do it months after the book is published.
  2. NO NO NO. You can get the ISBN and bar code from a publisher, or after you find a publisher, or after you become a publisher -- because it connects a specific version of a book to a specific publisher!
  3. It’s also a bad idea to produce a promotional video that shows your book with a left-right reversal.
Lull has a lot to learn before he starts giving advice, and he needs an editor, or a better editor, for the book.

And, of course, it's not possible to explain self-publishing in one minute. My first book about self-publishing has 432 pages, and probably takes a few days to read.

Friday, August 21, 2015

You'll be amazed at the errors you'll find if you look at your book without reading it

After you've read your new masterpiece 183 times, sit a bit farther back from your screen and LOOK at the pages -- don't read them.

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

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

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

More in my 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice: Learn to plan, write, title, edit, format, cover, copyright, publicize, publish and sell your pbooks and ebooks


glasses: Ed Hardy Gold EHO-732 Women's Designer Eyeglasses - Tortois Gold

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A good story can't compensate for sloppy writing

Writers seeking readers should be very careful.

On an online forum for writers, editors and publishers, someone was trying to attract attention to a new book and get advice for promoting it. He wrote, "My first novel . . . . will soon be relaesed to Amazon, B&N and ebooks."

That typing error is not a big deal, but it stands out like a sore thumb and could have been easily fixed before the world saw it. Also, a book is not released "to" ebooks.

Sadly, these errors are part of a pattern of carelessness limiting the effectiveness of this new novelist who is trying to sell books in a very crowded field.
  • Some of the errors in one short blog post include "bias" instead of "biased," "wonderous" instead of "wondrous," "existance" instead of "existence," "Capitalism" instead of "capitalism," "was" instead of "were," "socio-economic" instead of "socioeconomic" and "hell bent" instead of "hell-bent."
  • In just a few paragraphs of his online book sample, he wrote "marines" instead of "Marines," "cake walk" instead of "cakewalk," "whaopping" instead of "whopping," "coffee-table" instead of "coffee table," "main-room" instead of "main room," "oak, dining table" instead of "oak dining table" and "table-lamp" instead of "table lamp." There is also improper punctuation.
The author is a good storyteller, but he's a careless author. His book was supposed to go on sale a few days later. Based on the online sample, the book -- like the cast of "Saturday Night Live" -- was not ready for prime time.

The publisher's website says, "Quality is our top concern." In an online forum, a representative of the publisher made multiple errors in English. That's not a good sign. I am not confident in the prospects for this book. I hope a good editor was eventually hired to work on it.

photo from Microsoft clipart

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How long will it take you 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.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Menu-makers and writers can use my cheat sheet


Mickey pic from Disney.
Bullwinkle pic from
Mouse photo from I don't remember
Marina photo from
Mesclun photo from
Hamburg photo from Daniel Schwen
Big Mac photo from Mickey Dee's


Monday, August 17, 2015

Facebook has 1.5 billion members and 10,000 employees. It needs some employees who'll talk to those members.

I've been a mostly satisfied member of Facebook since 2008. I spend several hours on FB each day. I use it for personal and business communication. I both write and read.

I am the founder and administrator of about a dozen FB groups. One has nearly 600 members. One has 34 members. Most have somewhere between those numbers.

My main work in running the groups is posting interesting material, approving or rejecting prospective members, answering questions and acting as referee.

Most of the group members are very well-behaved, but sometimes there are trouble-making trolls who must be ejected.

I did exactly that on Thursday, August 13th. Group members supported my decision and the troll soon disappeared -- not just from my group, but from all of Facebook. I thought that was the end of it, but no.

On Saturday morning I was unable to use Facebook and I got a series of useless and infuriating messages. The posting quoted below was NOT posted by me. It is NOT written in my writing style. It was apparently written in response to my post about ejecting a troll from the group.

Then came the trouble. I was blocked from all access to FB for 24 hours, and then blocked from posting for 24 more hours.

It was nice of Facebook to offer me the opportunity to tell its robots that a mistake was made. Alas, my message was instantly rejected by the useless "Help Center" even before it could be analyzed:

I'm not one of the archetypal Facebook members who post reports of Elvis sightings and cute cat photos all day long. I readily admit that despite having a dog, not a cat, some of my postings are less-than-serious:

However, my wife recently had a serious brain injury and has been hospitalized for nearly two months, and I was diagnosed with unexpected heart trouble. Many friends and relatives expect periodic medical reports, and when I am silent, they may suspect the worst. Others merely rely on me for news and entertainment.

Because of the blackout I was unable to wish my sister, and nephew and niece, happy anniversaries, to respond to business questions, and to partake in the other normal social media activities that are part of 21st century life. I also could not perform my duties as a group administrator.
I was even blocked from using my Facebook 'credentials' to leave comments on such websites as

Back in 2010 Facebook published libelous and threatening posts about me.
(left-click to enlarge for easy reading)
There was a phony and dangerous petition aimed at having me put on the Connecticut registry of sex offenders. The petition was signed by a non-existent Mike Josephs and signed by seven non-existent supporters, and two real human beings who were scammed into supporting the cause.
'People' signing the petition called for my caging, castration and killing; and my Facebook friends were notified of the petition.

I complained to Facebook immediately--and frequently--pointing out that false identities were used in violation of Facebook policy, as well as copyright violation, libel, lies and calls for violence. 

In 2010 Facebook took more than a month to remove the false statements about me--but Facebook's reaction last week for words I did not write was instantaneous.

The "Help Center" provided no help at all and there was no accessible email address or phone number to use to obtain help.

Facebook employs a robotic cop, witness, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. They function without human intervention.

We all know that sometimes technology goes amok -- and I think that Facebook has an obligation to provide intelligent, knowledgeable, empowered and compassionate human beings to intercede when the company's technology causes trouble.

Facebook has produced a desirable and useful service that generates billions of dollars in income each year, but it must provide suitable help when members (customers, actually) have trouble.

It used to be hard to speak to a human being at when there was a problem with an order, a book review, anything. The company still does not put its customer service phone number in bold type at the top of each page, but the number (1.866.216.1071) can be found and there's a link to request a quick call-back.

Facebook should do the same, or more.

(above) The book I wrote about my 2010 online ordeal.

Terminator image from Thanks.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Lessons from previous jobs help me as a book publisher

My first job after college was as assistant editor of a magazine that went to hi-fi dealers. As a "trade magazine" entirely financed by advertisers, we sometimes delayed an issue by a day or two or three to bring in more ads. Readers got their subscriptions for free so almost no one complained if a magazine was late. If someone did complain, we always blamed he Post Office. 

After that, I was an editor in Rolling Stone's Manhattan office, in an era when headquarters was in San Francisco. Deadlines were inflexible. We had no fax machines, email or FedEx in 1971 and I sometimes drove to Laguardia airport to have a column air-freighted cross-country.

After that I was an "award-winning Madison Avenue copywriter." Ad production schedules were rigid with several people monitoring progress of various departments. If an ad did not reach a print publication on time, or a commercial did not reach a TV network or radio station on time, the agency lost income and might lose a client. Production schedule charts were on walls where everyone involved could keep track of what had to be done, when. If we had to work through lunch, or until 3 AM or on weekends, well, it's the nature of the business.

Since 2008 I have operated my own tiny Silver Sands Books (more than 40 books so far). I have no one supervising me, but I do keep a big production chart on the wall. It's not a rigid schedule. In fact, it's more of a wish list to keep me aware of what should be done approximately when, and what has slipped back because of my own changing priorities or outside factors beyond my control.

Even thought I am the boss, the chart has a powerful presence and is not easily ignored. I ultimately get to decide if I am going to devote time, energy and money to a new book rather than revise an old one or finish an overdue one -- but I have to answer to the almighty chart.

(It also helps me keep track of the ISBNs I've assigned or not used.)

Latest book: Do As I Say, Not As I Did.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

It's OK to call me a grammar geek, but not a werd nerd

A geek probably has better social skills but may be clumsier than a nerd, who is less single-minded than a wonk and less obsessively studious than a grind and less pathetic than a dork -- but the terms overlap in many respects.

Read more:  and and 

Nerd pic from

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Authors: think about your book pages' margins.

Two days ago I discussed white space, also known as negative space or air.

The most obvious kind of white space in a book is its margins.

A margin
 is the space between your text or illustrations and the edges of the paper (or virtual paper in an ebook). I mentioned my rule of thumb: a margin at the side of a page should be big enough to fit an adult human thumb without covering any text or illustration.

Each page has four margins, and they can be the same or different. It’s common for vertical margins to be larger than horizontal margins, and sometimes the top and bottom margins are not the same size. This is where the book's formatter gets to make an aesthetic judgment. Small margins make a book look lousy and hard to read. New designers and cheapskates often maximize the number of words on a page, so fewer pages will be needed and a book can be printed for less money. (A printed page costs about a penny, e-pages cost nothing.)

White space demonstrates extravagance and implies wealth. When I was a child I was advised to eat everything on my plate. When I was a teenager I dated a wealthy girl who had been taught to always leave some uneaten food on her plate so no one would think she actually needed the meal. White space is part of the paper you choose not to print on. If your primary consideration is to get the most for your money, you would leave as little white space as possible.

Ample white space implies that you own the entire page but don’t need to consume it -- you can use it for aesthetics rather than for practical purposes. It’s like having roses -- not tomatoes -- in your garden.

Because of its uniform line length, justified text lacks some of the negative space that flush-left text provides. Experiment with other ways to add negative space to a page. Larger margins can help. Extra space between paragraphs adds negative space which makes a page more attractive, but also makes each paragraph look more independent rather than part of a unified “whole.”

Your publisher or printer can tell you the minimum margins for the page size you’re planning to use. A common minimum size is ½ inch on all sides. You can choose to have bigger margins than the minimum, but not smaller.

[above] The medium affects the margins—and the gutter
If you have either large pages in a slim book or a spiral binding it’s good to have smaller margins on the inside of a page (the gutter) than on the outer edge. This can make the three vertical white strips (left, center and right) look approximately the same.
In thick books the inside gutter margins often dissipate as they curve into the binding With the common 6-by-9 page and a book of about 300 pages I like to use the same-width margins on left and right.
When a printed book has more than about 500 pages, it’s a good idea to provide additional gutter width to compensate for the white space that dissipates into the binding. Your printer or publisher can advise you.
If your book is going to be e-only, you don’t have to think about gutters.

A printed book with large pages simply has more room for white space than does a book with smaller pages. In newspapers where space is fought over by editorial and advertising departments, text gets less white space than in books. 

[below] Some good advice from 1907.

[below] Without sufficient negative space, a page seems overstuffed and it repels -- rather than attracts—readers.

[below]  Compare how the same text appears with larger margins.

[below] Compare how it looks with larger margins, indented paragraphs and more leading (space between lines of type).

[below] When leading is too large, the negative space dominates the text.

[below] If your text is set as flush-left/ragged-right, particularly with no hyphenation and in multiple columns, pages can develop oversize and ugly blotches of negative space. Don’t let it happen.

[below] Here’s a much nicer version, with full justification and hyphenation.

[below] If the white space that separates columns of text on one page is too narrow, readers may skip over the space and start reading the next column, instead of moving down through the first column. 

[below] Negative space can be used as an alternative to horizontal lines (rules) to separate sections of text.

[below] Placing more white space above and below a subhead (also known as a breaker head) makes it more dramatic and important. If it introduces a new section, put more space above it than below it so it is more strongly associated with the text that follows.

[below] Placing more white space above the opening of a chapter makes it much more dramatic. Compare these pages from two of my books:

[below] When a graphic element is inserted within text, make sure to provide adequate white space around it. Compare the upper and lower photos in the page shown. The amount of white should be proportionate to the size of the graphic, but there is no specific rule. The more space you provide around a photograph, the more important it will seem to be. The default spacing in Microsoft Word is .13 inch. You probably should not go below .1, but if a photo includes its own white or light border you can get closer without crowding.

This post is adapted from my upcoming Typography for Independent Publishers.