Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What's the worst thing about book publishing?

Everybody is a goddam busybody.

Movie studios announce their "weekend gross" and the figures are published by Box Office Mojo -- an online reporting service currently averaging over two million unique visitors per month. Those millions can't possibly all be theater owners, actors, agents, producers, directors and studio bosses. Fans and groupies are intensely interested in ticket sales.

Box Office Mojo is regularly quoted in business publications like the Wall Street Journal, plus mainstream USA Today and even local newspapers such as the New York Daily News, and broadcast media.

It seems that much of the world's population has an intense desire to know the details of every commercial enterprise.

When people learn that I've written and published a bunch of books, the instant reaction is "how many have you sold?"

These people are friends, relatives and even complete strangers who would not likely ask about my salary, net worth or medical condition -- but they think it's fine to ask about my book sales.

I often feel like saying "It's none of your damn business," but the honest answer is that I don't know how many I've sold. And I don't even care how many I've sold. I make a profit. I pay my bills. Money comes in every month. The amounts go up and down and up again. I like what I'm doing and expect to have an income for the rest of my life.

Some folks seem to evaluate authors based on their bestseller status. Those busybodies can write their own damn books and see how easy it isn't. (A few of my books are bestsellers and one, strangely, was an Amazon bestseller on the first day it was available.)

And, unless you're an IRS agent or you want to make a movie based on one of my books, my sales figures really are none of your damn business.

I write primarily for personal satisfaction. After that come entertaining, informing and maybe changing the world. Fame is OK, too. I'm no longer 17 and searching for sex. I have plenty of food. I don't need to impress my parents or teachers. Making money is a very pleasant side benefit of writing, but it's not my prime motivator.

Many books about publishing (some that I've written) talk about the profitability of publishing, but there’s nothing wrong with publishing for pleasure. The cost of publishing a book may be much less than the cost of a boat, a vacation or even a pool table -- and nobody expects them to show a profit.

If you can afford to publish for fun, do it. If you can make money while having fun, that’s even better. Your motivation -- and your money -- are nobody's business but yours.

(Chart from Pool table photo from StarJumper, licensed through

Monday, December 19, 2016

How do you show how many?

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 (my usual standard). In 'serious' literary books and some magazines 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 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.”

Don't start a sentence with a figure, like "9,423 people registered to vote in August." To avoid spelling out "Nine-thousand, four-hundred, twenty-three" you can restructure the sentence as "More than 9,000 . . . ." or "The number of August registrants was 9,423."

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Do you have PASSION? It's the missing ingredient in would-be bestsellers

The Internet is filled with advice on creating bestselling books. Most of it involves finding the most popular online search topics.

According to many of the 'experts' (most of whom want to sell you something), if millions of people are interested in Oprah, Wells Fargo or Obama, you can easily sell millions of books about Oprah, Wells Fargo or Obama and make millions of dollars.
  • It doesn't matter if you're a shitty writer, know nothing about the subject and don't think professional editing and design are necessary.
Some 'experts' tell you that instead of actually writing a book you can just copy words from the web and paste them together, use any available software to create a cover and soon untold riches and fame will be yours.

(above) Sadly, many of the ugliest and least-useful books are written to help others publish books.

There is no certainty about selling anything. There are many things a writer -- even a very good writer -- cannot control.
Research, testing and advance publicity might be useful, but trying to tailor a book to perceived reader interest can lead to yet another redundant barbecue cookbook, stop-smoking guide or celebrity confession.

Market research is no substitute for PASSION for the subject of the book and strong PROMOTION for the book.
  • Without passion, writers are factory laborers.
  • Without effective promotion, potential readers won't know the book exists.
Also, if you delay publication so you can engage in extensive research and test marketing, interest in the subject may pass by the time your book goes on sale and competitive books may beat you to the marketplace.
  • If an author is aiming at traditional publishing, a year of advance research before a search for an agent and publisher can be an eternity.
  • Self-publishing greatly reduces the time-to-market compared to traditional publishing. A book can be published in a few weeks or months.
Over a dozen of my books have been bestsellers with ZERO market research. Steve Jobs developed amazing Apple products based on his own passion, not on market research.

My recent book, Do As I Say, Not As I Did quickly became a bestseller without my checking to find out what people were searching for on Google or Bing. I wrote about what I know about and have passion for.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Do you know enough about marketing your books?

My mother doesn't really look like this.
Years ago, if my mother said she was “going marketing” I knew that she was going to the supermarket, and maybe also to the butcher, the fruit and veggie market, the appetizing store and hopefully even to Carvel for ice cream. She’d load the trunk of her car with the food and supplies the family would need for a few days.

To Mom, marketing was buying.

For authors, especially self-publishing authors, marketing is selling.

It’s not the specific transaction of handing or sending someone a book after they hand you cash or a credit card or place an order online. It’s really all of the steps that lead up to the transaction when a book is exchanged for money.

Every activity and occupation seems to have an organization. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

In plainer English, marketing is the process of making people aware of what you want to sell them, and convincing them to buy it.

Each product area — including fresh-caught fish, screwdrivers, nuclear reactors, driveway resurfacing, hair dying and books — has a traditional system for marketing. Alternative channels may sometimes evolve or be discovered, devised or imposed. It’s best to at least understand the system that’s in place before inventing a new one.

The first step in marketing, or in a marketing plan, is to identify your customers and your potential competitors. The more precisely you can define the customers, the easier it will be to reach them and the more efficient your marketing can probably be.
  • If you’re writing and publishing a dictionary, your potential market is all of the people in the world who can read the language you are publishing in, or are trying to learn it. The potential audience could be many millions, and your potential competitors may number in the hundreds.
  • If your book is about your not-so-famous mother, you probably have no competitors covering the same subject, and your potential audience may be eight people.
  • Most books fall somewhere in between. Books intended to help fisherman, amateur mechanics, guitar repairmen and corn growers probably have potential audiences in the tens or even hundreds of thousands — and dozens of competitors.
Unless you are writing in a very new field, you are likely to face competition from existing books as well as books that are in the pipeline. Try to write something that is better than the competition — or at least make it seem that way. Powerful marketing can make even ludicrous ideas seem legitimate.

It’s important to understand the difference between “push marketing” and “pull marketing.” Books of fiction and poetry and most memoirs use push marketing. You must “push” your books on readers who really don’t need to read what you wrote. It can take much more time and effort to push a book than to write it.

A non-fiction book about an important subject can be sold with much easier pull marketing. If there is an existing need for the information or advice you are offering, readers will search for it and “pull” the books from the printing presses, warehouses and stores.

In book publishing, your customers are not just the potential readers. You have to court, impress, seduce and convince other potential “partners.” Your partners include booksellers, as well as a wide range of influencers. Traditionally the primary influencers were book reviewers in printed newspapers and magazines. Today many newspapers no longer review books, and magazines are disappearing. In their place is a constantly growing group of online influencers on blogs, websites and social media such as Facebook. You have thousands of potential allies who can recommend your book — or condemn it. This blog both praises and slams books.

Book marketing has a lot in common with the marketing of other products, but it’s also very different.
  • Unlike food, books are not consumed and then replaced with identical items throughout the life of a customer.
  • Unlike clothing, books are not outgrown and replaced with a larger size.
  • Unlike tires or tools, books are not replaced because they’ve worn out.
  • Unlike handkerchiefs, people don’t buy a pack of a dozen identical books to save money.
  • Unlike cars, you probably won’t sell a book to each adult in the family.
  • Unlike cars or videogames, people seldom trade-in older books for the latest model.
  • Unlike televisions, people generally don’t return a book after trying it and finding they don’t like it.
  • Unlike frying pans or screwdrivers, people don’t buy the same type of book in different sizes.

(illustration from Thanks.) 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

This is probably the second-worst book ever published, and it's about publishing books

I reviewed this terrible book before. I was curious to see if an improved version had been published. But this version, unchanged in over ten years, still stands as the author's crowning achievement. This book is so bad that it's worth mentioning again.

The worst-looking and second-worst-written book I know of is Best in Self-Publishing & Print-On-Demand by David Rising, a member of the Self-Publishing Hall of Shame.

The actual title could be the deceptive How to Get Published Free, which is up at the top-right of the cover and on the half-title page.

But, inside, David says the title is How to Get Published FREE: and Make Money.

On the other hand, says the title is Best in Self-Publishing & Print on Demand: Plus Marketing Your Book on the Internet. That’s not the longest title I know of, but it’s one of the worst.

David tries to advise authors on self-publishing, but his own book shows us what not to do. It’s almost a MAD magazine parody of a bad book.

This is a perfect example of why self-published books are regarded with suspicion by pros in the book industry. Even if the author was too ignorant or too stupid to notice the errors, the publisher, Lulu, should never have let it out the door. But that’s too much to expect from Lulu. Lulu’s boss says he publishes lots of “really bad books.”

The $19.95 paperback book is puny, with just 136 pages. Pages 135 and 136 have numbers on them, but nothing else. Maybe David expects his readers to finish writing the book for him.

Someone might argue that $19.95 is a fair price, based on the value of what’s inside—but only an idiot would make that argument. TWENTY-SEVEN PERCENT of the book consists of instructions for using Lulu to publish your book. The same information is available from Lulu—for free.

There’s more un-original book padding, including eight pages from Dan Poynter that are available for free on Dan’s website and six pages from Audrey Owen that are also available for free online. There’s also an interview by Carolyn Campbell that takes up ten pages. It, too, is available as an online freebie. David even reprints unedited advertising.

Typography is atrocious. Some pages are set justified: some are flush-left and ragged-right—depending on where David copied the text from. Some paragraphs start with an indent, some start with a skipped line, and some have neither an indent nor a skipped line. Justification is unjust. Word spacing is grotesque. Spacing between paragraphs is consistently inconsistent, with large blocks of white space and some silly pictures inserted for no particular reason.

David’s writing style is amateurish. His disclaimer speaks to “you, the reader.” Who could “you” be other than the reader? David says, “...could result with...” It should be “could result in.” David believes that an automated spell-checker is a substitute for a copyeditor. It isn’t.

The very first sentence of his introduction has a stupid error: “level playing field for all participates.” That's not a spelling error; it’s the wrong damn word! David also has bad grammar: “There isn’t going to be thousands of unsold books” and “there is always one or two. . .” and “Don’t be afraid you’ll not lose anything. . .” He also says, “. . .your writing should at least see the light as for getting published. . .” and “whether you see sells of any significance.” I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about.

Another gem is “Unlike a traditional publishing house that can spend huge amounts of money advertising a book they think could be a best seller.” David thinks that any chain of words is a sentence, and left out the second “a” in manage. There are more examples, but if I typed more, I’d shoot myself.
  • David does give some good advice, such as hiring experts when necessary. Unfortunately, he was too blind, stupid or broke to heed his own advice. One of the funniest examples is, “. . . you’ll soon see how easy it is to over look mistakes. . .” Hey, genius! It should be “overlook” (one word). On the other hand, he spells “subtitle” as “sub title” (two words).
The index was apparently assembled by a robot and never checked by a homo sapiens or even by a lower primate—like an orangutan or maybe a smart lemur.

Before the “A” topics, we have topics beginning with $, 3 and 7. The index typography is a strange mix of standard, boldface and underlined text, has no system for capitalization, and uses different fonts. Even email addresses appear in the index. There are terms that no one would ever look for, like "hobby" and "private." Some terms are listed twice. Do we really need 72DPI as well as 72DPI with a period after it? (Both are on page 52, BTW.)

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

The sloppy back cover says, “This book will explain to you how to use database logic.” and inside David says, “Understanding database logic will be a key ingredient to having any success. . . . ” but he doesn’t explain what database logic is.

David recommends investing in inventory so you can sell books through Amazon’s “Marketplace” in competition with Amazon itself. He claims, “When a book first goes on sale they will have a very limited supply of books and it can take up to 13 days before a book is shipped.” That’s not true.

This is the only book I can recall that says nothing about its author. That’s probably because there is nothing in his education or experience that qualifies him to write the book.

I’m a strong supporter of freedom of the press. Until now, I’ve firmly believed that any writer should be able to publish anything. However, after buying this slim and nearly worthless volume, I might be willing to consider a licensing requirement for writers. I have no doubt that David would fail the test.

I unfortunately bought the third edition, published in July, 2006. It's nauseating to contemplate how bad the first two editions were. Since there have been no updates in a decade, apparently David finally got some sense--and ended his writing career.

Unfortunately, based on reviews, people have bought this pile of crap and relied on it to get into publishing.

Monday, December 5, 2016

What's a typo and what's nto a typoo?

"Dinning" is a typo. "Bed's" is not.
Many people seem to think that a typo ("typographical error") is any textual error in typing, printing or sign-making.

That's not the way it is.

A typo is an error in typing caused by tapping the wrong damned key.

  • It is a physical error usually caused by haste or clumsiness (often a "fat finger" that taps R instead of T or two keys at the same time -- very common on touch screens). Typos include leaving out a word or letter, repeating a word or letter, reversing the sequence of words or letters, leaving out a space, inserting an extra space, accidentally changing to bold or italic, etc.
  • It's not a mental error caused by ignorance of spelling, grammar or facts, or lack of concentration.
  • It's not a mechanical or electronic error caused by a problem with a computer, printer or program.
  • A typo is an error that you know is an error, not an error you think is correct. Misspelling and bad grammar are not typos.
People who are ignorant or stupid should blame their brains, not their fingers.

Everyone who types makes typographical errors.

NOT a typo (or maybe it is)

NOT a typo

NOT a typo
NOT a typo
In the last few years I’ve frequently and stupidly held down the shift key as I pressed the key to insert an apostrophe, and ended up inserting a quote mark.

I also often type “i nthe” instead of “in the” and “fro ma” instead of “from a.” I also tap the Caps Lock key a lot by accident, and the semi-colon instead of the apostrophe next door.

I solved part of the problem by removing the Caps Lock key from some of my keyboards.

While writing a recent book, I started tapping the “Page Down” key instead of “delete.”

I've also degenerated from being the world's fasted six-finger typist to a pretty-good two-finger typist. (I actually have 10 fingers -- but I don't use them all for typing.)

If I live long enough I’ll probably develop even more bad habits that I can’t control. I hope sloppy typing is not an early sign of dementia.
  • Some authors blame others for errors in their books. If an editor does not fix your error, it's still your error. One of the worst blame shifters I know of is an author who blamed a printing company for creating textual errors that were not in the PDF document she submitted for printing. Sorry, the world does not work that way.
- - - -
Street painting photo from Pie's photo from
Political sign photos from  Thanks.
Other sign pix and keyboard pic by Michael.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Software is not enough. Book pages need human intervention

When I started my 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 self-published and many of them were extremely ugly.

They had terrible typography.

The worst sin was bad justification.

(above) Type is said to be "justified" (or "full justified" or "fully justified") when all of the lines of type in a paragraph (except for an indented first line and a short last line) are the same width, and extend from the left margin to the right margin.

The lines of type in this blog are like most blogs and websites, a growing number of magazines and some books. The type is flush left/ragged right. "Rag-right" is much easier to produce, and many people accept it. 

Justified type has a more formal, polished look. Ragged is obviously less formal. People can rightfully claim that justified type is abnormal and artificial, and ragged right is normal and natural. Text from typewriters (remember them) is normally rag-right. Some typewriters can justify, but the result is usually ugly.

A lot of very ugly justified type gets printed, particularly in newspapers with narrow columns (below). This old newspaper clipping shows lowercased "avenue" and "street." Apparently it was deliberate, not accidental, and was the official 'style' for the paper.

The problem exists in narrow book columns, too (below). Sometimes the only way to improve the word spacing is to switch to rag-right, or make the column wider. You can also experiment with changing some words. This can take a long time, may be futile and may not be an option. The paragraph in the sample has nothing to do with today's topic, but may be interesting.

Below is a bad example of justified full-width text from Release Your Writing by Helen Gallagher. Helen's pages are just five inches wide, and that size leads to pages that are often uglier than the six-inch pages used for most "how-to" paperbacks. It would be better to have wider pages or go rag-right.

Despite lots of recent changes in publishing, justified type is still the dominant format for book printing. It can look beautiful, but takes more time and money to do right. The block of text shown below is from one of my books. I won't assert that it's beautiful, but it's better than a lot of text from self-publishers -- and it's easy to produce with Microsoft Word. If I can do this, so can almost anyone.

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 in each paragraph on each page so you can improve justification by changing words, spacing and hyphenation.

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. (See exception at bottom.) 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.

Compromises are often necessary and every book I've seen 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.

I purchased 5.0, co-authored by Dan Poynter (1938-2015). This book has no hyphens, and the word spacing (below) is atrocious.

Dan boasted that he is “the father of self-publishing,” “the leading authority on how to write, publish and promote books,” and is “on the leading edge of book publishing.” I don’t claim to be the leading authority on anything, but I could have made the paragraph much nicer:

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 a human being at its publisher.

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

IMPORTANT EXCEPTION: Most ebooks allow the person reading to manipulate the text, so there is probably no point in trying to achieve nice justification.
 Ebooks designed for reflowable text and user-selectable type size can produce some terrible-looking pages. Shown below is part of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, from a Kindle edition.

TIP: Be careful if you are justifying a book that was already completed with ragged-right type. Most lines will expand to the right margin, and sometimes words that used to fit on one page will "creep" onto another page. You may have to change the page numbering for chapter beginnings, or cut words or make illustrations smaller to get what you want.

TIP: Sometimes the spaces between words will look lousy, and you'll have to experiment with hyphenation, and sometimes switch to shorter or longer words, or add or subtract words, to make things look right.

TIP: Be very careful to check the last line in a paragraph (as shown up at the top). Sometimes even two or three words will be spread out full-width, and they'll look very stupid. You can just select the line and re-do it as flush-left, or (in MS Word) tap the Enter key after the last word in the line.

A while ago I got flamed in a discussion about book design by someone I'll label as ignorant, egomaniacal and belligerent. He insisted that pages of text that are full-justified are harder to read than text that is ragged-right. He also insisted that it's proper to have two spaces -- not one space -- between sentences (an obsolete artifact of ancient typewriters).

At one point he tried to bolster his argument for the extra space between sentences by pointing out that he had typed his flames with the extra space, which made them easier to read. Despite his vast (half-vast?) experience, he did not know that web browsers ignore the extra spaces which he deliberately inserts.

He backed up his minority position by citing his alleged 30 years' experience writing and editing. I saw no point in continuing to argue, and bailed out. With great restraint I resisted the urge to encourage him to perform an act of self-copulation.

I found a good comment about justification by Shannon Yarbrough in "10 Things You Should Know About Self-Publishing" published on The LL Book Review: "I have never, never, NEVER seen a traditionally published book that lacked right margin justification and I’m tired of self-published authors telling me that they did it that way because it’s easier to read. No, you didn’t follow the rules because you didn’t do your homework, or you don’t know how. I know that’s harsh, but it’s the truth and it’s one reason I will turn down a book for review right away." 

I could not have said it better. Thanks, Shannon.

More about typography in my Typography for Independent Publishers