Friday, March 31, 2017

Author-publishers can save money with coupons, and not just on groceries

My late father and my brother have been addicted to finding deals and clipping coupons. So is my wife. I like deals, but I've been largely indifferent to finding coupons. Every week, however, I spend some time searching online for coupons before my wife heads to the supermarket. I've generally felt that saving a buck on Berio olive oil or 25 cents on Brillo is just not worth my precious time.
  • This week I saved $75 on two publishing purchases. $75 is real money, and definitely worth the short time it took to find the deals.
My supply of ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) had run out and I'm preparing the ebook version of my new paperback bestseller, Love For & From My 4-Legged Son—how an ordinary golden retriever became an extraordinary dog.

In some countries ISBNs are FREE, but not here in the USA. If you want your books to be sold through booksellers, you need ISBNs for each format (such as ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook). Bowker is the ISBN source in the USA. You can buy one for $125, 10 for $295 or 100 for $575.

The quantity discounts are impressive and if you think you'll publish at least two books, you may as well buy a "block" of 10. If you are unsure of your publishing future, you can hold your nose and pay the $125, or pay about $35 from a reseller who buys ISBNs in bulk, or get a free ISBN from a publishing services provider.

The problem with these strategies is that a company such as Charlie's ISBN Emporium or CreateSpace—not your own publishing company—will be identified as the "publisher of record." That's not a good way to build your empire.

On a silly whim I Googled "Bowker coupon" and I quickly found a coupon code that cut $50 off the $295 price! Bowker's robot did not complain that I saved money.

I had initially planned to use a new FREE publishing service, Pronoun, for this new ebook. My early enthusiasm quickly waned (I'll tell you why next week) and I decided to use eBookit, the company that had previously done a great job on some of my ebooks.

The normal price is a very reasonable $150. I found a coupon code to save $25 and I used that money to subsidize the cost of an upgraded PR release campaign.

In a few hours my wife will send me on our weekly coupon hunt. I doubt that I'll save $75.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I wouldn't trust Apollo Publications to publish toilet paper

Apollo Publications is an apparently new publishing-services provider—and apparently the most inept. It tries to function as both a traditional publisher and a self-publishing company. (This blog post deals with the Apollo Publications based in Illinois, USA, not similarly named businesses in Canada, India or elsewhere.) 

Below: An Apollo online ad has no identification.

Incompetent Apollo makes the dismal dingbats at Outskirts Press, Xlibris and PubishAmerica seem like polished professionals.

The Apollo website—which should be the medium for the company to demonstrate its capabilities—is pathetic. It's hard to find one proper paragraph. The site is filled with bad grammar, wrong words, inconsistent uppercasing, sentences without periods, sentences without initial uppercase letters, misspellings, missing letters, missing words, and design errors. It seems like the total IQ of the Apollo team is around 50, and its professional experience is zero.
  • The company says it is a "full service publisher"—but it is not.
  • Apollo emphasizes the importance of book covers. Strangely (and perhaps uniquely) the Apollo website shows no examples of its covers.
  • The website has no way for potential readers to learn about or order books. I wonder if it has actually published anything.
  • The company touts its "marketplace" (and "marker place")—but I could not find it within the Apollo site or with a Google search.
  • The company says its "review process is focused on quality and not content." Sadly, its website staff focuses on neither. Besides errors in language and design, there are errors that show a lack of understanding of basic book publishing (e.g., barcodes and the timing of copyrights and marketing).
If the company's self-promotion work is this bad, I have to assume that the books it produces for others are both laughable and tragic. I feel sorry for the company's customers and urge you to not become one.
  1. The top of the home page is a large animated "slide show." The slides whizz by so quickly that it's not possible for me to read the text—and I am a very fast reader.
  2. Apollo says, "a top selling book, requires a best-selling author." What the hell does that mean?
  3. "We make money off everyone that we sell" [Should be every one.]
  4. "Once you have submitted your manuscript it be evaluated by our team of editors." [Sadly, no editor noticed that a word is missing from that sentence.]
  5. "Rejected manuscripts will be returned with a letter explaining why it was rejected." [Should be letters and they were.]
  6. "he cover design" [Should be The.] 
  7. "The only piece we don’t do is the copyedit." [That sentence needs copyediting. ALSO: the ad shown up above includes copyediting and real publishers do provide copyediting.]
  8. "there is no cost or no obligation." [Do we get to choose one?] 
  9. "distributer's" [Misspelling, and the plural does not use an apostrophe!!]
  10. "This price covers getting your account setup," [Should be set up.]
  11. "we can copywrite" [copyright; the ad at the top has the same error] 
  12. "We have both Print On Demand, and eBook distributors." [Unnecessary comma] 
  13. "Published Authors tend to sell more books than Self-Published Authors" [Self-published authors are published authors.]
  14. "Formating" [Should be Formatting
  15. "Apollo’s strong relationship with a low volume printer means we can offer extremely competitive pricing for printed copies of your book." [Wouldn't a high-volume printer have better prices?]
  16. "both the content and the artwork is protected." [Should be are.] 
  17. "format compatible for" [Should be with.] 
  18. The website says, "Your ISBN barcode is required for most book stores and contains information about your book’s selling price." [Many book barcodes do not include book prices.]
  19. At least one web page is missing and one has an improper link.
  20. The company's prices are typical (or high) for the industry. Print packages start at $899 and ebook packages start at $549.95. Options can add to the cost.
  21.  The company charges $125 for copyright registration. You can easily register for a copyright yourself for $35.

Above: one sentence with lots of errors. Apollo boasts about its "team of talented writers." Clearly the team lacks both talent and supervision. Stay away.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Author-Publishers Beware! One book page can cost about a penny—or two bucks!

(left-click on charts below to enlarge them for easier reading)

Despite the amazing recent growth in ebook sales, most books sold are still pbooks. Each piece of paper in a pbook costs money, and if you use a self-publishing company (as opposed to a printer), you can get really ripped off on paper charges.

Lightning Source is the dominant Print-On-Demand company, producing books for publishers of all types and sizes, including my own Silver Sands Books. I sometimes use CreateSpace (part of Amazon) and its prices are similar.

At Lightning Source one copy of a 300-page paperback will cost $5.35. If you add two pages (one piece of paper) the price goes up by three cents. Pricing-per-page seems very logical to me, but that's not the way some self-publishing companies work.

Here's the wacky price chart from (Despite the company's name, it also produces pbooks.)

Prices are based on page ranges, not the actual number of pages, When you exceed a range by just one page, the minimum retail price goes up two bucks, and the author's wholesale price goes up $1.40.

The company says it provides "
Book publishing that is . . . affordable." A 351-page paperback selling for $20.95 is waaaaay overpriced for most genres. High pricing can make your book noncompetitive.

(above) Infinity Publishing's book pricing is strange. Its suggested cover price for a book with 129 pages is a buck more than the price for a book with 128 pages. The author pays 54 cents per book for the additional page. Page number 129 is printed on a very expensive piece of paper. Independent self-publishers who have Lightning Source print their books pay .013 for an additional page. Ironically, Infinity's $149 Extended Distribution Package uses Lightning Source to print the books. Infinity pays Lightning .013 cents (or maybe less) for page number 129, but charges authors 54 cents! That's a nice markup. Infinity also says that its own printing and fulfillment are better than Lightningbut they are willing to use Lightning anyway.

(above) Xlibris also has an inflated and weird "delta" between page ranges. As shown above, a 107-page paperback book will sell for $15.99 and the hardcover will sell for $24.99. If you add just one page more, the price goes up $4 or $5. The difference in the manufacturing cost is tiny, and can't possibly justify the difference in cover price.

The price for a paperback with 398 pages is $19.99 (just like the 108-page book), but, at 400 pages the retail price jumps four bucks to $23.99, and that price holds all the way to 800 pages. Xlibris gives away 400 pages for "free," but charges four or five bucks for one page! Xlibris books are printed by Lightning Source, so the price per additional page is insignificant.

You want to sell pbooks. If you want people to buy them, the price is important. Choose your printing partner carefully. If you must use a self-pubco, pay attention to the page count, including the pages added by the company. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I haven't criticized a book about publishing in a long time. Now it's time.

Many of the books I've complained about in this blog deal with self-publishing because so many of those books were terrible and warranted complaints, and I know a bit about the subject.

At some point I stopped doing it. One reason was that I published many books in the field and didn't want to be seen as slamming competitors. Another reason is that I didn't like reading lots of shitty books.

The book shown above is not shitty. (How's that for a compliment?) It's not awful or even bad. It's better than many, worse than some and it rates a solid "OK." There are a number of errors that keep it from being "good." An examination of the book leads to important lessons for self-publishing authors. 

Mike Kowis follows the pattern of endless other authors (including me). He self-published a book and decided that his experience qualifies him to teach others to do the same. He still has much to learn.

Let's start with the cover.
  • The illustration is a dull piece of stock art by Tiero, presumably purchased at Fotolia for a few bucks. There's nothing wrong with using a stock photo or illustration but it's not yours alone, so it's good to customize it.
  • The title starts with "14 steps." It's only natural to count the steps shown on the cover, and find that there are more than 20. That's silly.
  • The number 14 dominates the cover but it's arbitrary and uninteresting. Heinz is known for its 57 varieties and Baskin-Robbins for its 31 flavors, but 14 has no special significance that I know of. A word such as "vital" or "critical" would have been stronger than a number. (I've used 99, 100 and 1001 in my own titles. Those numbers are more interesting than 14.)
  • Most nonfiction books have cover art that is a too-literal interpretation of the title. Maybe someone thought that a staircase made out of books is cute. I don't. A book about infant care doesn't need a baby bottle or diaper on the cover. A book about publishing steps doesn't need steps and books on the cover. I wonder if the illustration led to the title. An all-text cover could have been more of an eye-grabber.
  • The author identifies himself as "Mike Kowis, Esq." I assume his real first name—like mine—is "Michael." If he's a well-known jock like Mike Ditka or in show biz or politics like Mike Todd or Mike Pence, the nickname would be OK on a book. On a serious book where the name is paired with "Esq." which identifies an attorney, the informality seems out-of-place and lessens the author's authority. (I am never Mike or Mickey.)
Mike dedicated the book to his "beautiful wife." I assume she likes the honor, but all wives are beautiful and the dedication seems silly—unless her beauty somehow enabled or affected the book.

Here are Mike's 14 steps:
STEP 1: Finalize your manuscript.
STEP 2: Create a new business to self-publish and market your book. 
STEP 3: Buy a domain name for your book’s website and build the webpages. 
STEP 4: Buy ISBN numbers from Bowker. 
STEP 5: Apply for an LCCN number [sic, redundant] from the U.S. Library of Congress (for print books only). 
STEP 6: Apply for a merchant account at your preferred shipping company. 
STEP 7: Create a social media platform to promote your book. 
STEP 8: Decide where you want to sell your book and in what formats. 
STEP 9: Hire a professional cover designer to make your book cover. 
STEP 10: Hire a professional graphic designer to format the interior pages of your print book and/or convert your manuscript to an eBook. 
STEP 11: Purchase an editorial book review well before the book launch date. 
STEP 12: Upload your book files onto the distributor’s website. 
STEP 13: Register your book with the U.S. Copyright Office within three months after the publication date. 
STEP 14: Market your book.

The proper first step in publishing a nonfiction book has nothing to do with either starting or completing a manuscript. The first step actually includes marketing, which Mike leaves for last. 

The first part of marketing is to identify your potential customers and 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. Before you start writing a book you need to know if anyone will need it or want it. It would be horrible to invest thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to produce a book that nobody buys.
  • 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. Or two.
  • Most books fall somewhere in between. Books intended to help fisherman, mechanics and corn growers probably have potential audiences in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, and dozens of competitors. Mike has hundreds of competitors—including me.
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.

Mike's STEP 6 is very strange—and very wrong—and an 
attorney/college instructor should have known better. A "merchant account" has absolutely nothing to do with shipping. A merchant account is an arrangement with a credit-card-processing company that enables a business to accept credit cards for purchases.

Most books are sold by booksellers, not authors, so the authors have no need to process credit-card orders. Mike recommends "finding at least three experts" to review your book. One of his experts should've caught this blooper. (For occasional sales you can be paid through Paypal with no merchant account.)

Similarly, unless you maintain inventory (unnecessary for ebooks and print on demand) and expect to ship out lots of books, there is absolutely no reason to have an account with a shipping company (but it's not difficult to get one). Many authors keep a few books on hand to send as gifts or for reviews, or to sell with autographs. You can easily send them by going to the Post Office (or FedEx or UPS). No account is necessary. You can even give books to the mail carrier who comes to your place or call for a free pickup.

I disagree with STEP 11. I am absolutely opposed to paid reviews. For a positive review to be meaningful it should be written by someone who likes your book—not by someone who's paid to read and review it. If you pay a prostitute $1,000 to go to bed with you and she or he proclaims love, would you believe it? Of course not.

Mike minimized a vital step: securing blurbs. A blurb is a brief chunk of text written by someone who knows something about you and/or your subject and can help you to sell the book. It means much more than a purchased review. You should start seeking blurbs as soon as your text is good enough to be read by others. Mike says blurbs go on the back cover. They can also go on the front cover, in the front matter and in promotional material, including online book listings.

There are many varieties of self-publishing and Mike's title doesn't make it clear that he is writing for authors like himself and me who want to establish their own little publishing companies.

However, if you are like most authors who think they're involved in self-publishing you will probably be the customer of an inept company such as Xlibris or Outskirts Press that will do most of the work discussed in Mike's book. Mike's first chapter clearly explains some of the possible publishing paths, but I hope that readers don't encounter those words only after buying a book they don't need.

Mike kindly reveals the costs for the various aspects of producing his first book and this one. He spent so much on the first that I doubt that the book made any money. That first book, properly, was a learning experience and his costs were less for the second book.

In the discussion of business names, Mike advises us that "It might be wise to select a name that reflects the value or benefits of your book. For my business, I chose the name Lecture PRO Publishing because it reminds readers of the benefits that you can expect from reading my first book (i.e., you can learn to lecture college students like a “pro” if you read my book)."

I disagree strongly. It's much better to have a neutral name (such as my own Silver Sands Books) that can work with any book genre. "Lecture PRO Publishing" does not relate to Mike's second book. CLICK HERE for advice on naming your publishing company.

Mike asks, "Do you want to sell an eBook? If so, do you prefer Kindle, non-Kindle (e.g., Nook, Apple iBook, Kobo, etc.), or both?"

That's silly. The author/publisher's preference for ebook format is irrelevant. An author/publisher should focus on the preferences and needs of the likely readers, and the more formats the better.

Mike Kowis has provided a lot of useful information for beginning publishers. With a little bit of additional work the book could have been "good," not merely "OK." That's an important lesson.

Monday, March 20, 2017

It's easy to become a bestselling author. If you think it's important, read this

I'm not sure if it's important to be a "bestselling author" or to write a "bestselling book." The label may impress friends, neighbors and relatives; and I assume that a prospective reader who is considering a book purchase will be encouraged to become a buyer.

Lots of writers you’ve probably never heard of are described as “bestselling authors.” Unlike lists of the winners of Oscars, Emmys, Pulitzers and Nobels, there may be no official registry where you can check the validity of the claims.

Also, there’s an almost endless list of bestseller lists. Unless an author, publisher or promoter provides a detail like “103 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List,” it’s hard to document or disprove bestseller status.

The Times, of course, is the biggie. Other important lists are provided by USA Today,, IndieBound, Publishers Weekly and Barnes & Noble.

There is often disagreement among the bestseller lists and it may not be obvious how the lists are calculated. For example, online booksellers and “big box” stores may be excluded.
  • A book about flea removal from pregnant three-legged albino Weimaraners could sell exactly one copy and still be the BESTSELLER IN ITS FIELD. There is no law that requires an explanation on the cover or a footnote inside the book.
  • Anyone can call any book a bestseller (or “best-seller” or “best seller”) and the label may help it to achieve more sales—deserved or not deserved.
  • Keep in mind that even if a book is on a legitimate list, the fact that many were sold does not necessarily mean that it’s a good book, or even that buyers have read what they've bought. Used bookstores are filled with "used" books that have obviously not even been opened. From Wikipedia: Bestsellers have gained such great popularity that it has sometimes become fashionable to purchase them. . . . The rising length of bestsellers may mean that more of them are simply becoming bookshelf decor. In 1985 members of the staff of The New Republic placed coupons redeemable for $5 cash inside 70 books that were selling well, and none of them were sent in.
  • There are even fudged bestseller labels that are more the result of marketing than of statistics, such as “summertime bestseller,” international bestseller” or “underground bestseller.” A widely advertised book on real estate investment is touted as "smash hit selling" (whatever that means). 

[above] This may be the worst book ever published. Its Amazon Bestsellers rank has been nearly 10 million, but it is on the BS list. There is no rule that says how high a book has to be on a BS list to be promoted as a bestseller, but I wouldn't brag about a book unless it was in the top 50 or so. Some people might assume that any book promoted as a "bestseller" achieved number-one status. You don't have to tell them otherwise.

If you care about bestseller status, you can enhance the chance of a book achieving that status by choosing one or more "BISAC" categories where it won't have much competition. Obscurity can lead to great visibility.

[above] If you do achieve bestseller status, don't be bashful about it. Proudly put the "BS" term on book covers, websites, blogs, business cards, press releases, social media, everywhere.

Amazon’s bestseller list has been manipulated by elaborate online campaigns to maximize purchases during a brief time period to temporarily elevate a book to bestseller status.

One day, with no manipulation, my STINKERS! America's worst self-published books was ranked NUMBER EIGHT on one of Amazon's bestseller lists. The next day, it was up to NUMBER TWO. That's pretty amazing, especially since I was still tinkering with the book and had not made an official announcement that it was available. It's on a very specific list (maybe a very obscure list), but now I can legitimately call the book a “bestseller.” My wife is not impressed. If you are impressed, please buy the book. It's important, useful and funny.

(pooch pic from

Friday, March 17, 2017

Book covers are imperfect at birth. They need time, thought and effort to mature.

I'm Michael—not Michelangelo. I won't call myself an artist.

I went to art school on Saturday mornings for two years when I was in grade school. I was good with still lifes, vehicles and architecture, but lousy with people pictures. Our teacher told us that an adult human male should be 6.5 heads tall. No one in my family looked like that.

Over the years I won prizes in art classes in school, and enjoyed working with actual art directors when I was an "award-winning Madison Avenue advertising copywriter." Later, without any art directors to partner with, I designed packaging, posters, brochures, websites, ads, logos and book covers.

When I started Silver Sands Books back in 2008 I initially planned to publish one book and I found a convenient, talented and reasonably priced artist to work with.

Later on I started doing most of the cover designs myself. I won't say that they're better than what Carina Ruotolo produced previously, but they're good enough—and I get what I want with unlimited variations and there's no charge for revisions.

My newest book is now on sale. I won't claim that the cover is perfect or prize-worthy, but I like it a lot and so do some people who are not my relatives. I think the book will attract readers because of the photo, title and subject. You can read more about it here.

It has had three major design variations and about a hundred minor tweaks. Below are a few of the variations I experimented with and rejected.

It's possible that a professional artist could have produced a perfect cover without all of the intermediate experimentation I went through. It might have been finished faster (or maybe not), but would be more costly and not much fun. I'd rather do than watch. 

[above] If you want to try designing a book cover, this ebook will help.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Some authors write for fun. Some write for money.
I do both. What should you write?

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

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

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

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

From my 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

Ban meaningless words from your book titles and websites

I recently encountered the website of author, artist, athlete and entrepreneur Angela Lam Turpin. The title of the site, strangely, is "The official website of Angela Lam Turpin." If this is the official site, I have to wonder if there are unofficial Angela Lam Turpin websites.

Angela is a wonderful, accomplished person worthy of admiration; but is Angela important enough to inspire fakers to produce websites not certified by Angela?

I think not.

Google shows more than eighty-fucking-million links for the term "official website."

  • Some, appropriately, are government-sanctioned websites. (The official site of Singapore's Prime Minister was hacked yesterday.)
  • Many belong to performers such as KISS, The Who, Madonna and Cher -- who apparently don't want fans to think that websites published by other fans are actually sanctioned by the stars.

Is Angela as big a star as Madonna? I think not.

Most things that claim to be "official" something are not official anything. Use of the label is evidence of unchecked ego (or maybe just ignorance). shows more than 140,000 links to books with "official" in the title or subtitle.

Some, such as a book for diabetics produced by the American Diabetes Association, can logically claim to be "official." Others, like a book of instructions for speaking Spanish like a Costa Rican, is official nothing.

Unless your book, blog or website is officially blessed by some important person or institution, restrain your ego and don't claim that your work is official.

If you are important enough to attract copycats, then you can claim your work to be officially yours -- but copycats can claim that you approved their work too. Fame is not all fun.

"SECRET" is another extremely popular word. It's an exciting and meaningless word. Keep it o
ff your book covers.

Apparently, lots of authors and publishers think that lots of readers want to know secrets, especially "dirty little secrets." lists more than 206,000 books with "secret" in the title (up from a mere 150,000 or so 18 months ago). Some are fiction, and many are nonfiction. "Secrets of success" is a very popular book title cliche. Thousands of books use the phrase in their titles.

Here's a dirty little secret: none of the books promising secrets actually reveal secrets because no secrets are secret after even one person reads the secret.

The author of Secrets of Self Publishing 2 is so proud of his secrecy that he put the title TWICE on the cover of the horrible book. The slim volume is badly written, badly formatted and apparently unedited. I found exactly one alleged secret in the book: "The secrets of self-publishing are the same as the secrets of success. One must be willing to research all outlets, and find a method which fits your program."

That's not much of a secret.

Find some way to attract readers to your book without putting "SECRETS" in the title. Avoid "OFFICIAL," too.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Authors: You know about beta readers. Your book also needs beta holders

I—and many othershave preached variations of the theme that "it takes a village to make a book." Ideally you'll have a professional designer and one or more professional editors and maybe some marketing experts.

It's common to have help from friends and relatives outside the book business—hawk-eyed, literate "ordinary people" who serve as beta readers to detect and report on what the highly paid pros have missed.

I twice learned the importance of having ordinary people hold a physical book before publication in order to judge their reactions. You need these "beta holders" in addition to beta readers.

(Beta is the second letter in the Greek alphabet and comes after alpha. Alpha and beta

are the equivalents of A and B and gave us the word "alphabet." With computer software, the "beta version" is the second version (actually it may be the 943rd version). It is almost ready for distribution to the public but probably has more "bugs" in it than the final version will.

The beta version of software is made available to "beta testers" who will use it and probably encounter problems that will need to be fixed before the software is made available to everyone. The book business has followed the pattern of the software business in having beta readers. I've never heard of alpha readers. Presumably the alpha readers are the author and editors.)

(above) My first self-pubbed book (2008) was titled with a quote from a wacky teacher I had in high school (I Only Flunk My Brightest Students). I took a proof copy to a party at a neighbor's house and passed it around to a few strangers who were sitting with me at a table. The title had made sense to 'kids' I went to school with, but not to these strangers. 

They all assumed that the title was my quote and that I had been a teacher. I re-titled the book as Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) and it went on to become a bestseller.

The second situation happened in 2016.

I showed a proof of my newest book, Do As I Say, Not As I Did to a few relatives. As I hoped, they laughed at the title -- but they skipped over the subtitle to flip through the book. I modified the cover to put the subtitle right below the title and in a bolder typeface and shifted my name to a lower position. I am not yet as famous as Hillary Clinton so my subtitle will probably help sales more than my name will.

I would not have caught either of these problems if I did not let amateurs hold my books. Beta holding can be a critical part of book production. Try it with your next book.

I also changed the "bestseller" text from three lines to one and combined it with the rest of the text at the bottom of the cover. 

But, OOPS. I later realized that my name was too far away from the "I" in  the title and the "My" in the subtitle, so it was time for more modifications.

(below) By the way, beta holding even works with ebooks that will not also exist as pbooks. Just upload a cover image to an ebook reader or tablet and let your beta holders do their work.

The original version of Anthology of Third-World Email Scams had "world" deliberately misspelled as "wirld" as a joke. Some beta-holders thought I had made a real mistake, so I revised the cover to have proper spelling and I added a quote. This book is both educational and entertaining. 
NOTE: The realistic fake covers shown in today's post were produced with MyECoverMaker— a vital resource for anyone designing and selling books.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Book errors can hide anywhere. Look very carefully.

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.

Last year, while going through the latest proof of my new Internet Hell, I found a few silly errors—and one really mysterious error!

In the headers (A.K.A. "running heads") on some, but not all, of the pages, there is an unintentional space in the word "Internet." The space did not appear in previous printings of the book and is not in my MS Word file. [below]

The error, however, is in the FDF file. 

I have no idea why the PDF shows a space that is not in the original Word document. For my early books, I used Adobe software to create PDFs. For the last two dozen or more book I used the PDF creator included in MS Word. I never had a problem before.

I re-created the headers and re-uploaded the file. I carefully examined the PDF file and it was fine.

  • I failed to obey one of my major rules about publishing: Carefully examine your book in multiple formats. Some errors will appear on printed pages that are not obvious on a PC screen. Some errors will appear in a PDF that will not be obvious in a word processing doc. It's also important to magnify the page images on your screen. Maybe a period really should be a comma, and vice versa.

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 felt like a blind idiot.

A few months ago I uploaded the first version of my new Typography for Independent Publishers for sale on Amazon. Then I realized that it had the wrong version of the cover, with a missing word and an ugly empty space—a dreadful error for a book about typography.

  • IMPORTANT WARNING: Any time you fix an error in a book, you may create more errors.
Two days ago I uploaded the cover and interior files for my latest book, Love For & From My 4-Legged Son—How an ordinary golden retriever became an extraordinary dog, to CreateSpace for printing and distribution. I assumed there would be a dozen or so errors to fix. I needed to make more than a hundred repairs. OUCH!

It's better for me to find them than for readers and reviewers to find them.