Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Writers: take the crap test so you'll know if you're good enough to publish a book

Allegedly "everyone has a book inside them." After seeing so much crap between book covers I can't help feeling that many published books should have stayed with the bones and guts and not be allowed outside the bodies of the writers.
  • Many writers turn to self-publishing after accumulating a pile of rejection letters from agents and publishers--the "gatekeepers" of traditional publishing. (Gatekeepers are not perfect. They frequently accept crap, or reject books that are later accepted by their competitors and go on to be popular and/or have critical success.) The ego, over-confidence or blind ignorance of rejected writers may make them think that the gatekeepers who rejected them are idiots who don’t recognize the work of a true genius when it’s displayed before them.
  • Other writers simply choose to not risk rejection by the gatekeepers, saving years and anguish by taking advantage of self-publishing.
  • And others (like me) choose self-publishing for its independence, potential higher profit and quick route to reaching readers.
If you are in any of those groups, before you expend any money, time or effort in becoming a self-published author, and if you want to publish for money and not merely for ego gratification or perceived status, I strongly urge you to take the crap test.

There are three versions of the test:

(1) Submit an article of at least 1,000 words to a newspaper or magazine. Convince an editor that it is not crap and get paid at least $200 for it, and actually see it in print.

(2) Join a writers’ group, actively participate, do the assigned writing exercises, and get the honest opinion of the group leader and at least some participants that what you write is not crap.

(3) Take a college course in journalism or creative writing, do the assigned writing exercises, and get the honest opinion of the instructor that your work is of professional caliber and is not crap.

If you can’t pass the crap test, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t self–publish. But it does mean that it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll make any money at it, and that the money you spend may as well go down the crapper.

Monday, December 18, 2017

You'll find lots of errors 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 numbers ("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

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Poor Man's Copyright is useless, no matter what uninformed 'experts' tell you

The practice of mailing a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.”

Ignorant authors assume that the postal service’s cancellation date on the stamped envelope proves that the document inside was created prior to the cancellation date, and that authors can use that date in a suit for copyright violation.

Its cost is merely the price of a stamp (currently 49 cents in the USA) and an envelope (currently as little as 40 for a buck at Dollar Tree).

While 52 cents is much less than the cost of a real copyright from the U.S. Library of Congress, the 52 cents is a complete waste of money, time and emotion. It accomplishes nothing!
  • The scheme has a fundamental flaw because anyone can mail an empty, unsealed envelope, receive it, store it and years later insert a document and seal the stamped-and-canceled envelope. Judges and defense attorneys know this.
There is no provision in the American copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and the “poor man’s copyright” is not a substitute for proper registration with the Library of Congress.

Sadly, the poor man's myth survives and is perpetuated by ignorant publishing 'experts.'
  • Helen Gallagher’s fault-filled book, Release Your Writing, mentions the poor man’s copyright as a supplement to a real copyright to prove when a document was created. It’s a waste of postage.
  • The following dangerous and naive misinformation was posted on the Facebook page of Peppertree Press, and on the blog of Peppertree boss Julie Ann Howell: "My favorite way to copyright might sound old fashioned; however... it works. Print out your manuscript and then mail it to yourself and do not open it. Tuck it away in a drawer. It will stand up in a court of law." BULLSHIT!
  • Nathan, a foolish "writer and film director" provides visual instructions for achieving non-protection on the YouTube ExpertVillage channel. He is not an expert on copyrights.

The poor man's copyright process is not the only copyright myth.

Some people believe that a creative work must be registered with the government to be protected by copyright. That’s not true. Your precious work is legally protected from copycats from the moment of creation without your having to fill out any forms or having to pay even one penny to the Feds. Your work is copyrighted even if you don’t put the © copyright symbol on it.

However, there are still advantages to going through a formal copyright registration, particularly if you end up suing for copyright infringement.

Copyright registration is voluntary. Many people choose to register their works because they want to have the facts of their copyright as a public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. If registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. Registration within 90 days gives you the most protection.

The fee for filing a copyright application online, using the new electronic Copyright Office (eCO), is just $35. The fee is $65 if you register with a paper application.
  • Self-publishing companies often charge much more to get a copyright. CrossBooks charges $204. Xlibris charges $249 or more. Schiel & Denver (apparently defunct) charged $250.
  • Online legal services supplier LegalZoom charges $149.
  • It takes less than 15 minutes to register a copyright online with the Library of Congress. 
By custom (not by law), if you publish a book during the last three or four months of the year, you can use a copyright date of the next year. This makes the book seem to be a year fresher as it ages. However, DON’T register it until the year shown in the book.

Copyright Office 
Electronic Copyright Office: 
Physical Address:
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
Phone: 202-707-3000

mailbox photo from dbking. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Authors: don't clutter your bio with irrelevant crap

It's common to have an "about the author" section on the back cover and/or inside a book, as well as on booksellers' and publishers' websites.
  • For a nonfiction book, the primary purpose of the "about" is to convince prospective purchasers that the author has appropriate experience and knowledge so the book can be relied on.
  • For fiction or nonfiction, the section may reveal a bit about the personal life of the author. It may even be entertaining if entertainment is appropriate to the mood of the book.
  • The section may also list awards the author has won.
(left-click to enlarge)
The back cover excerpted above is from Confessions of a Disco Queen...30 Some Years Ago by Veronica Page. 
  • Is the fact that Veronica now lives (or previously lived) in Phoenix an important reason to buy a book about what happened in New York City four decades earlier?
  • Should potential readers care that she graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Wilfred Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture?
  • Does her "Certificate of Completion in Independent Filmmaker and Producer's Diploma from Dov S-S Simens" mean she is a good writer?
  • Should we care that she has been in Los Angeles and Brussels?
  • Does her ownership of two hair salons imply writing talent?
  • Should we ignore the sloppy writing in the bio?

Eunice Owusu wrote the awkwardly named, physically ugly, poorly written and unedited The Truth and the Corruption of the American System. The 95-page hardcover sells for (OMG!) $24.99. The author has some important things to say but her message is diluted and distorted by bad presentation, and lack of help from publisher Xlibris. Sales are apparently infinitesimal. 

Eunice tells us on the back cover, and inside the book and on multiple websites: "I was born in Ghana and came to America about twenty-five years ago. I was married for twenty years and now separated with one child, who is seventeen years old. He lives with me in Houston, Texas. I attended Northern Virginia Community College and graduated in the year 2002 with Associate Degree in Legal Assisting. I transferred to George Mason University in Virginia, Texas Southern University in Texas, and now I am in my final year at the University of Houston in Texas, major in Political Science and eventually transfer to Law School." 
  • Does any of this provide a reason to buy a book about what's wrong with America?
  • Do we care about her bad marriage?
  • Do we care about her bad writing?
  • Are we impressed by Northern Virginia Community College?
  • Do we care about the age of the author's son?
  • Do we know or care how old he is now, or that at one point he lived in Houston?
  • Should we have to do research to determine if the author graduated from the University of Houston and actually went to law school?

Jamie A. Saloff wrote the useful-but-sloppy book shown above. The title is so long (more than 260 characters and spaces), I don't feel like typing or even pasting it in here.
  • Jamie tells us that she is a graduate of the Fellowships of the Spirit. That's not the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Yale University School of Art or the Rhode Island School of Design. Does that information convince you that Jamie knows about preparing a book for printing on demand?
  • Also, if you have an abbreviated credential that needs explaining, such as Jamie's "CM" (Certified Metaphysician, or maybe Certified Manager or Condition Monitor), either explain it or delete it.

The websites of businesses, including publishing companies, frequently include bios of executives. The "Meet the Executives" section of the Morgan James Publishing site provides the following useless information:
  • Cindy attended Elim Bible College in Lima, New York . . .  Cindy and her husband, David, live in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia.
  • Rick and his wife Robbi live in Long Island, New York with their two Havanese puppies, Cody and Cooper. They have three children: Adam, Rachel, and Stephanie.
  • He has appeared on stage with notables such as Sir Richard Branson, The Dalai Lama, T. Harv Eker, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Tony Hsieh, David Bach, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar and Brendon Burchard.

If a life experience is not related to the subject of your book, leave it out (or make it the last part of your bio).

Avoid the presentation of stale news. Maybe you were a student at the Vermont Academy of Veterinary Dentistry when your book was written, but if someone reads your bio a decade later your situation will probably have changed.

Monday, December 11, 2017

What can go wrong with a book? Lots of stuff.

I once received what I honestly thought would be the last proof of an upcoming book.

The book has been gone through dozens (hundreds?) of times by yours truly and my editor and a picky nitpicker.

I'd carefully examined the MS Word doc, multiple generations of PDFs, and paper proofs printed by my local UPS store and by Lightning Source, which prints the "real books."

I know that no book can be perfect, but each time I read I find things that need to be fixed, that somehow had previously eluded six eagle eyes.

Here are some of the bloopers that plagued this book, and may be in yours. Many won't be noticed by readers, and one error per hundred pages seems to be an acceptable standard for major "trade" publishers. However, those of us who self-publish have an extra burden to make our books as good as possible because one bad book reflects badly on all self-pubbed books. I, of course have an extra extra burden, because I frequently criticize other books.

So, here's some of the stuff to watch out for, in no particular order:
  1. Sections of text that print in gray -- not black. This is generally invisible on a computer screen, but is noticeable on paper.
  2. Repeated words. Microsoft conveniently flags the repeats in red, but maybe the red should flash to attract my attention. A loud BEEP would be good, too.
  3. Right edges of text blocks that are ragged instead of flush.
  4. Words that are in my head but not printed on the page.
  5. Wrong fonts -- a particular problem when text is copied from the web or another document.
  6. Inconsistent style, such as 8PM on one page and 9:15 p.m. on another page. (I'm usually not guilty of this sin.)
  7. Oversize word spacing -- especially in justified narrow columns.
  8. Headers that should be bold or normal black, but are gray.
  9. Repetition of a phrase or thought a few pages after it first appears.
  10. Widows and orphans (generally not a problem for me).
  11. Drop caps in the wrong typeface, wrong size, or wrong position. (I caught these earlier, I think.)
  12. Improper hyphenation.
  13. Inaccurate referrals, such as saying that something is on page 324 but it was moved to 326 -- or even deleted. (I caught these earlier, I think.)
  14. Inaccurate index or table of contents, caused by moving or removing. (I did this in a previous book, but I hope not in this one).
  15. Flopped photos -- It's common to do a left-right reversal for aesthetic reasons, but don't let a clock, license plate or name necklace reads backwards. Also watch out for unconventional product appearances, such as a phone with a handset on the right side, or an old TV with knobs on the left. (I've never done this, but I've seen this).
  16. Tables and text boxes that slip out of position.
  17. Final lines of text that disappear from text boxes.
  18. Words that should have been deleted when a paragraph was rewritten -- but are still there.
I could go on, but the list could turn into a book. Actually, some of this is in an upcoming book:

I hope it doesn't have too many misteaks. Or mistakes.

Friday, December 8, 2017

BIG SECRET REVEALED NOW! There are no secrets in books. Find another way to attract readers.

"Secrets" are exciting. Starting in childhood, everyone wants to learn some special, restricted bit of information. The American government has a Secret Service and the United Kingdom has an Official Secrets Act. Lots of very smart people spend their careers trying to uncover or protect secrets—especially "top secrets."

"I've Got a Secret" was an extremely popular TV show that originally aired from 1952 until 1967. It was revived for brief sessions in 1972-'73 and in 1976 and from 2000-'03. There was even an at-home game based on the show.

In Animal House, Delta Tau Chi fraternity was put on "Double Secret Probation" by Faber College Dean Wormer who wanted to find a way to ban the fraternity for bad behavior and bad grades.  

Do you want to know a secret? was an extremely popular Beatles song from the 1963 album Please Please Me, sung by George Harrison.The single reached #2 on the Billboard chart in 1964 and the #1 position in 1981.

Apparently, lots of people want to know secrets, especially "dirty little secrets." When i last checked, listed more than 360,000 books with "secret" in the title. Some are fiction, and many are nonfiction. The term is a very popular book title cliche. A huge number of books use "secrets of success" 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 book. The slim book 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.

I questioned the author about the apparent lack of secrets. He wrote to me: "In regards to your question (statement). It kind of reminds me of a many centuries old question millions of Christians and Muslims have about life. They read their holy books, go to services weekly. Yet beyond the parables have not been able to extract the simplicity of life that one does not need a book, treatise, big words or to be around others to understand. They go out into the world, and when they're out of their religious houses they're not good people at all. Yet life is very simple, all things are interconnected. All you have to do is Respect all life. This understanding is Love at its highest form. Both books display this. Yet the people don't see b/c its not spelled out to them. In regards to The Secrets of Self Publishing, self publishing as outlined can be done many ways. A business period in order to be a success needs to be built around the individuals personality and initiatives. Self Publishing is no different, the (book)work speaks about stepping outside of the box and developing a program based around the author/publishers abilities. This is so even though authors and publishers run around following and stealing programs and ideas from others. Some find success, most don't, and some of the ones who find early success will run into problems in the longrun. A copy is nothing like the original.  In so many words the work advises people to learn the basics of self publishing, then develop their own program. In this is the Secret. Be Blessed."

It's nice to be blessed, but I'd rather learn some secrets.

E-Book Publishing Secrets has 24-pages and sells for $15! When I checked, it had almost no sales. I’m not surprised. Who would pay more than sixty cents per page for a book? (The subtitle has several grammatical errors—bad for a book about publishing.) Of course, there are no secrets in the book. Strangely, the author likes to refer to himself as "Mr." John Wallace Hayes.

Please find some way to attract readers to your book without putting "SECRETS" in the title.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Some unpleasant facts of life for authors considering self-publishing

  1. You’ll probably see ads proclaiming “FREE PUBLISHING” and you’ll also encounter publishing packages priced under $200. Here’s the truth: (1) No self-publishing company will print and deliver a book for free. (2) Unless you are prepared to spend $1,000 or more ($3,000 or more would be better), you probably won’t get a high-quality book and will not be able to tell many potential readers that the book exists and convince them to buy it.
  2. Writing your book is just your first assignment as an author. Unless you are prepared to make a major effort to publicize your book, few people will know about it or read it.
  3. Most books lose money—even those published by media giants with huge staffs of highly paid and experienced experts. Million-sellers are very rare in the book business. In self-publishing, thousand-sellers are very rare.
  4. Most writers love to write but few people get rich from writing (or from poker, painting or singing). Learn as much as you can about writing and publishing, and work as hard as you can to produce a fine book. But don’t quit your day job and don’t remortgage your house to finance your publishing.
  5. Although a first book can be profitable, don’t assume that your first will be profitable. Write your first book for the joy of it, or to impress your friends and family, or to change some minds, or as a learning experience or a business builder. Over months and years, as you improve your writing skills and learn more about the publishing business, the profits may come. If writing is not either fun or profitable or both—stop writing.
  6. 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 tableand 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.

Monday, December 4, 2017

How do you begin to write a book?

  1. Decide on your primary objective(s): Change the world, entertain the world, educate, inform, preserve memories, achieve personal fulfillment, have fun, make money, become famous, achieve higher status, get revenge, something else. Multiple objectives are fine—but not conflicting objectives. 
  2. Decide on your target audience. If your audience is 'everyone,' it will be very expensive to reach them. If your target is too small, you may not sell enough books to make money. Your mother may be wonderful, but your potential sales of a book about her may be seven books. Or two. More on choosing a topic 
  3. Check out the competition. Does the world really need another barbecue cookbook, JFK bio or post-apocalypse teenage vampire sex novel? More about competition
  4. Come up with about ten possible titles, then cut back to three, and then one. More about choosing a title
  5. Even if you have no artistic talent, make some rough cover designs. More about covers
  6. Write a one-paragraph book description that could go on the back of the book cover and on booksellers' websites, and should keep you focused. This is like the "elevator pitch" that you could use to describe your book to someone you meet for a short ride on an elevator.
  7. Cut that down to one sentence so you have a quick, comprehendable answer to "what's your book about?"
  8. Read books for authors. I've written a bunch.
  9. Write. How to deal with writer's block 
  10. Oh yeah, if you plan to write poetry, forget about making money.
  11. Think about how it's going to be published: (A) traditional royalty-paying publisher (difficult for a first-time author), (B) self-publishing company, (C) your own little publishing company. If you are considering A, this book will help. If you are considering B or C, this book will help
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