Friday, June 22, 2018

Authors: To detect the most errors, check your book in multiple media

Last weekend I uploaded what I hoped would be the final version of my wonderful new book, What's Wrong With Trump? It's been on sale for a month but I've been tweaking and adding and have held off on promoting the book until the ebook version is available (probably next week). 

Yesterday I received a physical copy and I'll study it carefully. 

I've already made over 700 corrections. Most of them were too tiny for mere mortals to notice or be bothered by--but I was compelled to find and fix them. Perfection is elusive and probably impossible, but I am honor-bound to strive.

Sadly, I find tons of errors in books published by major companies with huge budgets for editors. One of the sloppiest I've recently read is the highly enjoyable American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Every chapter has words that run together. A ten-year-old with no degree in journalism could have found them and fixed them.
Last night I attended a lecture by a very bright doctor. The "handout" he distributed had over a dozen blatant errors. He is apparently a skilled surgeon, who does better with a scalpel than with a keyboard. Anything you write with the hope of generating business deserves professional editing.

Back to my new book: I'm sure I'll find dozens of stupid errors to repair, and each repair can cause still more errors.

That's the way it was in Shakespeare's time in the 1600s, and that's the way it still is. Any time humans are involved in making something, there will be human errors. I guess that's better than inhuman errors.

Even though I'm careful and experienced, I am far from perfect. I am often amazed at the errors that should have been obvious that eluded me through dozens of examination sessions. Sometimes I make changes simply because I've changed my mind and don't like something that seemed just find a few months ago.

While you'll spot many errors in a book manuscript when it's displayed on a computer screen, you'll probably detect even more when it's printed on paper—like a real book.

CreateSpace and Lightning Source will provide PDF proofs on your PC screen for free, or printed proofs for about $20, delivered. If you are planning to have CS print your books, you may as well let them provide proofs. HOWEVER, if you are willing to approve an imperfect book to be on sale temporarily, you can get books faster and for less money by ordering from Amazon!

Years ago, after three brain-numbing read-throughs of a second-generation proof from Lulu, I figured I was ready to upload my PDF files to Lightning Source so I could start selling books.

I realized that it was destined to have as-yet-undiscovered errors, and I had a thought.

If I could get a printout on paper, I could give it one more read-through and make corrections over the weekend, and then upload the PDFs on Monday or Tuesday and still get a pretty proof from Lightning Source by the end of the week.

I was vaguely aware that some of the copy-and-ship franchised stores could print from a thumb drive. I did some checking online and was both surprised and thrilled to learn that UPS Stores (formerly Mailboxes Etc.) could accept files as online uploads, and that there was a UPS store just seven minutes from me.

I quickly established a UPS account online and uploaded the file. This was around noon, and I was informed that my print job would be ready by 4 p.m. The price was just $27.31, including three-hole punching and sales tax and file storage. At a little after 2 p.m. I received an email notifying me that the work was ready for me to pick up. $27.31 was more than the minimum $15.81 that I could have paid Lulu, but I received the "book" in hours—not ten days. It was less expensive—and faster—than the proof from Lightning.

Unlike a Lightning, Lulu or CreateSpace proof, the UPS proof didn't include a coated and colorful bound-on book cover. However, I quickly discovered that the three-hole-punched format is MUCH BETTER for proofing.

When put into a binder, the pages stay flat for reading and marking. And since my pages are formatted for 6 x 9 but UPS used 8.5 x 11-inch paper, there was plenty of extra space for my proofreader's marks and even for copy revisions. I really liked being able to insert tabbed dividers, and quickly started to use the pocket in the front cover to hold my red Sarasa editing pen, Post-Its, bookmarks and a small pad.

I had to go out of town the next day and knew I'd spend some time in my car waiting for my wife to shop. I took the binder with my proof, propped it up on the steering wheel, and got to work. It would have been much more difficult to do this with a normal bound book.

By page 173 I found at least 200 things to fix which I had not noticed on my monitor or in the Lulu proofs. 

It's very important to check your books in multiple media: on-screen as a word-processing file, on-screen as a PDF, as a PDF printed on plain paper, and as a bound volume. Each medium will reveal different errors. Even if you plan to publish only ebooks, paper proofs will help you get a bit closer to perfection.

No matter how many time you check your manuscript, there WILL be errors in your final pbook or ebook.
  • One problem that's almost invisible on PC monitors but can be seen in a printed book are sentences or paragraphs that are gray instead of black. Look closely.
  • And watch out for straight apostrophes and quote marks that really should be curly. This is a common problem when you copy and paste from text that was intended for Web use, where curlies are seldom used. The difference may be hard to spot on a PC screen, so ZOOOOOM up to 120 - 200% of normal size to make the errors stand out.
  • It's easy to accidentally copy-and-paste wrong typefaces from the web or other documents. Look very closely.
  • Also watch out for unintentional hyphens that may move from the end of a line to the middle of a line. This generally won't happen with automatic hyphenating. But if you manually insert a hyphen, and then shift text around, possibly by changing the size or position of a graphic element, hyphens can wander around the page.

Melania Trump advised kids to "be best." The language is awkward, but it's good advice for authors as well as children. (photo from

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sometimes type needs to YELL at readers. Sometimes rules need to be broken.

Standard, ordinary, simple, basic, upright type is considered to be “roman”—with a lowercase “r.” It’s not the same Roman as in Times New Roman. You can use Times New Roman roman or Times New Roman italic.

Italic type can be considered to be the opposite of roman type and it leans to the right. It leans like the Leaning Tower of Pisaand Pisa is in Italy, where italic type originated during the Renaissance. 

Itals” have several purposes in typography. They can provide emphasis and can also highlight:
  •       uncommon foreign words
  •       technical terms
  •       book, magazine, newspaper, CD and movie titles
  •       TV series titles
  •     pieces of art, like The Last Supper
  •       important vehicles, like the Mayflower and Enterprise
Grammar Diva Arlene Miller provides a good rule about using italics or quotation marks: "In general, big things go in italics, and parts of things go in quotation marks."

Names of books (but not “Torah,” “Bible” or “Koran”) are often put in italics. There is much disagreement about what else gets the italic treatment. See Grammar Girl.

It’s common to use italics to introduce an obscure technical term like virgule, and then switch to roman letters later on in a book or article. If I am introducing a technical term that uses ordinary words, like “breaker head,” I generally use quote marks the first time. Sadly, I am not consistent about this.

For many years, before personal computers were common, text was underlined with typewriters that could not produce italic letters for emphasis. Graphics experts frown on the use of underlines in books and recommend italics instead if you need to call attention to a word.

However, sometimes an italic word looks too weak, or doesn't look right when it’s next to a roman word. Compare these two versions of text:

In the first example, “Real” looks stronger because it’s upright and there are no strange gaps between it and the adjacent roman words because of slanted letters. I think the underlined text is fine. Some traditional typographers probably hate it and will brand me as a heretic.

[below] I'm not the only heretic. Here are pieces of two book covers with underlined text. I published one of them

If you mix italic and roman type, be careful with slanted letters W, Y, K, and sometimes M. Look at “k W” below.

[below] Be careful if you have roman and italic letters on the same line. The italics may appear shorter because they ‘lean over.’ You can experiment with slightly enlarging the itals, changing the typeface or changing cases.

[below] Sometimes I use an underline to call attention to an actual ('physical') word rather than to emphasize a concept.

With modern software and the huge variety of fonts, there is generally no need to use underlines for emphasis. When you underline a word, the line will cross through the descenders of lowercase letters g, j, p, q, and y, making an ugly word. I would hate to underline “regal” or “royal.” You can sometimes avoid the ugly problem by substituting a word that has no descenders (not always an option and you can’t alter a web address).

[below] The New York Daily News is a tabloid newspaper with a long tradition of YELLING at its readers. The paper uses lots of underlines, but cuts the lines apart to accommodate descenders and punctuation. I've never seen this technique on a book cover, but if you feel the need to create a book that yells, try it (but be prepared to be yelled at).

- - - - - 

This posting is adapted from my wonderful Typography for Independent Publishers.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Book prices can be mysterious--and amusing

Prices fascinate me. For books, food, anything, everything.
  • There are Chinese restaurants on the upper west side of Manhattan where you can pay $4.95 for a large order of fried rice. However, if you are willing to accept four delicious chicken wings along with the rice, the total price drops to just $2.95.
  • The price for a slice of ordinary American cheese in a Greek diner can be 50 cents, a buck or even $2--depending on what it's attached to.
  • The "list" prices for ebooks almost always end with 99 cents. For pbooks (printed books), the price usually ends with 95 cents. Nobody seems to know who made up the rule.
  • Independent ("self") publishers often have an unrealistically high opinion of their work, and price them too high to sell many. This blog post will help you to price properly.
  • Online prices from major and minor booksellers often make no sense. It's common to see used books advertised for more than new ones, and even 'used' books advertised within minutes of publication--when no used copies should be available.

I just checked the Barnes & Noble website to see if they'd started selling my newest book, What's Wrong With Trump? They don't have it yet, but prices for some of my other books makes no sense at all. Some are selling for more than list price. One paperback is selling for a nickel more than the hardcover version. Three books are priced at $18.95, $19.00 and $19.02. Surely, they could all be priced the same.

B&N has been slowly slipping into the retail sewer for a decade. Is the wacky pricing a cause or an effect?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Your Author Name should become a Brand Name

(not mine)

Although my name is Michael Marcus and I used to paint my face on Halloween, I am not the Michael Marcus who's in the cosmetics business.

Michael and Marcus, and Michael Marcus, are very common names.
For writing, I use my middle initial N as part of my BRAND, to distinguish myself from the many thousands of other Michael Marcuses out there.

If you Google Michael Marcus, you’ll find several hundred thousand links, including a Wall Street trader, the cosmetics manufacturer, a jazz musician, and many, many others.

Sometimes I am on the first page of the Google links for Michael Marcus, but today I am not.

However, if you Google my name with my middle initial, you’ll find over 80,000 links. Apparently there are just two of us. The other guy is a shrink. Today I have all of the ten links on the first page of searches for my name. The first one goes to my page on Amazon and the fourth goes to my "author page" on Facebook. Those links are important to anyone who wants to sell books. (There is also a link to a vile, dishonest, libelous blog that I can't get removed without spending zillions to sue Google. I wrote a book, Internet Hell, about it.)
  • If you want to be searchable and findable so you can sell books or any product or service, it’s important that your name become a BRAND NAME so that people who have heard of you—maybe in a conversation or an interview or an article—can FIND you and PAY you for whatever you want to sell them.
Any writer who expects to write more than one book, blog or article hopes that people who like one thing he or she has written will want to read more.

One good way to help people to find your work is to have a distinctive name, like actors and singers. Jor-El, the name of Superman’s Kryptonian father, is unique and distinctive. So is the name of Marlon Brando, who played the part. Marlon Brando was his birth name. Marion Morrison was less fortunate. He had to change his name to become John “Duke” Wayne.

Stephen King’s name is not unique or distinctive. But, after selling perhaps 300 million books, he probably doesn’t suffer from the existence of others with the same name. (Wikipedia listed about a dozen, including a Congressman, a pedophile and five athletes.)

What about a pen name?

It’s not unusual for a writer to use a pen name (nom de plume in French). Mark Twain is probably the most famous fake. Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but he also used Sieur Louis de Conte. There are many reasons for using a pen name:

• To make the author’s name more distinctive, more glamorous or more interesting
• To disguise the author’s gender
• To protect the author from retribution, especially if the book is an exposé
• To avoid confusion with other authors or famous people
• To hide ethnicity or alter apparent ethnicity
• To develop different personas for different genres such as fiction and nonfiction, or chick lit and sci-fi
• To have a name more appropriate to a genre (male western writer Zane Grey was born Pearl Zane Gray).
• To avoid overexposure by having too many books on sale at one time
• To avoid embarrassment, such as when a professor writes porn, or to shield the author’s family from revelations of an unconventional or illegal past
• To avoid confusion if your name is hard to spell, remember, pronounce or seems too “foreign” or “ethnic.” Author Irving Wallace was born a Wallechinsky. His daughter writes as Amy Wallace, but his son is known as David Wallechinsky. (My father's father was born a Dzmichevitsky (or something like that). I prefer "Marcus.")
• To eliminate the possibility that the book could jeopardize your success in another field

Scott Lorenz, who provides marketing and PR at Westwind Communications, suggests some reasons for using your own name on your books:

• If you are not trying to hide from anyone
• To brand your name for speaking gigs or consulting
• So people you know can find your books
• To build trust and confidence with readers
• To use your real-life expertise to validate the contents of your books

If you have a bland name like “Arthur Williams” you might be more easily found and better remembered if you change to Hamburger Williams or Xavier Nguyen Bacciagalupe III.

English punk rocker Declan MacManus morphed into a more-memorable Elvis Costello.
Don Novello wrote books as Lazlo Toth, and appeared on TV as Father Guido Sarducci. Punk-rock bass player Sid Vicious was born John Ritchie. Cher was Cherilyn Sarkisian.

Sometimes just a slight change can do the job. F. Scott Fitzgerald is probably a better choice than Francis or Frankie Fitzgerald. Bill Smith might be better remembered as William Harrington Smith or Billy D. Smith. Edward Jay Epstein has written more than a dozen books, perhaps with more success than hundreds of ordinary Ed Epsteins.

When I checked a few years ago, “Edward Epstein” was the #254,818-ranked full name in, with 123 occurrences. On the other hand, Juan Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter was unique, with just one listed person in the United States. It may not be a real name, however. Maybe Juan’s real name is Xavier Nguyen Bacciagalupe III, or Sally Smith. apparently has changed its function, but there are other sites that reveal name popularity. This site shows popularity of names on Facebook.

In addition to a distinctive name, visual elements can be part of your branding. My books about publishing all have a purple band. A while ago I bought a purple Nikon and used it as a prop when I gave a talk about self-publishing. I recently bought a purple shirt. Back in 2011 I had my head shaved and my full beard reduced to a goatee. I want to be noticed and remembered. I'd like to be thought of as the bald author with a beard who likes purple, rather than just "some guy." After a few years I let my facial and cranial hairs grow back 

I was shy and introverted as a kid, but I got over it.

If you want to sell books, you can’t be shy. If you're too timid to toot your own horn, you'll have to hire someone to toot for you. You can’t be afraid to speak to strangers. Anyone can be a customer. I recently sold a book to a clerk in a pawn shop. Sometimes it seems like I am selling one book at a time. That may seem pathetic compared to Stephen King—but it's neither pathetic nor bad business. Each person who buys your book may tell others, and they may tell others who'll tell others.

  • Two more tips: Use your Author Name frequently and consistently. If you've decided to write as Frederik W. Miller, eschew Fred and Freddy. They are no longer you.
  • And one more: Don't use hyphens, umlauts or other diacritical marks in your Author Name. They add as much difficulty as distinction. However, if your last name is D'Andrea, it's OK to keep your apostrophe.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Embarrassing errors can hide anywhere in your book. 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 the mistakes before the book is published.

A few years ago, 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 tediously re-created the headers and re-uploaded the files. 
This time I carefully examined the PDF file and the problem evaporated. Poof.
  • 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, or vice versa. If you've copied text from the web, it's crucial that you find straight quote marks and apostrophes (properly called "prime" and "double prime", but maybe foot and inch marks) and replace them with proper "curlies."

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 years 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.

A few days ago I uploaded an updated version of my newest book, What's Wrong With Trump? On the photo credits page I had typed "Rachel Masssow" instead of "Rachel Maddow." On a keyboard the "S" and "D" keys are adjacent. This particular error is known as "fat-fingering." It's annoying, sometimes funny, common—and should be corrected.

Monday, June 4, 2018

What do bikers have in common with the New York Times and the Gutenberg Bible?

Blackletter is an ornate typeface style which was widely used in Western Europe in the 12th through the 17th century.  Sometimes the ancient style is still used for newspapers and books. Other names for this style are Old English, Fraktur, Gothic script, Textura and Gothic minuscule.

Blackletter can be hard to read. There are very few curves, and many points.

It is ironic that Blackletter, which was the typeface used for the Gutenberg Bible, was later adopted by—and then rejected by—the Nazis. It has also been popular with bikers and heavy metal rockers.

(From The One Buck Indie Author's Type Book, which really costs two bucks)