Friday, February 22, 2019

Authors: it's important to review your books' reviews

Every author likes to get good reviews, and hates to get bad reviews.

Most published reviews are positive, and that's nice.

Some negative reviews are written by people who are clueless, vindictive or have not even read the book they are condemning.

If you write a book, it's important that you regularly check for reviews. Good reviews can be used to promote your book. Unjustified bad reviews should be dealt with.

A while ago I discovered a strange review of one of my books on Amazon. It gave me the minimum one-star ranking and said my book must be terrible because it did not have a "Search inside the book" feature (as if I was hiding something). 

There were a few other meaningless complaints which revealed that the reviewer had never read the book. I assume the review was from a writer I slammed on this blog. (I don't put negative reviews on Amazon, to minimize the chance of a flame war or pissing match.)

I complained to Amazon, and the review was deleted within a few minutes.

Another time I was criticized because the typeface I used was allegedly too big. I responded that the 12-pt type I used is the size specified by the U.S. Supreme Court to insure readability of court documents.

And another time one of my books was criticized for being out of date. I responded that the reviewer bought the wrong book, and should have bought the replacement book. I even offered to provide a freebie.

A few weeks ago an anti-Trump book I wrote received a vicious negative review, which included a personal insult. It was apparent that the 'reviewer' never read the book, but merely disagreed with my politics. I complained to Amazon and the review was quickly. Deleted.

I don't know if it cost me any sales, but it demonstrates the importance of regularly reading reviews.

In addition to checking booksellers' websites, you should set up Google alerts for your name and your book titles. You'll get automatic notifications so you'll know what's being said about you so you can respond appropriately.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Roses or tomatoes? Think about your book's margins

I previously discussed white space, also known as negative space or air.

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

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

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

White space demonstrates extravagance and implies wealth. When I was a child I was advised to eat everything on my plate. When I was a teenager I dated a wealthy girl who had been taught to always leave some uneaten food on her plate so no one would think she actually needed the meal. White space is part of the paper you choose not to print on. If your primary consideration is to get the most for your money, you would leave as little white space as possible.
Ample white space implies that you own the entire page but don’t need to consume it—you can use it for aesthetics rather than for practical purposes. It’s like having rosesnot tomatoesin your garden.
Because of its uniform line length, justified text lacks some of the negative space that flush-left text provides. Experiment with other ways to add negative space to a page. Larger margins can help. Extra space between paragraphs adds negative space which makes a page more attractive, but also makes each paragraph look more independent rather than part of a unified “whole.”

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

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

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

[below] Some good advice from 1907.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post is adapted from my wonderful new book, Typography for Independent Publishers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Authors: keep ego off book covers until you are famous or have written ten books

Unless you are known for writing, murder, politics, con­ning people out of billions, or winning Olympic medals, keep your name and portrait a lot smaller than the book’s title.

Later on, if you become famous, you can revise the covers of your earlier books.

[above] This is my approximate 35th book, and it's very personal, so it's fine for my face to grace the cover.
More about book covers, The Look of a Book: what makes a book cover good or bad and how to design a good one 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Writers can learn something important from colleges they won't attend: GET FAMOUS

When I was in high school in New Haven, Connecticut, and it was time to apply to colleges (early 1964), those of us who had dreams of attending "good" colleges, were also advised to apply to one or more "safety schools."

A safety school is a college with relatively low entrance requirements, where almost anyone would be admitted. They provide little or no status, but they can provide a bachelor's degree. (In actuality, a safety school can provide an excellent education, and many grads will attest to that. If you attended one, please don't complain about my classification.)

For kids in Connecticut, our major state school, The University of Connecticut ("UConn")—located in a nowheresville called Storrs—pretty much had to accept any high school graduate who lived in the state. Within Connecticut, the school was largely known as a school for farmers, and a place to get good low-priced milkshakes at the store on the experimental dairy farm.

Outside Connecticut, UConn was often confused with "Yukon." The athletic teams—called the "Huskies"added to the confusion, and many Americans assumed the college was located in the frigid 49th statenot in one of the 13 original colonies.

Sports forever and significantly changed the visibility and image of UConn. By becoming frequent champions in both women's and men's basketball, UConn is probably known to most American high school studentsand the number of applicants grows and grows. Along with visibility, and status, UConn has attracted a better faculty, and is now much more than a safety school. Sports coaches are sometimes paid more than college presidents, and they may be worth it.

A few miles north of New Haven is the suburban town of Hamden. It's home to a smaller, onetime safety school: Quinnipiac College.

In 1964, "Quinnie" was considered even less desirable than UConn, because most students would continue to live at home, just like in high school. Being a student at Quinnipiac seemed like thirteenth grade, whereas UConn had dormsjust like a 'real' college.

Today Quinnipiac College is now the highly respected and widely known Quinnipiac University. Its visibility and subsequent increased status and academic ranking were boosted not by basketball, but by gathering and analyzing statistics. Hardly a week goes by without major media mentions of the latest Quinnipiac University Poll.
  • Staples probably sells more staples, paper and computers because of the visibility of Staples Center in Los Angeles. It is the home of four professional sports teams, and has won several "arena of the year awards." I buy a lot at Staples. Even staples.
  • Every Saturday morning I listen to "Wait, wait, don't tell me" on NPR, and I am frequently reminded that it is being broadcast from the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago. I've had multiple accounts at Chase Bank. Actually, too many
  • The New York Mets play at Citi Field. I don't care about the Mets, but I have had several Citibank credit cards. 
  • Kodak camera film and sales were boosted by the Oscar presentations at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. I have several Kodak cameras. So do millions of others. Kodak went bankrupt and lost its naming right and the venue is now the Dolby Theatre.
  • Online dating site Ashley Madison reportedly made an offer to rename New Jersey's  Meadowlands Stadium " Stadium." I have no interest in cheating on my wife, so I don't use Ashley Madison.
While some companies have millions to spend on "naming rights," fame doesn't have to be expensive.
  • The basketball players who first made UConn famous did not go there because the school was already famous and had big-buck coaches. They may not have had athletic scholarships.
  • The early Quinnipiac polls were student projects, announced with inexpensive or free press releases.
  • Unless you win Olympic gold or kill someone important, fame doesn't come quickly. It can be built gradually, and inexpensively.
Think about what you can do to establish yourself as an expert on something, to get your name inextricably linked to some subject you want to be associated with.
  1. Write blogs.
  2. Constantly post on Facebook, online forums and newsgroups.
  3. Tweet.
  4. Publish websites.
  5. Get listed on LinkedIn and other social websites.
  6. Join associations. 
  7. Write book reviews.
  8. Write blurbs for books.
  9. Send out press releases.
  10. Participate in panels at trade shows and conventions.
  11. Write letters to editors.
  12. Get interviewed. 
  13. Do something, everyday.
Google shows over 10,000 links for my name. A few are for a shrink who shares my name, but most are mine. Amanda Hocking has nearly 800,000 links. Ernest Hemingway has nearly 7 million.

The idiots at Outskirt Press describe Monica Bouvie as a "self publishing success story." Her last name is really Bouvier. It ends with an "r"like Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and Marge Bouvier Simpson and sisters Patty and Selmabut Outskirts can't be expected to get anything right, even on its home page.

Despite being affiliated with an inept publisher, Monica does have more than 3,000 Google links.

How many do you have?

Friday, February 8, 2019

Authors who reduce ego (and prices) can increase income

While you may be flattered by a high "cover price" on your book, you may make more money in total if the book has a lower price.

Here are comparisons (rounded off) of an author's monthly income for one independently self-pubbed book:
  • January 2011, for a $15.95 paperback: $64
  • January 2012, for the $4.99 ebook, discounted to $4.12: $220
  • January 2013, for the ebook reduced to $2.99 and discounted to $2.51: $345
Not only did total income increase as the price has been reduced, but sales increased as the book got older—which is not the typical pattern for book sales.

For a Lamborghini, high price is a marketing device. For a book, low price is a marketing device.

The low price enables and encourages more people to buy the book, and they apparently recommend the book to others. Maybe a reader will recommend it to a movie producer.

Writers who use self-publishing service should be wary of mandatory pricing that makes the books non-competitive. 

While no author in 21st-century-America can live on $345 per month, if you have 10, 20 or 30 books generating that income, you can think about quitting your day job.


dollar sign from

Lamborghini Aventador photo from

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

I used to get laid because I was a writer. I no longer do. But that's OK.

I majored in journalism in college. I've written many hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines. I was an award-winning advertising copywriter. I've written more than 40 books.

For a while I kept a "clip file" of all of my published articles, and had a portfolio of my ads that I could use to impress a prospective employer. But, after more than 50 years making money by tapping a keyboard, I no longer think that writing is a big deal.

In the early 70s, I loved getting fan mail and phone calls from people who liked my articles and reviews in Rolling Stone. Free records and free passes to movies and concerts often enhanced my relationships with young ladies.

Later, there was lots of satisfaction when I was told how many dollars my ads and websites generated. It was cool seeing people wearing T-shirts I had designed. In more recent years, I've enjoyed reading the mostly good reviews of my books.

I won't say it isn't fun anymore. One fundamental Marcus maxim is, "If it isn't fun, don't do it." If writing wasn't fun, I wouldn't still be doing it.

I still love to tweak, adjust, manipulate and rework blogs, websites and book pages so they sound and look just right.

But writing a good book in 2019 just does not generate the same smiles and internal giggles as the first big cover story I wrote for High Fidelity Trade News in 1969, or getting into movies and concerts for free when I showed my Rolling Stone press ID in 1971, or getting laid after giving a girl a stack of records I had gotten for free when I worked for Stone.

Maybe the problem—if it is a problem—is that writing is much easier than it used to be, so I don't feel I am overcoming a challenge. I was fired from my job at High Fidelity Trade News when I had a two-week dry spell, but it's been decades since I've suffered with a severe case of "writer's block."

Maybe simply getting olderand accumulating more experiencesmakes it easier to write. (But harder to type accurately.) 

At age 72, I can write about almost anything.

I had a demented high school English teacher [she's in Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)] who made 'surprise attacks' on our class. One day she commanded us to "write 500 words about tobogganing." Another time she wanted 500 words about "How Capri pants are the downfall of western civilization."

I hated the evil idiot, but she provided good preparation for later on when my paycheck depended on my being able to write about things I knew absolutely nothing about (ads for women's bathing suits and the Metropolitan Opera, and a fundraising letter for the YMCA, for example).

Getting published is infinitely easier now than when I was younger. Years ago, if I had a brilliant idea for an article or book, I had to query editors and publishers to try to ignite their enthusiasm and open their checkbooks.

Today, if I have something to say, I write a book and publish it myself, or post something on one of my blogs or on Facebook or Twitter, or comment on someone else's blog, or start a new blog or website. It's infinitely easier than pitching an article to an editor or convincing investors to put money into a new magazine.

Those of us in the book biz know how easy it is to publish now. But many “civilians” are still in awe of authors.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I was at a brunch meeting of about 25 members of a "burial society" that I’ve inherited membership in.

Although I’ve theoretically been a member since birth, this was the first time that a meeting was held near enough for me to conveniently attend. I was surrounded by relatives I am scheduled to spend eternity with, but I had never met any of them before.

During the meeting, someone spoke about a milestone in family history that occurred about 100 years earlier. I casually mentioned that I had written about the incident in one of my books.

I was surprised by the response. Some people were in awe! Someone said, “Oh, you wrote a book!” and there was at least one “Wow.” People asked the name, the subject and where they could buy it.

I answered the questions quickly and politely. I didn’t want to hijack the meeting and turn it into a book promo event.

My extended family (mostly 'sophisticated New Yorkers') thought that meeting a writer is unusual.

I certainly don’t think writing is unusual or that writers are unusual (well, maybe a little unusual). I spend a lot of my online and offline time communicating with writers, editors, designers and publishers. My close relatives and neighbors and employees know that I write and publish and they are not impressed. (Well, actually, a few are.)

I know how easy it is to get published; but to the group of strangers at the meetingwho share some of my genes, and will share a final addressit was a big deal. I’m certainly not a celebrity like Elvis, JFK or Shakespeare, but some of these folks seemed to be a bit excited to be related to an author and maybe even to be buried near one.

It made me feel good. Not as good as getting laid because I was an editor at Rolling Stonebut nevertheless, good.

Magicians don’t explain their best tricks. Maybe we shouldn’t reveal how easy it has become to publish books and have them sold by Amazon and B&N. Maybe I should not publicize this blog post. Oh well.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Authors: Picasso, Tiffany and Laozi and can help you make better books

“Negative space” may sound like a “worm hole,” “alternate universe” or another strange phenomenon encountered by the crew of a star ship. But you don’t have to understand astrophysics to understand negative space, and why books need it.

In graphic design a “thing” such as a piece of text or a photograph is considered to be “positive space,” and everything else on the page (or screen) is negative spaceBecause most book pages are white, negative space is sometimes called “white space.” Even if your page is gray, beige, black or turquoise, any space where nothing else is, is considered to be white.
  • Negative space is not nothing. Negative space is important and has many purposes.
Negative space can seem extravagant and imply wealth and high class. Printed ads for luxury brands often have lots of negative space. Tiffany has used extensive negative space for many years. [below]

Negative space can help to establish a mood. Just as a billionaire’s estate may have hundreds of acres of “nothing,” a page or ad with abundant negative space can seem luxurious and elegant, while a page with tiny margins can seem as cramped as a slum apartment where 20 people fight for space to sleep and sit.

Another term for negative space or white space is “air,” and a new art director at an ad agency might be told by his boss, “Larry, we need more air around the graphic of the lawn mower.”

When you start a new design, whether it’s a book cover, an interior page, a tiny postage stamp or a mammoth billboard, all you have is white space—a blank slate (tabula rasa in Latin).

On a book page or cover, white space includes the tiny indents at the beginnings of paragraphs, the spaces between lines of text, margins, borders around photographs, blank areas between sections or chapters and even just patches of nothingness that a designer decides to provide.

Newbie designers and D-I-Y publishers tend to pack nearly every square micron with text and graphic images: “I paid for the entire cover, and damn it, I’m going to use it.” That’s not a good idea. Attractive covers and interior pages often use lots of negative space where there is nothing but the background color. In art (and life), “nothingness” can be something—something very important.

Chinese philosopher Laozi is credited with writing the following more than 2500 years ago:
Thirty spokes meet in the hub, but the empty space between them is the essence of the wheel.
Pots are formed from clay, but the empty space within it is the essence of the pot.
Walls with windows and doors form the house, but the empty space within it is the essence of the house.

Sadly, both amateur and professional publishers seem to strive to save pages, dollars (and maybe also trees) and the result is often awful.

Authors Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen advise: “Beginners often make the mistake of forgetting to account for space. Too much space, and visuals and type get lost or don't talk to each other. Not enough space, and they start to fight with each other.”

White space provides “visual breathing room for the eye” and also provides contrast that highlights the positive space. Painters—and the people who frame their work—have understood this for centuries. Amateur book formatters should spend some time walking around an art gallery or even viewing the websites of companies that sell art prints.

[above] For example, Pablo Picasso created “Petite Fleurs” with ample white space around the image, and even the hands and forearms are mere outlines around white space to further emphasize the color of the flowers held in the hands. The folks at
 provide additional white space in the matte that surrounds the print in a frame. 

At the right/above, I show how the same-size artwork would look if Picasso and the framer removed the air supply. The lithographic print with ample air draws me in. The airless print pushes me away. Eyes—like noses—need air.

Just as the appearance of a picture is improved by having a matte within its frame, your text needs adequate white space surrounding it. Eyes—like noses—need air.

One of my basic rules of thumb is that the a book’s outside margins must be large enough to comfortably fit human thumbs without covering up any text or illustration. It’s really annoying to have to constantly re-position pages while reading through a book.

The sample books that Infinity Publishing and DiggyPOD distribute to impress potential author/customers have barely enough margin room for a child’s pinky—let alone an adult’s thumb. Some magazines, including Bloomberg Business Week, are guilty of the same sin.

Paper is one of the least expensive parts of publishing, and if a book requires 10 or 20 more pages to be more attractive and more comfortable to read, it’s a worthwhile investment.

While paper is not expensive, it’s not free, so keep printing costs in mind while evaluating suppliers. Each page from Lightning Source or Amazon's KDP (formerly CreateSpace) costs the same, but other companies have wacky price schedules.

With Infinity Publishing, a reader pays a buck more for a book with 129 pages than one with 128 pages and the author pays 54 cents more. Page number 129 is printed on a very expensive piece of paper.

Xlibris also has an inflated and weird “delta” between page ranges. 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 $.013 (or maybe even less if they get a discount).


 This post is adapted from my Typography for Independent Publishers.