Friday, March 29, 2019

Nike was right. So was my father. Just do it, dammit.


When I was 24 years old, I discussed a business idea with my father. I asked him if he thought I should try it. He said he didn’t know if I’d succeed, but he did know that if I didn’t try it, for the rest of my life I’d wonder what would have happened if I did try it.

If you wonder what will happen if you write and publish a book—try it! The risk is low and the potential benefit is huge.

Words are toys for me. As a writer, I get paid to have fun. Writing books and blogs is probably the second best way for a man to make money. I'm nearly 73, so I have little chance of employment as a gigolo. (Anyway, wife Marilyn has an exclusive contract for my intimate services.) If I can publish books, so can others. (And, of course, my books can help.)

There's no reason to wait until next year, next week or tomorrow to start a book. Just do it—NOW.
  • Be innovative.
  • Be productive.
  • Be useful.
  • Change the world.
  • Let off steam.
  • Have fun.
  • Fill empty hours.
  • Make people laugh.
  • Make people cry.
  • Make people think.
  • Make money.
  • Get famous. Maybe get laid more often. Maybe get better tables in restaurants or free upgrades to first class when you fly.
  • Don't be afraid to piss people off. What you think of yourself is more important than what others think of you. Write to please yourself.
  • It's nice if your words cause others to smile, say "thanks" and pay money; but self-satisfaction is more important. Not everyone has to "get" you. Even a small, happy audience can be satisfying. One good review can make your day.
Don't leave the keyboard until you're satisfied with what you've written, because you never know which words will be your last words.

Monday, March 25, 2019

What's the best advice I can give to writers?

I majored in journalism in college (Lehigh University). We were expected to be able to write about anything—from technology to food to wrestling—even if we had no interest in or affinity for the subject.

This versatility can be critical for a writer who needs to eat.

I've written many hundreds of articles about all kinds of things for newspapers and magazines. I was an award-winning advertising copywriter. I've written more than 40 books.


I'm a proud member of the first cohort of the Baby Boom, just a few weeks away from age 73, and 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 life when my financial well-being depended on my being able to write about things I knew absolutely nothing about.

My first job after college was being assistant editor of a magazine that went to hi-fi equipment dealers. I had an impressive title and worked in the media capital of the universe, but my salary was a measly $115 per week—which did not go far in Manhattan, even in 1969.

I initially lived in a YMCA room smaller than many jail cells. I don't remember the rent, but it was so high that my daily food budget was less than two bucks, and I walked to work regardless of the weather.

The Y's manager knew that I was a writer/editor and asked if I could produce a fundraising letter. I had never done one before, but I said I could do it. It was easy work, it turned out well, and my rent was cut in half. That was a big help until I could afford a real apartment, and provided an important lesson.


The company I worked for published business magazines in various fields. Although I specialized in hi-fi, when editors at other mags were ill, overworked or on vacation, I had to figure out how to write convincingly about health food, auto accessories and art supplies. I did it well and my versatility increased my importance to my bosses, and my salary.

After a few years I made a jump from writing articles to writing advertising.

At first I specialized in hi-fi, but in a pinch I could be counted on to produce competent advertising for computers, Castrol motor oil, Volvo cars, Perdue chicken, Hebrew National hotdogs, wo
men's bathing suits, vinyl flooring, wristwatches, light switches, wallpaper, an airline and the Metropolitan Opera.
  • There is zero security in advertising (and in journalism). The day to start looking for a job is the day you get a job.
  • Specialization can help you get a job. If a magazine, manufacturer or ad agency needs a writer with skill and experience with portable nuclear reactors or left-handed monkey wrenches—and you're one of just two appropriate people in the world—you can probably negotiate a great deal.
  • But if you want to keep your job, it will be good to be able to write about underwear, apple-picking, music and politics.
Versatility is important for books, too. Some authors specialize in certain genres, but specialization can be boring, and you may run dry. It's good to be comfortable writing books about several things, even many things. You can have multiple specialties, or be a generalist.

I've written successful books about my life, and about technology, publishing, animals, politics, food, crime and more; and some 
books planned for the future will deal with religion and toilets. I write nonfiction, but one of my books has a novelized backstory. Will I write a full novel in the future? Who knows?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Authors: you'll be amazed at the errors you'll find 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, March 15, 2019

If authors don't care about their books, why should readers?


This is probably the least-interesting cover design of all time. Maybe the poetry in the ebook is more stimulating than the cover. Will anyone find out?

Sadly, I found out. The typing, spelling and grammar inside the book are probably the worst I’ve ever seen. YIPES!







The book has a four-star review on Goodreads -- posted by the poet himself


Gerard wants us to know that this is his finest work. That's not encouraging. Neither is the sloppy typing in the review itself.

Here's what the pathetic egomaniac put on Goodreads: "wonderful collection of poetry by Irish author ,this is a flowing melodic poetry of raw honesty, this ebook will delight tantalise and frustrate you for sure"

If Gerard didn't care enough to produce a quality book and proper promotion, why should a reader care enough to invest time and money?
  • If you produce crap, maybe the only people you'll attract are critics like me.
  • It's extremely difficult to make money selling poetry books.
  • If you want to have a chance, do it right. 
  • If you can't produce a proper book yourself, hire qualified people to do it for you.
UPDATE: since the first time I wrote about Gerard, he produced a new cover. It's better—but incredibly dull. The pages inside the book have not been improved.

Another book,
Snatches Of The Mind, has better interior typing, but bad grammar and different titles on the cover and title page. Oops.

Here's the abominable promotional text: "The word's paint pictures , like an artist lovingly applies paint to a canvas , the heart and mind as one, the story between the lines , as revealing, as the tears of a broken hearted lover"

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Lessons from previous jobs help me as author & publisher

My first job after college was assistant editor of a magazine that went to hi-fi dealers. As a "trade magazine" entirely financed by advertisers, we sometimes delayed an issue by a day or two or three to bring in more ads. Readers got their subscriptions for free so almost no one complained if a magazine was late. If someone did complain, we always blamed the Post Office. 



After that, I was an editor in Rolling Stone's Manhattan office, in an era when headquarters was in San Francisco. Deadlines were inflexible. We had no fax machines, email or FedEx in 1971 and I sometimes drove to Laguardia airport to have a column air-freighted cross-country.



After that I was an "award-winning Madison Avenue copywriter." Ad production schedules were rigid with several people monitoring progress of various departments. If an ad did not reach a print publication on time, or a commercial did not reach a TV network or radio station on time, the agency lost income and might lose a client. 

Production schedule charts were on walls where everyone involved could keep track of what had to be done, when. If we had to work through lunch, or until 3 AM or on weekends, well, it's the nature of the business.


Since 2008 I have operated my own tiny Silver Sands Books (more than 40 books so far). I have no one supervising me, but I do keep a big production chart on the wall. It's not a rigid schedule. In fact, it's more of a wish list to keep me aware of what should be done approximately when, and what has slipped back because of my own changing priorities or outside factors beyond my control.

Even thought I am the boss, the chart has a powerful presence and is not easily ignored. I ultimately get to decide if I am going to devote time, energy and money to a new book rather than revise an old one or finish an overdue one—but I have to answer to the almighty chart.

(It also helps me keep track of the ISBNs I've assigned or not used.)

One recent book: Do As I Say, Not As I Did.



Friday, March 8, 2019

Authors need platforms. Do you know what a platform is? Do you have one?


“Platform” is a major buzzword in current publishing.

It’s not the same as a political party’s platform, or a supporting structure for an oil well, lighthouse or lecturer.


Think of it as a metaphor for a structure that will boost you up and make you visible to potential readers, sources of publicity, agents, publishers and bookstore buyers.


Components in your platform include websites, blogs, business connections, social media, radio and TV appearances, quotes in media, online mentions, speeches, articles, friends, neighbors, etc. Your first book is part of your platform and should help sell your later books.

  • If you are considering self-publishing, your platform is critical for converting people into readers. You have no publishing company to spend money on making you visible. Listings on booksellers' websites and search engine links are not sufficient to generate sales and reviews. You must have a way to stand out and engage potential readers.
  • If you hope to get a contract from a traditional publisher, be aware that they want to know about the platforms of new authors. If your platform is unimpressive, your book—no matter how wonderful—may not be sufficient to do a deal. 
(photo from http://www.lighthouse.net.au/)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Writers: who cares who published your books? Probably nobody


I was at a local social event a few years ago to meet some friends I knew only through Facebook. I had taken a few copies of my newest book to give to them. We were seated in a huge room with hundreds of people and we talked to the strangers who were sitting near us. 

When I took the books out and signed them for the FB friends, the strangers immediately asked if they could see the books. They flipped through the books and smiled (a good sign). 

One said, "I never met an author before." Another asked where she could buy the book. A third asked how long it takes to write a book. Someone asked if I find it hard to write a book. Another asked how I decide what to write about and what other books I'd written. 

One question that nobody asked is "what company published the book?". 


From what I've observed, a publisher's name on a book is very different from a brand name on a bottle of wine or a pair of shoes. It's more like the name of a TV channel—almost completely irrelevant.

Readers are interested in a book's content and maybe the author's reputation—not the name of the company that delivered the content. 


  • Zoe Winters writes quirky and sometimes dark paranormal romance and fantasy. She says, “The average reader doesn’t care how a book gets to market. If the book is good, it doesn't matter if your Chihuahua published it.” 
  • Author Simon Royle wrote, “People don't buy books from publishers. They buy them from authors.” 
  • Edward Uhlan founded Exposition Press—an early and important pay-to-publish company—in 1936. He said, “Most people can’t tell the difference between a vanity book and a trade book anyway. A book is a book.” 
Concentrate on producing top-quality books.

If you are forming your own tiny publishing company,
choose a good name for it. Don't for a minute fret that readers will reject you because the logo on your books doesn't belong to Penguin or Simon & Schuster. Few potential readers will notice or care.

WARNING: If you are using the services of a "self-publishing company," be aware that some of them—such has Outskirts Press, Publish America, and the various brands from Author Solutions—have such terrible reputations that knowledgeable readers and reviewers may reject your book without reading it.




------------
Shoe pic from Mario Blahnik, dog pic from Google Images

Monday, March 4, 2019

Writers: here's a tip that may help you avoid embarrassment and lawsuits

  
I once decided to change a real name to a fake name in a book I was writing to avoid embarrassing someone who might not want to be written about. I also thought I might get sued for what I said about her.

I used MS Word’s "Find and Replace" feature which quickly made about a dozen substitutions in one chapter.

But when I read through the chapter I was surprised to find a few instances of the old name which had escaped the Find function.

It’s important to do a manual verification because Word might not notice hyphenated words or words with apostrophes or in their plural form as targets for replacement.


Don’t lose a friend or risk a lawsuit by publishing a wrong name or word.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Authors, make sure your price is right. How much is your book worth to readers?

I've previously written about the low profit for an author caused when a self-publishing company dictates a book's retail price based on the number of pages in a book without considering prices of competing books or the perceived value of the new book.
  • Unfortunately, authors who have the freedom to set book prices can cause even worse trouble for themselves: very low sales.
It's important that authors write books they can be proud of, and that authors be proud of their books. Unfortunately, some authors seem to have too much pride. They have an unjustifiably high opinion of their work and their position in the marketplace. The authors set prices that are so absurdly high that sales will be hurt.
  • Sometimes the high price is not caused by author's pride, but by the need to make a profit. Some pay-to-publish companies charge so much to produce books that an author must choose between noncompetitive retail pricing and losing money. That's not much of a choice. Some of these companies dictate noncompetitive prices. They don't care about selling books because they make their money by selling services and supplies to authors.

For a mere $7.95, readers seeking WW2 love stories can purchase the hardcover Love Stories of World War II, compiled by Larry King. Or, for $37.95, they can buy the hardcover Every Thought of You, compiled by Paula Berryann.

Readers who like epic fantasy tales can purchase the hardcover Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling for just $13.67. Or, they can buy the hardcover A Chronicle of Endylmyr by Charles Hill for $27.95.

Study your competition before you decide to put a high price on your book. Will your book be perceived as several times as good as a book from an established pro like Rowling or King?

Probably not.

Hmmm. Is it a coincidence that both of the overpriced books were published by inept Outskirts Press?