Thursday, October 22, 2020

Authors: Errors can hide anywhere. Check your books in multiple media


[above] Despite multiple editing sessions, until after I had a printed book in front of me, I did not see that the photo had moved away from the right margin, and a word was misplaced. 

[above] Here's what a not-ready-for-prime-time book looks like after I found things that needed to be fixed. I did not see the errors until I had a printed book.

A few weeks ago I uploaded what I hoped would be the final version of my wonderful new book, Failure To Communicate. The title is from dialog in the highly acclaimed 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman. 

It's been on sale for about a month but I've been tweaking and adding and have held off on promoting the book until the ebook version was available. Yesterday I received a physical copy and I'll study it carefully. 

I've already made hundreds of 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.
A while ago 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. 

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 fine a few months ago. Sometimes I'll take advantage of the delay to add things.

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.

Amazon KDP (formerly 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 Amazon KDP 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! Your purchases may even help your book's sales ranking.

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 KDP 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. Your word-processing software can search for improper hyphens. It's tedious work, but should be done.

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

Friday, October 9, 2020

All authors need business cards.
And what about bookmarks?

Authors—whether self-published or traditionally published—can't afford to be meek. You must get comfortable talking to strangers. If you're afraid to toot your own horn, you'll have to hire someone to toot for you.

A business card is an important accessory to tooting, or pitching. It's a powerful and inexpensive 'souvenir' of a brief encounter or lengthy meeting that can lead to business. (Traditional cardboard bookmarks don't work with ebooks but do have legitimate use. See below.) 
  • Books are often sold one-at-a-time, and each happy purchaser can tell someone else, and each of those purchasers can tell other people, and so on. You hope. Business cards make it easy to pass the word about a book or author.
  • You can have cards that promote specific books, or a series of books, and cards that identify yourself as an author, as a publisher, an editor, designer, illustrator, or provider of other services.
  • Always have several cards of each type in your pocketbook or wallet.
  • If you are going to a trade show, convention, reading, panel discussion, interview, networking session or other business event, take lots of cards.
  • If you have a car, boat, airplane, motorcycle or bicycle, keep lots of cards in it, and keep them easy to get at. One of my books is about my late dog. If I see someone walking a dog while I'm driving, she or he often gets a card about my dog book.
  • If you have a "go bag" for unexpected trips—put cards in it.
  • If you're going on vacation, pack cards and know where they are.

  • Business cards are a good reason for a male author to carry a "murse" (man's purse).
  • Separate your various cards so you can quickly grab the right one.
  • Replace depleted cards from the primary inventory in your office.
Some of my cards:

Any time you sign or send a book, stick in three to six business cards that show the book cover and maybe "at Amazon and B&N" or your website address if you prefer to sell directly. Make it easy for happy customers to recommend the book to others. While some of the cards may be used as bookmarks, crumb sweepers or be thrown away, assume that some will be passed on to potential purchasers.

For years I've gotten my cards from Vistaprint, a major maker of business cards and other promotional products for businesses. For the cards shown here, I uploaded a TIF image copied from the PDF of my cover. Most of my paperback books measure 6 x 9 inches, and fit fine on the business card with a little space above and below the cover image for promotional copy. Keep in mind that the more text you use, the smaller it gets, so write efficiently as well as effectively.
  • The recent price was just $17.02 for 250 cards—under seven cents each with shipping. A thousand cards would cost $33 (just over three cents each), and 5,000 would cost $132 (just over 2-1/2 cents apiece). If you spend a little more, you can have Vistaprint use the space on the back to print some blurbs from readers or reviewers who like the book.
My wife and I carry cards to give to possible "customers." Marilyn has turned out to be an excellent salesperson. She motivated our dentist to order a book from Amazon and I signed it for him when I had my teeth cleaned. My podiatrist, however, asked for a freebie. I gave it to him and he displays it in his office. So does my urologist. Nice.

What about bookmarks?

Years ago many authors had stacks of bookmarks to give to potential readers. Bookmarks obviously don't work with today's popular ebooks, and they take up more space than business cards—but it may make sense to get some.

Bookmarks are available from Vistaprint and other sources for a few cents each.

  1. They are good giveaways if you will be having a book talk, especially if you will be selling books from the back of the room.
  2. If you sell books with autographs or inscriptions, insert a bookmark or two into each one before you send it out.
  3. Some readers collect bookmarks (I have a bunch), so it can't hurt to cater to their addiction.