Word Strings: A trick of hyphenation

Have I really not written about this? Wanted to find a link to a post explaining hyphenation for a client, and couldn’t find it.  Ohhh well: let’s start here.

Hyphenating is a way of stringing words together to make a single expression, creating new meaning or enhancing the member words’ meaning by showing the relationship between the words. This is handy-dandy (handy and dandy! hot diggety!), but there are a few rules to standardize this trick.

Let’s say you have a leaky pipe. It’s eight inches long. To describe it to a plumber over the phone, you would say…

“It’s an eight-inch pipe.”

Here, you’ve run an adjective (eight) together with a noun (inch) to create a combination that you can use adjectivally, to describe a noun (pipe). I like to call these hyphenated combos “word strings.”

“Huh?” says the plumber, who’s a bit hard of hearing. “Come again?”

“It’s an eight-inch-long pipe.”

In both cases you’ve run together several words to modify the word pipe. Now, to try to get your point across, you’ve added another adjective (long) to your word string. But, says the plumber, “I just can’t picture that.”

“It’s eight inches long.”

Each of these words stands on its own. How long is it? Inches. Oh yeah? How many inches? Eight.

So: hyphenate words that you need to join together to make them function as a unit, adjectivally.

Now, lissen up:

A kid that is eight years old is…what? Yes:

She is an eight-year-old.

But if someone asks you how old she is and you have to put your answer in writing?

She is eight years old.

When you run 8 + year + old together to create a noun denoting the type of creature the kid is, then you hyphenate. But when you do not use the run the words together to make a noun  — She is _____ old; she is ___ years old; she is eight years old — then you don’t hyphenate. Because old is an adjective describing the kid; years is used as adjective to modify old, and eight is an adjective modifying years. “Eight years old” is NOT a word string; it’s just three words used in a sentence.

Thus “she is eight-years-old” is what we call a monstrosity.

What to Do about a Cat Bite

Just for you: a chapter from If You’d Asked Me…the ultimate collection of bathroom or waiting room reading, A new chapter appears here every three weeks, usually by Friday. You can get a complete copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

Section II: Going to the Dogs
(Or Cats)

12. Stray cat tried biting me today . . .

…but I just got a minor scratch from its teeth with very little blood which stopped immediately after wash. Precautions?

If any animal whose health history is unknown to you bites you, go to your doctor, for hevvinsake! At this time, the main source of rabies infections in the US is the cat. Once rabies symptoms appear, there is nothing anyone can do to save your life.

But rabies is only part of the story. Cats carry any number of unpleasant and even life-threatening diseases.

When I was a toddler, my mother’s cat scratched me in the face. A rash soon developed, which was diagnosed as cat-scratch fever. In the late 1940s, civilian doctors didn’t have a lot of experience with antibiotics, so they prescribed them for everything and anything. I developed an allergic reaction to the drug they gave me and nearly died from it. They told my mother that I would not live through the night.

As you can imagine, this was somewhat stressful for her.

Fortunately, I do not remember it. The message, though, is that you do not want a cat biting and scratching you. Especially not a stray cat, or someone’s pet that you know little about.

Pitch Your Book to 10,000 of Your Closest Friends

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.


Pitch Your Book to 10,000 of Your Closest Friends

Prevailing wisdom has it that social media are the key to marketing a book. Your company is requested on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, even YouTube. The folklore contains a germ of truth, given that as a book author, you personally are the main marketing engine for your products.

Along with this advice, we often hear legends of authors who have sold thousands of books by running campaigns on various social media. This, too, may be so. But with a caveat.

Social media marketing requires you to build large followings of real people—not the kind of bots that show up on Twitter and emanate computer-generated “follows.” You need human beings who recognize your name, whose names you recognize, and with whom you have something resembling conversations over the Internet.

You find these people by tracking down and “friending” (or “following” or “connecting with”) everyone you’ve met since before you were in preschool: classmates, fellow workers, friends, relatives, friends of relatives and relatives of friends . . . and on it goes.

It’s best to have built a large following before you have something to market. If you submit a book proposal to an agent or to traditional book publishers, they will want to know where you’re active in social media and how many followers you have. It’s a selling point in trying to persuade a mainstream publisher to buy your book. If you’re self-publishing, you want to have created a pre-existing interest in you and in your subject, so that you have an established audience for your book.

Some say that Goodreads is the most effective social medium for self-publishers. This was true before Amazon acquired it, and it apparently remains so. You can establish a presence at Goodreads as an “author,” thereby giving yourself a little cachet. But that will not excuse you from working steadily to build and maintain your readership there.

Social media marketing requires you to post something almost every day on every platform. But what you post cannot be blatant advertising for your books or products. You must create the effect of real-world conversation on a wide variety of topics, most of them immaterial. Think of social media as small talk, translated to the Internet. It’s a vast cocktail party, without the highballs and canapés.

Unless you serve them to yourself, that is.

At Goodreads, the topic is usually books and book reviews. Conversations may spin off a book discussion, but most people seem to haunt Goodreads because they like to read and talk about what they read.

Because it brings you a built-in audience of book readers, Goodreads is potentially your richest field among the social media. Like any facet of doing business with Amazon, it can also be intensely frustrating.[15] Personally, I gave up on Goodreads after it repeatedly rejected an ISBN that I copied directly from Bowker’s website, making it impossible for me to market the book there.

In the past, too, Goodreads has suffered from very nasty trolling.[16] As a result, some authors’ book sales have been irreparably damaged.[17] Amazon has taken steps to deal with the abuse, apparently with some success. However, you should be aware that the potential for personal attacks, blitzes of negative reviews, and faceless bullying exists and probably will never completely disappear.

Facebook has “Groups” whose topics focus on a wide variety of subjects. If you’re a genre writer, you can find people who love your genre, be it science fiction, romance, detective cozies, or whatever. You’ll also find groups of aspiring writers and groups of publishers. These represent ready-made potential readerships.

However, know that you cannot simply advertise to members of such groups, any more than you can on your own timeline. You have to engage them in conversations. This is time-consuming and creates a significant distraction from the real writing that you’d like to do. Nevertheless, if you want to market your book, you don’t seem to have much choice, unless you hire someone to do the job for you.

FaceBook does sell advertising, notoriously now that the company is overriding the adblockers of people who prefer not to be subjected to that kind of intrusion, and even more notoriously after the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Because Facebook Ads can, in theory, be closely targeted to specific interests and demographics, some people say they have good results. This claim, however, is controversial. A number of customers have complained that Facebook Ads represent a bottomless pit into which to throw cash.

I hired a marketing agent to create and manage a Facebook Ads campaign for my novel, Fire-Rider. It sold exactly zero copies. The cost was high, and I felt the money was wasted.

In any event, you certainly should make your publishing efforts known on your personal timeline. Those who are most likely to buy your book are people who know you in person.

Twitter has hashtags to attract subscribers’ attention. Use the platform’s “Search” function to find active hashtags (#amwriting, for example) and include two or three relevant tags in each post. As I write this, Twitter still limits post length to 140 characters—the hashtags, the URL you post, and each image soak up some of those characters.

Thus, speaking of time sucks, creating a Twitter post that works can be a time-consuming challenge. Here, too: if you’re corresponding with real people, you’re better off to emit small talk rather than obvious sales pitches.

A drawback to Twitter is the number of machine-generated tweets, likes, and follows. Several apps exist to automate tweets and post them at optimal times of day.[18] You also can install a WordPress plugin that will automatically tweet each new post.[19] These aren’t necessarily bad things. But they do indicate that some portion of the traffic at Twitter isn’t entirely human.

LinkedIn can be useful, because it not only allows you to blow your own horn in a resumé-like context, it connects you with people in the publishing industry and enables a kind of high-level shop talk that can let you highlight your topic or discuss issues related to writing and publishing.

The level of conversation at LinkedIn differs from all the other social media sites. This is not the place to post photos of your kittens. Think of it as social media in a business suit. You want to come across as professional and serious. That characteristic makes some kinds of books eminently marketable on LinkedIn, just because of their nature. (Think books related to business marketing, for example.) With other kinds of books (fiction, inspirational, cute kitten stories), you’re probably better off to deflect the subject of your LinkedIn content to business aspects of your endeavor (what marketing ploy just worked successfully with your collection of inspirational sayings? What demographic buys the most cat books?).

Blogs are another form of social media. If you write engagingly enough and often enough, over time you can collect a surprising number of followers. And you can use your blog openly to plug your books, either in a given post or by installing widgets in a sidebar with links to your book’s Amazon address.

The whole idea of participating in most other social media is to drive readers to your blog, where you can entertain them with lively posts and showcase your wares. Often I post links to posts at the Plain & Simple Press blog, hoping to draw readers to the website, where they can find out more about all our books.

In that line, Pinterest is said to be especially effective. Experienced bloggers will often say that Pinterest drives more traffic than any other social media.

Pinterest features nothing but images with links to personal and business websites. The appeal escapes me, but it is very popular. Lacking any capacity to appreciate the marvels of Pinterest myself, I hire an expert who optimizes my site for Pinterest, creates correctly formatted images, and posts them on Pinterest so as to bring readers over to the Plain & Simple blogsite.[20]

Similarly, it’s possible to automatically link your blog posts to Facebook and Twitter. Networked Blogs[21] is one way to accomplish that.

Your blog can tie into another form of social media: the newsletter. Add a “subscribe” function, and you can easily gather viewers’ email addresses. A program called Mail-chimp[22] will vacuum up the addresses, create a master mailing list, and allow you to send newsletters to everyone who has subscribed. Some people believe a newsletter is the most effective marketing tool for businesses trying to reach customers—and that includes authors trying to reach readers.

YouTube is another popular social medium. Probably the most effective way to reach viewers here is to post how-to-do-it videos. This requires you to have an adequate video camera and learn how to post the file, which is not very hard. I’ve posted lectures for my online students there and found it an easy way to personalize the message. To create the degree of professionalism needed to sell a book, though, you probably should consult with a videographer: someone who has some training in making polished, stumble-free videos.

Podcasts are popular among many social media users. These are comparable to old-fashioned radio talk shows, only without the annoying ads and untethered to a time slot. You do need some broadcasting skill to create an effective podcast. Take a course or hire someone to help produce the thing.

In my experience, the best bet is to reach out, in the persona of a human being, to as many “friends” as you can gather on LinkedIn and on Facebook; to try to capture as many email addresses as you can from your blog; and to send out a newsletter as well as blogging regularly. And hire a social media marketer who really is an expert on how the systems work.

So, What Happened to Ella?

Well, a lot has happened to Ella, inside my feeble little mind. But not much has gotten written.

However, the experiment of trying to post a new chapter of Ella’s story once every two or three weeks has made a point: Writing fiction on deadline is extremely difficult.

I did have some copy that I’d drafted to post here. Yesterday I pulled up the file (after three days without my computer, four days of doing battle with Apple techs, six hours of driving back and forth to the Apple store…) and took a look at the current work in progress, figuring to finish off the episode and stick it up on Plain & Simple Press.

Looked at it. And looked at it.

And thought holy shit but this stuff is awful!

Yes. Awful. Full of clichés. Full of mystifications. Full of amateurisms — the “Tom said swiftly” kind of bêtises committed by beginning writers who have no ear for language and no skill with putting language on paper. Or in little glowing lights in the Internet.

Seriously: I couldn’t believe I’d written that stuff.

So out it goes. When I get a few minutes, I’ll have to try to write that scene in grown-up terms. But no such minutes are in sight: In half an hour I have to start driving again: 45 minutes to the dermatologist’s office; then however long it takes to carve the current growths off my sun-scorched body; then 45 minutes plus however long it takes to stop at a Home Depot to pick up a needed tool. Probably about three hours excised from the day…and three hours’ worth of energy and patience excised from my mental state. Will I rewrite that scene today? Probably not. I haven’t eaten. I haven’t taken the dog for a walk. I haven’t done battle with DropBox trying to get it back online after the Apple techs in Scottsdale dorked it up. I haven’t written a Funny about Money post. And most of all, most urgently of all, I haven’t done one lick of work over the past several days on the indexing project that I should be almost done with by now.

Therein lies the problem: life is one interruption after another. And writing does not lend itself to interruption. Not well, anyway.

And therein lies another question: How did prominent 19th-century writers, like Twain and Poe and Dickens, manage to crank out serialized novel after serialized novel, sending along monthly installments to their customer periodicals on a regular basis?

Well, in the first place I expect Mark Twain was one hell of a lot better writer than I am.

Second, of course, we can imagine that life was slower-paced in the late 1800s than it is today. At least for reasonably affluent men, it would have been. If you didn’t have to work as a laborer, you wouldn’t have had anything like as many distractions and interruptions as we do. Today, distraction and interruption and hassle are part of our dreadfui, gestalt existence. Much of the time you can’t even complete a thought, much less sit down and focus on creating an imaginary world full of imaginary characters and putting it on paper.

I don’t believe that was true for women. Unless a woman or her family was pretty affluent, her work was very much more demanding and very much more time-consuming than a moderately affluent man’s work. Housework itself was laborious, and with no truly effective way to avoid a succession of pregnancies, most women would find their time and their creativity absorbed by child care.

Male or female, a 19th-century writer would not have had to resist the constant, unceasing distraction of the Internet. Mail came once a day — if that often. It did not bleep you or blip you every few minutes with urgent announcements of its presence. News was delivered to you in print packets called “newspapers,” which you usually read over breakfast. It did not lurk in an infinite number of websites tempting you to take a break and cruise on over to the latest lurid report or the latest outrage in national politics. or the latest sweet or Facebook blat. It did not interrupt what you are doing right this minute to announce ROYAL PALM BLOCK WATCH: COMMUNITY GARDEN GRAND OPENING!!!!!

Telephones were largely absent; after they were invented, they did not ring a dozen times a day (literally: that is the case here, even with NoMoRobo engaged) to bring you the latest scam and spam.

In the absence of cars, errands were either delegated to the woman or to a servant or bunched together so that you didn’t have to run out almost every day to get this or that item or perform this or that chore.

Thus you could have maintained your focus for quite some time without distraction.

If my phone rings only twice in a given day, that is a good day. Most days, my concentration is broken by ten or twelve scamming robocalls. NoMoRobo does block them, but not without letting the first ring jangle me out of whatever reverie I happen to be engaged in.

It’s almost impossible for me to focus on what I’m doing without my attention wandering off to the news of the day (or the minute).

We have, in  a word, so much maddening distraction that it is almost impossible to focus on an optional activity that requires sustained attention.

Speaking of the which, now I must get up and start driving, driving, driving…

And so, to steal a catch-term from Mr. Pepys, away!

What to Do When the Expensive Treatment for Your Pet

Just for you: a chapter from If You’d Asked Me…the ultimate collection of bathroom or waiting room reading, A new chapter appears here every three weeks, usually by Friday. You can get a complete copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

Section II: Going to the Dogs
(Or Cats)

11. If I absolutely cannot afford my beloved dog’s very expensive operation, what should I do?

Get a second opinion.

Veterinary practice, alas, is no longer the altruistic calling that it used to be; it is now part of the “pet industry,” which exploits people’s feelings toward their animals to extract amazing amounts of money.

You would never (assuming you have good sense) allow a doctor to do surgery on you without seeking a second opinion. The same applies to your dog: even if you buy what the present vet says, to be fully informed take the dog to another vet for a second opinion.

You may be surprised.

When my last German shepherd was about a year old, I took her to a vet suggested by a friend to have her hips X-rayed for signs of dysplasia; these X-rays were supposed to be sent to OFA for certification.

To my astonishment, when I arrived to pick up the dog, a tech came trotting out, stuck the X-ray up on a light display, and proceeded to tell me the dog was so dysplastic that she needed full hip replacements on both sides. This was going to cost thousands of dollars, but if I didn’t do it, she would be crippled and suffer terrible pain.


In the first place, the breeder had warranteed the dog against hip dysplasia and I had researched the dam and sire’s background. There wasn’t a lot of dysplasia in the line. I said thank you very much and, over this woman’s objections, walked out the door.

I called the breeder, who proposed that I should return the dog and he would give me a new puppy. Reading between the lines: he proposed to put her down.

Even if I were not by now deeply attached to this dog, let me tell you: raising a German shepherd dog from 8 weeks to one year is not something you want to do twice in a row! How much upholstery, after all, can one person afford to replace?

In prior years, I had lived in the company of a string of large dogs. My vet, who specialized in large dogs, had retired before I bought the pup; this was why I sought friends’ recommendations for a new vet.

He had sold his veterinary, which was well known for large-dog care. Possibly, I reasoned, the guy who bought the veterinary by now had enough experience to opine on the state of a German shepherd’s hips. So, I called the guy and made an appointment.

He took one look at the X-ray and said, “There’s no way anyone could diagnose hip dysplasia from this.” The image, he said, was so poorly made and so blurry that you could not make out any condition in the hip, and because the perspective was uneven the OFA would not accept it. He made another set of X-rays that fit OFA requirements and charged significantly less than the first outfit had.

When he looked at the resulting images, he said the dog had very minimal dysplasia that might bother her someday in her old age but probably would not. We sent the X-rays to OFA, and the certification came back indicating very low-level but acceptable dysplasia.

So. . . . I was very, very glad I’d sought a second opinion, not just for the dog’s sake but for the sake of my checkbook!

Trust no one.

The Complete Writer: Selling It

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.


Selling It

Whether you publish through a mainstream press or whether you self-publish, the bulk of the promotion job falls upon you, the author. One fairly easy way to promote your book is to volunteer to do a presentation on some subject relevant to a group’s interests.

For example, my friend, journalist and blogger Donna Freedman has offered to speak to a large writer’s group about strategies for creating popular, readable blog entries. Because the group’s main thrust is not craft but marketing, members will be very interested in what she has to say—and we hope, in her new online course[14] on writing a blog people will read.

Similarly, I talked to a business group about donating directly to breast cancer research centers rather than to self-perpetuating organizations that function as middlemen. Members of this group are active in public service and donate generously to worthy causes, so I knew they’d be interested in the subject. And speaking about the Susan G. Komen foundation and similar institutions gave me an opportunity to plug my upcoming book on the decisions women face after they receive a breast diagnosis.

Some people believe face-to-face and radio show presentations are the most effective tools for marketing a book. One member of a writer’s group in the Phoenix area used her vacation time to visit friends and relatives in five cities, taking crates of books with her. Before leaving, she arranged to do short talks in bookstores and community centers in each town. She sold so many books, she had to order more and have them shipped ahead of her as she proceeded.

My coauthor for Math Magic, Scott Flansburg, made it a regular practice to approach radio talk show producers across the country. A “guest” appearance on one of these shows can be done over the telephone—no need to travel. He discovered that a radio show is a bottomless pit waiting to be filled, and many hosts were delighted to interview him. This, he discovered, was the single most effective way to sell the book, which became a major best-seller for William Morrow in the year we published it. His marketing agents told me that in the first year, his revenues from sales of the book and ancillary products came to $1.5 million, and a million in the second year.

Scott was a very powerful marketer, a good speaker with an engaging product. Most of us, obviously, are not going to become millionaires with our fantasy novel or detective story. But we’re a lot more likely to see some sort of profit by reaching out to the public. People can’t buy something unless they know about it!

A successful presentation can’t just have you step up to a podium and plug your book. You need to offer more than that.

Bearing that in mind, it’s pretty easy to create a public presentation that works, if you follow a few basic rules.

Consider your audience

The talk I made about breast cancer addressed a group of small business owners and executives. They’re committed to charitable works and, since most of them are middle-aged, they’re interested in health-care issues. Those who are not women have wives they care about, and so they can easily be engaged by the hot topic of breast cancer.

The material I put into the presentation may not go into the book at all, since its topic primarily concerns the kinds of choices women have to make, often on short notice and under a great deal of stress, about any number of proposed breast cancer treatments. On reflection I realized this angle would interest group members more and make them less uncomfortable than a frank discussion of what goes on inside the operating theater. For a different group, a different aspect of the topic might fly just as well or better.

Prepare your presentation thoroughly

Check and double-check your facts, and be prepared to answer any questions audience members may ask. Be sure to cover all the ground, even if briefly, within the time limit you’re given. Respecting the time limit is part of your preparation—don’t neglect this key aspect.

Write out a script and rehearse it, preferably in front of a mirror.

You should practice delivering your presentation several times—at least three, and maybe more. Ideally, your presentation should be memorized. Of course, sometimes that’s not possible—too little time is given for preparation, or you have to present complex data that’s hard to remember accurately under the stress of public scrutiny.

In rehearsing, pay attention to the amount of time it takes. It’s far better for your presentation to run shorter than the allowed time than to run over. A long-winded presentation makes the audience restless, even if it’s interesting; most people have someplace else to go. Be considerate of your audience. You can use the extra minutes for a Q&A session, which always engages people.

Don’t read your script to the audience!

Deliver your presentation as though you were speaking to a small group of friends, as off the cuff as you can make it appear. If you need a cheat sheet, list the main points in outline style and let these remind you of the content that you’ve rehearsed. Print out your notes in 18-point type, so you can read them easily under any lighting conditions.

If you use PowerPoint . . .

For hevvinsake don’t read the captions and notes in the slides to your audience! Nothing puts an audience to sleep faster.

Watch a few TED Talks or listen to NPR’s TED Radio Hour.

Study the style and demeanor of presenters. Note how the speakers move and how they engage their audiences.

Provide useful information, preferably in the form of a handout.

In my talk about the controversy around the Susan G. Komen foundation, I provided a one-page list of cancer research institutions to which anyone can donate directly. This was worked into the spiel, but it was offered separately to the group members, as a take-home.

Try not to be crass about plugging yourself.

Instead of reminding listeners repeatedly about the wonders of your new book, mention it in your bio and—ideally—get the person who introduces you to remark on it. Use your time to provide valuable and interesting information.

But make it easy for audience members to find your book.

Have a website that’s easy to find, preferably as your name—JoeBlow.org or some such—and place a link to Amazon or your own store so readers can buy. Bring business cards that carry your book’s title and a link to your book on Amazon or your website. And if you have copies of the book, bring a stack to the meeting, hand them around as a show-and-tell, and let audience members buy direct from you.

Look for the right audiences

This of course depends on your subject matter. A church group might be right for a discussion of some moral issue or—say—of philanthropy. Business groups are interested in a wide variety of subjects that bear on daily life and the well-being of members’ cities and commerce. Do a subject search on Meetup.com for groups that meet to talk about or participate in whatever your book concerns.

Don’t be shy about asking

The worst that can happen is they’ll tell you “no.” But you won’t get an invitation to speak if you don’t ask.

Speak early and speak often

You don’t have to wait until your book hits print to speak on your subject. If you have some expertise that you’re working into a book, begin giving presentations before the book comes out. Then when it’s published, you can go back to the group, remind them of your existence, and proudly announce publication.

Once you have a good presentation, recycle it

Massage it to fit the interests of other groups, work it into your newsletter and send it out to your subscribers, or revamp it into a post for your blog.

Take the opportunity to build your mailing list

Hand around a sign-up sheet and ask audience members to share their e-mail addresses. A quid pro quo is nice: you may offer them, for example, a special deal on the book or a chance at a free giveaway.

With names and email addresses in hand, you can send a newsletter to remind potential buyers of your existence. If you give a presentation before publication, a list of audience members will allow you to send them an announcement of the Big Reveal. Here, too may pitch an opportunity to buy the book at a special discount just because they were at your presentation.

Remember to give mail-list members an opt-out choice. It’s a basic courtesy, especially since some people do not appreciate finding sales messages land in their e-mail in-boxes. A number of mailing list programs will do this for you automatically.

Dogs: Breeding and Overbreeding

Just for you: a chapter from If You’d Asked Me…the ultimate collection of bathroom or waiting room reading, A new chapter appears here every three weeks, usually by Friday. You can get a complete copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

Section II: Going to the Dogs
(Or Cats)

10. What do you think about breeding dogs to be better for things like being guide dogs?

Possibly if “skills” (i.e., a propensity to do certain things better than others) can be bred in . . . maybe this makes sense.

In so-called “First-World” countries, we overbreed dogs for certain characteristics—usually appearance or protectiveness—and create monsters. Sometimes these results are unintended; sometimes they’re just stupid. But frequently (maybe even invariably?) they create health and temperament problems that harm the animal and create risks and expenses for their humans.

Why not simply select puppies—regardless of breed—that exhibit temperament and characteristics suitable for service dog or seeing-eye work?

Profit and Loss in the Micropublishing Biz

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.


Profit and Loss in the Micropublishing Biz

Using predesigned Word templates that my little micropublishing business contrived to purchase for a modest price (one was under $50 for a permanent, no-holds-barred license!), I created hard-copy layout for Slave Labor and converted it to PDF for the printer. My graphic artist, who thought the interior layout was decent enough, created a wrap-around cover for the desired trim size, accommodating the existing front-cover art, a spine, and new cover-4 copy. Then it was off to a local print-on-demand outfit.

If your bookoid is low on images, or if you’re willing to print the images in black and white, the cost for print-on-demand services is amazingly low. To put Slave Labor together and perfect-bind it costs $3.33/copy for 10 copies. Per-copy price stays the same at print runs of 100 and 1,000.

Slave Labor, being my sandbox project, cost something but not much: I traded out the e-book design in exchange for editing the designer’s upcoming book on marketing e-books. So the only cost had to do with the cover design and with the experiment in Word layout. I did have to pay something for the template, but not much.

30 Pounds / Four Months, the diet guide & cookbook, was what we might call the stage-two sandbox. The template worked well for the print-on-demand production, but because the interior design was so complex, with many lists of ingredients, several heading levels, and other complications, I ended up having to hire a professional e-book formatter to get that thing into Kindle.

So I regarded the costs for these two books as tuition for Micropublishing U. Once I’d done a couple of the things, I figured it should be pretty easy to put the rest of them online.

And I did have a “rest of them”!

As soon as Slave Labor went off to the printer and 30 Pounds went to Amazon and to the printer, I began work on packaging the eighteen books that Fire-Rider had lent itself to serializing. These I put online at the rate of one every week or two.

That installed twenty-three titles (including the three that have emanated from real publishing houses) on Amazon under my name. If I weren’t inclined to equate “publishing” a bookoid on Amazon with posting a blog post at WordPress, my ego would be as big as the moon.

We also published another twenty titles, give or take, under the Camptown Races Press imprint.

The people at Romance Writers of America claim you start to make a noticeable income after you’ve posted about eight titles—of any genre, fiction or nonfiction. So they claim.

I have yet to prove this, and as of this writing, I have more than forty indie titles up. Plus three from real trade and scholarly publishers.

Income from micropublishing depends not on how many titles your business has put online nor even on how good your books are. It depends almost solely on the strength, vigor, and accuracy of your marketing program. Good marketing equals good sales; good sales equal a noticeable income.

This means you have to like marketing. Some writers are good at it. But most: not so much. If you felt comfortable hustling a product and schmoozing with strangers on and off-line, you not would be hanging out in your garret writing books: you’d be making a decent living in a sales career.

It is possible to hire marketing agents. But alas, marketers can only do so much. Ultimately the job of selling a book falls to its author.

To make a living at writing, you will need to learn how to market books, and then you will have to do it. We’ve seen the volume of work involved in producing a self-published work. Add to that an equal volume required to sell it. Then, maybe, you’ll see a profit.

So. . .why self-publish?

Herein lies the reason I suggest your primary motive for self-publishing a book should never be profit. To produce a book to give to family and friends: fine. To make a book to publicize and raise funds for your charity, community group, or church: good. To self-publish a book to inform customers, clients, or patients: excellent. To print your novels or share expertise in your hobby for your own gratification and the entertainment of a limited audience: legitimate enough.

None of these endeavors is designed to turn a profit directly. By creating goodwill or informing a specific target audience, one or the other of them may generate donations or clientele. As a hobby, self-publishing may make you feel good and surely can lead to opportunities to meet new friends.

But to pay money to publish something because you think it might become a best-seller and turn you into a famous author? That is a bad idea.

Snowball Fight with Your Dog?

Just for you: a chapter from If You’d Asked Me…the ultimate collection of bathroom or waiting room reading, A new chapter appears here every three weeks, usually by Friday. You can get a complete copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

Section II: Going to the Dogs
(Or Cats)

10. Is it OK to throw a snowball at my dog?

Is it OK for the dog to remove your head?

If you’re playing “fetch” with snowballs, some dogs think snowballs are the best thing since tennis balls. But, dear heart, do not throw anything AT your dog.

How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Publishing: Print

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.


How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Publishing:

The most sensible way to prepare your book for print-on-demand publishing is to hire a graphic designer to do the layout and run interference with the printer for you. But of course . . . we rarely take the most sensible way. How boring would that be, eh?

Let’s look at what one needs to launch the print-on-demand venture:

The manuscript

That seems self-evident, so let’s clarify it: the edited manuscript in its absolutely positively last draft in perfect shape.

This is to say not to get ahead of yourself. Don’t conceive any silly ideas to the effect that you’ll slap what you have in a page layout and then add, subtract, multiply, and divide in page proofs. Even if you’re not paying a graphic artist to do the design and page layout, the amount of time added by making corrections in the laid-out copy will cost you dearly. So, be sure your content, heads, and subheads are in as final a form as they’re ever going to get.

The page layout

This is the book’s interior design. It’s the physical way all the book parts we explored in chapter 35 will look once the magnum opus is in print.

You can come by this in three ways. One is to hire a graphic designer to visualize the book’s size and physical appearance and design a graphic layout to make it so. If your book has a lot of images or other kinds of graphics (such as tables, graphs, lists, and the like), you would be well advised to have a professional design its interior layout.

That is also true if you have a specific reason to need a perfectly designed, exceptionally handsome finished product. If, for example, your book will be a marketing device for your business, you absolutely should hire a graphic artist to handle the design. If it is to be something you want to hand down to your family’s future generations—a gift, that is, to the scions of your dynasty—you probably should consider the cost of a graphic designer as money well spent.

Most readers haven’t a clue, however. And so this brings us to the second pathway to page design: a do-it-yourself template.

Unless you’re very skilled with Word, trying to set up a book without a professionally designed template is counterproductive. Setting up margins and gutters correctly for a printer’s trim size is no easy DIY project.

You can acquire templates that allow you to lay out a book in Word or, if you know the program, in InDesign. Also, it’s not difficult to use Apple’s Pages to set up a book’s margins, if you know the correct trim size and you have some degree of design and technical sophistication.

A Google search will reveal a number of entrepreneurs who sell templates pre-fabricated to lay out books in Word. For this book, for example, I am using Joel Friedlander’s[6] “Focus” template in a 5.5 x 8-inch trim size.

(Trim size, by the way, is the size the pages will be cut. The final size of a paperback book is the same as its trim size.)

You can obtain templates at CreateSpace,[7] Amazon’s print-on-demand supplier. I haven’t done so, because friends and associates have had mixed results with CreateSpace, and so my preference is to work with a local print-on-demand vendor. However, many people have been happy enough with CreateSpace’s products.

If you’re bound and determined to do this job yourself, bear in mind these crucial factors:

  • Word is not a page layout program. It can do a serviceable job, but the result will never be a great job.
  • You will need some serious sophistication in the use of Word.
  • The job will take three to six times longer than you expect.
  • Your computer will need to convert the Word file to a print-quality PDF. Most Macs will do this if you choose “print to PDF” instead of “save as PDF.” Many PCs will not. To make that happen, then, you will need to download and learn to operate Adobe Distiller or Acrobat Pro.
  • To get the PDF right, if you’re working on a Mac, you must go through the Word document and make sure every section is formatted in the correct trim size. Otherwise, the default settings (letter-size paper) will apply and your print-on-demand supplier’s upload software will tilt like an old-fashioned pinball machine. I expect this applies on a PC, too.

It’s not hard to do these things, nor is it unreasonably hard to learn them. But it can be very time-consuming. Do be prepared for this factor.


We visited the International Standard Book Number in chapter 35. An ISBN is not required unless you intend to sell your book in the retail market or try to get a library to stock it. Brick and mortar booksellers and libraries require an ISBN. Amazon does not need it for e-books but does require it for print books.

You do not need an ISBN to secure your copyright. The ISBN has nothing to do with copyright.

Consider how you will distribute your printed book. If it’s a family history or genealogy that you’ll give to the aunts, uncles, cousins, children, and grandchildren, then you will not need an ISBN. If you’re going to sell it through a retailer, then you do need an ISBN. The ISBN is easily purchased through Bowker.[8]

A bar code

Same principle applies here: print books intended to be marketed through retailers need a bar code keyed to the ISBN. Bowker will sell you a bar code, for a pretty penny. You can get one for free online, though, from CreativeIndie.[9]

The cover art and copy

You will need high-quality camera-ready artwork for your print cover. Minimum resolution should be 300 dpi.

Although it is possible to produce an acceptable cover using PowerPoint and a photo editor (this book’s cover was created with those tools), I don’t recommend it. InDesign is designed for graphics such as book covers, but the learning curve is steep. Gimp, the online freeware that apes InDesign, also can help you create your book’s artwork, but it is no easier to learn than InDesign. So, unless you have training in page layout software, you’re well served by hiring a graphic designer for the job.

Smashwords, a distributor of e-books, has a list of graphic artists who are willing to work for cheap.[10] I have never used any of these vendors and cannot comment on their quality; some apparently do e-book covers only; others may be experienced with wrap-around paperback covers. Another option in the low-rent category is Fiverr[11]; many people say they have found excellent graphic artists to do a one-off project like a book cover. It looks like a pig in a poke to me: be sure to ask for references.

If you feel you need a very high-quality cover—you do, if you intend to sell the book in the retail market—then you should go to one or more of the graphic artists’ associations that provide lists of members looking for freelance work. Brescia University lists the seven most prominent such groups.[12] The Copyeditor’s Desk also can connect you with one of our skilled and experienced subcontractors; get in touch through the Contact page at our website.[13]

Interior images

Print-on-demand technology cannot yet handle color images, at least not well. You will need to provide your images in black and white format. Convert color images to black and white in your photo editor or in Word. You can find Word’s conversion function in “Format > Picture > Recolor.” Select “grayscale,” not “black and white.” Adjust exposure and contrast as needed to attain the best reproduction.

The layout process

If you have a Word template, copy and paste your edited manuscript into the template, chapter by chapter. Using the Word “styles” that come with the template, format every element of the book’s file as appropriate. Most template makers provide instructions for how to do this. Follow the instructions closely.

Insert images using Word’s “Insert > Picture” function, bearing in mind how they’re likely to look in their position within the format. Size and position accordingly.

If you have not already done so, desaturate the images to make them black and white.

Now, here are some things you need to know about page layout.

Running headers should never appear on the first pages of chapters. You can set Word to omit them in the Insert > page numbers function.

Chapters should always open on a recto (odd-numbered) page.

If the preceding chapter ends on recto page, then the back side of that page (the verso, even-numbered page) should be left blank.

No page number or running head should appear on any blank page.

You cannot make Word do this automatically. The (sort of) easy fix is to create a blank text box in another file and “fill” it in white. Save to disk. Copy the text box to the page you want to be blank and move it over the running header, to cover it. If it does not hide the type under it, format the text box: format > text box > layout > in front of text. Assuming you print on white paper, the text box will hide the redundant running header. Obviously, this will not work on ivory paper.

Front matter should be paginated in lower-case Roman numerals; the rest of the book is paginated in Arabic numerals. Accomplish this by entering a section break (not a page break) at the end of the page of the front matter. Then in “Insert > page number,” instruct Word to paginate the front matter i, ii, iii… and the next section 1, 2, 3… starting anew with the numeral 1.

First paragraphs below every chapter title and subhead should be set flush left.

Other paragraphs should be set first line indent, and that indent should not be Word’s standard half-inch. About .2 inch works for most page layouts. Experiment if your layout is nonstandard.

A typical trade book paperback is 5.5 x 8.5 inches.

The spine size depends on the number of pages; your print-on-demand vendor’s software will calculate the width for you. Copy runs from the top to the bottom, not the other way around. Either the author’s name or the title may appear first. The publisher’s logo appears near the bottom of the spine.

Allow many more hours for this project than you imagine it will take. Page layout in Word is a time-consuming and challenging chore, even for people who are proficient in Word. If you don’t have strong admin-assistant level skills, you will be tearing your hair.

And that is why I strongly recommend hiring a graphic designer to do the page layout as well as the cover. You can do it, but it will make you crazy.