Friday, November 30, 2012

New interview on self-publishing

Tom Santos, one of the most active members in the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association (CAPA) has a regular slot on his community access television station. He interviewed me in September, and I found the DVD of the show in the pile of mail that awaited me when we returned from our adventures in the Galapagos and Quito. I've just uploaded it to my website. Take a look.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Kind words from a client

Dear Dick,

Although I am usually a careful researcher before I make a major move, I called you to help me compose my book on no more than instinct.

What a great decision it turned out to be. I had an idea of how my aunt's 90th birthday celebration book should look, but I didn't know how to get there. With my cousins as my clients, I conducted interviews and wrote copy. That was the easy part. They gave me their albums of photos, some as old as my aunt, others hot off the digital camera,and I stayed up nights worrying about combining the two elements into the book of which we could all be proud. There was no doubt that I had to turn the next steps over to someone. That's when I contacted you.

Our first meeting gave me the confidence that you could do it. As the weeks passed, I saw you take my materials and produce a result that I proudly presented to my aunt and cousins last week. Your experience, professionalism, creativity and easy-going nature made the process a pleasure. You even met my somewhat unrealistic deadline.

Thank you for the wonderful book that my family will treasure for generations.

Judy Goldwyn
As You Recall
46 Elder Street
Milford CT 06460
(203) 209-8098

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bulgarian ignoble; Cleveland fusty

One of the strategies spammers use to get past Bayesian spam filters is to include, in their hidden text, lists of infrequently used words. The unedited list below from such an email contains gems of unintended poetry. As a writing exercise, you might select any string of six consecutive words from this list and construct a story that incorporates them.

Without further ado . . .
horsdoeuvre washout northern duty hebrews reverential. egghead indignant scholar leatherwork saucy nomenclature igloo desert mousetrap towboat print typewritten electret albeit ibidem condescension alternate divisible huge. quaint czechoslovak fallen chauffeur reverential adjudge grim authenticate stargaze haphazard. emulsification condescend scull armistice eighth grandiose lancaster peer derail. whiny malarial crazy centimeter v harry borax barbital clever conversion. basilica affix hearted staple thanatolog northumbria alabaman dumbbell nevada score sacrament reverential fetish dexter only shortcut vogue enemy habeascorpus. print yule lacie corpus atonal tall smug grasshopper pedigreed.

headsmen. stick gypsy terrain binding.

beth monaco mortician. catastrophe frontiersman refract scales locksmith. elsalvadore maam lifelong boom indignant burnout oratory candid live oceanside ivory berkshire keypunch extemporaneous centrist. krypton granny dowel ci superlative syllabi eighth motto. alsace delight riot job insinuate notorious damp rhodesia firebreak downcast principal provocation guillemot. alphameric architect cerebrate terrapin rubble zero accuracy homonymy hartford knob gyrfalcon you habitude fritter seismolog elm boast refresh contra candid irreverent portulaca.

agony slat sclera advice historic galvanic mackinaw museum.

highwayman bacterial spangle maiden administrate autocrat hyperbola fragmentary solace turk brine. polygyn torment chapel.

grief mongolian beaker epistolatory elsalvadore rely.

longsuffering saith cordage crease secondary creed pizzeria apparition astringent poetic morale let hightail emphases councilman prepare carob interpolate. stalactite clay proboscis duchess.

logarithm hovel froze tangibly sovkhozy sweat arizona horsy crow penetrably pine decisive guillemot attest. booth cue dispensary technocrat khartoum subtract equivalent thessalonians madest java wed knapsack scrimmage pet machination defy girl large encode binaural luther. cent capacity eyewitness. loquacious elsalvadore symmetry eighth florentine prefab roommate wield waylaid lieu. jewelry scour chessboard dependent satchel genius divisor kennel georgia perorate prefix watt crease issue citadel lifetime noble spent flack bombproof testbed calibrate solace. altruism rind alway nevada southerner. distaff mandatory egypt elsalvadore leapt revolutionary.

chap slag eradicate newfangled pastry meliorate gingham mutably perspicuous aloud. boredom atrophic astir vivid cohesive polity shrug exculpate antipodes budgetary yemen monk fritter privilege agrarian autonom eminencegrise atlanta stifle.

nevada prisoner solder advocate bacterial sarsaparilla galore incommunicado crow turbaned ombudsmen sepulchral trapping minuscule kenyan accost yeomanry typic delivery. etch rear contour transfuse phobia drunk rhododendron are point.

prerequisite red slander wingmen byte last frontiersman cilia scan slowdown notorious cambodian blink pendulous cue revelation wast counsel amble equal alabaman. reject hardline winsome atonal maelstrom reticulum mile genotype doest soignee icon pastor script samovar mimetic learn burrito crosstalk tether pour react. assiduous coast jewelled sprint eucalyptus.

philadelphia testate topograph toll ovary rector. pension cytolog grapheme dynamite essential wastebasket fragment southerner reticulum rapture homogenize bulgarian histrionic bavaria viaduct ferry airmass decoy allergic carrel irrevocable. budgetary reception life plate cater unicef distort naval mousetrap tuba wheelchair treason sixteen tuft thwack flack chirp doctorate block heard.

repentant astringent tie postpone mallet magnum terrain java suite siren. infectious gullibly solicitous inevitability defacto saguaro skewer glade boron multiplicity blest wheelchair inure roost commodity corral. tangibly orthopedist dispensary painstaking hartford mensurable passersby chairperson upgrade delight allay shlemiel blanch cortices. berkshire amphetamine outside matthew goblet soliloquies smash attach wont leatherwork python kerchief huddle. shamrock injure scad pathogenesis chew perfuse falsehood locale lewd prejudice amicably interpolate spearhead ionosphere had retrorocket sacrament declension entrance.

whop bulgarian ignoble mutably elicit beam conciliate hocuspocus strip epa portulaca introductory blister tombstone swoop. dexter houseful fierce slab confidante submarine reject harrass wont astringent foothill hen burnout. success lounge sorption firebreak bureau. slowdown ducting. nihilist slug pantry. centigrade binaural tiff copyright facade ducting engross unicef pantomime. increase inhale kerosene surly.

santaana ombudsmen alphameric chimeric egypt staircase scrota cleveland fusty propriety treasure trapping grandmother macaroni barbarian tablespoonful. infix buckeye repast atrophic. subtract palindrome mantrap orthopedist whop gaslight crewman lifetime bystander accuracy equidistant pleurisy o pyrrhic comely violet flightpath.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why it's important to work with native speakers of the language you intend to publish in

I am sitting in a hotel room in Trieste, which is at the moment in Italy, although it is walking distance to Slovenia and has flown many flags over the millenia, including its own as an independent city-state under UN protection after the Second World War.

A city with such a varied history naturally has much to offer tourists, and we have scheduled a full day of sightseeing following the end of my wife’s conference. In her conference bag was a highly produced tourist guide in English, a large-format map with attractively designed blocks on the back describing suggested touring options. This is the official publication of the tourist agency and carries no advertising. Thought went into this.

I am reading about James Joyce, who lived here twice. The writing and editing is fine. A native speaker of British English edited the copy for this translation. But the typesetting was done by someone who does not know English well. The text in the second column begins like this:
Even his most famous work, “Ulys-
ses”, was planned in Trieste, whe-
re he also wrote some of its most
significant chapters.
There is no variety of English in which “where” is two syllables, but to someone who speaks a Romance language, “where” can look like two syllables.

Certainly there are ways to avoid such traps. Choosing the correct hyphenation dictionary for the language you are typesetting is helpful, even if most compositors forget to do it. But being a native speaker is safer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


March 19: PG Azalea

March 20: Andromeda

March 21: Forsythia; flowering quince budded with a couple flowers open

Oh my, this is early.

Friday, February 24, 2012

To be honest . . .

I shouldn’t have to tell you this. Your parents should have taught you that honesty is the best policy. But maybe you forgot, or maybe you just suppressed it because it was hard to implement.

But if you are going to invest months or years of your life in writing a book and seeking publication or thousands of dollars of your own money to self-publish, you really ought to be honest with yourself about why you want to do that.

There are many reasons individuals give for writing books, and all of those reasons are valid. But the book has to match the reason. When you come to me and say you’ve written a novel, I expect the manuscript you send me to be a novel, not a thinly disguised vendetta against your ex or a memoir about how a lousy surgeon or a hack lawyer did you wrong. If you tell me you’ve written a how-to book, don’t send me a political screed. (And if you tell me you’ve written a political screed, don’t send me a how-to book.)

Because I’ll find out. There will be no secrets that you can keep from a good editor. But lying to yourself and lying to your editor can put you in an awkward position: you’ve committed to publishing something entirely different from what you said it was going to be. And looked at in bright sunlight, when all is said and done it may not be a book that you want to spend time and money marketing, even though you’ve spent time and money writing it and publishing it.

If your real passion is to stand on a soapbox and tell people in the park what a horrible place this world is and how you would make it better if you had the power to do so, then you may have no passion left when I excise your soapbox declamation from your action-adventure novel (because it’s out of place there).

Before you start writing a book, decide why you want to write it.

Honesty matters.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Logical punctuation

This post is about commas, periods, and quotation marks. If you are already stifling a yawn, just move along.

In the United States, commas and periods go inside quotation marks, regardless of logic. Colons and semicolons go outside the quotation marks, regardless of logic. And question marks and exclamation points go in or out, depending on the logic. That is our convention. You learned it, or should have, in elementary school.

In the UK (and other places where British English is written), the convention is that logic rules in all cases. Thus, a comma or period may occur outside the quotation marks if it is not part of the material being quoted.

Fine. You knew that.

And you may also know that some Americans, particularly people with some background in computer programming, would very much like it if American editors and typographers would switch to the British system, as this would greatly simplify the problem of rendering computer code unambiguously. But let’s not get into that issue just now.

What I want to talk about here is the history of the divide between the U.S. and UK conventions.

There are several stories floating around—urban myths—that setting the period inside the quotes arose because compositors might otherwise lose or break those fragile, small periods, back in the days of hand composition. I can tell you, having set type by hand myself, that this is nonsense. First, most punctuation occurs in the middle of a line of type, not at the end. Second, the period is no more fragile or likelier to be dropped than a quotation mark if it should happen to occur at the end of a line. There would be no reason for a compositor to care one way or the other. Please stop spreading that story.

So what’s the true story?
The true story is that the divide is of recent origin. British typographers followed the same convention as American typographers well into the twentieth century. The switch to logical punctuation in the UK took place within the memory of people now living. I have not tracked down a definitive date, but the change did not occur until at least the 1930s and possibly a decade or more later, in any case long after the bulk of composition was done on machines, not by hand. Just as the British eventually adopted the metric system and we Americans dug in our heels, so too in this case, the right-pondians made a conscious decision to right what they felt was a logical abomination while we stayed true to the older system.

But what was the point in the first place? I’m still digging, but my guess is that the principal consideration was aesthetic. With metal types, placing a period or comma after a quotation mark creates an unsightly gap in the line and thus a pigeonhole on the page. For most of the history of printing from moveable type, that has been something to avoid if possible. With modern typesetting software, the problem can be mitigated through prudent kerning, but that’s a quite recent development.

Will we in the U.S. adopt the British system? Maybe in a few gigaseconds.

Monday, February 13, 2012


What part of “customer service” do they not understand? Enough said.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Good Goods at Yale Rep is the real goods

Yale Rep is a little like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Well, that’s not entirely true. It is a repertory company, after all, and you can pretty much assume that when they do Shakespeare or Molière, you’re in for a good night of theater.

But when they do a world première from a young playwright who recently graduated from Yale School of Drama—well, let’s just say the results can be uneven. We’ve seen our share of unmemorable first plays from playwrights who haven’t lived enough to know anything about life. Oh, you can expect a great set and brilliant staging, and a cast that gives it their all. But sometimes, frankly, there’s not a lot to work with.

Tonight was not that night. Tonight was the other kind—the serendipitous discovery of a brilliant young playwright, who took a throwaway class exercise and fleshed it out into a wonderful entertainment. The playwright, mature beyond her years, is Christina Anderson, and attention must be paid.

Good Goods is an actor’s play, with juicy roles all around, the kind of characters that are caricatures of themselves and really can’t be overacted. Everyone in the cast had fun (one more than the others, but I won’t spoil the surprise for you). And so did the audience.

The set and the staging were up to the Rep’s high standards.

Go. You’ll enjoy.

And keep an eye on Ms. Anderson.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Yes, dammit, there is such a thing as a dumb question

I understand the rationale behind saying to an inquisitive child, “There is no such thing as a dumb question.” We want to encourage children to explore the world and ask questions about it, not shame them into passive silence. Fine. I’ll cooperate and never tell a child the question is a dumb one, even if it really is.

I have no such compunction with adults, however. I calls ’em as I sees ’em, and if someone asks a dumb question, I’m liable to say so. I am a curmudgeon. Love me, love my dog. That’s all I’m saying.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Presses, printers, and publishers

I have encountered a lot of confusion of late, particularly in some discussions on LinkedIn, among people who have gotten their books “accepted” by a “publisher” as well as among people who had their books printed by a “press.” Let me try to untangle this mess a little bit.

When the word press is used in the context of producing books, it can mean a machine on which books are printed; it can mean the printing company that owns the machine; it can mean the company that publishes the book; or it can mean the newspaper and magazine industry taken as a whole. This can lead to some confusion.

Historically, many publishers owned their own printing and binding facilities. Another way to look at this is that many printers published books. Before 1500, it was pretty much a given that the printer who printed a book also published it.

Today, many publishers use the word press in their names. Think of all the university presses, for example. But virtually none of these publishers would consider owning a printing plant (I’ll posit that there are exceptions, even if I can’t think of any offhand). Instead, they pay book manufacturers to produce the books for them.

A number of book manufacturers, as well as other kinds of printers, have the word press in their business names, with no intention of deceiving anyone into thinking they are publishers.

Other companies, called subsidy publishers or vanity presses, also use the word press in their names. They are not publishers or printers; they’re companies that enrich themselves on the ignorance of authors, trying to give the impression that they both print and publish.

But what about the referent of this popular metonym? What’s the synecdoche about? When books were generally printed from raised metal types, those types were literally pressed into the paper. When offset photolithography became economically feasible, it was natural to call the machines that laid ink on paper offset presses, even though the image sat on the surface of the paper rather than being pressed in. And today, with the “photo” part replaced by direct-to-plate electronic imaging, the printing is still done on offset presses, where the paper does get squeezed pretty tight (pressed, as in pressing a sheet with an iron), so the word makes some sense if only as a metaphor. Digital printing, which is just a more sophisticated implementation of the basic technology your desktop laser printer uses, is even further afield from the letterpress of yore, but we still sometimes call the machines that do the printing presses.

Where am I going with this? Well, I’m asking you to be clear in your mind that printing is not the same as publishing, that the “press” that published your book is a publisher, the “press” that printed your book is a printer, and that a vanity press is neither. If I’ve helped you understand the difference, then I count this as a good day.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

"Market yourself"

For those of us who have freed ourselves from wage slavery (whether by choice or by layoff) and have chosen to go into business for ourselves (whether by choice or because the man must be paid), one of the hard questions is how to go about promoting one’s business and attracting paying customers.

For people of the editorial persuasion, this is a real challenge. For one thing, many editors are naturally introverts. Editing is a good fit for introverts for a number of reasons. The admonition to “market yourself” may come naturally to extraverts, but it’s often hard for introverts to take on board. Combine that with the fact that, for the most part, people associate editing with bad memories of high school English papers coming back with red marks all over them, and you can see the problem.

Today on the copyediting-l mailing list, a colleague posted her plaint that she has never figured out this marketing stuff. I posted a reply, and another colleage, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf asked me to post my little essay here, so she could link to it from the Business Tools section of her Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base. So, for what it’s worth…
Different people figure out how to market themselves at different points in their lives (some when they’re still children, some of us not until we’re laid off in our forties or later). But eventually, someone will provide the right prompt, and the idea will suddenly click for you. The penny will drop, as the saying goes.

Let me try this angle: Forget the phrase “market yourself.” It’s meaningless. Instead, focus on solving problems for people (which is what you do all day). The question a prospective client has is not “Who is Jane Smith and how talented and experienced is she?” The question is “What’s in it for me?” In other words, “What can you do for me?”

This is the reason so many marketing materials (in all fields) begin with a question or series of questions: “Feet hurt?” “Bills piling up?” “Need a vacation?”

For the most part, people do not wake up in the morning thinking, Gee, I need to find an editor. So you have to find the pain point that makes them realize they need an editor. Once someone recognizes a problem, you can pitch a solution and position yourself as that helpful person who can provide it.

I’m getting some long-postponed projects done in our house. I don’t care how much one contractor desperately needs the work versus another contractor. I don’t care whose kids are in college. I don’t care whose truck broke down or who’s in the hospital. I don’t care who has an engineering degree and is doing carpentry to make ends meet versus who dropped out of high school and learned the trade as an apprentice. I care who’s going to show up on time and do the work I need done. People who retain editors are just the same. They don’t care about a list of qualifications, education, and awards. They want to see what you can do and that you can do it on time and for the agreed price. So if you can communicate that—keeping your focus on the customer’s needs rather than your qualifications—perhaps this whole marketing thing will begin to work better for you.