Oct 16

Applying Online for an Official U.S. Copyright

I had to do copyright registration myself this time because the printer for The Woman Who Values Herself did not include copyrighting among its services. I've paid others to do this for me, because when I first did it in 2005, filling out forms and sending them through the mail, I messed up and the process took 18 months. But now you can apply for copyright for your book, published or unpublished, online, today through www.copyright.gov's eCO (e-copyright) system and it costs only $35 compared to $65 if you apply on paper. The online application requires a little patience for clicking Help and FAQ buttons on the less-than-intuitive interface (which advises you that its maximum file size for the "typical 56kbps modem is 11.3MB," and that its system was built for IE and Netscape browsers. Netscape?!? Gesundheit!). Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers are okay, and I think you can load bigger files now.

You can then upload your text if it's in the right format, which is most anything except .epub, which you'll have to convert to .zip. If your book is already printed, apply electronically for copyright and pay the $35 fee online, and then print out a shipping slip to mail along with two copies of the book to the Library of Congress. I just love the idea of my books in the U.S. Library of Congress. The site warns you that your package will be x-rayed for security reasons. I love thinking that my envelope with two books in it is so important that it scares them up on Capitol Hill.

The whole point of formal registration is to establish yourself as the copyright owner should a dispute arise. Probably one won't. But never say never. Registering your book within three months of publication gives you extra rights in case of litigation.

Copyright.gov is a great site for answering any and all copyright questions about texts, music, video, or any other sort of intellectual/artistic creations.

Aug 24

Veblen on Vacation

Coiner of the phrase “conspicuous consumption” and author of Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), economist Thorstein Veblen built his own summer house and study cabin on Washington Island in Lake Michigan, at the tip of Wisconsin’s peninsula (its “thumb”) where he stayed every sumveblen study cabin 2011mer from 1896 to 1926. In 2009 somebody moved the cabin to its current spot on Little Lakeveblen with plans to restore it. On vacation I found it by chance. It’s not much to see, now or back then. It's built in Norwegian-immigrant style, boards and logs arranged vertically so as to channel wetness to the ground. He also made all his own furniture and a boat. He wrote nine books, all still in print. The photo of Veblen with his cabin was taken about 1915. 

The man was eccentric; he has been called the Frank Lloyd Wright of economics. An American with his name of course had to be a Norwegian from Wisconsin, which explains his progressivism and contempt for non-productive activity. Until I visited the cabin, all that had never crossed my mind.

We have Veblen to thank for his contributions to the theories of consumerism and the business cycle, and in the Gilded Age he accurately foresaw a U.S. economy that would benefit mainly the very wealthy. He taught at Mizzou for seven years, hating it and calling Columbia “a woodpecker hole of a town.” For a year he was one of the editors of The Dial, which became a litmag that first published the likes of Marianne Moore.

When Veblen first came to Washington Island he stayed in a boarding house and looked for people who could teach him to speak Icelandic so he could translate an old epic poem. In 1957, for her master’s thesis, a graduate student collected islanders' memories and stories about the great man, and incidentally was given the books and papers left in the study. Veblen wore really old clothes, people said. But he was generous with money and liked anybody who could teach him anything.

May 08

Why Writers Don't Read Manuals

I discovered Writers Market at age 18, but was past 40 when I first read those concise and helpful articles up front, appearing in every edition, about How do I publish? and What is a query letter? and How wide should my margins be? To this day I have never bought or read a single one of those tons of books on How to Become a Published Writer, or Make Money Freelancing. Just coaxing them from the reference shelf and flipping through is distasteful. . .

On the other hand, insatiably I read myself raw on any first-person books about the writing life, like Bird by Bird, One Writer's Beginnings, and The Artist's Way. My Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath fell to pieces and I'm annoyed they don't sell it in hardback.

This would be weird if I were unique, but it seems writers at all levels, all of them dying to publish, prize those esthetic-autobio-musings-type books, but can't swallow how-to-write books, even if they can be had at any library for free. Instead writers will pay flaming cash and cross a time zone to hear a living published writer TELL them about these publishing things that seem to them so magical and mystifying.

That's because we are soulful & don't believe what those how-to books and articles say. For the majority of writers (and other people!), magic and mystery trump planning and common sense. We live in a sort of Bronze Age of the mind. We want to see and hear in person the writer who has pulled the sword from the stone. Then we believe. Maybe we hope too for a little dharma transmission.
May 08

Choosing a Book Cover: A Matter of Self-Respect

Choosing a book cover is like getting married. It'll be with you a long time, so choose carefully; and there are penalties for changing it. Authors often are dead set on the covers they want, so they won't listen to reason, and commit to less than they should have; or they just "want it all over with, get the darned book out," and they settle. I wish more of them would take their time to make a really good choice. The right title and book cover is 70 percent of your book's success. NOBODY wants to buy a book that LOOKS self-published. Please RESPECT YOUR OWN WORK (I feel strongly about that) and  consider (and none of this costs you any money):

1. Research book covers you like and determine why you like them: Color? Typeface? Images? The way the title or image is placed?
2. While looking for covers you like, look for unappealing ones, and determine what makes them unattractive.
2. Although the book may well be for or about you, the cover is for your readership.
3. A good book cover contributes greatly to the book's success; a bad one repels buyers and readers.
4. #1 source of cover disasters: drawings, paintings, or photo images by, or of, the author's friends and relatives. Even your friend who is a professional artist will draw you a disaster when you dictate to him exactly what you want, such as a watercolor of the old home place, or a symbolic image.
5. No one will understand the symbolism of your symbolic image.
6. Script or fancy type fonts render titles unreadable. People who can't read the title can't want the book.
7. A book's title should be readable from 12 feet away.
8. If a book cover is solely words (title, and name of author) it had better be professionally designed, or it positively SCREAMS "self-published!"
9. A truism from the printing industry (where I began my career): Readers shun books with purple covers; no one knows why. Go into a bookstore and I will give you a dime for every purple cover you find.
10. Book covers are NOT the place for old family photos, a watercolor of the old home place, or a photo or image of you (costumed, or being yourself). These may mean a lot to you; they mean nothing to readers. A cover is not about you; it is a responsibility you have to your readership.  If you must have those pictures, put them INSIDE the book.
11. Images from the Internet may not be used without express written permission from the creators or you can be sued and have to change your cover.
12. Self-publishing companies offer generic covers. Everyone will recognize that they're generic and no one will respect your book.
13. If you plan to list on Amazon.com and other sites, remember that online, your book cover image will be one inch high. Can readers still see your title when your book cover is shrunk for online selling?

What costs money: Professional advice. Professional graphic artists familiar with book-cover standards. This is money you WON'T regret spending.

I'll soon post some disastrous covers so you can see what I mean.

Mar 03

Don't Let Your Prologue Give Your Novel Away

I'm having the most fascinating experience: reading and critiquing the first 30 pages of the manuscripts of almost 30 different novels. The first 30 pages is what agents and editors ask for, and it's said, "If the novel doesn't take off in the first 30 pages, it will never take off" and they won't read more. Some of the mss. are good, some are better than good, but close to three-quarters of them have introductions and/or prologues.

Leaving aside the dedications, acknowledgements or introductions that "explain" the book, or why or how it was written -- "front matter" which in novels will always be cut -- there's often a prologue describing the climax of the story. And then the actual story begins, in chapter 1, with a flashback. Apparently the whole novel will be told in flashback, leading up to the climactic moment that has already been described up front and has given the whole story away.

And then, reading the novel's Chapter One, I see that the novel would work perfectly fine without the give-away prologue. I believe that the give-away prologue is the child of noir or detective movies and fictions which start with a corpse and flash back to tell the story of how and why the person was murdered. Authors of other kinds of fictions who want to use prologues should be reminded: PROlogues are for telling the PRE-beginning of a story, not giving away the end of it!