Marchbooks' Blog

October 31, 2009

What Messages Are We Giving Our Youth?

Filed under: Comments from our Authors,Uncategorized — marchbooks @ 4:20 pm
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Kids today are bombarded with all sorts of unsavory messages; drugs are cool, sex is a requisite and violence is exciting. Those are messages that children get from television and are supported by their peers. But there are other messages that are more subtle and insipid. Any child who is paying attention will be forming some strong impressions of our political and economic structures. We are failing in so many ways and our kids see the evidence of it every day. But, will they draw the correct conclusions from it? Will they be willing or able to work to bring about healthy change?

When children see the rampant corporate greed that is so much in evidence today, will they conclude that Capitalism might require some changes of will they decide that what is needed is just new and better ways to beat the system? Could they really be faulted for coming to the wrong conclusion? There is so little structure and guidance in many kids’ lives. Many of them are not finding what they need in any religious structure. They are not finding it in school where they are  likely to be instructed by a teacher that is struggling with their own morality issues. And most tragically, they are not getting the necessary guidance at home. Absentee parents or those that are too preoccupied with keeping a roof over their heads to focus on helping their children negotiate troubled waters, are not physically or emotionally there to provide the needed guidance. It does not bode well for our next generation.

Now we can add to the list the sight of seemingly rational adults attacking each other in the political forum. What message do you think we are sending a child when a Senator brazenly calls the President a liar? What are our kids thinking when their parents are locking horns over whether or not to let them see an address by their country’s leader? And what will a child conclude when they see that the word ‘Americans’ has been banned from their textbooks? How sad is it that we have so grayed the lines between the good and the bad guys, up to and including the leader of our country? How can we expect our children to form their own morality when they have no idea where to look for example? Musicians, actors, teachers, sports figures, parents, etc. are all showing their human frailties in vivid Technicolor. So, where are the children of today to look for role models?

When did it become passe for adults to try to insulate their offspring from the harsher realities of life? When did we stop trying to be living breathing examples for our children to emulate? I think it is a convention that should be reinstituted for the sake of our children and our future as a country.

October 30, 2009

What Do New Price Wars Mean To Self-Published Authors?

An interesting article by the Washington Post A close read finds hope in the madness of book-price wars (be aware that if you follow this link, you will probably have to create a membership before viewing the article) discusses some drastic changes to the industry with WalMart’s move to greatly lower prices on best selling hard cover titles. I can’t help but wonder what effect this will have on small publishers and self-published authors that rely on POD technology.

It is already difficult for these publisher to compete with the pricing of large publishing houses that can take advantage of huge offset print runs. It is currently a challenge to meet a $9 price for a good sized paperback, never mind a hard cover title, when using POD technology. As much as I would like to believe that this will result in an overhaul of the payment structures in the publishing industry, I think that it might instead lead away from the wonderful new POD technology and back toward the wasteful practice of larger and larger offset print runs. I won’t reiterate my arguments about the impact of this practice on our environment, but I think it is an unfortunate turn of events.

Perhaps though, the result might surprise us. It may be the push that some publishers need to force them into the epublishing arena. If so, it will be a great thing for our environment. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how this new turn of events plays out. I think the parting message is this – if you are involved in or thinking of being involved in this volatile industry, be ready to respond to an ever-changing playing field.

Do You Need A Full Service Publisher Or A Printer?

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 2:48 pm
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Many writers are confused by the plethora of choices available to them when it comes to publishing today. Having gone through the decision-making process not so very long ago, I know it is not an easy one. Like most major decisions, this one is far from cut and dried.

To begin with, it is essential to know what you want out of publication and what your goals are. Do you want to publish the next great American classic, a N.Y. Times Bestseller or do you just want to have your name in print for your family and friends to see? Once you have honed in on your objective, you can proceed to the next step and that is learning the basics of the industry.

Novices continue to refer to POD as a package deal. POD is a technology, nothing more, nothing less. There are companies that utilize this printing technology, combining it with a totally turn-key product (or package deal) which can provide everything from editing, formatting and marketing to book covers and other design features. Then there are companies like Lightningsource and Createspace who are essentially just printers that offer POD technology. Although CS is now beginning to offer an expanded service, when I signed on with them both companies were only interested in receiving print-ready files. You would submit your completed files, check the proof and you were off to the races.

Sounds great, but this avenue is not for the faint of heart. Most people, especially those who only have one title to publish, are not interested in going through the learning curve that is required for the proper publication of a book. Believe me, it is much more complex than just uploading your Word file, at least if you intend to do it properly, so that your title can be competitive with traditional trade paperbacks.

Self publishers have a choice; they can either front load their cost by putting the time and labor into designing and editing their books themselves or they can pay someone to do it for them. Keep in mind that many of these service companies will get their money in more than one way. Many of these custom publishing companies, like Outskirts Press – which is the company that I considered before signing on with CS and LS, will collect money up front (usually in the form of a flat fee for different book design and marketing packages). Then, they will also collect money by inflating the cost of the book (thus reducing the author’s share). Outskirts Press charges almost twice as much, for author copies, as CS or LS. This can add up quickly, especially if you are planning on mailing out large numbers of review copies as part of your marketing plan.

Again, if you are only planning to publish one title, it may not be worth it to go to the effort of learning all of the intricacies of publication or to invest in a block of ISBN numbers. If your intent is to continue to write and publish, it WILL be worth your effort to go through the learning curve because it will mean significant savings for you in the long run.

Just keep in mind that if you do decide to wear the hats of publisher, editor, copyeditor, proofreader, book designer and marketer, don’t plan on being able to get back to the business of writing any time soon. Publication efforts can absorb most, if not all, of you time and can suck the life out of the creative process.

Consider yourself warned, weigh all the factors and then make a decision. Exercise due diligence before you open your check book, you’ll be glad you did. I think that there are many people who signed on with Publish America who wish that they had taken more time to research the facts before making a commitment. Don’t be one of those people.

Good luck,

October 26, 2009

An Insane Ban On Words

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 4:01 pm
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I have always had a love affair with words. Even before I began writing with a purpose, I was enmored with the use of words, both written and spoken, to convey my thoughts. Conversation can be so colorful with just an occasional dash from a broadened vocabulary. The right word can make you see the vibrant color in a fall leaf, smell the salt in an ocean breeze or taste the first snow flake of the season on your tongue. Even the clunkier, less elegant inhabitants of the dictionary serve a purpose. That is why it so infuriates me to see a campaign, to ban words, such as the one shown below.

To me, this is the equivalent of banning building blocks from toy stores. True, words hurt and there are certain words; racial slurs, swears, etc. that do not add much to any dialogue but, in the right circumstance or setting, even they can serve a purpose. The ban in question, however, goes beyond the pale. Teenager, homeless and American are just a few of the words that are targeted to be banned.

You might say to yourself, who cares? After all, they can’t exactly arrest you for calling your son a teenager. But, what they are talking about here is excluding these words from school text books. I have to wonder if this energy couldn’t be rechanneled to a more worthwhile cause. Our school children are having to deal with drugs, sex and violence in their schools. Will the banning of these select words serve to improve their school experience – I doubt it. In almost all cases, they are only replacing one, succinct, word with a cumbersome three word phrase. Yes, that would be our definition of progress.

October 25, 2009

Can Positive Thought Be Harmful To Your Health?

I just read a curious article on The Perils of Positive Thought, If you are like me, you are going huh? and scratching your head right about now. Initially, I thought the title was just a hook or there must be some twist in the article, but it actually does argue that a positive attitude is harmful, and is even guilty of ‘undermining America’.

I would never argue that an opinion that is different from my own lacks credence just because I disagree. Obviously, the author of Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, Barbara Ehrenreich, feels passionately about this issue, but I still feel compelled to point out some problems with her argument. The first principle that I take exception with is that ‘the opposite of positive is realist’. It must have happened when I wasn’t looking, but when did optimism and realism become mutually exclusive? Optimism vs Pessimism – at least that is how I learned it.

Having a positive attitude does not mean walking around like Polly Anna with blinders on. You can see the reality of a situation without giving in to despair about it. Trying to maintain a positive attitude (and I do say trying, because no one is successful at it all of the time) does not mean ignoring the negatives going on around you, turning a blind eye to them and just trying to wish them away with your positivity. To the contrary, I think that a positive attitude can give you more strength to deal with the negatives in your life because you can visualize a better day. For instance, if we truly believed that the American economy had no chance of rebounding from its current downturn, what incentive would most of us have to get up and go to work every morning?

The fact that the human condition is only a temporary one is what gives us the strength to see past negative trends and look forward to a better future. If we, as a people, truly believed that we were doomed and had no cause for anything but despair, how could we even propagate the race? Could we, with such a negative outlook, bring new lives into the world, knowing that our children would also be doomed? It is hope and optimism that keeps us getting out of bed every morning.

The author argues that ‘being consistently upbeat and optimistic has two downsides.  By refusing to look at potential negative consequences, we can delude ourselves about the harmfulness of our actions,’ and that it is a  potentially cruel burden to impose on others. I reiterate that having a positive outlook does not mean ignoring potentially negative consequences. As for imposing a cruel burden on others to be positive, I find that  a bit simplistic. She cites her own battle with cancer. I don’t want to minimize her experience in any way, but the last time I checked, this was a free society and most adults have free will. If she found it oppressive to be surrounded by positivity, she should have expressed that to the people in her life and they should have honored her feelings.

I just don’t think it can be disputed that positivity, humor and laughter are healing forces. The mind/body connection is hard to deny. Furthermore, I don’t believe that trying to support a loved one with positivity equates to ‘infantilizing’ them. I think that most of us would be grateful to have people in our lives that cared enough to go to such lengths, especially when it means subverting their own fears and insecurities.

Without bringing religion into the argument, it is my personal belief that there is a universal power and consciousness. I have found that tuning into and reflecting positive thoughts to the universe can be a very constructive exercise. Is it the equivalent of rubbing the genie out of a magic lamp – of course not. I think of it more in line with some conventions applied by 12 step programs. ‘Act As If’ and ‘Fake It Till You Make It’ are two such precept. No one feels positive all of the time and no one is successful at keeping their goals in sight 24/7. However, keeping a vision in your head of where you want to be or even imagining yourself already being there is a powerful tool. For my author friends; imagining the completion of the final page of a novel, envisioning yourself holding your new book in your hand or being seated at your first book signing can help you to focus your thoughts and energy on your long-term goal.

Imagine if you will, a scenario where you could get everyone in the world to project one single thought out to the universe at the same time. Imagine that thought as being infinitely simple yet so complex that man has been unable to grasp it for all of his existence. Imagine everyone envisioning world peace at the very same moment and projecting that thought into the universe. How powerful do you think that would be? I don’t know about you, but I hope we will find out some day.

Until next time,
M.J. Claire


October 21, 2009


Filed under: Comments from our Authors — marchbooks @ 12:53 am

This dance is an amazing depiction of addiction


October 12, 2009

Even The Prettiest Font Won’t Rescue Weak Prose

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 4:48 pm
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Just a short post today. I received a children’s story from a member in a writing group I attend. A aggressively bold 16 point font screamed across an 18 page document. I had to laugh, because I can well remember making the same mistake when I started writing. I would painstakingly search through dozens, nay hundreds, of fonts looking for just the right one to display my lovely words.

Of course, I can see, did see the attraction. There are 50 million, fun and exciting, fonts out there (that’s not an exact count of course – I’m just saying that there are a lot). That does not mean we should use them. I don’t remember if it was a writing teacher, an agent or an editor who first broke the news to me, but the plain and simple fact is that you should keep it plain and simple. Any serious writer should stick to a handful of standard fonts.

It was not until I opened this story on my computer that I fully realized the rationale behind this. When I first opened this document, I have to be honest, I had no desire to read it. I felt as though I was being assaulted by this hard-hitting type. It took over 15 minutes of formatting and removing hard returns for me to reduce this 18 page document to six pages.

As a purely environmental point of fact, using three times the necessary paper to print your story is not a good idea. Sure, if you only intend that your work be read online, it doesn’t matter. In this instance, the writer wants feedback. The best way to provide feedback (at least for me) is to work from a hard copy, with a red pen. Many agents and editors still prefer to receive hard copies of submissions. Even on a computer, someone with anything less than a 20 inch monitor would spend all of their time scrolling back and forth because of the size of the font. If you want to dress up a one page poem with a font that catches the mood of your poem, have at it, but believe me, no one wants to read through your 5000 word story in a large, ornate font.

Looking at these unconventional fonts for long periods of time can cause eye strain. Imagine being an agent or editor; their desk is covered with manuscripts and they are all printed in a different font. How old would that get? I know, you want your manuscript to stand out – find another way.

Lastly, and I cannot say this emphatically enough, a fancy font will not compensate for bad prose and it will only distract from good writing. Do yourself a favor, stick to Times Roman, Garamond, Palantino, it doesn’t matter which but stick with a conventional font and let your stories stand on their own merits.

BothCovers copysmaller










October 10, 2009

Manipulating the Constitution by M.J. Claire

I don’t usually venture into the world of politics. I leave that task for Janus. But, this issue came to my attention because it is connected with an animal rights issue – the ‘sport’ of dog fighting (I will never cease to be amazed at the way people have managed to distort the meaning of such a simple word). Merriam-Webster defines sport as physical activity engaged in for pleasure. How is being a voyeur to the pain and suffering of animals a fit for that definition? I digress. But, actually I don’t.

The premise for this post is the repeated abuse and manipulation, by bureaucrats, law makers and politicians, of our Constitution. The Bill of Rights and the Constitution, although not simplistic documents, have a very simple purpose – to protect our democratic freedoms. They were written, and I believe intended, to protect our most fundamental and thus essential, rights as citizens of this country.

Unfortunately, certain factions and special interests have been wielding the Constitution like a hammer, using it to beat others down. Through the judicious use of semantics, this document is being compressed and stretched to the point of breaking. It should be recognized that the Constitution is not a piece of chewing gum. This gratuitous manipulation of the foundation of our government is abusive at best, criminal at worst. A perfect, and very unfortunate, example of this is the case of US v. Stevens. In this instance, the interested parties are trying to justify the filming of dog fighting as being protected by free speech. Stevens, who was convicted of distributing such videos, is claiming that his videos are for educational purposes and thus should be Constitutionally protected.

The question seems simple to me. Who orchestrated the dog fight? If the fights were staged, supported or in any way sponsored by the defendant, if he profited in any way from the sale of those videos, then he is guilty. This is not the case of a documentary filming of animals in nature, nor is it an undercover documentation of animal abuse in foreign countries or the feed animal industry. These scenarios, as I understand it, were orchestrated by people for the purpose of dissemination and profit and Stevens did profit from these videos.

The argument that this kind of video should be protected by the right to free speech is an incredible distortion of the First Amendment. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled that this kind of expression should be protected by this cherished freedom. I am given to understand that the argument went thus; ‘child pornography is “intrinsically related to the sexual abuse of children” and should be banned because the images will continue to harm children long after the abuse has occurred. “While animals . . . [are] worthy of human kindness and human care, one cannot seriously contend that the animals themselves suffer continuing harm by having their images out in the marketplace.”‘

It has to be recognized that, just as child pornography may cause an increase and foster child abuse, it is inarguable that the torture of animals is the first step in the creation of a serial killer. History has shown us numerous examples. But, beyond that, by allowing such content legal protection, we are effectively condoning it and turning a blind eye. What lesson are we teaching our children when we say that the torture of any living thing is acceptable entertainment? We are already doing such a good job of desensitizing these young minds. We are truly on our way to encouraging an ‘anything goes’ society and this is just another step along that unfortunate path.

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October 3, 2009

If You’re Not Willing To Edit, You’re Not Ready To Publish?

I have been participating in an interesting discussion about self publishing

To self publish, or not to self publish, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

It is a big question, not to be taken lightly. For some, this may be the biggest endeavor of your life. Fortunately for us, even if the big publishing houses have closed the door on you, fate has opened a window. That window is POD. Self Publishing is now available to everyone, but that does not mean that it should be availed of by everyone. If your intent is to simply dust off your old manuscript, run your spell check program (I’m sorry to say that some people even omit this step), generate a Word document and slap a generic cover on it before sending it the printer, do the readers of the world a favor and put it back in  your sock drawer.

That might sound a bit harsh, but I think the world needs a little protection from substandard prose. Ever since the Gutenberg press, mass marketing of books has been recognized as an excellent way to exchange ideas and share stories. Everyone has something to say, but not everyone is willing to invest the time and effort that is necessary to make their words palatable to the public.

As I am sure I have mentioned, there are a multitude of steps involved in publishing a manuscript, not the least of which is the editing process. Unfortunately, that is often the step that new authors seem to omit, or skrimp on. Believe me, this is not the time to be miserly, with your time or money, if your intent is to have your publication compete with those put out by the big boys.

There are traditions which have been passed down in publishing that no longer have the relevance they once had (large print runs, blanket return policies and inequitable royalty structures). Editorial practices do not fall in this list.

Every publisher should have the benefit of a twelve person editorial staff. Few of us do, but that does not mean you should throw up your hands and refuse to do the step at all. Your attempts may not be perfect. Things may still slip through the cracks, but believe me, your effort will be recognized and appreciated.


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