Thursday, February 25, 2010

Common Confusables: Lose & Loose

I can't tell you how many times people blow this one. So let's see if we can't get it right.

When you provide a Las Vegas casino with additional revenue, you say, "Gee, I hate to lose money at the slots."

When the knot you've tied comes untied, you say, "Gee, I guess I tied that knot kind of loose."

So, any LOSS gets a single o — LOSE.

Anything that isn't tight gets a double o —L O O S E.

(And while we're sort of on the topic, I'd like to tell the otherwise wonderful comedian, Jim Gaffigan, that he needs a wheelbarrow to carry a Cinnabon, not a wheel barrel. Sheesh, Jim, get with the program!)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Common Confusables: Convince & Persuade

I can hear some of you out there asking, Hey, you, is there a difference between convince and persuade?

The answer is extremely simple, simpler than most language pundits would have you believe.

The answer simply, clearly, and unabashadly is no, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Oh, sure, they'll try to tell you that one requires more logic or reason, or that one can be followed by "to" and the other can't.

Bullpucky. They're synonyms without a substantive difference between them, so feel freely to use either whenever you see fit.

There. Did I persuade you?

(See what I did there? I chose persuade instead of convince. Wow, the raw power of choice!)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Picture the Person You’re Writing For

You've decided to write an article or even a book for, say, medical assisting students. Before you put even one finger on the keyboard, before you even open Word, picture in your mind your specific market.

I don't mean you should picture MA students in some abstract way. I mean to picture a single, specific MA student, perhaps one you've known, who possesses attributes typical of an MA student.The importance of writing for a specific market is well known, but when you actually sit down to write, you need an even clearer idea of who you're writing for. I've written a lot for teenagers, and when I'm writing for them, I imagine a specific person.

For an article I wrote on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among teens, I pictured a girl about 15 years old, sitting at her desk in school, listening to a teacher talking about STDs. Every now and then she would turn to a classmate to her right (don't ask me why, but she always turned to her right) and giggle about something in the article she was reading.

Why a 15-year-old girl? The age range of readers of that particular article was going to be 12- to 14-year-old students in a health class. Female because I thought that STDs were going to be somewhat more interesting to girls than boys, though both needed to understand them. But I like to picture just one person rather than two, so I went with a girl. Giggling now and then because most kids that age, though they possess some level of maturity, are mostly just kids who giggle to alleviate some of the discomfort sensitive topics tend to bring about.

Do the same thing when you write.

Picture someone with specific qualities like that too, qualities you would find in your "typical" reader, and you'll find that your writing will speak more directly to the market you want to reach.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Role of the Author

A somewhat common situation here last week prompted me to write this entry.

It seems that one of our authors had given us a large amount of content, separated neatly in different Word files, and then considered his job finished. Done. He wrote, he saved, he sent. Finito.

Not so fast, Bucko.

We held in our hands lots of content, absolutely, but it was pretty much raw content. Chapter numbers but no chapter titles. No end-of-chapter exercises even though the book was supposed to have them. No directions of any kind about what kinds of illustrations he wanted.

(By the way, I'm using "he" here but it could just as easily be "she." The point is that this situation is not rare and not confined to any particular gender, market, or type of book.)

Basically the author was saying to us, "Here's your content, make a book."

Nuh-uhn. That's not how it works.

When you author a book, you need to give the publisher all content. Everything. You write the title page, subtitle page, copyright page (though some publishers, like us, usually take that on, though we shouldn't), dedication, acknowledgments, key terms, glossaries, appendices, everything.

You tell us what kinds of illustrations you want and where to put them. You can't say, "Hey, Publisher, here's a complex graph of data from a medical study. Simplify it, please, so the average reader can make sense out of it. And then put it somewhere in this chapter."

Nope, that won't work either. You're the content expert, you tell US how you want it simplified and roughly where to place it.

So if you're thinking about writing a textbook and you think all you'll need to do is pull together some raw content and it will magically appear as a well-structured, easily read book…well, think again.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Inherent Value of Print-on-Paper Books

In a post last week, "Will the iPad and Kindle Kill Traditional Textbooks?" I promised to address elements that traditional texts have that e-books don't. First off, let me explain that I'm going to refer here to traditional print-on-paper books as books, to differentiate them from e-books.

I admit that I've thought often that eventually, books will go out of style because people will become more and more comfortable with e-books, and they'll pass on that comfort level to their children, who'll pass it on to their children, and so on.

And to an extent that surely will happen. But my mistake, until I finally figured it out (well, duh) was in assuming that increased comfort with a new medium means the elimination of the medium on which it's based.


We've had books for several hundred years now and will continue to have them long into the future, and for good reason. One reason, principally, and it's not because they provide information, though of course they do.

And it isn't because of the pretty pictures some books have or the marvelous prose others have.

It's because they feel good.

I don't mean to oversimplify a complex relationship between a reader and a book, not at all. But when you come down to it, when you take the content out of the picture—because after all, readers can obtain content in a bunch of different ways, what with books, TV, the web, newspapers, and so forth—when you take history out of it, when you take price, portability, and all the rest out of, there remains a feel to books that people find engaging, comfortable, useful, and highly personal.

Ask someone, anyone, why they like books and you'll get an answer similar to the one a physician gave me just this morning. "I don't know," he said, "there's just something about a book. I just love the feel of a book."

As he said that last sentence, he held his hands out in front of him as if to demonstrate, forefingers to thumbs, that the touch of books was key. Tactile, he seemed to want to say, books are tactile.

That feeling of holding something so tactile carries with it an emotional bond that everyone can sense. It's something completely different that the press a button tactility of a Kindle. It's different than an iPad with its touch screen.

That experience is different and much more personal with a book than an e-book, and I believe it will be forever so. It just feels right.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Common Confusables: Sounds and the Use of A and An

You've heard them, you know you have, those, those people, for wont of a better word, who use the wrong article before a noun.

"Hey, I've got a idea. Let's have a egg for breakfast."

I could just scream.

This "rule" is so simple, it's mind-numbing how many people get it wrong.

Does the first syllable of the next word sound like a vowel? Then it gets an. If the first syllable sounds like a consonant, it gets a.

Hear that? It's the first sound.

So for "idea," "egg," "ointment," and every other danged vowel word, use an. Please. I'm begging you. Begging with every fiber of my being. An.

For almost everything else, use a.

I think what messes up most people are words that start with h, like honor, huge, and historical.

Here the rule, if you can call it a rule, is that if the h is silent, like it is in honor, use an. Otherwise go with the sound—hhh. Hhhonor. Hhhistorical. Hhhuge. (Not "yyyuge," by the way. Where do people get off saying "yyyuge"?)

So, to clarify, it's "It's an honor, your Honor."

It's "To put it into a historical context…"

It's "Hey, I've got an idea."

It's "Let's go to a movie tonight."

So, do we have AN agreement?

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Amazon-MacMillan War: Who Really Wins?

What an interesting weekend for those of us in publishing.

First, Amazon removed a flock of MacMillan titles from its virtual shelves. This is MacMillan, one of the largest and most prestigious publishers in the world. Publisher of Elie Wiesel's Night, the wonderful biography of Led Zeppelin, When Giants Walked the Earth, and the riotous Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen.


Why? I'll quote co-editor of Mashable, Ben Parr: "Macmillan told Amazon that it wanted to change its pricing and compensation agreement, upping the price of some books from $9.99 to $15 and splitting sales 70/30, the same model Apple uses for the iPhone app store and its upcoming iBooks store. Amazon's apparent response was to flex its muscle and pull countless Macmillan books off the virtual shelves."

Then, yesterday, Amazon capitulated and reposted the once-banished MacMillan titles. Amazon replied on its forum, stating, "Macmillan, one of the 'big six' publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases."


From a publisher's viewpoint, the battle is critical. Amazon, for most of us, is a significant sales outlet. It's a huge pain to deal with, though, and the discount they mandate is absurd. But we agree to it because, well, it's Amazon.

So I and the rest of the world's publishers will watch this battle play out very, very closely. Because in the end, it will affect you and every other book buyer out there.

Stay tuned…