Monday, December 29, 2008

A Million Little Pieces of Bread Over the Fence

They just keep coming. First there was James Frey. You remember little Jimmy, don'tcha? Yeah, he was the one with the made-up book about his drug and alcohol experiences. You know, bloody and vomiting his guts out on an airplane. Frey always did have a line of b.s., but never could quite get it together as a novelist. For that matter, his b.s. wasn't all that close to the mark, either; anyone who's done hard time could tell he was lying by looking at him--or reading his books.

Besides all of which, his book was so poorly written that I could produce a better book by teaching a non-writer how to write. But he fooled the publisher, fooled Oprah, damaged the credibility of addiction recovery programs, and still has the money.

This month it's the Rosenblatts, with their fabricated tales of a Polish girl tossing bread and other goodies over a World War II concentration camp fence to a teenage boy ... the beginning of the perfect romance which goes on to have them meet by chance in New York years later and fall into predestined love. In addition to fooling the same publisher and Oprah once again, this one also damages the credibility of the Holocaust, according to the media.

Both books were exposed--but not before fooling Oprah and getting movie deals. Now I understand why Oprah decided there would be no more Oprah's Book Club. Between those and other recent fakes--among them the fabricated story of a white kid growing up in south-central Los Angeles and a fairy tale about a little girl rescued by wolves (a unified, transsexual Romulus and Remus?)--how can you believe anything you read?

Jimmy, Herm, Roma, Marg, Misha--where're your consciences? Just how many pounds did your respective editors and or ghosts sweat off in laboring to make your manuscripts presentable? And which of you pulled the old trick of getting shills to buy enough copies at bookstores around the country to force your title onto the bestseller lists?

What a bunch of useless clowns! Your trash sucked up money and attention that might have gone to authors of far more interesting--and true--memoirs.

Funny ... in all the uproar, nobody has brought up young Jayson, the New York Times reporter who faked sources and interviews. I imagine he's working on his life story; that should be a whopper!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Recent Reviews of On the Way to the Web

Here are a few recent reviews of On the Way to the Web
Practical PC Online
Tom Duff
Gregory Tucker

The Practical PC review is particularly interesting in that is the first I've read that emphasizes the international content of the book.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Presenting Bill Gates' Concise History of the Internet

“The Internet didn’t happen and didn’t happen and didn’t happen—and all of a sudden it really happened!”
--Bill Gates (on The Charlie Rose Show, December 22, 2008)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why the World is Messed Up

The world is messed up because the members of the conspiracies who took over spend all their time planting hidden messages and symbols to tell us they run the world, instead of actually running things!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Online History: Prodigy, the Model 100, and Cloud Computing

Those of you who lived through or are interested in the early days of the Internet and online services like CompuServe, Dialog, Prodigy, etc., may be interested to know that I've posted some new history in the "Classics Rule" blog at

I'm doing a guest blogger spot and so far I've written two postings. The first is about "cloud computing" in the early 1980s with the TRS-80 Model 100. The second, posted today, tells the story of Prodigy, the online service that just didn't get it--a perfect illustrations of why it really isn't a good idea to try to regulate the Internet. This is original material, not taken from On the Way to the Web. Enjoy!

Why Computer Books Are Better Than Help Lines

Made a call to a computer software or hardware company's technical service/customer help line lately? If not, you know someone who has. And you know the complaints: hour-long waits, people whose English is difficult to understand, the frustration of dealing with someone who has no real knowledge and instead is reading to you from a list of canned responses--none of which have anything to do with your problem.

Tired of it all? Here's a thought: Instead of calling help lines buy a book! Or borrow it from your local library.

Imagine! All the answers you need to be an effective Excel user in one place, literally at your right hand. When you get lost trying to set tabs, margins and columns in Word, just flip through a few pages and the answers are there--in minutes rather than hours.

The odds are good that the book will be written by someone for whom English is not a second language. Some are, but that fact is not discernable once a skilled editor finishes with the manuscript. Either way, the books are almost guaranteed to be understandable.

Hm ... perhaps customer service people on the other side of the planet should consult computer books. Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another Excerpt from Blogging Heroes

Here's a free chapter from Blogging Heroes: the interview with Ina Steiner of AuctionBytes. Ina is a well-known figure in the online auction business. She keeps the auction public posted on just about everything that happens with eBay and other auction sites. Ina's blog and news service also covers support services such as sniping services, and major sellers.

More excerpts to come!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Excerpt from On the Way to the Web: Monetizing the Internet

Curious about Internet and online service history? Wonder how the leading-edge packet-switching technology of ARPAnet was transferred to the commercial world. Learn about it in this excerpt from On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders.

Hosted by the DigiBarn Computer Museum, the chapter describes the earliest "monetizing" of the online world. It shows how the first real information superhighway was created (and named), and shows how entreprenuers built enormously profitable online businesses without investing in computers, software, or content. This excerpt also details the earliest commercial online content!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

100 Percent Free Books

Here's something that fits right in with the current move toward greater freedom of expression and fewer restrictions on creative work: a print book publishing company that literally gives away its books. (Note that it publishes literary fiction only.)

The publisher is named Concord Free Press. Located in New England, their "About" page maintains that "... our books don’t generate traditional profits, they create real value." Of course, publishing for profit creates real value, too But this approach allows writers to get their work out without depending on a judgement of whether the market will welcome it. However, some judgment as to quality must be exercised, because the company can publish only so many books.

Concorde cites foreign and film rights and other sub-rights as potential sources of income for writers who donate their books. I can't see this, unless an author can engage a foreign rights or film specialist. (Out of 43 books I've seen 11 foreign-language sales, for which I'm grateful. Plus three foreign pirate editions. Flattery. I think I'm in a minority.)

In any event, Concord Free Press may be a way for new (unpublished) writers to validate their work and encourage themselves. And established writers might want to have a book to give away as a means of publicizing other books.
--Mike On the Way to the Web

Online Sex, Divorce Scandals Nothing New

The recent Second Life Divorce Scandal has people buzzing all around the world. But it’s been done before, as with so many things that seem new today. Women and men have been catching their significant others in hot chats with online sex objects since the early 1980s. (I use "sex objects" because what else can you call an animated construct and words you can't touch? I dunno ... self-directed sex videos with subtitles?)

A quarter-century ago, the venues were CompuServe and other dialup online services that provided realtime chat services--what people call IMs or IRC today, we called “chat” or “CB” back in 1983. The medium inspired quite a few marriages, the first one that was documented took place in ’83. But, divorces were probably inspired by online sex before that.

It went down in the 80s pretty much the same as today, sans graphics. Either someone got caught, or the typing whizzes decided run off together. The only difference was who would be the first to realize divorce was on the horizon.

Oh, man--think how difficult online sex was back in those days! Uphill both ways, and all you had were typed words on a monochrome screen. Imagination was important. Literacy was vital, although at the penultimate point it was often crippled by fading concentration and the temporary loss of one typing hand.
--Mike, still On the Way to the Web

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Ruth Lyons Biography

I've received many questions about the publication date for my biography of Ruth Lyons, titled Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV.

The title was originally scheduled for October (I completed the manuscript several months ago). But the publisher has decided to wait until May, in order to allow more time for production and promotion. So, the book will be released on Mother's Day, though you can order it now.
As noted before, the book has quite a bit of information about Miss Lyons that has never been published. A good number of photos will be in the book, a number of them not previously published, as well.

My apologies to those of you who had planned on it being published last month. And thanks to those in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, West Virginia and southern Michigan for your patience!
--Mike http//

Monday, November 24, 2008

More on Book Reviews

I figure the second biggest reason for books not getting noticed is because there are so many of them. We're over 40,000 for new books published every year, and some PR people and authors send out books to anyone and everyone--even inappropriate review venues.

(I still figure that the "biggest" reason for books not being reviewed is the lack of advertising support, as discussed in the preceding post.)

A tactic I use before a new book comes out is to contact everyone who might receive or want a copy for review. It's obvious, but some people don't use it. And, perhaps as evidenced by the preceding post, it doesn't always work--which may be a result of the "too many books" problem. Even though an editor or reviewer knows a book is on the way, she may be deluged by so many books (and accompanying announcements, email, etcetera) that the idea of the book is displaced from her thoughts.

At the same time, those operating in the more popular review venues (say, the New York Times) may rely on a rigid system or may have their review choices dictated to them.

Does Anyone Review Books for Magazines or Newspapers Nowadays?

I used to review books quite frequently, and my own books--fiction and non-fiction were reviewed almost as often. But my two most recent titles have seen little coverage in print media. Both received excellent reviews from bloggers and other readers (posted at Amazon, for example). But none have turned up in magazines for either book. I can't quite figure it out. Certainly Blogging Heroes appeals to a specialized audience, but the magazines that interest bloggers weren't reviewing it. Neither were publications about politics (a topic in which Blogging Heroes often ranks high on Amazon) or small business.

Same-same with On the Way to the Web. I have excellent reviews from readers at booksellers' sites and on blogs. But no magazine or newspaper reviews. It's not that magazine reviewers didn't receive copies; they did--nearly 100 were sent out for one book, and I've sent out more. Come to think of it, while my book Crosley got several print media reviews, I had to work hard to encourage editors to review the book.

What's up? There are always magazines and newspapers who don't notice a book coming in because they get so many of them. A Certain Midestern Daily is bad for that; in fact, one staffer told me they pretty much lose all the books they receive because they're just tossed into a closet, out of the way. Presumably the closet gets cleaned out periodically, and staffers who like to read get bonuses. (Drop me a line if you want to know the name of the paper.)

But that doesn't answer to the majority of instances. I think what's happening is something I've seen occur in the past: magazines and newspapers aren't reviewing books because book reviews don't generate advertising. The attitude appears to be "Forget the readers who might be interested in these books; we're not mentioning a product unless we get paid!"

This is nothing new. Elsewhere in this blog, I've related the story of the magazine editor who pressured me to write a negative review of a product because the advertiser reduced the frequency of his full-page ads. Obvious cause-and-effect. Yeah, "We'll punish them because they are not giving us enough money" sounds childish (or like interntational politics). But it happens all the time.

It happened back in the 1920s and 1930s; newspapers refused to run stories about radio unless radio manufacturers, retailers, or broadcasters bought advertising. When industrialist Powel Crosley, Jr. bought a Lockheed Vega and put WLW and Crosley Radio on the wings, and then hired Ruth Nichols to set records in it, every newspaper in the country covered the big stories. But nearly every one ran tight, cropped shots of the Crosley airplane and did not mention Crosley as the sponsor--because they weren't getting advertising money from Crosley and, besides, radio was the enemy, stealing advertising from honest newspapers--so there!

Granted, print magazines and newspapers are hurting nowadays. Advertising revenue is declining. But there's a good possibility that some quality editorial matter of interest to readers and not tied directly to advertiser topics could attract more readers--and advertisers.

So, much good information do we miss because of various media policies (informal or not) that bar or admit coverage of facts based on whether money is paid for advertising? A lot. Read Crosley or my upcoming biography of Ruth Lyons for some examples. (As the Lyons book will illustrate, some advertisers play the same game. "Say something about a competitor, and we'll cut you off!")

It even makes one wonder how much we can trust the information that magazines, newspapers, and electronic media provide. In additional to personal bias getting in the way of straightforward coverage (and it always does), economic bias both shapes and forces out facLinkts. (If you can review One the Way to the Web or Blogging Heroes for a magazine, drop me a line at bookrevs overat aol dot com.)

(Addenda: I've done a guest editorial for the "Classics Rock" topic at Tech Republic, on the subject of cloud computing. For those of you who have books out or on the way, note that this is a promotional, unpaid contribution to TechRepublic. It's not material from the book, but it is closely related. The posting carries a tagline and link to On the Way to the Web at Amazon.)
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Why Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Write for Low-Paying Magazines

Science fiction magazines are notoriously low-paying. It's in part a tradition from the pulp era (when pay was as low as a quarter-cent per word) and in part due to the low percentage of ad content versus editorial content. All-fiction magazines (whether they are SF, mystery, weird tales, or general fiction) have always aimed to present as much fiction as possible, in order to pull newsstand sales and maintain subscriptions. If you published an all-fiction magazine with 40 pages of advertising and 50 pages of fiction, those 50 pages had better be by known writers--who, along with production, printing, and distribution would probably cost more per issue than the advertisers bring in.

What do they pay? Right now, Analog is at less than 10 cents per word. Which comes to $250 for an average short story. The most I've been paid by the magazine was 15 cents per word, well over a decade ago, when print magazines were still selling well.

Why write for low-paying magazines? Having written for both Analog and Asimov's SF (first story in 1978), and served as assistant editor for Baen's New Destinies in the early 1980s, I can answer that question.

Getting published in Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, the late Galaxy and other "pro" SF/F magazines yields all sorts of benefits beyond the money, if you're a social person. Free drinks and free dinners at cons, maybe romantic companionship at cons if that's what you seek, watching people who ignored you before at cons sidling up to get in on your conversation--and all sorts of other egoboo. (SF fan lingo for "ego boost.")

You'll never get those fringes with literary mags that pay 5 or 10 cents per word. (And if you're an editor--look out! It's a whole new level.)

Besides, where else are you going to get those weird (though professional) stories published? And then there's the fact that published short fiction gets you noticed and can help sell novels.

There's lots of comeradship on tap, too--again, if you're a social person. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA--it was too hard to pronounce with effs) is a grand ol' club of well over 1,000 members that provides newsletter-type publications, selected author services, contact with other writers who can't stop, and venues for endless argument and other entertainment. Check it out!

Oh, yeah: Sometimes you get money for years after a story is published. My second short story in Asimov's was reprinted four times, earning twice as much in reprint as the original sale. And all I had ot do was sign the checks.
--Mike On the Way to the Web

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fair Use and Unfair Use

There is much talk among the intelligentsia who know what is good for us of the perversity of the current copyright law. One of the elements being attacked is the Fair Use provision. Because of the strident voices of people such as Lawrence Lessig and Kembrew McLeod (in his book Remix), many, many people are taking objections to the limitations on Fair Use as a license to take "Fair Use" into the realm of unfair use. That is, to copy and share nearly whole chapters from books, complete short stories from anthologies, songs from CDs, and so on.

No, neithre Lessig nor McCleod are telling people to steal and share music, videos, etc. But the buzz about the work of each has transformed the claims against copyright law from just attacks on the evil establishment's unfair regulation into attacks on individual artists. And Lessig & Co. do nothing to discourage this. They throw up corporate greed as examples, obscuring recognition of the invidual artist's right to compensation. (Often the copyright holder is the artist, not a coporate entity.)

Meanwhile, the artists aren't consulted and often some potential for just compensation for their work is destroyed.

In many ways, the attack on copyright is a "Remix" of the 1960s revolution, although--weekend hippies that they probably were in the 1970s--people like Lessig seem to miss the fact that the only people who attacked individuals during the Sixties revolution were the crazed and criminal: the Charles Manson gang and the bombers whose explosions killed innocents.

But, what do I know? I'm not one Who Knows What Is Good For Us. I don't even have a degree. Besides, I digress ...

Getting back to Fair Use, asking permission for Fair Use is not a simple technical consideration. Nor is defining Fair Use an unfair, arbitrary limitation on freedom of expression. It is, first and foremost, a professional courtesy among writers, to let them know their ideas are useful or worthy of critical remark, and are being spread. It is appreciated. Often the quoted writer will buy a copy of the book that contains the quote. And this way, using someone else's work to make a point is honest and in the light, rather than being a furtive, clandestine activity.

The specific (or interpreted) limitations on Fair Use weren't intended to stifle free expression. Rather, the intent was to ensure against diluting the value of a book or other work to the point where no one would need or want to consult it.

Postscript: One wonders why Lessig's and McCleod's books even have copyright notices. For that matter, perhaps they ought to be free downloads, or given away by the Concord Free Press, which makes books available to bookstores and other outlets at no cost, to give away.

Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks, On the Way to the Web

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why Some Print-Turned-Web Magazines Can't Last

Yesterday, I wrote about print magazines turning to Web-only publishing. It must seem like a good idea at first. You don't have to pay for printing and deal with distribution. That gets rid of a lot of salaries--not to mention the cost of paper/printing, shipping, etc.

And of course conventional wisdom has it that everything is going to the Web. Well, that last isn't true. For reasons I'll cover in a later post.
Many, many magazines aren't going to be able to survive on the Web, for two reasons. First, as more advertising venues appear, the money is going to get thin in many places. Advertisers are cutting back and will continue to reduce spending over the next couple of years, and there won't be enough ad money to support everyone.
The magazines will last longer because of the print-cost savings, but you'll see mergers, bankruptcies, and overnight disappearances of print-gone-Web magazines as those advertising dollars shrink.
Second, magazines won't retain their readership after moving to the Web. Why not? For the same reason they've been losing readers in print: reduced quality. Readers are in the habit of expecting something extra online, or at least quality, and in the cost-saving mode of moving to the Web magazines are not going to increase content quality. I don't think a majority are prepared to accept the Web as the sole source; we've been conditioned to think of anything on the Web as "rightfully" free, and a magazine Web site with no magazine ... ?
What happens after that? I have some ideas ...
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

PC Magazine Goes Web-Only, No More Print Copies

PC Magazine (to which I was a contributor in its glory days) is about to go to Web-only publication, just like the Christian Science Monitor. It's a bit of a surprise. The magazine certainly has a good heaping quantity of ads, online and off, though it's nothing like the 400+ pages it used to put out. And perhaps they need to cut costs to maintain income growth. (Growth forever, not incidentally, is an absurd fantasy that corporations indulge in--growing each and every year--and which eventually gets them into trouble.)

As more than one reader has pointed out, the reason for the magazine's non-growth could be poor content. I do see PC relying in part on "user-generated content" (and I have a real flamer of a post coming up about that--as soon as its progenitor appears in a magazine). Which bolsters the idea that they've cut their spending on content too heavily. Which translates to poor content. You can get only so much quality material for nothing--just like in the real world.

Does that mean Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News & World Report, and other magazines going non-print have poor content? Not necessarily, though U.S. News over-heavy emphasis on health was wearing, and I discontinued a subscription. (It felt kinda like when Reader's Digest switched from being general-interest to elderly-interest. From there they commenced toward tabloidishness ... but I digress.)

Good content or poor, I think all the magazines that are leaving the real world are just the beginning of a trend having to do with advertising. Check here tomorrow (Thursday, November 20) for the explanation.
Copyright © Michael A. Banks, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Copy Protection

Dick Margilus has a good idea for copy protection of books and magazines--a means of rendering scanners and copiers incapable of copying pages. Click here to read all about it (and remember: you saw it there first).

I've been wondering whether some new material or form will make books uncopyable. There was a time that the price for copy equipment (and, for that matter) printing equipment discouraged copytheft. The labor that had to go into the effort also dissuaded potential book thieves (imagine standing at a photocopier to copy a 500-page book).

Perhaps a material that degrades over time will be tried in lieu of paper.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Michael Crichton, Carl Sagan, and Next

It was quite a surprise that Michael Crichton passed away. He and his writing were always so vital. I remember reading The Andromeda Strain when and because I heard it was going to be a film. It was interesting to note how closely the film followed the book, unusual as that is.

A few years later, re-reading the book inspired me to write to Carl Sagan to query about the possibility of microbiotic life that might live in Mars' upper atmosphere being carried to the planet's surface by the Viking I Mars lander. Sagan wrote back with a term for what I was asking about: "back-contamination." His response to the question was to tell me in effect that nothing could be done to prevent it, so they'd just have to take the chance.

There continues to be speculation about microscopic life forms from elsewhere making it to the Earth's surface. Lots of scenarios are offered--there's even a theory that life on Earth might have evolved from microscopic life forms or the spores thereof that arrived inside meteorites. (Or maybe there was some "back-contamination" from the Earth's upper atmosphere.)

In any event, I was looking forward to what Crichton would write next. I remember reading that he maintained his medical practice in New York, and whenever he worked out an idea for a book he traveled to a condo in Florida and wrote the book in six weeks. I envied that! (He gave up medical practice in the Seventies.)

Crichton’s most recent novel was not well-received. I enjoyed it, though the technique was bothersome. It was a good book, though I believe that some reviewers panned it in knee-jerk fashion; they couldn't get past their feelings that anything that didn't toe the so-called "politically correct' line had to be bad. Some felt obligated to toe the line, themselves. Perhaps Crichton knew that global warming was a reality, in which case he took on the more difficult path in writing Next. (I hope there is at least one more novel waiting in the wings.)

Re-read Next. Suspend your belief in the tenets of global warming, and I think you'll find it an entertaining read.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cloud Computing in the 1980s

I don’t remember the last time I took a vacation trip without working. Sometimes I was up against a deadline that didn’t allow me to take a few days off. If I didn’t have a deadline, I couldn’t resist working on a new idea or an old manuscript. I remember hauling a typewriter along with me on vacation as far back as 1978, though I limited work to evening hours. (I had to have it with me; I compose at the keyboard because handwriting is too slow.)

Lugging a forty-pound electric typewriter wasn’t easy, but technology would soon change that. In the early 1980s I bought a TRS-80 Model 100. It was an excellent companion, lightweight and requiring 80 percent less space than the typewriter. The keyboard was as good any you can find today, and it was easy to adjust to working on a 40-character wide display with 8 lines.

The Model 100 came with built-in firmware applications: text editor, calendar/scheduler with an alarm clock function, BASIC, an address book, and terminal program. It required little in the way of support; four AA cells powered it for about 20 hours. 8 extra batteries would see me through most any trip.

The Model 100’s only shortcoming was storage. Mine had just the basic 8K of memory, which didn't quite hold 12 pages of text. So I needed external storage. A cassette interface made tape storage possible, but it wasn't always perfect. Besides, that would have meant hauling along a tape player that weighed more than the computer. Being me, I would have lost or damaged at least one tape on every trip. A Model 100 disk drive presented the same lug-along problems as the cassette, and it was too expensive anyway.

But I didn't need any kind of portable storage, not with the Model 100's built-in modem and an online service account. I used DELPHI (and later CompuServe) as a virtual hard drive. For all practical purposes it provided an infinite amount of storage space.

Such was cloud computing, circa 1984.

Granted, the programs weren’t on a server, but they were fast, and I needed only minimal hardware on my end. If I shut down the computer while working, the document would be available exactly as I had left it the next time I turned the computer on. It was possible to buy additional apps, such as spreadsheets, and of course email and FAX service waited on DELPHI and CompuServe, along with news, encyclopedias, and other resources.

The combination of the little slab computer with online services wasn’t quite Google Apps. But it offered everything a writer could want. And its minimalist requirements of cheap batteries and a common telephone line made it possible to get to work in seconds no matter where you were.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Online in Europe Before the Web

Each of the logos in the collage to the left represents a European online service. While (and before) consumer services such as CompuServe, The Source, and AOL were growing in the U.S., Prestel, CEEFAX, and ITV Oracle were online. In Germany. Bildshirmtext (literally "picture screen text") was providing computer owners with service in German. And before anyone else, France's Minitel reached into millions of homes with email, news, weather, telephone lookups, and premium services.

These are all covered in On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders. Along with these are services such as Eunet, Telset Finland, CIX in England, Japan's Junet and NHK, NABU in Canada, T-Net from Deutsch Telekom, and several more. You'll also learn about regional and often obscure online services around the U.S., such as INDAX, Electra, Covidea, California's Gateway, Keycom, and a bunch of others. Check out the book and see everything that was happening online during the Micro Decade.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Language Fun! Draw Your Own Conclusions:

"It's a new paradigm for marketing legacy equipment to enterprise!" Schuyler exclaimed. "It leverages your capital--which effectively doubles the company's capital, freeing it to drive new projects. Hence you will be in line for a correspondingly higher residual."

"It's a new approach to sell our old computers to small businesses. Your money enables it," Schuyler explained, "leaving ours to power other investments. You will, of course, receive a larger share than otherwise."

"I got a great idea: We can sell the old shit to idiots desperate for computers, and," Schuyler laughed, "we use your money to do it! If we make anything, you get half."
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"The Father of ..."

This will probably fit into a standup comedy routine somewhere.

We frequently see historical and contemporary figures as "the father of" this or that. "The father of our country," "The father of television," "The father of the telephone," and so on.

A few years back, it occurred to me that when anyone or anything is fathered, someone gets screwed.

Definitely a literal truth if it involves business.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Free Blogging Heroes Excerpt (PDF)

Click here or on the book image to read Chapter 1 of Blogging Heroes. This chapter is a Q&A interview with Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine and author of The Long Tail. It also provides some background. Read it to learn what Anderson considers important in blogging, and what went into the success of his Long Tail blog.

One of several interesting quotes from the interview is "I do some of my best thinking on my blog." As you may know, The Long Tail originated as a blog, with Chris trying out ideas and gaining wisdom from those who participated in the blog ...

Chris Anderson has a new book coming out in July. Titled Free: The Past and Future of a Radical Price, it offers some controversial notions.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Voting Machine Glitches

Banks' First Law of Voting Machines: There will always be people who believe in glitches, whether or not there are any.

Corollary: Those who perceive glitches will always believe "the other party" is responsible for and benefiting from them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's a Good Sales Rank at Amazon?

As most writers have noticed, Amazon offers a sales rank with each book's listing; it's at the end of the Product Details section (the listing with publisher, publication date, number of pages, etc.) I've just looked at the Canadian listing for On the Way to the Web, and as I write this it is ranked 2,433. Which means that only 2,432 books are selling better. It also ranks number 1 in the category of Internet History.

In a world of hundreds of thousands of books, that's pretty good. In fact, this site (TitleZ) says that it's a "very successful book," or that any book ranking between 1,001 and 10,000 is very succeseful. (Books ranking 1 to 100 are "best-sellers.") That judgment only maintains if the number is an average; a book may jump to 942 (as On the Way to the Web did one day), but that could be a spike in response to a review or media mention. A given rank doesn't provide useful data; you must take a look at overall averages--by week, month, quarter--to get a good feel for how well the book might be doing, comparatively.

I refer you to the TitleZ page because Amazon has no explanation. There was a page that explained sales rank at one time, but it's empty now. TitleZ also offers a service that gives long-term average ranks, which could be of interest to authors who cannot readily get sell-through data from their publishers. (The service is at present still in beta.)

The data are for Amazon sales only. There is no correlation between sales ranking and the number of copies sold. A service called BookScan will give you precise info on chain and other sales. Depending on who you're talking with, BookScan gives you 60 or 70 percent of total sales.

Holding Secrets Is Worse Than Owing Money

About once a month something jumps up out of my own life and inspires an aphorism or adage. The October aphorism grew out of pondering why I hadn't heard from certain people for a year or more.

I thought about what makes people distance themselves from a friend or relative. Embarrassment for the other person can do it (you know--when your friend or relative gets two DUIs in a row). So can owing money. And guilt over something the other party doesn't know. Or taking offense at something, intentional or unintentional, the shunned party had done or said.

None of these applied to the people I was thinking about. But it came to me that the three of them did have something in common: I knew certain things about them that no one of their current acquaintance knows. These were things from decades past, and I've never said anything about them to anyone.

Still, I think holding someone's secrets can cause them to edge away from you. Do they have feelings of guilt? Are they embarrassed or angry because you know? Could be any of that, or something else. And so the aphorism sprang suddenly to mind:

Holding someone's secret is worse than owing them money; you can pay back the money.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ayn Rand's Writing: Descriptive Technique

There's something to be learned from reading just about any novel. This is certainly true of The Fountainhead, discussed in the preceding post. The novel offers lessons in plotting and pacing an episodic novel, symbolism, characterization, the author speaking through characters, and more.

In addition, one can learn from certain of Ayn Rand's descriptive techniques--techniques that are best avoided by new writers and, indeed, nearly all contemporary writers.

So, what about Ayn Rand's descriptive writing? First, too many of her images rely on second-hand descriptions of how things (usually buildings) affect people, with few words as to what they actually look like. An example: the reader is left to make up the picture of a life-size sculpture of a nude woman that expresses so much, and offends many at the same time. The reader wonders exactly what it looks like, of course. But the most the author offers us is that the nude's arms are at her sides, palms turned up, and her head is thrown back in triumph. (How was her hair falling? Were her breasts pendulous, nipples erect? Was her stance defying or submissive? Her facial expression--was it blank?) Even though we meet and the character who modeled for the statue, there's no realistic picture in the reader’s mind of either.

A few details, as above, or simple similes and metaphors could have brought the reader so much more into the story, could have made the statue and its inspiration far more real. (“She stood like Sally Rand would liked to have stood, without her fans, proud and defiant and transcending the mere humans around her as she challenged the sky.”)

Houses and other buildings designed by the protagonist, Howard Roark, are similarly disposed of. A structure is occasionally noted as having bricks or dormers or pediments, strange windows, having or not having Doric or Grecian elements, and so forth. Be we never really see the architectural monstrosities, triumphs, and mundania that figure so heavily in the novel. Rand emphasizes the effects of the buildings. She writes of the design of a new department store sending customers fleeing the shopping district that it dominates. She shows us the pure disgust people feel for a universal spiritual temple Roark was commissioned to designed (it housed or displayed on its roof the aforementioned nude). But do they loom? Are they baroque in appearance, or perhaps carry a half-demolished look? Does the department store look like an abandoned prison? Does the temple resemble a Roman bathhouse, or perhaps a pagan alter?

There's a lot to be said for describing a person or object through its effects on an observer, or even on its environment or other objects. However, the author provides few (and sometimes no) clues or cues as to appearance, and as a reader I find this disruptive because I have to stop considering the story unfolding in my mind to create pictures.

Going light on description is not a bad thing. My approach in writing and teaching is exactly that. The reader begins to build an image of a person or thing as soon as your description begins. I give the reader enough to get a solid though general image of "... her blond hair cascaded to her thin shoulders, where it split in twin rivers to obscure her breasts. Below the waves of hair, a long torso and short legs gave her the appearance of ... ." At this point, I don't want to intrude on the image the reader has developed. So I probably won't write about arm length or hands or whether her ears protrude beyond through her hair, unless there's an unusual feature to one of those elements, or it's otherwise important. Facial features are described separately, but in the same manner--long, thin noise, large or small eyes, square jaw, and so forth.

The goal is to give the reader enough to work with and create her own image of the character. Rand usually gives us little beyond orange hair, blond hair, eyes or faces or expressions that have a specified effect, and the reader is left to step outside the story to visualize the face.

Of course, saying that a certain expression or eyes have a certain effect is a time-honored way to make the moment slip by without disruption--but if you use this too frequently, it verges on boring the reader, who reacts with the thought, "Not 'her face made him feel like he was looking at an undercooked pizza' again!"

The point here is that Ayn Rand offers us examples of overdoing my recommendation that you don't use overmuch detail lest you come between the reader and her enjoyment of the story. In other words, her descriptions are often too subtle and indirect.

Back to buildings, we don't get to see double doors, or casement or sash windows, or arched entryways, brick lines and other details that allow us to created the necessary image.

Rand obviously knew something about architecture, and used some of her knowledge for verisimilitude. She need not have written in exacting detail about elements like texture and light, angles and lines. But simple details that anyone could recognize and incorporate into their version of the story would have made a more visual and effective story.

Still ... it worked for Ayn Rand. And I have the feeling she intended to write descriptions exactly as she did for the same reason I recommend going light on details (just don’t overdo that): to draw the reader into the story by involving her in creating it. I just don't believe the technique of describing effects and reactions rather than physical details works well in contemporary fiction.
Copyright 2008, Michael A. Banks

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Powel Crosley, Jr. and Ayn Rand

(Click to view paperback and hardcover editions.)

What? Powel Crosley, Jr. and Ayn Rand?

Right: An unliklier pair to appear in a header there never was. Powel Crosley was a staunch Republican and anti-union, which would have put him in line with Ayn Rand's philosophies. But Powel probably loathed the woman and most of her philosophies because he often ignored facts. And I think his misogony would have put him at a point where he loathed her for being a woman who not only had such philosophies, but expressed them in a popular novel. All of which makes it funny that Crosley is caricatured in Rand's The Fountainhead. I may be wrong, though.

I didn’t notice this the caricature I first read the book, over 30 years ago. But a recent re-reading finds Powel Crosley, Jr. thinly disguised as newspaper baron Gail Wynand. Wynand is an aviation enthusiast who spends a ton of money on the latest and best private aircraft. It is used to set a transcontinental speed record (as was Crosley's Vega), after which Wynand gives it to “… an enchanting aviatrix of twenty-four.” Shades of Ruth Nichols! Wynand's physical description matches that of Crosley, as well.

Rand also lampoons the controlled crash-landing Nichols made in a Pennsylvania field when she tried to set a Cincinnati-to-New York record. In the Wynand version, it is presented as an orchestrated publicity stunt, designed to draw the press--who were waiting there even as the aircraft approached from the west. (Crosley is also echoed in the radio and refrigerator manufacturer who is diversified beyond logic.)

Of course, the Wynand character is a composite of several people, with some original twists. (However, it's not quite the same as the portrayl of William Randolph Hearst in Citizen Kane.) For the writer, The Fountainhead serves as a good model for incorporating contemporary figures into a work of fiction without using their names.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Book That Wasn't ... Then Was

When Jean Shepherd (the "Christmas Story" guy) was a late-night talk show host on WOR in the 1950s, he told a lot of stories from his childhood and the rest of his life. One boring night, perhaps tired of telling old stories--or any stories at all--he decided to create a new tale by cooking up a book hoax.

Shepherd asked all his listeners go to bookstores and ask for a novel titled I, Libertine, which did not exist. Pretty soon, booksellers were trying to find out who published the book. Ian and Betty Ballentine, of Ballentine Books, glomed onto this and brought in Theodore Sturgeon to write the volume. It was published as by Frederick R. Ewing in 1956.

I, Libertine's cover depicted an 18th-Century gent hobnobbing with women, one large-busted in a low-front gown. Above the title were the adjectives, "Turbulent! Turgid! Tempestuous!" At the bottom of the cover was a line from the book: "Gadzooks!" quoth I, "but here's a saucy bawd!" The back cover featured a photo of Shepherd as the author. And all for 35 cents. The print run was said to be 25,000. It's a real collectible today.

When I was doing some freelance editing for Baen Books in the 1980s, we talked about doing something similar with a space opera title, but the idea never gelled.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

DELPHI, CompuServe, BIX, GEnie, The Source, Q-Link, PC-Link

Do those names bring back memories? Or are you wondering what they are? Either way, you'll find On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders fascinating. It's the story of how the Internet began (before ARPAnet), how the prime technology was developed by ARPA and transferred to the world at large by Telenet, then propogated into the public sphere by the commercial online services: CompuServe, The Source, DELPHI, GEnie, Playnet, Q-Link (eventually, AOL), PeopleLink, CIX, and all the other major stars and bit players in the drama of the developing Internet, from 1959 through 1994.

It's the story of yesterday's tomorrows, the many and varied visions the online services and their users created on the way to the World Wide Web. Sound interesting? Click here for more information. (Coming soon: Excerpts from On the Way to the Web.)

"As someone who has been involved in the telecom scene since 1978 I have always feared that much of the wild history during the Hayes-modem era would be lost. Michael Banks to the rescue. This fascinating book is a must have for any student of the techology scene." --John C. Dvorak

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Continuing Tale of the Outdated Photo

TRUE STORY: Back in 1997 I wrote a book about Internet safety, and included a chapter about online dating. (No, I'm not writing another such book right now.) I had been to sites like this one in 1995, looking for a date, and in 1997 I noticed one woman whom I'd seen back in 1995--using the same photo.

She finally added a new photo later that year. I saw the photo again in 2000 when I was researching another book. Guess what? She posts the same photo today on dating sites! No kidding, no mistake; the photo was very distinctive. I wonder what she tells guys when they meet her and see that she's a decade older? And how worried is she about aging? Or maybe it's just someone perpetuating a multi-decade prank ...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Conservative Rocker Pens Political Tome

It had to happen: Ted Nugent has written a book about contemporary politics. (Or his ghost has. I have no idea how literate Nugent is, though I'd vote in favor of his having written the book himself. He's had plenty of time of late.)

The book is Ted, White, and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto, a title designed to both state the political theme and grab attention, as in "Ted, White, and Blue?" What's "Ted?" Of course, his name's almost as big as the title, and the caricature on the cover easily explains who Ted is, even to those who don't recognize the name.

Those who do know Ted will not be surprised that this is a conservative work. It talks about things such as war is the solution to America's problems, trimming big government, and how to change the world for the better "through the power of God, guns, and rock n' roll."

This line of flap copy sums it up nicely: "If you care about America, if you want to preserve, protect, and defend the land of the free and the home of the brave, if you're fed up with lazy, whining, fear-mongering, government-gorging Al Gores, Michael Moores, and Obamaniacs, then you need to read Ted, White, and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto."

It's currently high on the Amazon list of bestselling political books, and is probably headed for other bestseller lists. It appears that conservatives read as much as liberals, given something they're motivated to read--and that not all entertainment people are liberal.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Book Publishing Business from the Inside

In the past, I've recommended several books that can fill you in on the book publishing business. Of course things change and books may be outdated--and there's always a question or two that the books don't answer. So let me introduce you to an interesting source on how publishing works from the publisher's perspective, with things an author needs to know. It's current, and faster than reading a book.

The source is at Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog. Joe is a Vice President and Executive Publisher in the Professional/Trade division of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (The company that published my book, Blogging Heroes.) In four posts, Joe answers a lot of questions about book distribution, marketing, sell-through (what's that?), and sales expectations (how do publishers project sales?)

Here are labeled links to each post:
Marketing and PR
Sell-through Data
Sales Expectations

Feng Shui and Your Money

I suppose it had to happen: a book about increasing your wealth with Feng Shui. No need to link to it; I just want to point out its existence, and wonder what sort of thinking went into it. Was it "Hey--Feng Shui is hot, and creating wealth is hotter! What if we put them together in a book?" Or perhaps the author is serious. I have no idea.

But I do have one question: Instead of reading the entire book and doing everything it says, can I just paint my kitchen chartruse and pick up a quick thousand bucks?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"People tell me I look younger than I really am..."

Being between books and still too distracted to settle down to the magazine articles I need to write, I've been browsing the Web (as who hasn't?) and came across some singles' sites. Looking at how some people describe themselves is almost like watching an episode of "The Mentalist" because they often say more about themselves than they intended.

For example, quite a few singles (more women than men) include the line "People tell me I look younger than I really am" in their descriptions. If you look younger than you really are, your (carefully chosen) photos should show it. Hitting potential suitors over the head with the obvious is hard-sell, and saying it when it's obviously not true makes you a wishful liar. Worse, it leads many to infer that you have this "thing" about aging and turns off anyone near your age. (Hint: let the other person decide how old or young you look for themselves.)

Then there are those who complain about "head games." What in the hell are "head games," as in "If you're into playing head games, just move on?" Near 's I can tell, the phrase came from the song, and while it is a great gut-wrencher to yell out during a hard rock singalong, that's about the sum total of its value. Nobody wants head games, any more than people want to have fingers amputated. That's a given, so why bother waving them off? As my friend MJ on one of the sites says, nobody ever asks for head games, like "You know, I haven't had a good mindfuck in a long time--come play some head games with me!" (Okay, politicians play head games, but that's their job!)

Next are the free spirits. I thought we got over the "free spirit" stuff in the early 1970s. As with "look younger" comment, you see this more with women than men. As I recall, 1960s free spirits were flighty girls who spent most of their time looking for someone to help them get high (i.e., score the dope). Funny that the women who label themselves thus are usually up-tight types; maybe they wish they could be whatever they define free spirits to be, or want to have that as an excuse to win arguements: "I'm a free spirit, so I can't agree with that." Oh, well.

Finally (for this outing) what are all those people who select "Other" in the employment category doing for a living? Are they waiting for their eBay businesses to take off so they won't have to look for a job?
Copyright 2008, Michael A. Banks

Monday, September 29, 2008

Creating Wealth Books

Hey--what happens to all the "creating wealth" books, now that the system on which they feed is crashing?

The authors will do okay; unlike the people who read their books, they at least have produced something tangible for a return. But most of the readers of most of these books (a majority of a majority, yes) aren't going to rake in shit, because they are trying to do as the books tell them to do: get paid without producing shit, without even thinking. (Hm ... they're not even thinking.) And people will continue buying them until the inertia of hope runs out.

Without apologies--I've heard too many self-styled "entrepreneurs" claiming they're going to make a fortune through smoke, mirrors, and bullshit. (Most of them tap trust funds.) They actually believed this gravy train would continue forever. They might as well try talking to the dead.

When the aforementioned inertia of hope is gone, I think we'll see an upsurge in self-help books as those who were coasting along on fantasies desperately seek a new magic trick.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shell-Shocked Ain't PTSD

I was considering just posting some quotes from reviews for On the Way to the Web today, but that's too easy. I'll do it later. For now, I'll just repeat that it's a book that had to be written.

Most of you are familiar with the late George Carlin's monolog about adding words and syllables to terms to make them more impressive. Or, in the case of something negative, to make it easier to take. Shell shock from WWI became battle fatigue in WWII. Two syllables to four syllables and it sounds like something not so bad. Rather than *SHOCKED!* by the screaming shells and explosions, bullets, and terror everywhere, the victim is just a little fatigued. (Not likely.)

In the 1960s, we all became more conscious (of lots of things) and near the end of the decade Vietnam vets no longer came home with battle fatigue, but post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Wow: seven syllables. A term that long must be helpful. Wrong, damnit--it was still shell shock, no matter what the name given it. And it is serious. I think the terminology often gets in the way of treatment.

The same gag was pulled on women who get beat up by their husbands. No longer were they battered wives; they were diagosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome, as if that would make the ongoing nightmare a bit easier to handle, somehow milder. And the politically correct crowd no longer had to deal with the shock of the harsh terminology of battered wives.

Some things need to be called what they are, so that they aren't glossed over and set aside because they don't sound bad. They need to be dragged out where everyone can see what's going on, instead of tagged with something hip like PTSD.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Crosley Now in Paperback

Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation, written by Michael A. Banks is now available in paperback, for those of you who found the hardcover price a bit steep. You can get a copy by clicking here or on the title or image above. As I write this, the price is $10.85 (plus shipping) at

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What's in Blogging Heroes and On the Way to the Web?

Sales of my two most recent titles appeara to be on the upswing after dipping for several weeks. I think quite a few people are discovering Blogging Heroes on their own, separate from mention on blogs and in reviews--which is to say that I see no driving force behind sales at the moment. I believe it's doing well as a Kindle title, too.

Reviews of On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders have yet to appear, except at Amazon. The most recent review, by Joe Enos, tells me that I'm reaching those who are newer to the online world. Among other things, Joe says:

"My own personal experience with online services began in the mid 90's, so I missed out on quite a bit of the excitement. I used Prodigy, and had heard of America Online and CompuServe, but really didn't understand the events leading up to the information superhighway. My goal in reading this book was to understand some of the things I missed out on, and to get a better picture of how the web really got started."

Those who were online in the 1980s likewise find the book of interest, as this excerpt from a review by Thomas Duff ("Duffbert") shows:

"It's far too easy to forget exactly what led us up to the place we are today when it comes to instantaneous communication via the web. This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed, and it brought back fond memories of my initial fascination with online activities."

The title of course doesn't tell you that the book includes histories of CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, GEnie and all the other consumer online services--plus info and email services like Dialog and Dialmail and Telemail. But it's impossible to pack all that info into a title or subtitle, so my hope is that people infer the fact that the book is a complete history of the online world from the title. It includes the consumer and commercial online services because they were, for all practical purposes, they were the Internet in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. If that doesn't make sense, read the book to see what I'm talking about.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Men and Women ... Different?

There are still people who argue that men and women are largely the same. Evidence suggests otherwise. Like, men have more upper body strength than women. Generally speaking, that is; I know women with big, square shoulders (like those!) who have lots of upper body strength.

But there are three things I've observed that prove women are different. I've never seen these vary:

1. Given the same distasteful job to do (with the same pay) women jump in and get the job done, while men complain, look for a reason the job doesn't need to be done, or try to figure out a way to get someone else to do it before going ahead and doing the job.

2. Put a man and a woman in a room or an automobile and without warning turn on a radio or CD player at far too high a volume. The man will always attempt to adjust the sound; the woman will turn the unit OFF right now.

3. Watch men and women approach the deli in a supermarket. Men will be eyeing the merchandise. Women will look at the "On Sale" signs.

I'm sure there are individual exceptions, but I've never seen any. Interesting to speculate on why these reactions are as they are ... and it doesn't mean they can't be equal.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Power Outage, Hot-Water Heat, and Dialogue

Hot-water heating systems have a nice advantage over electric baseboard heat: they can't overheat and start fires. They're at a disadvantage with forced-air systems because if you install a hot-water system you'll have to do a separate setup of ducts and so on for A/C--or use window units. There are cost differences, too, but those can change overnight. Still, considering the fact that hot-water systems store heat ...

I experienced a secondary advantage of the hot-water system storing heat when the six-day power outage hit: we had hot water for showers for five days. Wonderful!

And during the power outage (here's the transition to dialogue) I spent nearly all my time reading, mainly by candlelight. I read two Elizabeth George novels that I highly recommend: With No One as Witness and What Came Before He Shot Her. The books over decent writing, good storytelling, and an interesting relationship. What Came Before He Shot Her is a sequel of sorts to With No One as Witness in that it tells the story behind the murder in With No One As Witness, from the viewpoint of the murderer.

In the preceding message I noted that I had a problem with George's dialogue technique. I also have some difficulty as a reader with her phonetic presentation of dialect. As in "I know what yer talkin' 'bout--dat's not de problem. (As with the preceding message examples, this is not direct from either of the books.) One approach to showing characters speaking in dialect is to use just a few lines of phonetic dialect the first time they show up. After that, the reader "hears" the dialect every time the character is on the stage.

Another approach goes like this. "I'm not the kind of person you're talking about," he said, dropping the g at the end of talking, and saying 'bout rather than about, as was the way of the neighborhood.

To use phonetic dialogue over and over and over and over is beating the reader over the head wid it (excuse me: with it). The technique really wowed Mark Twain's readers, but today having to plod through phonetic spelling really slows down the reader.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

6-Day Power Outage (and Dialogue)

Last week was really interesting: six days without electricity. I'm really thankful that it was not hot and muggy, as is usually the situation in southwestern Ohio at this time of year. The power was knocked out by the extremely power wind storm that hit the Midwest in the aftermath of hurricane Ike. (I've not experienced winds like this since I was in the middle of an F5 tornado in 1967.)

My Acer laptop was good for about 90 minutes, fully charged. So I spent the evenings (and most of the days) reading, mostly by candlight. Burning two 79-cent candles for four hours is just a bit cheaper than batteries, but I used both candles and battery-powered flashlights at different times. (Tip: When you're forced to use candles, set up a white backdrop behind them, to reflect light onto your reading material.)
During the reading marathon, I finished off two of Elizabeth George's longer books: With No One as Witness and What Came Before He Shot Her. (The latter is in sequel to the former, written to show what led up to the main event in the former. Excellent idea.) Both good stories, but I was bothered by some of George's technique, perhaps because I was paying closer attention with nothing else going on while I was reading, and no real breaks. What bothered me was her dialogue technique: she uses 'way too much dialogue out of quotes and summary dialogue (as opposed to direct quotes, with quotation marks).
Examples (not quoted from the book):
"Do you have a candle?" Megan asked.
He pulled one out of his coat pocket and informed her that he had a few. Even though he gave her one, he noted that he didn't really want to give the taper to her.
She asked, do you have a candle?
A few, he replied. Producing one from his coat pocket, he added I don't really want to give you this, but I will.
Or, as one of her chracters might say, "Summat like that." She doesn't do this in her earlier work, which reads better because of it. It's nice to experiment, but guess I'm old-fashioned because as a reader and editor I'd rather see more conventional dialogue technique. But I do recommend both books.
Check back tomorrow for more adventures without electricity, and another commentary on writing technique.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Writing is Like Prostitution?

There's an old saying that makes the rounds from time to time. It goes like this: "Writing is like prostitution: First you do it for fun, then you do it for a few friends, and then you do it for money."

That's pretty much true--and both writing and prostitution can be creative.

But there is one way in which writing is definitely not like prostitution: Prostitutes don't do it for free!
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Legislate Oil Prices?

I can think of several thousand reasons why this idea is impractical in the real world, but ... any government that can dictate the actions of aircraft owned and operated by citizens and corporations of other sovereign nations (i.e., "You can't smoke on your airplane because we say so.") is certainly capable of dictating that no American-owned (in whole or in part) corporation, individual, or other entity pay more than $50 for a barrel of crude oil.

If (and that's a big "if") the United States government passed and enforced such a law, Americans would face immense shortages in the short term, but I do not believe that China and other nations can replace the market lost when oil producers are no longer selling to the United States. Hence, oil producers would eventually give in to the lower prices in the long run--and grant them to other markets. Better to take less per unit than sell no units at all.

And they would still be making fortunes daily.

Again, there are several thousand reasons this is impractical--individuals, corporations, and other entities who have an interest in oil prices remaining high. If, however, we could get China to do the same, it might actually succeed.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Writing for the Reader, Tip #1

In the past half-dozen years I've noticed a tendency among those who mistake lengthy words for wisdom to overuse "preventative" as an adjective and as a noun. Really, saying or writing "Caution is a preventative measure" doesn't make the speaker or writer seem any more intelligent than "Caution is a preventive measure." I always assume (no doubt wrongly in some instances) that people who use the long form are trying to sound intelligent.

You'll come off as more intelligent if you use shorter words; they help readers get at your concepts faster.
--Mike http://www.michaelabanks.com4

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Too Many Secret Histories?

Joshua Glenn wrote an interesting bit in the Braniac column in the Boston Globe a while back. It's titled "A brief history of secret histories," and in it he talks about several books with The Secrert History of ___ in their titles. The Secret History of Moscow, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and even On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders.

Glenn traces the origin of The Secret History in titles, and notes that secret histories are a dime a dozen. That's true

The only thing he missed is that naturally, once a Secret History is published, it's no longer a secret. Should the titles of subsequent editions be changed? The Secret History of Mosdow then becomes The History of Moscow ... but those four words standing alone just don't have the same ring. Descriptive, yes, but alluring, no. Still, "secret" has been used often enough to blunt its effect. So writers and editors will have to come up with another adjective soon. I think "Confidential" is starting to lose its attention-getting power (I had one titled PC Confidential back in 2000). Ditto "hidden," and definitely "... don't want you to know."

Especially "... don't want you to know." Like, "the selling secrets eBay doesn't want you to know?" (A line used by a spammer.) Right--eBay really doesn't want its sellers to sell more for higher prices. Not a chance!

Monday, September 01, 2008

John Dvorak and Orson Scott Card on the Way to the Web

I'm beginning to get some feedback for On the Way to the Web, and I'm pleased to be able to say that the readers get my intent in writing the book. They recognize that OTWTTW is not another Stealing Time or It's not focused on the power and majesty and internal rot at AOL and Time Warner. Nor is it another Where Wizards Stay Up Late, which is limited to the early story of computer networks, and has overmuch focus on the technical elements. That's all good, but it's not reading for those who want the overall story of how we got from lining mainframes to dialing up the world with our home computres. I recommend it, however.As for what On the Way to the Web is, John Dvorak described the book's intent well when he wrote, "As someone who has been involved in the telecom scene since 1978 I have always feared that much of the wild history during the Hayes-modem era would be lost. Michael Banks to the rescue. This fascinating book is a must have for any student of the techology scene."

Writing in the book's Foreword, Orson Scott Card summed it the storyline thus: "This is a thorough, entertaining, informative, useful history of how our world was transformed during my adult life"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Different Kind of Owner Manual

Those of you who do your own automobile maintenance--or heavy repair and restoration--know the Haynes manuals. They're the most popular of their type, covering nearly every kind of car you can buy in the U.S. or U.K. Haynes manuals are nothing like the old Motors Auto Repair manuals, which were far more detailed and used photos of every step in a procedure (yes, they were huge), but the do offer substantial help when you're dealing with something new to you.

Well, after decades of publishing automotive how-to books, Haynes has shifted to a more social realm. As shown above, it's now possible to buy a Haynes guide to sex. It's titled SEX: 16 Years Onwards, All Models, Shapes, Sizes and Colours., and branded a "Haynes Owners Workshop Manual."

It sounds like a Mad Magazine spoof, but this is for real, an alternative to the "For Dummies" books. SEX is part of a series, which includes Child, Man, Woman (with the word Owners crossed out in the brand), HGV Man, Baby, Toddler, Cancer, and other health issues. (And just for fun and fascination, there's a Hayes Owners Workshop Manual for the Supermarine Spitfire. Definitely different.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blogging Heroes Mini-Book Published for BlogHer 2008

It is always nice when a publisher comes up with a promotion for your book. It means they're behind the book and willing to put resources into it. It's a grand compliment, and usually means increased sales.

John Wiley & Sons did this with Blogging Heroes recently. The marketing department created a 50-page mini-book containing inteviews with several of the women bloggers, to give away at the annual BlogHer conference. BlogHer is the community for women who blog, and this year's conference was held July 18-20 in San Franciso. In 2009 Blogher will be held in Philadelphia, Portland, or St. Louis. Check the Blogher Web site for more information.

The mini-book is titled blogher Heroes!, and features superhero comic book-style cover art. Very nice. The interviews are with Gini Trapani of Lifehacker, Auctionbytes' Ina Steiner, Mary Jo Foley of All About Microsoft fame, Editor Rebecca Lieb from Clickz, Deidre Wollard of Luxist, and Mel, who is the force behind Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters.
Mel's interview is one that isn't in the original Blogging Heroes. She was the winner of the "Who's Your BlogHer Hero" contest judged by Chris Brogan, Susan Etlinger, Ina Steiner, Jason Marcuson, Denise Tauton, and Ashley Zurcher. As Mel describes it, SQSPJ is a blog about fertility and pregnancy loss, an exploration of adoption and donor gametes," and more. It is immensely popular as an information source, an emotional outlet, source of support, and, as Mel so colorfuly puts it, "a bitch session about daily life and books."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Will Online Promotion Make Your Book a Bestseller?

I feel a little overwhelmed when I read advice about book promotion. The major theme nowadays is that authors must get online and blog, twitter, post and do everything else possible to get their books in the minds of Web users.

It's not a bad idea, but what is the net result? A few million writers and would-be writers trying to get reader attention, creating an amorphous buzz in which it is difficult to stand out. For some interesting thoughts along the same lines, see this post at

The online element should make up less than half of your promotional effort. Sure, it's easy to do, and sure, all the books and bloggers say you'll have a bestseller if you will just post and twit until your fingers are numb. Unfortunately, the truth is that it is possible to post (or copy and paste) 500,000 words of promo and still not sell 1,000 books.
Stephen King, the late Octavia Butler, Janet Evanovich, Harold Evans, and so many other novelists and non-fiction writers didn't and do not now conduct campaigns to sell books. Yes, their names often sell their books, and some of them use the Web to promote, but they didn't get where they are today because of the Web. They got started before the Web existed; ergo, social networking or social marketing is not a requirement for a bestseller. If posting on hundreds or thousands of Web sites will make a book a bestseller, why doesn't every author have bestsellers?

Some things catch on, and some don't. That's why you need a multi-pronged approach. And the Web may actually be less effective than most folks imagine, simply because there are so many people trying to get attention. When radio was new, it was possible to buy ads and sell anything almost automatically--to millions. Then thousands of merchants and manufacturers were advertising, and each advertiser got proportinally less attention. The same thing happened with television, and is happening on the Web. There are still a few unique venues whose fans buy anything promoted--television programs like Oprah and Lost, which have enormous cult-like followings--but just being on television doesn't guarantee you'll sell. There's more to it than just being there.

In the same way, getting exposure the Web at large is not like being mentioned on Oprah; if you're lucky, or have a brand name, or hit at the right time and place, and the planets align in a certain pattern, Web promotions can work. But there's no guarantee, so extend your book promotion beyond the Web.
As for how you do that ... see future postings.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Loudest Shirt I've Ever Seen

Saw it at a yard sale, bought it and wore it one time, for a radio appearance. (Gary Burbank and me in photo.)
I think it clashes with itself, but it could be appropriate garb for a science fiction convention.

Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV, delayed

Originally scheduled for October, Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV has been delayed. The idea is to have a longer selling season. I finished writing the book just weeks ago, and the publisher wants more time to work on editing and production. So, it will be out in time for her day, Mother's Day.