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.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Blogging Heroes in Traslation: Korean 블로즈 히어로즈

Today I received copies of Blogging Heroes in Korean, as published by acornLoft Publishing. If you read Korean characters, you can read all about it at the acornLoft Web page for the book. The title is 블로즈 히어로즈 .

This makes 11 languages (including English) in which my books have been published.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Read-Only Internet

If newspapers and magazines were as easily accessible in hardcopy as the Internet, we'd have to call them, collectively, the read-only Internet.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Monday, August 18, 2008

Remember Prodigy?

In 1987, Sears and IBM announced that they would open an online service! Wow--that would surely mainstream the online world. Millions of new compter owners would get online. Prices would drop, intersystem email would grow, and we wouldn't have to answer questions like "What's a modem?" or "What's email?"

At least, that's what those of us already online with CompuServe, DELPHI, AOL, GEnie, and other services figured or at least hoped would be the result of these corporate giants going online.

It didn't quite happen that way. Prodigy managed to enrage most of its members by raising prices (they should never have promised unlimited free email and chat) and policing its bulletin boards, among other things. And you had to use their proprietary software (which eventually led to a fake scandal over Prodigy reading everyone's hard drives). And so forth.

The outfit managed to outrage and insult those who weren't members, as well. When Prodigy claimed to be the first online service in 1988, it was bad enough (as if CompuServe, DELPHI, AOL, et al, had never existed). But then in 1999 Prodigy claimed that it had invented the Internet ten years earlier!

What to see the rest of the story? It's in On the Way to the Web: the Secret History of the Internet and its Founders.What to see the rest of the story? It's in On the Way to the Web: the Secret History of the Internet and its Founders.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"My Granddaughter Will be Crushed if You Don't Buy This Story!"

Back when I was Associate Editor of Baen Books' New Destinies, I waded through hundreds of pounds of slush. Some were notably bad. Most were unmemorable. But a few I sent on to the top for final consideration, along with recommendations--"buy this," "needs rewitten--the dialogue is aswfull," and so forth.

It's been a long enough time that I really don't recall much about the stories. But some of the cover letters acommpanying submissions really stand out in memory. The letter from the grandmother of a 13 year-old, for example: "Please take a careful look at the enclosed short story by my grandaughter. She is only 13, but her English said this is the best writing she has ever seen, even from much older students. My grandaughter will be crushed if you don't buy this story! " And so on.

The manuscript read well--proper grammar and spelling--but neither the writing style nor the characters were mature, which is to say the story was typical of what a 13 year-old might write. I returned it to the author with a list of books she might read to help her improve her writing.

The funny thing about this was that another editor told me I would get this letter. Not from this particular woman, but he told me that, sooner or later, I would a "grandmother letter." He'd seen a bunch of them--sometimes it was a mother or father or aunt, but more often than not it was a grandmother.

Consider this a cautionary tale; don't let anyone get between your work and an editor. For that matter, don't get in the way of your work, yourself. How could you do that? One (bad) approach is to try to sell the story with a cover letter. Every fiction editor suffers submissions in which the author tries to describe why the story is great and must be published. That's more than useless, and annoying; like poetry, a short story has to stand on its own.
(To be continued)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quotable Quotes From Blogging Heroes...

"I do my best thinking via my blogs." --Chris Anderson, the The Long Tail

"For me, the future of journalism is blogging." --Mary Jo Foley, All About Microsoft

"When I look out on the blogosphere, I don't see lots of inconsequential blogs. I see lots of possibility." --Gina Trapani, Lifehacker.

Don't write anything in a blog that you wouldn't say face-to-face." --Scott McNulty, The Unoffical Apple Weblog

"One of the true beauties and powers of blogs is that they caan give voice to people who are not heard." --Frank Warren, PostSecret

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Are "Many" and "Most" Used too Often?

(Note: I originally posted the following in response to this post at The Long Tail blog.)
"Many" and "most" are among the most over-used words in the English language. Some readers glaze on past these words, assigning neither any meaning. Depending on the context and the reader, some readers take "many" to mean most.

"A large number of" and "the majority" are overused, as well, as they are used to avoid repeating "many" or "most" within paragraphs. The better approach for the writer or speaker is to seek out definite percentages, numbers, or proportions. Even better is to avoid writing oneself into the position of having to use one of the imprecise terms or a synonymous word or phrase. Writers would do well to search manuscripts for occurrences of "many" and "most," and then go back and write them out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

George Owell on Using the English Language

Here's a pleasant and useful essay about writing: "Politics and the English Language," by George Orwell, in which he notes that '... any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism ..." Thanks to The Eonomist.)

Why Frank Warren Started PostSecret

Ever wonder why Frank Warren started, which led to several bestselling books? This excerpt from his interview in Blogging Heroes addresses the question:

An Accidental Artist
“I think of blogs in the highest sense as a virtual community that you can grow and nurture,” Frank Warren says. “I think they’re creating the opportunities for new kinds of conversations—conversations that can offer healing, that can offer a greater spiritual sense for us, that can offer wisdom or learning. I really feel as though these new modes of communication, and these new kinds of conversations, can uncover hidden elements of our common humanity. Or, perhaps, truth or humor or art in places where we don’t normally look for those things. And I find that very exciting.”

Q. PostSecret started as a physical display, a community art exhibit. Why put it into a Blog?

A. I like to show the immediacy of secrets. When I put secrets on the blog they are living secrets. When you visit the blog and read a secret, you know that somebody is carrying that burden or dealing with that issue in real time, at that moment. I think that shares the secrets in a special way that’s medium-dependent.

Another thing PostSecret and the web environment provide is the opportunity for me to explore something more in my life. I feel like I am finding a greater sense of purpose or meaning in being able to help facilitate this community. That’s why, when I talk to people about blogging, I talk about how it’s about passion, about finding something you want to share with other people, and maybe just get more familiar with yourself.
From Blogging Heroes, Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks, published by John Wiley & Sons

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Really the Wrong "Guy"

Here's an interesting blooper, from 2006: A reporter on the BBC's News 24 Channel interviews the wrong person. The fellow in the first image is a guy named Guy Goma. But the interviewer thinks he is Guy Kewney, noted international computing and business journalist shown in the photo on the right. (Check out Guy Kewney at

Have a look at the video--suprise, fear, and humor flash across Guy Goma's face as he realizes the've mistaken him for someone else. But he quickly recovers and snows the reporter and probably a lot of viewers.

Guy Goma was waiting in a reception room to be called to interview for a job in IT. Guy Kewney was waiting in another area, the "green room." The producer went to the wrong room,, asked for "Guy" and got the wrong guy. Unfortunately, Goma didn't get the job. They shouldn't have let someone who is this cool in a crisis get away!

Monday, August 11, 2008

On the Way to the Web Available as eBook

If you don't want to wait for On the Way to the Web in hardcover book form, you can buy it as an eBook from the publisher, APress. Here's the URL:


I Got Googled!

Last week I wrote about how the Google Street View photograph vehicles had made it up here--to farthest Oxford, Ohio--from Cincinnati. But they'd only done a few streets.

Today, I saw one of them flashing by on Tollgate Drive as I was waiting to turn onto it from Erin. And it did flash by; it was doing at least 40 in 25-mph zone. I thought about catching up with the driver after he turned to shoot a dead-end street, so I could tell him where to watch for speed traps, but I was in a hurry to get to WalMart. (There was no other traffic, as is common in that quiet residential zone.)
The vehicle was a late-model GM SUV, black and with darkly tinted windows (as I've read all the Googlemobiles have). Mounted on the top, just over the second-seat level, was a turrett about 15 inches across, with glass or plastic windows set into it. I think of this as "Mark I," as I've seen photos of other cars thus equipped, but the latest GVs have small towers on top. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera, but I'm keeping it in the car from now on.

Interestingly, I saw the Googlemobile again on my way back from WalMartia, photograph more streets on this side of town. It will be interesting to see whether I'm in the Street View photo of that intersection ... and to see my home there, too.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Research Resource

I've written here and elsewhere about several unconventional research toold for writers, including eBay and Here's another: YouTube. If you need background on an institution, a particular city, a building style, a celebrity, or any of endless other subjects, there's a good [possibility someone has produced a video having to do with it--and uploaded it to YouTube. I found several useful videos there when I was writing On the Way to the Web and Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Invented Talk TV.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Top 10 Things NOT to Do with Google Street View

Some of you have discovered Google Street View. It's a function of Google Maps at . (The reduced image to the left is looking up my street, Erin Drive, from from West Chestnut)

I can think of quite a few applications for Google Street View, and have in fact used it in writing Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Invented Talk TV (out in October). I took tours of Ruth Lyons' old neighborhood, which I'd visited before, to confirm my memories. I also found most of the houses and apartments she'd lived in in Street View, and all of them with the satellite view.

Google Street View can be an important research tool for writers. When you put your mind to it, you'll probably think of quite a few ways to use it to save time and money, over traveling to a given location.

But what do you want to avoid with Street View? Well, Alex Kidman at Australian PC Magazine suggests that the trail Google Street View leaves on your system might get you arrested for stalking (I say "intent to stalk," since it's virtual). He's compiled a list of such times, titled The Top Ten Things NOT to Do with Google Street View. Click the title to have a look!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


It's said that if you go back far enough, everyone is related. The same is true of quite a few products and services
Does anyone recognize the screen at the far left? It's AOL version 1.0 for PCs, based on the GeoWorks operating system. The use of GEOS is one reason for all the gray, and why it's otherwise a bit different from AOL's immediate predecessor, AppleLink.
If you trace things back two more generations, you find that AOL is related to GEnie, of all things! How? It's in my most recent book, On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders.

Monday, August 04, 2008

On the Way to the Web Now Available!

My newest book, On the Way to the Web: the Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders, is now available at and in bookstores. (Yes, "the Secret History ..." will not be secret for long.)

Published by APress, On the Way to the Web is the complete story of the online world before the Web. If you want to meet the people and get the real stories behind CompuServe, AOL, GEnie, The Source, Prodigy, DELPHI, BIX, and AOL, this is the book! The birth and evolution of ARPANET is detailed (did you know that ARPANET's packet-switching technology first went public with Telenet?) Chapters examine dialup BBSs, Web crazies, and the three online services that were AOL's ancestors. The book goes back to the earliest commercial online services, beginning in 1962.

This is not another "Hail Steve Case" book. Nor does it focus on Time Warner. And you won't have to wade through explainations of Quadrature Amplitude Modulation and serial port pin assignments. What it is, is the inside story of how we got online, written for the non-technical reader (though geeks will have fun in these pages, too.) Find out how AOL and GEnie are related. Learn what Nifty-SERVE is. Meet the con man who was behind one of the first big online services for microcomputers. See the first online GUI for personal computers (and it's not AOL!) Read all about the nationwide wireless computer network that was operating in 1978--the first Internet. Learn about online services overseas, including those in Russia, France, the U.K., Japan and more in On the Way to the Web.

I will be posting some excepts and addenda to the book here and on a special Web site over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Three Books in 10 Months

With any luck come October, I will have had three books published in less than a year. This is something I haven't done since the beginning of the 1990s. It's fun after the fact, and friends make jokes about the "Banks Book of the Month Club."
I hear of other writers doing books really fast. Michael Crichton says he writers a book in six weeks, leaving New York to live in a Florida condo while writing. (The last two times I went to Florida, I think I wrote a total of 8 days out of five weeks. (Distractions, distractions ...) Jack Nimmersheim wrote one of his computer books in one week, back in the 1980s. Harry Turtledove is cranking out 500-page novels so quickly I can't count them.
I have written a few books in 12 or 14 weeks, so I suppose I shouldn't be impressed. Those were computer books, which often come with a lot of pressure because someone's changing the product while you're writing, and you have to go back and rewrite, and the publisher wants to know if you can get the book in a little early. At the other end of that, Dean Lambe and I drifted along for 11 months writing the science fiction novel The Odyesses Solution, which proves my contention that collaborations take longer than solo work. And it took me 20 months to write my first book. The editor and I agreed that it took that long because the person I had been when I started it couldn't have written the book--something like that.
Anyway never again (which is probably what I said last time). What am I writing next? Well, I have this novel I've been writing off and on for several years ... but there's a new novel bugging me ... and I have an offer for a biography. But it comes such a tiny advance that I can't afford to write it this year. So, I'll have to come up with something new.

This what Happens When You Write Two Books in Six Months

Okay ... so writing two books in six months does indeed eat up all available time. (Unless you do a half-assed job, which I did not.) I'd forgotten that, as the last time I wrote two books simultaneously was in 1989.

Of course, spending 2-1/2 weeks in Florida during the same time period set me back a bit--though I did get in two relevant interviews while there. And the fact that the subjects had nothing to do with one another made certain there would be no doubling-up (used to do that on the GM assembly line, though).

Now the office is worse than usual, which is why I've been writing with my laptop in other rooms, and outdoors. Let's see ... the desk has 9 books on it, the printer 4. I'm afraid to count the number of books on the floor. The floor also hosts a variety of CDs, boxes filled with paper, and a pillow. My bookshelves are in disarray, with broadcast history, business bios, Cincinnati history, and aviation history all mixed together. The desk is obscured by irrelevant stuff, including Febreze air freshener, Windex, two bottles of water, CDs, cables, a VOM meter, a lot of small change, batteries, photos, and hundreds of pieces of paper. Not to mention a digital recorder, hairbrush, memory chips, and the computer equipment. This is going to take some time ...