My Book, Your Cover: The Perils of Self-Publishing

Ride Lake Superior as it should be, on the right, and with someone else's cover on the left.

Ride Lake Superior as it should be, on the right, and with someone else’s cover on the left.

Last week, I opened up a carton of my latest book, Ride Lake Superior, and began packing books into a suitcase to take to the Twin Cities Book Festival. As I dug into one of the stacks, I came across a book that didn’t quite belong to me. It had my words, but someone else’s cover. I emailed the author of the other book to let him know that he may have had a similar mis-match. He thanked me and said he’d check his shipment. I contacted CreateSpace and they sent me a new, correct copy. Such are the perils of self-publishing.

I got into self-publishing because I had an idea for a book, but it didn’t seem like the kind of a book that traditional publishers would take a chance on. I had had books published before. I received a $1 royalty for every book sold. If I published the book myself, I’d be able to keep more of the profits (if there were any). That’s how Ride Minnesota: 23 Great Motorcycle Rides in the North Star State came about.

There are a lot of companies now that help you publish your own book. They offer complete services, including editing, cover and interior design and printing. All operate differently. There are local companies here in Minneapolis. I chose to go with CreateSpace, a division of Amazon, because I didn’t have to order a truckload of books. The books are printed on demand, so I can order one copy or 100. I’ve also been able to set up a distribution network so that  my books are shipped directly to Harley-Davidson dealers around the state, the invoices sent to me, and I add my upcharge to them and take my profit.

One of the hardest things about book publishing is the design of the book. I didn’t want a generic cover. I turned to a designer with whom I’ve worked for several years, Lisa Marek of Fat Cat Art Studio. She helped me get the look and feel that I wanted for Ride Minnesota, Ride Lake Superior and An Anniversary to Remember.

I trusted CreateSpace for the interior design of Ride Minnesota. I still cringe at the incredibly poor typography. So I turned the guts of Anniversary and Superior over to Lisa, too. It’s been a learning process for both of us.

I learned something from the mis-matched cover: I don’t like the feel of the matte cover. Glad I stuck with glossy.


The Case of the Disappearing Client

We had such a good relationship at the start. She wanted a writer whose hand she didn’t need to hold. Someone she could give an assignment to on short notice, who could come through in  a pinch and deliver crisp copy at just the right length that needed no editing. Though the pay wasn’t great, the work was fun and the checks came quickly, as promised.

I even went the extra mile and provided photos for the story, even though she didn’t ask for them and certainly didn’t pay for them.

Everything went great for the first four months. And then I had to start to bug her for writing assignments. “Oh, I’ve been so busy,” she said. And I believed her, because she was expanding her business. But she’d come up with a couple of subjects and off I’d go in pursuit of a new and interesting topic.

Then I had to start bugging her about paying her bills. I sent reminder notices. I sent them again. I sent emails. I called and left messages. I got hold of her about a week ago and she said she was sure she had paid the bills and was checking her accounts. I’ve heard nothing since.

I drove to her office the other day. It was dark. Her cell phone is disconnected and an answering machine picks up calls on the landline. I’m not going to name names. If she’s reading this, she knows who she is. She doesn’t owe me a ton of money, but I may never receive payment for the work I did. Such is the life of a freelance writer.

This is not the first time I’ve been stiffed as a freelancer. And it probably won’t be the last. I’d be willing to work out a payment plan, if she would only communicate with me. In the end, all I want is a little respect. I met your insane deadlines. Kindly pay me what you owe me.

Learning the Language

I’ve been working on contract lately at DecoPac in Anoka. They’re the largest supplier of plastic doo-dads and other cake-related items in North America. I’ve been writing copy for, which is the site they use to reach bakers at Target, Costco, and Wal-Mart, to drop a few names. Describing 8,000-odd products is not easy, especially when many are alike and you have to make them sound different so Google doesn’t “kick them out.” Fortunately, I had a leg up on this assignment. For more than 20 years, I freelanced a newsletter for the bakery division of Wakefern Food Corp. in New Jersey. I already knew the language!

Knowing — or learning — the “language” of the company you’re writing for is crucial. Every industry has its own argot, and if you want to communicate with customers you’d better know and understand what you’re talking about. It’s been 15 years since I left Liberty Diversified Industries, but I can still tell you what the doublebacker on a corrugator does. (It puts the top sheet of paper on a piece of corrugated cardboard, or just plain “corrugated” in industry parlance.)

Another example: Want to get to the top of a grain elevator? Put your foot on a moving step as it comes by and ride the “manlift.” It’s really a vertical conveyor belt in an open tube, and I caution you not to look down. The amount of grain that moves through an elevator every year is called its “handle.”

So, I’m fortunate to know what a “rose nail” is, and I’ve learned more about about gum paste and how it’s used in the baking industry. As I complete my assignment at DecoPac, I’ll learn the intricacies of airbrushes.

I don’t know what I’m going to with all these “languages” I’ve acquired. Some day, perhaps they’ll work their way out in a novel in which the hero steps on a rose nail as he puts his foot on the step of a continuously-moving manlift in a grain elevator.

Phishing Season Opens

Talk all you want to about cyber criminals and security breaches. It’s open season on writers, editors and proofreaders. A phishing scam is making the rounds of the Professional Editors Network this morning. A potential “client” has sent an email offering $1,000 for proofreading a 10,000-word work. Nice work if you can get it. If only it were real.

How do I know this offer is a fake? Let me count the ways:

  • “Baba Loke”‘s email is not addressed to me.
  • It’s offering me $1,000 upfront. Nobody ever offers money upfront. And certainly not $1,000. The usual question is, “How much do you charge?”
  • It’s offering me $1,000 before I do any work whatsoever. “Baba” just wants the proofreading done within 30 days after I receive the payment. What a nice guy!
  • If I were to follow up with “Baba” at his spurious Hotmail address, he’d probably tell me that he’s ready to send the money, just send him my banking info.
  • If I were so foolish to hand over this information, I’d get another email saying he’d accidentally sent $11,000 instead of $1,000, and could I please send the extra money back?

This and other phishers really ought to know better than to pick on people who work with words for a living. We’re voracious readers. We know what’s going on in the world. We freelancers may not be the wealthiest people on earth, but we’re not easily fooled. We can read between the lines, “Baba.” Find another pond to phish in.

A good press release is still effective

Move over, Twitter. You may be the new kid on the block, but you’re not the only game in town.  A well-written press release can still grab media attention.

Following is a release I wrote recently for Rick Martinek at MediaMAX Events, one of the “Expo Guys” who produces the Home Improvement and Design Expos and the Healthy Life Expos. One of the radio interviews that resulted is also attached to this post .


Bicyclists Seek to Ignite Border War to End Hunger

Minneapolis to Green Bay Ride Will Raise Money

for Paul’s Pantry and Moms and Neighbors Food Shelves


MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA —  In the fall of 2012, Rick Martinek and his wife, Robin, embarked on a seven-day bicycle trip from Minneapolis to Green Bay, Wisconsin, arriving in time to watch the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Along the way, they gathered donations for a Minnesota charity, Moms and Neighbors.

The Martineks are set to do it again, but they hope to get some interstate competition going along the way. In addition to Moms and Neighbors, the couple plans to accept donations for Wisconsin-based Paul’s Pantry.

The pair – she’s a Packers stockholder and he’s a Minnetonka native and Viking fan – will leave from the site of the old Metrodome in Minneapolis at 9 a.m. on September 8 and plan to arrive at Lambeau Field on Sunday, September 14, at 12 p.m. for the Packers-New York Jets game. The Martineks plan to average about 45 miles per day. They encourage other bikers to join them along the route — or at least the last 18 miles from Pulaski to Green Bay. “Wouldn’t it be magical to have 100 to 1,000 bikers join us for the last stretch up Lombardi Ave.?” says Rick. To join the ride, call him at 952-238-1700.

The Martineks chose to promote Moms and Neighbors and Paul’s Pantry because the organizations work at eliminating hunger and use 100 percent of the money they receive to help the needy. They hope Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry will generate some big donations. To make a pledge, visit or

Moms and Neighbors is an Eagan, Minnesota-based nonprofit organization that works through schools and community organizations to identify mothers and families in need. The organization creates “care packages” of food, clothing, auto repair other needs. Gifts are made anonymously, and 100 percent of the money raised is used to fund the care packages. Since its start in 2009, Moms and Neighbors has proved more than $75,000 in assistance.

Paul’s Pantry was founded in 1984 by the late Leo Frigo, president of Frigo Cheese. The organization collects edible but unsaleable foods from businesses and distributes it to Wisconsin residents who need it. More than 93,000 volunteer hours were recorded at the food shelf last year; more than 60,000 hours were donated by recipients who, in turn, gave their time at the food shelf.

The Martineks will be available for interviews anywhere along the route. Call (612)875-7372.

To view a documentary of their 2012 trip, visit


Contact me when you’re ready for some tried-and-true PR help.

The Care and Feeding of a Contract Employee

As a result of the recent Supreme Court ruling on Harris v. Quinn, part-time and nontraditional government employees, such as home health care workers, won’t be forced to pay into unions as a condition of their employment. I temped for the State of Minnesota a few years ago and had to pay union dues for a three-month assignment. I wonder, now, if this ruling had been in effect at that time, if I would have had to give up those $8 payments to a union that seemed ridiculous to join for just 90 days.

As I was pondering this, the subject of independent contractors came up during a radio talk show. The person being interviewed commented that the millenial generation doesn’t trust unions. Many of them work as independent contractors. As an independent contractor myself, I have sometimes thought a union might be useful in insuring that certain worker standards are met. If I could write a contract, it might include:

1. Employers will have a workstation equipped and ready to go for a new contractor on his or her first day of work.  I once worked at a large Twin Cities manufacturer/retailer to cover a six-month maternity leave.  The employer knew my starting date, yet there was no workstation, no computer. I was told to sit at a station in another department, on another floor. I basically twiddled my thumbs for a week and got paid. I kid thee not.

2. Employers will have a clear idea of the work the contractor is to perform and will supervise the work flow. You should determine who does what before the contractor arrives. The work assignment should be ready to be worked on. Don’t make the contractor wish he or she had stayed home and worked on something else. A waste of my time is a waste of your money.

3. Employers will communicate directly with the contractor. At one employer, all communication was done through email, even with the person who sat three feet across the aisle from me. Contractors are human, too. A little face time  is good for both of us.

4. Employers will be upfront about the end of an assignment or about job openings in the company. Don’t string a contractor along until the last minute. If you know an assignment is coming to an end sooner than expected, or will extend another month, let the contractor know so she or he can plan or look for other work. It’s a small courtesy that will be much appreciated.

5. Employers should invite contractors to events. Okay, probably not the big two-day corporate rally. But an extra plate at the company picnic won’t cost you much and will put you, the employer, in a more human light. After all, contractors like to eat, too.

Is your group needing an editor, LinkedIn?

The subject line on an email from Linked Minnesota makes me want to grab a red pen and scribble all over my computer screen. “Is your business needing Office 365?” it asks. 

Whatever happened to writing — or talking, for that matter — in the active voice? We’ve become a nation of passive talkers and writers. The results is flabby writing. You hear it all the time in newscasts. “The city council is meeting to discuss the latest light rail proposal” instead of the “The city council discusses”.  

Print media is susceptible to this creeping passivity, too. Here’s a headline from today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Guerrier going to be called up.”  I can (sort of) excuse the headline writer. There’s an art to making headlines fit a certain amount of space, and the passive headline fits better than “Twins call up Guerrier.”

But writer LaVelle E. Neall III makes it worse with his first sentence: “The Twins will select the contract of right-hander Matt Guerrier, as the club was staring at a Thursday deadline to put him on the major league roster or give him the option to leave as a free agent.”  Huh? How about, “Facing a Thursday deadline to put pitcher Matt Guerrier on the major league roster or give him the option to leave as a free agent, the Twins called up the righthander.”?

I was a fresh-out-of-college writer when my editor coworkers burned two ideas into my head. Use short, simple words and write in the active voice.

The post from Linked Minnesota maunders on, mixing tenses within sentences and generally mangling the English language. If you’re needing an editor, call me.