New Social Networking Scam

Another story from my inbox.

Yesterday, the following e-mail message from “Ben” arrived in my e-mail inbox. It had been sent using the contact form on this blog. Here’s the text with the identifying information redacted.

Hi,

My name is Ben and I’m working with the [dedacted TV channel] to help spread the word about their new outdoor photography show, “[redacted name of show].” The second episode airs [redacted date/time] and follows [redacted host name] as he photographs the red rock canyons of the American Southwest.

I came across your wonderful blog and I thought you might be interested in doing a post to let your readers know about the show and help spread the awareness. Any posts that you put up will go up on [dedacted TV channel]‘s Facebook Page and/or their twitter page- so it is a good way to get some publicity for your own site. I also have a copy of [redacted host's name] ‘[redacted host's book]‘ which I could offer out to you for your time.

I’ve put some info about the show, pics, and videos below just to give you some background. If you have any questions or need more information please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Thanks for your time and let me know if you are interested as it would be so great to have your help.

Best,

Ben

What followed was a bunch of links to content in various places that evidently showed off the show. (I admit that I didn’t follow any of them.)

Bryce Canyon DawnI received the message on my iPhone while I was stuck waiting for a tow truck (long story) and, because of that, didn’t really read it carefully. At first, I was flattered. This well-known TV channel had found my blog, liked it, and wanted to work with me on some publicity for their show. This made me feel really good because, as regular visitors here know, I do a lot of photography in red rock country in Arizona and in Utah. It looked as if I were getting a bit of recognition.

But when I got back to my office and re-read the message on my computer screen, I realized that the message was obviously boilerplate. Nowhere did it mention my name, the name of my blog, or any other identifying piece of information that might make me think it was written specifically to me. “Your wonderful blog” could be a nice way to refer to anyone’s online drivel — provided you wanted to make them feel warm and fuzzy about your project.

I’d been duped.

Or almost duped.

I then took a closer look at the domain name on “Ben’s” e-mail address. It wasn’t from that TV channel. I popped the URL into my browser and found myself looking at a Web site for a company claiming to be “social media marketing & publicity specials” that “develop strategies and execute initiatives, which generate conversations & cultivate relationships between brands and publishers.” In other words, they con active members of the social networking community to tweet and blog about their clients.

For free.

Well, the client doesn’t get their services for free. It’s Ben and his company who get the services of the social networking folks for free. Free authoring, free placement of the ads, free “buzz.” Ben and his cohorts just send out boilerplate messages to lure in unsuspecting bloggers who apparently have little else to write about. Along the way, they get these bloggers to look at the content on their clients’ sites, bumping up the hit counter to show immediate results.

I’m wondering how many bloggers fall for this strategy and how many thousands of dollars Ben & Co. rake in weekly by copying and pasting boilerplate messages on the Web.

I composed my response:

Ben,

I’m interested in this, but admit that I’m a bit put off by being ask to write what’s essentially an advertisement and place it on my own blog without compensation. Not quite sure how this would benefit me. A few additional hits to my blog would be nice, but since my blog does not generate any income for me, getting more hits is not really that important to me.

I also wonder how many dozens (or hundreds) of other bloggers you’ve contacted. Your message was very generic and could have been sent to anyone with a “wonderful blog.”

Now if I were offered compensation via exposure for my helicopter charter company (http://www.flyingmair.com/), which specializes in aerial photography over red rock areas such as Sedona and Lake Powell — well that might interest me a bit more.

Or is your message just another bit of spam to get ME to check out this site? So far, it’s a FAIL.

Any interest in making this more appealing to me?

Maria

I’m waiting for a response that likely won’t come. Why should he respond to me when he probably has dozens or hundreds of other bloggers taking the bait?

In the meantime, Ben has indeed given me something to blog about.

MagCloud Offers Free Magazines for iPad Users

Print on demand goes digital for free.

MagCloud Logo

I’ve been using MagCloud for some time now to create marketing material and, for a while, a monthly newsletter about flying around Arizona in a helicopter. It was suggested to me by a reader of my blog and once I saw what it was all about, I ran with it. I’m not the only one. Hundreds of people are releasing monthly or quarterly magazines using MagCloud’s print-on-demand features. Of those, a bunch are also taking advantage of a new feature that makes it possible to automatically publish magazines in an iPad-compatible digital format.

This is a great thing for iPad owners looking for interesting new reading material. There are dozens of beautiful, full-color magazines that you can download for free onto your iPad. All you need is the MagCloud iPad app, which is also free from the iPad App Store.

MagCloud Magazine StoreHere’s how it works.

  1. Download the app and install it on your iPad.
  2. Open the app and use it to visit MacCloud’s Magazine Store.
  3. Browse by topic or search for a specific title.
  4. Tap a magazine you want. It’s downloaded to your iPad.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as desired to download multiple magazines. They’ll appear in the My Magazines screen.
  6. Landscape ViewTap a downloaded magazine to read it. In portrait mode, it appears as a single page. In landscape mode, it appears as a spread. You can pinch and drag to magnify and scroll.

MagCloud is an excellent print-on-demand publisher for magazine-style publications. I highly recommend it. And if you’re an iPad user, I hope you’ll check out MagCloud’s app and the free magazines you can download.

Be sure to do a search for “helicopter” and take a look at some of mine.

Just Because It’s Free Doesn’t Mean You Should Waste It

I’ve become the power police.

My Neighbor's TrailerThis photo shows the trailer parked in the spot next to mine. It’s been here longer than me and I suspect it isn’t going anywhere soon.

For a while, a family of four and dog lived in it. They kept weird hours. They’d come home between 9 PM and 11 PM, make a bunch of noise, and then go inside and (I assume) sleep. Occasionally, before turning in, one of them would do something in the car with the key in the ignition and the door open so it would beep-beep-beep for 20 minutes at a time. In the morning, around 10 AM to 11 AM, the door would open and they’d begin spilling out in their pajamas. After screwing around at the trailer for a while, they’d leave. The whole process would start again that night.

About a month ago, they started leaving the “porch” light on. This makes sense when you know you’re going to get in late, but what bugged me is that they never turned it off. And while this isn’t a huge deal if they’re parked all by themselves, their porch light is about 10 feet from one of my bedroom windows. It’s so bright outside at night that I actually woke up in the middle of the night last week and thought it was morning.

It was morning. One o’clock in the morning.

I considered asking them to turn if off at night when they got in, but I was too embarrassed. They were a family of four in a 20-year-old 22-foot travel trailer with a dog. I was a family of one in a brand new 36-foot fifth wheel trailer with a parrot. I had no right to whine.

About two weeks ago, they started leaving the air conditioning on all day long, even when they — and their little dog — were out. They also left the two top vents and one of the windows open. Air conditioning on, windows closed isn’t bad. Air conditioning off, windows open is good. But air conditioning on, windows open is wasteful — especially when no one is home.

The campground we’re in is dirt cheap: $200 per month for a full hookup! There’s no electric meter, so you can suck as much power as you want. But that doesn’t mean you should suck power when you don’t need to. Or blatantly waste it.

About a week ago, they stopped coming home. I don’t know where the hell they are. For all I know, they’ve been deported.

So now there’s a vacant trailer next door with its porch light on, shining into my bedroom window, and the air conditioning blowing cold air out the open vents and windows. 24/7.

It gets cool here at night — in the 60s most nights. The kind of night you want to leave your windows open to feel the fresh breeze and hear the wind in the trees.

Of course, with windows and blinds open, I get to hear the air conditioning from next door and have that damn light shining on me.

I mentioned the light to some folks I had dinner with last night. They all told me to pull the bulb out.

But last night, I did something better. I snuck around to their electrical box and turned off their circuit breaker. Instant silence, instant dark.

I slept very well last night.

They didn’t come home. Although I was tempted to leave everything turned off, I know they have an electric refrigerator — the kind you buy for a dorm room; I saw them bring it in the day I moved in — and I was worried that the food inside it (if there was any) would spoil. So before taking my walk this morning, I flicked everything back on.

Tonight, I’ll flick it off again.

I figure that if they show up, they’ll just assume the circuit breaker popped. Maybe they’ll even get the idea that they shouldn’t leave the air conditioning on when they’re not around.

Copy Editing – Part I: What Is Copy Editing?

Copy editing — an important part of the publishing process.

Prepare yourself for the usual author rant — but with a difference. This one is coming from an author who just completed her 69th book. An author who has worked with about eight different publishers and dozens of copy editors over the course of 15 years.

So no, this isn’t a newbie writer griping about a heavy-handed editor on her first or second book. It’s coming from someone who has been doing this for a long time and feels as if she’s “seen it all.”

I’ve taken this topic and split it into three parts. In this part, I’ll start off with an introduction to the topic of copy editing and tell you what I believe it should be.

Stet!What is Copy Editing?

The purpose of copy editing should be to ensure that the original text is:

  • Free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Note the use of the word “error” here; that’ll be important later in this discussion.
  • Consistent with a publisher style guide. A style guide, in the world of publishing, is a document that sets forth usage in those gray areas. I’m talking about capitalization issues such as web vs. Web, hyphenation issues such as email vs. e-mail, and design issues such as boldfacing figure references.
  • Clear and easy to understand. This usually involves breaking up long or complex sentences or possibly rearranging sentence components.
  • Unlikely to be misinterpreted. For example, when you say the “Color in pop-up menu,” do you mean a pop-up menu named “Color in” or are you talking about color in a pop-up menu?
  • Consistent with the writing style of the established book or series. This only comes into play when you’re writing for a series that has a predefined format and style. For example, Visual QuickStart Guides (VQSes) tend to be short and to the point, so I don’t have room for personal stories, as I do in other books. VQSes also have level 2 headings that begin with the word “To” and are followed by numbered steps, each of which presents a single task. (I could list about a dozen style issues specific to a VQS, but you get the idea.)

Flowers for AlgernonOf course, what you’re writing should determine how much of the above is required. If you’re writing a novel much of this may not apply at all. Consider the book, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The book’s first person narrator is a retarded man. The book is in journal format and the first few chapters are so full of spelling and punctuation errors (or omissions) that the book is difficult to read. But that’s because of the author’s choices and the method he uses to communicate. Would you expect a retarded man to have perfect spelling, grammar, and punctuation? Of course not. The author is using the character’s shortcomings as a writer to make his character more real — as well a to drive home the changes in the character as the story progresses. This technique was used again more recently in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which featured an autistic first-person narrator. If a copy editor had done a thorough job on the grammar or punctuation in either of these two books, he would have altered the characters. The same can be said for dialog in most novels, since few people speak using perfect grammar.

So copy editing of fiction is a different subject — one I’m not addressing here. I’m discussing copy editing of non-fiction, primarily technical or how-to books, since that’s where my experience is.

More to Come…

This is the first part of my discussion of copy editing. There are at least two more parts to go. In the next part, I’ll rant a bit about my experiences with one particular book over the ten-year course of its life (so far). You’d think that after 10 years, the process would be trouble-free…

Why not take a moment to tell us what you think copy editing should be. How do you expect it to change or improve your writing? Use the comments link or form to share your thoughts.

eBooks

Some thoughts from a writer (and reader).

Earlier this month, I wrote a post that briefly touched upon my experience as an author finding my copyrighted books freely distributable on a pirate Web site. (Refer to “Copyright for Writers and Bloggers – Part I: Why Copyright is Important.”) The post generated some comments that made me think more about the electronic versions of my books that my publishers sell: eBooks.

About eBooks

An eBook is an electronic book. While some eBooks are published in electronic format only, others are published in print and then are followed up with eBook versions of the same book.

Sometimes both print and eBook versions of a book are put out by the same publisher. This is common with modern-day titles. But there are also a number of eBook publishers out there who take older titles that are still in copyright and make arrangements with the publisher or author to create and sell eBook versions. And, of course, anyone can take an out-of-copyright book, like the works of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe — the list goes on and on — and publish them anyway they like: in print, electronically, or even tattooed on someone’s leg. Project Gutenberg came into existence by making out-of-copyright works available to the world and that’s what you’ll find among its thousands of titles.

eBooks are available in a wide variety of formats, from plain text to PDF to Windows Help Viewer format. They can include or exclude illustrations. They can contain hyperlinks to make it easy to move from one topic to another. They can be printable as a single document or by pages or sections.

My first involvement with eBooks was way back in the 1990s when I used a program called DocMaker on the Mac to create my monthly, freely distributable newsletter, Macintosh Tips & Tricks. I later moved to PDF format. 10 Quick Steps, one of my publishers, publishes all of its books as PDFs optimized for onscreen reading. I later published some of my own eBooks in the same format.

eBooks and Copyright

eBooks are usually sold with the same licensing used for software. One copy, one user. This is pretty basic stuff. Although I admit that I’ve never read an EULA for an eBook, I assume that if an buyer is finished with it and wants to give his/her only copy to someone else, he can. After all, that’s how books work. And, as someone who has legally transferred ownership of software by selling it (after removing the original from my computer), I’m pretty sure eBooks have a legal second hand market.

Unfortunately, due to their portable nature — pop them on a CD or compress them and send them in email or leave them on an FTP server for others to download — they are often the victim of piracy and copyright infringement. People put eBooks — whether they obtained them from legal means or not — on pirate Web sites, FTP servers, or other file sharing systems for free or paid download to anyone who wants them.

As this problem becomes more and more widespread, readers begin to think that there’s nothing wrong with downloading and sharing illegally distributed eBooks. They begin looking to illegal sources of eBooks rather than legal sources, hoping to save $10 or $15 or $20. They justify their participation in this illegal activity by saying that “knowledge should be free” or that the publisher makes enough money or that eBooks cost nothing to produce. And soon this affects the sale of both printed and electronically published books.

Who Suffers?

Are you an author concerned about illegal distribution of your eBooks? You may be interested in the new Authors Against Piracy group I’ve started to discuss the issue and share solutions. It’s a private group, so you’ll need an invitation to join. Contact me to introduce yourself. Be sure to identify your most recent published work; the group is open to published authors only.

The real victim of this is the author, who often makes less than a dollar for every book sold.

Most authors these days can’t afford to just write for a living. Some of them have regular day jobs. Others are consultants or speakers or programmers or some combination of those things.

About 95% of my net income comes from writing books and articles. My helicopter charter business, which is still in its infancy, eats up all the cash it brings in. (Helicopters are extremely costly to own and operate.) And between writing and flying, I simply don’t have time to do anything else to earn money.

So when I find my books being illegally distributed on pirate Web sites, I get angry. Can you blame me?

Is It Worth It?

In the comments for my “Copyright is Important” post, reader Nathanael Holt asked this question: “Do your digital sales warrant the increased risk posed by piracy?”

This is a really good question — one I had to go to my royalty statements to answer. And, after a quick glance at that most recent 60-page document, I’d have to say no.

For example, one of my recent titles sold more than 2,600 printed copies in the quarter ending March 31, 2007. That same title sold only 2 electronic “subscriptions.” Another title, which is older and which I have found online on pirate sites, had 9 copies of the PDF sold during the same quarter, earning me less than $15.

My conclusion from this: eBook versions of my books aren’t selling very well. And apparently the ones that get out there are going to pirate Web sites.

I’ve e-mailed my publisher’s royalty department to get lifetime figures for all of my in-print titles. I’m hoping the numbers they deliver will paint a more rosy picture. But I doubt it.

I’m an eBook Reader, Too

This is disappointing for me. You see, I’m an eBook reader.

A while back, I was looking for a book about .htaccess. That’s a normally invisible configuration file found on servers. I wanted to modify the .htaccess file for my Web site so it would do certain things for me.

This is an extremely technical topic and one I didn’t expect to find a book about. But I did: The Definitive Guide to Apache mod_rewrite by Rich Bowen. And after a bit of research, I learned that I could either buy the book from Amazon.com for $40 and wait a week to get it or buy it as an eBook in PDF format from the publisher’s Web site for $20 and download it immediately. I admit that the deciding factor was the length of the book: 160 pages. Since I like to be able to look at a computer-related book (rather than switch back and forth between a book and an application onscreen), I could print it for reference.

And that’s what I did: I downloaded the book as a DRM-protected PDF and sent it to my printer. Within an hour, I had the whole thing in a binder and was editing my .htaccess file to my heart’s content, with all kinds of notes jotted in the margins of my new reference book. (That’s another thing: I’m far more likely to mark up a printed eBook than a printed and bound traditionally-published book.)

I also read eBooks on my Treo (when I’m trapped somewhere with nothing to do).

The only reason I don’t buy and read more eBooks to read onscreen is because I think I spend enough time in front of a computer without using one to read, too.

What Does All this Mean?

Well, first I need some solid information from my publisher regarding lifetime eBook sales. Then I need to sit down with my editor (figuratively, of course — we never see each other in person) and decide whether eBook editions of my work are something we want to continue to publish. If we decide to go forward, we need to come up with a solution that will protect eBooks from piracy.

What Do You Think?

Have you ever bought an eBook? Why did you buy that version instead of a traditional print version? Did you like it? What do you think about eBooks in general: pricing, formats, licensing, etc?

Don’t keep it all to yourself! Use the Comments link or form to share your thoughts with me and other readers.