A couple of years after I'd left my secular assimilated lifestyle for an Orthodox Jewish life, I met a woman who'd once been immersed in her life as an artist.
She'd painted and sculpted whatever she felt compelled to create, clothed herself as her spirit moved her, and hung out in Greenwich Village.
There were no boundaries or limitations on how she could express herself.
"Wasn't it difficult to channel your art in a religious way?" I asked her. "I mean, after you were used to painting and sculpting whatever you wanted, wasn't it difficult to limit yourself after you entered the more structured and limiting world of Orthodox Judaism?"
Nodding to herself, her brow wrinkled in thought before she said, "I wouldn't say 'difficult'...."
She paused again, searching for the right words until she finally said, "Yes, it's true that I can't create whatever I want—although in a way I can, because my soul expresses different and better aspects now—but my art became better." She pursed her lips, thinking over what she was saying, then she nodded. "Yeah," she said. "I feel that Orthodox Judaism actually improves your art."
"Really?" I said. After having read books by people who felt confined by Orthodox Judaism, it was startling to hear such a contrasting view. "Having your art conform to Orthodox standards actually improves your art?"
"Yes," she said. "Because without limitations, there is no real creativity."
Now, that really stumped me.
In so many different ways, the secular world always insists that creativity demands total uninhibited freedom.
And throughout my life, I kept seeing that the definition of good art in any field was always how much it pushed past the current boundaries—whether the end product was actually any good or not.
For example, the highly lauded field of "experimental art" or "experimental music" is often merely something that hasn't been done yet.
And at this point, what is left to do is often ugly, disturbing, and in bad taste.
Noting my perplexity, she explained, "If you can just do anything you want, then what's the challenge in that? How can you be truly creative and how can you even begin the cultivation of artistic genius if you just do 'whatever'?"
She told me to imagine a pipe channeling water toward a certain destination.
The very act of channeling the water causes the water to be limited in its direction and its form.
Yet that same "limited" water is much more productive and valuable than if it were just flooding around everywhere with no direction or purpose.
"When you can only create within certain limitations," she continued, "then that forces you to think outside the box and to stretch your mind in ways you never would have before. And doing that increases your creativity and makes your art even better."
Needless to say, she's right.
Many people complain about the formulaic structure of movies today. Many novels resemble each other too, just in different genres. The same characters pop up in different guises, all expressing the same ideas in different voices.
And then yet another boundary is crossed, which seems either exciting or distressing, depending which side of the boundary you stand on. But that eventually becomes copied ad naseam until the next boundary is violated.
Breaking boundaries isn't necessarily creativity.
It takes no innovation to say, "What are the taboos of society and how can I push past them?"
For example, if your society frowns on stealing, it takes no genius to identify that boundary or to break through it. You just go out and steal something.
Likewise, self-indulgent expression takes little creativity or genius. Your emotions merely lead you to chafe against a society that doesn't cater to your individual quirks or tastes. You chafe against it and then you rant against it with mind-numbing slogans and meaningless symbols. Maybe you even express your self-righteous ranting in a book or via some other art in a way that seems fresh at the time, but will seem shallow and melodramatic in another generation or two.
And despite all the hype and self-congratulations of those who indulge themselves this way, there's no real creativity there either.
The above applies to any creative endeavor, which is why we quip, "Necessity is the mother of invention."
Inventors create because something is missing.
Real innovators create because of the limits.
Genuine creativity and genius is born from limitation.
Thank you very much to all the readers who downloaded their free copy of Finding My Father's Song!
I really appreciate it and I hope that you'll get something from the story that stays with you.
But before you go, please take a look at the image below.
This guy needs to promote his business when he has a very unusual name that most people would look at and think, "How on earth...?"
Can you imagine asking for this guy on the phone?
But he uses the difficulty and uniqueness of his name as his hook and he does so in a very appealing manner. The whole presentation makes you feel comfortable about giving him a call, even if you would totally mash up the pronunciation or just go with skipping his last name altogether and referring to him as Benjamin...right?
Upfront, honest, committed, and approachable -- that's the branding here.
It demonstrates that he real does know how to what he says he does (marketing and sales consultation).
Anyway, I think it's a great example of how you can make custard and meringues from the eggs life throws at you.
Finding My Father's Song
What if you're lost, but being found just makes you feel lost again?
Rina Brown is a young professional with a hidden talent for music who’s in love with her successful fiancé, Troy Ash.
But when she reveals that she wants to eventually have children, despite having promised him she wouldn’t, he dumps her.
Losing Troy causes Rina to lose everything else—their home, her friends, the winter cabin in the mountains—plunging Rina into despair.
Combined with the recent death of the mother who never really loved her and bitterness toward the father who abandoned her as a child, Rina makes her way to the winter cabin she once shared with Troy, determined to end her life by freezing to death outside on a snowy night.
Yet bears awakening from hibernation chase Rina into the lonely cabin, where she discovers music CDs and equipment that enable Rina to upload her songs of heartbreak, eventually creating an Internet sensation.
But when Rina’s past won’t leave her alone, Rina finds herself spiraling once again into despair.
Will Rina be able to grasp onto those reaching out to her from her past?
Can she find the lifeline she needs in an ancient Jewish book said to be the key to unlocking a secret chamber in Heaven?
Or will she finally lose herself forever to her own despair and self-destruction?
Perek Shira & The Secret Chamber of Melody
This new book focuses on Rina Brown, a Jewish girl so assimilated, she barely realizes she's Jewish.
As she tries to make her way around heartbreak, Internet fame, suicide attempts, unsettling childhood memories, and unexpected meetings with people from her past, Rina discovers the existence of a short ancient Jewish book said to be compiled by King David himself called Perek Shirah—Chapter of Song.
Note: Much of the following is excerpted from the Author's Note of Finding My Father's Song.
Well-known today among Orthodox Jews, but practically unheard of in other circles, Perek Shirah/Chapter of Song is a compilation of 84 verses inaudibly sung by different species of mammals, insects, birds, fish, and other parts of nature.
Most of the verses derive from the Jewish Bible, the Talmud, and the Zohar, although one is a paraphrase of a verse from the Jewish Confession (Vidui).
King David is credited with compiling Perek Shirah after he finished writing and arranging the Book of Psalms.
Perek Shirah is available in English with variations in translation due to the multi-layered meaning of most of the verses and the struggle to accurately identify a couple of the animals mentioned. For example, the retzifi (who “sings” Isaiah 40:1) is often translated as “bat,” but my Hebrew version features a photo of an owl (both are nocturnal winged predators, albeit from totally different species). But this word isn’t found in the Jewish Bible or the Talmud, so its translation isn’t clear. However, God knows what you mean. (You can also just call it “retzifi” instead of the uncertain translation, but recite the rest of the verse in English.)
Rabbi Chanoch Zundel Luria (a rabbinical sage who lived in Poland during the early 1800s) compared Chapter of Song to a symphony of musical instruments, each with its own sound, which blends together under the guidance of a conductor.
Many of the verses contain expressions of joyful gratitude to the Creator along with other inspirational messages, including verses containing ethical metaphors encouraging the reader to overcome laziness, avoid theft, and live a meaningful life.
The deeper secret behind Perek Shirah is the Jewish tradition that there is a special place in Heaven (and is not a physical 3-dimensional location like, say, Jamaica) that contains a great spiritual treasure under lock and bolt (again, not a physical iron lock and bolt).
Only certain angels can entire this chamber, which is called Niggun (pronounced nee-goon, it means “Melody”). Perek Shirah is the key that opens this chamber. Needless to say, to really access the beautiful holy power of Perek Shirah, it needs to be said from your heart as sincerely and joyfully as you can.
(This doesn’t mean you need to be laughing and hooting as you say it. Again, it’s the heart that counts, so the main idea is to cultivate a happy heart.)
If you can put the words to some kind of melody, it’s even more effective.
Several holy Jewish sages throughout history have emphasized the power of Perek Shirah to provide protection and healing. In light of this, there is a popular Jewish custom to recite it for 40 consecutive days as a prayer for the fulfillment of a specific request. Many Jews have seen blessing and even miracles from following this custom.
Here is a downloadable PDF of one English translation:
Perek Shirah in English
As you’ll see, there are different spellings of Perek Shirah. Sometimes perek is spelled pereq and sometimes shirah is spelled shira. As explained in Jews, transliterating Hebrew into English isn’t so straightforward, so we all just do the best we can.
There are laminated booklets available in the original Hebrew or translations of the Hebrew, accompanied by photos of the animal featured in each verse. (The illustrations are helpful in case you—like me—didn’t know what a swift or petrel was, for example; they’re both birds.)
But the website offering these booklets, plus more information, has since closed down and been transferred to a site for decking wholesalers. (Weird, I know.) To receive a laminated booklet of Perek Shirah with the accompanying photos, you can always try contacting an Orthodox book store (if you have one in your area) to see if they carry these booklets.
For an article by one of my favorite Jewish authors about her personal experience with Perek Shirah, please see: Nature's Song.
For an upbeat Hassidic musical rendering of the introductory paragraph of Perek Shirah, please see this video by Avremy Goldstein & friends (English subtitles appear at around 3:20): Perek Shirah Hassidic-Style
Nowadays, you can produce the final draft of a book faster than ever.
Once upon a time, authors needed to write out their first draft by hand.
Even after the typewriter became a common home appliance, it still wasn’t as forgiving as today’s word processing programs.
So after scripting out thousands of words by hand, authors combed through them, marking changes as they went.
And then authors either wrote out a whole new draft or they wrote out entire sections by hand, incorporating the changes as they went.
And only then did they pound out the draft through a typewriter.
Today, first drafts appear directly onto the computer. Sure, many authors create outlines by hand using good old-fashioned notebooks. But for others, plot-outlining software and even mind-mapping software take the place of the traditional pen or pencil.
In the modern world, many authors struggle to know when to stop revising because a computer allows you to tweak your manuscript without end.
Yet are today’s endlessly tweaked books better than those books of yore that only got 2 or 3 drafts before being submitted?
And is something lost in the process when the handwriting-brain connection is no longer there?
I know that I can’t go back to my elementary school days of writing out novels by hand. Even when I create an outline or a journal entry, my hand get so tired. I certainly couldn’t produce hundreds of handwritten pages.
But still, I wonder if scribbling out a book by hand makes it a better book.
On the hand, it’s comforting to know that you don’t have to revise as much as you are tempted to do. Readers have always enjoyed books without endless tweaking.
At some point, you can free yourself to look at your screen and say what those older authors said while looking at the Courier script on their freshly typed page.
“Well, I invested heart and soul in this. I just hope it’s good enough.”
If you invested heart and soul in it, then it probably is “good enough.”
And sometimes, that “good enough” even turns out to be amazing.
UPDATE: Just this week, I noticed that Fiverr made some brilliant additions to their service:
1) For cover design, Fiverr has introduced an incredibly easy system that allows you to mark the image itself and leave a comment on exactly the place that needs correction. This is unbelievably helpful, especially when using a seller whose native language is different than yours. I absolutely LOVE this addition.
2) Upon completing the gig, Fiverr now requires you to leave a rating for Fiverr's eyes only that the seller will never see. There are also optional comment boxes enabling you to explain what you liked or didn't like about dealing with the seller. This relieves some of the pressure on buyers that this posts addresses below.
Note: I'm only discussing Fiverr because I've never tried Upwork or Elance, etc.
When I first started using Fiverr, I felt like I was walking through a minefield.
But now, I’m a Fiverr addict. It has a gig for my every desire and I can't stop using it.
So far, I’ve used Fiverr for:
While there are some real gems on Fiverr, it has a learning curve like anything else.
The first lesson is the easiest and that’s the Fiverr lingo:
So let’s look at some Fiverr truths....
Nothing Actually Costs $5
Fiverr adds processing fees and VAT, so the lowest price is actually $5.85. Or $6.77, depending.
I even got the price $7.02 after processing and VAT.
I think the added fees depend where you and the seller are in the world.
If you are taking a gig that runs up to, say, $150, you can end up paying an extra, say, $40 in fees and taxes alone, pricing your gig closer to $200 than the advertised $150.
This is not the seller’s fault, nor is there anything the seller can do about it.
Furthermore, to get something decent, you usually need to pay more. Many gigs give you the barest minimum for $5. For example, a good ebook cover by an experienced and highly rated seller often costs at least $10. Many cost $20-$35. And even then, you can still end up with a formulaic book cover featuring the photo of your choice inserted into the template’s designated space. Now, this can still work if the seller uses a template that looks great both as a thumbnail and enlarged. However, a new seller desperate to for gigs and 5-star reviews might create a great cover for you for only $5. It depends.
More on getting the most out of Fiverr cover designers below….
You Get What You Pay For—Kind Of
I loved a $10 cover one seller designed for me. Yes, I needed to contribute a lot of input to get it like that, but he did a great job. However, my friend uses the same designer and orders his juiciest package (which includes interior book design) at a whopping $135.
And her books come out great--very professional and attractive.
This is how a free market works. Yes, he does a nice job at $10 (and throws in a 3-D cover to boot). But his $135 gigs are superb.
You Must Become Your Own Expert—Gulp!
Because the sellers are working for a much lower salary than their non-Fiverr colleagues, they can’t spend a lot of time and thought on your gig—unless you are willing to pay them for it.
This means that you need to have some idea of what you’re doing first.
And this is probably one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of self-publishing.
For example, I ordered one seller's $45 package-gig, which included an ebook cover and a paperback cover. Let’s say $15 for the ebook cover and $30 for the paperback? Or $20 and $25? (BTW, this was a top seller and the examples of the seller’s previous work were most impressive.) In return, I got the seller’s standard cover with my photo inserted. On the back of the print cover, it featured just the text I sent and nothing more. I noticed something missing, but it took some research to figure out that it needed a teaser or headline. Why couldn't I figure it out right away? Because I’m not a cover designer.
Also, did you know that the cover you see on the screen is a lot lighter than your print cover will end up being? I didn’t. So with another seller, I kept telling him to darken the background image so the text would be readable and he never warned me. And guess what? When I received the actual paperback book, the back cover image was nearly black.
And good luck trying to find out online what typeface and font size your back cover should be. I tried and found nothing.
(If you know, feel free to add your information in the comments.)
Anyway, this means that you must research covers in your genre so that you can tell the Fiverr seller exactly what you need. Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur suggests that you find a cover that you like and send it to your Fiverr designer as an example. You can even send a few to combine different elements, such as the title typeface of one and the layout of another. Go to online bestseller lists in your genre and see what they have.
Your other option is to pay the designer a lot more to include professional consultation. So even if you end up paying $80 for an ebook & paperback cover, that is still significantly cheaper than a standard designer’s price.
One thing I learned from examining different book covers is that many cover designers are not so amazing with title design.
(Note: Book covers are pushing the envelope more than ever, even in categories that never called for risque covers. The Book Designer is an amazing resource, but I offer this disclaimer out of respect for individual standards, which vary from person to person. Needless to say, this disclaimer applies to any site featuring cover art.)
Anyway, you can see some amazing cover art that features weakly designed or poorly placed titles and author names. This makes sense because cover design is one kind of art and title design is a whole different kind of art. Again, this is something you’ll need to learn yourself or find a Fiverr designer who excels at both.
You Need To Be Your Own Policeman
Some Fiverr cover designers use images without permission AND without notifying you that they've done so. Personally, all the Fiverr cover designers I’ve used either ask me to provide the images or they direct me how to legally obtain images, either for free or for pay.
But please be aware that you must stay on top of this.
Some companies and individuals are hawkish about this and will sue you (or at least demand you pay for the photo) if they discover their image used without permission in or on your book.
Eibhlin Morey MacIntosh discusses her experience in her post What Cover Designers Do…and Don’t Do. Here is an excerpt:
Before I discovered vikncharlie, another Fiverr cover designer created a cover for me. It looked great. Then, after a month of selling the book at Amazon, I learned that she’d used a Getty image without permission, and it’d cost me over $250 to purchase the rights to use it.
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, He Loves Me….
Some Fiverr buyers complain that even when they find someone good, that person is not consistently good.
Of course, inconsistent quality doesn’t have to happen, but be prepared that it might, forcing you to intervene and possibly find yourself back at Square 1 when you didn’t expect it.
You Don’t Get ALL Your Money Back
You don’t get the tax or fees back. This can be inconsequential or major. ("Major" means the $50 in processing fees and VAT for 35-gig project you ordered.) You also can’t use your refund until you order a gig that is the same amount as the refund or less. So if your account accumulates $11.53 in refunds and you order a $20 gig, that $11.53 stays right where it is. Ultimately, you end up with an amount that you can’t do anything with, like 22 cents. When we're talking cents, it’s obviously not a big deal, it just doesn’t feel right. But that’s okay.
As you hunt for an honest and qualified seller (and they DO exist), you need to know how to weed out the ones who aren’t what they seem.
Forewarned is forearmed!
Games Sellers Play
Switcheroo—So, you’ve accepted the seller’s work and now the Fiverr process automatically takes you to giving a review.
However, you notice that the gig you’re leaving a review for is NOT the same gig you ordered.
I felt trapped the first time this happened.
You can actually skip the review because you already accepted and paid for the order, but I didn’t know that.
So I left a very specific review saying, “I love how the seller transformed my ebook cover into a wonderful paperback cover!” when the gig attached to the review was for creating an ebook cover from scratch. Why did he do that? Because this cover transformer now wanted to strike out on his own as a cover designer, but didn’t have reviews yet. So if you see reviews that don’t match the gig description, that’s probably why.
She’s Not What She Seems....—Does your young blonde seller from Canada make odd mistakes in English unrelated to American/Canadian differences? Does she always respond when it’s night time in Winnipeg? Did you need to correct the spelling on your book cover three times already? Does she not always understand what you’re saying no matter how clear and concise you are? Then maybe “she” is actually a “he” (or still a “she”) from the Asian continent. Or wherever.
Now, location isn’t such a big deal. Many non-native English-speakers achieve full English fluency. Like I said before, my book title creator is a native Serbian and creating book titles is a very language-specific task. Yet she did a great job.
Personally, I don’t care where the person is from or what their mother tongue is as long as they do the job right.
One of my favorite sellers is South American and I sometimes feel that I need to repeat myself or ask for a revision simply because something in the language wasn't clear. Yet his skill, talent, and personality make his gigs very worth it anyway.
But if you feel more comfortable with an English-specific task performed by a Canadian (or some other native English-speaker), then that is your right.
A 5-Star Review—Or Your Money Back!—Some sellers openly request that you either give a 5-star review or take a refund. If you’ve wondered how a seller managed 327 positive reviews without even one negative review, that could be the reason—although not necessarily. Some ask for feedback before you leave a review and if they see you’re not happy, they automatically refund your money—whether you wanted them to or not.
This can get really extreme as you’ll see in the following story:
I sent a proofreader a document, in which the proofreader found 2 typos. I later discovered there were 3 typos. The seller apologized profusely and got back to me to assure me that the document was reviewed again thoroughly, promising that this time, there were absolutely no other typos.
Because I tend to rate “up” on Fiverr (because destroying other people’s livelihoods is against my religion), I left her a 4.5 star review with a nice comment. But the seller was disappointed, saying, “I’d hoped for 5 stars from you” and asked me to go back and correct the review.
Now, this was not a 500-word document. It was much longer. If I send a proofreader a document with 3 typos and I get it back with 2 typos corrected, is that a good proofreading job? (Maybe I should get a percentage for finding the final typo....)
Anyway, that’s a 30% fail rate on what’s apparently a very clean document. Furthermore, authors NEED the first 2000-8000 words of their manuscript to be especially error-free because those are the words that appear in the online samples people peruse before deciding to buy your book.
Potential readers who catch typos can bypass buying the book in the assumption that if the writer couldn’t get the first 10% error-free, then the rest of the book must also be sloppy. Right?
Anyway, as shown above, the seller apologized profusely, claiming that such a thing had never happened before. Fine, we all have bad days. No one’s perfect.
But on the other hand, how can I know that it never happened before? Not only is the seller a total stranger, the only reason the missed typo got caught was because I caught it—perhaps because I have some background in proofreading. Maybe it happened lots of times, but the seller's buyers just never noticed? How can the seller really know?
Anyway, the seller argued that “I already told you that it was just an oversight and has never ever happened to me before.”
Okay, but the unique thing about proofreading as a profession is that its entire purpose is to catch oversights. (Having said that, proofreaders can never be perfect and even among the best publishing companies, an 80,000-word book can still have 2 or 3 typos.)
Then the seller explained that 4.5 stars lowers the overall rating much more than people think. Okay, I didn’t realize that. Good to know. But because I ultimately refused to give 5-stars for a non-5-star job, the proofreader insisted on refunding my money. For some reason, I felt bad, as if I’d been in the wrong, and accepted the refund at her request. At the same time, I felt I was being eloquently bullied into giving a 5-star review.
Ooh, I hate situations that bring up these kinds of conflicting emotions.
What's your take on it?
Anyway, it’s up to you to decide whether you accept a refund or leave a review.
Duplicate Reviews—When I first started out on Fiverr, I’d see 124 reviews, but half of them seemed to be duplicates. Maybe this was a bug from Fiverr’s end, maybe the same buyer took the seller 5 times within the same month or week and left the exact same review each time. (For example, I’ve taken a seller 3 times within 10 days, but I left a different review each time.) Sure, it could happen that someone needs several gigs done one after the other and they just leave “Outstanding Experience!” in their review each time. For example, a college student writing a bunch of different papers during crunch time could use the same proofreader several times within a short period of time. Anyway, I’m not sure what’s behind this. But I’m seeing this far less now, so I guess Fiverr is ironing it out. I think you'll see it more with the older sellers.
Partnering Up—Some Fiverr sellers leave positive reviews for each other. Now, this could be totally legit. It’s well-known that proofreaders should not proofread their own work, so it makes sense for them to get a fellow Fiverr proofreader to do it. And I have a friend who is both a buyer and a legit seller on Fiverr. But I caught a Fiverr proofreader doing this for a Fiverr proofreader who’d done a bizarre and terrible job on my manuscript.
(By bizarre and terrible, I mean that she inserted bizarre mistakes where there were none and did not correct even one typo.)
Finding Your Dream Seller
This is difficult, depending on your own level of skill within the task you need accomplished.
For example, how you can you know if a proofreader is any good?
As a former small-time proofreader myself, I wondered how could any of those 5-star reviewers possibly know if their proofreader really did the job? What if your eyes just don't catch the mistakes?
Also, a great many people lack decent grammar and spelling skills nowadays. (It's not their fault. Some people have learning disabilities and, in general, American education has plummeted.)
So if you can’t proofread yourself, how can you catch your proofreader’s oversights?
It could be they missed a ton of errors and you'll never know.
Through trial-and-error, I ended up with several sellers who proofread the first words of my manuscript, which I needed polished for the Amazon "Look Inside!" sample. And if they did a decent job (even if they didn’t catch everything), I didn't ask for a refund. With one, I didn’t leave a review at all, but let her keep the money because she was new and I suspected that rather than being unskilled or dishonest, she simply hadn’t figured out how to use her system effectively within the Fiverr time frame. I don't think it's fair for someone to do the work and then penalize them for being a beginner or for not being perfect.
Now, it’s obvious to me that many (if not most) Fiverr proofreaders use a proofreading program. That doesn’t bother me as long as they know how to use it. A good program can improve accuracy. To get the best job done, you need to use both the program AND your own eyes. I found out by mistake that these programs don’t pick up a period missing at the end of the last sentence before a chapter break.
So any proofreader relying solely on a program will miss it, too.
Here are some more tips for finding the best match:
Some people skip all the detective work and just use the top-rated seller with the most ratings. That can work out great, but sometimes they don’t give you what you need and they aren’t bothered by the handful of negative reviews lost in the shadow of their 2k+ positive reviews. (Like my experience with a top-rated cover designer above.)
Let them know your needs in advance.
For more great advice on dealing with Fiverr, please check out the following:
Dave Chesson on How to Use Fiverr to Make Amazing Ebook Covers
Eibhlin Morey MacIntosh on What Cover Designers Do and Don’t Do
Authors always yearn for an abundance of stunning 5-star reviews.
Three-star reviews can make an author feel frustrated, misunderstood, or ready to throw in the towel.
But in actuality, 3-star reviews can provide tremendous benefit to authors.
Have you ever bought a book based on a bad review—especially a 3-star review?
For example, when I was trying to decide between an author’s earlier and later work, I came across a 3-star review of his later work:
Very interesting concepts and well-written, but basically an updated version of his previous book. It is also seems to be written for people who don’t have a firm background in science and physics.
Perfect! I wanted an updated version of his previous book (which I hadn’t read), yet my right-brained grasp of science in general and physics especially was pretty weak.
So I bought that book. And I loved it.
Another time, I wanted to learn about the pre-existing factors that influenced the German people toward Nazism.
I came across a book which featured the following 3-star review:
Great content and thoroughly researched, but shows no appreciation for the Nazi movement. In fact, the author even seems to disapprove of Hitler and Nazism.
Just what I was looking for.
Different Types of Helpful 3-Star Reviews
The following type of 3-star review is actually excellent praise in disguise:
I really hate science fiction, but I decided to give this book a try based on all the rave reviews.
It was okay. Better than any other science fiction I’ve read, I guess.
Other times, the 3-star reviewer complains that the book is “really directed at people who think there’s a God” or “an amazing book that everyone I know has found so helpful, but the author doesn’t have a Ph.d, so how can she be qualified to write this?” or “Book arrived in terrible condition!”
These are all non-criticisms. So if that’s are all critics have to say about the book, then it must be pretty darn good.
Furthermore, I noticed that people don’t take the 5-star and 4-star reviews so seriously. How many times have you gone straight to the “Top Critical Review” to know the truth about a book?
Many readers especially suspect the initial 5-star reviews because they often come from fans, friends, and family members—whether they say so or not.
(Although fans don't always rave. Some are open regarding their feelings toward their beloved author's disappointing new work.)
Others have clearly noted this dynamic, which is why I think you sometimes find what is actually a 5-star review written under a 3-star heading:
BEST book I’ve ever read! The plot was amazing, the characters were absorbing, and the theme made my heart soar!!!
Fortunately, these reviews usually garner comments from alert browsers, such as:
Why did you rate this book only 3 stars?
You seem wild about the book. What didn’t you like that made you take two stars off what was otherwise the “BEST book” you’ve ever read?
If you liked it so much, why did you give it only 3 stars?
Why? Probably because the author’s friends realized what we’ve all realized:
Three-star reviews are taken more seriously and are often read first—or second, depending.
(Except that the 5-star reviews masquerading as 3-star reviews are obviously fake. Or mistakes.)
So yes, a large number of positive reviews is important to the marketing of your book.
But the next time you get hit with a 3-star review, just remember:
Every author needs those perfect 3-star reviews.
How to Self-Publish Large-Print Books
[Disclaimer: I’m just starting out in this. I will update this as I learn more. It could be that I’m mistaken in some of the following guidelines. Feel free to do your own research and draw your own conclusions. If your personal experience with large-print books contradicts anything written here, I hope you’ll feel free leave your recommendations in the comments.]
Ever since Eibhlin MacIntosh posted an article about her experiences with publishing her books as large-print editions (in addition to paperback and digital editions), I’d been waiting for the opportunity to do the same.
So now I am experimenting with publishing large-print books.
I did some research and, as usual, there is contradictory information regarding the best way to format your large-print edition, so I’m giving it my best shot.
I’ll post some links at the end if you want to start your own research.
But anyway, here is how I’m doing it and what I’ve learned:
Who Reads Large-Print Books?
Why Publish Large-Print Editions?
Large-Print Edition Requirements
This is where the contradictory information comes in.
For example, some experts say to use a sans-serif font (sans-serif fonts don’t have the little “legs” that serif fonts do).
Examples of sans-serif: Arial, Open Sans, Verdana
Yet others say to use only serif fonts (like Times New Roman or Georgia or Garamond). Yet others say that studies are inconclusive regarding which type of font (serif vs. sans serif) is preferable for the vision-impaired. Furthermore, this group even created a typeface called Tiresias based on their research into needs of vision-impaired readers. (As you can see, the font is bolder than average and is sort of between serif and sans serif.) In addition, most say the font size should be 16 pt. (and no lower), but Eibhlin successfully sells her large-print editions using Georgia 18 pt.
But this is what my research turned up about large-print formatting:
And my shorter book, Jews: Stuff You Always Wanted to Know But Didn’t Know Who to Ask, went from 120 pages to around 163 pages at 6x9 with Garamond 16 pt. and 177 pages with Georgia 18 pt. With Jews, I only needed to raise the price by a dollar or two, but with Yaelle, I needed to raise the price by several dollars.
But again, Eibhlin uses this size and feels it sells well.
So I guess this depends on the needs of your large-print readership.
Eibhlin successfully uses Georgia 18 pt., while other booksellers use Times New Roman 16 pt., and still others use the specially designed font mentioned above Tiresias (click on LPfont for Large Print books).
I contacted the UK-based Large Print Bookshop, which bills itself as the leading large-print bookshop and Mr. Guy Garfit was kind enough to reply clearly and promptly to my questions.
He states the following:
Interior Formatting for Large-Print Editions
This is where it gets fun. People with impaired vision can sometimes only see two words at a time, whether they are holding up a large-print page close to their face or using magnifier or OCR software. Any formatting that reduces clarity needs to go. Many self-publishers despise interior formatting, so this is a big relief. Basically, you only need to worry about page numbers and hyphens.
In other words, off with your headers!
Regular Print Example: He looks like a drunken rhinoceros, she thought.
Large-Print Example #1: “He looks like a drunken rhinoceros,” she thought.
Large-Print Example #2 (completely unformatted): He looks like a drunken rhinoceros, she thought.
I’ve seen all three used in regular-size print books, although italics are certainly the most acceptable option for regular books.
And what are the chances of any of my books being used in a classroom, anyway?
But just in case you need it, I included it here anyway.
See the Clear Print Guidelines for some instructions and good examples.
Note: However you format the large-print interior, you will need to go through it or hire someone to go through it to double-check that the hyphens and page-breaks, etc., work out according to large-print specifications. That is the pain-in-the-neck part of formatting for large-print.
Publishing with Createspace
Okay, this is where things get complicated again, but not impossibly so.
First of all, your large-print book is considered a whole new and different book in need of its own ISBN number. So you have to go through the Createspace process again, which isn’t so horrible, but there are other annoyances ahead.
Black text on white paper or cream paper?
Some large-print readers prefer black text on white paper while others find that contrast too strong and prefer black text on cream paper. At the larger sizes, Createspace does not allow you to use cream paper, so if you’re using the larger sizes, feel free to just use white.
I am sorry to say it, but you need to redo your cover for large print.
It depends on the size difference between your original book and the large-print edition.
You can have something on the cover that labels it as a large-print edition. Many publishers use a white disc or medallion for this while others use a semi-transparent banner spanning the top or bottom of the book. You can do this in Word, Open Office, Photoshop, Canva, Fiverr, or through your original cover designer (if you have one).
While most professional publishers seem to use a white disc, it seems that some use no front-cover large-print label at all.
But whatever symbol you use should read Large-Print Edition.
I hope you found this information helpful.
Summary of Handy Resources for Large-Print Publishing
Large Print Bookshop
(This is a helpful guide put together by experienced professionals in the business of large print and where I encountered the courteous and helpful Mr. Garfit. You can also browse their selection and see how it’s done with regard to covers, pricing, weight, thickness, and length.)
Round Table Guidelines for Producing Clear Print
(This was especially thorough and helpful.)
Eibhlin’s Personal Experience with Large-Print Publishing
Go Large Print! | eibhlin, writing
I always love her.
Tiresias :: Fonts :: Free downloads
They also have several articles on their site about vision impairment and research.
This is where you can get a book cover template any size you want. For a reasonable price, you can also have your book auto-formatted in the typeface and font size you need along with other nice bells and whistles. However, at the time I used it, the auto-formatting was more liberal with hyphens than a large-print book should be. But maybe that has been resolved by now. Anyway, its Australian owner, Steve, is extremely courteous and helpful if you run into any bugs. (And you can also hire his personal formatting services.)
Have you self-published large-print books? How did you do it and how did it work out for you? Based on your experiences either as a reader or a self-publisher of large-print books, do you agree or disagree with the above guidelines?
Please feel free to leave your recommendations and experiences in the comments.
One traditional Jewish stricture I forgot to include in Jews—Stuff You Always Wanted to Know, But Didn’t Know Who to Ask is the custom of maintaining no physical contact with the opposite gender—including no shaking hands.
Note: Judaism allows and even obligates physical contact between genders in order to save a life. For example, a male must rescue a drowning female (if he can) and a female paramedic must treat a male heart-attack victim.
While refraining from any physical contact sounds extreme and unnecessary in today’s modern egalitarian society—after all, what is the big deal about a casual handshake?—Judaism is actually quite firm about this.
Here are just some of the issues with shaking hands:
It is merely a religious stricture mandated for the Orthodox Jew’s personal standards and out of respect for the Orthodox Jew’s marital relationship (or potential marital relationship, as the case may be).
Of course, because Orthodox Jews are the only Jews who still observe this law, this presents awkward situations for both Orthodox Jews and for the unsuspecting secular Jews or non-Jews they encounter,
So how do Orthodox Jews handle a situation in which shaking hands is expected?
For the vast majority of Orthodox Jews, it is paramount to avoid offending the innocent hand-shaker in any way. (Jewish Law strictly prohibits embarrassing or insulting others.) However, if despite apologies, explanations, reassurances, and candy-offerings, the potential hand-shaker still remains offended, most Orthodox Jews will feel that they have done their best and will not violate this religious stricture, despite the other's negative feelings.
Of course, this kind of thing can lead to some amusing situations like the following:
Funny Story #1
Upon meeting her male boss for the first time, a European Orthodox Jewish woman responded to his extended hand by saying, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry and mean no offense, but I’m very religious and don’t shake hands.”
Later, the boss brought his wife to the office and introduced her to this same Orthodox Jewish employee. When his wife extended her hand in greeting to the Orthodox woman, the boss said to his wife, “What are you doing? I told you that she doesn’t shake hands!”
Upon which the Orthodox Jewish woman explained that the prohibition was not against handshakes in general, but only against shaking hands with the opposite gender—at which point, she warmly shook the hand of her boss’s wife.
Funny Story #2
A young Hassidic woman found herself in a reception line to shake hands with Nixon’s vice-president in honor of some amazing community work she’d conducted.
Surrounded by cameras and faced with a very important person whom she did not want to offend, she needed to come up with the right response. Yet having been raised by a family who’d survived Auschwitz and then later maintained a quiet life infused with strong Hassidic values on American soil, compromising on her religious values was not an option for her.
So when she found herself face to face with the Vice-President, she gave him a nice head-shoulders bow and a big smile, and in her charming Southern accent, she said, “I am so sorry, Mr. Vice-President, but my religion simply doesn’t allow me to touch men.”
In response, he gave her a smile, a nod, and some friendly small talk and then just continued on to the next person in line.
So what should you do when faced with an Orthodox Jew of the opposite gender in a situation in which a handshake is the perfectly acceptable norm?
As far as the Orthodox Jew is concerned, it’s usually preferable not to offer your hand in the first place, and to make do with a verbal greeting instead. But if you do extend your hand in greeting, I hope this article will help minimize any feelings of offense or discomfort if the Orthodox Jew reacts with any of the non-physical responses listed above.
When I used to read Mishpacha magazine, Libi Astaire was one of the writers whom I would always read no matter what topic she addressed, and even whether it was fiction or non-fiction (though I no longer read fiction, although I write it, funnily enough). Being a history buff – especially women’s and Jewish history – I’ve had my eye on Day Trips to Jewish History for a long time.
So I finally bought it and was not disappointed.
Libi covers all sorts of stuff that isn’t widely known, but is very intriguing. For example, I’d always wondered about the following:
And for some reason, I’m always very interested in what people ate at different times and in different cultures.
Libi covers this, too.
The book also addresses a wide variety of periods, topics, and cultures in Jewish history:
This book is a real gem in the Jewish history genre.