Monday, October 23, 2006

The Illinois Womans Press Association Book Fair

On Saturday, October 21, I was one of thirty Illinois authors, most of us little known, presenting our books at the annual IWPA fall book fair. This event was one of the many Book/Author events featured in the city's and the Chicago Public Library's Chicago Book Festival, October 2006. As a relatively new author, I enjoyed the fair very much. Does that mean that I sold a lot of books? No, but I still found the event very interesting.

For one thing, the setting, the Randolph Cafe of the Chicago Cultural Center, is a wonderful place. The Cultural Center itself, where I am often an information desk volunteer, is a building worth visiting for its architecture, mosaics, and marvelous Tiffany dome, as well as for the many exhibits and events presented there, most of them free and open to the public.

On Saturday, the cafe featured thirty large tables covered by purple cloths (the IWPA color), and each of us set up his or her own book and information displays. Fifteen of us were IWPA members, and the rest other authors and publishers from throughout the state. Many visitors passed our tables, and many stopped to chat with us and look at our books.

The emcee, Cheryl Corley of NPR's Chicago Bureau, did an amazingly efficient job of interviewing each of us on stage. She was able to interview thirty of us with interesting questions and good humor throughout. I'm sure that my lack of media experience showed in my interview, but Cheryl's skills really saved the day. I was impressed.

Another feature of the fair that impressed me was the diversity of both the authors and their books. Various races and ethnic groups were represented, and our books ranged from children's books to fiction to self-help to inspirational and spiritual topics, as well as other non-fiction titles. Chicago's diversity and the diversity of Illinois writing were on display.

The officers of the IWPA, including president Suzanne Hanney and event chair Marianne Wolf (also an author); my fellow Cultural Center volunteers; the staff of the Shop at the Cultural Center: all deserve praise and thanks for their hard work.

Get more information about IWPA and its parent organization, the National Association of Press Women, at or I'll hope to see you at next year's fair!

Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Amazing Amazon!

If you haven't shopped for a book on lately, you should take a look. I am continually being amazed by the new features I find there. It's taken me a long time to discover the many things an author or publisher can do to promote a book and communicate with potential readers. Of course there are bare-bones publishers' listings on Amazon too, but I've had a lot of fun trying out the features, both old and new.

Of course I have a profile page with a picture and probably more facts than anyone wants to know about me. I have a "Listmania" list: "Inspiring and Interesting Books for Senior Citizens." I have forty-plus tags, from "aging" to "writing as therapy," to help readers looking for certain book categories, and I've added customer tags to other authors' books, too. I have a growing list of search suggestions in the "books for seniors" category. There are three customer reviews of my book (averaging 4 1/2 stars). I have written customer reviews for a few other books. I have references to this blog and to other web sites that mention my book, Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor. All this is interesting--and free--but it's the newer features that really amaze me.

The "Search Inside" feature leads the way to the rest. With "Search Inside," the potential buyer can see large views of the front and back covers, the copyright page, the table of contents, and several excerpts. How do book listings get these features? Some publishers submit their books for "Search Inside," but authors can do so too. The only cost is a copy of the book, sent to a special address after Amazon has verified that you are, indeed, the author, with rights to the book. If the publisher retains the rights, it's up to him or her.

Just a day or so ago, I discovered four new additions to my Amazon listing: Condordance, Text Stats, SIPs, and CAPs. Perhaps only English teachers find such things fascinating, but at the very least, they show the power of computers. Concordance lists the one hundred most commonly-used words in the book, excluding the common "a," "an," "and," "the," and similar short words. The words are printed in sizes representing their prominence in the book. For my book, the largest is "time" (119 times), followed by "years" (99) and "remember" (98). That seems predictable for a memoir. By putting the mouse pointer over the word, one can find out how many times it was used, and by clicking on the word, one can see the page numbers and parts of the sentences in which the word appears! For example, "time" first appears on page three: "Having unusually well-educated parents for that time and place . . ." Why would anyone need to know this? For a book like mine, it's unlikely that anyone would care, but for a more scholarly book, the concordance could provide an easy way for a student or a writer to find relevant references. It's a new world out there.

Text Stats reveals information about readability, complexity, and number of characters, words, and sentences. It shows the book's standing on the Fog Index (11.8), the Flesch readability scale (56.3), and the Flesch Kincaid scale (9.8). My book is apparently about average in readability, as intended. These stats might be important for English or reading teachers checking on fiction or non-fiction books appropriate for their students.

Finally, what in the world are SIPs and CAPs? SIPs are "statistically improbable phrases." In my book, there is just one listed: "cat sitter." I wonder why that's so improbable? There are a lot of cat owners out there, and who takes care of our cats while we're out of town? CAPs are "capitalized phrases." Twenty-five are listed for my book, from "Old Town Pump" (my late husband's old place of business) to "St. Olaf College" (my late father's alma mater and the main location of my brother's teaching career).

Clicking on a CAP leads to information on what other listed books, if any, include that phrase. The "Signature Room" (one of my favorite Chicago restaurants) has two references in my book and three in Lonely Planet Chicago, by Chris Baty. "Wells Street" has five references in my book, and is also mentioned in at least twenty-two other books about Chicago. Clicking on a CAP also leads to a link to, where I found that most references to "Old Town Pump" refer to actual water pumps across the country, but number twenty-three is a quote from my book and a link to me!

I am fascinated and amazed by these features on, but it's too early to judge their effectiveness. I'm sure that the academic world, of which I am no longer a part, will let us know. My book's unimpressive Amazon sales ranking doesn't suggest any effect so far--but did you know that, according to Amazon's Fun Stats, my book offers 2,290 words per dollar (when sold at list price)? At the holiday discount price, you get 3,366 words per dollar!

Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Isn't Readability Important?

I have noticed what seems to be a new trend in printed materials: white or black or colored type on a colored background. Two recent examples: the Life magazine included with yesterday's Chicago Tribune and the back of the Chicago Cultural Center's October schedule.

The Sudoku game in Life was printed in brilliant yellowish-green with white numbers. My vision, as corrected with glasses, is good, but this game seemed impossible to deal with. In order to figure out what the other numbers should be, one needs to read the numbers already there.

The newly-redesigned Cultural Center schedule is generally attractive and informative, but why is the monthly calendar on the back printed mainly in black on a brown background? It's nearly unreadable, as one visitor pointed out yesterday. Many of our Cultural Center visitors are in my age group, and many have much weaker vision than I.

Perhaps this is another example of computer and color printer overkill. I remember that we once went crazy with beautiful but virtually unreadable type fonts on our new computers just because we could. Maybe this is more elderly "What's the world coming to?" but what's wrong with old-fashioned, readable black on white? Explain this new dark background trend to me, design professionals.

Postscript: I have received a few comments on this subject. Margaret Holt, of the Chicago Tribune, asked the Tribune's design director about readability, and he answered that designers are sometimes overly optimistic about printing capability. "What looks good on a 17-inch computer monitor won't necessarily look the same on newsprint." I should add that the Tribune did not produce the unreadable Sudoku puzzle I complained about; the puzzle simply appeared in the Life magazine which was included with the newspaper. I noticed this week that Life has not changed its ways. Oh, well. The puzzles look pretty, and perhaps they're there simply for decorative purposes. It certainly isn't hard to find more readable Sudoku puzzles to actually work on.

I had no official comment from the Chicago Cultural Center, but several people who work there, as well as visitors and other volunteers, agreed with me. The November schedule isn't back to black on white, but it features a calendar on a lighter background than the brown one from October.

Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, October 09, 2006

The "Express Yourself" Authors' Conference

From September 29 through October 1, I attended Infinity Publishing’s “Express Yourself” Authors’ Conference in Valley Forge, PA, near Philadelphia. Most conference attendees were those of us whose books have been published by Infinity, but the conference was for anyone interested in marketing his/her books, regardless of publisher.

This conference opened a new world to me: I listened to inspirational advice on how to market books, as well as some basic information about publishers large and small, traditional and untraditional. The speakers included many stars of the independent book marketing world: authors of marketing materials, designers of web sites, providers of publicity packages, even a copyright law expert. I was fascinated.

Does this mean that I can or will get rich by turning my book into a best seller? No way. Both my age and my lack on entrepreneurial spirit are against me. I’m sure that the speakers can sell almost anything to almost anybody, but that’s not me. Perhaps I’m too comfortable. Of course I’d like to sell more books, but for me, the necessary expenditures of time and money seem excessive—and probably futile.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the conference, and I learned a lot. I may try a few new book-selling strategies. There are plenty of them out there, including John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, a book I own. I’ve used a few of Kremer’s easier tips, including’s tagging, author profile, “Inside the Book,” “Listmania,” and customer reviews, but 1001 ways? Talk about over-kill.

I admire the experts I heard: Kremer, Dan Poynter, Jerry Simmons, Penny Sansevieri, Brian Jud, Paul Krupin, and others. I enjoyed touring Infinity Publishing, as well as meeting its president, Tom Gregory, its vice-president, and other employees. I enjoyed seeing a few copies of my own book in the conference bookstore and on the publisher’s shelves. I enjoyed meeting some very interesting fellow writers and hearing about their books. They represent a wide variety of interests, experiences, and areas of expertise.

This conference made me happy to be an author, albeit a virtually unknown one, and reminded me how inspiring it is to learn new things, meet new people, and enter new worlds after retirement. But for me, it’s the writing, not the selling, that matters most.

Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Before and After: Senior Smiles and Dentistry

Anyone who has read my essay, "My $30,000 Teeth," (included in my book) knows that I grew up with an addiction to chocolate candy, very bad teeth, and a problem with seeing dentists. I ended up with $30,000 worth of dental work, some cosmetic, some not, about two years ago. Just this year, two more teeth deteriorated and needed crowns, making the total about $33,000. For the first time in my life, my teeth look and feel good. See the photos above and below.

Why mention this now? I've recently met two intelligent, otherwise attractive people in my age group with "Jack-o-Lantern" smiles: just a tooth or two showing in the abysses of what I suspect were once toothy grins. I wonder why? These are not impoverished people. I suspect that neither has an extra $33,000, but surely they could afford standard dentures. I understand that even the poor can get dentures at little or no cost.

What's with senior citizens and dentistry, anyway? Costs have risen right along with the costs of medical care, of course. However, I've read that gum disease and rotting teeth can cause serious health problems. Are other seniors aware of this? Cosmetic dentistry may be a luxury, but dental health is not. Why are so many reluctant to consider it?

Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photos courtesy of Peter M. Tomaselli, D.D.S., Chicago Smile Design