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Head frame photo of Martin Janello, the principal of Palioxis Publishing and author of its website's blog.This section contains reviews of writing and publishing resources by Martin Janello. It discusses the writing and publishing of nonfiction books. You are invited to comment and to suggest topics. You may anonymously view the Blog. Contributing requires that you provide your name and e-mail address through the Blog Participation Form. Lively expression is encouraged, but keep your comments respectful to other participants and familiarize yourself with the Terms of Use.

 

  CAN MICROSOFT WORD BE IMPROVED?

I have used Microsoft Word in various versions for the last twenty years. In general, I have been very satisfied with what I have been able to do with the program. Although one can save Word files as PDFs, Microsoft leaves some further management of written works to Adobe Acrobat. Hence, it now provides a toolbar that integrates Acrobat if you have the latter installed. That takes a large area of capabilities that I could think up for future developments of Word out of consideration.

 

But leaving features included in Acrobat aside, is Word at a point where it cannot be improved? In contrast to Adobe, which actively solicits improvement suggestions, Microsoft might think so because it does not seem to solicit or even offer convenient channels for customers of Word or Office generally to make suggestions for improvement. It only appears to automatically collect information through its Microsoft Customer Experience Improvement Program. I believe this is a mistake that needs to be corrected. Even if Microsoft should deem that nothing productive could come of customer suggestions, the perceived attitude behind this stance that customers' opinions are not important and that they just have to take whatever it dishes out discourages customer loyalty. It may contribute to a response that resembles how one regards a monopolistic utility, a risk that Microsoft already incurs with its market domination. People might stick with programs because they do not have a current better alternative. But the exclusion of users from input and the apparent lack of regard for their concerns threatens to leave them disconnected. This may hurt sales when people do not need certain features that only Word or Office offers. Even if the lack of allegiance does not hurt sales directly, it may affect sales of other products in Microsoft's repertoire where customers have a choice. It also may leave a momentous opening for companies that seem to care more about what customers think and want. Hence, Microsoft is ignoring its customers' readiness to provide input at a potentially heavy risk. Assuming that Word or other Office products can be improved, it also leaves a valuable free resource unused for which it might have to compensate by costly research.

 

Arguably, this is Microsoft's problem to resolve. But those of us who use Word or other Office products for their livelihoods have a vested interest in improvements to our work tools because Microsoft has reached inevitability with its Office offerings for many of us. We, the customers of such products might therefore make ourselves heard to suggest improvements regardless of current receptiveness. As worthwhile suggestions are voiced, attitudes might be changed. I believe that there is quite some room for improvement in Word. Through years of intense daily use, I have found a number of areas, and I will in time comment on those. But I also would like readers of this Blog to contribute. The idea is to create a "suggestion box" in the comment section limited to Word in the hope that Microsoft will take notice of these and include them in updates or future versions. Topics that develop a life of their own may be separated out as new subjects to keep the flow of conscience regarding different issues concise.

 

Some of us might be rather passionate about frustrations we have developed in using Word. Let us keep in mind that our frustrations might not stem from outright program errors. Shortcomings we seem to spot in the program might be due to our own. Then again,  accommodation might help users to overcome some of these difficulties. Even if one can ultimately accomplish a desired task, it might be possible to make cumbersome procedures easier. In any event, we would like the folks at Microsoft to help us out. They deserve our  respect for what they have already accomplished. All we are trying to do is help them bring their product closer to perfection. We will make it easier for them to care about our problems if we approach them in a friendly manner. Let us also remember that people usually are committed to their work so they succeed. There may be various kinds of factors why developments have not been or might not be possible or might not be possible in the way we imagine. So let us try to be a kind partner to the Microsoft Word development team for everybody's benefit. It would be great if we could get members of that team to comment.

 

  AUTO-HYPHENATION IN WORD

To get the ball rolling with particular topics of improvement, let me address some issues I detected with the auto-hyphenation feature in Word versions 2007, 2010, and 2013. Back in 2011, I tried diligently to get Microsoft to fix such issues with version 2007. It would separate "Chr-ist," "the-se," and "alt-hough" at the end of the line, with the hyphenation zone set to a minimum. Technical Support contacted the Global Development Team, but I was told after months that while these issues were acknowledged they would not be fixed soon and might only be solved in future versions. With the exception of "Chr-ist," these issues continued in Word 2010. After a while, the separation in "the-se" was fixed, but the problem continued with "alt-hough." I also found that "knowledge" in its permutations and combinations was not being hyphenated, leading to some strange spacing. That issue with knowledge is fixed in version 2013, but not in documents in compatibility mode. The issue with "alt-hough" continues even in Word 2013.

 

Another auto-hypenation issue I detected is less obvious. Word defaults the hyphenation of "present" to "pre-sent." But that is only correct if the intended meaning  is synonymous with the verb form of giving. If the meaning is temporal, or if the meaning is that of a gift as a noun, it must be separated "pres-ent." Rather than assuming that a writer means the first rather than the latter, Word should prompt for a decision before it hyphenates.

 

As I found out recently on my own, hyphenation issues can be worked around once they are known by inserting an optional hyphen (ctrl -) at the right spot. This can also be done for an entire document through the "find and replace" function. But many people might not know about these missteps or fixes. The result is that they are at risk of issuing documents with mistakes that readers accredit to them. There might be other auto-hyphenation issues that I have not found. If you know of any, please include them in your comments.

 

  SPELL- AND GRAMMAR CHECK IN WORD

Word has long included a spell check feature. Unfortunately, it also has a long history of warning with red underlines about correct text and of making inapplicable correction suggestions because of insufficient vocabulary and contextual intelligence. Why is this not being fixed? I would think many of these problems could be resolved by licensing and implementing a good dictionary and applying the simple prefix rules children learn in the first years of school. I have had even worse experiences with detecting nondiscretionary grammar corrections in the grammar check, which even with a limited selection of rule application seemed to have an accuracy rate in my writings not much better than a broken clock. I finally gave up using this feature because it would have taken me days to drudge through erroneous alerts and suggestions just to dismiss them in the hope of finding the rare gems of legitimate corrections. The accuracy rate becomes much better with style suggestions. But I am not in the market of wanting help with that.

 

When was the last time these features were improved in a substantial manner? I have not noticed much progress since I can remember. Spelling and Grammar checks would be extremely helpful and users would regularly apply them if they were reliable. Many might apply them anyway for fear that they otherwise might miss mistakes. But the time wasted looking through wrong suggestions and dismissing them adds up and deducts from productivity. I don't even want to think of the problems a person is getting into who is shaky in spelling and grammar and implements Word's suggestions indiscriminately. It is one thing not to offer certain functionalities. Microsoft could just take the position that its customers ought to be able to spell and use proper grammar on their own or that they should find other help. But offering these check facilities and continuing to keep them at such dissatisfactory levels version after version is difficult to understand. Grammar rules might be more difficult to program than a dictionary, but it seems more than doubtful that progress beyond what Word offers today in these respects is impossible. Nor can I understand how reviewers of new versions of Word just go past these deficiencies as if they did not exist. The purpose of Word is writing. Other features and wrinkles new versions keep adding may be welcome. But spelling and grammar are core concerns that should not remain on the back burner.

 

People at Microsoft reading this should not be defensive about these problems. If they remain unaddressed, eventually someone will come along and offer compelling spelling and grammar facilities. If that someone can combine these features with a decent word processing program, maybe only as an add-on, Microsoft might have to be concerned about the continuing popularity of Word. Thus, improving spelling and grammar would not only be good for its customers. It may also be good for Microsoft.

 

I could state similar opinions about my experiences with the spelling and grammar features in Wordperfect. It is rather strange that both of these companies seem to put so little emphasis on these central concerns of anybody engaged in serious and even casual writing.

 

  DIGITAL PRODUCT DELIVERY (DPD)

After extended search and trials, I chose DPD (Digital Product Delivery) to provide a shopping cart for and deliver my e-books,  excerpts, and related documents available on my www.philosophyofhappiness.com site.

 

I found DPD's website to be remarkably easy to use and clear in its descriptions and instructions, even for a non-technically inclined person. In fact, I regard the layout of the website as a beautiful example of how internet services should be organized. Customer support, which is located in the U.S., is by a contact form only. But it ranks among the best I have experienced in responsiveness, courtesy, willingness to help, and deep competence. There are also helpful video tutorials and an extensive knowledge base. The site integrates with Paypal and is one of Paypal's registered vendors. It also delivers free content in a straightforward manner. The notifications it creates for purchasers of products are clear and professional-looking and they can be easily customized in colors and with an uploaded banner without writing any code. Additional CSS customization is available. Product delivery has been lightning fast. DPD also gives very good data about deliveries. It even offers highly customizable product stamping on the bottom of pages, where in my opinion stamping belongs so it does not interfere with a page design. Documents have to be in Acrobat version 5 for stamping to work. But that turned out not to be a limitation in my case. Pricing starts at $10/month for up to 20 products, a product storage space of 1 GB, and unlimited transmission bandwidth and product sales. That is more than enough for my use focusing mostly on written materials. The plans range up to 50 GB in media storage and 1000 products. DPD grants a full-featured 30-day trial with full customer support.

 

  AMAZING AMAZON (AND CREATESPACE)

From the title, you might already gather that I like Amazon and particularly their print-on-demand book manufacturing subsidiary, Createspace (that also handles DVDs, CDs, video downloads, and MP3s on-demand). My positive attitude might not be fashionable in a time when so many seem to love to hate Amazon for its success, claim unfairness, and suspect it wants to take over the world or is working on some other sinister plot. However, I see no reason to criticize Amazon or even suspect it of nefarious behavior. On the contrary, all indications that I have been detecting are that it does well by doing good, not only for consumers, but also for enterprises of all sizes and authors of various types of creativity whom it enables to use its facilities as a marketplace.

 

Enough generalities, though. We are here to talk about books and thus in particular about Createspace. When it comes to the quality of my work and how it is presented, I am very picky. I did not write for years and years only to have my product look bad in its execution. Yet, here as in its other operations, Amazon's policies of enablement, quality service, and fairness shine. I had initially tried to get print-on-demand books produced by another company that was offering a better margin and made all kinds of quality promises. I had stayed away from Createspace because selling books produced by it on Amazon costs 40% and, if one chooses additional distribution channels, 60% in addition to production costs. I had to learn the hard way that abstract margin calculations are not everything. After months of frustration and countless hours of trying in vain to get a product with satisfactory quality out of that other company, I signed on with Createspace.

 

I still was guarded at the beginning because I had read that its quality was inferior, because I feared impersonal service by a big company, and because I had had such a bad experience before. But I was positively surprised in every way about the conduct and results of Createspace and the subsequent distribution by Amazon.

 

Createspace focuses on paperback production. Production setup is free. It was made extremely easy and quick for me. I had a professionally designed [by me;)] cover and interior in PDF format ready to go. However, Createspace also offers clear instructions and templates if you are not there yet. It further provides free tools that make it easy even for many novices to design a cover. And as long as you can create and size a PDF document, and embed fonts, you should be fine with a typed interior. Createspace also runs diagnostics on submittals for free, displays digital proofs, and charges nothing no matter how often you submit revisions. When you are ready, you order a printed proof at the normal book cost, and you can select among other conveyances inexpensive ground shipping if you can wait to see the proof. If you need professional services about anything in the publishing process, Createspace offers a great variety of those at a charge. But short of that, if you need help, you can put your phone number into a contact request, and they will call you immediately or in 5 minutes if so desired. No waiting for the next available representative! Of course customers can also send e-mails, and they are being answered within a day or so. My experience has been consistently that support personnel is knowledgeable and courteous. If a problem cannot be solved at the initial support level, they don't waste your time but elevate it to, as I found, incredibly skilled  senior support specialists who make you feel welcome and graciously give you as much time and attention as you require. I know, it almost sounds too good to be true.

 

But wait, there is more! I found the quality of the books Createspace produces to be by far superior to what I had experienced before or was led to expect by comments I had read. As in any print-on-demand process, Createspace tells you to expect the possibility of slight variations in the layout (up to 1/8 of an inch). There was a hiccup with poor quality with printed copies during the proof process. But the Createspace people were very apologetic and seemed to be genuinely interested in finding out and fixing what had gone wrong, and they unbureaucratically rushed me replacements after I sent them some photos of the faulty copies. The problems were apparently fixed because all of the books I have received in regular production up to now have been spot-on. I found the paper to be of astounding quality. I chose eggshell (you also can have white). At 400 ppi (pages per inch), it has an impressive substance to it and is nicely opaque. It has a true eggshell color and a rich, matte surface with a crisp feel to the pages without being harsh. In my opinion, the paper quality could not be better and is on par with what I have seen in the best offset books. The print is fantastic as well. I could not tell the difference to offset printed books I compared. I see a deeply black, extremely precise, matte type that seems bonded into the page. Black and white graphics look beautifully defined. The spine has a solid but unobtrusive, even layer of flexible glue on the inside to give the pages secure attachment. This also prevents the book spine from easily creasing. The quality of the cover print and lamination (I chose gloss) is superb as well. The lamination does not interfere with the print at all with tint or optical fragmentation. To top it all off, the books I ordered came securely, one can even say lovingly, packed in very strong cartons with cardboard or packing paper dividers and tightly surrounded by packing paper. None of the above attributes are a given with print-on demand production and you should carefully check their presence before you sign on if you are similarly quality-minded as I am. But you might have different standards and might have different opinions. To assure yourself of the quality you can expect, Createspace offers sample books for very little money. My suggestion would be, based on the lessons I learned, to get samples from any print-on-demand outfit before you sign on.

 

Let us now turn to distribution. If you produce with Createspace, you do not have to distribute with Amazon. But if you do, your book shows as "in stock," a huge advantage at a time when fewer people want to wait weeks or even days, or suffer uncertainty how long it might take, to have orders shipped. You can select to sell your books not only on the U.S. site amazon.com  but also on most European Amazon sites (Germany, U.K., France, Italy, and Spain). You can also permit international orders from those sites. Distribution setup is painless. You can attach to your product a description of up to 4000 spaces. I'll write another time about how to shape that with some basic HTML code. Createspace will automatically cause the setup of "look inside" within a few days, which lets potential buyers review around 6 pages in sequence at the beginning as well as random or in some cases chosen chapters throughout the book. In addition, the cover and backside are shown in fairly good resolution. I have seen my books regularly advertised by Amazon when I placed test searches for my book website. Createspace gives you no-nonsense statistics on sales and has a straightforward payment policy.

 

Except for the "in-stock" designation, Amazon will likely give most of the same exposure  to books it sells even if they were not produced by Createspace. Further, if you wanted to have your books on country sites not covered by the Createspace publishing connection, you would have to get in touch with these sites and enter supply agreements like anybody who does not produce with Createspace. That is indeed an issue about which I have more to say below. So is Amazon distribution of Createspace produced books worth 40%? I consider the "in-stock" designation, the distribution in Germany, U.K., France, Italy, and Spain at the flick of a switch, and the other, production-related advantages I listed above to be decisive. In addition, the book production costs of Amazon compare favorably to other print-on-demand outfits. And the 60% that had scared me at first turned out to be irrelevant. You only pay 60% if you go for optional wholesale distribution by Amazon to on-line and brick-and-mortar stores and independent resellers or for library and academic institution ordering. These are all facilities that I think are rather superfluous for me because I have been told that non-Amazon stores are generally very unlikely to order Createspace produced books and librarians and academic institutions can buy from other sources without my having to pay a premium for their business. For the same reasons, I am not worried about not having books listed in traditional industry catalogs. I think the Amazon website with its immediacy of listing, search capabilities, richness of description, and surrounding information replaces those beautifully. In this and other contexts, it is important to note that Amazon does not tie you down to selling exclusively through it even if you have selected Amazon distribution. First of all, you can have the same book printed (probably with a different ISBN) anywhere and any way you like. After all, it is your book. In addition, you can order books directly from Createspace at the production charge plus a shipping charge and sell them yourself. You can also have Createspace handle sales and shipping for you at a rate of 20% by using a Createspace e-store page to which you can link from your website. You can even issue discount codes to lower the price for orders from that page generally or issue them to specific buyers. All this works parallel with your sales through Amazon at 40%. But even the 40% on Amazon are not final. Amazon may discount your books on its sites, but your royalties are not dependent on that. The discount cuts into their 40% margin while making your books more attractive. You can further subtract a substantial percentage (around 5% and up to 10%) that varies depending on the country by signing up as an Amazon.com or European Associate and linking to your books on the Amazon site with beautifully designed specific and customizable icons that Amazon provides. You don't need to carry any ads on your site beyond the links for your own products.

 

Now tell me again that Amazon is not fair.

 

The only thing I found left to be (very much) desired is connected distribution of Createspace books on Amazon sites beyond the included U.S. and European sites in such places like China, India, Japan, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and even Austria, in all of which Amazon already operates country sites. In my opinion, not giving distribution access to these markets as part of the Createspace program is a big, unnecessary omission that some competitors in the print-on-demand and paperback market have avoided or mended at least in part in their offerings. That Amazon would allow itself this weakness or at least forgo this great advantage is incomprehensible to me. I understand that to make distribution of print-on-demand books feasible in those countries, Createspace might have to set up production facilities there or close by. But we are talking about potential sales to billions of people (of which over one billion speak English, not even mentioning the sales potential for books in other languages)! That electronic books are on the rise is not a valid argument because this is not likely to cause Amazon to kill off print production in the U.S. or Europe any time soon. People still buy and will buy print books for some time to a substantial extent, especially in markets that are and foreseeably will be less prone to "tabletification," a criterion that most of these countries probably fulfill. Amazon already knows how to do this. Why not apply the Createspace model to more or all markets it covers? Things are already good, Amazon, and I don't want to be unthankful, but they could be so much better with this logical expansion.

 

  NAMECHEAP - A WINNER IN DOMAIN REGISTRATION AND HOSTING

My search for a company with whom I wanted to register my domains was difficult. Surprisingly, some of the more known purveyors are quite expensive, some of them absurdly so. Some offerors are pushing a dizzying up-sell circus in your face. After an extensive search, I came across a registrar of which I had never heard: Namecheap. The name threw me a little bit because I wanted solid and reliable, not only cheap. Yet when I researched this domain seller, I found that it had excellent reviews, is located in Los Angeles, has been around since 2001, and manages over 3,000,000 domains. I tried Namecheap and was surprised by a number of things. First of all, it does its name justice. It was the least expensive registrar I could find. In subtraction from its already good pricing, it regularly offers monthly coupons that gave in my case 10% off  the regular domain pricing for a year. It also offers one free year of WHOISGUARD shielding of registrant information to keep registrants safe from spam and other foul play. After that, this shielding is only $2.88 per year, hugely less than what other offerors charge. But what does Namecheap produce for the money? The registration process is simple, well-organized, and well-explained by video tutorials and other easily accessible information on the Namecheap website, with a very clear record of registrations and the status of registered entries. The company brings to one's attention what else is available without badgering. It is extremely interested in keeping customers happy and asks about new customers' satisfaction with the registration experience. I did not answer their inquiry because their services were perfect.

 

When I had completed the design and initial content of my websites, I went on the lookout for a hosting company. Again, I seemed to have the greatest difficulty finding what I was looking for. The in my case most obvious choice scared me with a bandwidth limitation and the specter that, once one of my websites would become popular, I could incur a bill for thousands of Dollars per month with no upper limit. The only measure this provider offered was an early notification feature so I could take such a successful site off-line or somewhere else. I researched other companies of which I had never heard and some of the better known brands. Neither type gave me the information I needed to be reassured. Again a lot of shrill up-selling on some of them. Others threw out a lot of jargon I could not decipher, including names of features and add-ons they did not explain. Some were expensive, some less so without giving an idea of the reasons. Few gave useful information about their underlying capacities or ease of use. I was puzzled and did not know how to proceed.

 

Then, at last, I remembered that Namecheap had something on their site about hosting. I gave it a look and a new world opened: Clear explanations of their programs and features - and incredible pricing. If you sign on for one year, Namecheap will host up to 5 websites with 25 GB RAID (redundant array) protected storage for your sites and unlimited bandwidth for $3.95 per month. If you pay 3 years in advance, they lower that price to $2.95 per month. Their monthly coupon page offered an additional 20% off the first payment. Since I paid in advance, I got 20% off the whole amount. I ended up paying $84.96 for 3 yeas of hosting for both of my sites, and I have room for 3 additional sites to spare. Namecheap offers a variety of plans that cover more demanding requirements for web hosting. But even their basic plan to which I subscribed already includes the same impressive group of security features as more expensive plans and a long list of capabilities on par with and often in excess of what I have seen listed by other providers. These features are neatly organized in their listing and briefly explained. They are also easily accessible and manageable through well-designed and clear menus and panels once you become a customer. Namecheap provides simple and comprehensible e-mailed instructions and video clips that guide customers through bringing a website on-line. Well-written instructions and active community forums are available for more advanced issues.

 

Pricing, features, and ease of the hosting website's operation are important. But what about the ultimate quality of the hosting a visitor to my sites can detect? Namecheap raises high expectations by disclosing the infrastructure modalities and locations of its data centers in the U.S (it also refers to data centers in the U.K). Primary locations are in Atlanta, Phoenix, and Dallas. Secondary locations are in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. This is confidence-inspiring. Yet the proof is in the performance, which has been flawless and rock-solid. Of course, the design of each site has a lot to do with how quickly pages load and how well they function. But I knew I had built fast-loading sites and had tested and optimized them thoroughly. My sites load as quickly with as they should on Namecheap's hosting, and I have never seen any sluggishness or variation in performance.

 

Let us finally talk about customer support. I had a few specific issues due to some features of my websites that needed to be connected and optimized. The support I received could not have been more competent or pleasant. No phone support seems to be available. But the chat support offered turned out to be a great advantage because it made it possible to convey complex information both ways and did not tie me up while I was waiting for work to be done on the other end. The advisors were true experts and their intelligence and interest in assisting sparkled though their comments and instructions. They never rushed me or made me feel stupid for not knowing something that is obvious to professionals who do this every day. They seamlessly kicked issues up to the next level of expertise when that was required and without my having to bring the higher level person up to speed. They even undertook work for me to adjust connectivity features on my sites when they could have easily told me to do that myself or pay someone to do it. When a session got interrupted, I immediately received an e-mail with a code that got me right back where it had left off into the support conversation with the same advisor. There was not one misstep or dead end in helping me through the complexity of issues that my websites had created. All this professionalism was delivered in the most courteous manner.

 

The Namecheap website contains extensive descriptions of the company's ethics and approaches to quality and customer service. I have found the company and each of its representatives with whom I have come in contact to live up to every letter.

 

  ERGONOMIC LAPTOP PROBLEMS

I have been using mostly laptops to work on my books and compose my websites. There are a few issues with laptop ergonomics I need to address so that you might avoid these.

 

The first problem I have experienced has been due mainly to the fact that my laptops like so many others have their keyboard shifted to the left to make room for a numeric keypad. How many people really need that keypad in duplication of the number keys on top? Regardless, this asymmetric layout has caused me considerable posture-related discomfort and even pain in areas that have otherwise been healthy and in good shape. Because the keyboard does not center with the screen, I had the tendency of leaning slightly to the left to reach a better typing position. Doing that for hours at a time bent my spine and put overproportional pressure on my left side. This caused exertion and pain in my back and shoulders and often nerve pain down my left leg.  The problem was aggravated by the asymmetry of the touchpad. It is on most larger laptops not centered but shifted dramatically to the left. That again caused me, a right-handed person, to bend to my left side. I tried to reduce these symptoms with softer seating cushions and exercise between writing sessions. But they still recurred while I was writing and often lasted for quite some time afterwards. If I changed my seating position toward the left to be more centered toward the keyboard and touchpad, I found myself bending to the right to center my sight toward the screen - with similar detrimental results on my right side. Thus, I could not find a comfortable, centered position no matter what I tried because of the disharmony of my laptop screen with its keyboard and touchpad.

 

Another posture issue that compounds with problems caused by asymmetry is that computer screens have shrunken in height because someone decided that they should have widescreens. That might be in order if you are watching widescreen movies or HDTV or play widescreen games on your laptop. But it does a disservice to the many tens of millions of people who use their laptops to be productive with reading and writing. Apart from some spreadsheets, written documents are aligned vertically, as are most websites. A widescreen format forces people who deal with such media to crouch more to adjust their eye level to an adequate reading position. That problem is regularly worsened by the glut of toolbars and tabs in programs and browsers. Most of these are immovably affixed to the top of the screen. This turns laptop screens into ultra-widescreens, leaving much of the document workspace or websites out of view and requiring excessive scrolling. Alternatively, it forces a reduction of document size, which induces further crouching to decipher the screen. These problems are exacerbated as manufacturers push smaller screen sizes and phase out larger displays in a race to offer the thinnest and lightest model. I am sure there is a need for such laptops. But many of us keep their laptops relatively stationary and, apart maybe from vanity, should care less about shaving off some inconsequential weight or thickness. Another problem induced by widescreens and actuated by the drive to make laptops smaller and lighter is that the base part is increasingly made to match the widescreen format of the screen. This reduces the space to rest one's wrists and may give rise to fatigue or worse in wrists, arms, or shoulders. Where manufacturers retain the base part in a traditional format, they frequently leave wide bezel margins above the screen and fail to at least move the display to the very top to keep people from unnecessarily bending down. One might counteract these issues related to the screen by opting for one of the remaining large display laptops. Only, that may exacerbate the asymmetry issues outlined above.

 

I have asked myself why such a huge segment of the industry ignores what I believe are blatantly obvious design inadequacies and why it allows considerations that are at best of import for some of the users to dictate what laptops generally look like. Why are so few companies offering laptops that accommodate the ergonomic requirements of productive users? Why are they rather crowding one another out with gimmicky, inconsequential niche models?  Why do so many software manufacturers not seem to worry how they aggravate ergonomic problems?

 

So many of these companies have gotten away with failing to care about these issues for so many years that one might doubt they will change their attitude. But there is always hope, especially now that laptop manufacturers see their sales wane. Until our needs are being considered in product design, all we might be able to do is draw the consequences of this abuse. That consequence is to defect to other devices. Desktops also have widescreen displays. Yet their selection of larger displays will allow more visual freedom, particularly if these feature high resolution and are adjustable in height. A separation of display and keyboard also permits avoidance of the asymmetry issues plaguing so many laptops. Such keyboards further regularly permit the proper placement of a wrist pad. Another way might be to combine a larger tablet with a wireless keyboard. This may grant the ability to place the screen vertically, a much better format for book and other document preparation as well as for viewing most websites. For those who wish to physically connect tablets to a keyboard, attachments might eventually be designed to work both horizontally and vertically, possibly with a stand that supports the screen. The idea of a vertical display is not new. I remember that, in the early days of desktop computers in the mid- and late  eighties, companies like Northgate offered monitors whose screen was turned 90 degrees to provide a more convenient format for office use. Tablets, especially in their larger editions, might be able to offer the same possibilities while retaining horizontal use for other applications. But even desktop screens could be easily manufactured to swivel by 90 degrees.

 

  RED FLAGS

Let me share an observation with you that may save you a lot of time and trouble in selecting and working with providers that offer assistance with publishing your book. Inept or reckless  outfits will inevitably give you early hints about their nature in contradiction of their ads and claims or of your reasonable expectations. You have to take awareness of these and draw the consequences before you get in too deep. I signed on with a few such enterprises even after I received loud and clear irritations from several of their representatives. I did not react as I should have in part because of recommendations by what seemed to be knowledgeable people on the internet and I had not seen substantial comments to the contrary. I thought I was not going to let the personal inadequacies of the persons with whom I happened to deal stand in the way of doing business with these companies. I was further enticed to hold on by promises of assistance or terms that seemed difficult or impossible to obtain somewhere else. I trusted that companies with such an apparently well-crafted purview who seemed established in their business for quite some time would have a productive core that eventually would shine through and deliver. Hence, I decided to overlook disquieting signs until they gave way to severe deficiencies. Still then, because these deficiencies were of such an unacceptable nature, I presumed that surely they were anomalies and would be addressed if I called attention to them. After I could not get resolution at lower levels despite repeated attempts, I reached out to management. In every instance, I was sorely disappointed. By that time, I had wasted months of time and put in substantial efforts that did not lead anywhere.

 

Here is what I have learned from these experiences. The attitude of customer relations is a direct reflection of company management. If management is not entirely committed to customer satisfaction, its staffing and shaping of the customer relations department and the resulting demeanor of customer representatives will reflect that. Moreover, product deficiencies and inherent or imposed restrictions in assisting customers in remediating them will do their part in depressing representatives' attitudes. Individuals who are placed into representing a deficient product without the ability to induce the curing of such deficiencies will necessarily become frustrated. They will dread contact with customers because they are helplessly exposed to dissatisfaction. Their demeanor will express attempts to escape that discomfort by suppressing, ignoring, or dismissing customer requests. Further, if a company does not believe in its product, it will try to take advantage of customers before these have had a chance to find out about its inadequacies. It will attempt to have them sign contracts and pay fees upfront.

 

On the other hand, a company worth your business will make it easy for you to avail yourself of its services, and these services will be principally trouble-free. It will be so certain that its quality will convince you that it will let you experience its services with advanced disclosure or sampling before it suggests that you sign contracts or before it charges you. It will have competent and responsive people working for it that will be eager to help. They will make you feel that your satisfaction is essential to them and will not rest until you are comfortable with their product because they believe in and identify with it. I have experienced that such products and companies exist in every area where I sought publishing support. Having internalized this lesson, I will in the future move on much earlier when I detect disharmony. Life is too short to waste it with jarring experiences that rob you of your time and energy instead of supplying or saving them. That might be a good motto for life in general. But it particularly applies in the case of book publishing where you place a work in which you have already invested so much time and energy into the hands of others for assistance.

 

  DESIGNING A WEBSITE

In this area, there are many choices dependent on the complexity of the desired result and capabilities of the designer. If you are willing and able to learn website design programs, you might be able to implement your vision in a rather complete fashion. That has come into reach for predominantly and even purely design-disposed individuals because coding is nowadays less and less required.  A number of very competent website builders allow design by manipulating elements and functions without coding although most allow the insertion of code. But even without coding, the complexity of what you are trying to achieve might involve a steep learning curve and demand intense work for weeks or even months. That may not only be due to the technical challenges involved but also because implementing a website from scratch can take a lot of work. For individuals not so inclined simple website builders abound, some are even free or come at a nominal cost with the purchase of domain registration. Many  provide templates, even some specialized toward authors. One can usually browse the offerings of website builders and often try them without committing. Of course, you can always hire a website designer if you are willing to bear the cost.

 

Regardless of what level of sophistication in design might be desired, and to find out what level might be necessary to fulfill desired functions, it is a good idea to conceptually plan the pages and content of sites. This is necessary to find design packages that can fulfill your requirements and don't burden you with a level of intricacy you might not need. Planning is also necessary to give a designer you engage competent guidance. That involves giving thought to what you want your websites to be able to do. The organization of a website into pages provides you with initial frames of function that you might then detail. Many of the details will depend in their execution on the capabilities of the design software you use or the designer you engage and cost you are willing to bear. Both software and hired designers might introduce features you had not thought about.

 

Additional, more substantive planning is required. If you want to have a quality website to represent you and your work, committed thinking and an investment of time are necessary to come up with quality content. Good written and visual content in terms of graphics and photos is hard to come by. Buying licenses to display stock photos or graphics may help. But it may be difficult to find relevant depictions that appropriately enhance your messaging. Depending on your talents and demands, you might have to involve professionals to help you not only with the design of the site but also with its graphics and photos. Besides securing the substantive quality of these features to reflect the quality of the other content, more is not always better in this case. Unless you are planning a website that is focused on visual depictions, graphics and photos are there to support written messages, not to distract from them.

 

Particular attention needs to be given to the fact that users will view your site with different browsers on a range of equipment and connection speeds. While browser optimization is becoming a lesser issue with advancing design software, there may still be some quirks for which you need to test by looking at design results with the browsers visitors might use. Of much more concern, however, might be loading times for your pages. It is crucial to keep them reasonable because visitors often do not have much patience for slow-loading sites. This requires keeping the amount and resolution of graphics and photos in check.

 

Assistance in the writing of content should be the least of your concern if you are a writer. Who would be better equipped to describe your work than you? But a description of your work might not be enough. You might also want to describe how your work can be purchased. You might provide excerpts. You might want to feature reviews. This may call for separate purchase, sampling, and review pages. Interest by potential readers, engagement by readers in helping you market your work, as well as rankings by search engines may depend on how much your site remains alive. Thus,  a communication platform in form or a blog or forum is essential for a site. Communication by visitors to the site may also be essential if you want to understand the reception of your work and how it fits into the general discourse. You may also wish to have a contact form so that you are approachable by communications that are not meant to be shared with the public. If you are marketing your writing, you will also have to keep interested parties updated on activities and developments. Hence, a news page seems indicated. You might also think about concentrating all information about public relations, including a short biography and easily accessible depictions of your work, as well as a photo of you on a publicity page. As an attorney, I cannot imagine going without competent terms of use. It is further a good practice and increasingly demanded by law that you state your privacy policy. A whole different Pandora's box of compliance requirements with legal regulation is opened if you run giveaways on your site.

 

  SUBMITTING YOUR WEBSITE

A very important detail once you have prepared and launched your website is letting search engines know it exists. That might happen sooner or later if other websites that are already known to search engines link to yours because search engines will then crawl these links.  However, such links might not exist yet. In any event, you can get a head start by submitting your site to search engines directly.

 

The process is very undemanding. For submitting your website to Google, you need a Google ID (your e-mail ID). Bing and (through Bing) Yahoo do not even require that. Both offer additional webmaster tools for which you have to prove that you are the owner of the site, most conveniently by placing a piece of code on your site. These tools are the subject of the immediately following blog entry.

 

  WEBMASTER AND ANALYTICS

Even if you create only a relatively simple site, it is a very good idea to sign into both Google Webmaster and Google Analytics. Both are free and contribute helpful insights regarding the reception of your site. Webmaster shows search impressions and the number of clicks to the site. But its real value is to demonstrate how optimized your site is for Google search, search terms used, crawling statistics, errors, malware attacks, and what sites are linking to your site. Analytics is geared to show you more details about the usage of your website, from the number of visitors down to rather detailed visitor demographics and page view information.

 

For a novice, many of the features in either can be intimidating or hard to understand. This may cause site owners to assume that these are tools for sophisticated operators. Indeed, there is a lot more to discover in both tools, particularly in Analytics, and much of what is offered may not be relevant to basic websites. But even the fundamental information these tools deliver is essential to understand whether and how the site is performing. Not only that, but site traffic can also be a great tool to understand whether and how publicity measures are working. You can review the status of your site up to the day before, or in case of analytics even in real time. There may be differences in traffic indication between Webmaster and Analytics. Analytics requires Javascript to be enabled on the visiting browser to register the visit. On the other hand, Webmaster only detects queries from Google. It may also have some lag in reflecting data. To generate a fair understanding of site traffic, it is a good idea to exclude your own visits. For that purpose, Google provides a free add-on to your browser that excludes your access from being registered by Analytics. I have not found any indication that such a tool is available for Webmaster. So each indication tool fro traffic has limitations. But between them you get a pretty good idea. To counteract the limitations of Google Webmaster to Google traffic, it might be a good idea to sign up for Bing Webmaster, which is free as well and provides similar statistics and other information. Other browsers may offer similar tools.

 

Registration for the Webmaster tools is very easy. You need a Google or Bing ID and among other more involved methods can place a script on your site so Google and Bing can identify you as its owner. Placing Analytics is not much more demanding, only you have to embed a script in every page separately so it can provide page-specific information.

 

 © 2013-2021 BY MARTIN JANELLO

Capitalized paint brush type lettering in various fresh greens on white sign. "Philosophy For Us All" is the motto of Palioxis Publishing.