Respect, Protest and Patriotism

I don’t much like Colin Kaepernik. He reminds me of that whiny-voiced type of jock in high school who likes pranking people via pantsing or wedgies and then skipping away and giggling and tittering and cackling like a witch on Halloween. You know the one. He was never exactly mean, just… well, boorish would be the right word. I have no idea if he was ever actually like that, it’s just his voice evokes that image for me. But his on-the-field play was also something that I didn’t like. He was (and probably still is) frustratingly good. Frustrating, because he always seemed much more interested in looking good than in winning. He never looked like he wanted to lead a team, just wanted to look like he was trying to win the game single-handedly.

But when he started his Black Lives Matter protest by sitting during the national anthem, I thought, well… maybe he is ready to lead. Because nothing about that looked good, that was for sure, but he was sacrificing his public image to try to support a cause which meant more to him than football. And when he switched to kneeling instead of sitting just to make sure he was not disrespecting our service men and women, I was again impressed. Here was a guy who had gone from being snide and chirpy in every interview and commercial I had seen him in to being not just compassionate, but also considerate.

 

 

But even though I’ve revised my view of him a bit, I don’t agree with his form of protest. I don’t think it’s appropriate to protest the treatment of black people by police officers by kneeling during the national anthem at a football game. Not because it seems disrespectful to the flag (which it isn’t – stretching it horizontally across a football field, however, is) or to service men and women (I’m not one and I can’t really see the disrespect, but I certainly understand being offended – but those are different things!) No, it’s because in performing his protest, he has not started a national dialog about race and equality. He has started a national screaming match about flags and patriotism.

His point has been buried. No one is talking about Black Lives Matter right now. And why? To me it’s because of the fallacy of this argument:

 

Except… Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation. She was protesting how black people were forced to give up their seats to white people. The same as the men and women who staged the sit-ins at the lunch counters were protesting restaurants and how they treated minorities. The protest was focused, it was simple and it was local. But it was powerful, so it attracted national attention. How anyone is protesting police brutality and racial inequality in the eyes of the law by kneeling during the national anthem at a sporting event is beyond me. And it seems evident now that it’s beyond most people. Is there police brutality at the football game, Colin? No? Then don’t you think you should go and stage a peaceful protest in front of or within the halls of the police stations and courthouses in places like Ferguson, Missouri?

Confront the injustice where it is actually occurring. Talk to the people who are committing it. Direct the nation’s gaze to them, not to yourself. I have a friend who once shouted “Black Lives Matter!” at a police officer who was buying some lunch at the place where we work. I told her that doesn’t do anything but piss off a guy you don’t even know. I think she sort of understood me, but I wish I had explained it better. My point was, if that cop or the unit he belonged to, had killed or beaten up an innocent black person, then that is an act that should be protested. But to antagonize an officer buying some lunch in Medford, Massachusetts because of what cops in Ferguson, Missouri are doing is to simply create an enemy out of someone who could have been a powerful potential ally.

You have to be smart. And your message has to be focused, simple and local. Symbolic gestures are useless, temporary and easily misunderstood. Kaepernick’s protest has launched not a national dialog about racial equality in the eyes of the law, but has inflamed the fast spreading infection of national divisiveness at work in the country. Patriots clash over who is the better patriot. Instead of meaningful dialog about the proper policing of our communities, we have yet another installment in a seemingly endless stream of rhetoric and name calling. This is what happens when a protest loses its focus, or in this case never really had it.

 

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Okay, I’m off my soap box. Work continues on the new Grant Scotland book, but it’s looking like I may have to scrap this one entirely and start over. We’ll see. I’m pushing through.

“The essence of patriotism is the sacrifice of personal interest to public welfare.” – William H. Burnham

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Progress Report

Nothing exciting going on right now, but I haven’t updated the blog in a while so I thought I’d at least say some things about what I’ve been up to lately. Besides, it’s good to have at least one blog post a month, otherwise it looks like no one lives here. And then I’ll get squatters, who I’ll have to remove using finger sandwiches of dubious potability.

So, where am I at with Book Five of the Grant Scotland series? Well, I’m about half finished with the rough draft, which is not quite as far along as I would have liked for the end of August. In fact, I was hoping I’d be done with the first draft by this point, but alas, no. I make steady progress every week, but my weekly word count just isn’t what it used to be. Not sure why, but the fact that I’ve written (and revised) three short stories this year probably explains some of it. So, will Grant Scotland emerge by year’s end? Unlikely, but I’ll try to make a sprint for it. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Not the Grant I was thinking of, but that’s the right feeling anyway.

 

And as far as the short stories go, I did manage to finish a third one after shopping the first two around for a while. I was worried there for a little bit that I was second guessing myself too much, but when I grabbed an idea and forced myself to write it out, I found I created something with which I was at least mostly satisfied. So, after revising it about ten times and getting it to 2,000 words (the first two were about 7,000 words so I wanted a smaller story in my stable) I started shopping it around. No luck yet, but it’s still early. The other two are still pending responses from Analog and Asimov’s, but that’ll take a awhile. Those two magazines have a loooong list of submissions to work through and I hadn’t planned on submitting to them at all, but the magazines (at least the ones that pay) with quicker response rates have mostly already rejected both stories.

As for how I’m managing my submissions, I’m using The Grinder. The Submission Grinder, that is. Not to be confused with *just* Grinder.

Ever. I mean, I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying Grinder takes submissions of a very different sort. They also misspell the name, I think, but I’m not in the mood to look it up. Google wisely.

Anyway, Submission Grinder is a very useful tool for tracking my own submissions and also giving some interesting data on the various publications. Like, ALL the various publications. There are a lot more than I thought!

So, that’s it. Back to the word mill, where I grind coarse word grains into fine prose flour.

 

Like this guy. Except the effort for me is more with the mind and less with the legs and arms and such.

 

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Hopefully, I’ll check in sooner next time. If not, enjoy September. Most beautiful month of the year.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

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Too cliche or not too cliche?

That is the question. But sometimes I wonder if it isn’t “To cliche or not to cliche?” Should an author avoid cliches at all costs or just use them sparingly? Or should caution be thrown to the (cliched) wind and as many of the colorful little devils be used as possible? It seems to me that some of the most popular authors I’ve read use them without any regard for whether they are apropos or not. In fact, it can sometimes seem like they actively set up scenes and dialog to use a good (or bad) cliche.

And by cliches I actually mean cliched expressions, not circumstances. I don’t judge authors harshly for using cliched plots, characters or settings. Some of those are almost unavoidable. An author generally has to use one or two here and there just to make a cohesive and attractive plot. Full disclosure, I’m a sucker for a good villain-revealing-his-master-plan scene. I cringe every time I read one of these, but my attention is also absolutely rapt. If the author did her job and kept me guessing about what the bad guys are up to, then I don’t care how stupid it is that the hero is on the receiving end of a monologue instead of a shotgun. Well, okay – maybe I care a little bit. But still, I’m willing to forgive a lot in situations of cliched circumstance.

 

“No, Mr. Bond. Instead of torturing you for information, I’ll serve you mint juleps and give you information.”

 

But cliched expressions? I can’t stand them. If I find even one in a whole book, I’m tempted to swipe it off my kindle while exclaiming “TRASH! FILTH! THE DIARY OF A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD BOY!” And yet it seems many people either don’t mind these or perhaps even like them.

I wonder if it’s the comfort level they provide. That’s about the only thing I can acknowledge is a positive aspect of using a cliche. It provides the reader with a solid frame of reference for what’s going in the book. If I tell you that a character is “in the pink of health” and “full of piss and vinegar” you instantly know exactly what I mean – assuming you’re fluent in colloquial English.

But, if I tell you that Han Solo told Luke “You look strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark” you’d have no idea what the hell I was talking about. Which is a shame. That’s an expression that never really took off. Okay, that’s a bad example. Han and Luke and the Star Wars universe are fairly well known, so you likely know that means the same as the “pink of health/piss and vinegar” thing.

But, here’s the thing. Didn’t you know what Han was saying the first time you watched Empire Strikes Back? Did you need anyone to explain it to you? Didn’t it even immerse you further into the Star Wars universe because it was an expression that had it’s own flavor while at the same time sounding familiar?

That’s basically where I’m at with cliches. If you’re writing a story and you feel like you need to use one, then I feel like the best thing to do is take a familiar one and add your own spin to it. Unless, of course, you’re narrator is a lazy and unimaginative speaker and is supposed to rely heavily on cliches to express himself. Or, if not the narrator, then the speaking character is one who has a nervous habit of using cliches. That’s fine. I get that. Although I would recommend not using a narrator who is likely to bore the hell out of your audience. You can only get away with that if your name is William Faulkner.

 

That quote right there tells you all you need to know about how irritating his narrators could be.

 

But in the course of normal narrative, I feel cliches are just too distracting. I’m instantly taken out of the story if I feel they don’t quite fit and if they are used without regard to character or narrative voice, then they definitely don’t fit.

But I don’t know. I’d like to be a popular author someday. I’d like to make a lot of money writing. So if using more cliches is the answer, maybe I should do it. Obviously, only in stories set in modern/near future. Fantasy stories that use modern cliches are never successful. I try to avoid them in the Grant Scotland novels, but I concede to little ones that might include curses or expletives like “damn” and “hell” because fantasy novels that replace those words always seem to me like they’re trying a little too hard.

But how about you? As a reader, do cliches bother you? Do the expressions bother you more than the situations? Is it the amount or the appropriateness?

 

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Hope everyone is having a good summer! Hot enough to boil eggs, amiright?

“Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” – Mark Twain

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Writer’s Block and Tackle

I don’t get writer’s block. In fact, I don’t even believe it’s a thing. That is, it doesn’t really exist in the form people commonly think of it. There is no period where a writer can’t write. This simply doesn’t happen. Even if a writer isn’t able to start or continue a book or a story, he can always sit down and start writing a grocery list or a nursery rhyme and somewhere along the way he will start to make up silly fictitious items of dubious usefulness or lyrics full of filthy innuendo. Sure, none of this might directly contribute to any works in progress, but it’s still writing. It’s still an act of creation. It exercises the muscles critical to a writer’s occupation.

It’s the writer’s block and tackle. The exercise of writing is way more important than the measuring of progress toward completing a work. A work will be completed. A work must be completed. But along the way, the writer will no doubt encounter tough periods where no idea seems good enough to set to paper and everything she wants to communicate seems trivial and banal.

Be not discouraged! Discouragement leads to hopelessness. Hopelessness leads to fear. Fear is the little death.

 

And then you end up with several nervous tics and working for a psychopathic floating fat man.

 

I have two short stories I have been shopping to various publications and neither of them have yet found a home. On the surface, this is something I expected. In fact, since they are my first stories to ever send out for publication (not counting some small work done many ages ago when I was but an adolescent Tone of Voice) I am not optimistic that they’ll find a home in any major market. I’m sure I could get them published somewhere, but it might be a no-pay deal, in which case I might just publish them here. I’m fine with that… on the surface.

But I’ve noticed something as the rejections pile up. Even though I have several dozens of ideas for new stories, I am not happy at all with any of them. None of them seem interesting enough to warrant even starting. I’ve outlined a couple of them and I can see how each can be made into a complete story, but I can’t find any excitement about writing them in earnest. And if I’m not interested in writing them, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone would be interested in reading them.

But lately I’ve been wondering if this is a result of facing the rejections. I don’t feel the pain of rejection on the surface, but maybe I’m feeling it somewhere just below. Maybe I’m second guessing myself too much. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing that mythical curse called writer’s block, aside from the long period of my life when I didn’t write at all, but that was only because I wasn’t a writer, so it doesn’t count.

But the counter to writer’s block is the exercise of writing itself. Can’t write what you want to write? Write something else. For now, I can’t find good story ideas to crank out the two more short stories I want to get done this year, but I can continue to write Grant Scotland novels. I’m not saying I don’t want to write about Grant, it’s just that I want to get other projects going. But if I may be in a minor crisis of confidence on the short story front, I can revisit Grant’s world and make progress on book five. And in the writing process, I find I can still put words together, make myself laugh and even excite myself about new possibilities and the resolution to old mysteries.

Grant Scotland is my block and tackle. When the work of writing gets too tough, he’s there to help me do the heavy lifting of putting words on e-paper. I know I can sit down and write about him and his world when I can’t do anything else. So, if you’re ever in a corner where you can’t find something to write about, then simply write about something. Jot down your grocery list that would only make sense to someone from a parallel dimension. Scribe new lyrics to “Duck, Duck, Goose” that would make a sailor blush. Invent a recipe for chicken cacciatore that might, under the right alignment of planets, summon a host of faceless demons hungry for new faces.

Point is, find your block and tackle. Write whatever you need to write in order to keep writing. Hell, you could even write a blog post about it.

 

PICTURED: Not a good block and tackle.

 

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Don’t go looking for your muse! Go down to Ye Olde Word Smithy and pound out some prose.

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all” – Charles Bukowski

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Notes From the Self-Pubbed (Issue #8)

THE BLOG TOUR ISSUE!

My Virtual Blog Tour ended earlier this month and I’m ready to share the goods and the bads and the ups and the downs. The Tour was arranged by Goddessfish Promotions and began in late December and continued until the middle of April. What would happen was Goddessfish would coordinate with a book review blogger to schedule a day where that blogger would post an advertisement for my book or interview with me or an excerpt from one of the books or some other piece of content relating to Grant Scotland. Then all of that blogger’s followers would see the post and comment on it in order to be eligible for an Amazon Gift Card. Goddessfish scheduled on average about two bloggers a week, generally Tuesdays and Thursdays, but sometimes Mondays and Wednesdays, and each one was pretty good about posting something different so followers were encouraged to “follow” the tour from one site to another.

Sounds great, right? I had been skeptical about the true advertising power of this sort of thing, since I found it difficult to imagine there were that many book-blog sites, not to mention active members who visited them frequently. I mean, do you visit blogs that talk about books on any sort of regular basis? I mean JUST books. This site doesn’t count, since it’s my personal blog where I also talk about being an author – I rarely talk about what I’m reading/have read. I’m talking about “fan sites” for fantasy, romance, sci-fi, etc. Do you ever go to these sites and hang out and talk about books?

 

“Hey, everyone! I just found out about this great book called The Necronomicon! I can’t wait to get my hands on it!”

 

Yeah, neither do I. Nevertheless, a blog tour was something I had to try, since I couldn’t very well claim I was taking this self-publishing enterprise seriously if I didn’t try it at least once.

It turns out once is enough. Probably more than enough. That is to say, I’m never doing anything like it ever again. Not on my dime, anyway.

First off I want to say that Marianne and Judy at Goddessfish were very nice and professional. I have nothing but good things to say about them. However, I can’t recommend their services, because my own results were so disappointing. In fact, so bad was my experience that I feel I have to warn other self-published authors to save their money and keep away from blog tours in general.

So, what was so bad? Well, mainly the biggest problem became apparent fairly early on. After the first few stops on the tour, it became obvious that each time a blogger hosted a blog post about Grant Scotland, the same 6 or 8 people would comment – on every site. That is, there didn’t seem to be separate followers on separate sites. It was always the same names, no matter if it was a site that claimed it mostly liked romance books or mostly liked fantasy books. Oh, and almost all of them mostly liked romance books, judging by their style and sidebar content and advertising.

 

“Where is the ripped bodice? No ripped bodice = no sale.”

 

So, the audience was frustratingly small, but that’s okay, nobody was buying anything anyway. I ran kindle countdown deals on all four books and Goddessfish made sure the deals were advertised on every site where Grant Scotland was featured, but not a single sale was recorded (not entirely true, but let’s just say I noted no “spike” in sales). Well, unless some sales happened during the Bookbub promotion period, but the tour had already been going on for almost two months by that time so I find it unlikely.

But I had heard blog tours were a great way of generating reviews and I had sent out free e-copies of all the books, so I was looking forward to getting a few Amazon reviews at least. Nope. Not one. I did, however, get four very enthusiastic reviews on Harlie’s Books by someone who clearly actually read all four books. So, that was nice, but it would have been nicer if those reviews had made it on to Amazon.

But did I make any new friends, at least? Hard to say. I know I have new followers to the blog and Facebook pages, but whether those people are here for the content or the promise of giveaways, it’s impossible to tell.

Well, I guess it’s not impossible. I could always just cancel the giveaways and see if anyone sticks around. In fact, I think I’ll do that. I’ve been mulling it over and doing extra reading about mailing lists and giveaways and authors and I’ve come to the conclusion that mailing lists and giveaways are GREAT ways to get a ton of followers, but they don’t do squat in terms of building an audience. An audience is composed of readers and they’re not the ones making the rounds from site to site trying to get free stuff. Those are internet gypsies. Additionally, every person I’ve seen advocating for mailing lists and giveaways ultimately turns out to be someone trying to sell me something. Sure, they may also be an author (although I’m highly dubious of this in each and every case) but they always put way more effort into talking up some pay-to-play service instead of what’s cool or interesting about their books, writing, etc.

 

“You want to know about my book? Well, it’s very successful. But wouldn’t you rather know how I made it so successful?”

 

So, no more mailing list. You’re just going to have to bookmark me or sign up to follow the blog by email (although I’ve found in my personal experience that wordpress emails often get filtered to the junk folder) and just keep an eye on the blog. I’m sure at some point in time in the future I’ll give away free stuff in some off-the-cuff contest, but doing the whole Mailchimp/Rafflcopter/Twitter Ads route just isn’t for me.

As for Blog Tours, Goddessfish offers some very reasonably priced options if you’re a self-pubber and you’re thinking that maybe you can change some internet gypsies into book buyers and fans. I chose the biggest/most expensive option because I figured in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound and obviously can’t at all recommend it. Maybe stringing together a few cheaper tours might yield better results for you.

I just re-read what I wrote and it sounds like I’m down on self-publishing and I’m not. Absolutely not. Although the industry is swarmed by pirates and snake oil salesmen, it’s still very rewarding to have almost complete control over your own work. I am, however, almost certain at this point that a hybrid approach is the best way to go. If I can get some stories or novels traditionally published it will make it much easier to get my self-published stuff in front of a much wider audience. I guess to look at myself as objectively as possible, I’m moving away from being a true self-publisher and towards being an author who self-publishes. True, this really only works for authors who have already attained some measure of success in traditional publishing, but I’m glad I went the self-pub route first. This entire experience has been very interesting and has given me a lot of confidence in my writing that I realize now I desperately needed in order to take myself seriously. Also, I think if I hadn’t tried it first, I’m not sure I ever would have.

I’m still deeply suspicious of traditional publishing, though. I’ve heard many horror stories from many authors about being badly mishandled and then having to live with not having rights to their own work when their publisher drops them. That makes me cringe and it’s something I’ll never let happen to the Adventures of Grant Scotland. I’m way too invested in that series to ever hand it over. Well, never say never, I guess. At any rate, I realize I should start writing a stand-alone novel (not related to the series, but probably a sci-fi or fantasy book) and see if I can attract an agent, but I’m committed to getting AoGS to six books first. Right now the plan is to keep writing Grant Scotland (outline and first chapter of book 5 done so far) but also crank out at least two more short stories by year’s end and put those on the magazine merry-go-round with the other two I’ve finished.

But I might start putting together something for an agent sooner rather than later. Probably should. I’ll keep you posted.

 

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Happy spring, everyone! A great time to make new plans and start new projects!

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.” – Vernon Law

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A Letter from the President of Malaero Airlines

From the Office of the President, 4/11/2017

To all Employees of Malaero Airlines,

I’m sure everyone has heard about the most recent mishandling of an overbooking situation that took place on board one of the planes of a competing airline. If not, please see your supervisor for full details and while you’re there please take a moment to pick up our NEW employee handbook and sign the NEW Commitment to Customer Service Excellence and Public Nonaggression Agreement. In fact, even if you are already aware of “the incident,” please make sure you get the new handbook and sign the agreement by week’s end.

I just want to take a moment and be very clear that our stance on handling overbooking situations has always been in favor of non-violent solutions. Even if it was not spelled out in the handbook, strictly speaking, it was nevertheless always our policy that overbooked passengers should be invited to deplane and only brutalized and beaten senseless as a very last resort. While it’s not clear if the employees at United had in fact reached that last resort, it is clear that a very thorough and humiliating beatdown was handed out in a very public manner.

This is something I find to be intolerable as I hope you all do. I don’t ever want to hear about anything like this happening on a Malaero flight. This is what we have customs offices and security rooms for. If you do not know the location and accessibility of these rooms, please see our Chief of Airline Security, Brutus D. Bentbody to arrange a tour. These rooms have been specially designed to be windowless, sound proof and easy to clean. A troublesome customer should be lured there with promises of free miles, meals or even cash if need be and only THEN is he/she to be properly insulted, debased and ultimately given a sound thrashing.

Each room comes with a wide variety of tools and devices to make the administration of pain and embarrassment look and feel as professional as possible. If you have not been given adequate instruction on the efficient use of these items, please contact Mr. Bentbody for a demonstration at your earliest convenience. But do not let inexperience deter you from utilizing these facilities! The LAST thing we want – and I can’t stress this enough – is to have our own very public, not to mention very messy, display of naked aggression against one of our customers simply because one or more of our employees had been misinformed about our policies and procedures.

Don’t be afraid to ask! And when you’re in one of our special rooms with your targeted customer, don’t be afraid to experiment! Even if you get carried away and your guest expires, we have many terrifically skilled people ready to help you. It happens all the time, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Again, the important thing here is that the mistake happened where no one outside the airline can see it! If you’d like to know more about how we deal with expired passengers, send an email to our Vice President in charge of Baggage Claims, Vincent Mattresses. Please CC me on all these inquires. While I encourage questions, I don’t like too many questions. Not everyone needs to know everything.

Here at Malaero Airlines, discretion is our watchword!

Thank you all for your hard work and your continued efforts to provide the very best in customer service and disposal. I’ve been proud to say that here at Malaero, we like to make sure all of our passengers reach the final destination each of them have got coming!

 

Sincerely,

Damion Fiendier, President of Malaero Airlines.

P.S. – Please don’t forget to sign the NEW Commitment to Customer Service Excellence and Public Nonaggression Agreement by week’s end. Or else.

Notes from the Self-Pubbed #7 (addendum)

Addendum! Fancy, right? I’m all about the class and the sophistication stuff. But why the addendum? Well, I just got the sales report from Apple and Kobo from my February 6th BookBub promotion of the Grant Scotland omnibus and I’m happy to report they held mother’s milk. I sold enough to recoup expenses and even make a small profit! Read on for numbers! Numbers for the Number God!

 

 

APPLE: (as reported through Smashwords)

Apple sales are reported in a monthly dump, so no per-day sale info available.

44 Units sold during February at $1.99 each (so we can surmise all sales were during promo period).

60% royalty to author yields $1.20 each less Value Added Tax (VAT) on applicable sales. I think this is about 15% before royalty is figured, but it only applies to select overseas sales. So, to err on the safe side, we’ll call it a buck a book.

44 Units @ $1.00 = $44

KOBO: (as reported through Smashwords)

Kobo sales are reported on a monthly basis with day-by-day break down, but all the days were within the promo period.

67 Units sold during February at $1.99.

60% royalty to author yields $1.20 each. No VAT with Kobo, so we get the full $1.20.

67 Units @ $1.20 = $80

REVISED BOOKBUB PROMO NUMBERS:

Expense of Promo: $261

Total royalties from Promo: $283

Profit: $22

 

 

How do you like that?

 

“You might not be as useless as you were before. But you’re still a long way from an invite to Mar-a-Lago”

 

Now, I know these numbers combined with the Amazon numbers result in a quantity and profit margin that is extremely small in comparison with the sales of most other authors, but that’s how it starts.

 

“But that’s how it always begins. Very small.”

 

Additionally, I’m not including sales beyond the promo period which have been not insubstantial and at full price. So, if you throw those in, the profit margin is quite a bit wider. But now this leaves me in a quandary. Sales of Greedy Villain (the only book NOT in the omnibus) have been slow but steady on Amazon since the promotion, but the book is only available on Amazon right now because I wanted to keep it in Kindle Unlimited library to get the sweet, sweet borrowed page reads. However, those haven’t been that impressive and I’d hate to lose the opportunity to get some Kobo/Apple sales on it. I guess I just decided, didn’t I? Greedy Villain is up for renewal in KU in early April. I’ll decline renewal and see if I can get some follow up sales on Kobo and Apple. I can always put it back on KU later.

As for BookBub, my faith has been restored. I can now confidently tell you that if you’re looking to promote a book it is the best advertising option out there. And their follow-up survey is great! I shared my data with them and I’m hoping since my ROI was pretty low it will encourage them to lower their entrance fee a bit. Regardless, I’m looking forward to trying to get the omnibus on a domestic (U.S. only) BookBub promotion in the near future.

I’m in a good mood!

 

Have a drink? ‘Cause I’m having a drink.

 

Oh, and I’ve started receiving my rejection letters from the short stories I’ve sent out! They’re great! Can you tell I’m in a good mood? No, seriously! I feel even more like an “official” author now. My self-published books are making money and my short stories are being turned down by magazines. This is a very exciting time!

Cheers!

 

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Holy crap! This whole thing might actually pan out! Can you believe that? No, don’t answer that. It’s the suspense that’s delicious, isn’t it?

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

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The Widening and the Warping

Are you ready for me to tell you everything that’s wrong and how to fix it? No? Good, because I can’t do that. How about just one thing? Got time to hear about one thing in our society that needs to change like right now? No? Well, I’m going anyway.

So, it’s been a few weeks and I’m sorry I haven’t updated everyone on what’s been going on, but the truth is there hasn’t been much happening – well, not in the writing department anyway, unfortunately. You see, my OTHER job – that of pizza delivery guy; the modern knight errant – has been taking up more time. When I started this job about a year and a half ago, I made it clear to the boss that I only wanted about 25 hours a week. Just enough work to pay my modest bills and still leave plenty of time for writing. And that paid off as I was able to write Greedy Villain and two short stories and get a start on AoGS5. Recently, however, I’ve had to take on a few additional hours as well as cover other drivers’ shifts on occasion.

And why is that? Well, a couple of reasons. As I mentioned in recent posts, I have recently drained the self-publishing marketing war chest and need to rebuild it. But beyond that, there has also been an undeniable shift in the store’s business. Sales are up. This time last year, I remember we entered a very dark time that stretched from after the football season to the first day of summer where delivery was so slow I was worried about meeting expenses. However, this February and March (so far) have showed no signs of slow down. On top of that, the store is having trouble holding on to good people. Bad people are easy enough to hold onto, but good people have been leaving for greener pastures at a steady rate.

And they aren’t getting replaced, except by more bad people.

This is a sign of a booming economy. It’s perhaps the most reliable one. I forget where I heard this theory before (probably some NPR program) but they say if you notice how difficult it is to get good service anymore at your local eatery, then that usually means the economy is doing well. The over-educated and under-employed people who were working minimum wage service jobs have been able to snag better paying jobs at companies that have decided they feel safe enough to hire on help.

Conversely, if the service improves, it’s a reliable sign the economy is tanking or about to tank.

So, on the one hand, I’m happy that the economy is doing well. My meager investment portfolio is growing nicely and business is good so tips are both qualitatively and quantitatively better. However, the lack of good workers combined with the increase in business creates a dreadful pinch on a service sector establishment like the pizza joint. How to keep good people without being forced to pay them what an office job might pay them?

Now, the obvious answer is to offer bonus plans, performance incentives and allow tipping for in-store personnel and not just delivery drivers (although that’s more specific to pizza chains). And although I fully support all of those notions and can’t understand why they aren’t adopted everywhere, I think I have an even better solution.

Mandatory service sector enlistment.

 

“You’re not ready to SERVE your country cheeseburgers and curly fries. You’re still waiting for your momma to do it for you, aren’t you?” – “SIR, NO, SIR!”

 

That’s right. Other countries have mandatory military service, but as the most powerful capitalist nation on the planet, this country would be far better served by having its youth forced to staff the Chuck E Cheeses and the Pizza Huts and the Best Buys for a period of at least two years from age 18 to 20. No matter how much money or smarts you have, you still have to serve your time shoulder to shoulder with your fellow countrymen in the trenches of the free market system.

You think I’m joking, but I’m not. I know. You’re thinking “But, Dan. Most people already serve some time faking smiles and punching cash registers when they’re young. What’s the difference?”

Well, just imagine the next Donald Trump slaving away in front of a fry-o-later. Or the next Rex Tillerson asking if you want fries with that. Do you think their perspectives on what happens where the rubber meets the road in a free market economy might be just slightly better informed? I do. In a country that has the most disproportionate distribution of wealth its ever had and is seeing the gap between the rich and everyone else only grow wider, it seems almost a matter of life and death to the egalitarian dream of our society that we force the elite to spend a little time in the mud before they get to assume their mantles of power.

And it would certainly stabilize the quality of service at most establishments if not showing up for work was equivalent to desertion and punishable by imprisonment (or execution!) Okay, maybe that’s going a little too far.

 

“Can I at least have a last cigarette?” – “You gave up your right to a 15 minute smoke break when you called out sick to go to the beach. READY! AIM!…”

 

Maybe.

Maybe the frustration is largely my own. It’s disheartening to work as fast and as diligently as possible to do a simple job correctly during a busy period only to have customers still complain about the service. I swear most of the complaints we get are from people who have never had to flip a burger in their lives.

You see, there truly is a warping of the perception of reality that comes when people go from having no money to having some money. And even more so when going from having some money to having a lot. It seems at each “tier” of success, an individual is changed (quite without any intention of change, I’m sure) in such a way that he/she looks back on the previous tier and sees it as “below them” and people dwelling within it as somehow deserving less. Or perhaps less deserving, would be a better way of putting that.

I’ll give you an example. A little while ago I was listening to an interview with the head of a designer jean label. When asked what motivated him, he had the gall to say “It isn’t about the money. We just want to create a high-quality product and blah blah blah.” Over the course of the interview, however, he reveals that he moved his factory out of the US and over to Mexico because labor was too expensive here with minimum wages and health care. If he produced his jeans here, he’d have to mark up 30-40% to cover costs.

On a $300 pair of jeans.

 

“So… do they give me super powers or something? Like… can I break dance now?”

 

So, I guess it is about the money after all? The mentality that someone who can afford to spend $300 on a single pair of jeans could not afford a $400 or $500 pair of jeans is beyond my ability to comprehend. I doubt I spend $300 on replacing my entire wardrobe over the course of two years, much less on a single pair of pants.

But what’s especially crucial here is the “screw you, Jack, I got mine” mindset that creeps in as one moves up the income scale. Why is it all right to abandon the health and well-being of skilled and semi skilled labor in your own country to instead employ Mexicans who, by the way, also have a guaranteed minimum wage and universal health care? Why are they somehow more valuable to you than your own countrymen?

Can you really still insist that it isn’t about the money?

This isn’t an attack on globalism, although it certainly has its problems. Also, I’m sure there are nuances of business that I don’t understand, but it remains clear to me, especially in times of economic boom, that the zeitgeist we have been calling the American Dream is only about making yourself into some kind of mogul. If you’re not out to conquer the world, then you’re somehow deserving of less. People wonder what happened to the Mom and Pop stores. They disappeared because the limited business model, the desire to stay local and share modest dreams with your neighbors and employees, will always get crushed by the people who don’t mind stepping on other people to accomplish their own “bigger” dreams.

But I’m not an economist. I have no idea if society would be better off if we made everyone live at the bottom rung for a brief time through some mandatory minimum wage service requirement. And I’m no protectionist advocate, either. If your dream gets stepped on, I believe you should pick yourself up, get some new dreams and adapt and move on. But should we give a little more respect to the little guy than we’ve been giving? I think the last general election makes that clear.

And don’t sell me this “it isn’t about the money.” It’s always about the money. You ever hear anyone use that phrase, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they end their statement with “believe me.” Anyone who says “believe me” is usually someone not to be believed.

 

 

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Did any of that make sense? I have a head cold right now so it’s hard to tell. Besides that, I’m an idea man, okay? I can’t be bothered with details.

“Believe me.” – A liar (probably)

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Notes from the Self-Pubbed (Issue #7)

I’m conflicted. I’m kind of tempted to just keep the omnibus at $1.99. After all, sales keep happening (albeit a very small amount of sales), so I imagine people keep reading. When I started this I had no problem giving away the first book (Dead Empire) for free, but although many thousands of people downloaded it I never received any reviews or hits to the blog or Facebook page. Upon research, I found it was likewise among others who tried the same tactic – nobody seems to know where all those copies went or whether they were ever read. Even though $1.99 isn’t free, it nets me very little money. Still, it’s something, and I seem to get regular hits to my social pages.

But of course I had to bump the price back up. If I didn’t, I’d never be eligible for another BookBub promo with the omnibus unless I wanted to straight up give it away, which as I mentioned is a loser deal. In fact, I bumped the price up to $9.99 because many moons ago I had increased each included book to $3.99 and had never adjusted the omnibus. So, now it matches as just a bit over the price of two books for three, same as before. It’s been a couple of days and sales have predictably dropped to zero, but that’s okay. We’re not having a fire sale or a going-out-of-business blowout. We’re staying the course.

And the course is looooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnggg. Like, for the rest of my life long. Like, Tolstoy long. You on board? Come on, we’ll walk it together. Won’t be so bad that way.

But how exactly did that BookBub promo go, you may be asking? And I promised I’d tell you, didn’t I? After all, this is Notes from the Self-Pubbed, so I shall dutifully and unashamedly share my trials and travails with you, my beloved and curious readers.

But first things first. HAPPY SECOND ANNIVERSARY to THIS TONE OF VOICE! YAY! Commence with the dropping of the balloons and the throwing of the confetti and the eating of cake!

 

I invited the New England Patriots to my Blog Anniversary Parade. My fans seemed to really enjoy that.

I invited the New England Patriots to my Blog Anniversary Parade. My fans seemed to really enjoy that.

 

Second, I have a blog tour on-going, so I will refrain from comment on that until it is done. It deserves its own post, so I’ll wait until it’s finished. By the way, today Grant Scotland is featured over at Hope, Dreams, Life… Love. Check me out on my good side.

But let’s take a look at those BookBub numbers. As this was a BookBub International promotion, the United States subscribers were excluded from seeing my sale. I don’t really get how they separate the two in a digital universe, but they do how they do. People visiting Amazon or B&N.com in the U.S. could still buy my book at the reduced price, they just didn’t see mention of it in their BookBub newsletters. Anyway, here are the numbers:

 

BOOKBUB INTERNATIONAL PROMOTION

COST: $261 (ZOINKS!)

ANNOUNCED SALE PROMOTION DATES: Monday, February 6th through Wednesday February 8th

VISIBILITY: One appearance on Bookbub’s International distribution newsletter and webpage on February 6th.

 

SALES:

FEB 6th:

AMAZON: 123 units @ $1.99 @ %35 royalty

FEB 7th:

AMAZON: 58 units @ $1.99 @ %35 royalty

FEB 8th: (announced end of sale date for promotion)

AMAZON: 12 units @ $1.99 @ %35 royalty

FEB 9th: (I updated blog and my own newsletter with news I would extend sale another day)

AMAZON: 16 units @ $1.99 @ %35 royalty

FEB 10th: (not technically part of the promotion, but just finishing out the week and waiting for price normalization adjustment to appear at stores)

AMAZON: 5 units @ $1.99 @ %35 royalty

While I waited for the stores to accept the fact that I had brought the price back up to $9.99, I sold 13 more copies at the reduced price from the 11th to the 13th. B&N was the culprit. They always seem to drag their feet when I tell them I want to raise a price. As long as they resisted raising it, I couldn’t tell Amazon to do the same. Amazon is very touchy about that sort of thing. Ah, these little wars these mega companies wage. Anyway, that’s 13 more units @ $1.99 @ %35 royalty – all Amazon.

So, how’d I do?

 

"You're kidding, right? I don't have time for this anymore. I'm THE PRESIDENT.... Okay. Wait. Let me see if I can get Flynn on the phone."

“You’re kidding, right? I don’t have time for this anymore. I’m THE PRESIDENT…. Okay. Wait. I know a guy who’s not doing anything. Let me see if I can get Flynn on the phone.”

 

Okay, fair enough. I’ll handle the summary this time, Your Orangeness.

Total sales:

Amazon: 227 units @ $1.99 @ %35 royalty

Kobo: Uknown

B&N: Unknown

Apple: Unknown

Return: $159

 

Soooooooo, not so great. Looks like I’m out about $100. I know Kobo and B&N and Apple have yet to report in and I won’t hear from them for another month or so (I distribute to those outlets through Smashwords and they usually report sales to Smashwords monthly or quarterly) but I very heavily doubt those platforms yielded enough sales to even bring me to break-even territory. Admittedly, Kobo is huge in Canada, so that might not be nothing. Regardless…. I won’t lie. I’m pretty disappointed. BookBub was supposed to be a guaranteed positive ROI. Everywhere I checked not a single person had a bad experience.

And yet, I’m partially to blame. If I had set the price at $2.99 instead of $1.99, I would have been in Amazon’s %70 royalty bracket, which would have made all the difference in the world if I had achieved the same number of sales. At $2.99 @ %70, I would have a return of $334. About on par with what I was expecting. Again, this is assuming I would have achieved the same number of sales. No guarantee there. Also, BookBub’s international reach is far less impressive than its domestic subscriber base. But, I would have had to pay about three times as much to get a domestic feature, which they didn’t offer to me anyway.

So, am I head-in-the-oven? Am I looking wistfully at tall buildings and wondering how to get to the roof?

Nope.

I may have spent my last dollar-rich marketing bullets on BookBub and Goddessfish, but I’ve got plenty of ammo left. True, the advertising budget is depleted (for now, at least), but the word ammo is plentiful. I’ve finished both of the short stories I promised myself I’d complete this year and even revised them to a level I consider fit for submission. And I love them. They’re of a higher caliber of writing than the Grant Scotland books, but that’s because I’m aiming them for a larger audience. Also, short stories – to my mind – insist on packing more info and subtext into a tighter margin. Words are more carefully chosen and I have to be more precise than what the comparative roominess of a full-length novel allows. Finally, I need someone else to foot the bill for marketing for once, so I need to devote a little extra energy into crafting stories for specific publications.

I think. I don’t know. I haven’t submitted a story to a magazine since I was in High School, so this is all going to be new to me.

Anyway, money’s tight right now, so it’s time to turn to traditional publishing for some help. I’ll be submitting these stories to magazines/e-zines for publication and I’m sure I won’t get much (if any) money from it, but at least I’ll get exposure at no cost to yours truly. I might try BookBub again someday, since selling 227 copies of the omnibus over the course of a week is still the best performance I’ve seen from any promotion so far, but next time I’ll do it at $2.99 and hold out for a domestic distribution. That will be costly, so I won’t even attempt it until next year.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to get these stories published and let you know if I have any luck.

As for Grant Scotland… Well, if you’ve been following the series at all, then you already know he doesn’t let a little thing like lack of dough get in the way of setting the world to rights. Some friends have insisted Grant is me and I’ve resisted the comparison. After all, ALL of the characters are me. How could they not be? But, right now they’re more right than they know. I may have gotten knocked around a bit (again) but as the wise ones say “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

 

 

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“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” – Wise Ones

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$1.99 for The Unlikely Spy

For a limited time only! Actually, a very limited time. Like, just for today.

I actually began the $1.99 promo on Monday with a spot on BookBub’s International Distribution newsletter. I remembered to update the Grant Scotland Facebook community page, but not the blog. I sometimes forget that although the two crowds overlap considerably, they don’t overlap completely.

Anyway, the sale was supposed to end today, but I decided to extend it for one more day because of my gaff. Sorry about that. For those who have been following my (mis)adventures in self-publishing, it should be abundantly clear by now that my sales/marketing skills leave much to be desired.

Nonetheless, I persist.

So, by around about this time tomorrow the omnibus of the first three Grant Scotland e-books, The Unlikely Spy (an e-omnibus?), will go back up to $8.99 across all markets. So don’t delay! If you still haven’t checked out this fun, exciting and humorous fantasy adventure series then now is a great time to dive in and get caught up!

And how did the BookBub promotion go, you might ask?

Welllllll… we’ll talk about that next week. I promise. For now, if you’re a New Englander like me, today is a great day to burrow under some blankets and get some reading done.

 

 

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“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

Review your book, tip your server.

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