Saturday, January 18, 2014
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I have an odd fascination with archetypal good vs. evil (or, God vs. Satan) stories. I guess it's because, even though I don't really believe in good and evil in the Biblical or religious sense, others' unwavering belief in them seems like the primary driving force behind most human behavior and societal frameworks. Whether you're talking about education, politics, law, economics, or even entertainment, notions of what's good and what's evil are in there somewhere.
I don't go for ALL Horror, though. For example, I was never a fan of the zombie sub-genre and I can't wait for that trend to peter out. I don't find stories where it's basically a bunch of people running/fighting for their lives against some destructive horde very interesting.
The kind of Horror I'm drawn to is the sort where the stakes aren't just about saving one life, or even thousands of lives, but saving the souls of all of mankind. It's a very rich literary vein, dating all the way back to Dante's Inferno.
Horror can be tremendously inventive (see Neil Gaiman's American Gods, for example: it's a sort of fantasy/horror hybrid) without getting too sprawling (like traditional Fantasy or Sci Fi often does), and there's a lot of catharsis in it. Seeing one guy, or an unlikely team, defeat evil-with-a-capital-E definitely keeps my experiences with internet trolls, red-tape-loving government workers and rude drivers in perspective.
Also, what character could possibly be more interesting, or relatable, than Satan? According to the Bible's version of events, he was (and still is) an angel. He was banished for mutiny, essentially. He thought it was unfair of God to place mortal man above the angels, it was ultimately a fight for angelic civil rights. How many of our worldly political revolutions and wars have been built on similar foundations? To me, any Horror that traces its roots back to that first big Biblical throwdown has a lot of built-in depth, whether the creators of the piece intended it or not.
So I'm a sucker for archetypal good vs. evil stories (Constantine, The Ninth Gate, The Exorcist, The Shining, The Stand, etc.) and vampire stories, because vampires are considered to be no less "fallen" than Satan.
I don't write in the Horror genre because I don't think I have the right sensibilities or skills for it. But I'm very glad that others do.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Here are two new questions authors need to add to their vetting process when considering hiring out for costly author courses, services and how-to books:Do you have an affiliate program for this product or service I'm considering, and if so, how much of the sales price will be paid to the affiliate advertiser?
Imagine that the answers to those questions are, "Yes, I do have an affiliate program, and half of the price you pay is sent back to the affiliate whose link you followed."
So far, so bad. Now imagine the price you're being asked to pay is $940, and $470 of that fee will be paid to the affiliate.
Pick your jaw up off the ground because I'm sorry to tell you, this is not some far-fetched scenario. Today I received this exact offer to become an affiliate advertiser for someone offering author and book marketing/publicity products and services.
I get affiliate requests pretty frequently but anyone who reads this blog or visits the Publetariat site regularly knows I don't say "yes" to many of them. Today's request is just about the best example I've seen to date for explaining why.
Here are the pertinent excerpts from the email invitation, with my comments below each. Note that any boldface emphasis in the quoted passages has been added by me.
I am writing today to suggest a partnership: make this course available simply by letting their existence be known. With my affiliate program, the seller earns a full 50% commission. Although the science exposed is worth hundreds of times more then what is being charged for this air-tight system, the Amazon course is priced at a disquieting rock-bottom $937! Each time a client purchases the course, $468.50 will be deposited into your PayPal account.
I wouldn't call $940 for a course in how to game Amazon a "rock-bottom" or "disquieting" price. Well, maybe disquieting, but not in the way this offer intends. Considering how many books and courses on that very topic are already available for a fraction of that price, and how many free resources are available on that topic as well, I'd say "highway robbery" is a more accurate descriptor to use here.
So why is the price so high, you wonder? That would be on account of the $470 this publicist pays the affiliate on each sale generated by the affiliate.
If I were to accept this offer and start promoting the program to my readers, and one of those readers who signed up were to later learn HALF the cost she paid for the program went to me as an affiliate advertiser fee, she would feel I'd been dishonest and greedy, and that the publicist had ripped her off. And she'd be right.
How could I possibly stand behind this program as a good value for the money, knowing HALF of that money is going to pay (maybe "bribe" is the more accurate term to use here) affiliates? How could this course possibly be worth $940 if the woman who created it is willing to give away half the purchase price on every sale to an affiliate?
Please let me know if it would be of interest to sample the course to ascertain this match made in heaven: a plethora of magical material tailor-made for the self-published author, coupled with exposure to a large population of our shared target market. A mere 20 sales a month garners a cool six figure side-income- not bad for mailbox money!
This is the passage that troubles me the most about the email because there are plenty of desperate and greedy people out there in the online bookish world who will immediately accept this invitation, start promoting the hell out of the program, and have no ethical qualms about it at all.
These are some tough economic times and as a single mom raising two kids, one of whom is heading off to culinary school this fall, I could definitely use the additional income. But I won't line my pockets by emptying the pockets of people who trust me.
...my follow-up tradebook, [Title] ...This industry textbook is chock full of secrets about which PR firms never want their clients to know. In and of itself, [this book] is worth thousands of dollars. However, I also sell it independently for $295 because our goal is to help the self-published author achieve at an affordable price-point.
I wouldn't say $300 is "an affordable price-point" for a BOOK. At least, not unless there's a cashier's check for at least $250 bound into it. And given that elsewhere in the email she says she throws this book in for free when someone buys the $940 program, it's hard to believe it's really worth anything near $300.
So I'm going to reply to this woman with a fairly curt, "No," and invite her to read this blog post if she wants to know why I'm not taking her up on "this match made in heaven", and why I'm not anxious to start working on that six-figure side income.
My integrity is not for sale.
Monday, December 30, 2013
In 1999 King was hit by a car and needed an extended period of convalescence. He even spoke publicly about the possibility of retiring. It didn't last, he came back in 2006 with Cell, and he's continued to release new novels, essays and other works since. And I haven't liked a single one of the novels he's written since his return. Book after book, year after year, he continues to disappoint me and make me regret having given him the benefit of the doubt (and my time and money) yet again.
With that said, here's my open letter.
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Dear Stephen King:
It was a lovely reader-author relationship while it lasted, but it's been over for at least a decade and it's time for me to move on. I think it's really wonderful that you've found faith and feel that it, and sobriety, have turned your life around. I just don't enjoy the fact that those two things have become the central themes of virtually every piece of fiction you've written since you discovered them.
I came to you looking for truly frightening, taut, dark and edgy supernatural horror that explored the limits of human strength and character in the face of pure, inexplicable evil. But you haven't been writing that kind of material for a very, very long time and what you have been writing has been so self-indulgent, maudlin and overwrought that's it's difficult for me to believe you even have an editor anymore.
I held out hope that with Dr. Sleep, your long-awaited sequel to The Shining, you would return to form at last. I was wrong. It's less a supernatural horror thriller than an overlong, overwritten examination of sad-sack, grown-up, recovering alcoholic Danny filling in as your usual Christ figure as he takes on your recently-typical cadre of banal baddies.
Again and again you write these characters who are supposed to seem boringly ordinary on the surface yet filled with a churning malice and menacing hunger to destroy and subsume, but they turn out to be boringly ordinary through and through. Selfish and grasping, sure. But not remotely alien or deeply disturbing in the manner of the bad guys from your earlier books, like Black House and The Stand.
So, this is goodbye. I will always remember the good books fondly, and know you'll be just fine without me.
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It wouldn't be right for me to reprint the discussion that followed on Facebook, but I can share one of my follow-up comments by way of further explaining what my primary issue with King's more recent work is:
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See, if King wants to switch it up and write character studies, that's fine. It's a departure from what made him a bestselling and beloved author, but it's his right and many a creative type has branched out into other types of work and found a NEW audience with great success. But King's publishers just keep on banging that "Master of Horror!!" drum on every book he releases and forcing every new book of his into the "thriller" category (no matter how much the book DOESN'T fit that category), to try and hold on to the old audience, when they know very well the new book is NOTHING like the stuff the old audience originally came for.
I am part of that old audience, and I don't turn to King for character studies, historical fiction or coming of age stories. IMO, there are already plenty of other authors who do those things FAR better than King, and if I want those kinds of stories I'll go to those other authors. What (IMO) King was best at was the supernatural horror-thriller, with evil that's not grounded in any system of religion or morality, but just IS. The fact that it was totally unpredictable, illogical and inexplicable is what made it so scary: if you can't explain or predict it, how can you avoid such evil in real life? There was no soft landing with the old King, there was no "we all learned something today" moment. And that's what made it so great, IMO. It was nihilistic. But once King himself stopped being nihilistic, so did his work. Great for the man, bad for the work.
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As I state in my open letter, King will be just fine without me. There are literally millions of readers out there who are still buying and loving his work, but I will no longer be among them.
I'm disappointed to see the novels of King's son, Joe Hill, going down that same overwritten, poorly edited, more-character-study-than-horror road. Hill's Locke and Key graphic novels (with illustrator Gabriel Rodriguez) and his Heart Shaped Box were right in line with what I loved about the Stephen King of old. But Hill's supposed horror-thriller Horns is about 60% backstory/character study/coming of age tale, and his NOS4A2 suffers from the same problems of repetition and authorial navel-gazing as his father's more recent works.
So what can I learn from this experience as an author?
Well, I haven't released any new fiction in a very long time. But I guess my author takeaway is this: if I choose to break with my usual style or genre(s), I have to expect I will lose at least some of my original readership. If I'm no longer giving them what they came for, I can't expect them to keep coming back.
Also, if I should ever be lucky enough to become a bestselling author, I should do everything in my power to ensure I've got editors who are brave enough to be as ruthless with my work as they would be with a manuscript from any first-time author. In my opinion, King's novels have been crying out for a quality edit going all the way back to Cell, and regardless of his changes in tone and content, a quality edit could've vastly improved every novel he's released since his return to publishing.
Finally, categories matter. I should never categorize my books according to what I think will sell without regard to their actual genres, because it makes readers angry when they feel you've basically tricked them into buying a book they didn't want.
Happy trails, Mr. King. Your work will always be part of the canon of my youth.
Monday, December 9, 2013
Now that I've got it up and running again, with new material being posted there five days a week, I've discovered that many of the sites and blogs I used to visit when searching for possible content to share on Publetariat have disappeared.
I suspect many of those missing site and blog owners eventually threw in the towel because they felt they didn't have the time or energy to keep adding new material on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis, and having been repeatedly admonished to do so, felt there was little point in keeping the site or blog going if they couldn't live up to that requirement.
Giving up was a mistake.
As you may have noticed, I don't post here daily, weekly, nor even necessarily monthly. I post when I have something to say that I think is worth sharing, and frankly, it just doesn't happen all that often.
Don't get me wrong: I am most certainly NOT saying that people who DO post daily, weekly, et cetera are just flapping their gums for no good reason. Plenty of bloggers have a lot of interesting, valuable, educational, or even just amusing stuff to post on a regular basis, and I applaud them for being so prolific.
But even if you're like me, only posting as time allows and when inspiration strikes, it's still worth keeping your blog up because longevity has intrinsic value on the internet. Here's how the cycle works:
The longer your blog is up, the more legitimate and "trustworthy" it looks to Google and other search engines. The more search engines "like" and "trust" your blog, the higher (closer to the top) its posts come up in search results.
The higher your blog's posts come up in search results, the more exposure you get. The more exposure you get, the more traffic you get. The more traffic you get, the more people you get sharing links to your blog. The more traffic and links you get, the more legitimate and trustworthy you look to search engines.
And the cycle repeats, ad infinitum.
What all of this means is, even if you're NOT posting fresh content on a frequent basis, the mere fact that your blog exists---and continues to exist, year in and year out---is helping to cement and build your author platform by improving your search rankings.
Even when I'm not posting new stuff here, people keep coming every single day from web searches and by following direct links to stuff I've posted here previously.
Of course, posting fresh content regularly will always help to drive more traffic and get your books more exposure. So if your goal is maximum sales, the laidback, infrequent posting approach won't work for you.
But if you're considering shutting down your site or blog merely because you don't currently have the time or energy to update it regularly, DON'T. Someday you may again have the necessary time and energy, and until then, your "resting" blog is still building traffic and credibility for you. Given that it can take years to build a following and reach respectable web traffic numbers, why on Earth would you want to throw away the equity you've already built?
Let your blog lie fallow if that's what you need to do right now, but don't shut it down if there's even the tiniest possibility you'll want to blog again in the future.
Friday, September 27, 2013
**Delete content focused on author behavior. We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior.
Apparently, lots of Goodreads members are very angry about this and many are going so far as to cancel their Goodreads accounts.
Pick A Side, Any Side
On the one side are the authors, who feel reviews focused primarily on the author rather than the book, or which include allegations of plagiarism, are inherently unfair. Admittedly, some authors try to retaliate against those who post negative reviews even when the review is solely focused on the book's content, and because of this many Goodreads members are afraid to post negative reviews at all.
On the other side are the reviewers, who feel they have a right to know when authors behave badly, when authors retaliate against reviewers, or when there are allegations of plagiarism in connection with a given book.
Some authors say they are under personal attack from reader-reviewers who misuse the Goodreads platform, and that false claims being posted about them are causing real damage to their sales and careers. Some reader-reviewers say they are just as much, if not more, under attack from authors. There have been reports of reader-reviewers being harassed on sites outside of Goodreads, having their personal contact information exposed online, or even being hacked as "punishment" for a negative review.
Before I get into my lengthy analysis---sorry, but it's a quagmire and there's a lot to look at---, let me state first of all that since I am an author myself some people will undoubtedly think I have an agenda here and I'm automatically going to take the authors' side, but that's not true. I think the majority of reviewers, just like the majority of authors, aren't guilty of any wrongdoing here. Rather, it seems to me the bad behavior of a vocal minority on both sides is spoiling things for everyone.
I don't doubt the reports of extremely inappropriate, even literally criminal in some cases, behavior on the part of some authors. However, I also know there are a few bad-egg reader-reviewers out there who are more interested in power-tripping than in providing fair and informative reviews, and some who even take pride in destroying a new book's, or an author's, prospects.
Peeling Back The Layers
When it comes to complex issues like this, where there is no obvious "right" answer, nor a solution that will satisfy all sides, I try to go back to basics by removing the specifics that people seem to think makes a given situation fraught with uniqueness when really, it's not. Once all of the emotionally-charged "specialness" is gone, it's easier to simply apply logic. Here are my considerations, and conclusions.
First, what if we were talking about professional, mainstream reviewers instead of Goodreads reader-reviewers? Professional, mainstream book reviewers never (to my knowledge) base their reviews of books on author behavior, and if author behavior is ever mentioned in a mainstream book review at all, I think it's a pretty rare occurrence. This would seem to support Goodreads' choice to eliminate all review and shelf content that hinges on author behavior, merely on the grounds that such statements aren't a proper use of a book review platform in the first place.
Second, if we already draw a clear, legal delineation between opinion/free speech and libel why can't we just apply that same, pre-existing paradigm here? We already have a legal definition of what constitutes libel, and since libel is illegal, site owners should always have the right (maybe even the responsibility) to remove libelous content, regardless of who posted it.
As the administrator of numerous websites myself, I know all too well the necessity of erring on the side of caution when it comes to deleting potentially libelous member posts. If the target of such posts makes a libel claim, that claim can name site owners and administrators as liable parties in a lawsuit. So here again, I'd be in agreement with Goodreads' decision to unilaterally delete all such questionable content.
Third, I've been witness to plenty of false allegations that quickly gathered steam and spread like wildfire all over the 'net, so it doesn't seem right to just let reader-reviewers post their various claims as facts with zero oversight. Not everyone can be trusted to verify whatever allegations they've heard, it seems most people will just pass the allegations on; this is how internet urban myths are born. Another point in favor of disallowing the 'author behavior' reviews and shelves.
Again, I'm not saying attacks against reader-reviewers are ever justified, but I think it's important to acknowledge that placing limits and controls on abusive or irresponsible reader-reviewer behavior is just as important as placing limits and controls on abusive or criminal author behavior.
Fourth, what if we were talking about consumer reviews of a product other than a book? Here again, I don't recall seeing many mentions of inventor, CEO, company or spokesman behavior in product reviews as any kind of justification for a bad review. The closest I can think of is negative app reviews where the reviewer accuses the developer of posting sock puppet reviews or collecting excessive personal information through the app.
Personally, I've always found those reviews to be abusive of the review system since they usually make little or no comment on the app itself. Why shouldn't the same standard apply to book reviews? The reader is supposed to be reviewing the book, not the author. Once more, I think Goodreads has a leg to stand on in choosing to bar 'author behavior' reviews, statements and labels based on its 'proper use' policy.
Finally, while I agree it's fair for reader-reviewers to share their personal opinions about matters other than a book's specific content, due to the libel and false allegation issues, I think all such sharing should be handled more privately or entirely off-site from sites like Goodreads and Amazon. Some reader-reviewers have said they really want to know if there's a suspicion of plagiarism or criminal author behavior, because such information truly can guide purchase decisions. However, given the enormous and somewhat anonymous nature of the internet, it's unreasonable to expect site owners and administrators to fact-check every allegation made in any of the tens of thousands, or even millions, of posts on their sites. Yet if they do no fact-checking and let potentially libelous allegations remain in place on their sites, they can be held liable in a legal proceeding.
My final conclusion is that the Goodreads policy change is both fair and appropriate, given the risks Goodreads faces if it allows the 'author behavior' content to remain.
Reader-reviewers who feel unreasonably constrained by the changes at Goodreads do have another option: they can always start their own blogs for posting 'author behavior' information, and shoulder the potential for legal liability themselves. I suspect that after a couple of cease-and-desist orders from attorneys, they might feel quite differently about this matter.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Here's the book's brief description:
In early 2010 I learned I had a "suspicious" mass in my right breast. Two days later my husband of 18+ years announced he was leaving me. This meant I'd also soon be unemployed since my job at the time was as Office Manager for a business my then-husband and I ran together, and that lengthy period of unemployment also led to the eventual loss of my home. To Hell And (Hopefully) Back is my memoir of learning first to survive, and then to thrive.
In first section of this memoir I reprint every post from my To Hell & (Hopefully) Back blog, where I chronicled my experiences during the first year after being hit with all of these major life traumas simultaneously. In the second section I share what I've learned along the road to recovery, and how I've found my way through to a 'new normal'. In the last section, The Crash Cart, I provide the survival tips I used to tie a knot and hang on at those times when I was sure I'd reached the end of my rope.
This is a book for anyone who's trying to cope with a loss or tragedy that seems too big to endure. What I share in this book is my experience in living the old proverb from Lao Tzu: "Sometimes new beginnings are disguised as painful endings."
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It's been a long time coming, and a tough slog. But the point of the book is that I survived. Little 'ol me, who was a creature of habit, a perfectionist and control freak, survived having everything I'd always taken for granted forcibly, suddenly ripped out of my life. I can tell you this much: I'm not a perfectionist anymore and while I still prefer structure to disorganization, and knowing to not knowing, I've definitely learned how to loosen my grip on things that are, or should remain, outside my control.
I used to say, only half-jokingly, that I should just join the Navy SEALS because after all I've been through, it's obvious that nothing can kill me. This is the book that tells that story.
To Hell And (Hopefully) Back is now available exclusively in Kindle format, for the Kindle, Kindle Fire, or any of the free Kindle reader apps for PCs, Macs, and Android and Apple mobile devices.
I've left the first several entries from the original To Hell & Hopefully Back blog up, as a free preview.
Anyone who'd like to review the book can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a free copy.
Monday, May 20, 2013
My answer was an emphatic YES, and I'm reprinting the full response here because I think both service providers and those who seek their services need to get a better understanding of the economics involved. Here's my response, in full:
Yes, you are most definitely not charging enough to either do a thorough job or earn a living wage, though I'm sure you don't realize it.
Let's assume you begin with an MS Word file containing 300pp, which is the typical length of a typical novel. Let's say you charge your higher end estimate of $50 to do the formatting and conversion.
You can take $22.50 right off the top for self-employment taxes**, leaving you with $27.50. But you still have to pay income tax on that income, and even if we assume you're in a very low bracket, say 25%, you're losing an additional $6.88 in income tax, which means you're really only earning $20.62 for the job---and that's before taking out your expenses, as you should be doing before figuring your net income.
**UPDATE - several have questioned my math on the taxes, and since I know math is not my strong suit I'm willing to defer to their judgment. But even if the taxes are only $10 per $50 you get paid as a freelancer (and I'm pretty sure they're quite a lot more than that), you're still only earning slave wages by the time you take all the expenses, weekly hours you don't have booked with paying work, and weekly hours you spend on non-paying but necessary stuff like billing and promotion into account.
Your electricity, internet access and software aren't free. Neither is the cell phone you probably use sometimes for communicating with clients. But I'm fairly certain you're not taking these items, or the taxes, into account because if you were you'd realize you're barely earning minimum wage on each job.
Getting back to those 300 pp...let's assume you spend two hours reviewing the MS Word file and making your formatting changes. Even if you use a bunch of scripts or other automated processes to do the formatting changes, you MUST at least LOOK at every single page to be sure you haven't missed anything that needs to be reformatted to be ebook -compliant. Two hours only allows your 120 minutes total for the job, or 24 seconds per page to review each page AND make any additional formatting changes as necessary. If the MS Word file you've been given is filled with lots of funky and inconsistent Styles and/or formatting, the job will take even longer but again, you have to at least look at EVERY SINGLE PAGE to know if this is the case.
At this point you haven't even done the actual conversion step, or the (absolutely necessary) step of reviewing the converted file---again, if you're doing the job right this means looking at EVERY SINGLE PAGE---yet. Let's allow another 15 minutes for the conversion, since most of that work is done with automated tools, and another 5 seconds per page to review the converted file, which comes out to 25 minutes more: a total of 40 additional minutes, or 67% of an hour.
If you find any irregularities in the converted file you'll have to go back and revisit the formatting work and then repeat the conversion and review steps, but I'm sure your $50 price point doesn't take that possibility into account, either.
So in reality, if you're doing as thorough a job as you should be (by which I mean you're looking at EVERY page both before and after the conversion), it should take you a minimum of 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete a formatting + conversion job on a 300pp manuscript of a novel. It takes considerably longer for a nonfiction book with many images, tables, figures, charts and the like.
Since I've already calculated you're only making $20.62 total for the job after taxes, and at the minimum you should be spending 2.67 hours on the job, that works out to an hourly rate of $7.72 per hour---and again, that's AFTER taxes but BEFORE expenses.
If, on the other hand, you're NOT reviewing every single page both before and after the conversion, then I'd say your work isn't thorough enough.
So if a freelance service provider says they're willing to do your ebook formatting and conversion job for $50 or so, there are only three possibilities: either that person isn't paying him- or herself a living wage, or that person is not paying his or her taxes, or that person is not doing a thorough job on your book.
(No disrespect to the commenter, I am not familiar with his work so I can't comment on it, but most of the time what's going on with these lowball estimates is BOTH that the person isn't paying taxes AND that he or she isn't doing a thorough job. Most service providers who offer such ridiculously low prices are only using automated formatting and conversion tools, and if they bother to look at individual pages at all it's only to do some minor spot-checking.)