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Wednesday, August 29, 2012 9 comments

Writing Wibbles

The current Twitter tempest, at least in the writing world, swirls around the issue of paid reviews. In a rare moment of unity, both the indie world (represented here by Chuck Wendig) and the traditional world (Shelf Awareness) agree that the practice is a little icky. To be specific, Wendig calls it “scummy” while SA says “depressing.” (Both posts link back to an article in the NY Times, about the proprietor of a review mill that was recently shut down.)

Review mill! Green energy!
Wendig raises the question, we can all be sure that [this will] reflect more prominently on self-published authors above all others, right? Well, the traditional publishing industry could cite it as another reason to shun indies, except for one problem: buying and selling reviews is long-established practice. A Twitter friend has a small-press book out, and her publisher paid Publishers Weekly to review it. The Times article mentions Kirkus, “a reviewing service founded in 1933.” That’s 79 years ago, if you don’t feel like doing the math yourself, a time when not even science fiction could conceive of something like the Kindle. If the review mills are scummy, it’s only in that they tend to accentuate the positive (which, to authors using such things, is simply providing value for the money).

Before I go any further, let me say I haven’t bought any reviews for White Pickups, nor do I intend to. The honest 5* review it got is better than anything I could have afforded, and it even points out a couple flaws (dammit! why didn’t I write that down when I thought of it?). But if you tilt your head to the right and squint, buying reviews (whether from PW/Kirkus or a review mill) becomes a marketing expense. I don’t have confirmation, but rumor has it that a certain number of reviews (50?) is supposed to draw the attention of Amazon’s algorithms and they start recommending the book. From that angle (remember to tilt your head and squint), review mills are targeting algorithms rather than people. Scummy, yes, but people are always going to try gaming the system when there’s money to be made.

But buying a “real” review can be pricey. Factor in the hours spent first reading the book, then writing the review, and even at minimum wage you could be looking at over a hundred bucks. The Times article mentioned Kirkus charging $425, for example, and that sounds about right for a professional. If I was out of work, I’d probably take $400 to write a review, but I wouldn’t inflate the rating.

Personally, if I had the money to buy reviews, I’d spend it on editing instead. Better yet, I’d spend the time writing something that rises above the crud, leaving indies in awe and publishers grumbling how they could have done better. Back to Scrivener now…

Tuesday, August 28, 2012 2 comments

Vacation, pt 2: Badger Badger Badger

Lake Michigan was unusually calm while I was in Manitowoc, and that was one more reason to take the freshwater ocean route to Michigan via the S.S. Badger. The Badger is a “car ferry,” originally built  60 years ago for the C&O railroad, hauling rail cars across Lake Michigan to bypass the ├╝ber-busy Chicago railyards. We’re talking some serious iron here:

Image source: official S.S. Badger site
With the decline in rail traffic, Chicago railyards aren’t as congested as they once were, and C&O eventually abandoned its maritime operations. But there was a demand for carrying the other kind of cars, the ones that we drive everywhere, and a group of people bought the ship and continue to operate it. Unofficially, it’s part of US10; the highway runs from Bay City to Ludington and then from Manitowoc to points west. The ship sports a US10 logo on the stern, which I thought was a fun touch. During the summer, the ship makes two round-trips across the lake per day.

Given the vintage of the ship, it’s a coal-fired steamer. In my opinion, these are the best museum pieces, the ones still doing something close to what they were built to do in the first place. The Badger has a small museum on board, depicting the history of both maritime shipping and the railroads’ maritime passenger systems. Many of the small staterooms are still available to rent along the way—which probably makes more sense on the nighttime crossing, but sometimes you need a mid-afternoon nap.

There’s a couple acres of coalyard adjacent to the Badger’s dock, and this truck hauled at least three loads of coal on board before we departed.

So I bought my ticket and turned my car over to the valets (or whatever the maritime equivalent is), then boarded the ship. In my estimation, the amenities are overkill for a four-hour trip, but I might have thought differently if it hadn’t been perfect outdoor weather. As it was, I spent most of the crossing on the foredeck, lounging on a deck chair and reading—with a little timeout for checking out the rest of the ship. They have two TV rooms, a movie room, a playroom for small kids, the mini-museum, two cafeterias, and plenty of indoor (and outdoor) seating. There weren’t a lot of people on the port side, though, since the wind was blowing the coal smoke right down that side of the ship. They also have wifi, but I didn’t bother.

Eventually, we reached Ludington. It took about half an hour to debark and get my car. I grabbed some food and got on the road, and was at Dad’s after about two and a half hours. It was only after getting here that I found out about another car ferry that goes between Milwaukee and Muskegon, and takes only two hours to make the crossing. I don’t know how much it cost, though, and this was easier with regard to where I was leaving from. Next time we all go to Michigan, we might take the weekend “cruise” across the lake to Manitowoc and stay with The Boy, then go back. We could leave the car and save some money that way.

At Dad’s, I… well, that’s the next post!

Monday, August 27, 2012 2 comments

Vacation pt 1: Manitowoc

So it was just over two weeks ago when I loaded a tote bag, computer bag, camera bag, and cooler into Daughter Dearest’s car and pointed the nose north. Of course, I’d planned to leave around 10am, but it was closer to 1pm before departure. I had to pick up my BP/cholesterol meds early, and the wife was reluctant to let her slave labor the love of her life go away for so long. But go I did—I was on a mission, although I didn't realize it until I was already there.

I did manage to make the Columbus IN exit around bedtime, and settled on a Motel 6 for the night. The tall, tall sign, visible from the freeway, promised rooms starting at $44.99. I had to ask the desk clerk about that when she handed me the bill for $60. “Oh,” she said, “that’s the weekday rate for a single room.”

“Seems like you should change the sign for the weekend,” I suggested, not being overtly confrontational… yet.

“We can’t see it from here, and something’s screwed up.” Yeah, I think it was a fatal error in the morals circuitry. I haven’t emailed their corporate offices about it yet, but I will. I will. Misleading is the nice word.

The next morning was better—I met the couple that are affectionately called “the Fs” on their blog, for breakfast. All too soon, I was on the road again. But this time, instead of veering onto US31, I stayed on I-65. I got to geek out over the enormous wind farm south of Gary—hundreds of turbines on both sides of the freeway, for miles and miles—before getting stuck in Chicago traffic on a Sunday afternoon. I managed to make Wisconsin before needing gas, and tanked up for the final leg up I-43 to Manitowoc. North of Milwaukee, traffic was stopped up going south, but northbound was mostly clear sailing. I got to The Boy’s place in time for supper.

As always, The Boy has a crowd of colorful characters gathered around him. J (fourth from left), who also came from Planet Georgia and lived at FAR Manor for a little while, left Kentucky for Wisconsin at the beginning of the new year. He’s now The Boy’s official roomie. J’s new girlfriend Courtney lives at the apartment with him, and she says others have been coming around more often now that The Boy and Snippet are broke up. That has been six weeks and counting—probably the best thing for them both. Had I planned to go straight back to Planet Georgia from Manitowoc, I would have contacted Snippet and offered her a ride back. She wasn’t all that thrilled to move up north to begin with, you know. But, since I wasn’t going straight back, I didn’t contact her and we didn’t run into her.

Anyway, they live in a largish old house that’s been separated into three or four apartments. It’s not upscale by any means, but in reasonable shape for young working-class guys and surprisingly clean. He keeps night-shift hours, so I would get up in the morning and creep out to the porch to eat breakfast and write. That worked out well; the others would start moving around at 10:30 or so, about the time I was about wrote out for the morning.

THAT is a lake.
One question I was asked often, “are you taking the ferry across the lake?” The ferry leaves Manitowoc and crosses Lake Michigan (seen behind us) to Ludington. It’s a four-hour jaunt, and not cheap ($150, half for me and half for the car), but I’d get back $30 or $40 in gas and avoid all that traffic. I figured the travel time would be pretty close, but it was four hours I wouldn’t have to drive myself.

Of course, since we were right on Lake Michigan, we had to go to the beach. The weather was beautiful, and I wish I was still there.

On Tuesday night, I got a call from Other Brother. “Bad news,” he said. “Uncle John passed away yesterday. His viewing is Thursday night and the funeral is Friday. Are you going to be here for that?” Then the fun one: “Oh, and Dad totaled his car Thursday.” So at least I could be there not only for the funeral, but to make sure Dad got there.

Wednesday morning, I got The Boy some groceries (“I’m about over the thing with Snippet,” he said) and we had a quick lunch before I boarded the ferry. That’s tomorrow’s installment.

Friday, August 24, 2012 12 comments

#FridayFlash: Twin Sisters of Different Mothers, pt 4

The conclusion! (I’ll add the Part 3 link when I get home from vacation.)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

After a few minutes, Monica came downstairs to find her husband sitting on the couch, staring at an open bottle. He would lift it as if to drink, then put it down and stare at it again. She sat down next to him, put an arm around his shoulders, and kissed him. “You’re forgiven,” she said. “I can understand how you could have mistaken her for me. Poor girl. For all I know, we could be related.”

“I was just so relieved to see you—her—alive,” Rob moaned, capping the Scotch and dropping it on the coffee table. “I know it’s selfish, but I’m glad that’s not you upstairs. You didn’t get hurt.”

The phone rang, cutting off Monica’s response. “I’ll get that,” she said, jogging to the den. “Hello?” Rob heard. “Yes, this is she. Oh. You did? Well, good. Ah… yes, the address is correct, you can send it there. Thank you so much.”

“That was the airport investigators,” Monica said. “The plane I was supposed to be on crashed? My God, you must have been half out of your mind! Anyway, they found my purse on the plane and they’re going to overnight it here. Which means,” she said, punching three buttons on the phone, “your friend upstairs is the one who stole it in the first place.”

“Oh my God,” Rob said. “The State Department people who called to verify your identity said you looked just like a wanted criminal in the Netherlands. It has to be her!”

The sight of police entering the bedroom was the trigger that restored Monique’s memory. With her leg in a cast and her head still woozy from jet lag and the concussion, she was unable to run and settled for insulting the cops in Dutch. She gave up the “no speak English” gambit when Monica translated the insults, and stopped speaking entirely.

“You’ll want to contact Immigration,” Monica said, as the cops handcuffed Monique to the wheelchair in the foyer. “She’s a Dutch national, probably on a falsified visa, and is wanted by the police in the Netherlands.”

“Jesus, lady,” one of the cops said. “She looks like your twin sister. You think you’re related, maybe?”

“Twin sisters of different mothers?” Monica chuckled. “She never showed up at family gatherings—have you, Monique?”

Monique just glared as the cops wheeled her to the van.

“Next time you go overseas,” Rob said as they watched the cops drive away, “I’m going with you. I don’t think I could take a repeat.”

“That would be peachy,” Monica said, turning him toward the door. “Then when we get our stuff stolen, who do we call to verify that we’re us?”

Rob gave her a cock-eyed look. “For that matter, how do I know you’re really Monica? Maybe I just sent my own wife to the pokey?”

Monica smiled. “Oh, I think I know of a way to verify my identity. Let’s go upstairs and see.”

Friday, August 17, 2012 9 comments

#FridayFlash: Twin Sisters of Different Mothers, pt 3

I’m so glad for scheduled blog posts, I won’t have to worry about this on vacation.

Part 1
Part 2

“Yes, one of the passengers looks like her,” the nurse said, scanning Rob’s wallet photo. “If you’re quiet, I’ll let you see her—I think she’s sleeping at the moment—and you can tell me whether it’s your wife or not.”

“That’s her!” he whispered. One side of her head was bandaged, and her right leg was in a cast, but the hair not covered told Rob what he dreaded to know.

The nurse looked at the photo again, then at the unconscious woman. “I think you’re right,” she whispered back. “Let me buzz the doctor and he can explain the situation.”

“She’s not seriously injured,” Doctor Dikembe explained in the waiting room. “She has a broken leg and has suffered a mild concussion. She seems to be suffering from amnesia, though—is your wife German?”

“Dutch, originally,” Rob said. “But she’s been living here for 15 years.”

“Ah, that explains it. She’s mostly speaking Dutch, with a few words of English thrown in, when she’s awake. From what we’ve been able to gather, she knows she’s in New York, but isn’t sure where she lives or even what her name is. Sometimes she calls herself Monica, other times Monique.”

“She was born Monique, but she goes by Monica,” he said.

The nurse came in. “She’s awake,” she told them. “You can see her, just don’t get too excited.”

Monique looked at Rob. “Hello,” she said, “are you an investigator?”

“It’s your husband, honey,” the nurse said. “He’s here to take you home, if you think you’re up to it.”

“Am I? I can’t remember…”

“You will, in a day or so,” Doctor Dikembe reassured her. “Being in your own home should help you with that. Remember: don’t try to force it, and if you start doing something on your own, let it happen.

“And that goes for you, too,” she told Rob. “Give her time, don’t try to push it. If she doesn’t seem to be fully recovered in a week, you might need to contact mental health professionals in your network. Where are you from?”

“Massachusetts. Framingham.”

“Oh. I won’t be able to refer you to anyone, at least right now. Here’s my card, though; if you need it, call me and I’ll write a referral.”

The nurse rolled in a wheelchair. “You ready to go home, Monica?”

Around 1:30 a.m., Rob brought Monique home. He helped her up the stairs and into the bedroom.

“Rob,” she said. “I know we’re supposed to be married, but I just can’t remember right now. I won’t feel comfortable with you here…”

“It’s alright,” Rob sighed. “I’ll sleep on the couch. Right now, I’m so tired—and so relieved you’re okay—I could probably sleep in the driveway.”

Monique smiled. “You’re a kind man, Rob. I hope when I remember, that I’ll know I was worthy of you.”

Rob nodded, turned off the lights, and went downstairs. He swung into the kitchen to grab the Scotch before getting a blanket out of the linen closet.

Monica woke up just after nine on Sunday morning, much later than planned, which put her in a grumpy mood. She threw everything together, checked out, and got on the road. She was almost to Connecticut before she realized she’d forgotten to call Rob. She swore at herself and drove on.

Rob woke up on the couch around ten, just a little hung over but not enough to forget about the situation. He crept upstairs to find Monique still sleeping. Good: she might wake up in her bed, in her room, and have her memory back. He slipped back downstairs for a glass of milk and a cinnamon roll. A cup of coffee might be good too.

Glancing into the den on the way by, he finally noticed the answering machine light flashing. “Will you accept—” a mechanical voice began, then cut off.

Rob hit ERASE. “No, I will not accept your scammy refinancing offer,” he snarled and walked away.

Just before two, Monique awoke and asked for something to eat when Rob came up to check on her. He quickly rolled downstairs and brought back a tray with coffee, juice, toast, and the other cinnamon roll. She nibbled her food while Rob talked to her. To Rob’s disappointment, she hadn’t recovered any memory of their being married or of other parts of her life. He would probably have to call Framintek tomorrow morning and explain the situation; she wasn’t in any shape to get back to work just yet. “I’m going to change my shirt, if that’s okay,” he said. She nodded, and he pulled off the shirt he’d worn all day and all night.

Monica walked into the house, and saw the blanket spilling from the couch to the floor. Rob must have been watching a late movie, she thought. He was probably outside—good, it would give her time to drop her bags in the bedroom and brush out her hair before he saw her.

Climbing the stairs, she heard Rob talking with quite a bit of animation—but why would he be on the phone in the bedroom? She walked in: “Rob, what—”

Rob looked up, fresh shirt halfway on, and froze. For a long moment, nobody spoke or even moved. Rob stood bug-eyed in the middle of the bedroom, looking to the puzzled woman in his bed, then to she who stood glaring in the doorway, back and forth. Except for the clothes—one was wearing them, the other wasn't—the two were identical.

“Who are—” the clothed woman began, then stopped, seeing her double clearly for the first time. She blinked, rubbed her eyes, then took a hesitant step into the bedroom. It was like looking into a mirror. The woman in her bed stared back, with the same puzzled expression. At the same moment, both of them reached up and brushed the hair back from their foreheads.

Seizing the opportunity, Rob pulled down his shirt and dashed out of the bedroom. If there was any Scotch left in the living room, he intended to finish it.


Thursday, August 09, 2012 13 comments

#FridayFlash: Twin Sisters of Different Mothers, pt 2

In case you missed it: Part 1

“Robert Germain?”

“Yes.” Robert had a bad feeling about this — the caller ID said “US STATE DEPT” and his imagination immediately furnished a long list of terrible things that could have happened to Monica.

“Your wife, Monica. Is she available?”

“Um, no. She’s in Amsterdam at the moment.”

“Very good. Could you briefly tell me where the two of you met, and when you were married?”

“Sure. We were students at Michigan Tech — I was in mechanical engineering, she was in electrical engineering. We got married in 1996.”

“Where does she work and what does she do there?”

“She’s a product manager at Framintek. Since she was born in the Netherlands, they send her to Europe to deal with technical issues from time to time.”

“All right. Now could you describe her?”

“Sure! She’s five foot-six, short brown hair, brown eyes, weighs about 150 pounds…”

“Excellent. Thank you for your time, Mr. Germain. Your wife ran into some trouble in Amsterdam — her purse was stolen, with all her ID — and amazingly enough, she’s a dead ringer for a wanted criminal in the Netherlands. We’re going to issue her a temporary passport and help her get home as soon as possible.”

Monique had never flown before, and the experience was rather unsettling: the deep hum of the engines, the way the aircraft vibrated even after leaving the ground, the noise of the landing gear retracting — but the politie and the Netherlands were now behind her. A new life, a new name, and nothing to do for the next eight hours. “I must be the luckiest woman in the world,” she whispered to herself, then willed herself to sleep.

The pilot’s voice awoke her. “Ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing at JFK airport shortly. For those of you on the right side of the craft, you can see the Statue of Liberty. Please put up your tray tables and return your seats to their full upright position; and as always, thank you for flying Northwest Airlines.” He continued to chatter about connecting flights and the local weather, but Monique tuned him out and looked out the window.

Rob sat and fretted. No word from Monica — no surprise there, if her purse was stolen then her cellphone was gone too — and the guy at the State Department hadn’t told him if she was going to make her flight. He missed her when she was gone, and he’d really wanted to surprise her at the airport with a bouquet. He decided to sit tight, wait for her to call when she arrived Stateside, and order take-out from her favorite Thai place. He turned on the news station and settled into his lounge chair with a book.

More disconcerting rumbles as the flaps deployed and the landing gear came down. Just a few more minutes, Monique thought, watching the runway rush by her window. A jolt as the plane touched down, then a sickening lurch and the plane dipped to the right. Monica barely heard the shrieks from other passengers as she saw a piece of the wing hurtle past, trailing sparks and debris. I think my luck just ran out, as a spindly tower leaped toward her.

“Breaking news about a plane crash at New York’s JFK airport,” the newscaster broke in. Rob jumped, his book tumbling to the floor. “The landing gear on Northwest flight 86 from Amsterdam apparently collapsed as it landed just minutes ago, sending the aircraft skidding across the runway and into a communications tower. There are reports of serious injuries, but no confirmed deaths at this time—”

That was all Rob heard. He rushed into the kitchen and snatched Monica’s itinerary from the refrigerator. “Oh God oh God oh God,” he said, reading Northwest 86 3:50 pm. He bolted out the door, and was on the way to New York in seconds.

It was past eight by the time Rob arrived at the airport. He bolted to the Northwest counter, where a hand-lettered sign promised FLIGHT 86 PASSENGER INFO. “My wife— I think she was on that flight— where would she be now?”

The sympathetic black woman patted his hand. “We’ll try to help you. What’s her name?”

“Monica. Monica Germain.”

“Sir… I don’t see her name on the passenger list. There’s a Monica Pappas listed here, would she have been traveling under another name?”

“No— I don’t know. Her passport was stolen this morning; the State Department called me to verify her ID and said they’d get her home as soon as possible. Could I maybe describe her? She’s about your height—”

The desk clerk shook her head. “Sir, I didn’t see any of the passengers. Jamaica Hospital is where they took everyone; it’s north on the Van Wyck Expressway to Exit 6. They may be able to help you there.”

About the same time, Monica stepped off the jetway and headed to Customs. That was not something she really looked forward to, with a temporary passport in hand, but perhaps the Consulate had sent word ahead. Right now, all she wanted to do was get her bags, find the nearest hotel, and get some sleep. Rob was probably worried about her, so she’d call him collect as soon as she could find an increasingly-rare payphone. Thank God it was Saturday, New York rush hours were horrendous.

After reaching the answering machine, the collect call wouldn’t go through. Rob might be treating himself to a little supper at McVann’s. Surely he knew she would have missed her first flight.


Wednesday, August 08, 2012 3 comments

Writing (and Launching) Wibbles

Launch Cannon! Source: openclipart.org
Finally! I’ve been busy with the Launch Cannon the last few days. Amazon’s always an easy target: load and fire at bedtime, wake up in the morning, direct hit. Smashwords takes a fair amount of re-calibration, since you have to use DOC shot instead of MOBI. But once you get everything just so, you see results in minutes instead of hours. (That’s not including Premium, which takes a while longer.)

In between those two, I took aim at a new target: the Nook Store. I thought it would be another easy target, maybe a little longer to confirm than Amazon, but Scrivener generates clean ePUB files just as easily as MOBI. That one turned out to be a misfire. Some of my tax info didn’t get entered properly, and I got hung in "Pending Account Verification" limbo for a few days. Finally, yesterday, the Pubit site put up a banner saying "call us, we sent you an email." I didn’t get the email until after seeing the banner, but whatever. After figuring out what needed to be fixed, I fixed it.

The upshot is, I’m hoping White Pickups will be available at Nook and iBooks in the next few days. If you can’t wait to get your ePUB fix, Smashwords is happy to take care of you.

So here are the various virtues and failings of each eBook store, as I see them:

Amazon: very easy to deal with, biggest eBook market, multiple countries, CreateSpace for paperback. Not much control after uploading.

Smashwords: easiest avenue to iBooks, 70% commission on 99¢ eBooks, coupons provide lots of pricing flexibility. Insistence on DOC files is a huge PITA for non-Word users, you need a PayPal account (no direct deposit).

Nook: growing market, easy upload from Scrivener (ePUB). Takes longer than Amazon to get your Nook eBook into the store.

A little more administrivia to deal with. But now that White Pickups is rolling out, I can re-focus on Pickups and Pestilence. I sketched out what needs to happen in the final third of the book, which includes the final climactic confrontation, and started writing a little of it yesterday. If everything goes smoothly (haha), I should have it done by spring.

Friday, August 03, 2012 13 comments

#FridayFlash: Twin Sisters of Different Mothers, pt 1

A strange little four-parter I found in my archives…

Image source: openclipart.org
What a stroke of luck! Monique thought, looking at the American’s driver’s license. We could be twins! No need to delay a few hours to switch pictures—the local politie had raided her flat this morning, so time was not her friend right now.

Monique looked through the stolen purse again and considered. Using the woman’s airline ticket and passport would only be asking for trouble; she might leave safely but de Amerikaanse politie would be waiting for her. Better to trust her luck with the fake passport and ID she had in her own bag. “But I can perhaps buy myself a couple of hours,” she muttered, fishing around in the American woman’s giant purse and finding the cellphone. The train to Schiphol was a good place to be anonymous; people chatted among themselves or simply looked out the window. She called the hotel.

“Yes, my name is Monica Germain,” she told the clerk. Interesting, the American had not only her looks but her first name. “A strange woman entered my hotel room—room 504—this morning, and attempted to take my purse. I managed to keep it and run, but left my luggage behind. I’m afraid to return to my room.”

“I understand, madam. Can you describe the woman?”

“Certainly.” Act American. “She was my height, five—excuse me, ah, 175 centimeters. Brown hair, thin.”

“We will let the police know,” the receptionist said. “I would think it is unlikely that she would still be in your room, though. If you wish to return, one of our staff will be glad to accompany you.”

“Yes, perhaps that will be best. But I am on a train at the moment, so I will have to turn around. It may be some time. Could you be kind enough to send security upstairs to make sure my room is unoccupied?”

“Good idea, madam. I will do that.”

“Thank you,” Monique ended the call. It was unlikely that her twin would be arrested, but a little confusion would work in Monique’s favor.

At the airport, her first order of business was to cash in the airline ticket. Act American, chatter as if her plight mattered: “I’m traveling on business, and now they want me to go to Frankfurt and then to Paris. I’ll fly home from Paris. I know it will cost more, but they think it will be worth it. Euros will be fine, I’ll use them.”

At the hotel, Monica was turning the room upside-down, looking for her purse—she could have sworn she’d left it in the room before she went down for breakfast!—when the concierge and the security guard opened the door without knocking. “Did I call already?” she asked. “I’ve lost my purse.”

“Come with us, please,” the concierge said. He and the guard each took an arm and marched Monica out of the room before she had a chance to protest.

“For the last time,” Monica snarled in Dutch, “I’m not Monique Fleek. My name is Monica Germain. I was born in Eindhoven, yes, but I have lived in America since 1992. Call the Consulate, dammit!”

The security guards looked at each other. “But you are a perfect match for Fleek,” said the guard who had brought her down to this basement office, “and why would you ransack your own hotel room?”

Again. I was in the restaurant, eating breakfast. I left my purse in the room and brought my key and my credit card with me. When I came back upstairs, my purse was gone.”

“Perhaps we should let the Americans deal with her,” the conceirge said. “Monica Germain is a guest here, and if that is who she is, then we apologize and all shall be well. If she is Fleek, the Americans will turn her over to the police, and all shall be well. Either way, turning her over to the Consulate seems to be the best course of action.”

With a stolen credit card that still worked, Monique bought another ticket on the same flight, using her false ID. It seemed likely that if the politie were closing in, they would assume that she would book another flight—or perhaps take the train out of the country.

“No luggage to check?”

“My bags were stolen this morning. I’m buying clothes in New York,” she said. She planned to practice Monica’s signature on the flight, and use some of her travelers cheques to buy those clothes.

The clerk looked again. “Good thing. The check-in time just closed. You’re cutting it close.”

Monique bought a magazine with some of her cash from the airline ticket, and took a seat at a gate across and one down from her departure gate where she could keep an eye out for trouble. It wouldn’t be long — she had already emailed an American contact, who said he could furnish what papers she would need in America. A new identity, a new land… perhaps she could even take Monica’s place.


Wednesday, August 01, 2012 8 comments

Writing Wibbles

Big news: I received the final White Pickups edits on Sunday! I’m off to a slow start, but am cranking away. Wife is throwing every wrench she can find, but I’m still hoping to be ready to go by this weekend! People signed up to my mailing list (see the sidebar, just under the White Pickups cover), before I fire the Launch Cannon, will get a big discount from the $2.99 list price. Right now, I’m trying to decide whether it will be 66% or 100%… either way, you’ll get a book that’s fascinated a lot of people and has actually been edited!

An interesting Publisher’s Weekly article came across my Twitter feed late last week: Profits Fall 48% at Penguin on 4% Sales Decline. I tried running some figures, and it doesn’t quite add up:

  • A 4% decline to £441 million implies last year’s sales were about £460 million.
  • A 48% decline to £22 million implies last year’s profits were about £42 million.
  • That means profits declined £20 million on a sales decline of £19 million!

The above numbers suggest that margins cratered, overhead soared, or a combination of the two. The CEO partly blamed the decline on a lack of blockbuster titles (“none of them were Fifty Shades of Grey”) and “softness in the more profitable backlist business.” To me, both of these points were interesting:

  • Both Fifty Shades and The Hunger Games were called out as “[siphoning] sales from other titles.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t these both start out as indie works?
  • A lot of mid-list authors like Joe Konrath have reclaimed their backlists from publishers, and are doing quite well selling both old and new titles as eBooks, for reasonable prices.

If my assumptions are correct, then Amazon is the least of publishers’ problems, no matter how they want to spin it.

A final point: the article mentioned that eBooks now make up 19% of Penguin’s sales. Spin that.

Speaking of Amazon and indies, not all seems to be chocolate and roses there, either. According to iReaderReview, which is usually insightful when the lead blogger isn’t indulging his admitted anti-Apple prejudice, suggests that Amazon is gaming the best-seller lists to downplay $1 books.

In 2011 $1 books were beginning to really take over. … In 2012 this suddenly [ground] to a halt. Lots of indie authors have covered this and talked about a shift to ‘Top Grossing’ instead of ‘Best Selling’.

If this is indeed what’s happening, I must admit to mixed feelings. Sure, at $2.99, everyone makes more per-unit. One point that iReaderReview makes, over and over again, is that the combination of eBooks and easy self-publishing puts enormous downward pressure on prices. As an author, I’d much rather get $2.10 per sale than $0.30. On the other hand, I’ve often said that 99¢ is an impulse buy for most people. If I knew I’d get seven times the volume, I’d definitely go for it. But with 99¢ books largely disappearing from the best-seller (or top-grossing) list, it doesn’t sound like the 99¢ titles are selling in the numbers needed to overcome the higher-priced titles. I’ll definitely play with pricing once I recoup my (small) expenses associated with White Pickups (mostly the cover art), just to see what happens.

And, with any luck, I’ll be so busy working on Pickups and Pestilence that I won’t be obsessively checking the sales figures every time I turn around…


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