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Showing posts with label rant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rant. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 4 comments

Writing Wibbles: Exclusivity, and Why it Shouldn’t be So Attractive

Last week, Indie ReCon kicked off with a talk with Mark Coker of Smashwords, called What Authors Need to Know in 2015. Of course, toward the end of the session, Coker delivered a soliloquy about the perils of exclusivity (specifically, KDP Select).

Steakburgers or dog food?
Okay, there are some really good points to make about being widely available. The problem is threefold:
  • I don’t doubt there are a lot of people like me out there, with books distributed pretty widely (thanks in part to Smashwords), who end up with over 95% of sales coming from Amazon. When I’ve sold over 17,000 Accidental Sorcerers books on Amazon, and a few hundred through Smashwords, I can’t see much downside to exclusivity.
  • There’s a big ecosystem of review and promotional sites built around Amazon exclusivity. Many promo sites are designed around KDP Select’s free days and countdown days. Some sites ask directly for an ASIN (the unique ID that Amazon assigns to each product they sell) instead of a general link.
  • There are other real benefits to being in KDP Select, for those who use those benefits. My co-op partner thinks I’m nuts for not using them, and sometimes I have to wonder if she’s right.
If Mark Coker wants a dent in KDP Select, he and Smashwords likely need to help make that dent—people aren’t going to give up what KDP Select offers without a good reason (where good reason may be defined as solid sales). That probably means sponsoring—or even starting—Smashwords-friendly review sites, and even helping to promote books that are doing reasonably well on Amazon but not on other sites.

As for promotion, Amazon has a huge mailing list that they use to target books to potential readers. My books have appeared on mail blasts a number of times. What is Smashwords doing to get books noticed? I don’t just mean the top sellers (which usually don’t need help), I’m talking about titles with decent sales that might become a top seller with a little help.

Until Mark Coker can answer those questions, KDP Select will continue to be a popular choice for many indies.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 5 comments

Writing Wibbles: Three Steps to Crash-Proof Your Writing

Yvette Kate Willemse recently blogged about losing writing. From misplacing files to pressing the wrong button to using cast-off laptops that crashed or overheated then crashed, to Word corrupting yet another file (which is the biggest reason I won’t use Word for anything I care about), she’s seen it all.

In the previous millennium, I would lose work—mostly due to Word either crashing or randomly corrupting files. Sometimes, the computer would just hang for no good reason, or the power would drop just long enough. Back then, it was just part of life. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve grown intolerant to losing work to a computer or power glitch. Fortunately, it’s simple nowadays to prevent that from happening. Computers and their operating systems (some of them, anyway) are far more stable than they used to be, and now there are ways to recover from the rest of the problems.

The question you need to ask yourself is, how important is this? Whether you’re writing for traditional publication or going the indie route, you’re expecting (or at least hoping) to get paid for it. If you’ve sold a story, publishers take a dim view to “the computer ate my manuscript.” If you’re indie-publishing, you don’t want to scramble around looking for a draft—any draft—of that novel you’re about to upload.

So here’s the three steps I use to crash-proof my writing. I know I’m going to get some flak for Step One, but (as I’ve said before) this is what has worked for me.

Step 1: Never Trust Your Work to Anything from Microsoft or Adobe

Yes, I’m serious. Okay, Windows 7 (and later versions, I presume) are a lot more stable than they used to be. But I cringe every time I hear about a writer using Word (pronounced “weird”)… because usually something bad has happened. I want to think Word has solved some of the file-corruption problems since the 6.0 days (i.e. the previous millennium). Still, trusting a 400-page novel to Word, in my opinion, is just asking for trouble.

As for Adobe (pronounced “a doobie”), it’s all in the cloud now. The Cloud sounds great on paper (or pixels)—it takes care of updates for you, your files are stored on a server that’s maintained by professionals, and all you need is an always-on Internet connection. Unless the DRM goes sour and locks you out, like what happened for a couple days last year. Or you’re in a hotel room with crappy wifi that everyone is pounding on at once. Or your own network connection has bought the farm for whatever reason. Then that cloud is just smoke.

Fortunately, there are alternatives, and they often work better, and most of them are free. The one not-free option, Scrivener, is pretty cheap and It Just Works for the way I write fiction. If you prefer a word processor, both OpenOffice and its clone LibreOffice are free; I’ve done work things with OpenOffice after Word simply refused to do what I wanted, and it worked better and easier. So what if the free Office apps are a little ugly around the edges? The middle, where your words go, is pretty much the same either way. If you want a cloud-y thing, Google Drive is pretty reliable and has the option of local storage for when you’re not connected. Best of both worlds.

If you need a Photoshop-like product for some reason, take a look at GIMP. Again, it’s kind of ugly, and it works different from Photoshop, but once you figure out the differences you don’t have to worry about network outages, cloud outages, DRM, or subscriptions.

Step 2: Backup, Backup, Backup

I said “backup” three times, because there’s three kinds of backup you need to consider.

Backup #1 is power. If you have a desktop system, put it on a UPS (uninterruptible power supply). They aren’t terribly expensive—$50 or so—and they’ll keep you safely writing through the majority of power glitches. When you have a big outage, a UPS gives you plenty of time to save everything, tell all your social network friends what’s happening, and shut down. Put a small UPS on your home network box (cable modem/DSL modem) as well. Some cable boxes (like ARRIS Telephony Modems or Telephony Gateways) might have internal batteries to keep the phone lines running; they’ll shut down the data fairly quickly, though. So if you depend on a network connection, you’ll want to put it on a UPS as well. As for laptops, make sure to run that battery down every month or so and recharge it. Replace it when it can’t run for more than an hour.

Backup #2 is an external hard drive. Both MacOS X and that Microsoft thing (since Windows 7, anyway) have backup built-in. Just connect an external hard drive and remember to turn it on every once in a while. If you balk at the price—and I just spent $100 US for a 3TB drive—consider the potential cost of losing a 10,000 word short story. At 5¢/word, that’s $500. In other words, you want the money spent on a backup drive to be… well, not exactly wasted. The MacOS backup system, Time Machine, lets you pull versions of whatever backed-up project you want out of the backup. So if you’ve made changes, and realize you want to take them back, you can return to that earlier version and start over.

Backup #3 used to be called “offsite backup,” but nowadays everyone calls it “cloud storage.” To an older guy, who has good reason to not trust that network connection to always be on, the cloud might not be the place to put working files but it’s surely righteous for backups. Before the proliferation of free cloud storage, the simplest method for offsite backup was to take the advice of a certain 70’s song: “send it off in a letter to yourself,” aka emailing yourself a copy of the MSS. Nowadays, whether you use Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud, or something else, put your current work in progress in the local folder. Then you’ll know it’s getting backed up, and you can pull a copy no matter where you are. Scrivener also has a clever “Sync with External Folder” feature that exposes projects as a collection of RTF files in a different folder—including folders tied to a cloud service. With the latest Macs, the built-in Pages app can save to iCloud as well as local storage.

Step 3: Disaster Recovery Plan

Any business that wants to stay in business these days has a disaster recovery plan—a way to get back to business no matter what happens. Remember, if you’re planning to sell your work (whether directly or to a publisher), you have a business.

The most common disasters are fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes. For you, the writer toiling away at your masterpiece, add “computer falls over” to the list. It’s all well and good to have decent software and a regular backup regimen, but how quickly can you get back to writing after a fire, even if that fire was only inside the case of your PC? Or for that matter, a virtual fire caused by some infestation of malware?

If you have a day job, be careful about bringing that work laptop home with you at night and using it until you can repair or replace your primary writing workstation. Most companies have a clause about using their equipment that translates to “if you use our stuff to do it, it’s ours.” Most non-evil companies aren’t interested in grabbing rights to a work of fiction, though. Still, consider that as a last resort. It usually isn’t difficult to find a cheap or free used computer that will hold together for a few weeks.

Using the “Sync with External Folder” feature in Scrivener might get you back on track immediately, even if all you have is a tablet or old laptop. There are plenty of text editing programs out there that can work with RTF: WordPad on Windows; TextEdit on Macs; AbiWord or TED on Linux. Unfortunately, the selection for programs that run on tablet operating systems, and can edit RTF files in Dropbox, are pretty thin. I bought a program called Textilus for my iPad, and it does a fine job of editing sync’ed projects when I’m away from home. On the Android side, OfficeSuite Pro (free on Kindle Fire via Amazon’s “Underground” program) works. In the comments, Katherine Hajar mentions AndrOpen Office, an Android port of OpenOffice. If anyone has other suggestions, share them in the comments.

The thing is, you need to memorize that Dropbox (or other cloud service) password if you want to use it on some other computer at the drop of a hat. I can imagine very few things more frustrating than having everything on The Cloud but not being able to remember your password!

The End

If all this is too confusing, Google Drive is probably the way to go. It runs on anything with a recent browser and an Internet connection, and lets you share your work with other people if necessary. Worst case, you can pop into a library or hotel lobby and use the public computers to get work done. Best case, nothing bad happens and your backup plans are a tiny inconvenience.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015 4 comments

Writing Wibbles: Is B&N Flirting with Vanity Publishing? Yes. (UPDATED)

We—that is, those of us at Green Envy Press—are making the push into print this year. This came about a year after what I had planned, but we’ll have some very nice-looking books indeed. Since most of our eBook income is from Amazon, using Amazon’s CreateSpace service was the first and obvious choice. But being an indie author is about anything but the obvious choice, so we started poking around. I remembered hearing that B&N’s Nook Press had set up a print on demand (PoD) service, and I thought, “hey, that’s a no-brainer… maybe people can order books in the store for pickup.”

Well… no. In their own words:


Well, crud. Seems like they’re missing out on a really good opportunity to skewer Amazon here. Amazon can’t say “hey, order this book and have it shipped for free to your nearest brick-and-mortar for pickup… and while you’re there, check out the thousands of titles” etc. And while Amazon can’t, B&N simply won’t.

Okay, maybe there’s some stuff happening behind the scenes, something beyond the usual hidebound “we ain’t never done that way before” you see in lots of old-guard businesses. Maybe their suppliers (aka big publishers) are leaning on them to stifle competition, they way they tried (and failed) with Amazon. Or maybe they consider it too big of an expense or something… who knows? If they wanted to limit this to “serious” authors, they could easily require an ISBN.

But I got an email from B&N recently that, in combination with the above, got my alarm bells ringing. I guess it wasn’t enough to have a PoD service that they won’t help you sell, now they have author services as well:


Now those prices are in line with what I’ve seen from freelancers, but the whole thing smacks of a vanity publishing setup, especially if you scroll down to see their “packages.”

I emailed B&N to ask them about these issues; their auto-responder said “we’ll get back to you in 24 to 48 hours,” and that was a week ago Tuesday. If they do respond, I’ll update this post.

UPDATE: OMG. B&N still hasn’t responded, but Katherine Hajer pointed me to an article at Nate Hoffelder’s Ink, Bits, & Pixels. It’s worse. Much worse. They’re using the well-known scam factory Author Solutions, and trying to hide it. No wonder they ignored my request for info.

Other reading at:
David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital
The Passive Voice

So… thanks, but no thanks. We’ll stick with CreateSpace for now to test the waters, and maybe move to Lightning Source or another printer later if the sales warrant it.

Everything from here on out is speculation and opinion from yours truly, so adjust your filters accordingly:

Amazon may not have created indie publishing, but (like Apple with computers) they made it work for a lot of people. And yes, CreateSpace offers author services, but they also provide you with a marketplace to sell your books. I guess the point is, Amazon is trying to make money with indies, while B&N and vanity presses try to make money from indies. One treats you as a partner (however junior), and the other as an income source. I hasten to point out that there are plenty companies with a similar outlook to Amazon’s (Smashwords being one of the most obvious), but there’s one company that most of us think of first, at least in the Western Hemisphere.

Too bad, B&N. You coulda been a contender. Your brick and mortar stores give you an advantage that Amazon (or even Apple, who isn’t likely to start selling fiction in their stores any time soon) can’t easily match. You just needed the will to buck the system, instead of crawling into bed with the scummiest of scammers. You could have built a solid business with indies, but instead you treat us as marks to suck dry.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014 2 comments

I Write Escapism, and I’m Okay With It

Source: openclipart.org
From Wikipedia: “Escapist fiction is fiction which provides a psychological escape from thoughts of everyday life … The term is not used favorably.”

I don’t hear it as often as I used to, which may reflect the decline in reading overall—or maybe it’s because those who used it most have gone to the Great Library in the Sky. The description does seem to have a sneering quality to it, that implication of not reading the “right” kind of fiction—usually published in the 19th century at the latest, because surely nobody born after 1820 has had anything worthwhile to say, right?

What brought this to mind was a recent The New Yorker article called The Percy Jackson Problem. A literary-minded mom writes about Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson novels, which her son incidentally loves to pieces. If you’re like me, and haven’t read them, they’re about an adolescent demigod, the son of Poseidon and a human mother. There’s this tension between “well, at least he’s reading,” and “but he’s not reading the claaaaaaaaaassics” oozing all through the article. Still, she at least implies that he knows more about Greek mythology at this point than she does. I’m intrigued, and will have to check them out myself now.

I remember those pre-junior high years as a near-dystopia, not that it got much better afterwards. Books were my escape from that life, and even back then I knew I wanted to write my own stories someday. I read a lot of different things, but none of them were “classics” nor titles that literary types of the day would have approved (with the possible exception of Rabbit Hill). One series I remember was The Boxcar Children, the stories of four orphaned kids who moved into an abandoned boxcar. I’ve forgotten the title of another story, but it was about a brother/sister duo who rowed out to an island on a lake and got stranded there. And of course The Hardy Boys, about two brothers who solve mysteries. (Ironic that, since I was such a timid child.) I suppose you could classify the first two as survivalist tales, but without the boxcar full of weaponry or tinfoil-hat politics.at, since I was such a timid child.) My White Pickups books, from that angle, are an adult version of those older stories—abandoned or stranded, people fight to survive and somehow beat the odds.

In junior high, the local librarian pointed me to the sci-fi section, and I was hooked. Who needs a boxcar in the woods when you have a fracking spaceship, am I right? Thus began a stretch of years when, like Cody in White Pickups, “the only books I ever picked up [had] a spaceship on the cover.” I’m not sure who it was that pointed me to Lord of the Rings in high school, but fantasy became an ever-increasing part of my reading mix. Who needs a spaceship? Just zap yourself to another world, and defeat that overwhelming evil with determination and heart!

I read a lot, and I needed stories that would take me Elsewhere for a while. Things did get better in college, but the habit was set. I got into Dungeons and Dragons, and that was addictive—acting out a story on the fly, where your own decisions and reactions affected how it ended. As you might imagine, that pulled me even farther into the fantasy realm. In our D&D group, we passed around our own book collections. I discovered The Sword of Shannara, Dragonriders of Pern, and the collaborative Thieves’ World anthologies came out around then. I spent the summer of 1980 in Biloxi MS and points south (i.e. the Gulf itself, working offshore helping cooks feed hungry drilling platform workers). I took a sheaf of scrap computer paper with me for my off-time, and wrote the first novel I actually finished, The War of the Seventh Trumpet. I never gave serious thought to finding a publisher, because even in the 1980s that kind of fantasy was already getting formulaic. (Not to mention it’s a typical first effort, pretty awful.) While I won’t ever publish that one without some extensive rewrites, it became background material for other Termag stories.

Thirty years later, here we are. I’ve published four Accidental Sorcerers stories, with the fifth (Lost in Nightwalk) coming out later this month and the sixth (Beyond the Sea of Storms) drafted. A sorcerer and his two love-struck apprentices travel Termag and have lots of adventures.

It’s escapist fiction, and I’m okay with that.

Sometimes—or all too often—you just need to get away from everyday circumstances. Fly that spaceship to Antares and fight the Vegans (aliens from Vega, that is… seems like they’re always hostile). Or follow Bailar, Sura, and Mik around Termag and see what kind of scrape they get embroiled in this time. Or stay out of those talking pickup trucks and try to make a better world for yourself, and the other four dozen people around you.

In the Victorian era, they had what they called “improving” literature. The “right” kind of books, written by the “right” kind of people. Maybe it was about building character, a phrase used only by people who aren’t doing the work (or reading those kind of books). Reading escapist fiction lets you try on a different person—that timid boy I was could become a survivalist, or even a hero, if only for a little while. Did I grow out of that timidity, or was I “improved” by escapism?

And now, I have another escape—I mean a new book—to get ready. Until then…

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 3 comments

Writing Wibbles

I always feel like
somebody's watching me
(And I have no privacy)
—Rockwell

I had a couple of things to share this week—an interview with the creator of the #amwriting hashtag was at the top of the list—but something else reared its ugly adobe head, and vaulted to the top of the list.

Nate Hoffeider at The Digital Reader broke the story a little over a week ago. Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) version 4 “[seems] to be sending an awful lot of data to Adobe’s servers.” Most EPUB-based eBook readers on the market use some version of ADE, although I’m not sure whether any are using ADE4 just yet. Older versions are less intrusive.

How intrusive is this? Let me quote Mr. Hoffeider here:
Adobe is gathering data on the ebooks that have been opened, which pages were read, and in what order. All of this data, including the title, publisher, and other metadata for the book is being sent to Adobe’s server in clear text. …

Adobe isn’t just tracking what users are doing in DE4; this app was also scanning my computer, gathering the metadata from all of the ebooks sitting on my hard disk, and uploading that data to Adobe’s servers. …

And just to be clear, this includes not just ebooks I opened in DE4, but also ebooks I store in calibre and every Epub ebook I happen to have sitting on my hard disk.
(emphasis mine)

The Passive Guy, a lawyer who writes on self-publishing issues, has an excellent summary and links, both in the article and from readers in the comments.

Much of the outrage in the tech side of the community focuses on Adobe’s use of plain text. That is a little disturbing, yes—it means anyone who can put a packet sniffer anywhere along the path between you and Adobe can see all this data. But for me, it’s what the people owning the servers are doing that’s more important. Scraping your hard drive for eBooks makes ADE4 spyware, in my opinion.

When pressed for an explanation, Adobe finally said (in the typical corporate lawyer speak of any company caught with their hands in your pockets) that it’s part of their DRM, and they gave themselves permission to do it through their “privacy” policy.

Now I can already hear the Kindle haters shouting “Amazon does it, too!” Well, yes, Amazon does send some information back to the mothership, but there are (as I see it) three important differences:

  1. Amazon is pretty up-front about what their Whispersync feature does, and it gives back by letting you sync your books across devices. Adobe gives you nothing (or maybe they use the info to target advertising at you, who knows?). You can also turn it off at any time.
  2. Whispersync isn’t a DRM mechanism, at least primarily. It works just as well with non-DRM books sold through the Kindle store.
  3. Amazon doesn’t presume to scrape your hard drive, looking for any MOBI or AZW files you might happen to have, just because they feel like it.

To Panic or not to Panic (probably not)


Since I handle all eBook formatting for Green Envy Press, and I work in EPUB format, I’m pretty sensitive to the idea of some corporation scraping my hard drive and looking over works in progress. Fortunately, I don’t use Adobe software in any part of my production toolchain.

But this is the problem: if people with access (legal or otherwise) to Adobe’s servers were to target a publisher’s typesetting department, they could get advance notice of upcoming titles or other intelligence. Or they could target individuals for blackmail purposes. I find it quite likely that Adobe’s legal department will use this info to shake down unfortunates who land in some kind of piracy profile (whether they’re actually pirating eBooks or not)—or sell the info to large publishers, so they can do the shaking down. I also expect Adobe to “share collected information with our third-party partners” (i.e. sell information about your reading habits to anyone who wants to spam you to death).

On the other hand, this affects only a small but growing number of individuals—those who have been suckered into installing ADE4 on their computers. I don’t know whether any eBook readers use ADE4, or will load that Trojan Horse in a near-future update. Obviously, people in the Kindle ecosystem are immune (beyond the Whispersync issues I mentioned earlier). Apple’s iBooks ecosystem is also Adobe-free, or so I’ve read. Earlier versions of ADE are not nearly as intrusive, so you’re safe in that case as well.

Fortunately, and I’ve said this before, eBook DRM is ridiculously easy to disable. Buy your eBooks from any authorized retailer, strip the DRM, and use Calibre or a third-party eReader to read on your computer. Or buy from those of us who make sure the “use DRM” selection is turned off when we publish.

And then, there’s the technical fix: block the IP addresses assigned to Adobe’s servers at your router. Whether you use DSL, cable, or fiber to get your Internet fix, your router has a fairly simple way to set this up. Look for something like “outgoing filters” and add the addresses shown in the image below. Here’s what I’ve added to my DSL router, just in case:


That won’t stop ADE4 from getting all chatty if you take your laptop outside the house, but it’s a start.



If you haven’t tried my eBooks—DRM-free, available for both Kindle and the rest of the world, and priced to move—why not check them out? The Crossover is free, and the rest are cheaper than a large latte. And unlike a latte, you can enjoy them again and again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 6 comments

Writing Wibbles

When I released the first three Accidental Sorcerers novellas, I had a good start on the next story in the series. That wasn’t the case for Into the Icebound—I only had about 3000 words down for the sequel (working title Lost in Nightwalk). After sending four of these stories into the eBook stores, I now have a pretty good idea how long it takes to get a first draft knocked into shape. If I want to keep my “roughly six months” schedule, I’ll need to have the first draft done by mid-July.

Scrivener is a great tool for this kind of thing. Select “Show Project Targets” in the Project menu, and you get a little window with the basic stuff you need:

Scrivener’s Project Targets

The “Options…” button lets you set the deadline date, and what days of the week you intend to write (I set it to take Sundays off). Clicking on the rightmost number under the top progress bar lets you set the target manuscript size. You can adjust it later if you need. I set a somewhat optimistic target of 40,000 words, as you can see, although I now think 32,000 is going to be closer to the actual word count.

It’s pretty simple, really. Tell it how big, how often, and how soon, and it gives you a daily word count target (the “Session Target”). It has moved around some, as I’d write over 1000 words some nights and not at all on others, but right now it’s pretty close to the 850 words/day target I started with… which means that, averaged out over the last month or so, I’ve stayed pretty much on target.

• • •

Salon Doubles Down

There’s a disturbing trend these days. Some organizations will say or print something that’s rather detached from reality, and people will call them on it. Instead of doing some research, or anything that might lead them to have to say, “dang, we really hosed our credibility running that tripe,” they dig in. In some circles, it’s called doubling down on the stupid.

Enter Salon. Andrew Leonard kicked off the month of June with your basic publishing industry press release stenography (because committing journalism is a misdemeanor or something), called Amazon’s scorched-earch campaign. He threw around inflammatory phrases like “monopoly power,” “heavy-handed tactics,” and (the worst insult of all) comparing Amazon to Walmart. Of course, he provided no evidence that Amazon has a monopoly on anything, nor that what they’re doing is disproportionate, nor that they’re sending thousands of publishing jobs to China.

So indies, from Hugh Howey and J.A. Konrath all the way down to me, called them on it, providing counter-arguments with evidence. In some alternate universe, a senior editor at Salon acquired clue, pulled the article, and ran a more balanced piece that used actual data and provided links. In this universe… Salon doubled down on the stupid. This time, it was Laura Miller and Amazon is not your friend: Why self-published authors should side with Hachette. (This disturbing lack of title caps seems to be a thing with Salon. But I suppose if you're not doing actual journalism, it doesn’t matter.)

In this article, the points are:
  • The only people defending Amazon are indies.
  • Many indies are angry with traditional publishers because the authors failed to get in (or are former midlisters who got screwed over and dumped).
  • Self-published authors really, really, really hate traditional publishing (actual quote here).
  • High prices for tradpub eBooks help indies by allowing us to compete on price.
  • A publishing contract is a business deal.
  • Most indie works are dreck, slush pile, etc.
  • Tradpub books are higher quality, and so deserve a higher markup.
  • Amazon might screw us over in some unspecified future.
OK, the fourth and fifth points are good ones. Stopped clocks, blind squirrels, etc. The rest is once again long on flamebait, short on evidence. Now I remember why I quit reading Salon around 2006.

C’mon, tradpub supporters. Is this the best you can do? Really? Regurgitate the same tropes from 2010 and pretend nothing has changed? If anything, traditional publishers have been squeezing their authors even harder since eBooks started booming. With almost zero production costs, eBooks give publishers more profit… and lower royalties to authors. Don’t take my word for it, Lagardère (Hachette’s parent company) put it on their slides in their shareholder presentation. Hugh Howey has them on his blog.

As far as tradpub books being higher quality goes, just saying “50 Shades of Grey” would be too easy. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at a book published 50 years ago, and one published now, and see how production quality has deteriorated. Typesetters have been replaced with Microsoft Word. Copyediting isn’t nearly as rigorous as it once was, and your typical tradpub book has plenty of typos and errors to go around. One of the hardcover editions of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas books had an entire line missing from the bottom of the first page! If they’d let that get by with Dean Koontz, what chance do midlisters have of getting a quality production run?

Finally, the notion that Amazon might stop giving indies decent terms—when the worst-case the detractors suggest might happen is still a better deal than authors get from traditional publishers—is laughable at best.

If publishers had some regard for authors and readers, beyond squeezing as much money as possible out of each, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

This has been an interesting week. Maybe it was synchronicity, or maybe it was the universe sending a message. Anyway, let’s start with a summary of the logline and blurb voting from last week’s wibble.

MenWomenTotal
LoglineA112
B1.523.5
C4.537.5
Blurb1112
2134
332.55.5

I arbitrarily assigned a half-vote where voters suggested that either of two were good, or picked “this one, but I liked that one as well.” That’s why the totals don’t equal out. (I included votes received on Twitter, and on a community blog of sorts that I frequent.) Here’s how I interpreted the results:
  • Logline C is the clear winner.
  • I was a little surprised that the men preferred C at least as much as the women. I thought it might be too romance-y for the guys.
  • Blurb 1 is the one that +Angela Kulig rejected. The voting confirms her opinion, which I expected.
  • Women liked Blurb 2 far better than the men.
  • Voting on blurbs 2 and 3 was close enough that I’d be comfortable using either one (with modifications as described below).
I got some back-channel feedback about the word “exotic” in the blurbs. I wasn’t aware that it’s a red-flag word for some women. Ironic that the person described as such, comes from a matriarchal society! Now one could argue that exotic simply means “foreign,” and it’s a fool’s errand to avoid all offense, but why offend the very people I hope to have as supporters? (duh) I found and struck the one use of the word in the text. Fortunately, it was easy to remove.

What’s interesting is how this all ties into last week’s big ugly blowup at the SFWA, over unintentional(?) sexism in their quarterly bulletin. A woman in a chainmail bikini on the cover, along with authors Mike Resnick and Barry Malzburg discussing the physical attributes of women editors, led to some protests. Resnick and Malzburg threw gasoline on the fire by claiming censorship, using language more appropriate for teabaggers than authors in a supposedly forward-looking genre.

Don’t take my word for it. E. Catherine Tobler’s public SFWA resignation did a fine job of covering the details, and described some of the blowback that she and others got. Lest you think this was just an isolated incident, Anna Guirre’s experience(s) suggest that sexism is endemic to not only the SFWA, but cons and especially the panels that claim to represent the genre and its writers. And she also received some nasty blowback.

The SFWA leadership was caught flat-footed, but (to their credit) got it together and acted. First off, outgoing SFWA President John Scalzi issued an apology, saying (in part), “when all is said and done, I personally am responsible for the Bulletin and what is published between its covers.” Shortly after, the SFWA formed a task force to see “how the publication needs to proceed… to be a valuable [member resource].” This is a good start. However, the task force is four men and three women, which doesn’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies. I don’t think it’s the intent—but given how women are marginalized at panels and the like, this could easily turn out to be a pinkwash.

And now… it’s rant time.

I find this head-desking incredible. I’m a middle-aged whitebread dude, and I have my issues, but I fracking try to do better. And yes, common tropes in Fantasy include putting a woman in a chainmail bikini. Or making her the damsel in need of rescue. Or part of an embarrassing sexual encounter with the hero. “Judas Priest, what the hell is this?!” as my Mom might say.

We know better, and should strive to do better. There have been examples of “better” since the 70s, now-classics by Anne McCaffrey, CJ Cherryh, and Ursula K. LeGuin. Yes, as writers, it can be work. When I first started writing, the characters were all guys all the time. I had to make a conscious effort to create female characters, then give them more than a few lines, then put them on an equal footing, then cast women as the main characters. But dammit, I did the work, because I knew it had to be done if I was going to be a decent writer. It wasn’t all that hard.

Fortunately, this is a problem that time is about to solve. Looking at my Writers list on Twitter, the vast majority of them are women. Bowker also tells us that women are 62% of the book buyers. As writers and authors, we have to appeal to women if we’re going to have any chance of success. That doesn’t mean everything has to be steamy romance—although erotica has (ahem) thrust its way to the top of the charts—but authors (especially new authors) have to understand what the market looks like these days. I’m not saying we should do nothing now, but in the long run, we’ll win. The old boys’ club is dying of old age.

I wanted to wrap this up with a survey of gender roles throughout Termag’s history, but this has run long enough. Maybe next week.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013 10 comments

Writing Wibbles

Feeding the Troll (or, the Winters of Our Discontent)

In today’s column, I’m going to break a long-standing rule of mine and feed a troll. Just this once.

The troll’s name is John Winters, and his bait is called I’m a self-publishing failure (capitalized, or not, exactly as shown). In a nutshell, a journalist who writes for Salon self-publishes a novel, doesn’t do too well with it, and thus gets to write off the entire phenomenon as “the literary world’s version of masturbation.” The condescending tone comes through loud and clear, even when he pretends to be self-deprecating.

Now I’ll be the first to admit: even with five books available, one of which has been fairly successful, I’m still trying to figure out a lot of this—especially the promotion stuff. Still, the methodology that Winters describes in his column just plain reeks of UR DOIN IT RONG. As a journalist and (according to his bio) someone who teaches writing classes at a local college, I’m guessing he knows better. In fact, I’m guessing he deliberately sandbagged the whole process, playing at being the newbiest of newbies, so he could write about the outcome he’d planned all along.

First off, he tells us “Turning my [book] to a title on Amazon took relatively no time at all.” No comment about formatting or editing it, nothing about getting cover art, no agonizing over the synopsis (although, to be fair, he could have done the latter when he was querying). Are we to believe that a journalist/columnist/writing instructor is ignorant of the importance of production values? I’d bet a box of donuts that Winters has editors and artists in his personal address book. It’s not beyond the pale that he could have had both done for sweetheart prices. And (he doesn’t mention this part in the article) he sets a retail price of $9.99. Um… yeah. No wonder he’s not getting any sales. Spending 10 minutes cruising the best-seller list would have shown a lot of titles at $2.99 or less. (Although it’s free as I write this, and doing well enough in the rankings. Maybe his Salon article touched off some interest.)

Next off, Winters goes on to talk about the variety of advertising he did. According to his article, he spent $100 on Google ads, and (reading between the lines) $50 on Facebook to promote a giveaway. Nothing spent at Goodreads, Indie Author News, or any other bookish site, where he might have had at least some return. (I’ll be doing a little advertising later this year, but even now I know that Google and Facebook aren’t the places to advertise books.)

What strains belief most of all (and this article is dated April 1): someone who has the kind of exposure you get writing for Salon, doesn’t think to use it. Well, maybe he did—if Winters has sold 20 copies of a $10 eBook, that’s not bad. But he doesn’t know any book reviewers who would let him jump in line? A positive review on a major site can really kick your sales, after all. Coupled with a reasonable price, there’s no reason that a good book written by an author with connections can’t do quite well.

Winters speaks of two groups of indie writers: the half who make less than $500, and the blockbusters. But what about the (almost) half of us in-between, the hundreds of authors making a decent living, or the thousands with a nice supplementary income? Not a peep. Why not talk about those people if you’re not writing with a pre-determined conclusion in mind?


OK, I’m done feeding the troll. In other news, I received an email from Amazon about a “Kindle Quality Notice” for Accidental Sorcerers. The email calls out a typo and something they call “forced alignment,” which I assume refers to the block-quoted sections. So whoever you are, thanks for the typo catch, and for caring enough to report it. I’ve emailed back to ask for clarification on the “forced alignment” issue, and I’ll update as soon as I know what to fix there.



If you haven’t grabbed my new anthology, Oddities, you’re missing out. Reviews have been pretty positive so far. If you want something to read on your commute, or during a coffee break, you’ll be treated to what Eric Townsend called “one entertaining story after another.”

And you’ll spend a lot more than 99 cents on that cup of coffee! If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow it, too.

Saturday, March 09, 2013 5 comments

Bottom-feeding

Do traditional publishers think that bottom-feeding is the way to beat Amazon?

This has been a disturbing week for anyone watching the publishing industry. Random House launched four new imprints, with “you really named them that?” names like Hydra and Alibi, offering terms worse than a standard vanity publisher. As always, “the large print giveth, the small print taketh away.” The 50/50 split seems pretty good, until you realize that your share is zero until all expenses are accounted for. The thing is, it’s Random House that determines how much they’re charging themselves (and authors) for the editing, cover design, layout, and so forth, as well as any ongoing expenses they can gin up. Musicians have pointed out similarities to record label contracts, coupled with the record companies’ use of creative accounting to avoid paying royalties to artists at all.

Given the nature of the contracts, the SFWA has de-listed Hydra (the SF imprint) as a qualifying market1 for SFWA membership. SFWA president John Scalzi thumped Random House thoroughly on his personal blog. “It’s genuinely shameful that a publisher is willing to offer this contract — and for that matter, to defend it,” he writes. But defend it they do, in an email to SFWA’s Writer Beware.

One major publisher pulling this kind of stunt, ever, would be bad enough. But it’s not just Random House. They weren’t even the first. Last year, Simon and Schuster hooked up with Author Solutions/ASI, the scammiest of the publishing scammers, to create the “Archway” imprint. (Hmmm… “arch.” As in, bend over? I’m seeing a trend in these names.) Perhaps to steal a little of Random House’s thunder this week, S&S emailed major writing bloggers, offering an affiliate program. (No, I wasn’t contacted. No, I wouldn’t have signed up anyway.)

If it was just this, I could say the universe is validating my decision to not bother with traditional publishers. But then someone forwarded me an email they got from Amazon on Wednesday:



Look at what’s topping that list. Look at the fourth book down. I believe it was no coincidence that Accidental Sorcerers got yet another wind (fourth wind? fifth? eighth? I’ve lost count) after that mail went out, and jumped back into the Top 100 lists for Kindle Fantasy, Fantasy, and Teens. How many traditional publishers are going to do that kind of marketing for a new unknown author?

Say what you will about Amazon. Even 30% is a better cut than I’d get from a traditional publisher, and they actually do some marketing. Now I need to email Apple, B&N, and Kobo, and tell them, “Hey, Amazon’s including my book in ads, and we’re getting pretty good sales over here. How about you guys try to outdo them?”


1The SFWA also says indies like me don’t qualify either, to which I give a shrug and a “pfffft.” Why join a club that would have me as a member, anyway?

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…

Monday, March 12, 2012 7 comments

Just Shoot Me

Big V came up here Wednesday and spent the night. “It’s for this week,” says the wife, “until she gets her glucose under control.” Like The Boy, Big V has diabetes — and like The Boy, she does absolutely nothing to keep it where it needs to be. So her levels have been running anywhere from 220 to 490 (100 is ideal), and “until she gets it under control” could be a long, long time. She had the audacity to ask me for ice cream over the weekend, then I had to chase her away from grabbing a box of Teddy Grahams in the kitchen. Maybe I should just give her the gun; it would be a lot quicker and there’d be more of her left in the casket. Yes, I’m being morbid, but that’s pretty much the situation.

Of course, with Big V up here at the manor, Skylar is here too. Of the two, he’s less hassle. Usually. There’s always the screaming matches with Mason over some toy that one didn’t care about until the other one picked it up.

Monday nights are extra-special. The Voice is on, and SWMBO insists in devoting her full attention to it, and woe to anyone who makes undue noise while it’s on. That wouldn’t be so bad, but Mason sleeps in the living room for now. I need to show her Hulu, so she can watch her shows on the iPad once Mason’s asleep. Of course, if you try using the iPad in Mason’s presence, he’s all over you wanting to play Otto Matic or something. I think once things warm up more reliably, and Big V is no longer here, we’ll move Mason into the guest room until he’s old enough to want The Boy’s old room upstairs.

I give this situation another week. By then, Big V and SWMBO will get into their own screaming match over something and Big V will drive home in her powerchair with Skylar in her lap.

But to end this on a more pleasant note, Mason got his first ice cream cone this weekend. He also got his first taste of kiwi, and I’m not sure which he liked better — his eyes lit UP over the kiwi, and he gave me the Happiest Kid in the World grin when he saw me bringing his cone. Of course I got a pic!

That’s pretty much the way things are at FAR Manor for now. As always, I’ll have to wrest an afternoon from the clutches of everyone else so I can get a few things of my own done.

Monday, January 23, 2012 4 comments

iBooks Author: the REAL Problem

APPLE WANTS TO
EAT YOUR COPYRIGHT!
There has been a lot of sensationalist “reporting,” breathlessly repeated on Twitter, about the licensing terms for Apple’s new iBooks Author app. I’m not going to reward blind panic with links, but I’m sure you can Google your way to something that would be “enlightenment” if there were any useful information to be gleaned from that link-bait. This fish ain’t bitin’.

The big problem is: there’s something that we, both authors and eReader owners, need to worry about and the link-bait articles aren’t telling us about it. And iBooks Author is only half of it.

Let’s take a look at the clause in the iBooks Author licensing agreement that has all the link-baiters going ballistic. Fortunately, it’s like the third paragraph down in the licensing agreement (under “IMPORTANT NOTE,” emphasis mine):
If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g. through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple.
XKCD always puts things in perspective.
I’ve bolded the part that should (but won’t) hush up the link-baiters and the fish that continue to bite at it. Let me make it clear:

Apple is only restricting the output of the software. What you do with eBooks generated by any other means is your own freeking business.

So basically, you can take your MSS and feed it to Amazon, Smashwords, or anywhere else you like. But if you’re selling your book (and aren’t we all?), the version you generate using iBooks Author — and only the version you generate using iBooks Author — has to be sold on the iBookstore. Apple may or may not approve it for sale, as they do for iOS apps on the App Store.

A lot of indie writers have talked about the problems we face, often put succinctly as “now that anyone can publish a novel, anyone does.” Most of us want to put our best foot forward, providing an engaging story at a price that won’t break readers’ banks while giving us the opportunity to earn some recompense for the work we put into bringing that story to the readers. Unfortunately, we are often lumped in with those who just throw whatever they have onto the eBook stores. What Apple is doing is attempting to guarantee some measure of quality (what measure that may be, I have deliberately left undefined) for people who want to sell enhanced eBooks in the iBookstore. Instead of welcoming this development, authors are running around with their hair on fire.

The Real Problem

Unfortunately, iBooks Author presents half of a real problem, one that nobody else is talking about. The other half is presented by… Kindle Format 8. Right up until the new year, we had to deal with only two eBook formats: MOBI (Kindle) and ePUB (everyone else). Both formats are well-standardized — you can build an ePUB by hand if you really want to (I’ve done it) and convert it to MOBI using Amazon’s free KindleGen utility. Now we have Apple’s extension to ePUB (i.e. iBooks Author) and Amazon’s extension to MOBI (Kindle Format 8) — and who’s to say B&N won’t jump into the game with their own incompatible extensions for Nook Color?

In short, it’s the browser wars all over again. The only winner of that war will be traditional publishers.

People writing technical documents, comics, and other works that require more formatting options than current eReaders offer are the ones in a bind here. They’ll have to live with the possibility that what works now might not work next year. They'll have to determine whether it’s worth the effort to work with features that are coded differently in different tablet eReaders, or if they should just work with one eReader and not the other.

I’d like to see a few zillion pixels dedicated to this instead of a misread licensing clause.

Monday, April 18, 2011 No comments

Mason Gets a Boo-Boo, and What Part of…

I came home Saturday evening from dropping M.A.E. off at her work (Burger King). Mason was stumping around on the floor, looking at his feet, and Mrs. Fetched looked more than a little upset.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Look at Mason.” I did — and saw a knot on his forehead about the size of a golf ball. Seems he’d been in the playpen while Mrs. Fetched was starting a fire, moved a toy to the side, climbed up on it, then dived out head-first. He was hysterical for a while, Mrs. Fetched nearly as bad off, but eventually got over the fright and initial pain and went back to playing around. I was going to nickname him “Lumpy” for a while, but the swelling went down rapidly. It’s just a small bump and a bruise on his forehead now.

He’s also suffering from either allergies or just plain Pollen Overload. Mrs. Fetched took him to the doctor today and got something to help with the congestion. Maybe he’ll sleep through the night now… after three blissful full-sleep nights last week, the bill came due. With interest. Last night, I was about to get into bed at 12:30 (far later than I wanted) and Mason woke up. It was past 1 a.m. by the time I was able to crawl in, and then he woke up again at 3. When Mrs. Fetched goes out to him, he calls for me, but I was just too wasted to do anything but lay there and try to sleep again. Maybe it’ll be better tonight.


I’m going to have to stop working at home for a while, I think. Last Thursday was the last straw. I’d been complaining to Mrs. Fetched that nobody (including her) hesitates to interrupt me when I’m supposed to be working. “I know,” she says — which must mean but I don’t care because it never changes. So Thursday morning, she futzed about doing things that she deemed important while I took care of Mason, and there went the first hour of “work.” Any day I work at home, M.A.E. interrupts me about four times a day, wanting me to watch the kids while she goes out and sucks butt (i.e. cigarette). Mason usually gets too cranky for me to deal at least once a day, so I have to go out and comfort him and sometimes get him to take the nap he needs.

Then M.A.E. had to pick up her check from work. Moptop was napping when it was time to go at 3:30. Mrs. Fetched assured me that she would just take her there and come back by the time Moptop woke up at 4:30. Well… Moptop slept until 4:30 all right — almost on the dot — but no Mrs. Fetched. “Oh, we’re still on our way back. Why don’t you meet us at Zaxby’s for supper?” And that was the last hour of work gone. I really didn’t get much done because I knew I’d not get rolling before the next interruption. Thus, I’m not going to work at home this week. I haven’t said anything, because nobody’s listening and there’s no need for words anyway. If I can’t work at home when I’m supposed to be working, I won’t stay home.

The deal may have been sealed this evening, when Mrs. Fetched talked about me watching Moptop again while I’m supposed to be working on Thursday. There was some static on the line, so I may not have heard right, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I did understand correctly. Or maybe it’s the Evil Twins who are going to watch her — they just called about arranging to babysit. Maybe I will work at home on Thursday.

Sunday, March 13, 2011 4 comments

Twitter Twaddle

It appears that Twitter may want to curtail third-party Twitter clients. Now I think Mashable might be overstating the case a little, and their failure to link to the forum post doesn’t bolster their case, but Twitter does want clients to act the same way.

Too bad they don’t practice what they preach.

I’ve used the official Twitter clients for web, MacOS X, and iPad. They all kind of look similar, perhaps as much as possible given the natures of the underlying platforms. But all three of them do things a little differently:

  • Hover over a shortened link in the web client, and it displays a tooltip showing the expanded URL. Neither iPad nor OSX versions do that.
  • Tap a tweet with no links or hashtags on the iPad, and you get the tweeter’s profile. Click the same tweet in the OSX client, and you get… nothing. On the web client, you get other recent tweets from that account.
  • The OSX client has a pretty slick way of handling multiple accounts — avatars for each account appear in the sidebar and you can click on them to switch. I don’t see that on either the web or iPad clients.
  • In the OSX and iPad clients, retweeting gives you a “quote tweet” option that the web client doesn’t.
Even if Twitter’s own clients worked the same across all platforms, I’d say they’re jumping the gun by trying to limit third-party development. In addition to the Twitter clients, TweetDeck (my primary client until recently), and a FireFox plugin called EchoFon on occasion. TweetDeck is an elaborate client, offering simultaneous views of user-defined lists. For example, I have my main tweetstream, mentions, several searches, direct messages, and new followers in separate panels. It’s a very nice way to keep up with a lot of info at once… too bad it uses Adobe AIR, which makes it screw up under heavy load. EchoFon is very simple, and lives in the bottom right corner of the browser until you pop it up to see what’s going on. Both of them offer different ways to interact with Twitter from the “official” clients, and depending on what you need they can be better ways.

In short, the Twitter ecosystem is far from being complete. Even if it was, it needs to be able to evolve to meet the needs of the people using it. The Twitter developers themselves know a lot about the system internals, but they’re somewhat removed from the people actually using the system day-in day-out. The users know what they want to do and how they want to do it — let the creativity of third-party app developers fill the needs, and leverage the knowledge gained. In other words, adapt the most popular new features to your own apps.

But first, get your own apps working the same way before you demand that third-party developers do likewise.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011 2 comments

So Far No Good

If the rest of this week goes as it’s begun, it’s made entirely of fail.

It was a rough weekend for nearly everyone here, as the stomach/intestinal virus cut its swath through the population. Big V was down, so her grandson Skyler was at the manor. He’s a little younger than Mason, 14 months to Mason’s 18 months (as of today), but larger. Mrs. Fetched thinks he’s “slow,” although I think what she sees is that he’s slow in contrast to an older and more dynamic Mason. But he is blonde… very very blonde. On the other hand, he was about the only one of us not affected by the virus this weekend.

Moptop went off to her grandparents, as she does every weekend, and got good and sick there. She’s still there, as M.A.E. had the double-whammy of the virus plus surgery to retrieve an IUD that went walkabout in her uterus. I think Mason looks forward to weekends, because they are Moptop-free, and having Skyler around plus the virus made him rather cranky. “Does not play well with others,” would have been checked off on his report card this weekend. I heard the Screech of Rage™ way too often this weekend, when Skyler picked up something Mason didn’t want bothered or when he just got in Mason’s personal space.

I sweated out the virus early Sunday morning, but then Mrs. Fetched got it and I dealt with the kids. The Boy, as usual, managed to be “at work” or “helping Lobster move out” (two whole bags). The latter involved him staying at Lobster’s new place, an apartment he and his new girlfriend have picked out. (Great couple… married, but not to each other.) The Boy came down with the virus there and spent all of Sunday night there. That would have been fine, as he left my car here, but took the key with him.

Speaking of The Boy, a glitch in the database didn’t let me add him to our insurance back in November. I contacted HR at the time, and they said they’d take care of it. Now he’s not on our insurance, and they’re saying he “can’t be added” until next open enrollment in November. They’ve fallen back on scripted responses and “it’s policy” like it’s some huge effing deal… how hard can it be to add one line item into a database? When it was their own fail that kept me from adding him in the first place? If I started working there today, would I have to wait until November to add my family to the coverage? I am now officially looking for a new job, just so I can get coverage for The Boy. Maybe I’ll see of my previous employer would give me any inducement to jump ship. On the other hand, the grand-boss is going to be here tomorrow, and maybe I can dump this in her lap… especially when I start making noises about leaving over it.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Fetched is about fed up with Sunshine, her brother. He’s once again unemployed, which means he’s hanging around telling everyone UR DOIN IT RONG. That she can ignore, but when she was sick he went into the chicken houses and implemented some of his “improvements,” which as usual only screwed things up. I’ve told The Boy he could end up just like Sunshine, which he dismisses but its becoming more evident as time goes on — especially in his attempt to domineer Mason.

“I’m not having Mason throw his fits because he’s not getting his way, I’ll bust his butt!”

“Hm,” I said, “maybe I should have done that with you, then.” That shut him up, and he even looked like he was thinking about it.

One bit of comic relief came this morning. Mason once again snatched the pen and Moleskine out of my shirt pocket. “You got an idea for a story?” I asked him. He responded with a long string of vowels that, if I could only translate it, was no doubt the plot to a best-selling series that would eclipse J.K. Rowling. Mrs. Fetched bought him off with another pen, and he proceeded to the nearest wall and would have begun his first draft had she not stopped him. He cut loose with the Screech once again when she took the pen away.

Sunday, January 16, 2011 4 comments

Rocks vs. Sucks: a Tale of Two Helpdesks

Bottom line up top: Amazon rocks, State Farm sucks.

As I wrote earlier, my Kindle screen went Tango Uniform early this month, a couple weeks after the warranty expired. Amazon was really helpful — after going through some troubleshooting measures that didn’t work, they agreed to replace it under warranty anyway. Very cool. They overnighted me a replacement — with a bum charging circuit. Back on the phone, Michael said I already tried all the stuff they would have walked me through anyway, and said they’d send a replacement for the replacement. But with the snow, the “overnight” delivery didn’t happen until Friday. Not Amazon’s fault, obviously, or even UPS’s. But I have the new Kindle, it works wonderfully, and I’m working on trying to keep up with the growth of my reading pile.

On to some less wonderful support. I took my car in to get the bumper fixed on Friday, then called State Farm (the other guy’s insurance) to let them know the car was in the shop and I needed a rental. Now earlier chats with the claims people led me to believe that was all I needed to do. Now I learned why State Farm can be anagrammed into Fart Steam, because that’s what I got: Kristen tells me “their policy” is that they don’t do a rental until the parts are in stock and the work is ready to be done. “That’s why we don’t recommend taking your car in on Friday, unless we can confirm your garage is working through the weekend.” Well, DUH… what with the snow, that was something else I was planning to do Monday that didn’t happen until Friday. And it would have been nice to hear about this “policy” before I took the car in. I barely managed not to take it out on Kristen; after all, she’s stuck having to deal with the idiot State Farm policies with no control over any of it.

And that’s the lesson for today: give your helpdesk people a way to chuck “The Book” in the trashcan and use their heads. Amazon obviously does that; their support staff can stretch a warranty and thus I have no regrets about having a Kindle or buying my mom one. State Farm just sucks… their rigid stances on stupid things is one reason we switched our car insurance to Progressive a few years ago after 20 years with State Farm.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 2 comments

Moan about Phones

Everyone welcome me back to the frustrating world of feature phones. Given the bills we have, Mrs. Fetched had been complaining for a long time about how much having iPhones cost us, and when my iPhone 3G started flaking out just as our contract was finished, it seemed like the time to downgrade.

Just to make things a little simpler, all three of us (the parental units plus Daughter Dearest) got Sony-Ericsson W518a “Walkman” phones. I usually steer clear of Sony products, since they seem to go out of their way to make them incompatible with Macs sometimes, but they offer software on their website to connect with iSync and iLife apps, so I thought I’d make an exception. Everything pretty much works as advertised. Because we’re on AT&T, and not Verizon, we can connect a USB cable (or use Bluetooth) and copy pictures to the computer, music and ringtones from the computer, and so forth.

Feature phones have made noticeable advancements in the last two years: they’re faster, have more megapixels in the camera of course, they play AAC as well as MP3 files, some have FM radios built in, and the default web browsers are a little better. But what hasn’t changed is the horrendous interface: a twisty maze of menus, all different. This led to an epiphany of sorts on my part: people are missing what the iPhone really did different. It isn’t the app store; I can press one button on my Sony to visit an app store. It isn't the touch screen; for some things buttons work better. What the iPhone did that’s radically different is twofold:

1) Everything (including the phone) is an application.
2) All apps can be accessed equally, or in a low hierarchy defined by the user.

Feature phones provide a lot of the same features that iPhones have, and several (including FM and even XM radio) that iPhones don’t have — or got after the 3G (camera controls, video recording, voice control) — if you can remember which cascade of menus to step through to find them. On an iPhone, or any related device (iPad, iPod touch), the menu is the main screen. That’s it. Yes, there are hierarchies, but they consist of a strip of icons at the bottom that appear on all pages, and a double-click of the Home button to return you to the first page. For most people, up to two flicks and a tap start any app on the iPhone.

I remember enjoying Platinum Sudoku on my old feature phone (a Samsung Sync), so I bought it for my new phone. To get to it, I have to: click the Menu button, press 9 (the “Entertainment” sub-menu), arrow-down twice to Games, select, then arrow-down four times to get past the demoware they stuff on all non-iPhones… then I can (pant, wheeze) select the Sudoku game. On an iPhone, I’d have already been filling in spaces by now.

Why can’t feature phones have a better user interface (besides the obvious, carriers and manufacturers are lazy and complacent)? Shoot, borrow a leaf from the iPhone. Display up to nine icons on the screen (optionally overlaid with numbers), use the 1–9 button grid to pick the app you want, left and right function keys move from page to page, arrow keys are programmable like they are now. You’ve got the buttons, make them work for you.

Thursday, February 25, 2010 12 comments

Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City

A recent BBC article on “America’s original active retirement community” got me thinking. As many long-time readers know, the FAR in FAR Manor means Forget About Retirement — but I try not to. Hey, I might get lucky after all. Besides, I’m on vacation, the original mini-retirement.

What jumped out at me were two quotes near the middle of the article. In the first, one resident said that retirement previously involved (among other things) “waiting to die.” The developer heard many variants of “I raised my own children, and I don’t want to have to raise my grandchildren.” To me, the first seems myopic, the second outright selfish.

Next week, I’ll be going to Florida, which seems these days to be one humonguous retirement community (active or otherwise) overlaying a normal economy, which in turn overlays a tourist economy. The desire to move somewhere that’s warm all the time, or at least cold very rarely, is certainly understandable… although there’s a long brutal summer to contend with as well. Too cold sometimes or too hot sometimes, pick one.

So why would retiring in the community where you worked, with or without family nearby, be “waiting to die”? After all, you already know where the good restaurants are, which fishing spots are best at any given time, which golf courses offer reduced greens fees on weekday mornings, where the good walking/biking/hiking trails are. Unless your friends have all moved away, you know where they are and when they’re available. Unless you live in some backwater hole in the hills, and even on Planet Georgia there are great hiking and mountain bike trails just a few miles from the manor, there should be plenty of recreational opportunities for an “active retirement.” Why go somewhere that you have to figure all this stuff out all over again, when you can enjoy it right where you are?

Then there’s the other side of the coin. I for one mostly enjoy helping to raise Mason, even when I have to work for a living. He’s off with Snippet for an overnight at her mom’s, and even with him waking up twice a night (teething) I’m going to miss him. I’ll really miss him next week when I’m gone. I can understand long-standing friction with your (nominally) adult children — The Boy really gets on my nerves sometimes — or the resentment at their presumption that they can just dump their own kids on you while they work or have fun, but I can’t understand not wanting to be a part of your grandkids’ formative years. You don’t punish the kids for the sins of the parents, after all. Besides, with multi-generational households becoming a trend once again, you should be able to expect the kids to support you as well: you take the grandkids fishing or bike riding while they’re working, they come in and you pop out to the golf course. Sounds like one way to have the best of both worlds, anyway.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 11 comments

Random Grumbles

The feed truck came late last night, so no cannibal chickens this go-around. Whew!

Came home from work, no dinner as usual… even though Mrs. Fetched said she was going to fix something. Maybe we’ll eat at home tomorrow.

We didn’t find out until Sunday night, but some time after the Easter service, DoubleRed checked herself into the hospital and was diagnosed with diabetes. We started seeing some warning signs Thursday or Friday evening, and mentioned it to her then. Her glucose reading was somewhere north of 600… really bad, but not coma-inducing bad. I told her last night that she should get together with The Boy to learn everything she shouldn’t do.

This morning at work, I got another email of the “this cable is the wrong color again” variety. I’m sure the seagull manager behind the last two installments of Programmers. Argh. is directing his people to nitpick everything at every opportunity, and I was getting rather exercised… then he followed up with “and the part number is wrong,” which actually defused me. You see, I’d explicitly requested that part number and edited it in when I got it, so I knew at that point he was looking at the wrong version. I told him as much, and included the right docs with a “here they are again” (since I sent them last week). Then my new boss got a query, and asked me if it was fixed; I told him the same thing and didn’t hear from him after that. I know I’m getting older, because I’m getting ever less patient with this kind of crap.

Taxes are done, woo-hoo! We have a far too large refund coming back this year, because Mrs. Fetched didn’t bring in a lot with her video stuff, and Daughter Dearest contributed mightily by both capsizing her mom’s farm truck and bringing in a large tuition credit. The refund will mostly go to covering her college expenses for next year.

Well… I should have said our taxes are done: Mrs. Fetched volunteered me to do a bunch of other peoples’ as well… including Jimmy Last-Minute, who did better last year but has gone right back to dumping a bunch of incomplete info on me at the 11th hour. I printed him out an extension form for him to sign in the morning, with a list of info I needed (and an admonishment to get it to me sooner next year). The Evil Twins’ parents are another, but they know they’re on the hook for an extension anyway and theirs should be fairly simple.

If it wasn’t already bed time, I’d have another beer.

Friday, March 13, 2009 2 comments

Weekend Cinema

When you’re too drunk to drive to the theater, Weekend Cinema keeps you safe at home!

I was going to write up a detailed analysis of the Stewart-Cramer smackdown (short version: Cramer lost) but I’m too whacked to do it. So I’ll just link to the interview:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The thing that still bothers me is Cramer saying something to the effect that “today’s investors don’t want to know about stuff like P/E ratios and the like.” DUH. Dad, if you’re reading this, you would probably agree with me that P/E ratios are one of the fundamental things you should know about investing in a stock… if you’re not interested in fundamentals, you should just spend your money or leave it in the bank.

What’s this world coming to anyway?

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