Tag: Social media

Squinting like Blondie

“Of course,” Scott says. “Your life as performance art.”

            The night only gets worse. Sean walks out as soon as he closed up his bass’s case and picked up its stand. Marsha demands we drop of her drum kit at her house and won’t stay. Breaking down with only two of us is a real bitch—especially lugging those W-bins with Scott.

Dropping off Marsha’s drum kit, Scott’s pissed in that crazy quiet way that makes me nervous, squinting like Blondie from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. He says nothing on the way back home.

            I know I fucked up and burned bridges. Yet what really cuts into me is that Amy didn’t deserve that.

            But what were you even doing there? You said you’d be working all night on whatever the hell project it was. I needed to talk to you. Alone.

            Now that’ll never happen.

Self-Publishing Part 12: How the Book Hunts for 500 Buyers, a Real Time Break

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

So far, this path to publication has relied mostly on an extended flashback, with occasional forays into general truths. Today will be a break into present time, with a quick step back a couple of weeks to prepare for what is happening now. Continue reading “Self-Publishing Part 12: How the Book Hunts for 500 Buyers, a Real Time Break”

Self-Publishing Part 11: Bestsellers, Best-Ofs, ​and Other lists. Who cares?

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

The launch of A Perfect Blindness has finally begun to take coherent shape, and I need to spend more time tending the momentum building. As such, these twice-a-week posts will take a necessary second-row seat in my attention, and will shift to one, perhaps two per week starting in October. Technically this began last week, as I was too busy with getting the website in shape to finish this post. This formally announces the change. Probably on Fridays, or perhaps, or as well, Mondays: Holidays are permitted to foul plans as necessary.

That said, the opacity and downright recondite nature of counting books sold warrants a deeper probe of “Bestseller/Best of” lists, what they mean to whom and how they are created.

So first, who cares about Bestseller/Best of lists and why?

Whole lots of people care, though for different reasons, most falling into one of four broad groups, each with distinct investments in and expectations of these lists: potential readers, list makers, book authors, and closely akin to them, book publishers. For the reader, hitting a Best-whatever list is an attempt to grab a good book to read (or avoid a lousy one) as well as the chance to snag some cultural creed. This random stalker of Best-whatever lists is either actively looking for a book to read, figuring if a book sells better than most right now, it’s better than most out there, or at least, it won’t be lousy: Look at all the people buying it. They might also want in on what people are going to be talking and posting about, staying dialed into what’s hot: looking well informed.

These various lists (which come in flavors like NYT Best Seller, Top 10 Whatever, Most Read X, Most Wished for Y) can be sampled in different degrees of specificity from the very general fiction or non-fiction, split up into hard and soft cover, to the more distinct genres like mystery, all the way down to strictly defined subgenres like period mysteries. Amazon offers 10 subgenres of Thrillers & Suspense, each of which is further broken down into “Bestsellers,” “Most gifted,” “Hot new releases,” “Most wished for” and “Top rated” each offering its own take of what’s best and why. Other lists include “Best New Books by Women Writers,” and so they go on.

Readers can really drill down into one of these lists to find narrow desires, in the flavor that might best satisfy them. These lists winnow down a vast array of books into a manageable number from which to pick. With the top slots appearing more desirable, readers buy more of them. Of course, online this effect is amplified, for the higher a book is listed, the more likely it appears above the fold, and require no scrolling to find it.

Higher sales mean more money of course. That’s the most straightforward outcome of getting on best of/bestseller lists: More units sold, bringing in more cash. But that’s only a part of the goodies that come with appearing on a list like these. It’s a salient fact that appearing popular can make one more popular. James Surdwiecki wrote an excellent essay that explores this idea in depth called “Paying to Play,” which I’ve used to teach Cause-and-Effect Analysis.

Because showing up on one of these lists not only makes one appear popular thus driving one become more popular, it has ripple effects that extend outwards in time. By being a #1 Best/what-have-you-list Author, it’s now easier to get interviews, reviews, speaking gigs, book placements and generally elevates the author’s value. It’s prestige in a pure form. For the future, this appendage to the author’s name will make it easier to get a next book published, as well as sell that book, blurb cooked into the author’s name. In other words, appearing here means more money and opportunities, immediately and going forward.

The book’s publisher feeds off of this as well. It means more money just as for the author. The prestige matters for them as well: Having many #1s this and feature books/writers that makes it easier for the publisher to attract higher caliber talent and better books. It means leverage too: “Look at all the #1 best-selling authors we have. You want to take our offer. They can’t give you this.”

Next time—a quick dive into the arcane mechanics of list creation, before landing back with launching a self-published novel, proper.

 

Know someone who might like this? Post it or Forward this email to let them in on it.

To ask a question or follow along with the self-publishing adventure, join the “Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness” here.

 

Self-Publishing Part 11: A Wobbly Platform Starts Taking Aim

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

All manner of plans still not enacted aside my site was live.

Further, I was trying out the ideas from the books I’d chosen as models albeit in a piecemeal, disorderly, catch-as-catch-can fashion.

One of my first active actions was to take every one of the early fans from the FB group and put them into the email list program, make a fancy-looking (imagine quite busy with far too many images) email announcing the book’s publication, which I then sent to all eleven of them. The results: One recipient confirmed buying my book because she got this email. That’s nearly 10% conversion, which is quite high I’ve read. More importantly, it’s proof of concept, suggesting that I’m NOT wasting my time.

Certainly, with such a tiny sample, this single email proves nothing, but it WORKED damn it!

Then, I emailed a few friends and much of my immediate family. Why not all my friends and family? Continue reading “Self-Publishing Part 11: A Wobbly Platform Starts Taking Aim”

Self-Publishing Part 11: Wobbly Platform Doesn’t Mean Empty Platform

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

To be fair to myself, I hadn’t been sitting around staring at my screen, clicking on everything else I could to avoid doing work, which would have been easy given that the 2016 presidential campaign was running parallel to the launch. Despite that distraction, I’d gotten things done, several actually, and had sold a handful of books. The blog was going, and it had gained followers not only on WordPress but also on Medium, and gathered a few readers, likes and other reactions on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. This blog lives on a website that wobbled, but held together and has been improving since, meaning my designing all of the artwork on Canva, and learning how to use WordPress better, creating and loading copy and adding links to capture emails for the mailing list: ‘Join the Adventure’ per the ideas from the books Platform and Your First 1000 Copies

Cohabitates with other websites is a better description for it, as A Perfect Blindness has its own URL and website, with its own big “join now” button in order to capture emails that live on the same WordPress site on its own page, just like the home page for them both, and actually the whole site: wlancehunt.com. Continue reading “Self-Publishing Part 11: Wobbly Platform Doesn’t Mean Empty Platform”

Self-Publishing Part 10: The Launch—Social Media and email: A Couple Of More Questions To Ask In A Mirror​

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

 

So, what is social media good for an author if not selling books?

Reframe the approach, and put yourself in the position of the person cruising Face Book. Are you looking to spend money? Looking for a book to read, perhaps? Doubtful. If you wanted to buy, you’d be on the websites of Amazon or Barnes & Nobel or be walking to the local bookstore. Looking for reading recommendations? That’s imaginable, but most people looking for recommendations either ask someone they know, or they go to goodreads.com, Book Bub, Book Shout, or again Amazon, Barnes & Nobel or the local bookstore. If they’re just browsing, they’re looking for something interesting, something that will catch their attention, not something that will demand a credit card number. They want stuff. Good stuff. Free stuff. Twitter, same thing. Think of the platform, and most likely you won’t find people hungry to buy books, clicking away to find the right ad. Continue reading “Self-Publishing Part 10: The Launch—Social Media and email: A Couple Of More Questions To Ask In A Mirror​”

First Reviews are up: Five Stars

Consider this foreshadowing, a bonus post giving away the endings of some early questions, regarding the book finally making it through design and proofreading, all the way to the printer. Plus, it’s still early, and complete strangers to me need to report their opinions on the book, but there are two of them, reviews, and they are unanimous. Continue reading “First Reviews are up: Five Stars”

Part 3: Changing my mind about self-publishing: Signaling

iUniverse and the publishing path of the novel A Perfect Blindness

So, while self-publishers won’t publish anything, they will publish a book for whatever purpose the author wants.

There are myriad reasons for publishing a book, from “sharing my story with family and friends”, and “expressing my deepest thoughts”, to “sharing information on a specialized topic”, or “enhancing my professional career”, or “writing for Fame” and “finding out if I have what it takes for commercial success” and even “writing a giveaway promotional book” or simply because a person “loves to write”. Only a couple of reasons for publishing a book imply a real intent to sell, versus the unspoken hope that a book might be so good, people will spontaneously offer to buy it, and …

For the books published for reasons that don’t specifically include competing in the market, yes indeed, the independent publisher makes all its money by getting paid up front for typesetting and printing, and possibly for editing and design services, and this is all the publisher expects to ever make from these books. Many of the books published for these reasons fit the definition of “vanity publishing” exactly.

Other writers though engage self-publishing companies with the intent of selling what they write, on the shelves shared with traditionally published books. Of course, not every book written with the goal of fame or landing on the bestsellers list is of high enough quality to sell more than a few copies to family and friends. An early contact at iUniverse wrote that the vast majority of the books they publish are not worthy of a bookstore shelf: only 5 percent of all their books even have that potential. Thus the number books of dubious quality along with the number that are published for reasons other than sales lead to the oft-quoted statistic that the average self-published book sells less than 500 copies. That number is gained simply by dividing the total number of books sold by the total number of titles in a given year, regardless of purpose or quality: an inaccurate picture of sales for high quality books written with the purpose to sell. Especially if the book has a large and reachable market.

So it is true that self-publishing companies will publish most anything, even if it’s poorly written, and yes, on these mediocre or low quality books as well as books that aren’t intended for sale, these companies do indeed make all their money from type-setting, formatting and design fees, as well as whatever additional services an author might purchase, such as editing and marketing help.

Confounding matters for self-publishing, these same additional services, which can help a book reach it’s potential as they did for A Perfect Blindness have added to lawsuits from authors whose books, in spite of all the extra money spent on editing, designing and marketing, didn’t sell as the author expected. Some of these suits have gotten press, which perpetuates the image that self-publishing companies are little more than a scam that preys on vulnerable authors’ dreams, rather than providing a new way for serious writers to get their books to market. It’s important to remember though that the class action lawsuit claiming Author Solutions, iUniverse’s parent, is a fraud was dismissed in 2015 in part because so many authors return to the company to publish more books.

Finally and most importantly: self-publishers make money by selling books too, and they know good books do actually sell.

Going it Mostly Alone

iUniverse and the publishing path of the novel A Perfect Blindness

Part 2: Changing my mind about self-publishing

Cover proofs went to production Tuesday as planned, but a new concern bubbled up—about lyrics and fair use. When going over the proofs, I realized I had misremembered the lyrics of a song that was playing on a dance floor in the story. I corrected them in the proof and then realized: am I using too much? In researching how much text I can use from a song for it to be considered fair use under copyright laws, I discovered there are no hard rules: using one line of a song that has only one line of lyrics means using 100% of the song lyrics.

Hmmm.

That got me worried as I remembered using, in one way or another, a fair amount of song lyrics in the book, either as the song itself plays in the background, or as someone says, thinks or speaks them. I asked iUniverse what the fair use rules were; they said if it’s only one or two lines, it shouldn’t be a problem, but asked me to send along a manuscript marked up with what concerned me. So yesterday, I prepared a version of the whole manuscript highlighting every lyric or line I could remember using, placing the referenced piece and the published lyric or line in a comment. While comparing the manuscript to the sources, I realized I only used a handful of actual lyrics verbatim, and then mostly attributed to the song and artist: other song lyrics are interpreted, referenced, or winked at. Still, I sent the prepared manuscript to my contact with hopes that I’ll need do nothing more: I interpreted source material or attributed just about everything, like a good boy.

Now back to the questions the end of the last post asked: How did it get this far? What made my change my mind about self-publishing?

In a word: technology. Specifically advances in creative tools, and in means of production and distribution; these latter two, writers have traditionally been forbidden access to.

First, advancements in personal computing have provided research, error correction and organizational tools, which has increased general writing quality, and thus many self-published works. Second, advancements in Desk Top Publishing software gave high quality and powerful tools to both authors and independent designers, enabling them to create high quality looking raw materials. This software along with increasing quality printers, and compact collating and binding machines lead to Print on Demand (POD) services. No longer did an author have to pay for a single, expensive type setting and then run as many books as he or she could afford, which then had to be shipped someplace, stored until sold, and then reshipped, each of these steps being paid for. If the book sold enough, and the author wanted additional printings, that would require another round of typesetting costs, printing, shipping and storing of at least a minimum run.

With POD, an author pays for (or creates for themselves) a single software type setting, such as in a PDF file, which can be used as often as needed, without extra expense. Then, when a book gets ordered and paid for, it gets printed on that demand, and shipped directly to the reader or bookstore: No minimum runs, no storage, no repeated typesetting fees, for one or a thousand or as many times the book is ever bought. These individually printed books are every bit as good as what Random House prints en masse. All it takes is a PDF version of the book, which an author can create on a home computer.

That is, if a book needs to be printed at all. Ever improving software, new gadgets and the Internet gave birth to a new form of book—the E-book. They are cheaper and easier to “publish” than paper books—requiring only a formatted file of the book and a way to read it—and are built for distribution via the Internet, which is where bookselling has been moving for decades: Jeff Bezos started Cadabra, the company that would become Amazon, in 1994.

This shift in particular has been decisive in the erosion of the differences between the two publishing paths and not merely for E-books.

Next post will dive into this new market place.

How Mumbley-Peg and Bloody Knuckles Help Explain the Headlines, Pt 1

copy-of-games-explain_fb-post

Going it—Mostly—Alone No. 2

           I did get that reset post published—after a bit of struggle with the image. That let me pull off the cap of my Waterman fountain pen and put a check mark in the box next to that line on one of my three pads of paper. I’d made something happen, affected the world from inside a room in my apartment: I’d demonstrated I had agency, which was satisfying in itself.

Then, soon after I had published the piece, I got not only got a like, but a follower and yet another follower by the next morning: these felt good.

And that—right there—is social media acting gamefully.

As Jane McGonigal explains in Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, gameful describes an activity not normally thought of as a game being given aspects of games in order to manufacture, not only happiness, but purpose.

I’d thought something, written it out, and put it out into the world. In response, the world responded with two follows and a like within hours, which first appeared in my inbox and then on my blog. Not only did this feedback please me, but it gave me evidence that I’m moving closer to my goal of escaping obscurity. I now have a number, a score I can hold up against other people’s scores to see how I’m doing. They reveal near term goals—levels in game-speak—10 likes, then 50 follows, then 100 likes and so on up the “Most Liked” and “Most Followed” leader boards.

These scores also let me know if something I do works and should keep doing it, or if something fails—getting no follows, nor even a single like, or worse a thumbs down or snarky reply—and should make an adjustment or abandon that idea entirely.

The “happiness engineers” who design games understand that people crave feedback, and that positive feedback gives people an emotional high, and that feeling good drives people to keep doing what gave them these good feelings. Even negative feedback is better than none: if you know something doesn’t work, at least you can move on and try something else. After all, isn’t waiting is the worst part?

These game designers also understand that the more time between action and feeback, no matter how great the reward or harsh the punishment, the connection fades until, eventually, it breaks completely. What 4th grader can connect doing yet another worksheet of identifying number patterns with getting a corner office 18 years from now in a job that doesn’t even exist now? Or connect it to getting hired by that prestigious firm, or to graduating from the right college to get the interview in the first place, or to getting into the right high school to qualify for that college, or into the best middle school program to get on the track for that high school? Especially when they are on the verge of setting a new class record in Shark Attack they can brag about in school tomorrow.

Those worksheets with number patterns to decipher seem pointless and dreary, and like the rest of the work in “most of the institutions that take up our time—schools, offices, factories—[is] organized around the assumption that serious work is grim and unpleasant, ” as M Csikszentmihalyi observed in Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. Worse, “[b]ecause of this assumption, most of our time is spent doing unpleasant things” with grim resolve, while constantly yearning for something else, something enjoyable like setting that new record in Shark Attack.

But by adding elements from that game such as scores, immediate feedback and levels to the same deciphering exercise as the websites IXL, Dimension U and Khan Academy do, this boring, seemingly pointless task becomes game-like: becomes fun, something that our 4th grader might even want to do because it is fun. Because it’s gameful.

Sure, that’ll work for kids in school, but for adults with actual problems? Get real.

As real as it gets: a lot of American adults play video games. How many? Roughly 53% of the entire US adult population plays video games, and one in five of those adults plays almost everyday or everyday. That means a lot of adults are playing a lot of video games. They also play board games, pick up b-ball, soccer and on and on.

So, games for adults? Emphatically yes.

If games give this many adults that much pleasure overcoming problems that don’t even really exist, does it not make sense to harness this power to drive adults to do things they might otherwise avoid or even hate in real life?

After all, there are games even kids dread playing yet still play: not the ones required by Mr. Shout-a-lot in Phys Ed, but hidden, backyard games such as mumbley-peg and bloody knuckles. The first is certainly dangerous and possibly very painful, and the second certainly painful and possibly dangerous, yet kids still play them. I did. I was scared yet sort of thrilled by mumbley-peg. I mostly hated bloody knuckles—I always lost and that sucked—yet I’d find myself staring at some other kid’s outstretched fist, which I had to hit as hard as I dared with my bare knuckles so I could draw blood first.

As loony as my child-self looks in retrospect, viewing bloody knuckles and mumbley-peg, not as merely social rituals by which boys jockey for their place in the pecking order, but as games allows the desires to keep knocking knuckles until your skin splits open, or possibly having a knife blade driven into your flesh or lose by slicing open another boys’ finger open, or worse—chickening out—to make some real sense.

How can mumbley-peg and bloody knuckles be considered games since they guarantee psychological stress and promise physical pain simply for joining in, and the former could involve trip to the hospital, stiches and a tetanus shot. Neither sounds like much fun, and fun’s why we play games right?

Not always: real danger and the guarantee of pain doesn’t eliminate something from being a game, or being gameful. Broken bones, bruises and concussions are all part of football. People have even died playing it. No one would doubt it is a game. The day I’m writing this line is The Game: the annual Ohio State-Michigan game, and there will be much pain this afternoon, both physical and psychological.

From mumbley-peg to Big Ten football to table tennis to Halo to Candy Crush to poker, charades and Dungeons & Dragons, there are so many different kinds of games with so many different kinds of rules, with vastly different goals and wildly disparate elements—some are played indoors, many with cards, others with pencils and dice, or on a screen with headphones and a controller, still others on boards with pieces, or with little more than the imagination of the players, and some are played outdoors and involve teams, fields, balls and body protecting equipment and are played inside stadiums with spectators with officiating staff and thick rule books, others are played in back yards, and have rules as fluid as the wishes of the players—a very real question to ask is does it make sense to talk of games as a thing at all?

In 1978, philosopher Bernard Suits came up with probably the most useful way of thinking of this vast variety of activities when he called games: “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”.

Key here are “voluntary” and “unnecessary”. Nothing can truly be called a game if it’s involuntary or necessary. As a kid, I didn’t have to spread my fingers out on a stump and let a someone jam a knife between them faster than I could jam it between his fingers, nor did I have to try to draw first blood by slamming my bare knuckles against another boy’s. There was nothing necessary about it. In fact, avoiding them both would have been better in a lot ways—many kids did—but such is the power of games, and there is plenty of science to explain this allure.

Mostly mocked or overlooked within psychology for most of its history, the science of happiness is now taken quite seriously. Until relatively recently, the only dignified areas for “proper” psychological research were personality formation, pathology and therapies. Now, money and research both flow into how to achieve happiness, especially as prophylaxis against mental illness and as a way to live better, not only psychologically, but physically. This is a long way from a couch in Vienna.

Back up by all this new science, Ms. McGonigal lists seven primary facets of games, elements that can be taken from them and applied to non-game activities to make them gameful: Agency, Flow, Fiero, Communitas, Awe/Epic, Naches, and “pwn”, which a misspelling of own, and can be pronounced pone if one were so inclined—it’s usually written–and describes achieving such a major victory that one cannot help but gloat, such as defying essentially every political pundit who wrote a word about the 2016 presidential election from the Iowa Caucuses until 11:00 pm on November Eighth.

In the next post, we’ll start delving into these facets, including the science behind each one, starting with agency. Then, we can start applying this potent framework to some of the most confounding headlines we have been reading lately in order to illuminate the mysterious whys behind puzzling actors and begin pulling back the curtain on the hidden mechanisms that explain how many of these perplexing things came to pass in the first place. At the very least, it will let us cut through the fog of contradictory and oft reflexive opinions pouring from the myriad pundits clogging our screens and see that there are actual, controllable mechanisms in action here, which can be understood and then used.

Next time on One Candle in the Darkness: Games Explain

Agency: the ability to affect the world