Monthly Archives: October 2010

Loisaida — The Novel — The Vlog

So here’s me talking about my book. Please be forgiving, this is my first vlog. And I couldn’t figure out how to put text on it, so if you want to know all about how/where you can buy my lousy book please just head over here.

And that part at the end about a free e-book, that was off the cuff, but if you took the time to read the sample and couldn’t afford the $2.99 for the download, sure I’d consider sending you a coupon if you could explain to me how you could afford the reading the device. But I do view the paperbacks as a promotional tool, so if you read a sample and really, really like it, but can’t afford it, then please write me and tell me what creative thing you’d do to promote it if you got a copy. Or make your own vlog about it or something. Comment here and maybe I’ll send you one.

Jeffrey’s Game — Funny Business in the Kindle Store

Self-publishing was once a punch line. Now all the cool kids are doing it. Much ink virtual and real has spilled on the topic with even The New York Times declaring it almost respectable.

For the small minority of people reading this who haven’t actually written a book and put it on Kindle themselves, it’s so easy a chimp could do it. And yes I actually expect to see an ad someday where one of our well-mannered primate-cousins will be shown finishing a manuscript and following the prompts to upload it onto Amazon’s Digital Platform. Or maybe that will be a competitor’s ad, Steve Jobs taking a swipe at the deluge of titles on Amazon, priced between 99 cents and $2.99, written by everyone from formerly mid-list authors to high school students to retirees with too much time on their hands.

Meantime in the present, Jeff Bezos’ plan for world domination and beating the Big Five Publishers who are fighting his desire to cap e-book prices moves forward. He’s using the self-uploaders or “indies” as they prefer to be known for his own purposes.

I should know. I’m one of his two-bit whores, hawking my wares on the Amazon “community” forums, like some worn-out chippy.

“Mr. I was published once, legit. I got me one of them degrees. I was a Sarah Lawrence, girl. And my prose is clean, Mr. C’mon take a chance. Give a girl a break. It’s only 99 cents!”

As Bogey said in Casablanca, patter like this is usually accompanied by the sound of tinny piano playing in the parlor.

And now it’s time for the screen to go fuzzy while we go to flashback.

What led me to make the plunge? The usual frustration over not selling my novel, plus meeting up with enough other frustrated writers to become convinced that we weren’t all hacks, and maybe there was a real problem. In fact, some of the best novels I’ve read in the past couple of years have been self-published or as-yet-unpublished, books agents balked at for reasons of perceived marketability. One involving heroin addiction in 1960’s London was deemed too difficult for Americans. Another had a plot revolving around a woman who physically abuses her husband. It didn’t end in love conquers all, as it wouldn’t, but editors wanted a happy ending which the writer couldn’t provide.

My own unpublished opus is hardly worth discussing here. Let’s just say it’s not beach reading or chic-lit. Nobody buys expensive shoes, though there is one scene where a teenage stripper steals a pair of Doc Martens from a dead girl whose chopped-up body is being rendered into soup.

But as usual I’ve meandered far from the tale I’m trying to tell.

In the beginning there was Createspace and Createspace begot The Kindle Store and Jeff Bezos said it was good.

For those people living in a cave who still remember the old tombstone ads for Vantage Press — “ye olde timey vanity press” — you’ve got some catching up to do. Through the use of print-on-demand technology, people can now publish themselves “independently” without giving thousands to some gonif who promises to make them famous. The costs of using Amazon’s Createspace to produce and publish a book are negligible, unless you buy extras like help with formatting or cover design or editing or proofreading services. What you don’t pay for is warehouse fees or printing costs. People can order the books online at Amazon or Createspace and they print to order. The reality is, however, most of these books are bought by the people who wrote them or their friends. The books cost more to produce then offset books, and are often priced higher than books by known writers. There is little chance of these books ever being sold in “real stores.” After Amazon’s cut, the writers may make very little in royalties.

Kindle, which doesn’t charge for uploading books, is an even less pricey way for writers to get their work out. Amazon offers a hefty 35% in royalties for books priced under $2.99 and a fat 70% for those at or above $2.99. You can actually make money having your book on the Kindle, though most people who do, spend a lot of time “promoting” their work, and would probably do better working part-time at Wal-Mart. Promotion consists of cajoling people on the Amazon forums to buy your e-book. I’ve got two books up. One is a novella, going for 99 cents, which took me very little time to write. The other is the novel described earlier that took years and is priced at $2.39 (reduced by Amazon). Guess which one sells more? The novella, I’ll admit is probably more accessible, but my guess is it’s the price that draws them in.

Now, here’s where things get really strange. At the beginning of October, for some never fully explained reason, Amazon went and reduced the price of several of its 99-cent “indies” to FREE. There was no special notice given to the writers. No permission sought. They apparently have the right to do this. What I didn’t realize immediately is that they were still paying the royalties as if the price hadn’t changed. This is something that they are apparently obliged to do if the royalty is set at 35%. The book took off and almost made the top 100 in “free” books. If you click to see the “bestseller” list for Kindle, you’ll see two lists side by side. One is “paid” and the other is “free.” There are also various genre and subgenre list. For a while, my little novella was the number one “medical technical thriller” in “free.”

Within a few days, just as mysteriously, the book was back at 99 cents. Suddenly, it was listed in the “paid” content, but the way the numbers were cooking it was still benefitting from all those “sales” back when it was free. Plus because it was now showing up on so many “people who bought this, also bought that” lists, it kept selling and is still doing well.

Did it make me rich? Hardly. Because here’s another dirty little secret of The Kindle Store — it’s one store, a sub-section of a very large retail outlet, but still just one store, selling e-books primarily for one device. The title could have a sales rank of 200,000, but one sale could bring it up to under 50,000, and several over a few hours might put it into the top 1,000.

While I don’t have the October final figures yet, and can’t tell you the greatest sales day, I can tell you that it had around 2,300 “sales” in the four days or so when it was free. This is about 10 times the amount it had gotten on Kindle at 99 cents in the previous ten months. Given the one-click buying and the “free” part, it’s no wonder so many people downloaded it. How many will actually read it is another matter, and the number is not impressive when compared to the sales of “real” bestsellers. Nor at 35 cents a pop is it very lucrative. It also does not appear that the sales on the novella had much impact on the sales of the novel.

I did very little to influence any of this. Amazon didn’t publicize it beyond having the free titles show up on automated lists. There are boards and blogs started and ready by Kindle users and someone had posted a listing of the “newly” free books on one of the more popular ones which brought a lot of readers in quickly.

The question: What is Amazon’s strategy in reducing the price to nothing especially when they still pay author royalties? Amazon might protest that there’s less here than meets the eye. The prices may simply be reduced automatically when it’s found that the book or e-book is available somewhere else for less. The novella had been listed in other e-book formats through a different distributor for free. It’s possible this showed up, and Amazon reduced the price with no human intervention. It was even suggested on a link somewhere that they might not in the end pay the resulting royalties because having it up for less could be a violation of the contract, though so far, the money is still listed in my reports.

But it makes more sense to believe that Jeff Bezos knows what he’s doing. Amazon is developing it’s own cheap content for Kindle. Unlike expensive to produce Createspace titles, cheap Kindle “indies” sell. Tons of books recognized in “customer” reviews and a few blogs that look at “indies” are creating a unique bestseller list in the Kindle store and even bleeding onto Amazon itself. Take a look and you’ll see titles you’ll never see in a bookstore — straight to Kindle specials that may or may not even exist in print-on-demand.

This is not to suggest that Bezos doesn’t want to sell “real” books. Amazon probably earns more in a day on sales of the Millennium Trilogy than it will in a year on any of it’s 99 cent titles, yet they are able to use the “indies” to offer frustrated Kindle buyers loads of cheap content that’s oh so easy to buy with the one-click button. Unlike a publisher, they spend nothing on vetting, editing, proofreading, or even promotion. Amazon makes money whether a consumer buys one authentic bestseller or loads up on 5 bogus Kindle ones. By having all those titles show up in their store, they dilute the sales of the “real” books, weakening the hand of the publishers.

Next Time: Funny Business in the Kindle Store: Part II: The “making” of a Kindle Mega-Seller or How One Author Stole from Jackie Susann’s Playbook.

(Pssst, if you liked this post, think you could maybe check out my books here?)

I’m Not on Vacation, I’m Just Blocked

No recent posts because I’m working on an epic post about Kindle, self-publishing and so much more.  The problem is I don’t even know where to start or finish.  In the meantime, here are some things for you to read and do:

  • By all means, read this article in The New Yorker about  Glenn Beck’s extremist roots..  It’s sobering and scary.
  • Check out The Year 0 Collective page because resistance is futile.
  • Then go to The Eight Cuts Gallery and read an interview with the frighteningly talented Cody James.
  • Take a look at  my novella The Death Trip and take advantage of the freebie coupon offer (CF23W).  It’s short enough that even if you don’t like reading on a computer, you can get through it.  I guarantee that reading it is a more constructive use of your time than aimlessly browsing the internet.
  • Check in again next week when I’ll be making an announcement about the print version of Loisaida — A New York Story, which I’m also giving away electronically this week only with coupon — BA97J.
  • Both these books, by the way,  are allegedly available in the i-book store, but I don’t know for sure because not owning the i-pad or i-phone, I can’t actually get in there which makes me want to slam this effing Mac against a wall.  So if you are one of the hip elect who has access to the magical store, can you go there and buy the books because Steve Jobs could use a new pair of shoes, and then  could you write a nice review or something because that would help put more money in Steve Jobs’s pockets.
  • Watch this fun video from the youbube which should give you a laugh and has nothing to do with me and is not related in any way to my annoying self-promotional schemes.  It made me smile and being the cockeyed optimist that I am I just wanted to share.  Either that or I think it’s all going to shit very fast, and this will be our last collective smile before darkness descends, forever:

Stopping Cyber-bullying Now and Forever

The recent suicide of Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after his roommate used a hidden webcam to record his sexual encounter with another male student and posted it on Twitter, was hardly the first case of a teenager driven to suicide by cyber-bullies.

Cyber-bullying has been blamed for several recent deaths, but most of these incidents start off-line, in classrooms, cafeterias, or schoolyards.  Bullying is mostly a school problem, but there doesn’t seem to be any widespread adoption of consistent policies that involve “best practices” for prevention in schools.  Victims still wind up feeling isolated and unable to tell anyone.  Schools are usually reactive.  Many still use a mediation model that makes bullying seem like a problem between kids and not a crime against a child.

Because of the high profile cases, more laws are being written to punish bullying especially the cyber kind. The Internet magnifies the effects of bullying and cuts off the idea of any safe haven.

But will new laws actually prevent tragedies?  We need to remember that we are for the most part talking about teenagers here — teenaged perpetuators and teenaged victims.   Teenagers think differently than adults.  Victims don’t handle stressful situation as well in part because their brains aren’t fully developed and in part perhaps because they lack the life experience to do so.  Perpetrators don’t take into account the consequences of their actions — not only the impact on the victim, but the punishment for themselves.

In the Rutgers case, the roommate and his friend have already been charged with a felony — invasion of privacy — for recording the sexual encounter and making it public.   They may be charged with a bias crime or possibly reckless homicide.  No matter what they are charged with, it’s easy to imagine their defense.  They are impressionable eighteen year olds who have seen prank shows on television.  They have no criminal histories.  They simply exercised very bad judgment and had no way of imagining that what they did would lead to a young man’s death.

Unlike the case of Megan Meier, where an adult mother of another teenager, posed as an adolescent boy online in order to attract and then reject Megan, there’s no smoking gun here where the perpetrators actually suggested that “the world would be a better place” without their victim in it.  They didn’t physically drive him to the bridge from which he jumped.

While a jury may decide that a lengthy-prison sentence equals justice for Tyler, the truth is that preventing future tragedies will be a much bigger job.

As an educational grant-writer, I know there are requests for funding, both private and public, for after school programs that address bullying.  But even if a district or school gets an award, only a fraction of children will attend these programs.  Schools must develop proactive, comprehensive strategies beginning in the earliest grades.

Prevention programs can be adjusted for the needs of children as they grow.  Compassion is hard to teach and we can’t force everyone to play nice all the time, but we can begin in the early grades to develop effective strategies to teach young people to both take responsibility for their behaviors and think about how they impact others.  Instead of a teacher reactively telling parents that their isolated child may need counseling or that their outgoing one has a tendency to tease, let’s teach all kids social skills.  Kids love learning about “psychology” and how socialization works.   Learning to think critically and reflect on one’s own actions is a transferable cognitive skill.  Using role-plays engages children and can enhance communication and literacy skills.  Bullying prevention programs can and should be fused into elementary and middle school curriculum.   They can be generalized, presented from books and websites with scenarios such as dealing with peer pressure to isolate or bully “the new kid.”  In that way, the material is not “about” a situation that may be ongoing within that particular classroom, but can allow the teacher to address similar issues, and help all students practice social problem solving and gain a deeper understanding of the impact of their actions on others.

With a push towards service learning, older high school students can play a role by visiting elementary schools and presenting skits and workshops to educate younger children about bullying and what they can do to stop, prevent, and resolve it.   (Programs such as these exist and are being utilized not only to prevent bullying, but also to help kids learn good decision making in a variety of areas.  They involve the secondary gain engaging high school students, which prevents their dropping out.)

Once we define actual bullying as threats, intimidation — both physical and psychological, spreading rumors, organized isolation of individuals with threats to those who befriend them, use of telephone or computers to intimidate, etc. — then the next step is figuring out policies and punishments.   What you can’t have is a mishmash where Student A is lucky enough to go to Lincoln High School where he’ll find that all students are aware of the policies, know to whom to go for help, and know when they go for that help they will get it, while Student B goes to Washington High School where she finds herself in a conference with the Principal who tries to work out an “agreement” between her and her and her torturers who can’t wait for the meeting to end so they can tweet to the world, and start a really ugly new rumor through an anonymous Facebook account while planning the next girl’s room attack.  Kids need limits to be clear and concrete.  Potential perpetrators need to be aware of the consequences for their actions. Schools must make sure their policies are clear to all kids — victims, perpetrators, witnesses, and bystanders — as well as to their parents.

Another missing piece in addressing bullying involves preventing victims from reacting by self-harm or lashing out at others..  On the one hand, victims are not responsible for their abuse, and should never be made to feel like they brought it on themselves.  We’ll never be able to prevent 100% of bullying anymore than we’ll be able to prevent all robberies or other crime.  Therefore, in addition to policies that make it easier to report bullying before it escalates, all young people must also learn how to deal with a worst-case bullying event.  It’s similar to the need to teach survival skills for escaping a molester, or practicing how to leave a burning school building.

I once took a workshop at The Albert Ellis Institute.  The Institute practices a form of cognitive therapy known as “rational-emotive” therapy.  At the workshop we were asked to imagine the following scenario:  “You have been vigorously masturbating in a room.  You have just been told that a group of people including everyone you know has been watching through a hidden camera.  You are a now about to go out to another room where all those people are waiting.  What will you say to them?”

Given that I was an adult with an MSW and some experience as a clinician, I was able to come up with my answer:  “Good evening ladies and gentleman.  First, let me start by addressing your embarrassment.  Voyeurism is a natural tendency, and I forgive those of you who chose not to look away…”

Most teenagers would not come up with that kind of reply, but allowing them to visualize the most humiliating thing and imagine coping with it, might just give them enough time after a real life crisis to not embark on a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  It might increase their awareness of how overwhelmed they would be, so that they could come up with an emergency safety plan.

While comprehensive prevention programs and legal remedies might eventually make bullying less acceptable and frequent, there will always be people whose cruelty is reckless and without bounds.  In order to prevent young victims from turning their anger on themselves or others, we must act proactively to help them develop the skills to realize that even having your sex life revealed on the Internet or being told by your cyber-boyfriend that the world would be better off without you, is survivable and not a reason to take your own life.

(Marion Stein also writes fiction. You can find her books here.)