Sunday, December 2, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

There are a Thousand Stories in the Naked City

...and apparently, they're all coming out as e-books.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Goodbye 'social marketing' – Hello 'social integration'!

If you're marketing an indie book, this post (the first in a series) is a must-read.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Interview with Rick O'Shields (audio)

I did an audio interview last night, in which I learned (among other things) that I really need to buy a proper headset if I'm going to do Skype podcast interviews. (Seriously!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

If paid reviews are 'bad', what's good?

The resilient meme re John Locke's now-infamous purchased Amazon reviews has stirred a big pot of author resentment. But is there another way?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012

New Patriots of Mars Synopsis Page Online

I recently set up this Patriots of Mars About.Me page, featuring what an old-school marketer would call a 'hero shot' of the book, along with a plot synopsis.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Social Media as a Factor in an Author's Success

Worthwhile post, with a comment by yours truly, here. (The comment is, apparently, being held in abeyance as I type this. I hope, anyway, it's coming online.)

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Amazon Bounce

For many (most?) indie authors, the Amazon thrill is gone. But a select few still have that spring in their step. So, what kind of Sales Viagra are these guys on?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The e-Book Bubble Pops

The e-book is dead! Log live the e-book!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ten Things Indie Writers Should NOT Do

By Dean Wesley Smith. (But I don't agree.)

Writing, entrepreneurship, and rejection

"I just failed and failed and failed and failed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

On the Process of Creation

The late, great Marvin Hamlisch's insight on creating an original, polished work (video).

How the Brain Works

This is the sort of research I did while developing the simulated intelligence of MOM. It's a hot field of study these days.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Interactive Author

The reading experience is no longer a one-way communication.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Infrequently-Asked Questions, #3

A note from John, on Facebook: "Hi Jeff. I’ve noticed that [you] are making a systematic effort to find the coolest stuff on Facebook, presumably in an attempt to achieve total consciousness.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Charles Eames' Manifesto

“Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.”

Douglas Idugboe's Social Media Manifesto

I think I just broke the first rule.

Dieter Rams' Design Manifesto

The legendary Braun designer who taught that upstart Jonathan Ive everything he knows had 10 core design principles.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Henry Miller's Writing Manifesto

Great advice from the fastidious Miller:

One Man's Relationship to the World

"I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element.

How e-Book Buying Decisions Are NOT Made

(or: Why Patriots won't be priced at $2.99)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

'Books Born as Blogs, & Kindred Beasts'

While looking for something else entirely, I was shocked (pleasantly, but still shocked) to stumble upon The Patriots of Mars included in this Delicious collection of "examples and illustrations of uses of new media forms (such as blogs, Twitter, and so forth) in the creation of significant scholarly and popular content." Patriots looks to be in some fine company here, too!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rent, or Own Your Audience?

For most of my life, to be an author without a publisher was preposterous, shameful, and vain.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Embracing Doomsday

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dystopia.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why Books are Like Hamburgers

When the 'net was young – and so much smaller – a band of college students and techies hand-assembled pages of links in an attempt to map this new world.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Neil Gaiman Gives Good Interview

Neil Gaiman has a gift for turning interview questions upside down, transforming the reporter into an ally against a strawman issue.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Everyone Tries to Kill Hitler

This was a very popular meme by Desmond Warzel a few years back, but the original link's long gone. So, for the benefit of those who missed it the first time, it's reproduced here (appropriately enough) courtesy of the mighty Wayback Machine.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Characteristics of Human Relationship Patterns (video)

How people relate and share information in an increasingly-networked world.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Key Step in Creative Writing

The one few writers are ever taught, because it's little understood and even less believed. Yet, nothing great was ever accomplished without it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Disconnect of Sci-fi & Fantasy

A Writing Manifesto

On September 7th, 1982, the quintessential Mad Man David Ogilvy sent the following internal memo to all agency employees, titled “How to Write”:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Notes on a Dying Industry

James Altucher makes some salient points re the 'morgue' of the Traditional Publishing Business. We've heard that before, but Altucher's broader focus makes this rant a bit different:

Great Book Promo Blog

Author Ben Nesvig cites Seth Godin as one of his influences, and it shows. His book promo blog is full of pithy Godin-isms, such as:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sticky Situation

What's America's 'stickiest' social network, and (more important) why should you care?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Searching for Heroes

I recently met Kevin Domenic, a writer from New Jersey (now in St. Louis) who runs the review site Searching for Heroes. I was gratified that he expressed great interest in my work.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


What's Your Manifesto?

Do you have one?
Where did it come from?
Has it changed over the years?
Do you adhere to it, or find yourself breaking it regularly?

What's Your Manifesto?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

#Twitter 104: Building a Following, Early Stages

Here's what I've been doing to get my Twitter kite off the ground.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Infrequently-Asked Questions, #2

Asked via Facebook:
Q) It's not an area I know much about, but are these 'iconic' designers?

Uncle Milty's Rules for Living

Infrequently-Asked Questions, #1

Kicking off a series in which I answer rarely-asked questions posed to me. It is guaranteed to enlighten few, and amuse even fewer.

Today's question arrived via an email from SodaHed:

Q) Are the sex robots coming soon?
A) Not soon enough.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The One Per Cent Solution & the Shape of Destiny

I had a passing discussion the other day with a writer to the effect that The Tijuana Brass and The Beatles were a vivid illustration that great art, of any sort, has a shape and form that people actively and passionately respond to.

Beneath the surface, the essential 'shape' of a Paul McCartney Beatles tune and a Herb Alpert TJB arrangement (both men personified the groups they pretended to be a mere part of) are the same. Otherwsise both would not have coexisted and thrived with such outwardly different music during the same cultural era. During the Beatles' rise, most musicians who did not swim in the same cultural stream - Sinatra comes to mind - got stranded on shore. Frustrated, many (such as Pat Boone and Bobby Darin) abandoned the material that had won them fame and adopted (unconvincingly) the outer trappings of their times. But men such as Herb Alpert, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon wrote and performed the music that conformed to the right 'shape' (as they saw it), rather than to the fickle cultural zeitgeist.

Does this ideal 'shape', if it exists, require a genius to identify it, or can it be found by anyone who cares to look? Below, Kurt Vonnegut performs an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek schtick describing the successful, 'beautiful shape' of a story.

But in a more serious vein, author Jan Tschichold in The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design (excerpted here) assures us that we - all of us - can and should learn to identify the 'right' shape of things:

"Personal typography is defective typography. Only beginners and fools will insist on using it. Perfect typography depends on perfect harmony between all of its elements. We must learn, and teach, what this means. Harmony is determined by relationships or proportions. Proportions are hidden everywhere: in the capaciousness of the margins, in the reciprocal relationships to each other of all four margins on the page of a book, in the relationship between the leading of the type area and dimensions of the margins, in the placement of the page number relative to the type area, in the extent to which capital letters are spaced differently from the text, and not least, in the spacing of the words themselves. In short, affinities are hidden in any and all parts."

Tschichold's excellent book (the comments at the Amazon link are also worth a look) goes on to describe how these hidden truths can be found. Notice that he clearly labels this process as a search for morality - not a search for beauty, as is commonly supposed. In this search, the selfish (personal) preferences must be set aside, even exorcized, in order for the hidden things to be identified.

The Geometry of God: The Striking Kaleidoscopic 
Patterns of European Cathedral Ceilings
Many of these structures were constructed in an era actively
occupied with ordering the heavens, and expressed in their
mathematical nature was a microcosm model of the universe
– perhaps in the belief that logic could explain or convey
the God to which these places of worship aimed to attest.
"Only through constant practice and strictest self-criticism may we develop a sense for a perfect piece of work. Unfortunately, most seem content with a middling performance."

So the great obstacle for most of us, in Tschichold's view, is not some lack of innate talent but simply a willingness to settle for less.

This idea is not at all limited to the visual. Tom Wolfe alluded to it in The Right Stuff, which professed that the job of being an astronaut, by its nature, was something more than a job. It was even more than a glamorous, high-profile job. It demanded almost-indefinable qualities that went beyond a set of skills, experience, and qualifications.

Beyond the individual's 'right stuff', proponents of Elliott Wave theory and Kondratieff Waves contend that our collective behavior, from wars to famines to market crashes, also conforms to 'proper' and elegant - and inevitable - patterns. It is said that these patterns are an integral part of our makeup as human beings. Elliott Wave is particularly interesting in that it extends beyond mankind to all of nature, linking the patterns and behavior of the smallest particle to the largest possible formation. It posits that both our follies and triumphs are, in a real sense, forces of nature as real and pervasive as gravity. It suggests how a great artist creates and shapes his works with interconnecting, dependent themes.

Beyond that, it has been said that there is a pattern that describes God. Mozart and Einstein alluded to and pursued this. This hugely famous book danced with the idea. Human history is filled with searches for the proper shape, the elegant description, or the mathematically-pleasing construct that conveys a sense of the I Am.

One theme of The Patriots of Mars is that human destiny conforms to such shapes, and that it is possible (and wise) to learn to intuit their form. With that in mind, consider the chart at right. The first column, 'range', shows all available resources, in ten percent increments, up to a theoretical 100% of wealth at bottom. The second column shows what percentage of the population owns or controls each increment of wealth. The final column, a color bar, offers a breakdown of the numbers. As you can see, the largest group by far is the middle class, and a very small percentage - the infamous One Percent, controls a disproportionate share of wealth.

No doubt you have heard this before. Perhaps you got it from the New York Times or the Daily Kos or Paul Krugman or Think Progress. These numbers are indisputable, except for one caveat:

They're not from any economist. They're from Pinterest.

The numbers measure the system-wide influence (info at link) of the images uploaded by various Pinterest users. In a new, closed system that is about as close to a meritocracy as one might hope for in this world, Pinterest displays the same heavily-skewed wealth distribution curve the Times has been bleating about for years now. It is the same 'unfairness' writers complain about when they see the great wealth accumulated by the likes of James Patterson or Stephen King and contrast it with their own meager holdings.

But what if - rather than painting this colossal disparity as indicative of a sick system that 'needs intervention' - we recognize this as the true shape of a healthy system and work from that premise to ease the burden of the disadvantaged among us?

Of course, this will never happen. As Jan Tschichold observes, most people will choose never to see it. But Tschichold also knew that a few will always see for themselves, and that those few were worth his reaching out, because they are the ones who change the world.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The 'state of the indie author' report

Paraphrasing (for brevity) Jeff Bezos, the guy building a private space venture, a ten-thousand year clock, and some rinky-dink operation called Amazon:

"I am emphasizing self-service platforms because even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation. When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried, because there’s no expert gatekeeper ready to say “that will never work!” And guess what – many of those improbable ideas do work, and society is the beneficiary of that diversity.

Kindle Direct Publishing has quickly taken on astonishing scale – more than a thousand KDP authors now each sell more than a thousand copies a month, some have already reached hundreds of thousands of sales, and two have already joined the Kindle Million Club. KDP is a big win for authors. Authors who use KDP get to keep their copyrights, keep their derivative rights, get to publish on their schedule – a typical delay in traditional publishing can be a year or more from the time the book is finished – and … saving the best for last … KDP authors can get paid royalties of 70%. The largest traditional publishers pay royalties of only 17.5% on ebooks (they pay 25% of 70% of the selling price which works out to be 17.5% of the selling price). The KDP royalty structure is completely transformative for authors. A typical selling price for a KDP book is a reader-friendly $2.99 – authors get approximately $2 of that! With the legacy royalty of 17.5%, the selling price would have to be $11.43 to yield the same $2 per unit royalty. I assure you that authors sell many, many more copies at $2.99 than they would at $11.43.

Kindle Direct Publishing is good for readers because they get lower prices, but perhaps just as important, readers also get access to more diversity since authors that might have been rejected by establishment publishing channels now get their chance in the marketplace. You can get a pretty good window into this. Take a look at the Kindle best-seller list, and compare it to the New York Times best-seller list – which is more diverse? The Kindle list is chock-full of books from small presses and self-published authors, while the New York Times list is dominated by successful and established authors."

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Age of the Cloistered Idea

Part One of the series Think Outside the Book.

Today I posted a Pinterest board for The Patriots of Mars. The board's empty, and will remain so until the book's out.

When the book is released, the board will fill with related quotes. These will actually be images, of course. Quotation-images  and Infographics are swelling concerns on the 'net these days. The Pinterest boards trafficking in quotes are some of the busiest on that service. Facebook has spawned a sprawling cottage industry trafficking in such things. Few attempt to make a point on Facebook anymore without leveraging an image, and that image usually involves type.

The old saw has it that a picture is worth a thousand words. In terms of 'message-capacity', if you will, a square inch of image packs more immediate punch than a block of text that size. And in a Darwinistic jungle of fast-moving messages fighting for limited attention, immediate impact can be crucial.

In this context, it's easy to understand Facebook's billion-dollar purchase of Instagram this week. Images are the future of the web, and text-images have great power.

For the first time in history, the average person can routinely communicate graphically. This was impossible via telephone or its electronic antecedents. It was possible via book, newspaper or television - but only for the few who were publishers or broadcasters. The only way for the average person to be graphically-empowered in his/her communications was to buy a Hallmark card.

This means people are becoming accustomed to thinking not just in words or numbers, but in terms of the capabilities of LOLcats, PowerPoint presentations, YouTube clips, and countless other message-image generator services.

It also means that folks buying books in this booming e-book market have a different mindset than readers had during the great paperback explosion of the 1930's.

In the past, reading as a skill remained the same regardless of the media. Whether it was a newspaper, book, or street sign, a reader went about his/her task in more or less the same way. But in a world of hypertext, two readers can come away from a paragraph with vastly different ideas, depending on which links they pursued.

The common assumption is that ebooks will increasingly contain links and interactive features such as YouTube clips. But that's not a new idea, nor is it what will differentiate e-books from all that came before.

This essay began with a mention of quotes from Patriots. We live in a world that sees and wants its ideas in pre-packaged quotes - not open-ended links. Ours is a world of processed goods and service industries, of Reader's Digest, Cliff's Notes, and an apparently endless supply of pundits to offer up platitudes a la carte. Our world wants its ideas packaged, and its options contracted - not expanded. Simplicity and convenience is the thought-merchant's credo, if (s)he wants to be successful. The future of e-books is not in opening up new doors via links to the wider web. Of course that will be (and is being) done, but that's not the Next Big Thing. (My upcoming Patriots is quite heavily linked, in anticipation of a classroom edition which will be even moreso.)

The true e-book has yet to arrive. What we have seen so far are afterthoughts - ghosts - from the print world. Occasionally, an ambitious publisher pushes out what amounts to a book-length website. These are not true products of the newly-emerging tablet medium. The e-book-to-come demands a new approach to creating literature  - an approach for which the term 'writing' seems inadequate. This approach will be so different that I don't have a fitting name to suggest for it. But I believe it will form itself around the public's love of the superficially cloistered idea-byte we call a quote.

While this new form has yet to be seen, we have seen its ancestors. We are quite accustomed to familiar song snippets slipped into new songs, TV or movies in order to lend them some of the meaning and flavor (and appeal) of the original. And some of us have seen the works of installation artists such as Jenny Holzer (pictured above).

The next installment of this series will begin to explore Holzer's lifetime of work and what it means to the coming writing revolution.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


While you work hard to get the word out when you publish a book, what puts it over the top (if that's meant to happen) is serendipity. Serendipity is a funny concept, and apparently difficult to explain to some cultures.

Harry Potter? Two major counts of serendipity. The first was a publisher who had no great interest in the book being nagged by his young daughter, to whom he had given the manuscript. To appease her, he printed 250 copies and shipped them off to libraries. With no faith in the book's prospects, no marketing effort was made. The second count was that the librarians liked and recommended the book often enough that it began to gain traction, and get reviews. After that - well, you know.

The best things are usually not what you're trying to accomplish. Two months ago serendipity sent the charming and intuitive Linda Stone my way. Then a few weeks ago a serendipitous book review came to me. 

Yesterday a friend sent me a very charming and creative music video which seemed to be inexplicably gathering dust on a YouTube shelf. I decided it deserved a better fate, and began spreading the word around.

One of my Facebook friends who got the link, Walt Gilbert, loved the video and wound up giving me and The Patriots of Mars a kind and unexpected boost. (Thanks again, Walt!)

If the book does well, I expect the many hours I spend promoting it will mean much less than all the factors I can't control. Mood-swings (favorable or otherwise) of the reading public, emerging news, and the financial fortunes of Amazon are out of my hands. Serendipity is difficult to explain, impossible to manufacture, and completely critical to success. There's nothing to be done but accept it.

The book's not actually out yet, by the way. But the opening prologue is online. My Facebook friends will all get a free copy, so if you like what you see stop by my page and 'friend' me.

Meanwhile - here's that video. You won't recognize it, but that's one of ABBA's most famous songs - and their final recording ever.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

#Twitter 103: Why bother?

The path I'm taking with Twitter means a lot of hard-slogging work. A lot of folks ask, 'Why bother?'. And in fact, I can already see that most folks don't bother. And won't!

I was going to address this later on in the series, but since a list of reasons was just handed to me (in a Tweet, natch), and since it's good form to be well-motivated before tackling a project like this, I'll just repeat them below:

Here are 15 reasons why you need to get started building and growing a significant and relevant network on Twitter:

1. To have access to a group of people that you can refer to for advice 24/7.
2. To generate targeted traffic to your sites and portfolio. The larger your network, the more people will visit your site (if the site is of interest and of relevance to them).
3. To develop friendships and relations with people you otherwise might never have met.
4. To add credibility to your brand, your business and your website.
5. To expand your pool of potential collaborators.
6. As a means to introduce your work to large numbers of people who are already interested in you, without disturbing those that are not.
7. To build your online presence as an industry leader.
8. To widen the net of potential new clients who pick up on your work.
9. As a means to gather feedback on your projects from around the world almost instantly.
10. As a way for your updates to easily be shared, and even go viral within the Twitter system.
11. To let people who are interested keep up to date with you wherever you are in the world, for free, in real time without the need to write long posts.
12. For people to see your human side beyond your more regimented portfolio updates.
13. To refer or be referred by others easily and efficiently.
14. To help your own creativity and spark new ideas from updates that you see.
15. To boost and grow your social interaction for those who tend to work independently.

Of course all this needs to be done in a legitimate, organic manner that is congruent with the people you are interacting with. It’s not about spamming, aggressive following, being manipulative or being destructive.
Growing your network should be a gradual process, that introduces you and what you stand for to the people who want to know about you in the first place.

Well-said. Now, this enterprising fellow has a Twitter booklet to sell. Seeing as he handed me this post, I'll let him do it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

#Twitter 102: The Zen of Social Media

This series is 'The Zen of Twitter'. It's not 'The Zen of Facebook' (or LinkedIn or Pinterest or Reddit, etc.), because the essence of those services at least seems straightforward to the average user. But Twitter's stark simplicity makes its purpose elusive, and its governing rules aren't self-evident.

In approaching these social platforms, I ask the same basic question you probably do: How can this help me achieve my goal?

I'm an author. The average author defines his (or her) goal as selling books. Therefore, the purpose of Twitter, to someone like me, is to sell books. Therefore, Twitter is for sending Tweet after Tweet about one's books.

Yet we can sense right away that this approach is, at best, limited. At worst, it's repellant. I've been in chat rooms full of authors who complain how sick they are of seeing endless sales Tweets, then turn around and crank out their daily quota. And when sales flag, they're likely to Tweet even harder.

Selling books - selling anything, really - is like making a butterfly land on your finger. Which is to say: You can't. You can only create an optimal situation for the butterfly to choose to land on your finger.

An artist should intuitively understand that concept, since creating worthwhile art is pretty much the same elusive process. The fact that so many fail to grasp this suggests that their work lacks this same ephemeral but vital quality.

For many users, social-media tools become a trap. The numbers these things measure can easily become the goal of using these platforms. Which, obviously, they should not be. In fact, so compelling does this stuff become that these tool providers encourage their users to broadcast these numbers, despite the fact that they are, in themselves, relatively meaningless noise. (Which many readers could merely wind up resenting.)

We've all encountered the SEO hucksters offering to 'sweeten' our Facebook 'likes', or our blog traffic, Twitter followers, etc., for a few bucks. That's very tempting to those of us who aren't celebrities (i.e., most of us) and subsist at the low end of the social totem pole.

Here's where this path leads, though. Recently I encountered a young, media-savvy author (I won't name him, no point calling him out) whose indie YA sci-fi book was selling well. He had a respectable number of Amazon reviews, plenty of 'likes' on his book's Facebook page, and tens of thousands of Twitter followers. It certainly looked as if his book was ripe to spill onto the laps of a much larger audience.

But when I checked his blog, I noticed very few comments on the posts. When I checked his Tweets, I saw that he was offering his followers rote cut-and-paste rote responses. (It was certainly not a newsfeed I'd sign up for, and the guy was no celebrity, so what was the appeal?) Also, he had no personal FB page, only a page for his book. Digging further into his website, I saw the remnants of SEO gaming (if you're savvy enough, you can spot at least some of them).

In theater parlance, this guy had 'papered the house'.

It's understandable to want to attract a crowd to one's business. But it's all-too-common to mistake a large number of 'followers' for a meaningful achievement. Twitter's not an end - it's a means to an end.

But what is that end for an author, if not to sell books? If we accept the premise that tweeting won't make that butterfly land on your finger, what is an achievable social-media goal? And if it's not earning income, why bother?

Speaking for myself: My goal is to elicit a core 'social behavior' from the social platforms I use. Achieving this goes beyond the usual rules, tricks, metrics, wiseguy-workarounds, 'helper' apps and other ephemera that are the red meat of most 'how-to' posts you'll find. To me, this is the Zen of Social Media.

Like a garden, social media must be cultivated. There is no better (i.e., faster) approach to what I, at least, consider its successful and proper implementation. In the next installment, I'll describe recent happy instances of the 'social behavior' that I've seen in my own little tended garden.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

#Twitter 101: Desperately Seeking Zen

Let's start off by saying I'm no Twitter Expert. If you want advice from a Twitter Expert, there are tons of them out there. I can't vouch for their expertise one way or another, but they're out there.

Maybe you knew that before you came here, and came anyway. Maybe you just found out, and are now looking (understandably) for the exits. Maybe I'd better give you a reason to stick around!

Try this on for size: While I don't know much about Twitter, I do know something about Zen. And it is the essence of Zen to realize that one never completely knows the answer one seeks.

Yet Twitter Experts promise to completely unravel its mystery - some in just 24 hours!

So while my Twitter expertise falls well short of 'expert', on the Zen side of things I think I can hold my own. In fact, let's test that theory. Here's a search for the words 'Twitter' and 'Zen'. How many results pursue the true nature (Zen) of Twitter? Not many. Let's look at them.

Mashable offers Four Tips for Productive Tweeting: (1) Approach With a Beginner’s Mind, (2) Give What You Want to Receive, (3) Only Add Useful Content, and (4) See Differently. Good advice in general, and certainly a healthy (IMO) approach to what you send out there in that little box. But it does not try to parse the essence of Twitter.

Next: Ten Steps To Twitter Zen. Six more steps than the last post: (1) Be Yourself, Be Nice, (2) You Must Give In Order to Receive, (3) Follower Count Isn’t Everything, (4) Conversation Is Not One-Way, (5) Mix It Up A Little, (6) Know The Proper Way To DM (direct message), (7) A Non-Follow-Back Is Not Cause For Concern, (8) If You Want to Increase The Likelihood of a Follow Back… (9) You Can Always Unfollow, (10) Give Thanks. This comes a little closer to what we're after, but most of his advice is, again: 'Be courteous, interact, be generous'.

Let's lay our cards on the table: If you're an ass in real life, you'll be an ass on Twitter. And if you make a nuisance of yourself on Twitter, no advice of mine can possibly help you, aside from this: Get someone with the necessary social skills, creativity and wit to do your tweeting for you.

Back to the Ten Steps. Items (3) and (7-9) suggest what we're after, which is the nature of Twitter itself in terms of its design intent and function. We must also account, as Twitter must, for the behavior of the folks using it. As someone who once constructed messages for marketing and political campaigns, this is an area where I can claim some insight.

Next up: Free Course: A Zen Peacekeeper Guide to Twitter. This seems to be on the right track - and the price is right. In fact, it's too on-the-nose. We're immediately shown images of Buddha and a woman meditating. Not to mention links to yoga - and what's up with peacekeeping? Maybe it's just me, but I'm starting to feel a little squishy here.

Pressing on into the seldom-seen second page of Google's results, there's something called Achieving Twitter Zen. It's a list of possibly-useful software enhancements for using Twitter. Again, not what we're after.

Another post called Twitter Zen tells us: The social media microblogging site Twitter has a Zen quality. The premise of Twitter? Answer the question “what are you doing”? Each post, called a tweet is like a haiku – a fluid expression of a moment in time... unburdened by verbosity (there is a 140 character limit on Twitter posts) as our human travails and observations are expressed. Little life moments. Experienced and shared. Happening.

Another Twitter Zen post, this one by Stephen Foskett, offers a no-nonsense series of four concise lessons designed to cover the basics for the newbie. At a glance, it looks pretty thorough in that regard. Here it lays out what Twitter is, and isn't:

The most important concept to grasp is the fundamental nature of Twitter: It is an ongoing, global, democratic conversation. It is not a blog, USENET, Facebook or MySpace, or an instant message platform, though it does have certain elements of all of those.

That helps, though if you're a Twitter newbie you might also not know what a blog, USENET, Facebook or MySpace are, either. But it's a start, and this writer goes on to offer some good observations. It's worth reading.

Ask yourself: Is becoming a 'Twitter expert' your goal? Or is Twitter only a means to an end? I'm in the latter camp, and I suspect you are too. (Otherwise, you'd have left by now!)

With that in mind, I'll stick with the basic practices and tools in the posts ahead. I'll review what I'm doing and why, and what I believe the Zen of the thing is. The first practical lesson has already begun: The headline of this piece starts with a hash tag (#), which in the Twitterverse is shorthand for a searchable topic. This post appears not only on this blog, but as a Tweet that opens with a popular search term. I'll show how that works in a future installment.

Meanwhile, Mr. Foskett's piece looks like a solid Twitter primer, with some good 'Zen' points to expand on later.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Corruption vs. Wealth

It's passe, and even risible, to claim that America is the hope of the world. That idea died with Reagan, and his 'shining city on a hill'. Even Superman recently questioned the 'American Way' he once fought for (as his old TV show claimed).

It's not just from the left that one hears this relentless drumbeat, either. Jim Rogers, a staggeringly wealthy (by most standards) investor, uprooted his family from America, where he made his reputation and fortune, to China. China, he has often said, is the future.

At right is a chart from a very insightful website indicating the state of the world's corruption. What stands out to me is that the poorest countries are the most corrupt, with Africa the clear 'winner'.

From the site: 'Petty bribery increased the most in Chile, Colombia, Kenya, FYR Macedonia, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Senegal and Thailand. And bribery was most often an activity of the poor and the young.'

Furthermore, the most corruption - hands-down - stemmed from representatives of political parties. As was once observed by The Sopranos - 'these guys make us look like amateurs'.

Also note that this chart holds that Asia has over twice the incidence of corruption as the US.

What does this mean? To me it means that wealth has an inverse ratio to moral (however you choose to define that) corruption. The more dishonest a society is, the poorer it will be.

We get quite an earful about the Bernie Madoffs of this world. But such headlines don't offer a clear indication of where a society is headed, because people like that have always existed. What matters is the integrity of a society, and what it truly believes and honors - not what it pays mere lip service to.

Our true societal values are masked with a flimsy cloak of political correctness. It's wrong to hate (at least openly) Jews or 'minority' races. But it is permissible, and even encouraged, to hate designated strawmen. Sarah Palin, for example, is someone for whom various forms of hatred are often expressed. It is likewise permissible, and encouraged, to hate those who do not conform to whatever is currently 'politically correct'.

In the end, the most decent, just and honorable societies will triumph. If that is China, so be it, but it is far from proven that a still-totalitarian state can lead billions to a higher moral level. If it's the USA, we have some soul-searching (and a lot of re-inventing) to do.

If it's some other nation that's destined to rise up and become 'the shining city' that leads the world, there are an awful lot of people right now who are wondering where on Earth that might be.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Riding the wave: Making a living as a novelist

On Facebook, James T. Jordan pointed out how far Patriots would have to go to catch the Suzanne Collins sales phenomenon Hunger Games.

True dat. But indie novels are sailing along on a great confluence of events right now (a subject for a subsequent post), and one does not need to launch quite the high-octane rocket that Collins (or John Locke or Amanda Hocking or Kerry Wilkinson... etc.) did in order to earn a decent living.

Authors with decent books who work effectively (and hard) at promotion are not necessarily making headlines, but they are making a living.

Newly-minted romance author Theresa Ragan regularly publishes sales reports. Releasing six books over the course of a year, she sold nearly 200,000 copies.

From this thread I teased out a few more stories:

Traditionally-published romance author Bella Andre was dropped by S&S. She went indie and sold 265,000 self-published e-books between the Spring of 2010 and the end of October 2011. (She later added that the total had spiked past 400,000 by Feb 17, 2012.)

It was 'smiles all round' at Jake Barton's place last year: "There’s no disputing Jake Barton, the alleged writer, has had a good year... just over 66,000 paid sales in the UK alone..."

J. Carson Black recounts her rise: "Darkness On The Edge Of Town was listed in June 2010 – and sold only one book. The following month, two books were purchased. It took eight months to hit sales of 100; with 137 in February 2011. Then things began to change. In March sales hit 1,280, and in April, I sold a staggering 10,000 books. If this wasn’t enough to make me scream with joy, in May sales hit more than 70,000 books. I was selling 2,000 books a day. Now Amazon’s mystery and thriller imprint, Thomas & Mercer, has signed me to their growing team of authors. To date (November 2011), I've sold over 300,000+ copies."

From the December 9, 2011 Wall Street Journal: "This past May, Ms. Chan decided to digitally publish [her book] herself, hoping to gain a few readers and some feedback. She bought some ads on Web sites targeting e-book readers, paid for a review from Kirkus Reviews, and strategically priced her book at 99 cents to encourage readers to try it. She's now attracting bids from foreign imprints, movie studios and audio-book publishers, without selling a single copy in print. The story of how Ms. Chan joined the ranks of best sellers [it has sold over 400,000 copies] by brand-name authors like Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Kathryn Stockett... is as much a tale of digital marketing savvy and strategic pricing as one of artistic triumph. Her breakout signals a monumental shift in the way books are packaged, priced and sold in the digital era." (Worth reading in its entirety.)

David Dalglish says he has sold over 175,000 of his books.

"It’s been one crazy year for two debut novelists writing under a new name, Saffina Desforges. Last Christmas [2010] the brand was completely unknown. Their book, Sugar & Spice, was barely a month old on Amazon and had sold precisely nothing. Not until February, three months after we launched, that we even made double figures!  It seemed the gatekeepers who had turned us away were right. Weeks became months. March became May. We were selling nothing. But by late summer, Sugar & Spice went on to break the 100,000 sales barrier."

E-book rock star Tina Folsom: Including my latest release, I've self-published eight full-length novels [since 2010], three novellas and three short stories, so 14 titles in total. In the last 12 months, I've sold over 300,000 copies of my books, and that excludes any freebies. My novels generally cost around $4.99-$5.99, my novellas $2.99 and my short stories 99 cents. The majority of those 300,000 units sold is attributed to my novels.

San Francisco Bay Area Author Barbara Freethy has sold over one million units of her self-published titles in 2011.  Unlike independently published authors who publish at the $0.99 price point to fuel sales, Freethy's books are primarily priced between $2.99 and $5.99. Her self-published books come from her extensive backlist, whose rights were reverted after the books went out of print. Freethy repackaged the books and put them on sale again, finding gold in books that had been taking up space in her closet.

Gemma Halliday Sells Her 1-Millionth Self-Published Ebook!!! 

Stephen Leather: "After selling close to half a million eBooks over the past twelve months I’m now taking a step back from self-publishing."

Victorine Lieske is a best-selling author and self-published her first book, Not What She Seems, in April of 2010.  In March of 2011 the book hit the New York Times best-selling ebook list, where it stayed on the list for six weeks. By May 2011 she had sold over 100,000 copies.

Terri Giuliano Long: Now, seven months after my discouraging conversation with the agent, my book has been in the Amazon top 200 for over five months – and sold over 80,000 copies.

You get the idea. Skipping the dues-paying tales and self-congratulations, the bottom line is that there are suddenly dozens of authors who have sold, according to Amazon, 50,000 or more books during 2011. Most of these folks you've never heard of - and probably will never hear from again, either, after the e-book bubble bursts. Some of the authors listed below, however, will by then have established their careers on this beachhead.

Rachel Abbott - Only the Innocent has been shifting more than 3,000 copies a day on Amazon.  
Susan Alison - over 50,000  
Dani Amore - 50,000
Bella Andre - over 400,000 as of Feb 17, 2012
Melody Anne - over 150,000  
Jake Barton - over 66,000 paid sales in the UK alone
Robert Bidinotto - 58,260
J. Carson Black - over 300,000
Cheryl Bolen - 145,000 
Catherine Bybee - 50,000 
Sarra Cannon - 50,000
Karen Cantwell - 50,000
Ruth Cardello - 50,000
Darcie Chan - over 400,000 copies
Mel Comley - over 50,000 since Sept 2011  
Blake Crouch - 50,000
Chris Culver - 50,000
David Dalglish - around 175,000
Carol Davis Luce - 50,000
Susan Denning - 50,000
Saffina Desforges - over 100,000
Mainak Dhar - almost 100,000  
Mark Edwards & Louis Voss - 50,000
Ellen Fischer - over 100,000  
Penelope Fletcher - over 50,000
Tina Folsom - over 300,000
Marie Force - 200,000 in the past year
Melissa Foster - 50,000
Barbara Freethy- over one million
Debora Geary - 50,000
Lee Goldberg - 50,000
Denise Grover Swank - 50,000
Allan Guthrie - over 63,000     
Gemma Halliday - over 1 million
Ruth Harris - 50,000
Liliana Hart - "should hit 100,000" in about a month  
Michael Hicks - 50,000
Amanda Hocking - Over the past 20 months she has sold 1.5m books and made $2.5m.
Debra Holland - 50,000
Sheila Horgan - well over 80,000
Hugh Howey - over 50,000  
Nancy C. Johnson - 50,000
Ty Johnston - over 60,000
Heather Killough-Walden - 50,000
Selena Kitt - half a million ebooks sold in 2011
J.A. Konrath - over 500,000 ebooks
Laura Landon - 50,000
Eve Langlais - over 56,000
Stephen Leather - close to half a million eBooks over the past twelve months
Jason Letts - almost 50,000  
Victorine Lieske - she self-pubbed her first book, Not What She Seems, in April 2010.  In March of 2011 the book hit the New York Times best-selling ebook list, where it stayed for six weeks. By May she had sold over 100,000 copies.
John Locke - more than 1,100,000 eBooks in five months
Terri Giuliano Long - my book has been in the Amazon top 200 for over five months – and sold over 80,000 copies.
Carol Davis Luce - 120,000 sales for 6 suspense novels in 6 months
CJ Lyons - 230,000 copies of one book in only two months and in almost a dozen countries. In addition to her six traditionally published novels, CJ now has nine books self e-published with sales of almost half a million books in 2011 alone.
H.P. Mallory - over 200,000 e-books in less than one year.  
KC May - 50,000
Bob Mayer - 347 eBooks in January 2011. By July, I was selling over 65,000 eBooks a month. By year's end, I had sold over 400,000 eBooks.
David McAfee - 50,000
Stephanie McAfee - my e-book sold 145,325 copies from January to August 2011
Courtney Milan - 50,000
Rick Murcer - 135,000 copies of two ebooks in 4.5 months
Scott Nicholson - 50,000
Anne Marie Novark - over 75,000     
Shayne Parkinson - over 50,000
Michael Prescott - 995,000
Rose Pressey - over 54,000 since April 2011  
Michael Prescott - 50,000
T.R. Ragan - in 10 months, she's sold over 160,000 books
Terri Reid - 60,000 ebooks in her first year
Adam Rendon - over 100,000
Lexi Revellian - 50,035 as of Feb 17, 2012
Shadonna Richards - 50,000
Imogen Rose - 50,000+
Nick Russell - 50,000      
L.J. Sellers - 50,000  
Michele Scott - Over 100,000 books in two months
Tori Scott - 50,000
LJ Sellers - 50,000
Christopher Smith - 50,000
Katie Stephens - 50,000  
Michael J Sullivan -Over 90,000 copies of five books     
Laura Taylor - 50,000
Vicki Tyley - 50,000
Michael Wallace - 50,000
Kathleen Valentine - nearly 50,000
Heather Killough-Walden - her series of four books sold over half-million copies.  
Michael Wallace - over 80,000
Kerry Wilkinson - his Jessica Daniel detective novels sold over 250,000 copies
Rachel Yu - over 60,000  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Corruption is largely a matter of opportunity

One of the contentions of Patriots is that human corruption is largely a matter of opportunity. "The 99%" aren't less corrupt than "the 1%", the opportunity for grant theft simply does not ordinarily present itself to most folks.

I was reminded of this by today's article re a lottery winner who cheated his co-workers out of their share of the winnings. But scroll down and see the stories of other lottery winners.

This was a central facet of the box-office blockbuster The Dark Knight, in which white-knight Harvey Dent - who could live freely and openly - was demonstrably 'corruptible', whereas Batman - who had to operate in secret - was not.

The Zen of Steve

"...Jobs’ chutzpah as the Valley’s most dramatic and effective showman was inspired... by the mythical Zen rogues who drank sake, caroused with whores, shunned temples, mocked hollow rituals, sat zazen in caves, and turn out to be the only ones worthy of inheriting the old master’s robe and bowl by the end of the story. Zen flourishes in irreverence, subversion, inscrutability, and self-mockery — all words that describe Jobs’ style but the last."

More and better insight into Steve Jobs than you'll find in that overblown biography: 'What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?'

How to get removed from my Twitter feed

Post sensationalistic (and completely untrue) headlines like this one to sell your wares: "Amazon to stop selling books". (The link contains an ad for his book.) Besides being a complete waste of my time, it's disgusting, sleazy, and cheap. Good Riddance to "John Cox" or "Paul Dorset" or whatever this one's calling itself today. Ugh.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Public altruism: The refuge of scoundrels and thieves

We've all seen the impassioned Kony 2012 pleas. Got one posted to my front page on Facebook the other day, in fact. Well, I worked in New Jersey's political coal mines a few years. I've seen fraud and I've known more than a few phonies. I don't mean the pols - you expect it from them - I mean the 'reformers' elected via baldfaced vote fraud, the 'waterfront activists' in bed with developers, and of course the media looking steadfastly the other way, lest they tell an unpopular story.

I've smelled frauds before, and 'Kony 2012' had a familiar whiff. So I waited. And watched.

Sure 'nuff. Here's something posted a few days ago by someone else with a well-developed olfactory sense:

Scott MacDonald
"Taking down Kony is a good cause, but the group behind this video isn't all sweetness and light.
If you have a Facebook account, you've seen it by now: Make Him Famous: Kony 2012. Over the past few days, the 30-minute YouTube video has gone way past the tipping point – eight million page views and counting – to become a social-media tsunami... Taking down Kony is certainly a cause worth getting behind, but if the millions of people currently "liking" Kony 2012 spent just five minutes Googling Invisible Children, they might not be so full of liking anymore. The group has been criticized for years – most recently by Foreign Affair and The Independent – for manipulating the truth, directing donations to questionable recipients, using the bulk of the donations to support their own activities, and more."

The piece goes on to dissect the problem. But all this was written before the flying, flaming clown running this show pulled a PeeWee Herman:

Jason Russell, 33, the filmmaker behind the very viral “Kony 2012” campaign, was allegedly found masturbating in public and vandalizing cars...

No doubt there's more to come - and it won't get any better, either.

Thought I smelled somethin'.

Relationship between shutdowns of file-sharing sites and torrents

The evidence appears overwhelming: The recent shutdown of file-sharing sites seems to have had a direct correlation with a sharp uptick in torrents.

What's working (and what's not) on Pinterest

It's still growing like a weed. The quality of the images found on the top pinners' sites is only improving, and expanding nicely in its variety. But Pinterest does not do nearly enough to ensure that the original posters (both those who bring the images inside Pinterest as well as the original 'outside' posters) are properly linked and credited. There is technology that could improve this, but Pinterest is not employing it, at least not yet.

More thoughts here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Google+'s inherent - and inherited - problem

Recently, Virginia Postrel threatened to take her business elsewhere if Facebook forced Timeline on her. Though her friends voiced support, the fact is that folks resist uprooting and re-establishing themselves on another social network without 'sufficient' cause, and Timeline is almost certainly an insufficient reason.

Google+ has been attempting to establish itself as FB's main rival. This is not an incidental effort on Google's part, but critical to its future growth. Yet despite Google's institutional muscle, the effort is a relative failure.

Various explanations have been offered for this, but I have found none of them satisfactory - until today. This piece from Nick Bilton's 'Bits' column for the NY Times, IMHO, nails it.

What do Bilton's conclusions mean for the future of Google+? Can they 'fix it'? Not really - the problem is inherent within the nature of the institution that is Google. Can 'the institution' be fixed, then? Our own history insists that broken or obsolete institutions periodically need to be 'altered or abolished'. Ask Linda Stone, sometime, about her efforts to change Microsoft's culture from the inside out.

If Google can't do it, can ANYone overtake the Facebook juggernaut? History tells us that it's not only possible, but eminently likely. It was not so long ago that AOL ruled the 'social media' scene, and thereafter it was MySpace. Both have long since fallen on hard times.

Could Google simply acquire the strongest FB competitor and win the social media wars that way? Again, the historical record speaks to us. This time it tells us that the answer is yes... and no. 'Yes', Google could certainly acquire an up-and-comer, and Yahoo once did with Flickr. Yes, start-ups need sugar daddies. But no, this strategy does not win the day for Google. Yahoo's wet-blanket corporate culture killed the spirit of innovation at Flickr, which could have evolved offshoots like, for instance, Instagram. The writing was on the wall when Flickr's founders walked away in frustration.

The real solution here lies in recalling just what it is Google really needs from Google+, which is: User information. Facebook won't give it up to Google, so Google attempted to build its own social network. And it failed - at least, it failed in terms of the scale it needs to achieve going forward. But that's not to say another emerging social network might not be able to reach an innovative accommodation with Google that gives the search giant much of what it needs without surrendering to a corporate kiss of death.

This is not just a 'possible' outcome, but a 'likely' one, and as such it's well worth keeping an eye out for.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Shift Happens"

We are in the middle of the biggest boomlet in publishing since the mid '30's innovation of the paperback novel, which gave rise to the term 'pulp fiction' for cheap books that were quickly-wrought (but poorly done) so as to take advantage of the explosion. Bookstores closed in droves, and the dimestore novel (so-called because it was sold in 5-and-dime stores) reigned supreme. This period of great literary expansion gave rise to a few writing careers, particularly Kurt Vonnegut's. He was the dimestore paperback king in his early days, and from there fought his way to widespread recognition. 

Using App-Store Apps for Book Promotion

Today I received this thought-provoking piece by one of the many promo gurus around these days. I ignore most of them, as few have much that's original to say, but Aggie Villanueva's been doing this awhile. She says authors almost completely ignore apps as a means of promotion. I think she's right about this - it's certainly not something I've heard many (any?) authors talking about. Not that I need or want another promotional task to perform, but she makes a compelling case. One point stands out: Your promo blog has a MUCH better chance of being found among all the apps in Apple's store than it does among all the sites on the web. Can't argue there!