Dear KU: Why I’m breaking up with you

Dear KU:

This is going to be hard for me to say, but I think we should stop seeing each other.

I know that the time-honored tradition is to say it’s not you, it’s me, but I can’t. The truth is, it is you.

See, I think you’re an abuser.

You come in with great promises. I confess, they sounded fantastic. And others sang your praises. It seemed like such a loving relationship between a distributor and an author. Writers were making money, enough to quit their day jobs and concentrate on writing full-time, and in this profession that’s the Holy Grail of promises. Who wouldn’t leap at that?

Sure, the clause about exclusivity niggled a bit. Since we’re being frank here, it bugged me a lot. But my fellow authors told me that if a book wasn’t in KU, it had little hope of reaching bestseller status within a genre, and a quick glance at sales rankings seemed to support this. I worried I was giving you too much power in this relationship, but there weren’t a lot of good options out there. Besides, the risk that you’d abuse that power was all theoretical, all down the road. Some day. Not today.

But the thing I didn’t count on was the need to feed you more and more stories in order to make your magic work for me. That’s my fault, not yours. I’m incapable of cranking out a story every couple of weeks, and the idea of collaborating on a large scale with other authors under one pen name just wasn’t a good fit for me for that reason as well. So I shouldn’t have been disappointed that my stories haven’t done well in KU. There’s a lot of competition. I’ve waffled back and forth on whether I should stay in or not. I’ve put books in and taken them out. Either way, it seemed to make little difference. The reported success stories of other authors and their exclusive relationship with you would seem to suggest that it’s more me than you.

Or that could be you, gaslighting me.

Either way, I’m done waffling. I’m saying goodbye. 

The scammers are collecting the lion’s share of your pot, and it’s obvious the system is frequently manipulated. I fully believe #cockygate wouldn’t have existed without the favorable environment created by your system. The author in question is a KU All Star. I think protecting that status is what drove the author to TM the word “cocky” and prevent any books with “cocky” in the title from being sold. Not because Amazon doesn’t have a generous return policy for those people who accidentally get a book by mistake, but because people reading other books with ‘cocky’ in the title aren’t reading hers.

Because it’s all about that page count.

You know, the page count that’s been affected by glitches that you refuse to fix. The one where you can’t tell us exactly how you determine page counts, but that’s the criteria for which we get paid–fractions of a penny for every page read, by the way. Slivers.You know, the system that  benefits us until you release your bots in an attempt to get ahead of the scammers, and then lops off heads at will with little room for recourse.

Now, I’m hearing fellow authors saying they’ve been shut out of their accounts because you have accused them of manipulating the system when they only thing they’ve done is run a promotion through your own service. Not just one or two, but widespread. I know, I know, you’re trying to get the scammers, but you keep netting the innocent instead. (Any author who would like to appeal can reach out to content-review@amazon.com if they have additional questions. The Indie Author Support Network is also seeking documentation. A quote from them: 
We are continuing to compile information and ask that anyone who has had their account suspended and/or books removed from sale on the Kindle platform, to please provide any documentation you have to indie@indieauthorsupportnetwork.com. We are looking for cases of ACTUAL suspension and content removal at this time. We understand the loss of page reads is also a major concern, but the account suspension matter has our top priority.)

Here’s the thing. It’s not worth it to me. Even without KU, 80% of my sales are through Amazon. The reason is clear–the Kindle is amazing and the website is superior. I get most of my own books (and nearly everything else) through Amazon. One of the factors in Barnes and Noble’s failure to compete is that their website is horrible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to redeem a coupon or credit and have been unable to do so. Or I follow the link to B&N to check out a special deal, only I have to log in at least three times before I can get to the page I want. I give up. Every time. I shop Amazon because it’s so easy.

So why not give Amazon the whole 100%?

Because we as authors can’t afford to have you shut down our accounts over some KU nonsense. Boom, the decree comes down and we are out of business. It’s hard enough to be an indie author without risking the ire of an impersonal god whose army of bot minions do all the dirty work. Like hiding works from buyers because they fell into an algorithm black hole. Or deciding to decrease the visibility of erotica and then mislabeling many romances as erotica. Your decisions are arbitrary enough without the exclusivity clause. I can’t afford to give you that much power over me.

We should all be thinking about what will happen to the publishing industry once Amazon owns it all. We’re already at a state where books have been devalued to the point of slivers of a penny.

Which is why I circled back to my original impression of you, KU. You’re bad for me. You’ve created a mindset where readers demand stories faster than I can produce them for ‘free’, a price I can’t afford. And while I’m not the world’s best writer–not hardly–I love stories too much to burn them as fodder for your KU fire.

When my run ends on my current promotion, we’re done, KU. We’re done.

 

 

 

Oh, What a C*ck-up!

For those of you who haven’t yet caught up with the events associated with #cockygate, this is a great post on it here, and a Twitter thread here. 

Both sum up matters nicely, as well as bring up the implications and legal questions such an action raises.

Disclaimer: I am not a copyright lawyer and do not pretend to understand the ins and outs of the case. I am only presenting the information as I understand it.

The short version is this: Kindle All Star Faleena Hopkins (who also has written under the name Sabrina Lacey) filed trademark claims for the word ‘cocky’ as used in her series of stories surrounding a never-ending family known as the Cocker Brothers, as well as the specific font used in the titles of her books. The trademark now gives her the right to send cease and desist orders to every author with a book containing ‘cocky’ in the title. They are given the choice of changing titles or facing a potential lawsuit.

Author Jamila Jasper received a C&D email from Hopkins, which she then shared with social media.

 

Ms. Hopkins does not deny sending this email, and in fact responds to the sharing of it in various places on social media. It begs the question as to why Ms. Hopkins sent this email herself and not through her lawyer. The answer may lie in the fact many authors might choose to comply with the implied threat rather than face a lawsuit they cannot afford to defend. And it costs Ms. Hopkins zilch in lawyer’s fees to do so. This cover change is being held up as an example of one compliant author. And the recent title change of another book makes readers question if the author was forced to do so or chose to do so rather than be embroiled in the current debacle.

Ms. Hopkins states in a Facebook post that she is not out to take author’s livelihoods but to prevent her brand from being diluted and that changing a tile is no big deal to authors and costs them nothing. She also has claimed it is necessary to protect her readers from sadly buying the wrong books by mistake. (Um, you’ve noticed that Amazon has a very generous return policy on books, right?)

In her view, changing a title is no big deal. Unless it comes just before the romance convention season, when banners, swag, and advertising have already been ordered. Not if you count the cost of redoing entire pages if you’re a graphic artist, or paying for new covers. Re-recording audio files. Not to mention, losing readers who are looking for a title that no longer exists–but oh look, happen to head to the CockyTM author’s works.

Indie publishing is NOT cheap, by the way. It can cost somewhere between $1-2 K per story and there’s no guarantee you’ll see your ROI back.

Though not directly related, except as it goes to show the mindset behind the brand, Ms. Hopkins alleges her readers were also upset at seeing the cover models she’s used (stock industry images) appear on other covers. And that as a result, she was one of the first indie authors to photograph her own covers. (Spoiler: she’s not)

Then there is also this:

Ironically, the font she trademarked is copyrighted by the creator, so trademarking it may be in violation of copyright here, according to the creator’s Terms of Use.

Irony number two: Same author apologized to the romance community for titling a book “Cocky Solider” when the MC, a Marine, would never refer to himself as a solider. Marines are Marines, thank you very much. Even after being informed of this by an actual Marine, Ms. Hopkins apparently stuck by her original title, stating in her apology letter that it was not possible to change the title as books had already been pre-ordered and it would cost too much to make the switch at the last minute.

Irony number three: Same author allegedly has a MC whom she depicts as a member of the Atlanta Falcons football team. Which is trademarked. And the NFL has a history of strongly defending their trademarks.

Let’s set aside whether or not the TM commission should have granted the TM. It’s being contested. You can sign the petition here

Trademarking ‘cocky’ would be the equivalent of J.K. Rowling not trademarking “Harry Potter”, but just “Harry” and forbidding anyone to use the word Harry in the title of a story ever again. Harry Potter is a distinct entity created by Rowling. Harry in the generic, is not. This would be like E.L. James trademarking “Shades”.  Fifty Shades of Grey is trademarked. It’s a franchise. The word “Shades” is not. There is no special brand associated with that. Not even Ray Bans. The word has existed and been used long before FOSG made it a household name. To make the example truly ridiculous, it would be as if I attempted to TM ‘shifter’ and banned the use of the word in every paranormal romance title featuring the same.

Speaking of E.L. James, that author appears to have thrown some shade at Ms. Hopkins by suggesting her bank holiday read would be a popular book with “Cocky” in the title that pre-dates Ms. Hopkin’s series.

The implications of this maneuver are huge. Not just in the romance genre but across the board in the entertainment industry. Romance Twitter is being utterly inventive and vicious with their #byefaleena and #cockygate hashtags, with authors are retaliating by posting remade covers of their stories ALL renamed with “Cocky” in the title, and changing their Twitter handles to include “Cocky” in their name. There’s currently a request for stories for an anthology: The Cocky Cockers. They are soliciting romance stories from all genres, that must feature a cocker spaniel, around 5 K words and submitted by 5/31/18. I’m tempted. Sorely tempted.

But the underlying concern is real. The petition to cancel the trademark was started. The Romance Writer’s Association has asked any members (and now non-members too) who have been contacted by Ms. Hopkins to get in touch with them, and they are currently talking with an IP lawyer.

Imagine if someone decided to TM “Duke”. The impact on Regency historicals would be unreal. Or what about “Love”? Can you imagine having the gall to email Elizabeth Gilbert and tell her she has to rename Eat, Pray, Love?

Sadly, for the hundreds of people I see outraged, I am also seeing people nod and say what a great idea this is–and you can see them considering being the first to ‘snag’ a popular word to claim for their very own. I’m also hearing readers say they no longer search Amazon for romance titles because the system is so gamed. Some authors have been known to place their books with all-white characters in ‘diverse’ categories because it is easier to get a ‘bestseller’ label in a smaller niche. This practices goes along with page-stuffing in KU–something I didn’t understand until I read this description on one of the KU boards:

Page stuffing is the practice of putting additional, full-length novels in the back of another novel to inflate page count (for the purposes of increasing KU payout) – usually paired with some kind of inducement for readers to click to the end, past the content they likely own already (as it’s novels already on sale in the Kindle Store). This inducement often takes the form of an exclusive short story, or special offer.

Of course, this only works if the book is enrolled in KU. And it is definitely against Amazon and KDP’s TOS, so if you come across something like that, it’s not allowed. From my understanding, authors may tuck as many as three to four other books in the same series in a KU book in this manner. Supposedly, Amazon has fixed the ‘skipped pages’ thing that was making this profitable, but I’m hearing that’s not necessary true.

What IS allowed is a sneak-peek excerpt, or a first chapter of another work as a teaser. Most authors do this. It’s considered normal.

Why do I bring this up? Someone on Twitter explained that a successful KU author–even if the name was unknown to the general population–could be looking at grossing 20-50 K a month writing romances. A month. (Quite possibly spending 1-15 K in advertising to hit Kindle All Star status, but still…) Obviously, I’m going about this writing romance business all wrong.

It explains why someone might choose to go this route, even though they have earned the enmity of Romancelandia–and possibly destroyed their own writing career. To go “Full Faleena” has already become a catch-phrase on how to shoot a successful career in the foot.

Author Jenni M Rose on Twitter related what happened when she realized she had  named a book after a popular series and reached out to the author, Mari Carr. This resulted in #BeAMari becoming a hashtag. This is the classy way to deal with perceived competition.

 

I confess, I had to laugh when I saw this post. Someone has already taken a Chuck Tingle approach in response.

Right-o, then. The object lesson here? Be a Mari.

If you have issues with the ramifications of being allowed to TM a word to prevent it from being used in romance titles, I suggest you sign the petition to cancel the trademark as listed above. Don’t berate the author on social media. Don’t one-star her books. The author has every right to TM her series, especially, as it seems, she has hopes of making movies based on them. My problem stems from trademarking a word that has been used in titles long before Ms. Hopkins laid claim to it. The Cocker Brothers might be her brand, but I dispute that she should have the sole right to use ‘cocky’ in a book title.

Hopefully, the TM commission will see this as well, cancel the TM, and we can all move  on.

UPDATE: Author and retired lawyer, Kevin Kneupper, has filed a challenge to the ‘cocky’ trademark.

The Key to Success is Persistence

Several years ago, I was warming up my horse for a dressage clinic when one of the women in the class asked, “Does he always just go on the bit like that?” Her tone was clearly one of admiring envy.

I had to laugh. ‘Going on the bit’ requires the horse to round his back and be compliant to the rider’s hands, the impulsion of movement coming from the hind end. It is a measure of the communication between horse and rider, and in certain disciplines, it is highly prized. It is impossible to do if the horse has his head flung up high and his back hollowed out.

I’d bought my horse as a three-year-old from a slaughterhouse, at the going rate of eighty-nine cents a pound. He was the world’s homeliest Saddlebred, a high-stepping breed designed to move with its head up in the air and back curved so that riding feels like you’re sitting in a rocking chair. He was the last horse anyone would expect to become a dressage champion, and when I first began appearing at the local shows, people shook their heads and wondered what I was doing there. Over a period of nearly a decade (and many hours of diligent training), we went from being the horse and rider that made people snicker to the team that came home with the ribbons.

The woman at the riding clinic was stunned when I told her of my horse’s background and how much work it had taken to make coming on the bit look natural for him. In the world of competitive riding, most people buy the right horse for the job. The right horse, the right saddle, the right boots, the best equipment money can buy: these can make a huge difference in where you place in the show ring. It doesn’t eliminate the need for disciplined training, but your starting point on the podium is higher simply by virtue of having an athletic horse and a saddle that prevents you from making a wrong move. However, I’ve seen sheer hard work and determination overcome genetics and natural ability. I competed with my meat-market Saddlebred because he was the only horse I had, and the hours I put in riding him were a labor of love. Winning ribbons wasn’t the goal. The horse shows just gave me a structure for the time we spent together.

So I have to laugh when people ask me if I’ve always been a writer, in that same sort of wondering, envious tone. As though having a natural gift for something is more valuable than working your butt off to achieve the same results. The truth is, I wrote passionately as a child, only to give it up entirely as a teenager because I didn’t think I was good enough to be a ‘real’ writer. I thought it was time to put away childish dreams and get on with the business of making a career for myself. I wasn’t a natural.

It wasn’t until I discovered online fanfiction archives as an adult that I rediscovered my love for writing. My creative self, having been ruthlessly starved and repressed for several decades, woke with a vengeance. I read everything I could lay my hands on regarding my favorite show, and then tentatively, I began writing my own stories. Not because I thought I was any good. Not because I ever thought I’d be any good. Because I loved the characters so much I wanted to spend more time with them. Because I felt compelled to tell stories about them and share them with like-minded souls. Over a three year period of time, I wrote over a million words of fanfic. The enthusiastic support of friends gave me the courage to try my hand at original fiction, and eventually go on to submit my stories for publication. Making the transition to original fiction was tougher than I’d imagined, but in the end it was no different from moving up a level in dressage: everything that was once seemed effortless becomes hard work as you increase the challenge and have to master a whole new set of skills.

Being a natural is over-rated. It tends to teach poor work habits because everything is easy for you at first, and then when it gets harder, as it always does, you get discouraged and frustrated because you’ve never learned how to put in the hours to reach a specific goal. If you want to get better at anything, you have to put your hours in: under saddle, swimming laps, on the dance floor, at the keyboard. You ‘train’ when you don’t feel like it, when it’s raining, when you’ve had a bad day. That’s what it’s like to be a writer, too.

One of my favorite quotes is from Calvin Coolidge:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

They are words to live by—but especially if you’re a writer. You don’t wait until the muse strikes you. You don’t let reviews sink your confidence. You don’t compare yourself to others. You write, pure and simple. Every day, without fail. You hone your skills by practicing. Your creativity is a muscle you exercise. The more you write, the stronger you get. The better your sentences become. Sure, you can sigh and wish you had more talent, but in the end, it is the person who puts the words to paper who is the winner. It is the person who persists who achieves their dream. That person can be you.

The Art of Accepting Compliments

My lilacs are at least twenty years old, having grown into enormous, rangy bushes that burst into lovely color every spring, filling the air around my house with their delicate scent. This is a photo taken last spring.The bushes were just starting to bud this year when a late April snow storm nipped them all. The buds all shriveled and died. The bushes themselves were damaged by the heavy, wet snow, with huge pieces breaking off and splintering down almost to the core.

I’ve been telling people this is a metaphor for my life lately. I’m only partly joking. The last 14 months of my life (oddly enough corresponding with the current Presidency, don’t think I haven’t noticed) have been very difficult. The damaged lilacs, just on the verge of blooming, seem very apt these days as a depiction of my life.

But recently I ran across a thread on Twitter that made me pause. It was about self-deprecation with respect to your writing, but this is something I struggle with in general:

 

I shared the tweet, adding my own comment, “Guilty. I’ve been digging that groove deeper every day of my life. The problem is self-praise sounds like bull sh*t to me. Gotta work on both issues.”

This resulted in one of my Twitter friends suggesting looking in a mirror every day and saying something nice to myself. We tweeted back and forth on the subject, but the truth is yesterday was a bad day in so many ways and my ability to believe I was anything other than a horrible human being and a talentless hack was nil. I wasn’t very encouraging or cheerful in response.

I’ve tried doing the positive affirmation thing. I even went so far once as to record a bunch of affirmations so I could listen to them daily in a kind of meditative state. I created a journal, lovingly decorated, where I could record my kick-ass affirmations too.

I make talismans for myself, like the I Know My Value bracelet (because I love the Peggy Carter quote so much) and my Persistence bracelet I got from MyIntent.org.

I do these things because every day I need to reverse the well-worn narrative that’s been playing in my head as long as I can remember–the one that I was taught so well I took over the lessons long after the original input ceased.

There’s a Facebook post that’s been circulating on my feed recently about Jim Carey and his self-belief in his comedic talent, even when he was shot down again and again in the early days. I find that kind of belief and persistence admirable, but I don’t understand how someone can have it. How someone can make themselves believe if the belief isn’t there in the first place.

There’s a great scene in the old Steve Martin movie Roxanne, where Martin’s Cyrano-type character Charlie is accosted in a bar by a jerk who attempts to insult him by calling him “Big Nose”. Charlie comes back with, “Is that all you’ve got?”

In the ensuing scene, Charlie insults himself with 20 better insults than the one he’s just received.

 

 

I confess, I have long identified with Charlie. I’ve always been of the mindset that you can’t say anything to hurt me because I’ve already said worse to myself. But at some point, what is a useful coping mechanism for getting through middle school becomes a chain around your legs that prevents you from getting what you want out of life.

The thing is, I’ve always been better at accepting insults than compliments. I don’t trust compliments. When someone compliments me out of the blue, I have a tendency to squint and think, “What do they want?” On the rare occasions a compliment comes my way, my response is always padded with qualifiers. Thank you, but this isn’t my best work. Thank you, but actually, I’ve gained weight. And so on.

I’m working on a conversation between characters in the current book about this very subject, where the heroine explains how difficult it is for her to believe compliments about her looks after growing up hearing how ugly she was. Because I think this is important. I think we need to stop running ourselves down–our appearance, the decisions we’ve made in life, our abilities, our intelligence–all of it. I was raised to believe self-deprecation was far more appropriate than arrogance, but the laughable thing is arrogance will never be one of my flaws. I’ll be lucky if I stretch up to reach a point of self-confidence.

And yet most days, it’s a struggle not to fall back into the old patterns. Probably because arrogance and ‘putting yourself forward’ were portrayed as something far uglier to me than believing in yourself. But I know the power of the mind. I know the things you tell yourself on a daily basis are the things that come true. Maybe you don’t look at yourself in the mirror and think how ugly/old/fat you are. But perhaps you tell yourself you don’t deserve that raise, or you aren’t that good a writer, or you’ll never get ahead, or bad things always happen to you. On the surface, these don’t seem like terrible things to say to yourself. You probably think they’re true. But are they really true or is it that your belief makes it so?

In the past week two compliments have come my way that I do trust because I trust the people who made them. The first came from a friend I’ve known since college, who is well-aware of my sensitivity toward aging. Out of the blue, she said, “I know you won’t believe me, but honestly, I can’t see any difference in your appearance now than ten years ago. It’s like you’ve stopped aging.”

Hahahahahaha. No seriously. I can see the changes, even if she can’t. But this friend isn’t prone to complimenting lightly just to do so, and I found myself oddly able to accept her kind words.

The second came last night. I’d had a horrible day to cap off an extremely stressful couple of weeks. Tearfully, I expressed to the SO that I wasn’t sure how much more I could take, given the past year. He had me sit down while he made dinner. He went all out–grilling steak kabobs with baked potatoes, and serving them with apple pie, salted caramel ice cream, and a bottle of Merlot. All my favorites.

And then he apologized for not realizing sooner I was struggling. “You just always seem so resilient.”

Resilient. I like that. I like to believe that’s true, and so it is easier for me to accept the compliment without any added ‘buts’. It also makes it easier for me to lift up my chin when the Next Bad Thing comes down the pike and say, “Yeah, I got this. I’m resilient.”

Those are the kinds of words–the ones I can believe in–that make it possible to undo some of the harm of a lifetime of negative self-chatter. 

Remember the lilac bush that isn’t blooming this year? The one that is such a perfect metaphor for my life right now?

I just took this picture just a few minutes ago.

Huh.

Well, what do you know?

 

 

Wake Up Call No. 457

It’s no secret that I’ve had a staggering amount of loss in the past year. I’ve alluded to it before. If I gave all these losses and traumas to a single character in one of my stories, readers would howl at the unbelievable plot.

Loss of communities and my own sense of identity as I re-brand myself as an author in a new genre with a new pen name. Death of multiple pets and family members. Earlier this week, my brother who’d been battling cancer for some time, lost his fight. Next week, I will be attending my third funeral in a year.

The last conversation I had with him was a good one. He spoke of his plans for his celebration of life service, and visiting with old friends who’d made special trips to see him one more time. How the love of his life was also his best friend, and how he was glad he hadn’t waited to travel and do the things most people do once they retire. I was glad he’d reached a point of peace and acceptance in his world full of pain, but I was struck by one statement in particular.

“I have no regrets.”

I honestly couldn’t say the same. It’s not that I’ve made terrible decisions in my life, but the choices I’ve made have locked me into certain pathways from which I can’t escape. Most of those decisions were based on following a calling and choosing a way of life I thought best suited to my personality, but the reality of it is I’m fried from work commitments. I spend the day putting out other people’s metaphorical fires, and then come home drained and empty, with nothing left to give to my loved ones or to myself personally.

I’ve had some health scares too. I’ve been to the ER twice in the last year, both of which should have served as wake up calls to clean up my diet, to slow down, to take more walks with the dogs, to shut off social media and shut out my fears for my country and the rest of the world. To take a deep breath and calm down.

But the truth is, that’s easier said than done when you’re living off your adrenal glands. When work is so stressful you’ve developed a twitch under your left eye, it’s hard to settle for a salad for lunch when there’s a bowl of Easter candy sitting in the employee lounge. It’s easier to throw the ball in the yard for the puppy for a half hour in the evenings after work than it is to take the dogs for a walk. Get up earlier and exercise? I can barely drag myself out of bed as it is. I wish all mirrors could be banned as I look at myself and note every line, every wrinkle, every roll, and an increasingly visible scalp. An old woman looks back at me, and I don’t recognize her. I am utterly exhausted. I don’t know how to squeeze more out of my day.

And I do have regrets. I hate that I wake up every morning playing a negative soundtrack in my head about how much I hate my job, I hate the way I look, I hate the way I feel, I hate the clutter in my house, I hate the person I’ve become.

Again and again over the last ten years, I’ve said I need to make changes. And each time, I start out meaning to do so, only to let the stresses and demands of my daily life suck me back into grabbing processed food on the run, living off soda and cheese & crackers, starting exercise programs I never complete, and continuing to feel crappy and exhausted. I think for most middle-aged women, the combination of stress plus changing hormones sets us up for all kinds of ‘failure’. We simply can’t stop being the workhorse of the family to take care of ourselves, but we have less reserves than we had when we were twenty.

But we only get so many wake up calls. I’m lucky I’ve had as many as I’ve had, to be honest. I’m extremely fortunate that good genes have left me relatively healthy despite the abuse my body takes at my hands on a daily basis. Given the junk food I eat, it’s a bloody miracle I’m only 20-25 pounds overweight and not more. My heart is healthy, and I’m not pre-diabetic. I still have my gallbladder. While not an athlete, I go hiking and horseback riding. My biggest issues are pain-related, stemming from a lifetime of refusing to respect my body and joints that are severely annoyed with me. There is also the ever-increasing list of foods I can no longer eat because of my skin condition, or digestive issues, or food sensitivities. I’m running out of time to coast on my genes. I have caught a glimpse of my future and it’s a scary place–unless I make changes now.

There are reasons I’m not a fan of some of the more popular and successful diet systems. I have friends who’ve lost tremendous amounts of weight through Weight Watchers, etc. But most of these systems require a degree of tracking that is very triggering for me, coming as I am from a household of people with eating disorders. I’d never really considered myself as having an ED, but I suspect now my extreme pickiness is a form of it. Likewise, only a few days of logging food intake on WW or My Fitness Pal has me running in the opposite direction.

I also have a slew of minor but frustrating issues relating to food: I have a skin condition called acne rosacea that is that is triggered by certain foods. I’ve developed a caffeine sensitivity that has resulted in my having to give up caffeine entirely. I struggle with heartburn and digestive issues. So following a specific diet plan is often an automatic fail for me. I just can’t do it. I have to tailor my meals around what I can eat.

But I think I need some accountability, which is why I will be posting about my journey here. No pictures–I’m neither that brave nor that vain. But I will be logging what I’m doing as a whole on my path toward health–mental, physical, emotional. The Wake Up Call for a Middle-Aged Woman, so to speak. The focus here isn’t going to be on weight loss, though that would be a nice bonus if it occurred. It’s going go be about feeling better: about myself, about my life, about my future.

Because I don’t want to have any more regrets than I already do.

 

 

 

What Happens When You Run Out of Virgins?

Digital Illustration of a Dragon

This post could also be titled: Why Amazon Needs Competition from Other Publishing Markets.

Because it does.

Last week, I posted a question to one of my indie publishing support groups, asking for a show of hands for those who used KU or went wide with their distribution. The vast majority of people went with KU. Certain genres do quite well there, and most authors did have their books enrolled in KU. Many said they would release wide the first week before pulling their books from other platforms and going with KDP select from then on. The vast majority of authors said they just didn’t make enough money on the other platforms to justify not doing KU, and they did make money on KU. Not much, admittedly, but since it was the only game in town…

The other day, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, pleased at how many companies had pulled their support from the NRA, and seeing the calls for boycotts of companies that hadn’t done so. And then I saw that Amazon not only supported the NRA, but they advertised with Brietbart. 

Well crap.

Because a) Amazon is big enough not to give a rat’s ass about public opinion, even when the tide is turning on the matter of sensible gun control here in the US and b) virtually every author I know would be crippled by an Amazon ban. Myself included.

Just this morning, I was chatting with my critique group about the state of publishing in general and signs that Barnes and Noble is going under. B&N, who gobbled up Borders, and now is falling victim to Amazon. The chain bookstores crushed all the smaller competition, and are now getting killed themselves. When I first moved here, we had a Waldenbooks, a Books A Million, B&N, and a fantastic used bookstore. They are all gone, with the exception of B&N. And now it looks like B&N will be folding soon.

Hopefully it will get bought out by someone else, but that seems less and less likely in today’s market. I like my local B&N store. I don’t go there as often as I used to because I buy mostly digital books now. My first e-reader was a NOOK, but it was heavy and had a pitiful battery life. But the real reason I bought a Kindle and began getting all my ebooks from Amazon was that B&N’s website sucks. OMG. It is so terrible. I get a coupon or a book link, log in, attempt to buy the book, and the site kicks me out multiple times, requesting I log in again or redirecting me off the page where I am trying to redeem my coupon. My experience was so consistently bad, I actually thought ebooks would never catch on. Hah.

The ease of being able to get a book on my cell phone’s Kindle app converted me. The superior functionality of my Kindle Paperwhite gives me so much more than the NOOK that I don’t miss the fact my book covers aren’t in color. B&N is falling victim of its inability to keep up.

Recently I heard Wal-Mart is getting into the e-book game, and along with Kobo, Apple, and Google, are pursuing the ebook market. What this means for indie authors, I don’t know, but I suspect they will not do any publishing. They are more likely to serve as a distribution center. Are they willing to take a loss on book sales the way Amazon is? Amazon is not a publisher. It sells products, including e-readers. If selling books brings people to the website, they are more likely to buy other things too. At the moment, Amazon is content to lose money on book sales. So maybe that’s what Wal-Mart is ultimately hoping for–books driving people to their site (which I didn’t even know existed until now).

Competing distribution sites is all well and good, but I think we need someone else in the field who will allow self-publishing on the scale Amazon has done. I think we as authors need to think carefully about letting Amazon be our sole distributor as well. Because relying solely on KU feels a little bit like sacrificing a virgin to keep the dragon happy for a year–and what’s going to happen when the town runs out of virgins?

Amazon will call all the shots then. And authors, who have never been a priority for them, will be eaten up along with the town.

 

 

Reclaiming Your Time as a Writer

Representative Maxine Waters has made the phrase ‘reclaiming my time’ a viral meme for her refusal to allow Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to squander her floor time with a meandering, meaningless response designed to avoid answering her question about Trump’s ties to Russia in the time allowed. For every woman who has been ignored during a meeting, spoken over, had their own work mansplained to them and endlessly interrupted, this cool invocation of House rules was a delight to behold.

But for writers, there are other time-sinks besides someone deliberately wasting your time. Many of these activities are actually good things, activities we’re encouraged to do. Networking, participating in Facebook groups, interacting on social media, marketing, etc–all things we’re told we must do and must do daily. All part of creating and promoting our brand.

I see friends doing cool hashtag things like #FirstLineFriday or #TeaserTuesday and I think, wow, I should be doing that. I participate in weekly Twitter conversations such as #RWChat  and #TipsyChat and I’ve met new people and been introduced to some new books as well. I’ve joined some busy, organized Facebook groups that cross-promote each other. I’m writing this post now for #MondayBlogs, something I try to do each week.

But frankly, I’m finding it hard to do anything else but keep up with these activities.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy doing most of these things. I get a lot out of participating in the chats or batting ideas around on Facebook. More than just putting myself out there and making my name recognizable–I’m making real connections. Sometimes brainstorming too. There are times putting my thoughts into words crystallize them for me and make my own goals easier for me to understand.

But frequently I find myself spending more and more time in these activities when I could be writing. Sometimes I choose to do the social media thing because it’s easier in a fatigued state to do something like catch up on social media duties than it is to write new material. But I suspect there is a more insidious reason I rotate from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram and back again.

I think it’s an addiction.

Most of us have read articles stating sites such as Facebook and Instagram make us dissatisfied with our lives, or that Twitter is a source of outrage. We know that people tend to post about the biggest events in their lives, making our own lives seem paltry and boring in comparison. And yet we check our timelines obsessively, making our own posts, and hoping we’ll get likes and comments. We live for that hit, whether we realize it or not. In some ways, that worries me the most.

I check my social media first thing in the morning and last thing at night, even if doing so starts or ends my day unhappily. I check my feeds during every free moment–when I used to read a book or listen to the radio. I check it at night while sitting on the couch, catching up with my comments and sharing other people’s book releases. To the exclusion of doing anything else. Of paying attention to what’s on TV, or chatting with the family. From interacting with the pets, and yes, writing. I’ve been known to take social media breaks for my mental health before, but this is different. I think we all need to take a step back from our need to be connected, our need to post Instagram-worthy images, our inability to put our phones down.

I’ve been taking a lot of online classes and workshops. I’ve been reading books on marketing and promotion. I read a lot of articles on writing, branding, you name it. I’ve joined a LOT of groups. Due to the changing algorithms on Facebook, I’m thinking about starting my own group. But the truth is, I’m feeling the pressure to keep up.

And I’m starting to question my need to do so.

One of the things that has been pounded into me from classes and workshops is that a lot of what I’m doing now would be to greater purpose if I had a bigger backlist. I’ve been going at it with both barrels when I only have one book out. While making connections and interacting with readers is important, I’m rushing the gun. Most of advice boils down to this: your best advertisement, your best marketing ploy, is writing and releasing the next book.

And it is slowly dawning on me that everything I’m reading is aimed at the writer who hopes to Go Big. That, as far as I can tell, means being prolific on a scale I can’t match at this time.

So I’ve decided to reclaim my time.

I’m going to drop my participation in Facebook groups to the three I think the most useful–one genre group and two author support groups. I’m going to scale back on workshops and classes. No more money on ads or promotion for now. I’m also going to put the phone down. Take long walks. Photograph things for the joy of taking the image and not with an eye as to how it will look on Instagram. Appreciate my animals. Interact with friends and family.

And write. As I sit here watching the Olympics, I find myself comparing daily writing to the work these athletes put in toward reaching their goals. I’m never going to be an Olympic caliber author, so I’d better enjoy the process. I also want to be happy with the end product–even if it takes me a year between books. It’s okay to watch the Olympics, or spend time with your family, or do any of the other things you enjoy.

That means while all the things I’m learning are valuable, I don’t need to do everything all at once or right now. We talk about writing being a marathon vs a sprint–but that holds true for the rest of it too–the networking, the marketing, the branding–all of it. 

So reclaim your time as an author. Or an artist. A crafter. An actor. A singer. A photographer. Put the phone down. Your validation isn’t online. Remember the things that were important to you before social media consumed your life. Take pleasure in the act of creating. You don’t have to do it all every day. Don’t fall victim to the feeling you’re falling behind. The most important thing you can do is write the next story. The best story you know how to tell.

And if that takes you a month, great. If it takes you one, two, or seven years, that’s okay too.

Reclaim your time.

 

Stepping out of your Comfort Zone: The Power of Big Decisions

Back in the fall, I wrote about the indecision I had over getting a short hair cut after years of long hair. 2017 had been a bad year for me: lots of loss, lots of sorrow. By the end of October, however, I could sense an awakening in me. A desire to put all that behind me and pick up the pieces of my life.

Making a decision to drastically cut my hair seemed part and parcel of this need to change. But as you know if you read the post, I had my doubts. Those doubts must have conveyed themselves to my stylist, because though I went in armed with photos of what I wanted, she’d never been through one of my cutting cycles and she was concerned I’d hate it once I cut it all off. I was too, to be honest.

So I let her talk me into cutting it in stages. It had been down to nearly mid-back level. I had her take it to shoulder length before I went on vacation, with the plan to go shorter on my return.

When I went in, I was ready for something dramatic. Something reflective of the changes I was making in my life. I wanted a clean slate.

What I got unfortunately was the exact thing I told my stylist I didn’t want. “Please”, I said. “Whatever you do, don’t give me a chin-length bob.”

But that’s what I got. When I came home, my husband greeted me with a single question: Did I mean to look like Velma from Scooby-doo? VELMA. Okay, I don’t care how much he said he liked the cut later, there is no coming back from VELMA, baby.

Then there was the problem of the cut itself, beyond how I looked. I asked not to get this cut because I know what my hair does. Freed of the weight of length, every time it got the slightest bit damp outside (which is 90% of he time here, what with the general humidity), it began to lift up on all sides until I resembled a dandelion in the puff-ball state. It was too short to put up and long enough that I couldn’t get it out of my face for work. I hated it.

When a friend of mine (a former hairdresser herself) begged me to let her cut my hair, I gave in. It couldn’t be any worse, right? Well, I’m so glad I took her advice. She gave me the pixie cut I wanted and I love it! Not only is it everything I wanted but people keep telling me how much younger I look, and that’s never a bad thing. And it is so much easier to take care of. I’m telling you, I’m never growing out my hair again.

I saw a video on Facebook today of a lovely woman who shaved her hair off because it was something she’d always wanted to do. She’s a seriously pretty woman who never liked her hair, and while I’d never go that extreme, I definitely could understand her love-hate relationship with her hair. When she took that first swipe across her head with the clippers, I gasped along with her at what she had done. You could tell she wasn’t 100% sure about it, and yet she’d just cut a wide swath across the top of her skull! She was committed now.

What I found most interesting was her reaction at the end. Not just that she loved her new look (and she totally rocked it in a way I never could!) but that she was so proud of herself for making a bold move and stepping out of her comfort zone. Kudos to her.

The decision to cut my own hair short led to another: the decision to declutter the house. This has been something I’ve been meaning to do for years but keep putting off for one reason or another. I mean, why do housework when you could be writing, right? The truth of the matter is the house is a bit of a disaster, and it’s hard to get motivated about cleaning it up. But something about cutting my hair short made me look around at the house and think this needs fixing.

And the decision to declutter made me realize something had to be done about the house itself. We’ve been in a holding pattern for years on the place. It needs major repairs, the kind worth more than the house itself. We don’t want to sell–we love the farm. But the house never should have passed inspection and the problems have been gradually making themselves apparent over the years. Seriously, the guy who sold it to us could have been Mr Haney from Green Acres. Somehow we let ourselves get stuck: do we sink major money into the repairs or sell and move? And the end result was we did neither.

But we’ve finally decided to bite the bullet, take out a home equity loan, and tackle the worst of the problems. It will make our lives a living hell for several months during the renovations (and I suspect play havoc with my ability to meet certain writing deadlines) but when it’s done we’ll have a house we can either love OR sell if we so choose. And hey, decluttering is exactly what we need to do before the reno!

I guess the lesson here is that making one big decision makes others seem less scary. Once you make one scary decision, it gets easier to make others. Like the woman who shaved her head, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. For a long time now, my comfort zone has been one of hunkering down and waiting out the never-ending storm.

Now I’m stepping out in the rain and dancing in the puddles.

To Review or Not to Review: That is the Question

For some time now,  I’ve been torn about whether or not to leave book reviews.

If you’re familiar with the show The Good Place, you know the character Chidi, an ethics scholar who ties himself up in knots every time he has to make a decision about anything, including where to have dinner. I’m not that bad, but when it comes to this particular dilemma, I go back and forth on it.

It’s only since the explosion of social media, and the encouragement of such sites as Amazon and Goodreads that the average person has been able to leave reviews–it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to that, the only way to get reviews was from major literary magazines, and that sort of thing didn’t happen unless you were already a Big Name. Amazon has been one of the great equalizers when it comes to leaving reviews, and their algorithms have shifted the balance of power to the ‘little guy’ reviewer in mass numbers.

Before that, the only time I ‘left a review’ was when I enthusiastically pushed a favorite book onto friends. The only time I knew a favorite author had published a new story was by haunting the bookstores and libraries.

I’m glad I have ways of following favorite artists now, and can keep up with new releases as they occur. But I stumble over the review process.

There are a lot of reasons for this. I’m not in the habit of leaving reviews in general. I intensely dislike the way I now get hounded with automatic emails to leave a review every time I purchase a product or use a service. Come on, I don’t need to leave a review every time I go to the dentist, peeps! Leaving thoughtful, well-written reviews is time-consuming–something that I have in short supply. Then too, if I can’t leave a glowing review, I don’t want to leave anything at all. Partly because I was raised that way, and partly for fear of backlash. I’ve seen fans go after an author who left a less-than-stellar review for another writer’s work.

But then there’s the Big Brother aspect of leaving reviews as well. I know several people who’ve had their reviewing rights revoked at Amazon because of perceived improprieties. They are mostly bloggers and people on ARC lists, so they are getting a complimentary copy of the book in question. Amazon gets snitty about non-verified purchase reviews. Okay, I get that. But sometimes it is mandatory you state how you received the copy and sometimes the review gets pulled if you state you received a free copy. Even if you received that free copy as part of an Amazon-sponsored giveaway! The rules keep changing.

Amazon also doesn’t like authors leaving reviews for other authors, despite the fact almost every author I know is a reader too. They cite conflict of interest, and pull the review. The flip side of this is if you follow an author’s social media, Amazon might deem you a ‘friend’ of the author, and your review is also treated as suspect and pulled. It’s almost like Amazon doesn’t understand how social media works outside its own algorithms. 

Then there are the authors themselves. I’ve heard Big Name Authors state they never leave reviews, and other BNA point out the importance of reviews and ask fans leave one if they enjoyed a story. And face it, we all want reviews. It’s not just about Amazon’s algorithms, either. Getting that little bit of positive feedback is like crack to a writer. We naturally want more. But it can also encourage a writer who feels their current WIP is hopeless, or bring someone back to work on a project they thought no one was interested in. Feedback like this is vital.

Which brings me back to the eternal dilemma. I recently picked the brains of fellow authors as to what they do, and I found many people feel as conflicted about this as I do. Some have stopped leaving reviews, or only leave reviews if they can rate a story with five stars. (I really, really wish the ‘star’ system would go away and people would just leave written feedback. I know Amazon uses it to rank stories, but when people 1-star a story because they misread the blurb or the book was damaged in transit, it makes me want to pull out my hair. Ditto when people low-rate a story they’ve never even read because they don’t like the subject matter…)

Because of the restrictions Amazon places on reviews, many of the authors I spoke with who do leave reviews, do so under their real name on a separate account not connected with their pen names. I’m not sure that is distant enough to satisfy Amazon, but it does solve the ‘verified purchase’ issue for the most part.

Some authors said they didn’t leave reviews at the main sites but instead wrote them on their websites and boosted them on their social media. I like this idea but I’m not sure how much that helps the author in terms of visibility on Amazon.

Then again, perhaps it’s time we stopped letting the ‘Zon dictate everything.

 

The Power of Creating Your Own Talismans

Long before it ever became a thing, I was in the habit of declaring “This would be my year of living ____________.”

One year it was fearlessly. Another was without doubt. Once it was passionately. As with most things, I would start out with good intentions that will fizzle along the way.

I tend to do a bit better if I can put my intentions into a form I can keep in front of me as a frequent reminder.

I also firmly believe in the power of talismans. Even more so if you create them for yourself.

Even as a child, I had a vivid imagination. My parents, imminently practical people, would come into the bedroom once to show me there were no monsters hiding there, but after that, it was up to me to deal with my fears. I used to lie awake quaking with terror over the hump of clothes piled in a chair (which I was sure was a gargoyle, just waiting for the lights to go out) or the shadow in the corner that was probably a burglar.

I finally conquered my fears when I decided I had the power to seal the monsters in my closet. Each night when I was sent to bed, I would round up the imaginary horrors, chase them into my closet, and cast a spell to contain them there. Problem solved. I was able to go to sleep without fear. The funny thing is, to this day, I’m unable to get a good night’s sleep unless my closet door is closed. If it is open even a crack, I have nightmares.

It illustrates the power we have within ourselves to overcome certain kinds of fears and doubts if we put our minds to it. Not everything. But many things. Especially the kinds of restrictions we’ve put on ourselves in the first place that keep us from being all that we can be.

As an adult, I find I still reach for objects I can imbue with strength when I need something to carry with me as a reminder. I love polished stones with words carved into them. As a child, I used to assign words to stones and carry them in my pocket as I needed them. One day I might carry courage. Another, hope. Today I carry joy.

These days, it’s much easier to find stones with words carved into them, but I still have the stones from my youth. I can grant them any word I wish. I love putting my hand in my pocket and coming across the smooth stone, rubbing it as a reminder of the word I wanted to keep near my heart that day. I’m not particularly religious or spiritual. I just find comfort in these small acts.

As an adult, I’ve frequently found strength in fandom, in a favorite character’s courage or behavior. I’ve taken to having iconic quotes made into bracelets or necklaces to remind myself the kind of person I want to be. I seem to need a lot of reminders! I think this is because my negative self-speak is so strong and has been honed over a lifetime of insecurities. So yes, I need to create my own talismans. Not as wards against evil, though sometimes they feel that way, but to offset the self-hate that’s been in place for so long.

For a while I had a ring that said Never Surrender. I bought a bunch of them and wore one until I found someone who needed it more than I did and then I gave it to them. I’ve given them all away.

So imagine my delight when I found out that declaring your intent for a year is a thing now. I noticed people on my timeline talking about what their word for the year might be. And then too, I’ve been seeing people get encouraging phrases stamped on aluminum bands like the one I’ve shown above. I love what I’m seeing. The Etsy store The Broken Circle has all kinds of great phrases on metal bracelets–like “Doubt Not” and “Slayer of Words”. And I recently discovered a website called MyIntent.org that will make a custom bracelet or necklace with the word of your choosing. How cool is that??

So what are you waiting for? You can assign a word of power to ANYTHING. Or you can search for the right phrase that will lift you up every time you see it and create your own talisman–or have someone make one for you. I ordered a bracelet from the My Intent project that said “Persistence.” That’s my word for the year. It’s to remind me of my favorite Calvin Coolidge quotation.