As many of you probably know the Department of Justice (DOJ) has sued Apple and 5 of the big six publishers for collusion to keep prices of e-books artificially high. Now that the case is getting close to a settlement, the Author’s Guild has jumped into the fray with a letter directed to the DOJ where they blast Amazon for its business practices and criticize the proposed settlement. Who is this group? According to their website “The Authors Guild has been the published writer's advocate for effective copyright, fair contracts, and free expression since 1912.” This claim confused me. Does this mean they have been criticizing traditional publishers for the lopsided contracts and meager royalties they impose on writers? The answer is no. Now that Amazon has demonstrated to the world how e-books can be published faster and cheaper earning authors greater royalties and giving readers lower priced books, this “Author’s Guild” has come out from under its rock to defend the inefficiency and unfairness of traditional publishing, and the way in which these publishers colluded with Apple and each other to keep the prices of e-books artificially high when e-books should cost less. I share their concern about Amazon taking over the market but I cannot sanction stupidity and unwillingness to evolve. Those businesses that don’t adapt to new realities, compete hard, and reward their clients should not be protected from those that do. Consider the following example that I have written about here before. Traditional publishers did not want to make their e-books available for lending at public libraries because, get this: it was too easy for readers to borrow books! I’m not kidding you. They were concerned that readers who were not “inconvenienced” enough would turn into borrowers and not buy enough books thus cutting into the publisher’s profits. Well Amazon kept making their e-books available for lending at public libraries and guess what? A new study by the Pew Internet and American Life project has revealed that e-book borrowers are also avid e-book buyers with 41% of them saying they bought the last book they read. While this rate is lower than the larger population of e-book readers (55%), it is not the profit busting nightmare that traditional publishers were concerned about. Those companies that have the vision to see the future should be rewarded with it, not their slower dimwitted competitors. Personally, I cannot complain about Amazon. They have provided me with the platform to become a self-published author, they pay me 35% on e-books under $2.99 and 70% on those above, and with the KDP Select program they have given me a powerful tool to promote my books. They have also made e-books available to me and other readers at the lower cost these books should have compared to print books. But, being an author, I was curious as to what the Author’s Guild had to offer me. However, before learning about all the wonderful things they could do for me, I checked the eligibility criteria to join the guild and I found out that: “Self-published works and works published by subsidy presses do not qualify an author for membership.” Well…just substitute “guild” for “job” in the video below. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
I just learned about this place and I decided to feature it in my blog. This rock monolith cuts the surface of the water thrusting it near vertical basalt walls to a height of 1800 plus feet in the middle of the Tasman Sea.
It is known as Ball’s Pyramid because it was discovered in 1788 by Royal Navy officer Henry Lidgbird Ball, who also discovered Lord Howe Island, situated 14 miles to the North. Ball’s pyramid, which is the world’s tallest sea stack (taller than the Empire State building), is the eroded remains of the caldera of an ancient volcano, and it was climbed for the first time in 1965 by a team of Australian rock climbers.
Ball's Pyramid with Lord Howe Island in the background.
But Balls Pyramid is also significant for an incident involving an insect. Island environments throughout the world due to their isolation have a unique role in evolution. It is common to find in islands living things that are not found anywhere else in the world. Such was the case of the Lord Howe Island stick insect, which could grow up to 6 inches long, and was often used as bait by the local fishermen.
Lord Howe Island Stick-insect Photo: Matthew Bulbert /Australian Museum
Unfortunately, when a ship ran aground on the Island in 1918, it introduced rats to the environment, and the rodents went on to wipe out the entire stick insect population. The last stick insect was seen in 1920, and after that year the species was thought to be extinct. Nevertheless during the 1960’s, while climbing Ball’s Pyramid was still allowed by the Australian government, climbers sometimes reported that they saw carcasses of stick insects, but these insects are nocturnal and nobody wanted to climb the jagged rock at night.
Finally in 2001 a handful of Australian scientists risked their lives in the darkness, and a few hundred feet above the waves they located a population of 24 of the famed Lord Howe stick insects eking a living on a few plants, which in turn were precariously growing in some cracks in the rock. After more exploration, they ascertained that these were the only stick insects on Ball’s Pyramid. Imagine that, the last 24 individuals left in the whole world of a species living there in an environment that could be wiped out any day by a rock slide!
The insects managed to survive a few more years while the scientist battled the red tape of the Australian government before returning in 2003 to remove two pairs for breeding. Today there are more than 11,000 descendants from those breeding pairs, and there are even plans to wipe out the rat infestation on Lord Howe and reintroduce the stick insects. Whether these plans will come to fruition is unknown, but the species has come back from the brink thanks to a few daring and motivated scientists, and thanks to many generations of insects that clung tenaciously to life for 80 years or more on the windswept spire of Ball’s Pyramid.
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In a recent piece entitled “No, Virginia, e-books don't publish themselves” (subtitled “Ken Auletta addresses one of the popular myths of the Internet”) Philip Elmer-DeWitt quotes an article by Ken Auletta in the New Yorker (only available by subscription). "E-books are cheaper to produce, by about twenty per cent per book, because they do away with the cost of paper, printing, shipping, and warehousing. They also eliminate returns of unsold books—a significant expense, since thirty to fifty per cent of books are returned. But they create additional costs: maintaining computer servers, monitoring piracy, digitizing old books. And publishers have to pay authors and editors, as well as rent and administrative overhead, not to mention the costs of printing, distributing, and warehousing bound books, which continue to account for the large majority of their sales.” So there you have it. E-books, although cheaper to produce, do not cost much less than print books because they end up generating “additional” costs for publishers. But what are these “additional cost?” They can’t be to “pay authors and editors, as well as rent and administrative overhead.” These costs are not unique to e-books. What about “maintaining computer servers, monitoring piracy, and digitizing old books?” What servers is this guy writing about? Traditional publishers are not paying to maintain the servers of outlets like Amazon or B & B. The cost of monitoring piracy again is not unique to e-books. It is also incurred with print books. And digitizing old books is not as costly as it is made out to be here, but this is a particular case. I believe the real reason is in the last sentence: “not to mention the costs of printing, distributing, and warehousing bound books, which continue to account for the large majority of their sales.” This in effect suggests that part of the cost of print books is transferred to e-books, and this is why e-books are not cheap. In other words “our e-books are not cheap because we are also publishing print books.” The thing is that this has nothing to do with the cost of e-books, which is the issue that we are dealing with! I am amazed how this article intended to debunk a myth, ends up debunking itself in just this paragraph. Let’s stop this silliness and repeat what is known as a fact by the writing community: traditional publishers are charging more for e-books to protect their paper sales. Making an average e-book is much less costly than making an average print book. This is not a myth. Traditional publishers are in effect saying “we are charging more for e-books because we are still selling print books, and we don’t want the lower costs of e-books to undercut print book profits.” In doing this traditional publishers are making a lot of money, and by the way, they also pay e-book authors less than they pay print authors. If you want to dig more into the numbers you can check for example the posts by greengeekgirl at Insatiable Booksluts. She lays out her case that traditional publishers could charge much less for e-books and still make a handsome profit. She also makes the important observation that, unlike print books, e-books can generate income for years without the added costs of additional print runs.
I am honored to receive the Versatile Blogger Award from Jeri Walker-Bickett (thank you Jeri!) who passed it on to me. I am now supposed to reveal 7 things about myself and then pass the award to other deserving bloggers. Here I go: 1) I was born in Cuba one year before Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista dictatorship, and went on to establish a dictatorship of his own. My parents finally decided to leave the country when I returned one day from elementary school singing the Internationale. 2) As you can figure out from #1, my first language is Spanish. This is probably why I write and read English slower than the average person. 3) I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry. 4) Each of the last 3 generations of my immediate family has ended up resettling to a different country for one reason or another. 5) I myself have lived in a total of 5 countries throughout my life: Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, and the United States. 6) I played chess in my youth (that is what nerds did at the time) reaching first class player status. 7) The first time I lived surrounded by snow was here in the U.S. I arrived in New York State during winter to pursue graduate studies. I had a cold, and that day there was a fire alarm at 2 AM. We had to leave the student residence, and outside it was snowing. There I was coughing under this strange, cold, fluffy, white stuff falling from the sky while the Americans around me where dancing and yelling, “Party, party, party!” All in all an interesting cultural experience. I am passing this award on to other bloggers. If they accept the award they are supposed to publish a post on their blogs with the “Versatile Blogger Award” picture, where they reveal 7 things about themselves and then pass the award on to other deserving bloggers of their choice. The bloggers I have chosen are:Adriene (Sweepy Jean) posts her amazing poetry on her blog and examines multiple facets of life and society.Barbara Alfaro is the author of the books "Mirror Talk"and "First Kiss." She blogs about writing, theater, and poetry. Barbara is so expressive and writes so well that many of her posts are works of art themselves. Christine Macdonald is a survivor. She survived a disfiguring skin disease, working as a nude exotic dancer, drug addiction, cancer, and other trials that taught her many life lessons. She blogs about these and other related issues while working on her memoir.Lia London deals in her blog mostly with writing, but she reaches deep within the act of writing to the underlying reasons and their interconnectness to many things. She is the author of the book: "Circle of Law." Jennie Rosenbaum paints superb nude artworks and blogs about it. She also addresses censorship and other issues related to nudity in our societies. I have interviewed Jennie on my blog. Molly Greene writes insightful and helpful posts in her blog about social media and writing. Her debut novel “Mark of the Loon” was published recently on Amazon. Robert David McNeil is the author of the top rated Science Fiction novel on Amazon “Iona Portal.” He blogs about writing, social media, the e-book revolution, and his ongoing adventure. Sunny Lockwood in her blog Onword, is (as she puts it) mining life's golden moments from California's Mother Lode. Her posts are a delightful blend that ranges from the personal to the communal within the context of her California neck of the woods and the writing life. She is the author of the books “Living the Velvet Revolution” and "Shades of Love."
Several people have commented on or asked me questions about my hands avatar and I thought it would be a good idea to tell the story here. It all started 2 plus years ago when I started publishing my work on Scribd.com under the pseudonym “Phantomimic.” I was looking for a suitable picture to go along with my pen name and I came across the picture on the left.
I did not know who had made this but I was very impressed with this artistic concept. It also had a metaphorical meaning for me: how the whole can be more than its parts. So I started using it as my avatar on Scribd.com and later also on my website and Twitter.
It was on Twitter that the origin of this picture was revealed to me by someone. The picture was a training shot for the 1986 movie “Labyrinth.” In this movie the hands appear in a scene where one of the lead characters, Sarah, played by young actress Jennifer Connelly (who would win an Oscar for her role in the 2001 movie “A Beautiful Mind”) falls down a well lined with hands that form faces that talk. They call themselves “helping hands.”
However, as my writing became more serious I realized that I could not keep using this picture because I had no authorization to do so. Therefore I decided to create a hands portrait of my own. I enlisted the help of my family and after a few days and some photoshoping we came up with the picture that I ended up using; shown here on the right.
Of course, this is the final product, which doesn’t tell the actual story behind the making of the picture. It was really difficult to get the hands to display the cheerful expression that I wanted. The following collage of failed attempts at making the hands picture can give you an idea.
After the publication on my book The Sun Zebra expossed some shortcomings in retaining my anonymity, I decided to come out of the pseudonym closet and drop both the Phantomimic pen name and the hands avatar. But the smiling hands picture will always have a special place in my heart!
An advice that is often dispensed to writers is: show, don’t tell. The idea being that instead of merely telling the reader what is going on in your story, you should write it in such a way that the reader can figure out what is happening without being told directly. I am going to step up on my blog soapbox and make a stand by asking the following question: what is wrong with telling? It is claimed that telling destroys the reader’s ability to enjoy the story by reducing them to mere spectators, whereas “showing” engages readers and pulls them in allowing them to become part of the story. Really? Telling in the right places certainly doesn’t destroy my ability to enjoy a story. In fact, I appreciate it when authors cut to the chase in the parts where they should, and tell me what the characters are feeling or what is happening instead of burdening me with an excess of details; which also increase the total amount of words I have to read! When an author engages in too much showing, the story becomes a blur, and I find myself skipping a few lines to what happens next - not because I am interested but rather because I am bored. Too much showing does not “engage” or “pull” me into the story: it has the opposite effect. The reason I write this is that I feel there is an epidemic in the writing world of “show, don’t tell.” Everywhere I read, writers are being ill-advised to modify their writing to achieve this. I fear that this framework is creating a mindset for readers that will make them identify being “showed” with good writing and being “told” with bad writing, which is balderdash. This misguided push to replace telling with showing is hurting readers by depriving them of the enjoyment of stories, and I cannot agree with that. Writing should have showing and telling. They are BOTH essential to the story and fulfill different functions. Some of the world’s greatest writers use a combination of showing and telling; why shouldn’t we? But when should a writer rely on telling instead of showing? There are several opinions concerning this matter and I want to provide here some links that address this question: Jael McHenry recommends using telling when your novel has no voice, when every little thing doesn’t count, or when your timeline sprawls. Aimee Salter has an interesting suggestion. She writes that you should “tell” when what you're conveying doesn't change, a) the protagonists’ state of mind, or, b) the protagonists’ state of affairs. Victoria Grossack writes that you should use telling in conversation, in travel and transitions, with unimportant characters, in early drafts, and if you write your story in the first person, or when a character within your story recounts an event. A post at KidLit.com about the showing and telling in the Harry Potter books indicates that some great telling is done in topic sentences whereby the telling supports the showing. The above list is by no means comprehensive but it will hopefully contribute to getting us started on replacing the “show, don’t tell,” with “learn to find the right balance between showing and telling.” It is not easy, it takes practice (and yours truly is still trying to master this skill), but that is what writers should be doing. So let’s please stop all this “show, don’t tell” nonsense that is engulfing the writing world and start dispensing some sensible advice to writers: show…and tell! ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
The master has died. He changed the world with his fiction giving us visions of alternate realities that exposed the folly of our own, while at the same time making us dream of futures full of adventure, discovery, and wonder.
In this video he reads his poem “If Only We Had Taller Been.”
The fence we walked between the years did balance us serene.
It was a place half in the sky wearing the green of leaf and promising of peach.
We’d reach our hand and touch and almost touch the sky.
If we could reach and touch we said, it would teach us not to, never to, be dead.
We ached and almost touched that stuff; our reach was never quite enough.
If only we had taller been and touched god’s cuff, his, his hem.
We would not have to go with them who’ve gone before,
who short as us stood tall as they could stand,
and hoped by stretching, tall, that they might keep their land,
their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul,
but they like us were standing in a hole.
Oh Thomas, will a race one day stand really tall?
Across the void, across the universe and all,
and measured out with rocket fire,
at last put Adam’s finger forth; as on the Sistine ceiling,
and God’s hand come down the other way, to measure man,
and find him good, and gift him with forever’s day?
I work for that, short man, large dream.
I send my rockets forth between my ears,
hoping an inch of good is worth a pound of years.
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal mall,
“We’ve reached Alpha Centauri.. We’re tall... Oh God, we’re tall!”
Rest in peace Ray. We will miss you.
I was looking at the patterns of 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 star reviews of books on Amazon and I noticed something interesting that I want to share with you.
When you look at a book’s Amazon page there is a graph that displays the number of total reviews a book has, distributed by the number of stars. Taking my own book, the Sun Zebra, as an example, the graph looks like this:
This is an example of the type of graph you get when readers like a book. There are many 5 star reviews and a much lower number of reviews with fewer stars. However, even 42 is not a lot of reviews for statistical purposes, so I will concentrate here on books that have 200 or more reviews.
The first such book I want to show you is “Wool” by Hugh Howey. Having a book with this many reviews and almost a 4.9 average is a significant accomplishment for an author and a sure sign the vast majority of readers loved the book. A large bar of 5 star reviews is characteristic of very popular books.
The converse is also true. For example, Robert Jordan’s “Crossroads of Twilight” is an example of a book a lot of readers bought but the majority didn’t like. Here you find a situation where you have a large bar with 1 star reviews.
I also wanted to see how these graphs looked in books with intermediate ratings. For example, could I find books with large bars of 4 and 2 star reviews? After skimming over 4,000 books on Amazon that I searched by “popularity” and “reviews of 1 star or more,” to my surprise I found none. The most common way in which a book gets an average rating of 4 is because the number of 4, 3, 2, and 1 star reviews counteract the effect of the 5 star reviews such as in the case of “Loving Frank” by Nancy Hogan.
Likewise, I could not find any book with a rating of near 2 with a prominent bar of 2 star reviews. The way a book ends up with an average rating of 2 is that the number of 5, 4, 3, and 2 star reviews bring up the average counteracting the effect of the 1 star reviews such as the book “Trace” by Patricia Cornwell.
I was especially interested in 3 star reviews because these indicate that, in theory, the book is neither very good nor very bad. Surely I would find a book with 200 or more reviews and a prominent 3 star column, like this example that I made up:
That was not the case.
The way a book ends up with a rating of around 3 on Amazon is if a lot of people like it but an equally large number of people hate it. Such is the situation of “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. James. Here there are 2 large bars at opposite ends of the scale: 5 stars and 1 stars.
However, the situation doesn’t have to be this extreme. Take the book “Mile 81” by Stephen King. Here the 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 star reviews are nearly all the same, and the graph is a near flat line.
I want to state that the reason I didn’t find it is that I may have missed it (I only checked 4,000 books and there are more than one million books on Amazon). So please if you know of any book with 200 or more reviews and a prominent 3 star bar that stretches past all the others, please leave a comment and let me know. But let’s get to the point of this post. If my observations are true, what does this say about the psychology of the reviewer? Why does an average book achieve a neutral rating of “3,” not by the majority of the reviewers giving it a 3, but rather by half of the reviewers rating it above 3 and the other half rating it below 3? Is this a reflection of our polarized society where we can’t find a middle ground on anything? What do you think? Note: the links on the books are provided just so you can check them out. I do not advocate you buying them except, of course, my own. : ^ ) ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
This June 5 will be the 180th anniversary of the student uprising against the monarchy that ruled France in 1832. The zeitgeist of these times was brilliantly captured by Victor Hugo in his novel Les Miserables. In modern times Les Mis, like it is colloquially called, has been turned into a hugely successful musical that has been performed from high schools to Broadway. Do you hear the people sing?
Maybe I am fortunate that the majority of the writing ideas that come to me are in the format of short stories. I think this is because I tend to have less patience for the longer works. If I can tell a story in 5,000 words I just find it very hard and tedious to expand this to 50,000. It’s just not in my nature. However, I have had a few ideas to write stories that would have easily grown into the writing length of what would classify as a novel (40,000 or more words). Nevertheless, as a beginning writer, when it comes to choosing whether to write novels or short stories, I have decided to take the advice of Ray Bradbury who, early in his career, used to say: I am a sprinter not a long-distance runner.A novel is a very risky enterprise for a new writer because of the length of time it takes to write one and the chance that it will not be good or sell well, whereas the short story format diminishes these risks. I may add to Bradbury's advice that this is especially true if you are a beginning writer who will self-publish his/her own work. If you are still learning the ropes and developing contacts, it is more prudent to reserve your more complex works for later on when you have the infrastructure and experience to support/promote them.
Unfortunately the current writing culture seems to be a novel-centric one. People who decide they want to be a writer tend to think in terms of writing a novel as though there weren’t other alternatives. Everyone talks about a writer’s debut novel, but you never hear anything about a writer’s debut book of short stories. Some websites that list the work of writers do not even have a category for short stories. My guess is that this is either because of reader demand (people like to read longer works with the same theme), or because the prevailing belief among writers is that what truly tests a writer’s mettle is a novel.
Be that as it may, I think that with a few exceptions most beginning writers (especially the ones that will self-publish) are better off setting more modest goals for their first efforts. I fear the current system is just pushing many authors who are not ready yet to invest a substantial amount of time and effort in putting out a novel, and many of these will crash and burn as a result of this. What do you think? ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.