No Sugar Will Be The Death of Me

A recent bout of manic air travel had me observing the behaviors of fellow passengers and indeed even my own interaction with the myriad of strangers one encounters between point A and B. I’d like to think that on a scale of one to ten that my courtesy ranks at a minimum of eight no matter my mood. Since I’m bias and a complete ego maniac when it comes to my own belief that I’m so very much better than the rest of the human stain on planet earth, I’m willing to consider it’s quite possible that I’m no better than a four. If there is a god, more likely some servant of the deity, I’m of the hope that shortly after my final departure from this world that in addition to a catalog of the near-death experiences that might have removed me much earlier than that date, that perhaps it, he, or she, will also be kind enough to rank me legitimately as to my composure among the rigors of the living. Perhaps in the end I’ll score no better than a two for having faked extreme courtesy while quietly condemning and judging my fellow man at nearly every point of the journeys I’ve made. If it’s possible to report on such a thing from that realm, I’ll certainly own up to it and let anyone who cares to still hear from me know the truth.

Part of that truth might include the way I deliver my order for coffee these days–it isn’t exclusive to airport beaneries, but it was on one of these recent legs that I realized that the firm tone I put against the phrases, “no sugar, no sweetener, un-sweetened” could potentially be registered in the brains of service-industry-soldiers as an unnecessary increase in volume and threat. Going way way back, I can recall having been on the receiving end of a few cups of joe that were poisoned with one of that vile trio. The culprit more often than not was an employee of Starbuck’s, but if memory serves (which apparently it really does not), Dunkin’ Donuts and others had a hand in the creation of my twisted delivery of the simple everyday ask. “No Sugar.” I no longer follow it with a please, or whisper it, or expect that the person taking my order is listening to my order at all. And so, that part of the order leaves my mouth like a bullet to the brain. It’s jarring, possibly alarming, and I believe was the impetus behind a recent reaction by an airport barista that left me feeling anxiously confident that perhaps my request was the final straw on the proverbial back of the camel that day. “Sorry,” I said. “I just really hate sugar in my coffee.” I followed it up with a tense grin and watched as this fellow made his own decisions about how he’d like to be ranked on that fateful day in front of the afterlife’s courtesy report reporter. He sighed and moved on, but I didn’t.

Since then, and it’s been a few weeks, I’ve come to believe that if I don’t change the way that I insist that my java come with zero sweeteners of any kind, natural or chemical, that eventually I will run into the wrong mud-slinger and that seemingly benign request will have me receiving my own afterlife courtesy reports and near death experience lists far sooner than I would if I just excepted the fact the majority of this country loves a sweetened cup. Should  I join the clan, simply as an easier means of survival? I attest, I simply can not drink that filth, and so…

“No sugar, please.”

“No sugar, my good man.”

“Un-sweetened if you can, thank you.”

“If at all possible I’d certainly appreciate it if you didn’t sugarize that there concoction.” 

“It’d mean a great deal to me if you didn’t put anything that sweetened my coffee into the cup. (wink, wink and proceed to over-tip).”

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Long Con Turkey

The Long-Con, I’m a fan.

Let me start by asking, has there ever been a legitimate request made via email for the banking information necessary to wire money? Do tell. I should probably back up here. Several moons ago, I received an email from a literary agent in Turkey requesting a complimentary PDF of my manuscript. I believe the agent may have mentioned the particular publisher from Turkey that was interested in the translation rights for my book. The entire email was spelled correctly, and if memory serves (it rarely does by the way, so beware) there were less than two grammatical errors–possibly none. Even so, I immediately dismissed the email, positive it was a scam. Still, I took to Google to do some research. There were other souls out there discussing the very same agency, not too many and not too few, with similar questions about this Turkish agent’s legitimacy. If you are an aspiring writer, you’ll probably want to get cozy with the website Writer Beware, which details many of the various scams used to prey upon the “oh-so-desperate-to-be-published.” But, even after going there and numerous searches, I could find no conclusive evidence that the agent and agency weren’t legitimate. Many legitimate publishing websites even listed the agency as one to reach out to in order to get published in Turkey. In the end, I decided to proceed with sending a PDF of the manuscript. I had detailed all the possible miserable outcomes of even that act, most of which ended with me and my wife somehow be kidnapped and tortured and dead, and surmised that at the very worst, someone out there might publish my book without my knowledge and try to make a few lira. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world I thought. “God speed PDF,” I might have said, and probably forgot that I’d even sent by lunch that day. That was way back in June I believe.

Then, sometime around September, lo and behold, I heard back from this gentleman again. He’d found an interested publisher there, and hoped that I’d not moved ahead with someone else (a nice bit of flattery I thought), and said if I was still interested that he’d like to proceed with drawing up a contract. Still one-hundred percent convinced that this was all a scam, I replied, “Absolutely. Please send me the details and I’ll review them immediately.” Again, I heard nothing for several days. I had a new job, was living in a new town, and not unlike the first time, the whole thing fell far into the deep recesses of my brain–probably filed somewhere under Potential Mistakes I’m Currently Making That Will Result in My Demise. It’s a thick file, so not everything sticks.

A few days later, another correspondence with a contract attached. I read it over countless time, consulted with other traditional published writers, googled the names of all partites involved, spun my wheels, and in the end decided to allow possibly ten percent of myself believe it was legit. $1000 advance, and a small percentage of any of the 1500/2000 copies they were planning on publishing in Turkish. Cool by me. “Let my fame grow in Turkey!” I might have internally shouted. I signed the contract, sent two paperbacks, and even then was still certain enough that it was all too good to be true that I decided to hold off on the usual grotesque PRing of myself (something I’ve also often surmised will lead to my early demise) until I received the first half of my advance–then and only then would I allow myself to make a glorious post on Facebook along the lines of, “Friends and Countrymen! I am now also a traditionally published author in the great land of Turkey!”

The receipt of my contract and books was made known via yet another email from the agent. At this point, I might have allowed my belief in the whole thing to shift to about thirty percent. A guy who has “Question Everything. Trust No One.” tattooed on his arm doesn’t go to full on optimism about potential good fortune overnight. Still, I was damn close to making it big news on social media–I’ve got a hole in my soul that needs filling after all.

And so, finally, as I’ve surely bored you toward this post’s conclusion, today, seven or so months after the initial contact from this agent from Turkey, I received an email asking for my bank account information in order to wire me my advance. Ha. Of course. After a bout of even more Googling on him, his company, and the whole scenario–I still can’t say one way or another, and my mind has me believing that the party or parties involved are performing an excellent long con. There are numerous sites and posts out there that would seem to prove them absolutely legitimate. And yet, I can not commit. I am absolutely convinced that I have finally met the grifting bamboozlers that I myself have always romanticized myself to be. Patient, attentive, and going after the most skeptical of souls–doing an amazing amount of seeding, cajoling, and crafting in the hopes that a long, long way down the road I might bilk you of your money with something as obvious a swindle as a wire transfer. If I haven’t already.

Puts You In The Grave

This Level 9 Paranoia Children's Song (the first of what I hope might be many) and accompanying video is exactly what happens when a guy–a guy with more than just a few issues–gets up at three-thirty in the morning one too many days in a row while his wife is out of town. That said, I think it might be the best thing I have ever done. Amir, I'm ecstatic. Take me away boys.

90 Days in the Amazon

It’s pretty common for people to write blog posts about their failures and successes using Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and CreateSpace services. I figure, without having ever interviewed a single other blogger about it, that a big part of their decisions to write about the experience is nothing more than a ploy to get more eyeballs on the book or books they, like me, are so desperately trying to get people to read. The results of such bloggings I do not know–and originally I had planned on never writing such a post, out of some sort of misguided desire to keep the goings-on of my own publication a mystery.

Shameless self-promotion that this type of post can be, I’ll try to do something I believe a few might haven’t–and that’s be totally honest about what exactly has happened with my own publication thus far because of Amazon’s services. Clarity is not always my speciality, so let me expand a bit on that last inference: I truly believe that in the interest of propelling their book(s) even further, that some people have drastically inflated their sales numbers in the hopes of making it seem like the book is a smashing success to that post’s readers, believing that very misdirect will spur an immediate sale by the unsuspecting dupe taking that misinformation in. I’ll admit, it is also possible a few of the existing blogs that have covered this same subject were dated in that they used KDP in its earlier stages, before Amazon tweaked it, and as a result did, in fact, garner larger volumes of sales despite also being a first time unknown author.

Writing about Amazon has me feeling a touch of the willies, because while I am extraordinarily grateful for their services and what it has allowed this guy to do, I also find them to be a tad frightening in regards to how much information they compile on each and everyone of us–not to mention, what the company’s contributions to the publishing world might ultimately spell out for various others in the profession. The topic of Amazon Publishing Services itself can lead to some very heated conversations, and for some it is an exceptionally polarizing institution. But, like my politics, I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with bits and pieces presented by both sides of that conversation. Doesn’t mean I’m not a little paranoid that some nut-bag who truly hates Amazon isn’t going to use the other big brother of the world, Google, to hunt me down and put my head on a stake in front of Amazon’s offices as a warning to any future writers thinking of travelling the same path I have thus far–and yet, I press forward with some details for the casual reader of long-winded drivel. Lucky you.

Today will be my 90th day with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. And in order to take full advantage of a few key services they provide during that time, I had to agree to only sell the ebook version of my novel exclusively through Amazon. I wasn’t even able to sell it on my own website, by which I mean, I wasn’t able to make an actual transaction, money for book, using my various blogs. Linking to the book’s page on Amazon was totally fine, and that’s precisely what I did. Now, bare with me, as I deliver some numbers and a bit of the everything that I did to achieve what I am confidently deeming a successful first 90 Days in the Amazon.

Total copies of My Dead Friend Sarah OBTAINED by readers via Amazon only, ebook and paperback, as of today and at various price points set by yours truly: 13,136

I think this is incredible by the way, but before we get our collective panties in a wad completely, let’s take a look at that number in more detail shall we?

Total copies of My Dead Friend Sarah PAID FOR or CHECKED OUT using Kindle’s Lending Library by readers via Amazon only, ebook and paperback, as of today and at various price points set by yours truly: 688

If this number impresses you, as it sorta does me, then you are in the right. Why? The average traditionally published book, in all forms, sells about 500 copies in a year–or so I’ve read. I won’t be linking to facts, but you are certainly welcome to fact check my facts yourself. On top of that, the average book self-published in paperback using CreateSpace sells a scant 25 copies in a year. So, I welcome any kudos you might want to throw my way, because, as you might have surmised, just putting my book onto Amazon is NOT what led to 688 actual sales, nor is it even solely responsible for the success I had giving away 12,448 copies using exactly two of the five Free Days that Amazon KDP allowed me to use. On that second day of the promotion, for most of the day, My Dead Friend Sarah was the number one most downloaded book in suspense/thrillers by the way, and it felt awesome. It should be noted though that ereadernewstoday.com was kind enough to include my title in their morning post of 5 freebies, and without that having happened, I believe the total of books obtained for free that weekend would have been far less–somewhere around 3,000 to 3,500 I think.

I was quite hesitant to use any of the Free Days at all, people should be paying for the creative output of others and all that, but I do believe that because of whatever algorithm Amazon uses to feed Free Books into the display system titled “Customers who bought X also bought Y and Z,” that it most definitely boosted exposure to My Dead Friend Sarah. No question about it really, but while that certainly put my title in front of new eyes, I can honestly say that I don’t believe it was primarily responsible for my books sustained momentum of roughly an average of 7.6 sales/day. Not completely, and maybe not at all.

I’m run various self-administered tests using different combinations of Facebook ads, Google Adwords, blog posts, my own participation among other blogs, boards, etc. And, during the times that I have had absolutely no time to perform those mixtures of hocking my wares, there was a markedly drastic decline in daily sales. Many days, as few as zero. On the days that I have found the time to institute one, two, three or more of those efforts towards promoting my book, the sales have always been better. Even as I work in advertising, I was surprised to see what a difference it tended to make with regards to selling books, when i shouted about the book from digital rooftops.

Total books sold via all methods of selling, including the original paperback run-turned-failure with LuLu, paperback sales made by hand to co-workers and friends, and one or two via Amazon’s expanded distribution offer that put my book onto an infinite number of other online retailers: 720 books I believe.

Given the disappointing figures of other self-published and traditionally published works, and I’m talking the numbers that are far lower than that earlier mention of the industry average of 500/year and the self-published 25/year, I’d have to call the early stages of my self-publishing career a success. In my mind, 1000 units PAID for was a realistic goal for the end of 2012, and I’m not that far off from there. I’ve got a few other promotional tricks up my sleeves that I’ll be unleashing into the world during July and August, and I have a tremendous amount of positive energy going forward, as so many of the reviews for the book have been overwhelmingly positive.

Now, as long as Amazon doesn’t get cranky because of this post, and decide to yank me from their service entirely–I’m off to work on my next book, that, unless I ink a deal with a traditional publisher, I will most definitely be putting out using KDP and CreateSpace again. For me, the 90 day exclusivity clause didn’t really hinder sales. Most of my friends, family and other immediate buyers were cool to take a chance on downloading The Kindle App for their iPads and computers, if they didn’t already have it, or in fact have a Kindle. And for their continued support and purchases I am forever grateful to all of the people helping push my book out there.

Will I do another 90 days with Amazon KDP? I’ve got a little bit more time to hem and haw over it, but as of right now, I can’t honestly say that being able to put My Dead Friend Sarah out on Nook or iBookstore would make a noticeable difference. Not yet anyway.

Hope this answers some questions for some folks, and if you hear in tomorrow’s papers about a suspicious accident involving your favorite paranoid writer, please do be a dear friend and if you haven’t read My Dead Friend Sarah, give it a shot, tell a friend, or in lieu of that, mount up and concoct some charges against the beast that is Amazon–after all, my cat will need some diapers, and kitty diapers aren’t cheap.

Agents of Sloth

My paranoia never leaves me completely, but it’s seemed relatively quiet upstairs the last few days–if I didn’t know better I’d say the curse had been lifted. I hadn’t give much thought to my current state of bliss, at least what bliss is for this guy, until I started formulating ideas for this very post. It wasn’t the first time my mind put wondering against the notion that some day I’d not be able to write for this blog anymore, and that perhaps I’d have to change the title to Level 9 Happy Goodness Times. In and of itself, that thought proves things are still cranking up there. The battle between my brain and me rages on, but at times it plays a quieter game–moves to destroy my sanity with the more subtle themes of self-doubt and dread. I think my psyche knows that if it positioned every evil twist, potential fate, and the doings of others as over-the-top Hollywood blockbusters, that in time those fabrications wouldn’t impact me with the same ferocity. And so, this past weekend, it decided to play me a quieter head-film, in the vein of an Indie feature that dwells in subject matter one might describe as more probable in the real world, and only seemingly less heinous due to the lack of guts, blood, and booming soundtrack.

I spent a great deal of time working on my next novel on both Saturday and Sunday. It was equal parts rewarding and frustrating, not too disimilar from the efforts I put against My Dead Friend Sarah, but perhaps with the additional creative-crushing notion kicking around that the table of my life has now been set with some lovely place settings, at least according to some, and this second book will serve as the metaphorical meal for those waiting patiently at this table to consume it. Yeah, there might be a little more pressure this time around–no one even knew I was writing the last time, and even I had no expectations going in to that one, other than to complete a rough draft of a full story in a timely fashion, rather than give up just twenty-two or thirty pages in, like had been the case in previous attempts made by a younger, and often pig-stink drunk or hungover from having been pig-stink drunk, version of myself.

If you care to know, I can tell you that in spite of the laundry list of thoughts that worked feverishly to prevent me from putting pen to paper on the next book, I was still able to get quite a bit done by committing to the doing of it as though the results of my labor meant nothing to me or anyone else–even though they eventually will. Only by committing to writing was I able to ignore the following gems of delusion that seek to keep me lethargic and in a permanent state of sloth: This story had been told before, You can’t write in 3rd Person, People were just being nice about the first one, Did you read what you wrote in the last chapter–laughable Rosch, The title is taken, The title is taken because someone is writing the exact same plot as you at this very minute and will publish their story long before you are finished, You are missing out on a great day out there that could be your last, You aren’t getting paid squat to write this book–mind telling me what the point is friend, Wouldn’t our time be better spent coming up with a gadget people really need, Being a writer isn’t a real job Peter, stop wasting time on this and let’s butter-up that resume with actual accomplishments.

It’s going to be a long, slightly different journey than the last. Here’s to hoping the part of my brain that likes me continues to do just enough to beat back the parts that most definitely don’t.

One Man’s Lullaby

Why am I the way I am? No one thing could be to blame, but it is worth mentioning that my mother and/or aunt used to sing this song to me as a wee little lad. Found myself humming it this afternoon on an otherwise nice walk with the Mrs. Thanks ladies. xo

My Even Stranger Strangers

The world revolves around the paranoid. Being on guard for the worst requires a steadfast commitment to hypothesizing about the intentions of all the characters you encounter throughout the day. The affiliations you don’t see daily can not be completely ignored either, but even as I qualify myself at level 9, I don’t portend to have the capacity to gauge the whereabouts and activities of all the souls walking the earth, hell-bent on destroying me. That said, since I don’t walk with my ears glued to tunes or my eyes and fingers affixed to what Stephen King once referred to as modern day slave bracelets, I have ample time to construct numerous narratives about the people around me.

I loathe gossip – dabble in it, sure, but consider it an enormous waste of energy – and yet, these fictional constructions I make to myself could be categorized as gossip I share with myself. My excuse, also made internally, is that as a writer it is a good exercise to create back stories for strangers, acquaintances, and surface-level friends – and in truth, I have used some of these musings in unpublished and published literature, media, and the like. I wouldn’t say I’m good at reading people, nor a great judge of character, so much as I’d say I’m pretty adept at building fictionalized stories around human beings in mere minutes. I don’t think it’d be untrue to make the claim that the mini-biographies I mentally-pen about folks are probably far more fascinating than the actual lives they live or have led.

Do other people spend any effort against this same practice? Is who I am being painted in the heads of the very people I aim to figure out? I doubt it. Which is both a testament to my knowledge that I am not the center of the universe, and also a clue about my less-than-complimentary opinion of the masses on the whole – too lazy to bother, with brains too saturated with the spoon-fed details of celebrity lives, human beings they’ve most likely never met, and are most likely not standing close enough to take them out on a packed J train crossing the East River.