Friday, June 17, 2016

A Volunteer Gardener with a History of Mental Health Problems

Not actually all that amusing, is it?
I'm not being funny. That quote, from an article in the Guardian describing the alleged murderer of a British MP, seems to sum up my feeling this week that the world has gone crazy. Not that the world hasn't always been a crazy, violent place, but this last week...

There was the murder of that girl singer on The Voice by a deranged fan, the horror of Orlando, and finally--because no week is complete without hearing about some atrocity perpetrated on a child--the snatching of a toddler in Florida by an alligator.

Now, granted, I don't know how anyone could be shocked or shattered to find the world an unsafe place after Sandy Hook in 2012. If the slaughter of twenty kindergarten children didn't wake you up to the fact that no one is safe anywhere, I don't know what would. If it's open season on little kids, why wouldn't it be open season on everybody else?

It's going to be a very long haul until November, and the best thing for me--and for readers of this blog--is that I avoid watching the news because I've developed the unhappy and unproductive habit of screaming at the TV. Especially when it comes to discussion of the 2nd Amendment.

Here's the thing. I come from a gun-owning, gun-loving family. I've got a disproportionate number of military and law enforcement genes bobbing around in my bloodline. I grew up with guns. To some extent I even buy into the myths and legends of gun culture. But when idiots start talking about how all this could be prevented if only everyone was packing... ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Besides which, we already DID that. Been there and done that. It was called the Wild West, and why in God's name, would we want to return to the 1800s? Are we also supposed to give up in-door plumbing and electricity? For the love of God. Why would any society look at one of its most violent periods and think, yeah. That's the direction. BACKWARDS.

Heck, why stop there. Let's go back to being Cave People and just slam our fellow citizens over the head when we have a point to make.

I have to be careful what I say here though because I probably sound more bitter than I intend. I don't think I'm bitter so much as exasperated. Because while people love to talk and post pictures and quotes and so forth--Oh! somebody wrote a song! Somebody made a film!--they seem largely incapable of ever getting around to pushing for actual change. Ya know, like through legislation. Through law. Because all the touching photos and moving quotes on Facebook don't actually change anything. We're all preaching to the choir and I'm so sick of it.

 It's not that I have nothing to say about Orlando, but that I fear if I begin I won't be able to stop.

So I'm going to press the pause button. I'm going to leave it at this: If you really do care about some of the events of the past week, please make an effort to vote. Educate yourself and then get out there and vote. Because it really does matter--and for those of us in the States, November could make a difference. Yes, the world is a crazy, violent place, but it always has been. It's up to us to decide how crazy and how violent it will be during our own lifetime.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ramblings and Ruminations

Yep, I paid to license this
I was going to chat about creativity today. Creativity and what it's worth. But I don't have the energy.

There's been a lot of discussion recently in the blogosphere about piracy and pricing and publishing in general. Nothing new, except maybe the increasingly militant tone of some readers. I think a lot of it began when an author received a note from a reader informing her that the reader had enjoyed her latest book, but had returned it because she felt the book should have been free. That all books should be free. (I'm summarizing.)

It's not surprising that some readers feel this way. The surprising part is that the reader thought such a message would be received with anything but rage on the part of the author. Maybe it was a deliberately antagonizing move. Or maybe the reader honestly doesn't get it.

There's a surprising amount of that going around. I've read some fascinating comments from non-writers about what writing is and isn't -- and why it is or isn't worth anything.

The idea that storytelling isn't worth the paper it's printed on (or the cyber space it occupies) is a new one. It's a new one in any culture and at any time period. But it does seem to have taken hold in this century. Now, largely it's taken hold because it's self-serving. People very often try to justify the shitty things they do by coming up with elaborate reasons for why it's actually okay. And a lot of the reasoning for piracy smacks of that. Lots of grandiose talk about defining legal terms and artistic obligation and so forth. Most of it missing the point that piracy is illegal pretty much everywhere on the planet because most people, including governments, think it's not cool to steal from artists. Most cultures value art and artists. Heck, even the Nazis valued art and artists -- they were just rather particular about which art and artists.

By the way, when I talk about "piracy" I'm not talking about sharing a book with your mom or ripping a CD for your girlfriend. I'm not talking watching YouTube vids or downloading the file of an out-of-print book from a dubious source or snitching a Google image for a blog post. Yes, all that IS piracy, but it's also inevitable and -- in my opinion -- harmless. Not everyone agrees, but I don't have a problem with low level sharing. No, what I think of as piracy are torrent sites and massive sharing -- and the startlingly self-righteous and hostile attitude that frequently accompanies it.

I mean, you can rationalize it however you want--and I've heard some mighty high-falutin' arguments as to why piracy is A-OK--but the bottom line is the pirate is someone who has decided (for whatever reason) that what he or she wants trumps what the artist wants and hopes for. Debate it any way you like, but in the final analysis the argument is What I want is more important than what you want.

Which doesn't exactly make the artist feel good. It doesn't inspire the artist to create more art, let's put it that way.

One intriguing argument posited was that art is created for the purpose of sharing it with others. Now that's a non-artist speaking. Most art is created for the artist. Pure and simple. I write for myself. Most authors do. Most painters paint for themselves. Most songwriters are writing for themselves. I guess acting--maybe all of filmmaking is the exception? Playwrighting? Hm. Musicians are first and foremost creating music for their own pleasure...
Not Vivian Meyer -- but licensed thru Shutterstock

 My point is the act of creation is separate from the act of sharing, let alone the act of selling. Many artists do not share and would not think of selling. Their art remains purely private. It's still art and its still valid whether they ever share it or not. I give you Vivian Meyer.

I would continue to write even if I couldn't sell my work. But would I continue to publish? Hell no. Publishing is a HUGE amount of work and effort and expense. Why on earth would I continue to share my stories if I wasn't being recompensed? Writing the story satisfies my need to create art. The selling of the story...that's a whole other step. And I think that part of the equation is often missed in these debates about what art is and the role of the artist.

Then again, I could be wrong. I think fan fiction writers and much of fandom art is created with the idea of sharing--driven by the idea of sharing. Payment in that case is feedback and engagement. And it's possible that at different stages in an artist's life, feedback and engagement mean more than they do at others.

Another startling argument was the one that no one should have to pay for "ideas" or "imaginings" or "stuff that comes from other people's heads." This sort of falls in with the idea that an ebook is not a physical book and therefore it's not worth anything.

But a bard sitting with his harp singing his tales of gore and glory was still a storyteller and was still recompensed--even revered--for his time and effort and words. There was no physical product to be handed round. The thing of value was the story itself.

And pretty much anything you can think of starts out as an idea, as stuff from other people's heads. Okay, not the natural world. Not a wild flower. But a garden does.

Maybe the problem is thinking of storytelling as a product versus a service. Maybe if we could get across the idea that storytellers are providing the reader with a service she or he cannot provide for himself, it might make more sense? After all, a doctor is not leaving you with a product like the milkman does, but we still believe doctors need to be paid. And typically more than milkmen. there a more valuable service provided than that of teachers? But all too often they hand our own product back to us in its nearly original form. :-D An accountant does not leave you with a physical product...or maybe she does, but it's in the same way that a story can be printed out, yet doesn't have to be printed in order to fulfill it's purpose.

I guess I find the debate -- not the debate, but the hostility toward the idea that an artist would wish to be paid for their work -- dispiriting because I'm having trouble "creating" right now. I don't feel inspired. I don't feel like writing. It's now been two months and when I think of writing I think of how much work it is. How much time and energy and effort go into crafting fiction. If I could just  lean my head against my monitor and transmit complete and readable sentences that would be one thing, but that's not how it works. Furthermore, a monitor makes a very uncomfortable pillow.

So yes, I wanted to chat about what creativity is and what it's worth...what role inspiration plays versus discipline and training. But I find it all very, very wearying. Which gives you an idea of where I'm at from a producing-fiction-for-your pleasure standpoint.

But I saw a picture today -- a book cover -- and I was (briefly) grabbed by that urge to write, to create a story to amuse and entertain myself. Because the act of writing is a powerful and at times pleasurable thing. It is satisfying to create a story for myself. I started thinking about literary mashups and so forth.

Why would a picture of a vintage book jacket stir me to want to write something, anything? I have no idea--and that is the mystery of creativity.

and this I snitched off the internet

Friday, June 3, 2016

I No Speaka the Language

Do you ever notice the dreadful portrayals of immigrants in some of those 40s and 50s films? (If you think progress hasn't been made, just watch an old movie once in a while.)

Anyway, I had a little run-in with Amazon this week, but I'm actually excited about it because it forced me to climb out of my comfortable box (er, not literally, but that time might be coming) and consider new publishing possibilities. I have no idea how this will turn out, but one thing I've learned is you can't be afraid to try new things when it comes to your publishing career. Sometimes you have to take that leap of faith.

Here's the situation. I got one of those nastygrams from "Logan" at Amazon alerting me that Antico Veleno (Terreno Pericoloso Vol. 2) (Italian Edition) (ID: B00M4P6WBA) is listed on at EUR 2.99 and at EUR 2.89 on Lafeltrinelli-IT!

And of course the penalty for this is DEATH!!!!!!

Okay, no. But the penalty is you have to lower the Amazon price or raise the other price so that Amazon is never higher than a competitor OR potentially face the penultimate punishment which is Amazon can remove all your titles.

The problem is that I never listed a title at Lafeltrinelli-IT and can't control their pricing -- in fact, I'm not even sure it's a real site. It could be a pirate site or a portal to other vendors or who knows what. Again, I don't have an account there, which leaves me with the sole option of lowering the Amazon price.

Now you might think to yourself, it's only a dime, what's the big deal? But it's a little more complicated because first of all, well, the ruthless arrogance of Amazon is pretty damned offensive. It never fails to appall me. Secondly, that drop knocks the royalty rate from 70% to 35%. And thirdly, Amazon already charges something called a delivery fee, which lowers author earnings roughly about 4% on average.

(And yeah, again, it's just a few cents at a time, but stop for a second. Imagine if your employer arbitrarily decided to give you an ANY % pay decrease simply as a cost of doing business?)

But that IS the cost of doing business at Amazon and we (me) don't tend to really think about it, but 4% is still real live money and I'm still a real live writer trying to earn a real live living off my work.

Therefore I tried to, you know, communicate with the Borg Zon. I tried to point out that I don't have any way of controlling a site I'm not affiliated with, and that it might not be a legit site to start with -- is Amazon telling me that I would have to price match a pirate site?

The long and the short of it is yes. That is exactly what Amazon is telling me. Price match or face the consequences this is a recording.

Which seems kind of...well, at the very least unjust, doesn't it?

So I was in the process of escalating the argument (knowing full well it was an utter waste of time and energy) when I suddenly thought hold your horses.  Because...other vendors sell to foreign lands...I sell a surprising number of Italian titles through Kobo and I've been meaning to escalate my presence and promo efforts at iBooks (which sells to 51 countries versus Amazon's measly 12) and these other companies don't charge "delivery fees" and do pay higher royalties in most cases, and I hate Amazon's monopoly of publishing (including their insistence on exclusivity), so here is a way to begin to loosen Amazon's stranglehold on my own career, without seriously endangering my finances.

And the more I think about this, the more excited I am.

What if I just remove my self-published foreign language digital titles from Amazon?


But seriously. I'm sure I'll take a financial hit and there will be a big learning curve--and it will be inconvenient to my existing readers--but there are potential long term benefits that WAY out weigh the short term losses.

And to me this is what being a successful entrepreneur is all about. You have to be willing to leave the path. You have to be willing to take risks. And you have to be willing to put your money where your mouth is, i.e. invest in new strategies.

So that was my week. How was yours?