What Do You Say?

I haven’t felt that motivated to post recently, because, really, what is there to say about the current situation in the U.S. that hasn’t been said already?

If people don’t get that this virus is real, nothing I can say now will change their minds.

Although I have noticed some slippery thinking developing even with those who do take it seriously. My mom believed me when I told her to lock down back in March before our governor told us to, but since then she’s mentioned how she thinks she must be immune to this thing (why, I don’t know, she’s been home for most of the time with very limited exposure). She was also all for getting together this Wednesday to celebrate an early Thanksgiving and my grandma’s birthday even though my grandma is still a bit of a social butterfly and lets my aunt who is also very social into her house all the time.

It’s hard to take the safe course when something hasn’t hit you directly yet. I knew in my heart of hearts that we should not get together this week, but we didn’t cancel until my mom got enough snow to make it too hard to get to her.

Because, what is the risk really? It doesn’t feel like there is one. I still don’t know anyone directly who has gotten this. But in Colorado they currently estimate that 1:110 people have it. That’s based on testing, so the number is probably worse. We went from 200 cases a day not that long ago up to 6,000+ today with no sign of it slowing.

In an environment like this what was maybe safe last week may not be safe this week or next week. That’s the nature of exponential growth. It moves faster than most people are equipped to deal with.

Which means locking down early instead of too late. It’s like driving when there’s black ice. You can’t see the black ice, so better to drive cautiously the whole way rather than risk finding yourself on a patch of black ice, need to stop, and have no ability to do so.

Ugh. It’s frustrating right now. To know all this, see the news and other people talk about it, but then also see them talk about this or that social event or traveling for the holiday or getting together with people. It’s this giant disconnect and it seems people are on the path they’re on and there’s no moving them to a different one. And because of the uneven nature of this thing, many will be just fine so think they made the right choices when they were actually just damned lucky.

If it really only affected the people making the choices, I’d say whatever, I’ll stay home, you do you, God bless. But unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. A maxed out hospital system can’t handle normal medical emergencies. Lord help the person who has an appendicitis two weeks from now, at least here in Colorado. And just look at that wedding that didn’t kill any of the attendees, but did kill seven people in the community…

Anyway. I’m either preaching to the choir or you’re shaking your head at my over-reactive reliance on “fake news”. So back to keeping my head down and doing what I can do right now which it seems is formatting book interiors. Good times!

Leveling Up

I’ve spent the last week and a half or so learning how to use Affinity Publisher to format the interior of my print books. Up until this point when I wanted to handle the formatting of a book I did so in Word.

(I have Vellum which I can use for a basic fiction book, although I disagree with them on how they handle widows/orphans and also they have a weird glitch in their process that sometimes leaves off page numbers or headers for an entire chapter which then moves around when you regenerate the file until it finally goes away. Overall fine for a basic book. But for a lot of my non-fiction I desire more control.)

It’s not all that hard to format a book in Word, especially if you use Styles and Section Breaks and combine that with the KDP templates that you can download through Amazon’s publishing website.

But I’d paid for Affinity and knew it was supposed to be a publishing software (I’ve been using it for my covers instead of GIMP) so decided to finally dive in and see what it can do.

There are some things I really love about it so far. I can see the potential time savings and automated consistency that I’ll get from Affinity Publisher once I’m up and running.

But I’m not there yet. I’m still learning. I’m still leveling up.

It’s little things that I have to learn. For example, with my covers I had to learn to check the box to include bleed so that the cover came out the right size. With books with images I’ve had to learn how to export in grayscale. And with books with muti-level tables of content I’ve had to figure out how to apply two levels of formatting to the TOC.

Little things like that.

Which is when it’s tempting to quit and go back to what you know. I know how to do all of these things in Word and can probably do them in half the time in Word. Right now.

It requires manual effort, but I can do them. I know the process.

With Affinity I’m doing a lot of Googling for answers. And sometimes I just don’t know the industry term to use. For example, it’s called pinning when you want an image to stick with specific text. I was trying to look for how to “anchor” an image to text.

Little things like that that trip you up and take extra time.

But the key is to not quit halfway through. Leveling up often requires a step backward to move forward. You lose expertise in order to gain expertise. You become more shaky at what you’re doing in the short-term. But it’s worth it long-term because when all is said and done you get through all that struggle and everything becomes easier.

So I’m sticking with it even though I have now generated this one book file probably ten times today. Because I know that by the time I’m done with these practice books I’ll be ready to do what I’ve been gearing up for and that’s formatting and publishing about a dozen new image-intensive titles.

(Honestly, being able to see the DPI value on every image I’ve embedded in one spot is reason enough to use Affinity instead of Word.)

Also, don’t be fooled by my complaining. I love the process of learning something new and struggling for mastery and then finally figuring it out and having that aha moment. I’m pretty sure that’s why I keep with self-publishing even though there are probably far more profitable ways I could spend my days…

Anyway. Back to it. Time to proof this book for the umpteenth time today and hope that all the little issues are now gone.

Satisfaction and Frustration

I’ve been doing a lot of painting around the house the last month or so. I redid my kitchen because white cabinets are pretty but they get way too dirty way too easily. And I changed a wall in my bedroom from bright green to bright blue because I had leftover paint from the kitchen and there are more color combinations that go with a bright blue than a bright green and I needed a change.

Painting means thinking for me. I put on some good music and my mind wanders because it’s honestly a pretty mindless activity. (Which is probably why I usually get paint on the ceiling and floor when I paint.)

What I realized as I was doing all this thing was that overall I’m actually very satisfied with my life. I have a nice home, I have a dog I enjoy who actually leaves me to do my thing a large portion of the time, family things are stable at the moment, and I like how I spend my days lost in thought or writing. Even being locked down I really don’t mind. I still see family and most of my friends are out of state or out of country anyway. And I don’t mind being alone. I have books and TV and movies and music and honestly I like those more than most people.

But I had to think about it because I had a friend message me recently and say something about how I’d been on their mind a lot lately. Knowing this particular friend I knew that it was because they look at my life and think I must be miserable. No spouse, no kids, no trade-publishing deal, no “real job”.

(This is the sort of friend who when my trade-published friends announce a new release will automatically share on FB and congratulate them with exclamation marks but when I announce a new release will remain silent. Same friend who did read one of my early books and then informed me of that fact, told me they’d lost it somewhere when I went to visit, but did make sure to inform me that they hadn’t liked it that much. Which reminds me I need to reconsider my definition of friend.)

Anyway.

Their little comment made me stop and assess. Do I miss those things? Am I sorry I didn’t take a different path? If I won the lottery tomorrow would I change this?

Honestly, I wouldn’t. If I won the lottery tomorrow I might sell this house and buy a smaller one because I have two rooms and one bathroom worth of space that I really don’t need that just acquires stuff, and my street is currently festooned with signs that make me refer to it as the gauntlet of hate when I walk my dog.

I’d also probably put all my books out in audio and pay for really snazzy covers for some of them. (Maybe, if I could bring myself to go through the annoyance of doing so and because I wouldn’t care about the lost revenue from not publishing the audio through ACX.)

But when I put it that way I realized that I’m actually where I want to be, doing what I want to be doing.

The way I am in relationships I know that if I were in one right now I’d be the one carrying the emotional burden for my partner through this whole mess. Or my kids. I’d be shouldering 90% of their stress to help them through this. And I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to not have to do that. I have never been more glad to live alone than in this current mess of a year.

The flip side of that realization is that it doesn’t mean that life is perfect or happy or ideal.

Right now I have two new releases that aren’t live on Nook after five days because it’s currently a cluster over there. And I just regenerated about 50 ebook files that I need to upload to Amazon because they’ve now decided they don’t want people uploading .MOBI files anymore but would prefer an .EPUB even though .MOBI is their own damned format.

I’m also thoroughly convinced that Audible’s return policy that they push so heavily to users is just a way for them to take money from audiobook producers and put it in their own pocket.

So the money side of self-publishing is still highly frustrating to me and if I could live my life without those frustrations I’d want to. Each week it’s something. Scammers or dramas or ad issues or distributor issues. There’s always something flaring up or going wrong. And it’s almost always something that is out of my control.

Which most of life is.

So satisfaction and frustration. Doing what I want to be doing in the way I want to be doing it, but in a decidedly imperfect world. Which is much better than doing what I absolute hate in that same imperfect world. 🙂

Do You Engage Your Readers?

I have one writing rule: If it works, it works.

The only thing that should matter is whether what you wrote works for your readers.

Did you convey the story to them? (For fiction) Did they learn what you wanted to teach them? (For non-fiction)

Those are the ideals.

Often readers will read a different story than you tried to convey. And they will learn a different lesson than you tried to teach.

(For the record, I do not ever recommend using the automated keyword setting for a new AMS ad for a new book, as an example.)

But if you want a chance to get to that ideal you need to do one thing first: You need to engage your audience. You need to draw readers into your book and you need to keep them there.

This is where some of the one-size writing advice comes from like: Start with action! Have a clear conflict! Skip the prologue. (I actually agree with that last one 99 times out of 100.)

Those are all tips to help make a story engaging. But they aren’t requirements to make it engaging.

All you need to do (and I say this like it’s easy but it is not) is find a way to grab your target reader, bring them into what you’ve written, and keep them there until the end. How you do that is entirely up to you and who your target readers are.

So when you start to panic about “I write like this and it’s wrong” stop. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s the exact right way to engage your readers.

Some More Writerly Thoughts

As I mentioned before, I’ve been reading a lot this year, which has involved buying books I wouldn’t normally buy but I’m so desperate for good reading material I’ve been branching out even more than normal. And that means that I’m bumping up against more books that are outside my comfort zone, which has prompted some writerly thoughts.

So here goes.

Issue One:

I’ve decided that there has to be a certain amount of common viewpoint or perspective between reader and writer to achieve the type of full immersion that pulls the reader quickly through a book.

As an example, this week I read a book where someone was being poisoned and they were trying to figure out who it could be. At the same time a neighboring ruler was massing troops on the border as part of military exercises. Now, me, I’m thinking that person who wants to invade your country is the first person to suspect.

But instead the character in this book kept dismissing the ruler of the other country in favor of suspecting their bodyguards and anyone else other than the leader of the other country because the leader of the other country wrote them a nice letter that said of course they weren’t poisoning them or trying to invade their country.

And it kept happening. At least three times in this book others would say, “Don’t you think it’s that leader of that other country?” and the person would be like, “No, of course not. I knew them once.” (And they were driven and manipulative even then, by the way.)

This annoyed me as a reader so much that not only did the book get banished to my “I’ll never read this book again, so you’re welcome to it” room, it took book one of the series with it.

I have no doubt that other readers would’ve skimmed right by that issue. Not a problem to them. Either because you don’t doubt their friends so would’ve never suspected that other ruler or because they really just don’t have an issue with characters doing something like that. But for me, it was a deal-breaker.

That’s where I think alignment between reader and writer comes into play. It didn’t work for me and what I need in a book.

In other books I’ve been turned off by priorities a character had in a given situation that didn’t match what my priorities would’ve been. Or things they did that were incidental to the story that just didn’t sit right with me.

But if someone says they had linen in that particular culture when it wouldn’t at all have been possible, that’s going to slide right by me.

So alignment. There’s really nothing as authors that we can do about this, but I think it’s important to keep in mind. Because sometimes a bad review is down to bad alignment and when that happens you need to be able to set aside that reader’s opinion and focus on the readers you do have alignment with.

Issue Two:

I often see newer writers ask if you can do X. Can you have a series where the viewpoint character changes in each book? Can you use really short chapters? Can you use really long chapters? Can you use a non-linear story technique? Can you use a prologue? Blah, blah, blah.

And when that happens there is almost inevitably someone who chimes in with “Author X did it” and the implication is that because Author X did it that anyone can do it.

And in one sense, that is true. My golden rule of writing is that if it works, it works.

There are brilliant books out there that have broken accepted rules. Les Miserables is the king of info dumps, but it’s lasted hundreds of years because it’s compelling. I wanted to read about the sewers of Paris if Victor Hugo wanted to tell me about them.

The problem is, just because someone else pulled it off successfully does not mean that the average writer can do so. And sometimes it doesn’t even mean that it was the best choice for that writer who seemingly pulled it off.

I’m reading a book right now that I think somewhere below the surface has really interesting world-building and a gripping story. But it’s told in two alternating timelines and uses footnotes, both of which detract tremendously from the story.

So if someone asked, “Can you use footnotes in a novel?” I am sure there would be someone who answered, “Oh yeah. Such and such did and that book was a Kirkus whatever whatever.”

But the honest answer should be, “You can. Such and such did and was a top release of their year, but honestly, the book would’ve been better without that and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone else try to do it. At least, not using that as an example of success.”

Even if this author had pulled it off–and I want to say that I’ve read a novel that did–the advice should probably be, “I’ve seen it done well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.”

It’s tricky, because you don’t want to discourage someone from being unique and original. But at the same time, just because Famous Author X did that in the tenth book they wrote, doesn’t mean Joe Average Author can do that in the first book they write.

Issue Three: This is just a personal one, but I need to start reading the preview for books before I order them. More than once this year I’ve started to read a book that appeared to be a pure fantasy book based on the blurb but the first chapter revealed it to be something else.

In one case it turned out the first chapter was like a computer report so I assume it was actually some mild version of litRPG. In another case the first chapter showed it to be set in the contemporary world when I’d been lead to believe it was alternate-world fantasy.

For me personally as a reader both of those put the book at a disadvantage up front because it was immediately jarring.

Now, granted, 2020 is just a year so I as a reader am probably being much more cranky than normal. But I do think there are lessons to be learned in my rants above for any author.

One, seek readers who align with what you write. Two, represent your book accurately to readers so that you can effectively find those readers. Three, make sure any writing trick you use actually enhances the story rather than detracts from it.

It’s Not All About the Deaths

Sometime today the United States will “officially” cross the line to over 200,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s sort of an arbitrary milestone because I’m pretty certain that we’re not really capturing all of the excess deaths that have happened this year as a result of the impact of this illness. But it’s going to happen and there’s going to be lots of discussion about all of the people who are dead who didn’t need to die this year.

I’ve written about this before and I will continue to write about this: it’s not all about the deaths. Those are bad and my heart goes out to each and every person who lost someone this year that they didn’t have to lose. Absolutely horrible.

But this country is in for a much bigger reckoning and that’s around the long-term health consequences for those who get COVID19 and survive.

Craig Spencer has an excellent Twitter thread about this very issue here. It was also turned into a Washington Post article here but that’s behind a paywall.

As horrible as it is to say, we will likely adjust fairly easily to the lost lives. It’s what humans do. Losing my father when I was 18 was devastating to me but I’ve managed to live a life for 25+ years without him.

Is it as good a life as it would’ve been? No. But humans are largely resilient and so we carry on and move forward.

But the societal impacts from those who survive but have lasting health consequences are going to be significant. I already mentioned this one before, but I’ll mention it again because it’s one I know well: kidney failure.

There are definite impacts on kidney function from this illness. And there are hints that the type of impact this illness has on kidney function could, long-term, lead to kidney failure. It may not be immediate. The gap between impact and outcome with kidney failure can be a decade or more. My dad got sick around the age of six but didn’t lose his kidneys until his early twenties, for example.

When I was young and my dad was dialyzing (which is what you do when you don’t have kidneys, you spend four hours three days a week having a machine filter your blood for you, see more here) there weren’t widespread dialysis options.

When we lived in the mountains of Colorado my mom had to dialyze my dad at home. And when we lived in the Denver Metro area my dad had to drive thirty minutes each way to reach Denver Presbyterian hospital which I believe was the only dialysis center available at the time.

Planning any vacation was contingent upon there being available dialysis wherever we were going. We had one memorable vacation where we got to our destination and my dad had to take all our spending money to fly home because the dialysis center he’d scheduled with couldn’t dialyze him after all.

That’s changed in the 20+ years since he passed away. There’s now a dialysis center that would’ve been five minutes from the last home we lived in. I don’t know this for a fact but I would assume the increased availability corresponds to the increased levels of diabetes in this country which can cause kidneys to fail.

So dialysis is more readily accessible now as demand for it has grown, but as that demand increases even more due to the fallout from COVID19 this country will need to increase the supply of dialysis centers and nurses again. And there’s a huge cost to dialysis.

My dad grew up believing he would die when he lost his kidneys because there was no way that he would be able to afford those treatments. Fortunately for him there were changes made (to Medicare I think it was) that made it possible for him to dialyze without needing to pay the full expense of doing so. According to the link I provided above, 80% of the cost of dialysis is subsidized by the government.

Which means a reckoning is coming because increased demand for dialysis means increased governmental costs to provide that care.

That’s just one of the long-term health consequences of getting this illness. Add in heart problems, chronic fatigue, and reduced mental capacity that impact individual productivity and you have a society-level crisis coming.

The more people who get this illness, the more people who are going to need a higher level of long-term medical care, many of whom will not be able to hold the types of jobs that can provide that care through private insurance.

Which means we as a society will have to make a decision.

Either we decide we’re heartless bastards and that those who got sick due to a failure of government are on their own to suffer and die. Or we finally bite the frickin’ bullet and start talking about real baseline universal medical care and social services.

(You can tell from my wording there which I believe in. I’m alive only because our government provided enough support for my dad to dialyze and I grew up with one of the best fathers in the world because of that continued government assistance. I like to think that between my dad’s contribution to society as a business owner and father as well as my brother’s and my contributions we’ve more than made up for that.)

It would be nice if we were the type of country that believes in stepping up and helping our fellow man out, especially when we have the wealth in this country to do so.

But I expect that we’re not. I expect that we’d rather see images of someone with a fifty-room mansion and a million dollar Maserati and pretend that’s possible for everyone than agree that maybe taxes should be raised on that Maserati owner so that children aren’t orphaned because their parents can’t afford adequate healthcare.

But whatever way we go with this, I expect COVID will be the final push that means people can’t politely ignore that choice we keep making. We won’t be able to keep pretending that people deserve what they get and that society has no role in creating that outcome.

So, yes, 200,000 or more people have died in the United States this year than needed to. And that is a disgusting travesty.

But it’s important to also think about the 7 million* or more who’ve likely already been infected and will have long-term health consequences from this.

(*Right now the stats show just under 7 million reported cases in the U.S. but there’s pretty widespread agreement that we’ve drastically undertested and that the number of actual cases is anywhere from 6-20 times that number. Factor in the fact that perhaps 30% of patients are going to see life-impacting long-term health consequences and 7 million becomes a conservative estimate.)

Bottom line: Stay safe. Take this seriously. And if you’re American perhaps consider who you want in power if it turns out you’re one of the ones who gets this and needs dialysis or heart surgery or can’t work the way you once could.

Latest COVID Thoughts

I just put up a post on my personal FB page reminding my friends and family to continue to take this COVID thing seriously and shared with them an article that I thought was excellent by Ed Yong at the Atlantic.

I’m in the United States and I’d say that to most people it’s pretty clear that we have not handled this whole thing well. We’re closing in on 200,000 deaths from this (perhaps higher when you look at excess mortality) and the truth is we could’ve probably had only a few thousand deaths if we’d handled it differently.

Things like acknowledging the fact that a virus does not care what country you are from so a travel ban that does not prevent or isolate Americans coming from a geographic region with high-risk is going to fail to contain spread of the illness.

Or really locking down for a short period of time to prevent spread instead of what my state at least did which was still have takeout delivery and road construction and all sorts of other activities that were not in fact essential but did allow for potential spread.

(My state has actually done fairly well but I think that’s more down to population density and travel patterns than anything else.)

But what I wanted to throw out there in this post is how this illness plays into a number of human weaknesses and how we really have to actively fight against them to understand what we’re dealing with and to do so effectively.

For example, it’s very hard to see what isn’t there. So when a health measure, like a temporary lockdown, works we can’t see that it worked. Because the fact that it worked creates an absence of the event it was trying to prevent. I know some people, for example, argue that MERS wasn’t that big a deal. But perhaps it wasn’t that a big a deal because all of the health measures that were meant to contain it actually contained it.

Because those measures worked, we don’t see what they prevented. And we then inaccurately draw a conclusion that whatever measures were used to prevent that spread were not needed.

This has happened with the lockdowns. They were needed. They helped slow things down so that we didn’t have five NY/NJ/CT-style outbreaks going on at the same time early on.

That leads to the second issue most of us face with this illness. And that’s the issue of exponential spread. I pointed out on FB a few weeks ago that while it wasn’t making the news Hawaii was experiencing the highest growth rate in infections based on reported data. But that was at 50 cases a day so no one much cared. But they were doubling cases every two weeks at the time. Unchecked that 50 becomes 100 becomes 200 becomes 400 becomes 800 becomes 1600 becomes 3200.

It’s very hard to look at a low number and think that if you do nothing it will become a very big number. We can understand doubling. But get much past that, and we just don’t go there naturally.

It’s also very hard to understand the delay between cause and effect with this illness.

Recently some idiotic Stanford professor said that the U.S. fatalities were going to hit 170K and then just stop. I posted on FB that I wished the man would shut up and stop devaluing my degree because it was clear that he was wrong.

Why was it so clear when we were sitting around 150K fatalities at the time? Because, given the number of daily cases that had been reported prior to that point in time we already had enough infected people who were going to die to bring that number above 170K.

And we were infecting 50K new people a day still. Some of whom were going to become ill, get hospitalized, and die.

That man was completely missing the delay between infection and death that comes with this illness. I’d bet that delay can be as long as 45 days in some cases but is probably more like 25 days in a more typical case. So anyone focused on case numbers instead of death numbers is a month behind reality.

Also, most of the models being used fail to account for the interaction between human choice and disease spread. People are trying to use a basic regression approach to something that is more like game theory. (And I’m not a stats person so I may have just phrased that very wrong. But basically the idea is we can’t take what’s happened over the last two months, plug it into a model, and say this is where we’ll be two months from now without factoring in psychology. Because the outcome two months from now is driven by the actions of millions of individual actors making personal choices. Any good model of future outcome needs to factor in human behavior choices not just disease metrics, something that is very challenging to do.)

I also think most humans tend to approach crises in a linear fashion. A hurricane hits, it’s destructive, we rebuild, done. A wildfire burns, it’s destructive, we put it out, we rebuild, done. But that’s not how this illness works. It’s not: illness strikes, we lockdown, it goes away. It’s ongoing and cyclical.

I have yet to come up with the perfect imagery on this one but on FB I mentioned it’s like having a leaky water balloon and every time you take your finger off the hole in the balloon it starts leaking again. Until we can get this disease to low enough levels within the population, every single time we let up too much there will be a flare up.

That’s why we’re seeing rolling outbreaks across the country. Because one area gets an outbreak, takes the steps to get it under control, and gets things back down to something manageable but at the same time another area that hasn’t been seeing much of a problem lets up on its controls and gets a surge in cases.

That’s going to continue as long as there’s enough of the disease in the population to spread easily across geographies.

Which leads to another issue we’re all facing. It’s hard to give up your old habits for something so nebulous. Like a summer vacation. I had multiple friends on FB take out-of-state vacations this summer. They just couldn’t give up what they were used to doing for something that they weren’t experiencing personally. Here in Colorado they’re talking about having fans in the stands for Broncos games this winter. Football is more important than containing this illness.

I mean, really? Is it so hard to let go of something non-essential that you’d risk endangering your entire community for it? (Answer: Obviously in America it is.)

And that’s a big part of the problem. Even though almost 200K people have died this year that didn’t need to, this illness is very nebulous for most of us.

I don’t have friends in healthcare. I don’t have friends who work grocery store or meat packing jobs. My social circle is one that has a fair amount of privilege. Meaning that most of the people I know are working from home, able to order in grocery delivery, and hiring au pairs or tutors to homeschool their children.

They (and I) do not personally know the people who are dying. Because society is stratified enough that it’s not obvious to the average suburban upper middle class white person that this illness is killing as many people as it is. It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t seem significant unless you are the one treating the ill patients or in a community that has been significantly impacted.

And that brings me to the final issue. Which is that people are too focused on deaths and not focused enough on long-term health consequences. We aren’t considering what happens in a society where millions become infected and perhaps as many as 1/3 of those people have lasting heart damage or lung damage or kidney damage or brain damage. We aren’t understanding what happens to a society where that many survivors struggle with long-term fatigue that impacts their ability to work.

It’s like what I said in an earlier post about skydiving. I thought it was die or have fun. Only when I realized the far bigger risk to me personally was a significant injury with long-term consequences did I truly understand the risk I was taking every time I jumped out of that plane.

So, bottom line here. We’re not naturally equipped to mentally understand the scope of what we’re dealing with. It requires concerted and ongoing effort to grasp the potential effects and the impact. And it’s a challenge to remain vigilant for as long as we’re going to need to remain vigilant. But we need to try. Because letting this thing burn out of control is going to create the type of damage that lasts for generations.

A Few Writerly Thoughts

I was over on one of the writer forums today and someone had made the comment that telling people to advertise their books was “predatory encouragement”.

I wrote up an entire post in response to this person and then I got to the end and realized that I had spent twenty minutes trying to provide a helpful, informed opinion in response to a bitter, angry person who didn’t deserve my time.

So, since I already wrote the response, I figured I’d come here and share it with you guys instead. Here goes:

Just my personal opinion, but telling someone they need to advertise to reach readers is not “predatory encouragement” it’s business. And if you self-publish and want to make money from that you are in fact running a business. It is the very rare unicorn who can just put a book out, do nothing else, and see good results.

For me, at least, publishing and then running ads to see if anyone had any interest in what I wrote was the best way for me to learn what people wanted and what they didn’t want. It’s a constant feedback loop between content creation, packaging (cover, price category, etc.), and advertising and the more I do all three the more I dial in on what works for what I can write and what readers want.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, though. I started running AMS ads with pennies spent a day and only scaled up when I found books that sold well enough for that to make sense. I didn’t pay anyone to learn AMS, I just put in the time and effort. Authors who don’t want to spend money can do the same.

Authors who’d rather spend money than time can pay for a course. It’s their choice about where their efforts are best spent. This year I paid for a FB ads course with Skye Warren that was not cheap, but I decided I’d rather learn from someone doing well with the ads than try to start from scratch. I haven’t paid off the cost of the course yet, but using what she showed me I’m steadily selling four copies a day of a fantasy novel published in 2015 and priced at $4.99 so I’m pleased. I just started an ad on a romance novel also priced at $4.99 and had two sales the first day which is also promising. I would not have ended up with the ads I did without that course.

There are always going to be people who see a market like self-publishing and try to make money off of providing services or advice to that market. Some of them are going to provide bad services or bad advice. And it’s a good idea to be skeptical about what someone tells you about their success. Earlier this year I took a course someone was offering on writing in one of my genres. Halfway through I realized that they were very likely getting their USA Today titles and good ranks by spending almost every penny they earned on ads. I’ll never take another course from that person again because I value making a profit over ranking well or getting my letters.

But some service providers are incredibly useful in helping authors do better. I love Vellum and Bookbub. I am highly grateful for their existence. I am grateful that when I choose to I can spend a small fortune for a gorgeous cover. And that there are tons of authors out there giving away knowledge for free even if I sometimes have to sort through the confusion or inconsistencies to get to the nuggets of truth that will work for me and how I write.

So there you go. The response I wrote for someone who didn’t deserve a response.

In other writerly thoughts, it occurred to me today that the writers who get the most attention from me are not always the ones that have the best things to say. But they are often the ones who talk the most. Because when I’m sitting here trying not to work and decide to go to Twitter or to check blog posts to kill that ten minutes, I usually go to the authors I know will have content. So that author who lives on Twitter daily and has new tweets every few hours is far more likely to be the one I visit than the one who says really interesting things once a month. Same with blog posts. I’ll hate-read someone who blogs daily before I go searching out that author who blogs irregularly but says really useful things.

(This could have something to do with the fact that I never subscribe to anything so I have to manually check blogs and also I no longer have a Twitter account so have to see tweets by looking people up one-by one. But still. Something to think about. Sometimes consistent production is better than quality production.)

Back To School Sale

Since the world is still on fire and many people are dealing with back to school craziness, I thought I’d do what I could and put a bunch of school-friendly titles on sale for a couple weeks. Each of the below titles is on sale for $2.99 USD.

Click on any of the images below to be taken to a Books2Read page for that title that has all the stores listed. (If you’re already set up with them you’ll go straight to your chosen store.) Or you can use any of the store pages on the right-hand side here and get to the books that way.

Excel Essentials

Excel for Beginners open sans boldv2 Intermediate Excel Open Sans50 Excel Functions open sans

50 More Excel Functions open sans

 

 

 

 

Word Essentials

Word for Beginners open sansIntermediate Word open sans

 

 

 

 

PowerPoint Essentials

PowerPoint-for-Beginners-Generic    Intermediate-PowerPoint-Generic

 

 

 

Access Essentials

Access for Beginners 20200202Intermediate Access 20200202

 

 

 

 

Data Principles & Budgeting

Data Principles for BeginnersBudgeting for Beginners open sansExcel for Budgeting open sans

 

 

 

 

Keep in mind this is only for the ebook versions, but all of these titles also have paperback versions and most have hardcover versions as well that are, I think, reasonably priced.

And some of these are very good deals indeed, because I was being lazy so I priced everything at $2.99 which means that Access for Beginners, for example, which is usually $7.99 is on sale for the same price as Excel for Beginners, which is normally $4.99. (USD. But equivalent discounts in your local currency.)

Enjoy.

 

 

Two Paperback Versions on Amazon

Just an FYI for anyone looking for my books. Right now Amazon seems to be showing a delay of five days to print and ship books that they distribute on my behalf. But most of my books also have another version distributed via IngramSpark that will ship sooner. The IngramSpark listing is rarely the primary listing, so you have to go looking for it.

Here’s how. This is the main page for Excel for Beginners. You can see on the right where it says it will normally ship within five days:

Main Amazon Page

Right above where all the prices are listed for the different formats it says “See all formats and editions.”

Click on that and you get another screen. There’s a little > next to the paperback listing. Click on that and it will become a downward pointing arrow instead and you’ll see two listings for the paperback.

E4B Paperback options

The May 2019 version is the version that’s coming from IngramSpark. If you click on “Paperback, May 9, 2019” you will be taken to that version’s listing.

And voila, there are six left in stock and you can get a copy in your hands within as little as two days.

IS Version Listing

It will also have text on the spine which the Amazon version doesn’t.

Amazon does allow resellers to do weird things on their site so I always approach book listings there with a certain amount of caution. But for any listing of my book that’s coming from IngramSpark you can scroll down to product details and if it’s mine you should see a publisher name of M.L. Humphrey and an ISBN-13 that starts with 978-1950902 and then three numbers that are specific to that particular book, in this case 002.

Product Details

And, of course, you can also order the books from other fine retailers that carry print books like Barnes & Noble.