Random Thoughts and Comments 20221130

First, the color versions of the Affinity Publisher collections (Ads & Covers and Book Formatting) are now available on Amazon and will be at some point elsewhere. (IS is slow to review sometimes.) I don’t actually recommend buying them because I think you can get the same thing for cheaper if you buy the ebook and black and white print versions. But for those who want color images in their print book, they’re now available.

I’ve been back to working on audio lately. Mostly because my pretty new computer that I got from ASUS spent the last month with them for repairs that they didn’t make. (Not buying another computer from them, thank you very much.)

So I published the audio of four holiday short stories from one of my romance pen names and have now recorded the audio for two of my cozy mystery novels. I should really be reviewing the last of those files right now, but sometimes you just hit a wall and don’t want to be productive. Which means I’ll wrap that up tomorrow.

I wanted to do three before I released any, but I think at this point I’ll just release those two and see how they go. It takes me about a week to record each one, which would mean another seven weeks to do the rest of the series, which is a lot of time really.

I’ve been enjoying doing the audio, though. In terms of level of difficulty I think it goes non-fiction, short story, novel, series of novels.

The biggest challenge after just getting good audio recordings is all the character voices. In a series you end up with a larger number of recurring characters that each need their own distinctive voice, which is not so easy to do. Even in a first-person POV you need them to be distinct enough to have a conversation between different characters that works for the listener.

I’ve also found that narrating audio makes any writing tic you may have glaringly obvious in a way that even having Word read back to you doesn’t. Hopefully it’ll improve my writing next time I actually write a novel or short story, but probably not. Not unless I narrate before release and then make edits and re-record which is a lot to do for fairly minor issues.

No idea when I’ll write more fiction. I have a big non-fiction project to wrap up next.

And then…I don’t know. I have a zillion fiction ideas I could write, but I may just step back and focus on other life things for a while.

Of course, I say that and then a week later I set some new goal for myself and I’m back in the race.

In non-writing news…

I was lucky to have a good family Thanksgiving get together this year, but with only half of the attendees because of sickness. Another friend didn’t even get to have her family’s celebration because of people being sick. Non-COVID.

I think that may be more the norm going forward than it was before even if it’s not directly people having COVID. Some folks’ immune systems are just more susceptible now than they were before.

Of course, two weeks ago 1/3 of my brother’s workplace tested positive for COVID, so that’s definitely still around, too. And a video I watched today by a cardiologist about the long-term side effects of getting COVID makes me more than willing to continue to play cautious for the time being.

I honestly don’t expect I’ll ever stop masking at the store. No reason to do so other than social pressure, and I could care less about what other people think of me.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and again and again. My dad died at 45 from an illness he had when was five or six that permanently damaged his kidneys. I don’t fuck around with illnesses that can cause long-term damage. I’ve witnessed that life and it’s not one I want to live if I don’t have to.



Piracy Hurts Us All

Yesterday, the U.S. government unsealed an indictment against two Russian nationals who were behind a massive online piracy site.

When the online domains related to this site were seized I saw a lot of people on Twitter that got very upset about it. They were pissed that all their free content had been taken away from them. Some were very vicious towards one specific author whose fans they blamed for outing the site.

I was disgusted by that reaction.

Somewhere somehow someone has twisted piracy into this idea that “life is hard so I deserve free things from our corporate overlords and I’m just sticking it to the man when I consume pirated content.” Which is a bullshit fantasy unconnected from reality.

As someone who works very hard to create content that is not high-priced and is as available as I can make it through places like libraries, piracy pisses me off.

I mentioned here that within 24 hours of my posting my video content about Affinity on Udemy it was stolen and posted on another site. Someone deliberately went in, bought the courses, stole all of the content, and then requested a refund after they’d done so. I didn’t even get paid the cost of one person watching that course before they stole it.

I’m not some big corporation. I’m a single individual trying to make a living by producing creative content (books, audiobooks, video courses) and to have someone immediately steal what I produced is offensive.

That sort of theft makes it even harder for little guys like me to continue to do this. The big corporations that people are supposedly sticking it to will go on. They’ll raise their prices for everyone else who buys their product or simply not publish certain types of content.

It’s the little guys that get taken out by piracy.

And the authors who write for those big publishers, too. Because what happens is some author writes a book that sells well. But then book two gets pirated left and right and suddenly the sales for that author look like crap. The publisher sees that drop in sales and decides that the author didn’t really do well after all and drops the author.

The author that those people loved so much they just had to steal that author’s book loses their career. The big corporation that published them? Finds a new author to publish and carries on just fine.

So when people pirate they are actually screwing over the littlest players in the market. The solo entrepreneurs struggling to make enough to keep going and the authors who came up with that material in the first place.

It’s a really shitty thing to do.

Bravo to the DOJ for doing something to address it. I hope they do more.

It Is What It Is

This week I finally decided to tackle trying to put my cozy mysteries into audio. At this point I’ve put at least five non-fiction titles and a half dozen or more short stories into audio that I recorded myself, so I’ve done the practice and fine-tuning to be ready for this.

Maybe. A novel is a whole level of difficulty harder.

The main challenge is character voices. You have to find character voices that are distinct enough to be audibly different and also that aren’t too annoying to listen to. The one romance novel I paid to have put into audio, this was the issue I had with it. I really didn’t like the second female character voice at all.

Now that I’m doing this myself, though, I begin to understand the issues involved and how challenging it can be to do multiple good character voices. Only reason I’m willing to tackle these books is that it’s written in first-person so technically all of the character voices can be that narrator’s interpretation of the people around her.

Still hard, though, even with that allowance.

Anyway. What has me writing this post is my intense desire to start rewriting the cozy after doing the first few chapters in audio.

Some of it’s minor issues I’m noticing, like a sentence that has “nearby” and “world go by” that creates an unintentional rhyme that I don’t like. Or another one that used making twice in two different ways where I could replace one or the other to get rid of that repetition.

And there’s a bit of a pacing issue, too. I can see as I read the audio where I could’ve maybe tightened things up better when I was giving the needed background info.

The narrator voice in those books is very much stream-of-consciousness first-person so there’s going to be more random information included than other POVs might use, but there’s a bit of repeating information that probably didn’t need to happen.

What’s funny is I’ve reread this book at least three or four times over the past few years as I wrote the series and didn’t notice these issues. But narrating the story for audio gives a whole other level of feedback.

I think it will sound fine to listeners so these aren’t fatal flaws for the audio version. Still. I really want to fix it.

But I’m not going to let myself do that. It is what it is at this point. (I did find a typo, so that’ll get fixed. But nothing else.)

Why not fix it? Why leave it as is if I can see a way to improve it further?

One, because it’s done just fine so far and I could inadvertently break something that works if I try to fix it. As of right now the book has 529 ratings on Amazon with a 4.3 star average, so readers in general are not hating it.

Two, there’s a temptation to get stuck in a loop of ongoing minor improvements at the cost of forward movement. My readers would rather have the audiobook (or a new book in that series) than have me tweaking the first book in the series forever.

Three, because no matter how many times I loop through that book it will never be perfect. I don’t do minimum viable product, but I do subscribe to the “as good as I could make it at the time” approach. So there’s always a little room for improvement, but it’s in A territory already and that distance from A to A+ is too much effort for too little change in the ultimate product.

So I will just have to suffer through on this one and leave it as is. (Except for that stupid typo I found. I swear those things breed when you’re not looking at them.)

Okay. Off to try to come up with a secondary female voice that’s about the same age as the first voice but different enough you can tell them apart. That should be easy to do …Not.

Why Authors Shouldn’t Provide Trigger Warnings

Before this invites drama, let me repeat that headline but where I’m able to use italics. I don’t think that authors should provide trigger warnings.

And here’s why.

First, I don’t know what triggers readers. In general if I’m writing about it, it doesn’t trigger me. Even heavily emotional content, like the death of a parent (which some consider a trigger) does not trigger me. So until I see someone else mention that that’s a trigger for them, I have no clue that it should be listed.

Second, even if someone could give me a list of all the things that someone somewhere might be triggered by, when I’m writing or even editing, I do not need to be laying that critical layer on top of my writing. I need to write the story I need to write and then someone else can judge that.

Third, I think a trigger warning provided by an author gives some sort of indication of safety that is absolutely not there. The reader thinks, “Well, they wrote it, they must have been able to identify all the triggers, so if the one that triggers me isn’t listed, then this book is safe for me.”

Which is just not true. I am aware of more triggers than most because I spend too much time seeing discussions about this on Twitter. But there are tons of authors out there who’d not even realize that something they wrote or said was triggering to someone else.

For example, (trigger warning: fatphobia) in my own writing I might on page five have a character grimace at the fact that she’s getting older and putting on some weight. For me, that is a throwaway comment. It’s just a statement of fact. She’s putting on weight as she ages. Most of us do. But for a reader who feels attacked from every direction for their weight, that is very triggering because it’s very clear fatphobia.

Even if I had a list of issues to identify, I’d miss things like that. I’d search for “fat” and completely miss that casual observation.

Which is why I think individual readers are best-equipped to identify triggers, because they know what triggered for them as they were reading.

I don’t tend to like violence towards animals, for example, but there are books that can use it and I’m fine, because of how it was used, and there are books that use it and I will never read that author again. I only know for me as a reader what impacts me.

Letting individuals identify triggers also lets others judge how much they’ll factor in that trigger warning for their own reading choices.

There are people in my life where we are well-aligned in terms of what offends us and there are people in my life where I just let their personal upsets wash past me.

I personally (trigger warning: transphobia) can read a book that mentions Harry Potter or JK Rowling and not have an issue with it, especially if it was written more than five years ago. Others cannot.

(That doesn’t mean I’m transphobic, by the way, I’m all for people living their lives in the way that makes them the happiest. But I didn’t grow up on Harry Potter and am also not closely involved in trans issues so that doesn’t hit me the same way it would someone who identified by their Hogwarts house for years and is trans.)

And to be clear, there is nothing wrong with being triggered by content and not wanting to read the sort of content that you don’t like. There are authors I do not read because of the way they handle certain topics.

I just don’t think authors are the best judges of that sort of thing. Or that there’s some universal criteria or standard that can be applied objectively most of the time. We are all different. We all bring our entire life experience to anything we read. We all react differently to what’s on the page. Triggers are personal, IMO.

(No comments allowed on this post, by the way. Not trying to engage in a debate on this, just stating my personal opinion.)

Inflection Points

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about inflection points. To me when I use that term it means that things were carrying along one way, kind of holding steady, and then they suddenly flipped. A point of change was reached and that change was sudden. Like an off switch was hit.

There was a thread on a similar idea on Twitter recently about the transition to cold water in the ocean that had this same general concept. This idea that you’re one thing until you’re not.

I’ve been thinking about it in terms of personal and social change. Let me give you an example of personal change.

I’ve been a proud drinker of Coca-Cola for thirty years now. There were some years there when I went for Diet Coke with Lime, but for the most part I am a fan of the good old-fashioned Coca-Cola with all the calories and sugar and caffeine. And no amount of people telling me I’d get diabetes (I didn’t) or that it can clean a quarter so think what it does to your insides (which who knows is maybe true, it’s certainly good at fixing a corroded car battery) could make me stop drinking it.

There was a month in college where my mom was taking a psychology class and offered me a dollar a day for every day I didn’t drink Coke where I stopped drinking it to make that money and then immediately went back to it when the experiment ended. But for the most part I’ve been a steady drinker of Coke my whole adult life.

I once calculated during my freshman year of college that I was drinking the equivalent of fifteen cans of Coke a day, but in more recent years I’d mellowed out and was down to two a day.

Until the pandemic hit and I had a big, physical move that required a lot of sweating and energy and I jumped up to five a day.

I was fine with that. Drinking Coke is a lot better than becoming an alcoholic or some of the other unhealthy stress-relieving activities I could engage in.

So Coke is arguably my main addiction and has been for my entire adult life. To the point that my drinking glasses are Coke-themed (thanks to my mom).

But today at the store I decided not to buy any. Not because I don’t want it, I do, but because I just hit that point where I was done with their recent shit.

Their recent pricing changes were more annoying to me than the joy I get out of consuming their product. (And after all these years it’s not so much joy as habit and a certain reliability. The bite of a good cold can of Coke can’t be beat, but it’s not something you relish when you drink one five times a day.)

See, pre-pandemic I could go to the grocery store the week of a major holiday and get four 12-packs of Coke for $10. Sometimes I might have to settle for 4 for $12 or 3 for $11, but that 4 for $10 deal was consistent on major holidays.

AND if I bought them at King Soopers I could buy 12 or 16 at a time which would last me until the next holiday.

Not anymore. The last year or so there’s been a limit of four per transaction. And the regular price for a twelve-pack of Coke is now something like $8. So even when Safeway does a buy 2, get 2 deal, which sounds really impressive, it’s $4 each!

I wouldn’t have begrudged them a move to 4 for $11 or even 4 for $12 as long as I could still stock up. But this?


It made me decide that maybe it’s time to switch over to something healthier. Maybe I’ll try straight-up water. Out of the tap or with my handy little Brita filter.

I would’ve happily consumed Coke until my doctor told me not to for my health, which had yet to happen in thirty years. But I don’t know. This just feels shitty all around. (And it’s impacted by the fact that most of the inflation we’re seeing right now is actually caused by corporate greed. Raising prices while they can and reporting record profits. Well, guess what, I didn’t need that product after all it turns out. Oh, and I like Shell gas stations, but not going there anymore either. Enjoy your record profits assholes.)

This flip of a switch and sudden change in behavior happens all the time in all sorts of circumstances. The pressure builds and builds until little things that were tolerable or okay or good enough suddenly aren’t anymore.

Like in a relationship. You can be going along thinking to yourself, “well, they do X and Y, but…it’s fine” until suddenly one day you’re like, “I can’t do this anymore. I have tolerated X for the last time. I am done.” Boom. Over.

Whole systems and lives can collapse from one little extra weight on top of an already unsteady system…

I don’t know how you see that coming as a business or an individual. Maybe you just don’t take it for granted? Or try to see how far you can push? Or take the short-sighted view that doesn’t encompass the entire relationship?

I don’t know. Maybe people like me who get pushed too far and just wash our hands and walk away without looking back are rare enough that we shouldn’t be the ones who determine decisions.

(Although I will say that I’m generally the one that taps out on an author or TV series about two books or a year before most people do, so I suspect folks like me are actually the proverbial canary in the coalmine…)

Anyway. An interesting thought to be having on an election day that could have profound impacts for this country I live in.

Random Thoughts and Comments 20221101

First, if you live in the U.S. and haven’t done so yet, vote. I think this election is going to be a pivotal one and regardless of which side you’re voting for, you should pick a side. And, please, for the love of God, dig a little deeper than slick campaign ads to make your decision.

Humans have this tendency to think “oh, I’ve heard that name before” and then create a positive association or accept something as true because they heard it. Dig deeper than that. We live in an age where crap information is basically floating in the air 24/7 and it’s too easy to go with what seems familiar without realizing what you’re doing.

(And ignore polls. I don’t know anyone other than my grandma who answers calls, phones, or texts from strangers.)

Second, since I’m in parent mode it seems, get boosted for COVID if you haven’t. This whole thing is an endurance and adaptability challenge and so many people aren’t meeting it.

In case you missed these shifts: COVID is more lingering in the air than lurking on surfaces so breathing stale air is more risky than touching a counter, there are still mutations happening that can get around prior infection, long-term effects for even minor cases have proven to be brutal for some (even those who’d been vaccinated) so the best bet is to never get sick, and for about the last year-plus being vaccinated is not enough to avoid getting infected.

Vaccination does reduce how sick you’ll get, but only during that early six to nine months did it also protect against getting sick at all. And what protection it gives wanes over time so, you know, masks, air filters, and not throwing yourself in the midst of large crows are all still good ideas.

Third, Twitter. As I’ve mentioned before, I refuse to have an account there because I found myself spreading too much negativity, but I do go there regularly to read content.

It’s a scary time for big users of that site, because it was a good source of an audience for things like funding SFF short story publishers, and for me it was a good source of COVID info. Now…

The new owner has shown themselves to be aligned with certain questionable parties and you have to imagine they will either deliberately kill the site to shut down a vital source of independent information or that the shifts due to policy decisions will leave it a ghost town anyway.

Whichever it is in the end, it will make forming community and getting the word out about creative projects that much harder I think. And no one knows where to jump to at the current moment from what I can tell.

There’s an alignment issue out there between the social media giants and their audiences and no consensus on which is the least ugly option.

Fourth, for me the last month or so AMS ads have been a bit of a blood bath. I think a few factors are at play, one being a potential tweak to how they handle broad matches for keywords. There’s no context to them at all anymore.

For example, I have books on Microsoft Access that I used to advertise using “access” as a broad keyword just fine. I think before behind the scenes Amazon at least took into account the product category.

But this month I was seeing clicks on things like “Amazon early access sale” which have nothing to do with my books.

My better-selling titles aren’t as impacted, but for titles with less sales? Ugh. It’s nasty. And I’m only seeing a sliver of how bad it is because I only see it when people click on the ads using those sorts of keywords.

I think there may also be a bit of an ad war happening in my little subgenre. There was one keyword where Amazon was recommending bids of $35. (hahaha, okay.) But most of mine are now in the $3 recommended range and there are tons of almost-identical looking books in the charts that have that large boxset fast-produced titles vibe that hit fiction a few years back.

This is an industry where you have to adapt and change all the time or risk dying off.

Which leads to point five. If the product you offer (in books or anything) is just like the product everyone else offers then you’re at the mercy of advertising and competition and you’re going to end up with a very low-margin business that requires high volumes to make anything.

If you don’t want to compete in that space then you have to offer something no one else is.

In fiction, for example, I have my go-to authors. I don’t check their book prices I just buy. (Although if they got too far outside of the norm I’d probably notice).

I do that because what they offer is not what I can get from any other author.

But there are other authors out there who I forget as soon as I read them. I’m not going to circle back and see if they have a new release, because there are a thousand other authors who can offer that same generic experience.

One is selling a premium product, the other is not. (At least not for me personally. Reader tastes differ widely so my “eh” author could be someone else’s “must buy immediately” author.)

I think if you want to survive long-term, you have to find a way to offer something to your readers no one else can offer.

Easier said than done, but necessary I think, especially going forward.