Such a Tragedy…

Perhaps that’s not the best word to use in these here times when there are significant tragedies that people are facing, but that’s the phrase that came to mind.

I often find new authors to read via my own fantasy novel also-boughts. Most recently that led me to ordering the first couple of books in a series by author Michelle West. I liked those first couple of books enough to order two more and then one more and then five more and then six more.

Today I ordered ELEVEN books by that author. I’m hoping they are good. I suspect they will be. Due to the somewhat convoluted way the three series storylines intersect I’ve now read three in the author’s most recent series and one from what I think is the oldest of the three intertwined series.

Here’s where the tragedy comes into play. Seven of the books I ordered? Used copies. I loved this author and am happy to pay for their books, but because their publisher, for whatever stupid reason, seems to have decided to no longer publish some of their books in a mass market paperback size the author isn’t going to receive a penny for those seven books. And the publisher won’t know how much money they’re leaving on the table either.

Sure, there are ebook versions available. And even at a reasonable price. But I’m not an ebook reader. I download ebooks and they molder away on my computer sight unseen.

I am a physical book reader. And more importantly I am a mass market paperback reader for the most part. I might, might try a trade paperback size for an author I know I like, but if I have the choice I will always go for the mass market paperback. In this case I could pay (used) $25 for an entire six-book series in mass market paperback or I could pay $22 for the trade paperback version. I would’ve happily paid $60 for the books new in mass market paperback but I was not going to pay $120+ for them in trade paperback.

Which is the tragedy for that author. People are reading and loving their books but they’re not getting paid for it. All because their publisher won’t keep their books available in a mass market paperback size.

(And I should add that for the new books I bought they weren’t even available on B&N, I had to go to Amazon. Like how do you expect new readers to find and love a series when the full series isn’t even available to purchase easily? Come on.)

Microsoft Office 2019 Beginner Now Available

And to cap everything off for Office 2019, Microsoft Office 2019 Beginner is now (or will soon be) available at all fine retailers. Easiest way to find it is through the universal link here.

It includes Word 2019 Beginner, Excel 2019 Beginner, and PowerPoint 2019 Beginner and would make a great desktop resource for a new grad or someone with their first office job. (If I do say so myself.)

Vaccinated

Five hours ago I received my second COVID vaccine shot. I’m very happy to have that out of the way even though I won’t be surprised if I have to get a booster at some point down the road.

As glad as I am to see the U.S. finally turning some sort of corner on this, I know that large portions of the world have a very long way to go. Right now it’s Brazil, India, and Ontario facing big outbreaks, but I doubt they’ll be the last ones. And, as we’ve seen, the more people who get sick with this thing the more chances for the virus to mutate and create a variant. The more variants over time the more likely one is to escape the vaccines.

So, there’s hope, but we’re not in the clear by a long shot. I’m loosening up some but even vaccinated I probably won’t go “back to normal” for quite a while yet.

(Not that I was a raging socialite before this, but I’m sure I’ll still be asking myself, “Do you really need to run up to the store for THAT?” for quite a while yet. I’m one of the fortunate ones that doesn’t really crave human contact so it’s not a hardship for me to play it safe for a while longer.)

Unfortunately at this point at least in the U.S. I think we’ll see a lot of people get sick or die that really truly did not have to. I hope it won’t be people I love, but there are people I love who aren’t getting the vaccine, which means that selfishly I want everyone else to get the vaccine so that those people I love are protected from their own bad choices. But, well, not gonna happen is it?

(My A/C guy came by last week and was all about how this whole thing is a giant hoax and the vaccines will give you cancer and all sorts of other crazy shit that makes me realize that we do in fact live in different realities. When the threats are nebulous and just over the horizon it’s amazing how differently people can perceive them.)

Anyway. All I can do is my part. And remind others to do theirs. So, get vaccinated and try not to share air droplets with a bunch of strangers until you do.

And…Done

Yesterday I published PowerPoint 2019 Beginner and PowerPoint 2019 Intermediate which means I am now done with the Office 2019 versions of all of the Office essentials series. 300,000 words, 10 books total.

It was a lot.

The original versions of all of those books were written over the course of three years. I layered them on as it occurred to me to write them. But this time through it was all at once and added up to months of continuous effort.

It turns out that even though the originals were there to work from it didn’t take any less time to write the revised versions. I think part of that is simply down to the fact that books like these take a lot of time to format and prepare the screenshots and that has to all be done new for each version.

But, anyway. Done. Available for purchase. Print versions may take a little longer to filter through to all the sites.

As I’ve mentioned with the other books, if you already own the prior versions you don’t need to buy these as well. Either the original versions or the 2019 versions should teach you to use the applicable program. They make changes with each release (like moving where the Help function is for some reason), but the core of how things work remains pretty consistent.

I will point out that the 2019 versions use a larger font size. They’re not large print, but they are all written in a 14 point font which is just below large print size and will make it easier for readers of all ages to read the text.

That also means that they’re slightly longer which means that if having spine text on your books matters, the 2019 versions are the ones you want because some of the original series weren’t long enough to have spine text if bought through Amazon.

But other than that, pick your poison, they all work. Enjoy!

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.)

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.

 

 

 

 

On Posthumous College Degrees

There’s been some chatter on Twitter today about the fact that a university recently published to its site its policy about issuing college degrees to people who die before they can complete the degree.

One of the cynical hot takes I saw on this practice was that it was to boost the college’s ranking with US News.

Seriously, to that person who said that, fuck you. Just because you’ve never actually been in the situation of having someone you love die before completing their degree doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter to that person’s loved ones to be able to get that degree for them.

When my father passed away he was completing his final semester of college. He’d tried getting a degree when he was 18 but dropped out and only went back for his degree in his 40s.

He worked hard for that degree. I remember the night he stayed up all night trying to work on some problem set for his logic class that had him–a normally brilliant man–stumped. And I remember reading his short stories he wrote because he was in a creative writing class that finally gave him an excuse to focus more on his writing. And I remember how much he loved studying Russian history. (I toted those text books of his around with me for twenty years after he died because they reminded me of him even though I really had no interest in peasant life in Russia in the 1800s.)

Pursuing that degree was something vitally important to my father. It was an opportunity he had been denied when he was younger but that he fully embraced when life finally gave him the chance to pursue it.

But he died before he could complete his degree.

And I, at the age of 18, and my brother , at the age of 22, were swamped with trying to unravel the remains of his life. We had no idea that it was even possible to get his degree granted posthumously and, honestly, it was the last thing on our minds at the time.

Fortunately, he’d been very close with one of his history professors and that professor made it happen.

I will forever be thankful to that person. Because after the fog of grief cleared I had that degree to help remember him by.

He was a tremendous father, a good man, a business owner who provided jobs to others, but that degree was one of the few things he did in his life that our society puts value upon. And I am so so grateful that his school granted that degree to him even though he died before he could walk the stage with all the other graduates.

Seriously people not everything is about cynicism and nihilism, you know.

Penguin Random House Rewards

Right up front: This is only something open to U.S. Residents, so sorry about that, but I just wanted to give a little shout out to the Penguin Random House Rewards program because today I was able to redeem my first reward to get a free copy of a hard cover book that was just released and costs $30.

How cool is that?

(I am not being paid for this, by the way, I just happen to be a reader first and foremost and I figured if anyone following this blog was as well then they should know about this.)

Here’s how it works:

Sign up here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/rewards/?

Then, when you buy PRH trade paperbacks (that would be the larger size ones) or hard covers, report your sales to them. For each qualifying book you get 10 points.

When you reach 120 points you get a code for a free book with a value of up to $30 that they ship you for free.

If you’re not sure if your books qualify, just type in the ISBNs of all of them you buy and it will let you know. I honestly have no idea when I’m buying a book who the publisher is, but it’s easy enough to type in each number and see if it takes it.

(As a side note to the PRH folks, I would personally collect all ISBNs from members and maybe give half a point or 1 point for non-qualifying titles because understanding what books other than yours your customers are purchasing is marketing gold. For every book I entered that was a qualifying PRH book I probably entered three that weren’t either because of format or publisher. But that’s me.)

Since I was going to buy the books I bought this year already it was a no-brainer for me to sign-up because all I had to do was log my purchases and now after six months I have a free book on its way to me. A book that I would not have bought in hard cover so get to read a year earlier than I would’ve otherwise.

(And, yes, if you do the math that means that I’ve bought about 50 books so far this year. What can I say? My coping mechanisms are books, bacon, ice cream, and Coke.)

If I hadn’t been able to order this one (Calling Bullshit by Carl T Bergstrom and Jevin D West), I had my eye on another one (Sword of Fire by Katherine Kerr) that I also probably won’t end up buying in hard cover but will eventually. So well worth the effort for me.

Of course, as I said at the top, this appears to be a U.S.-only program and you need to be purchasing not only print books but the trade paperback or hard cover size. Still. A good deal if you fall under that.

Would I Attend In-Person College This Fall?

If I were of college age right now would I choose to attend college this year?

Short answer: No. I’d take a year off.

Why?

Obviously there are the health risks of placing yourself in an environment with a bunch of young people known to make stupid decisions on a regular basis during the midst of a health crisis of unknown proportions. (If you doubt that young people make stupid decisions on a regular basis let me point you to pretty much any college party that involved alcohol that I’ve ever attended.)

Sure the fatality rate for younger individuals is pretty low, but the long-term health effects of getting this thing are not well known yet and some of them are not looking good at all.

(A recent study showed an incident of pretty high heart impact even for asymptomatic patients. That’s on top of all the respiratory, kidney, brain, blood clotting, general energy-level, etc. issues that have already been talked about elsewhere. And just yesterday I saw a tweet about a woman who’d had this four months ago, been released from the ICU, and then succumbed to the long-term effects months later.)

But it’s not actually the health impacts that would keep me at home. It’s how college is going to be structured this year.

At some point I may actually get around to writing a book on choosing whether to go to college and what type of college, etc. (I’ve been thinking about writing it for about three years now but just never have.) One of the key points I was going to make in that book is that the value of an elite education is only about 50% the actual education you receive.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that I was able to study the Quiche Maya language for a year and I even sort of kind of used it that one time I went to Guatemala and it’s a great party trick to be able to say “I went to market to buy a cow” in a language that has glottal stops. But, honestly, once I graduated I used maybe 10% of my class knowledge in the real world. (Have I ever used any of the calculus they required for my Econ degree? No. No, I have not.)

Completing my degrees showed that I was capable of discipline and intellectual rigor and learning and sticking to a challenging task for an extended period of time. But for my degrees (anthropology, psychology, and economics) the actual knowledge I learned was not needed for my career (securities regulation, consulting, writing).

I learned what I needed to know on the job. All my degrees did was tell my employers I’d be able to do that.

(For other degrees and careers that can work differently. This was just my experience. Even my writing training came from high school not college.)

I would say that another 25% of the value of a college degree from an elite school is in the reflected reputation of that school. People notice when someone says they went to Harvard or Princeton or Yale.

My freshman year I went to Rice University, which is an excellent school. When I told people that’s where I went they made a joke about rice being a food. When I transferred to Stanford and told people where I went to school they said, “Ooh, you must be smart.” (The only time that changed was when Chelsea Clinton was there and then they asked me if I’d ever met her.)

I got my first job out of college even though I was missing a key qualification because I’d graduated from Stanford. When I told my potential employer I’d fill in that missing accounting class they gave me the benefit of the doubt. If I’d gone to Joe Blow Community College they wouldn’t have even interviewed me with that qualification missing.

But for this conversation it’s the other 25% of the value that I think matters.

And that’s the connections you make during college with your fellow students. Those people in your classes and in your dorm and in your extracurricular activities. The ones you have a beer or a coffee with. The ones you observe and who observe you over the course of four years.

Some of it can be informal connections. You now know a person who does X and you can give them a call a few years later when you need access to someone who does X.

That happened with my MBA program. A few years after graduation someone I knew but wasn’t close friends with at school called with a consulting opportunity. They called me solely because of that school connection. Because they went looking for someone who knew X and I was part of their network.

But some of it can be much more profound. I have a number of friends who met their spouse during undergrad or grad school. Most of whom are still married to that person twenty years later.

I personally believe that someone’s choice of spouse is probably the most significant decision they will make in terms of career and wealth trajectory. Stable relationships support career progress. Unstable ones, can really set someone back. I have seen more than one career derailed by a bad divorce. And more than one divorce due to a mismatch between spouses.

I’ve also seen more than one career derailed by inappropriate behavior by someone who was single and looking in the wrong places for relationships.

College is one of the best times in your life for meeting people who are at the same level and headed in the same direction. The admissions board has pre-selected a promising pool of people for you to form both friendships and relationships with.

But given the current situation I think those kinds of informal networks will be crushed. No dropping by someone’s dorm room to hang out. No last-minute everyone pile into a car to go on a late-night adventure. No big parties to attend. (Or at least, there shouldn’t be. Not in the U.S. right now. Not unless you want to roll the dice on a double-lung transplant.)

So if it were me with a kid who was college-age right now, I’d say take the year off. Go back when you can have that full college experience. With the internet the world is full of opportunities even for someone who isn’t at college. Take some fun courses. Read books that have nothing to do with anything. Start a vlog. Start a Twitch channel. Whatever.

Pursue your passions this year, go to campus next year.

And if we’re in this same boat again next year? Well, the world will be a fundamentally different place at that point.

(Heck, I suspect that the world as Americans know it is going to be a fundamentally different place no matter what six months from now. So maybe that changes the whole calculation anyway.)

Amazon Taketh, Amazon Giveth

I logged onto my AMS dashboard today to find that I now have the option to show Kindle Unlimited page reads attributed to an ad, something people have been asking for for ages and ages. You can add it by customizing your columns and going to the very bottom of the list, assuming it’s available to you. I mentioned it on Kboards and someone said they didn’t see it, so it may be rolling out.

I don’t know how well it works or how timely it is because I’m not currently advertising any books that are in KU and it doesn’t look to be retroactive. I had ads running in the past on books that were in KU but activating that option didn’t display results for those old ads.

Nice that they added that since they took away displaying any associated sales that weren’t for the formats specifically listed in an ad. I get that a lot of people complained to them about that, but it would’ve been nice to leave the information available in a separate column somewhere.

(Maybe they’re trying to discourage people from using ad copy? Because the only way to list multiple formats, I believe, is to have an ad with no ad copy, but I could be wrong and am too lazy to go check right now.)

On one hand I’m glad that Amazon keeps trying to improve AMS. On the other hand, this is exactly why I ended up unpublishing my books on AMS ads. Because all of the practical, here’s how it works sections became outdated almost as soon as I wrote them.

One guarantee in this business: it is constantly changing.