Sunday, November 30, 2008

Digital publishing: gay books go al fresco

al fresco
1753, from It., lit. "in the fresh (air)." The It. al represents a contraction of words from L. ad "to" + ille "that." Alfresco also meant "painted on plaster that was still fresh or moist" (1764; see fresco). -

Imagine fiction ... gay fiction, any kind of fiction, in fact ... that was not sandwiched between covers, shrink wrapped for delivery, jammed onto shelves inside a store inside a mall in a city where the air pollution is so thick, it'd blunt razor blades.

Imagine fiction (gay if you like; and we do) that had no covers, was never shrink wrapped, never shelved, never saw the inside of a store or a mall.

What's wafting through your mind is the digital novel; and of all the new stuff on the net in the last couple of years, the concept of the digital novel is probably the one that's a) the most genuinely innovative, b) the most doable by people who are not programmers by trade, and c) the new "thing" that's the most likely to become a permanent fixture of online kulchure.

What the hell is a digital novel, anyway? Is it like an ebook?

Nope. It's a novel, sure enough ... but you don't download a PDF and read 400 pages all at once. Because you didn't buy the whole novel in one hit. In fact, you didn't buy the novel at all.

The digital novel is virtually free. It's split into 2,000 word chunks and uploaded, post-fashion, to a blog. You log on every day for the next installment ... download it to your iWhatsit, or your phone, or Blackberry, or whatever the hell you're using to read on the bus and/or train. And you're good to go. You become a collector of this serial-novel. Over the months, the whole thing goes together to make one fantastic great opus which you've enjoyed in bite-sized chunks.

The deal is, at least once, you remember the author and/or artist who's supplying your new habit, and made a donation -- the princely sum of $1.

The theory goes, maybe twenty thousand readers will enjoy the hell of this chunk-served novel, because it's FREE, and it's a great read, and everyone tells their friends and shares the fun far and wide. The more the merrier. A fantastic time is had by all, and if everyone were to click that little $1 button just once ... the writer (for example, Mel Keegan...!) would earn a hell of a lot more out of this project than would ever be earned out of a "proper" contract with a "proper" publisher.

I have to admit, this interests me strangely. I mentioned the other day, I've been wondering for a year or more about -- seriously! -- giving the fiction away and making a living on the ads. The problems with this became painfully apparent about this time last year, when Google turned homophobic --

A click on the Google Ads which appear on a gay or gay-friendly page earns LESS THAN 1c, while a click on any other page earns maybe .25c.

I write gay fiction. If I gave the fiction away via webpages, it would therefore take 100 clicks to earn me $1 ... you'd need 1000 clicks a week to earn $10!

But suppose -- just suppose -- that readers were inclined to be fair, and give the $1 button a single click in exchange for a 600pp novel ... ahhh. The whole equation changes.

AND Google didn't get to make $2.50 for some ad that was clicked, and pay the publisher (me) a penny. Adsense Ads on gay-friendly pages is a corrupt system, to which I hate contributing. If there were any other way to get the Googlebot to come visit ASAP without pasting the ads to my pages, believe me, I'd do it!

[I'm going to wander off topic for a while now ... the following is for pro bloggers, website publishers, and wannabe digital novelists, esp. if any of the above feature gay-friendly pages:]

However, every time one looks for a Google-free solution to this, one runs headfirst into trouble. About ten days ago, I tried something called Pingomatic ... ... and Google flogged me to tatters. This blog was scoring 30 - 90 visitors per day before the flirtation with Pingomatic ... Ma Goog knocked me down to single digits as a punishment for using the third-party service. I used Pingomatic for four days, of the recommendation of a web guru who swore up and down that it was A VeryGood Thing to ping the major search engines and blog search services as soon as you update your blog. Like throwing a switch, POW! The Googlebot stopped indexing me, and my "rankings" went down like a brick, meaning, only the regular readers were swinging by. There's about 30 folks out there who read Keegan every few days, but it's a (sad?) fact that 90% of traffic comes from search engines ... and 99% of all searches are via The Goog. In other words, Google owns us all. Uh, deal with it. So, if anyone reading this is trying to build up their blog traffic, either to blog professionally or, like me, to increase awareness of their product -- in my case, a book list -- take my advice: leave services like Pingomatic alone! Ma Goog doesn't like them, and she will hurt you. Big time. It takes about a week or two for your traffic to start to come back, and the whole thing is a major pain in the bum. The last time I went through this was when I had a brief flirtation with AdBrite, which pays better than Goog, for ads on gay-friendly pages ... the problem is, Google will give you a caning for having AdBrite ads -- their competitor. Your traffic just vanishes. You can score as low as 0. What good is having the potential to earn 20c per click, when you have no visitors?! Just grasp the fact that Google owns us all, and play within their rules. So: have Google ads on your gay-friendly pages NOT because they will pay you more than 1c for a click (they won't), but because the Googlebot indexes your pages almost instantly if there are ads on them ... why do they do this? Because THEY can make from $1 to $100 for every click, whilst paying the publisher as little as 1c. And don't use third party services like Pingowhatever. And just be up-front with your readers and ask for a one-off $1 donation in exchange for a serial that ran for six months with the equivalent of a 600pp novel!

So (getting back onto topic!) while ebooks as a medium are surging, with growth rates in sales that are making publishers blink ... there is an even newer innovation. The fiction is FREE. All we ask is that folks drop a coin in the box on their way out the door. Ebooks are terrific ... but they can also be expensive. Why would I want to pay $20 for a new novel, and then fry my eyeballs in front of a monitor screen?! But your free fiction, now ... that's a whole different ball game.

And if Nostrakeeganus were to make a prediction? Well, in two years or five years from now, we'll all be reading ebooks, not paper ... and the digital novel will be an old, entrenched, respected institution, where writers and readers have both attained perfect freedom: there isn't even an ebook publisher between them. Not even a download manager like Payloadz, much less a POD printshop like Just a blog to bookmark, and a PayPal button that you, the delighted reader, click one time, while you share the URL for these gratis goodies with your friends.

You gotta like this. And yes, I'm very, very interested.

Stay tuned!


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday morning subjectivity

More good news this morning, this time from POD printshop ... they're looking at the problem which began here: and continued here: ...!

(We've been on the brink of giving up on the "get Keegan to Amazon" project. In fact, we were actually within 24 hours of going to Merchant Card Services and reversing the credit card transaction for the proof copy that was ordered waaaay back on 11/19, to see if that would get the attention of someone at CreateSpace! And then --)

Yes! We got an email this morning: a human being (as opposed to a java'bot) is looking at the problem, and the proof copy of FORTUNES OF WAR has been printed and shipped, as of 11/29. This a great news -- half the problem is now fixed.

So, if CreateSpace can just get a real, live software technician to un-gridlock the shopping cart, we can get our oars back in the water! (And yes, we do indeed appreciate that specialists don't work weekends and double-don't work Thanksgiving weekend: patience is a virtue.)

In other news -- don't miss the sample chapters from LORDS OF HARBENDANE, which went online yesterday:, and also ...

The actual preview page for the 2009 Calendar went up on the main website yesterday: The page looks a treat, and there is one specific montage image which is so stunning, I'm going to paste it in here:

This gives you a really good look at the color-saturated beauty of the thing. Lovely.

Right now, we're working on webpage updates for the main site ... I'm giving some serious thought to hiving off, here, and having a special "writing blog," or maybe a "writing and publishing" blog, which would leave The World According to Yours Truly to wander through a wide variety of subjects, as suits me on the day. I've always been very much aware that the "subject" of this blog is, well, Keegan, and my posts ought to have SOMETHING to do with my books, characters, universes, or at least the writing and publishing side of it. In recent months, though, I've wandered off into politics, religion, photography --

And the "experts" do tell me that this is the kiss of death for a blog! You're supposed to pick a subject and stick to it. Now they tell me.

Well ... rats. Or even oops. (But I did stick to a subject: the subject was Keegan! Thin argument there, Mel. Anorexic.)

It's been suggested to me that I need to edit the hell out of this blog, probably split it up into several different blogs! This would be ... a lot of work, to put it mildly. It would be a job for the new year, if it happens. It's almost easier to start another one! Almost. Not quite.

Another thing that interests me strangely is the world of the "digital novel." Have you even heard if this? Millions of people have ... about ten times more blog surfies have not -- yet -- cottoned onto this. I stumbled over this two days ago, and it's one of those ideas that bubbles and simmers in the back of your mind.

A digital novel is, essentially, a novel uploaded to a blog in ~2,000 word chunks. It would take something like 100 posts to put up a loooong novel; people can then save the post (which is in html format, obviously) and read it on their various devices. They can save the segments. They come back every day for a new one. A very long series might run for a year.

What would Keegan get out of this? Well, there'd be a $1 donation button in the margin, and about 1% of visitors would (statistically) give it a click. If you're getting 100,000 visitors a month (the top-of-the-range digital novels get a LOT more than that, incidentally), you can make enough in donations to get interesting. (I might have been skeptical about this, but it's happening out there. People have broken trail ahead of us all, and proved it out. It works. Nobody pays more than a tiny sum, everybody gets tons of essentially free fiction, and the author, over the space of a year or more, gets to earn some quite reasonably royalties. It, uh, works.)

Now, it happens that I do have several novels which are so long, it's ridiculous. One of them would be 1,200pp if printed as a paperback; another would be 900pp. Big, steamy, lush, luscious, "unputdownable," extremely gay novels, serialized, free ... and just give me a $1 click on the donation button now and then, thanks, people. Food for thought, isn't it?!

So I'm thinking about it. Seriously. There is a real possibility that I might just be able to put up a sign soon,


I'll, uh, keep you posted!

Now, I have to get some work done before I head out for Christmas shopping after lunch.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Lords of Harbendane - sample readings online...!

Here's the best news I've had to giv all week: sample readings for THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE are up, right here, and the book will be available in 'e' form next week!

You've previewed the cover on the blog here, and seen the map. The ISBN was awarded last week, and the first two chapters are yours for the clicking.

Just a brief disclaimer: be aware that THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE is a gay fantasy novel. The first couple of chapters are not in any way explicit, but they're specific about gay relationships, and you know it's going to get steamy later on. So ... consider youreself warned, and if you'll be PO'd in any way, don't download. Right. Nuff said -- let's get to the goodies:

Download the first 31pp of the book -- including cover set-up pages and map! (PDF document; file size is 1600kb, due to the cover and map graphics.)



Art, Thanksgiving, and who'll design the future?

Just trivia this morning. Blogging in a vacuum is an interesting experience: nothing is happening here worth writing about ...

Update: we're still waiting for any response from Create Space, and as we go into the time frame of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, we don't expect to have the situation resolved at CS till about next Tuesday our time, which will be December 2! In other words, a javascript hiccup in the shopping cart routine at CS will have taken two WEEKS to resolve, and the whole publication process stopped dead for the duration. *sigh*

Anyway: it's all par for the course in the labyrinth of getting a long backlist to Amazon, so ... you live and learn. Tough it our, right?!

Meanwhile -- Happy Thanksgiving to American readers! I actually spent Thanksgiving in the States on one or two occasions, and it's a whole lot of fun, what with the huge meal and the falling asleep in front of the football game. Also a lovely time of the year: late fall, with winter right around the corner, and Christmas in the back of your mind.

And for a dose of Americana, you can't go past the new JC Leyendecker art book. Joe Leyendecker was the conceptual artist who virtually designed what America looked like between about 1910 and 1950, and much of what we still know, today, as the quintessential handsome American male was designed by Joe.

Here's the interesting part (at least for gay readers). For most of his adult life, JC lived with the male model whose face and bod were probably the most famous in the nation ... the young dude who modelled for the "Arrow Shirts" campaigns. The model, Charles Beach, attained superstar status -- he was quite literally the Brad Pitt of his day. And was thoroughly shacked up with the artist. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. See the image right below...

In fact, Brendan Fraser's character of Rick O'Connell is probably based on Charles Beach in the shirt ads. In fact, it's a pretty safe bet that when the productions designers for THE MUMMY movies were trying to nail down the "look and feel" of the era, they made a bee-line for Joe Leyendecker's work. Check this out:

Reminds you of someone you know, right? For a lot more (and a lot of scans!) from the new book, go here:

Leyendecker designed the mid-20th century, the way Syd Mead can be said to have designed the age we're living into (or hoping to survive into!) right now now. If you're not familiar with Mead's work, give yourself a serious treat:

It does take a while to load because if the Flash splash, but it's well worth it. I have the old SENTINEL artbook, which was produced by US Steel about, oh, 30 years ago, and I still use it as a source of inspiration for the visual component of SF writings. It's amazing the way a couple of pivotal conceptual artists have literally designed our world. Makes you wonder who the next artist will be, and what 2050 will look like.

Anyway -- this is very much on my mind as I go into the early pre-production work on the new HELLGATE books. I'll be writing both the remaining novels back-to-back, and this will be my pet project for 2009. I might, mind you might, do the HELLGATE novels before I get into the haunted house story. Sorry about this, guys: I know I've been promising you the haunted house book for six months, but -- seriously! -- since I'm not on any contract, I go where the muse takes me. And he, she or it is taking me in the direction of, uh, the worlds of Hellgate.

More on that later.

Many thanks indeed to the folks who have given us feedback on the new calendar. Yes, I am thrilled with the results, and it's kudos to both Jade for the artwork, and for the printing, both of which are absolutely superb:

To answer the most-oft-asked questions: the software used to produce the calendar itself was Serif page Plus 10; and the artwork was produced in Micrographx Picture Publisher 7, and Irfanview. If you want to know more, by all means ask, and I'll bump questions on to Jade. I keep saying, the artist ought to have a blog too, but so far, my words are falling on deaf ears. We can hope, right?

image: Serif - Software with Imagination

(Yep, that's an affiliate link. Serif is the driving force behind the production work of so much that we do -- when people ask how it's done, and with what, we recommend Serif. So we might as well sell it, right? Forgive the commercial ... in fact, it answers rafts of questions by itself.)

For the moment, Happy Thanksgiving to American readers!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mel Keegan 2009 Calendar ... out now!

Good news at last: the Mel Keegan 2009 Calendar is out as of ... now!

A dozen color-saturated images ... month-per-day dating ... US, UK and Aussie dates.

Here's a sneak preview -- and the order button is right below. Ordered now, it'll be delivered in time for Christmas to clients anywhere in North America or Europe.

Preview the whole thing here:

Click on these pics for a larger view:

Support independent publishing: buy this calendar on Lulu. Retails for $17.49 plus shipping.

This one is an absolute beauty ... kudos to Jade for absolutely fantastic work throughout!


The Road to the pavement is up -- be prepared to STOP!

For those folks who're following the situation, an update: we're still waiting for any sensible communication from Customer Service, and we've been waiting for a week. At this point, I would have to say that my opinion of the Create Space service is rapidly going down. A couple of weeks ago, I'd have rated them five stars out of five, on top of the heap as per POD printing. Now, they're getting 3.5, and I'll be honest, if they were not the only road to available to publishers who live in a CNA (Country Not America), I'd be looking around.

Don't get me wrong: the product is superb; the road to Amazon is clearly marked and has (to this point) been easy to travel. This is the first time a major problem in the automatic system has come up ... and we've been stalled for a week. Our "Christmas market" just slithered away for Keegan's new book (The Lords of Harbendane), and we're no closer to getting the problem fixed now than we were eight days ago.

I'm far from happy, but there's very little a publisher in a CNA can do about this --

A few weeks ago I tagged myself onto an indie publishing group at Google Groups. All kinds of POD so-called"solutions" were recommended to me, including one which comes (apparently) highly recommended, -- Blitz Print. Hell of a nice website, and recommended over all over by -- Ink Tree.

On Ink Tree's recommendation, I went to Blitz and asked for the free printing quote. It can't hurt to ask, right?

Wouldn't it be nice if people would have the common courtesy to REPLY, even (or especially) if the answer is as simple as "Sorry, we don't deal with customers outside the Americas." If they only ship to Canada, the US and Mexico -- how much would it cost to say so? How hard would it be to post a notice on their very nice website to this effect?! Their drop-down location picker shows Can, US and "other." I mean, come on, guys: "other" could mean Outer Mongolia.

In other words, Blitz print doesn't deal with POD clients in CNAs, and doesn't have the manners to reply when the answer is "sorry, can't do business with you." That's not the way to build up a sound reputation!

Shipping-destination wise, the same is true of Lightning Source (who are up front and honest on their webpage), Booklocker, and every other POD "solution" we've looked at. They're only solutions for publishers in America. If you're in a CNA, you're apparently stuck with as your road to, because is way too expensive to allow for the massive discounting required by at point-of-sale.

So, right now, we're toughing it out, because CreateSpace is the only way to go. I hope to be able to bump them back to five stars out of five shortly ... maybe this problem is anomalous?? Maybe it's system-wide at CreateSpace, and they're so slammed, they're working flat out and don't have a customer service bod available to reply??

I'll tell you this much, though: I wish were cheaper, because their POD system is virtually foolproof, and their Customer Service department is like lightning!

I'll keep you posted -- and might be posting a second time today, with some screenshots from the "Mel Keegan 2009 Calendar" which is being published at even as I type.

Ciao for now,

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday waffles

The world on Wednesday is "business as usual" -- meaning, orderly chaos. Since I'm still blogging in the vacuum, I'll restrict myself to an update, and let you get back to your life!

If you've been following the CreateSpace situation in the last couple of days, you'll be interested to know that we are STILL WAITING for any intelligent response from Customer Service. At this point, we've been waiting for six days, with a jammed, gridlocked shopping cart and no ability to publish a new project -- with Christmas looming just weeks away, and the whole CreateSpace-Amazon "process" taking a month!

For the backstory on this:

As Queen Victoria was heard to say on more than one occasion, "We are not amused."

We'll keep you posted.

And speaking of being posted: it just hit us (like the proverbial load of bricks) why the USPS parcel rates have shot up ... the carbon tax applied to airlines. When you ship a person (say, 60kg) from the US or UK to Aus or NZ (say, 10,000km), the tax converts to around A$275. That's A$6.25 per kilo of weight, per one-way trip. Parcels make one-way trips. And this is pretty much EXACTLY what the USPS price rise measured.


Okay: grin and bear it -- it's for the planet. So -- so long as the megabucks raised by the carbon tax are spent on planting trees, restoring river systems, cleaning up waterways, enforcing "carbon reinjection" in the oil and coal-to-liquid industries ... fair enough. Get a Mel Keegan novel shipped to Australia, and you probably paid to plant a couple of trees. And that's cool. Puts the additional cost in a different, more acceptable light.

(The other possibility is that the carbon tax funds will be used to prop up corrupt governments and mega corporations which are too rich to begin with. This is not so cool, but only time will tell which way this particular barrow-load of manure is going to hit the ventilators.)

In other news, AUSTRALIA opened overnight ... and the critics are just short of getting out the pistols and taking pot-shots at each other: they're so widely divided, the movie is either phenomenal or rubbish, depending on who you listen to.

I'll have to wait till I see it. It opens here momentarily; the critics' preview was last week, and Aussie critics were just as divided as the Americans. Here's the best roundup of the US critical voice:,26278,24709251-5013560,00.html

By the sounds of it -- and being cautious and charitable -- AUSTRALIA looks like it's been fractionally overcooked, with some CGI effects here and there that don't quite work, and if you don't like Nicole Kidman, you're going to find 165 minutes of her tough to endure. To balance all that out, Hugh Jackman is verrrrry nice eye candy, and from what I've seen of the trailers, there's a lot more CGI stuff that does work than doesn't ... and the scenery, panoramic and color saturated as it is, will be advantaged by the big screen.

I'll hold my tongue on the subject till I've seen it.

Last note for today: We're putting the finishing touches to the 2009 Mel Keegan Calendar, which will be produced be -- NOT Zazzle, because is way too expensive on calendars. I'll be posting again with a "show and tell" about this project, which should be available for Christmas ... Lulu being a helluva lot faster than either CreateSpace (who don't do calendars anyway) and Zazzle.

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday morning blues

Good news and -- well, not "bad" but "very ordinary" news, today.

The good news first: NOCTURNE has been reviewed at Rainbow Reviews, which rated the book at five stars: Many thanks to RR for the review and the recommendation: greatly appreciated! If you don't know the site, do visit, when you get a chance to surf. Loads of fun, very informative, and also a most attractive site.

The "very ordinary news" is that after waiting five days for a response from Create Space about their gridlocked, jammed shopping cart and the order for a proof copy that got lost in the cracks between here and there (credit card having been billed, but no sign of the order in the system!) we got a response back today ... and the customer service guy hadn't read enough of our message to know what the problem was. His advice: go back and check out properly.

Sound of head bashing on wall and high-pressure steam blasting out of ears.

Yes, we -- pleasantly and politely -- messaged again. now, we wait some more. An actual human being is going to have to track down the order and re-set the cart before the system is going to work again ... and when it's finally been sorted out, I'll keep you updated. I know several folks at least are watching this process, because -- frankly, you learn more when things go wrong that you learn when everything is smooth and silky. Which is why I never mind a few problems -- so long as they do get fixed in a timely manner.

Anyway -- LORDS OF HARBENDANE is "on hold," waiting for problems to be solved. And the truth is, it's already crossed the critical threshold, beyond which it can't possibly make it to for Christmas.

See also:

So, this is where we are on Tuesday morning ... also waiting for a guy to come and service the dishwasher, which is doing disgusting things ... and waiting (hoping) for rain. There's supposed to be a shower or two this afternoon, which will be fantastic, if it happens...

Other than all this, I'm blogging in a complete vacuum, so we'll keep it short and sweet (the way lemons are sweet, right?) today -- and if something great happens this afternoon, I might blog a second time.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Hiccups in the Create Space process

All roads lead to Amazon ... and some of them seem to have rucks and potholes. Now and then, a work gang hauls out the jackhammers and digs them up --

FORTUNES OF WAR is about halfway to ... and stalled, dead in the water, pending an actual living human being at fixing a problem in the automatic system. And of course, it would have to happen at the weekend!

One of the (few) shortcomings of Create Space is that they don't work weekends. They try to get back to your emails with an answer inside of 24 hours, but in fact, it can take 48 ... which means, if you have a problem late-ish on Thursday, you can wait till the following Monday to get an acknowledgment of it, much less get it fixed.

This is where FORTUNES OF WAR is at this point: suspended in limbo, about halfway between the prep work to set up the book, and that halcyon day when, having received and approved the proof, you can click on the "Go!" button, and start the remaining 14-day process of getting the book into the, engine.

The hiccup seems to have occurred in the shopping cart routine -- the whole thing is automatic; might be Java, I don't have much idea of the system them use, and there are so many these days, it could be virtually anything.

You clicked on 'check out,' and 'confirm order' ... and the system seemed to hang; it cycled and cycled for a loooong time (maybe 20 minutes) and then the whole computer gridlocked. You rebooted the system, and had a look at your email account: phew! There's the order confirmation ... good golly, it went through anyway!

Or did it? Because now you try to do the upgrade to the Pro Package for your next book (which is AQUAMARINE -- therefore this one also is stuck in the same limbo!) and -- whoopsie, what's this? There's FORTUNES OF WAR, still in the shopping cart.

So you try to adjust the cart to delete the proof you already ordered (not wanting to drop another A$42 for a second copy) -- you get an error page; gridlock. So you groan and accept the $42 rabbit-chop and try to check out ... you get an error page stating, "this order has already been processed."

So, you can't check out, can't adjust the cart. Right. Next: you contact Customer Support with a report of the whole thing, including order numbers and the entire sheebang. And, uh, wait.

Monday morning, downunder is still Sunday in the States, on account of the dateline situation. What concerns me right now is, Create Space didn't send an autoresponder "ping" with a "ticket number" issued for the original message ... which makes me wonder if we made contact with Customer Support at all, three days ago. We have to wait another day before querying.

So, this Monday morning you find Keegan performing hair-tearing-out activities and bashing skull against nearest wall.

The downside to this is -- it's making THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE late. Till this whole thing is solved, no new book can be processed through CreateSpace: they won't release a new book to without sending you a proof (the aforementioned A$42 process -- including postage obviously).

So, the earliest we could be "clearing" HARBENDANE for would be something like December 12 -- after which takes around 14 more days to bring the book alive in its engine and shopping pages.

Means THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE will "go live" at ... after Christmas.

This is not good news, and it's not what was promised to readers who've been waiting for the book. We apologise profusely, and/but what we can do about it is beyond me.

The novel WILL be available as an ebook in plenty of time for Christmas.

The copy will be online about five days after the ebook is released.

The release will have to wait until 2009, which drives you bonkers, but ... what can you do? Apologies all around, folks. The unforeseen has a nasty habit of happening -- and it just did.

Better news, and amusing stuff tomorrow.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Writers beware: it's just another scam

Everyone has a pet peeve, so it's no surprise MK should have one too. They're more ubiquitous than poodles, cost less to feed than gerbils and don't bite the way hamsters are inclined to. So, naturally, everybody has at least one pet peeve; some folks have several. I have ... a few, I admit; but the one I want to talk about today lives in the closet like Binkley's Giant Purple Snorklewacker, and periodically beats on the door and demands to be let out in broad daylight.

Like today.

And here it is: it's the "I can teach you how to be a successful writer in 12 easy lessons, no matter if you've never put pen to paper before, and instantly you'll be a successful, published, paid writer. All you gotta do is pay me US$49.95, and you can start living the life of your dreams."

There are SCORES of these offers on the Internet at any one time, and HUNDREDS of them cycling through in any two-year period. And one presumes that there enough takers out there, each with the IQ of linguine, for the publishers of these courses to make their hundred grand or quarter mill, and skeedaddle out of the field before rampaging armies of glazed-eyed, torch-wielding, would-be writers come storming up the driveway demanding their refund.

At this specific juncture in the unfolding of this particular universe, the whole industry is epitomized by one specific page, in which every single rotten, lousy stunt is pulled. I was sent the URL for it, and I am disgusted to the point where I'm extremely tempted to just paste in that URL and let you have the whole thing.

However, I fully expect to be sued if I did that, so ... taking a deep breath, we'll do it this way: I'm not going to name names, I'm not going to give any URLs. But I am going to tell you what to Google to pull up the page -- and probably 50 pages just like it.

Google something along the lines of "write for quick cash," and "write get published get cash" and "zero effort writing quick cash" ... and you'll find your way there. You'll know it when you see it. It's the one screaming this heading: "Earn BIG MONEY for 5 MINUTES of WRITING!"

Yeah, sure.

The above high-density keywords should speak volumes to you. Writing ... zero effort ... quick cash ... get published.

And here is my pet peeve: I've spent thirty years honing my skills. I'm editing my own latest novel right now, and after thirty years of experience, I'm still turning my work inside out in the editing to make it not just good, but as close to flawless as possible. After three decades of writing everything from poetry to film scripts, I can tell you that virtually everything on this entrepreneur's "squeeze page" (as they're called because they're designed to squeeze money out of you) is balloon juice.

One of this entrepreneur's "hot tips" is that you can make MOVIE PITCHES. "Write three lines" and get your name on the next blockbuster movie. Seriously -- I'm not having you on here, this is an actual "tip" on this squeeze page!

It might have been true forty years ago -- I doubt it. ("From an idea by" would have been your credit.) Here's the cold, hard facts: in today's Hollywood, YOU CAN NOT MAKE MOVIE PITCHES without having an "in" at a studio. You cannot make movie pitches even if you HAVE an "in," without being INVITED to make the pitch; and most producers and directors won't even look at a letter which doesn't come from a reputable agency.

How do I know this? Because I *do* make movie pitches. I've been making them for 15 YEARS. I'm part of a writing partnership that *has* a reputable agency and *is* invited to pitch. I've lost count of the number of scripts that have "done the rounds" in the last decade. If we'd sold something major, you'd know about it.

It's like selling a book to a major publisher. Your chances of breaking in and getting a sale worth significant money have recently been estimated at one in nine hundred thousand. It's that proverbial one in a million shot.

This entrepreneur spends considerable percentages of his "squeeze page" space talking about selling "letters to the editor." Such magazine inclusions routinely pay $5 to $50, if you're lucky ... 99% of magazines and newspapers pay nothing. Those that do pay are inundated.

The next recommendation is to look at writing jingles, little poems, for greetings cards -- Hallmark and John Sands, that kind of thing. However, these companies have STAFF WRITERS ... you'll find that you're selling your little verses to much lesser companies who will pay about $1 per line. A four line verse -- $4.

And as for the next tip, "writing captions for photographs" ... editors do this themselves, on the fly, when they're setting type. Next: writing captions for your own photos. Go right ahead ... and then climb aboard another treadmill -- now you're trying to sell your photos. Have you ever tried?! Have fun.

The steam really starts to explode out of my ears when this entrepreneur gets onto the subject of short story writing (not to mention articles and reviews), and then selling comedy to TV.

All I can say to you is, if you believe this spiel ("How you can turn your sense of humor into a STEADY STREAM of PAYCHECKS!"), then go ahead and try it. Take a shot at selling your comedy sketches to television or radio. You'll come back down to earth so hard, people have been known to break their legs.

And I'm going to close on something so stupid, I'm speechless: "A Web site where you can SUBMIT any number of MOVIE IDEAS for a modest one-time fee and get them pitched on your behalf to Hollywood producers."

Believe me (or not, if you don't consider thirty years in the business is enough to know what I'm talking about), Hollywood producers get pitched about 100 scripts PER DAY, via agencies who take them to lunch, to dinner, for drinks, on vacation ... via writers who have already sold movies and TV series, by directors who have STAFFS of writers online ... and by actors who own their own production companies (like Brad Pitt and his Plan B). Movie studios do not, nor have they ever, nor WILL they ever turn to amateur websites for movie ideas.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Every writer gets 100 for every one we write; every producer sees 500 scripts for every one for which he bids for the rights. And very often, the producer, director and writer are the SAME PERSON.

What burns my cookies is that there are people out there in the world who work for the minimum wage (maybe $5 per hour), eat noodles for a month, and pay US$49.95 to an Internet entrepreneur for an ebook full of complete drivel, and then try their hearts out and maybe get $10 here for a published letter (where the bloody magazine cost them $11.95 to buy a copy, in order to get the submission info!!), and maybe $8 for a verse sold to a greetings card company -- where the cost of postage on the paperwork, and maybe an interstate phonecall to get the sale, exceeded the income.

There, I feel better now. Pardon me for letting off steam. You can tell this is something I feel very strongly about. Strongly enough to be thinking seriously about having a second blog -- an actual "writing blog" where the focus of the whole thing is ... writing. They do say that you oughtta blog about something over which you can get passionate.

[The cartoon is from the Bloom County comic anthology Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things, by Berke Breathed. All rights acknowledged to BB and Little, Brown.]

Ciao for now,

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Is the Wall Street crunch biting Google? The rest of us were lunch long ago!

As we put the finishing touches to THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE, we've been looking at the price of copies from Amazon and so forth ... and US postage rates ... and the continuing Wall Street slump ... and the recession that's hitting the world like a Mack truck. Customers stopped shopping for luxury goods a while ago, and even online business are suffering. Make no mistake: everyone, everywhere, is touting for business. Even Google itself is starting to make noises to see if they can scare up fresh business!!

A newsletter arrived in one of our mailboxes (don't ask me which) this morning ... from Google Money Pro, or something -- what makes the name stick in my mind is that the acronym is (!) GMP. Which amused me greatly.

The gist of the newsletter was (and it's already been trashed, so I can't copy/paste it and quote directly), "Ever wondered why big-time Internet marketers make money, and you don't? Give us [an undisclosed sum] and we'll sign you up for a course, and show you how to make money out of (whatever; more than likely Adsense when you get right down to cases)."

Literal translation: "Give us $500 (or whatever it turns out to be ... they wouldn't tell you until they had you on a string, and you have to make a TRANS-PACIFIC PHONE CALL to get yourself into this deal) and we'll show you how you can make more money from selling your stuff, and/or the ads you're carrying on your pages."

There are so many problems inherent in this, it hardly bears thinking about. Your money will probably not be refundable, if the scheme doesn't work, because the operative word in the above pitch has three letters. C. A. N. Wait till you try to get a refund; the company lawyer will be swift to tell you, there were no guarantees -- what, you didn't read the fine print?!

Another guru whose newsletter arrived in one of the mailboxes the other day says words along the lines of, "The income will take care of itself, once you have a lot of traffic." The direct statement is very much appreciated! It's how to get the traffic that's got everyone absolutely stumped.

A year ago, the answer was, "Keep it real, keep it keyword rich, get your on-page criteria right, build content, content, content, get some high-quality inbound links, get into the Directories, and leave the rest to Google." This is the SBI! model, and one imagines it worked like a charm in 2006 and 2007. They sell their package for Can$300 per year as a subscription to their services, engines, servers, forums and so forth.

The trouble is, it doesn't work so well these days. You can have sites and blogs with many hundreds of pages of top-notch material, keyword rich, and superbly crafted; and they score 10 visitors a day. In total. Not each. 500 pages of tip-top content, impeccably built ... scoring 10 visitors between them all.

Now, since it takes about 250 page impressions to average a "click" on a Google ad -- for which they pay the publisher something in the regions of maybe 20c (could be 10c, could be 30c ... so long as it's not an ad on a gay-friendly page; those pay 1c or less) ... well, you can see how long it'll take you to get any money out of this. Do you recall an old saying, something about it being less problematical to get blood out of a chunk of rock, or a turnip, or something!

In other words -- bottom line time -- it's all about getting traffic; it's damned hard; nobody really knows how to do it ... though a lot of "gurus" will be happy to take $49.95 from you today, to tell you their "sure fire system" ... and even Google itself is sending out newsletters, trying to scare up some new customers!

Uh ... huh.

As you'll have noticed, we use StatCounter to monitor site traffic, and through their pages we discovered there's also something of a horror story happening behind the scenes. It's something called "click fraud," and it's turned into a billion dollar industry -- absolutely illegal, of course, and thriving in places like Nigeria, Romania, India, Russia. Have a look at this:

It's not just the article itself which is gob-smacking, it's the users' comments which flow on.

For example:
Maya Says: November 6th, 2008 at 1:37 pm
I will take the opportuinity of this post to send my message to Google accounts who disabled my Adsense account recently for invalid clicks without any explanation or warning. After they disabled my Adsense account it occured to me to check my Adwords accounts only to discover that I paid $ thousands for click fraud so I stopped all my ads. I lost 2 months revenue in Adsense and Google would not discuss or tell you why, because as they say, this would help people learn how Google detects click fraud. Let me tell you that any techniques based on IP address and cookies they are using are useless. These things can be reset every second these days and I can give you simple software that can do this. IN FEW WORDS, PAY PER CLICK ADVERTISING DOES NOT WORK ANYMORE.

James Says: November 6th, 2008 at 4:14 pm
My business has been killed by click fraud. I quite a lot of research on the issue and click fraud is big business that is perpetrated by well organised, very sophisticated and determined criminal organisations.
Google has long stopped repeated clicks from the same IP. More likely the clicks are coming from compromised computers (botnets - of which there are millions in the world) or click farms, etc.
To identify click fraud look for spikes in Click through rate and especially Cost Per thousand impressions (CPM). However, these are less useful as indicators as there is now large scale impression fraud (as I say, the people who do this are very sophisticated).
If you find your company being killed (as I did), Google (which profits from click fraud and therefore has no incentive to do anything about it) will do absolutely nothing to help you.
Pay per click is one of the biggest frauds the world has ever seen.

Be warned, there's also an increasing amount of banana oil gathering in the sump below the original article. Some of it, from at least one poster on the Subcontinent, sounds borderline racist, certainly phobic about foreigners with "strange names," and "faraway places" like the US! Certain other commentators are becoming snide and/or idiotic as the discussion goes on, but by and large there's some interesting stuff and the real gist of this is ... PPC is not just a waste of time, it's dangerous too!

In fact, here's an ad that's just started to run ... you want to put money into online advertising, when THIS is going to happen?!!

However, none of this changes the fact that selling product online (wetsuits, meatballs, second hand cars ... gay thrillers!) starts with TRAFFIC, and these days the old traffic-generation models don't seem to work anymore.

Keep it real, with rich with keywords. Have hundreds of pages, all of the optimized to be irresistible to the search engines. Get good-quality inbound links. Be in the directories.

Right now, there's a chorus of voices being raised around the world: "Done and done. Where's the traffic?" Because the model was followed to the letter, and you're still scoring five visitors!

The chances are, it's all down to a handful of statistics. Bear with me...

There are more webpages than there are people on this planet -- not counting blog posts; but since blog posts feature in Google searches, you'd have to say there are probably three pages for every person on the planet. Google searches offer 10 results per page. The average surfer apparently only looks at PAGE ONE. The exceptional surfer (say, yours truly) looks at the top 3-5. The "get your site onto Google Page One" models have now been touted for years, and SBI! alone claims over 100,000 happy customers. So, there are probably about ten million people worldwide, working on the same system of "reality, keywords, content, impeccable on-page criteria, inbound links, Directory listings."

Fair go, guys: they can't all win. Lately, you probably have about 100 sites about -- for example -- the French language, all of them meeting the Google search criteria to a perfect tee. They'd fill the TOP TEN pages -- but the specialists insist that average surfer only looks at page one. And the first page is almost certainly going to be dominated by 1) Wiki, 2) Bookstores selling how-to books, 3) colleges offering courses for a grand a pop.

Fine, if you're a bookstore or a college ... but subsequent pages will be full of MORE colleges and MORE bookstores ... and somewhere about page 15 or 20, the incredibly exceptional surfer would get down to the personal pages that s/he really wanted, pages which have a lot to say without asking for money right off the bat ... sites which offer something as a trade: you give me your time, I'll give you my info -- and if you wanna click on an ad while you're in my neck of the woods, well, that would be lovely!

It's all about traffic ... and for sites which don't form an interface for a major online book dealer (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, whatever, wherever), or a college, the website publisher is more than likely fighting an uphill battle which the existing traffic-generation models can't win -- not because they're not sound ideas: they are! But too many people have bought into the system, and they can't all win. If Google gives 10 results per page, and there are 100 "winners," all of whom followed the cookbook instructions perfectly ...

The field is open, right now, for The Next Monster Idea. The guy (or gal) who can figure out how to direct traffic will make a gajillion dollars.

Um ... anyone got any ideas?!

Ciao for now,

Friday, November 21, 2008

Keegan's Day Off

Today's post will be a little anomalous ... various domestic crises are going on in the background, and have eaten up the time I'd usually spend posting, so -- today it's "rock hopping at Seacliff Reef," or "the best shots from Keegan's day off yesterday." Welcome to this neck of the woods!

The camera is the Fuji FinePix 6500 at 6.3MP, with a 10x optical zoom, and a 10x digital zoom on top of that; shots processed through IrfanView (see the link below).

Click on the pics for a larger view: I've uploaded them at 1000 pixels wide.

The road to the sea ... in this case, Jetty Road, Brighton, with the Arch of Remembrance at the landward end of the jetty itself. Lovely day; hot in the car.

Just before you get right up to the Arch, you reach a traffic island and hang a left. Drive about a klick down the foreshore with the dunes on your right (and the beach beyond them), and the millionaires' mansions on your left. (Wonder who you have to kill to get into their income bracket?!) At the end of the Esplanade -- the foreshore road -- you reach the parking lot of the Seacliff Yacht Club ... it's empty on a weekday, so go ahead and park there. There's no marina: this is a boat club for trailer-sailing craft (see below), which you bring to the beach on your trailer and trundle onto the sand down this here concrete ramp. The car parked at the head of the ramp has, incidentally, just offloaded the little boat you see below...

If you look to your right as you wander down the boat ramp, you'll be looking back the way you drove. There's the Brighton Jetty, at the landward-end of which is the Arch of Remembrance. Note the staggering crowds on the beach. Glorious day ... eight people were out, including yours truly.

Turn your back on the hustle and bustle of Brighton Beach and look in the other direction, toward Seacliff, and ... this is how the other half live. You would not believe some of these mansions.

And here's the view out to sea at, or close to, this point -- low tide on the Seacliff Reef. It's a rocky reef with kelp beds ... good fishing. Crabs, lobsters, King George Whiting, squid and what have you. Not that I'm a fisher-person, but a lot of people are. When something is "running," about 250 yards off shore there'll be a whole flotilla of small fishing boats, most trailerable, some professional -- these latter having come down the coast from the marinas at Glenelg and Port Adelaide, which are both to the north. A lot of people fish off the beach; you see them at dusk when the tide is in; and I should think, at dawn ... but I'm never there that early!

This guy was on the horizon -- tacking more or less due north, either making for the Port itself, or the marina at Glenelg. Biiiig guy. Couldn't get this one on a trailer. Maximum digital zoom, as well as optical -- you can get away with it because of the super-bright lighting conditions. Manual focus. The automatics couldn't get hold of the glittery sea and featureless sky.

Here's your trailerable vessel -- actually, a small example of them. You'd be amazed (I always am) at the size of boats they can tow ... and I'm constantly amazed at the places people tow them from. You can be out on the hills, almost at the top of Heart Attack Hill, and there'll be this monstrous fishing boat with the massive aerials and the huge outboards, and all, on its trailer, halfway up a driveway that looks like the north face of the Eiger.

One of the local gulls ... pint-sized but pretty. The local gulls are very small for gulls -- I'd guess they weigh in at a kilo, wet. Less than half the size of the whopping great gulls you see in Alaska, and the North Sea herring gulls with which I grew up. But these guys are friendly ... especially so if you happen to have brought your lunch. Share it with one, and fifty show up as if your little lunch companion had telepathy.

And this is cool: a sparrow hawk hunting for mice, hovering right over the gabled roof of one of the mansions on the landward side of the Yacht Club parking lot. The house is up on the hill, with sandy slopes and trees below. It's been a good season for mouses, so far. The cat's caught several, both in the house and in the yard. This little guy spent about ten minutes catching his lunch, then vanished, presumably to gorge on rodent.

That's all for today, guys: got to go and take take of domestic crises!

Ciao for now,

See also:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Writing: the challenge of Science Fiction

It's not often I get a reader's question that leaves me blank for five minutes, but this one did. It's a beauty, because it's so fundamental, and fundamental questions tend to be so broad in scope, they touch ... well, everything.

So, here was the question: "How do I write science fiction?"

The kneejerk reaction is to say, "Same bloody way as you write anything else, what's your problem?!" But in fact, this is too swift (and too brusque!) an answer, which doesn't do justice to a question that is, in fact, brilliant in its sheer simplicity.

And since I couldn't get the question out of my mind for the next two hours, I thought it might be an interesting topic for a post -- quite a few writers are reading this blog; some are looking for publishers, others are fully intending to use POD services, but they all have one thing in common: they write.

So, how do you write science fiction?

The truth is, anyone can write anything. It's writing something well that's the challenge, and how well we do something is what sorts the wheat from the chaff. Seriously, anyone can take a crack at writing absolutely anything, but one can't guarantee the results.

Let's say you're a massive fan of G-Force and Mecha Godzilla, it's what you like, what you read, what you watch, and where your brain is ... and somebody bets you $25 you can't write a women's historical romance. Take the bet with impunity, because -- of course you can write one ... and the person didn't bet you $25 that you couldn't write a good one.

Creative writing starts with three things: 1) the burning desire to write; 2) the energy and discipline to sit down and bash out the words, all of them, right to The End; 3) a real, genuine story that's worth reading, as well as writing.

After these three jewels, the words are on paper (or on the hard drive), the story is told ... everything else is about quality: integrity, readability, characterisation, editing, coherence, denouement, style.

Let's reverse the bet, and have someone who lives and breathes women's historical romance, and somebody bets them $25 that s/he can't write a Japanese Monsterama story.

Of course s/he can. Take the money!!

Now, if the bet had been, "I'll bet you $250 that you can't write a GOOD Japanese Monsterama story" ... well, be a bit more cagey. See if you can dragoon somebody's 12-year-old kid to explain to you what the bloody hell this genre is all about. Maybe the kid will propel you in the general direction of the video store, and you can rent some. Grit your teeth and actually watch them, right through to the end credits. Something by Toho Studios would be absolutely perfect for this purpose.

In other words ... you're doing some research, because you want that $250, and it's enough money to warrant spending a few hours on getting it juuuuust right. If you're a natural born writer, the basic skills are mostly transferable: the ability to write one thing converts into the ability to write the body copy for something else --

With one proviso. Style. The hardboiled language in which a lot of SF and detective fiction is written does not lend itself well to historical romances (!), and the often florid and, shall we say, botanical (I don't want to say 'flowery,' because someone will probably thump me) language in which a lot of historicals and/or romances are constructed doesn't lend itself well to nuts and bolts SF and hardboiled detective fiction!

So you, the writer, will be using your judgment, and you'll be re-tune your "ear" to hear the difference. You've learned your skills writing 'whatever,' and a helluva lot of it; and you're coming to the challenge of writing SF with both eyes -- and ears -- open.

It all starts with the desire to write SF, having a fantastic story that you have to tell or die, plus the discipline to get all the words down on paper.

Now, if you have this burning desire to write SF, you might have actually read some -- but then again, maybe not.

If you've read Greg Bear and Charles Sheffield, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, you're on the home stretch. Follow their lead. Do what they do: write very well, with very good grammar; keep the story on course, don't let it wander; reveal the story's pivot points at exactly the right moment -- ie., don't 'telegraph' your punches, but don't don't wait so long to throw them that the reader is bored or confused. (Bore or confuse a reader, and s/he will stop reading. End of statement.)

However, if your total exposure to SF has been Star Wars trilogy (c. 1980), Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, classic Battlestar Galactica (1980), classic Star Trek (1969), classic Doctor Who (1970s), Planet of the Apes (TV series) Logan's Run (series), Knight Rider, and so forth ... you could have a problem.

These projects are certainly SF, but their genre is very different: TV science fiction of the 1960s to 1980s vintage is a Hollywood product, designed and crafted to amuse an American audience which was naive even for its day. The plotlines are very frequently soap opera dressed in SF costumes, or World War II, Korea and Vietnam stories rearmed with rayguns and energy weapons. The characterizations are "US TV standard" for their era ... meaning, you can watch SWAT, Starsky & Hutch, and any SF show made for US TV in the era, and the characters are pretty much of a sameness. They tend to have an artificial look about them to today's eyes, because they're the product not of their era on the street, but the product of their era on TV. (Hollyweird executives designed what television would look and sound like, to make the end product squeaky clean, wholesome and acceptable in Middle American living rooms at 7:00pm. It didn't make for "real" characters.)

If this is your concept of SF -- you'll certainly write an SF story ... but will it be a good one? The person betting you $250 might have a bone to pick with the kind of story, the way it's developed, and the "artificiality" of the characterization. In other words, if you want to win the bet -- look further afield.

In fact, if classic TV SF has been your exposure to SF, yet now you're sure you have a red-hot story and you're desperate to write it -- STOP. Do some research. Read some books, find out what the real thing is like. Can I give you some recommendations? Sure. Greg Bear: Eon, Eternity and Moving Mars. Charles Sheffield, Godspeed and Cold as Ice. Arthur C. Clarke -- almost anything. Robert Heinlein: Friday, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. This'll get you off to a flying start. There's about a thousand more, you'll find them as you start to look around and do a little research.

Now, I assume the technicalities of the language are in good order before you get this far. Right? In other words, your English is nothing less that superb -- grammar, spelling, punctuation, vocabulary, all those fiddling little details that make or break a writer? If they're under control, take the story by the scruff of its neck and get it written. If they're out of control --

Still write the story, but use it as a learning experience. Learn to punctuate and format text as you go. Buy some books on grammar. Seriously! Indulge yourself in The Elements of Style (Strunk & White). You don't even have to buy that slim volume, though it's still in print if you want to. You can also access it online: ... and for background info on the work itself, hit Wiki:

In other words -- write your story while you learn to write ... then rewrite your story, using everything you've learned about characterization, denouement -- even grammar and punctuation!

The technicalities are especially important if you want to take a crack at finding a publisher, or POD publishing. You won't impress a publisher with iffy English writing skills ... and if you go POD, you won't have an editor working with you (some might say, breathing down your neck) to make sure all the eyes are dotted and the tees are crossed. When you're flying solo, you have to be very good, and very confident of your skills.

I hope this has covered the whole question! And now --

It's actually my day off, and I'm headed for the coast to do some rock hopping. Will take pictures and if anything looks especially fine, I'll put up a few images tomorrow.

Ciao for now,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Keegan at -- gay vampires ride again!

Good news: TWILIGHT just popped up in the engine! You can now order three Keegan's at Amazon -- and since you can combine postage, it starts to look like a much better deal ... and, God knows, you have to think of ways to save bucks these days --

See my previous post for today on the USPS Blues:

Gay vampires do indeed rock. Don't forget, TWILIGHT is the second novel -- if you want to get into Keegan's gay vampire, start with NOCTURNE.

Next title appearing at Amazon (in a couple of weeks) will be FORTUNES OF WAR, and then AQUAMARINE, TIGER, TIGER and THE DECEIVERS. We're getting there.


Independent publishing: USPS rates will hurt foreign sales

This time last year, you could ship a book -- say, a copy of The Swordsman, or Fortunes of War, or The Deceivers -- from an American POD printer (namely, to a client in Australia or New Zealand for US$8.50. And also, this time last year, the exchange rate was US$1 = .93c, or thereabouts. Costs were close to one-to-one, and shipping was affordable.

Recently, however, this has changed, and it's all down to rising oil prices and crashing markets!

Aussie and Kiwi readers: have you bought a book from lately? Have you noticed that it costs about US$15 to ship virtually anything? Have you run the conversion to get this into local currency?! That's about A$21 to ship a skinny little paperback. Ouch.

When you're an indie publisher concentrating on the Internet as your marketplace, you're extremely sensitive to changes in postage rates -- and horrifically vulnerable in this area. Your e-store is the place you do business, an all the "hard goods" shipping out of that store are going to be carried by USPS, Royal Mail, Australia Post and so forth.

So, when postage rates rise, the impact on your prices is a hefty wallop. And when postage rates rise enormously -- as they have in the last year -- all you can do is whimper quietly and lick your wounds in private.

With THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE coming out next week, we're looking at ways to get copies into the hands of Australian readers at a decent price, and it's not possible. The book will be US$22.50 ... it's a big book. The font is NOT large, you're NOT paying for white space. There's no way to compress the book into less pages. You're stuck with a big book -- which is fine and dandy ... until you come to ship it.

Earlier in 2008, offered several different options for international shipping. They now offer two. US$14.91 is their "economy" rate for shipping to Australia (!), and it's a few dollars more for their priority rate.

We went to the USPS website and looked at prices ... and y'now what? Postage, packaging, and about a dollar for "handling," and -- yep, that's what it costs. The kneejerk was to say that Lulu is getting into the old "postage ripoff" game, which is way too popular with any number of eBay shippers. However, for US/Canada readers, they're not. BUT --

Dont blame Lance Armstrong: he no longer rides for USPS. His parcel-delivering days are long behind him. Which is probably a good thing. Delivering big parcels on a racing bike must have been hell.

Here's the rub: signed with a digital printshop in Victoria, Australia (not Canada), and books ordered in Aus and NZ are printed down here ...

And the whole thing gets nasty when you realize they're hitting you up for international shipping, at US$14.91 = around A$20, on a book that's going to be shipped out of MELBOURNE.
If you happen to reside inside the state of Victoria, as a helluva lot of people do, the 750g package should go, intrastate, for something like A$10 -- including the padded bag and the buck for someone to pack it and do a post office run! We went to and checked.

We're contacting about this, but we've talked to them before about it, and no one had an answer, months ago. That time, the discrepancy cost us something like A$75 on a bulk shipment! You just grind your teeth and pay. The argument at the time was that we had been caught in the transition between shipping ex-USA and shipping out of a digital printshop in Australia. Uh huh. Well, the system is well worn-in now; there's no transition to get caught in. American postage rates have shot up -- and there is no excuse we can think of for billing Australian customers for a round-the-world service they don't get.

If or when we get an answer about this, you'll read it on this blog!

Till then, I seriously advise Aussie and Kiwi readers against ordering from -- because you're paying for postage you're not getting.

Your alternatives -- and this is especially important as THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE is published -- are:

* ebooks, which will set you back only US$10 ... no delivery fee and instant gratification. You can be reading the book five minutes after shunting some dollars over from your PayPal account. (You can also use any credit card.)
*, where the price is actually the same ... but at least they'll ship it around the world for you, so you get what you pay for -- and also, you get the US-printing quality, which is higher than the quality of the product issuing from the Australian digital printshop. (The Aussie printer uses paper which is too light, and the strikethrough is very noticeable. Strikethrough is where you can see materials printed on the other side of the paper. Thicker paper minimizes this, but the Aussie printshop doesn't use it. One wonders why.)

One thing we do NOT recommend for Aussie and Kiwi readers is that they shop at the CreateSpace e-store -- because CreateSpace's idea of overseas postage is (!) US$26 for economy, and US$40 for regular!! In fact, their 'economy' is the USPS Priority service, and $40 is something like FedEx. Sure, you'll get your book faster (ten days on average), but it'll be costing you US$48.50 = A$75, which is utterly absurd.

Once again, we'll be contacting CreateSpace about this -- making them aware of the fact that they're locking out foreign sales -- but what can be done about it, who knows? It all depends if CreateSpace is willing to negotiate. If Aussie and Kiwi sales represent about .05% of their overall trade, they probably don't give the proverbial stuff.

Once again, when we learn something (if we ever do), I'll report on it here.

The classic Aussie postman -- "postie" on his postie bike. Don't blame the postman for the price of postage. It might have something to do with George W. ...

In the meantime ... Aussie and New Zealand readers, I really do suggest you look at ebooks as an alternative. You'll be able to order THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE on paper from in January (the process takes too long for it to be available for Christmas, sorry; we only found out about this relatively recently, with too little time for us to do anything about it). But you need to be aware of what ordering via Amazon, from downunder, will cost. $22.50 for the book ... $15 postage. US$37.50 is going to convert out to something like A$57.50 -- and again, this is utterly absurd.

The ebook will be US$10, which is about A$13.50.

What's to be done about all of the above? I have no idea. Barack Obama probably has no idea. Having Superdude deliver the mail would be an option, but he might not go for it...

The price of foreign postage is directly related to the cost of jet fuel, and the price of oil ... and you also have the carbon taxes that are being slapped on, in the interests of the environment. Things are going to get expensive -- it's already happening. Luxury goods and imported goods are going to slither out of the reach of most people -- this also is happening.

A little while ago I blogged about how the global financial meltdown is affecting sales not only for me but for everyone, everywhere:

...and what's happening with shipping costs certainly plays a major role in this picture.

If Nostrakeeganus were to make a prediction as per where we'll be in 2010, I'd say -- reading ebooks. There's a ten billion dollar fortune in it, for some Chinese entrepreneur who can come out with the equivalent of a Pocket PC for A$250, something that reads ebooks just fine, and where you only have to buy the gizmo one time. I'd buy one ... and don't get me wrong, I love real books. I love hardcovers. But I can afford to buy maybe two or three in a year, and the rest are going to wind up being an assortment of electrons, pixels and push-buttons.

If anyone were asking me, I'd say it's unavoidable, and my serious, sober recommendation to Australian and New Zealand readers is to embrace the technology ... learn to like it. Get an ebook reader -- always supposing our hypothetical Chinese entrepreneur can come up with something for a nice, comfy price we can afford. At A$250, I'd buy one today, and promptly stock up on all the reading I've skipped for the last few years because books, in this country, are so expensive, it's foolish.

Sorry to be the bearer of ill tidings this morning. I'll be back with something humorous tomorrow!


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Prop 8: Catholics, Mormons, and why they lied

Every few days I receive newsletters from the Human Rights Campaign (, who gave excellent coverage of the Prop 8 fiasco as well as coverage of many other issues. In a recent newsletter, editor and president Joe Solmonese, discussing the passage of Prop 8, makes this interesting observation:

It is chilling to realize that the Catholic and Mormon Churches knew they were telling lies -- that marriage equality would require children to learn about homosexuality in school, that priests would be required to solemnize marriages of same-sex couples -- and they lied anyway.

And a lot of atheists, agnostics, pagans and Others (being Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto, Sikh, and scores of regional, parochial, traditional, aboriginal faiths, all of which have an equal claim to existence and respect) would be asking, "Why would a Catholic lie, when s/he knows it's a sin, sins get right up God's nose?"

Good question. And if you will accompany me into the murky, paranoid, somewhat fetid basement of the Church, I shall endeavor to explain.

Disclaimer and Full Disclosure: I am not a Catholic. I was nurtured in an Irish Catholic community where the religion was a foil-thin veneer over the Old Religion of Ireland, and by the time I was about 10, my only interests in the Church were 1) the architecture, which I still like a lot, and 2) a morbid curiosity for what seems (when you examine it deeply) like some kind of mental aberration sorely in need of diagnosis and treatment. Meanwhile, I know nothing about Mormons except that they hang out in Utah, Zane Grey hated them, they used to steal women from other communities (I've read Riders of the Purple Sage ... and a more soporific book I have never discovered), guys can marry multiple women, but women can't marry multiple guys, which is the worst inequity of polygamy (!), and they're even more bonkers than Catholics on the subject of (wait for it) sin.

Yet in the run-up to November 4, both Mormons and Catholics pasted on friendly smiles and lied fluently, with ease, without reservation, without hesitation. And they did this knowing that lying is a sin that gets in God's ear. Why in the world would they do it? Doesn't make sense. Does it?

Well, yes it does. As I said, accompany me to the basement of the Church ... the deep, dark place underneath it, where the worms wriggle. The place few folks who're not obsessed by religion even know exists. Put on your hard hat, rigger's gloves and rubber boots, and let's go down there ... see what fascinating worms we can find.

Lying is a sin, right? Well ... maybe. First off, how's about the Ninth Commandment? You probably know it as, 'Thou shalt not lie.' Right? Wrong. The actual wording is this: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Like ... dob him in to the law for something he didn't do, because you hate his guts? Like, spread rumors about him, to cost him is job and ruin his family? Like ... malign him to his kids so they hate his guts too? Uh huh. Other kinds of lying -- no problemo. The whole lying thing turns out to be so specific, you can warp the Ninth to make it mean anything ... or nothing.

Then there's a little verse (not even rhyming), known as "Rev 21:8," and this one is brilliant. It's specific about lying: liars are all going to be burned alive. Or are they? Here's the problem with this old chestnut: it's quoted out of context. It says this: "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” But in fact, if you read the whole thing, you'll discover that the worms wriggled in a different direction.

(Go on, I dare you to actually read it! Revelation reads like the ravings of a deranged mind ... you ask yourself if whoever wrote it -- and they're not even sure! -- hadn't accidentally set fire to the carpet by knocking over the candle when he wrote this last night. In those days, carpets were made of (!) hemp. Breathe enough of that stuff while you're in a mood for Armageddon, and you'll be invaded by Orks and Urukhai, under the gaze of the Great Eye, before you can say "Frodo Baggins.")

In fact, the Revelation worms wriggled their way over here (and don't take my word for it, here it is from a Bible scholar, which is more than I profess to be):
All of those sins mentioned in that verse refer to some specific set of events taking place during the tribulation, after all the context is set at the end of the tribulation period. The lying in this context refers to preaching and teaching a lie (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1, 2). It refers to propagating false doctrine. There would be a lot of false doctrine during the tribulation period (many false prophets and false teachers) even more so than today.

So, in the first place, lying probably isn't a sin anyway. Go ahead, fib: God ain't even listening.

But supposing lying was a sin ... what then? Bear with me: this gets even better.

If you're not a Catholic (or from the fringe of an Irish -- possibly Italian -- community), you probably aren't even aware that they divide sin into two convenient forms, which essentially lets 90% of people get away with bloody murder and at the same time let these same miserable sinners come down like a load of bricks on folks they don't like.

This is where it gets really good: Type A Sin is venial sin. Wrap your head around this:
Venial sins are slight sins. They do not break our friendship with God, although they injure it. They involve disobedience of the law of God in slight (venial) matters. If we gossip and destroy a person's reputation it would be a mortal sin. However, normally gossip is about trivial matters and only venially sinful.

Woah. Let me get this straight: what constitutes a venial sin (which is an oopsie so fiddling, it's going to be forgiven in exchange for a prayer, or a round of the rosary, or even a novena ... who was it who said, "talk is cheap"...?) resides in a gray area, a foggy limbo, where everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is open to any individual's interpretation...? Yup. Follow that link to Global Catholic Network, and read the whole page -- it's not long. It's just shocking, if you rather hoped God's law would be specific enough to get a net over the world's villains and keep 'em in check for ten minutes, maybe fifteen. Never going to happen, not on the terms set out in the Book.

So hee we have another so-called Biblical Law that can be (and is being) twisted to say anything anyone needs it to say today. Venial sins are white lies, lies in a good cause ... snapping and snarling, dropping a blasphemy or two, goofing off work or school, eating meat on Friday (!), staying out late, having one too many to drink...

Meanwhile, Type B Sin is known as mortal sin. This is the sin for which the aforementioned lake of fire is waiting for you. So, what's mortal sin? What's Our Father going to barbecue us alive for? Let's take a peek:
A serious, grave or mortal sin is the knowing and willful violation of God's law in a serious matter, for example, idolatry, adultery, murder, slander. These are all things gravely contrary to the love we owe God and, because of Him, our neighbor. As Jesus taught, when condemning even looking at a woman lustfully, sin can be both interior (choices of the will alone) or exterior (choices of the will carried into action). A man who willfully desires to fornicate, steal, murder or some other grave sin, has already seriously offended God by choosing interiorly what God has prohibited.

Oh ... boy. Idolaters? That can be twisted to mean anyone other than a Catholic. Adultery is a global passtime. Slander is the meat and potatoes of American politics -- they do it proudly, in public, and audiences applaud. Looking lustfully at women?! Then everybody who's drooling over Angelina and Kate, and Kate, and Cate, and Catherine, are in deep doo-doo ... only somebody poured gasoline on the doo-doo and set it on fire. And as for homosexuality -- the doo-doo's so deep, it's way over your head even before they set it, and you, on fire. And what about having daydreams about making off with the boss's sports car?! You'll burn. And having lustful daydreams about any other human being of whatever gender? It's gasoline time. And that one-night stand when you were 19? They're striking the matches already.

Of all the sins for which God will roast his own children alive, only murder is the one where intelligent people draw the line. For the rest? We're all going to burn. All of us. There isn't one single human being who hasn't done something on the Burning List, and God's up there, making sure the gasoline tanks are full and there's a good supply of matches ...

[Have a look at this -- "The List of Mortal Sins Gets Longer Under Vatical Overhaul":]

Or at least, this is what goes on in the heads of devout Catholics.

And this is why the majority of them would have considered it a small price to pay for the venial sin of lying through their smiling teeth, when they spread such deceit about California's gay community. The know they can pay off the venial sin of lying with a few prayers -- talk is cheap -- while the garbage they dished up to the community at large, and especially to the African American community, might just (you got it) save a few souls from the mortal sin of committing homosexual acts.

Bottom line: they were out there saving souls by lying, and now they're all in church saying their rosaries to pay off the fiddling little sin of what they said and did.

I've been extremely flip and glib in this article -- and intentionally so. If I've offended anyone ... I don't actually apologise, because I often find myself offended and insulted by religious tracts and folks, and since I respect their freedom of speech to call me a moron and a sinner, I expect my freedom of speech to be reciprocally respected.

For the record: my own belief is that the level of religious obsession that believes in lakes of fire as the punishment for the imagined sin of falling in love (or even in lust, for that matter) is a mental illness. Before anyone suggests I "Study the Bible, turn to Jesus" for my wicked ways ... I already read that particular book, and I know how it ends: almost everyone in the world gets burned alive -- if you believe this stuff.

Sorry, guys, I don't. And I've read it. But don't take my word for it -- find out for yourself!

Other sources you might find useful: (The Catholic Encyclopedia) (Global Catholic Network) (Saint Aquinas-dot-com)
...I'd say "enjoy," but I sincerely doubt you will.

Ciao for now,