Sunday, September 29, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect - er Good

Practice Makes Perfect  Good

I once knew a musician who despised even the hint that he should be more commercial.  He claimed to be an artist and his music was direct from his soul and for himself, not to feed a commercial audience.

What I told him applies to writing as well:

You need to be true to your inner voice, but even if you write the most epic depiction of a tree falling in the woods, describing every splinter of wood and every swirl of dust and air, and nobody reads it, does it really make a sound?

On the other extreme, an aspiring poet on Facebook told me he wrote and published a new poem every day.  I asked him how many times he retooled the words and he said, "Never.  They come out right the first time."  I never responded.

I don't want to burst any bubbles, but being an artist of any kind doesn't mean you can fart gold bubbles and call them art.  You practice to get better, but you also critique what you have done to get better.

I don't need readers to confirm my suspicions that I am a writer.  I need them to contradict my doubts when I think I'm the wrong kind of writer.  Maybe I just need a little more practice.

I don't require perfection from myself or anybody else, except for my physicians.  I'd like to believe that they can fart gold bubbles and walk on water and never make mistakes.  I hope they don't really need the practice to be good, but I will keep practicing and redoing and hope one day an editor says, "So, why'd you need me?"

Sunday, August 25, 2013

When the reviews start to slide...

I thought it was great.  I thought it was stupendous; stirring; emotional; thought provoking and really phenomenal.

The first round of reviews said it was fantastic.  My email box received testimonials confirming my beliefs.

Then, the reviews started to slide.  Four's instead of Fives.  Three's instead of Fours. What happened?  Did I suddenly reach a more critical audience?  Is it not all I thought it was?

Has it happened to you?  Most likely, I think it's a little of all of the above.

The first adopters who purchased my book the moment it was released are probably the ones it was written for.  The story is right down their alley and they loved it.

The simple fact that it was not free will filter out people who won't like it and people on the fence.

Then, I let some out for free for honest reviews, and I'm quite certain that the reviewers were being honest, but they did not go through the natural filtering process that comes when you pay for the book. Subsequently, the free book might attract some fence sitters who won't be as thrilled.

Then, I must admit, though it has some great elements in it, the way I personally tied them together may not be everybody's cup of tea.

All of us who call ourselves authors and place our works in public must prepare for a variety of responses. It's easy for us to crow about the great ones and turn around and mope about the poor ones.

What will I do?  I don't have time to mope.  I've almost finished the sequel.  I'm moving on.  I'll be getting a new editor and perhaps they'll have some suggestion to how it can be fixed, or even if it needs to be fixed. Should it be fixed?  Maybe, or perhaps it should just be what it is.  I certainly can't cater to every type of reader out there so maybe I just write my story and let those in the public who are inclined to share my point of view enjoy it.

Of course, I'd still like them to tell all their friends and join my fan club...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Cost of Health

No, I'm not going to rant on about health care or the cost of insurance.  I'm not poking fun at every politicians' idea of health care for the masses (as long as the same politicians get their own premium care.)  That would be too easy.

This is about what some of us do to ourselves and for ourselves to stay fit and healthy, or to be more specific, about what I do to keep fit.

I was never naturally gifted as a child.  I was always in the last three to be picked, if I was picked at all.  That never deterred me from enjoying sports.  I pretty much tried them all and eventually found some niches where I didn't suck as much.

In college I ran track and played competitive volleyball.  (Competitive as opposed to recreational or church social volleyball.)  I continued playing volleyball for many years and still do from time to time.

I played slow pitch softball for a few years.  I was the least impressive player you could imagine, but I could pitch strikes, and I could place the ball on either corner of the plate.  I was no deep threat at bat, but I learned how to hit the ball over the second baseman and run to first.  (Almost every time.)

Something happens to the body after 40 and again after 50.  Injuries take longer to heal and you get more of them.  Body weight becomes a performance and a health issue (and therefore an additional fitness goal.)  Everyone else gets faster (or so it seems.)

I have a bicycle that I bought in the early eighties.  It was pretty OK in its day, but now it's considered a vintage bike.  I used to ride it home from work.  I took it on the train and then rode home.  As a consultant, the distance to different clients varied anywhere from 10 to 20 miles.  When I moved to Phoenix, I hung the bike up in the garage and left it there for about eight years.  (I just couldn't get myself out there when it was 117 degrees.)

I'm riding it again now.  Since moving to Denver, I have met a lot of people who ride.  It started a couple months ago when there was a bike to work day and I just kept riding.  I put in anywhere from 40 to 60 miles a week now, which is nothing to a hardcore rider, but it's a lot for someone who sometimes gets the senior discount at the restaurants.

I've joined a group and nowhere else is the age of my bike so evident.  It has semi-classic appeal in some parts of the country, but it's on the heavy side and together, we are slow climbing the hills.  I am envious of the other riders who do not have to reach down to shift.  In the eighties, bikes came with down-tube shift levers.  Today, bikes have shift levers on the handle bars or even integrated with the break levers.

I want new shift levers, but whoa!  I checked out the prices of new bikes with the integrated shift levers.  The world has gone crazy.  I know some of my gung-ho friends will shell out the price of a used car for their shiny new bike, but I never expected a decent bike with decent parts to cost the better part of a months salary.

That got me thinking.  What else do we like to do?  Skiing?  Skis, boots, poles, pants.  It adds up fast.  Golf?  You can get an affordable set of golf clubs, but if they suck you in, you will need better clubs to (allegedly) improve your game.  Health club anyone?  The prices vary dramatically, as does the equipment and the status attached to the club.

And it's not just exercise that costs.  Try to eat healthy.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether you take care of your body to the fullest; enjoy life to the fullest; or find some middle ground where you do a little of both.  All paths lead to the same ending.  (You're not getting out of this life alive.)  You just have to choose whether you want the longer path or the more fun path, and don't forget to check your wallet to see if you can afford either of them.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What's wrong with the Post Office?

“The Post Office Department was created by the Second Continental Congress on July 26th, 1775. The first postmaster general was Benjamin Franklin. The Post Office is one of the world's largest business concerns…” Fred Gailey (John Payne) Miracle on 34th St. 1947

Have you ever wondered why the post office seems to have so much trouble keeping afloat?  Of course you haven't.  Nobody cares.  In this day of electronic mail, instant messaging and the overly abundant use of social media, who needs mail?  What do they deliver?  Bills and junk mail!

Their value to us is diminishing.  And the less we use them, the higher the postage goes.  So we get less and less value for more and more cost.

Here is one anecdotal account:
Last week, I needed to mail some paper contracts to a publisher.  I had two copies of the contracts, one for the publisher and the other for me.  Each contract was signed and notarized.  All I needed was to send them off with a self addressed return envelope.  I don't want any mistakes, so I went to the experts to make sure the postage was correct.  That was my first mistake.

The first thing you do when you arrive at the post office is get in line.  While in line, you can count how many clerks are tending the patient customers.  I counted two, or as I prefer to look back on it, too few.  While in line, two other workers routinely (and frequently) came out from the back area and asked, "Is anybody here to pick up a package?"  During the not so inconsiderable time that I was in line, nobody came forward to pick up a package, but they persisted.  It was obvious to me that they did not have enough to do and could have been better allocated.

Maybe it's not their fault.  Maybe union rules prevent them from working up front so people can return to their lives.  Or, it could be lack of training.  Whichever the culprit, it was a terrible allocation of resources.  This is not the kind of work management that makes a business efficient and it certainly does not help keep costs under control.

Eventually, I made it to a clerk and explained my situation, "I want to purchase two envelopes.  I need enough postage on one of them to carry one of these contracts.  The other envelope needs enough postage to carry both contracts and the other envelope."
"No problem," he says.  He weighs one of the contracts with one of the envelopes and affixes additional postage over and above what was already printed on the envelope.  He then takes the folded contracts and one of the envelopes and stuffs them into the other.  "That's extra thick," he says, "and will cost extra."  He punches some numbers on his register and affixes more stamps.

Excellent!  I address the envelopes and post them.  I'm in business.

Five days later, the publisher still has not received the contracts.  They were returned to me with insufficient postage.  I'm not happy.  I wanted the contracts executed so I could begin the next phase of this novel series, but that's not happening yet.

I take it back to the post office.  I keep my cool, but I'm going to explain their error hoping they will at least apologize for their error.  That was my second mistake.  I got a different clerk this time and she says, "No, it's over 1/4 inch thick and there's extra postage."
"I know," I said, "That was already explained to me when I purchased the stamps."
"But you didn't purchase enough stamps."
"I never touched the stamps.  Your office weighed it and applied the postage"

At no time would the clerk admit or even accept that the error was theirs. 

I'd had enough with this mess and paid the postage thinking I wouldn't spend any more time on this.  That was my third mistake.  I couldn't get it out of my head that easily.

I think it's time for UPS to purchase the USPS in a bankruptcy sale so they can take over the business.  I'd also recommend changing bulk mail so it is MORE expensive than standard mail.  It's time to stop giving price breaks to junk mailers.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Becoming a Novelist: Value vs. Worth (how my car started me thinking)

Becoming a Novelist: Value vs. Worth (how my car started me thinking): I'm going to go off topic here and talk about what things are worth to me. This whole topic was prompted by my automobile.  My car is ...

Value vs. Worth (how my car started me thinking)

I'm going to go off topic here and talk about what things are worth to me.

This whole topic was prompted by my automobile.  My car is nine years old now and it runs well enough but it's started to have problems and they are adding up.  I'll start with an annoying little problem this model is prone to, an engine check light because some doo dad is out of spec.  I had the specialists pull the engine codes and they explained what it was.  It had to do with some moving parts in the accelerator that rotate and control my current speed when I press or release the gas.  It want's to be replaced for about $700.00.  The engine runs fine, the gas mileage is above par for the make and I have better things to do with my money.  So I live with a constantly burning engine check light.  Last year during a sever freeze, my driver window broke. More precisely, the arms that make it go up and down bent.  Replacing them would have been $600.00.  My mechanics kindly locked the window in the up position and I don't do drive thru windows when I can avoid them.  Somewhere along the line, the air dam broke and fell off.  The car runs fine.  The plastic cover over one of the fog lights broke.  The lamp still works, but it's unprotected.  One of my wheels cracked while I was out of town (900 miles out of town).  Replacing all four wheels, $550.00.  I replaced one, but now the tire people don't want to rotate my tires because the wheels don't match.  A couple weeks ago, the blowers in my AC went out.  I can still feel the AC kick on and there is cold air at the vents.  It just can't blow it out.

So, to get my car back into optimum condition will cost me at least $2,000.00 and I'm not including the new set of tires that are due real soon.

According to Kelley Blue Book ( my trade in value is only about $2,000 to $3,000 ($4,000 if I sell it myself.)  So I wonder if it is worth fixing or better to replace?

I'd love to get a new car, but this car runs well and it's probably worth more than $4,000 to me.  It's paid for and any new car would be at least $300 per month.  Maybe if the government gives us back interest deductions on cars, the value of a new car will look better to me.

So I must consider how much a new car will cost, at least $21,000 I think (plus interest), vs. $3,000 to fix this one up (and another grand for what comes next.)  Will any new car give me $15,000 additional value in terms of use?  Probably not.  Unless they offer us a hybrid with long lasting magical batteries, or a combustion engine that runs on water, I don't see the extra value.

Thanks for hearing me out, have a nice day.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Reviews.  We all want them.  We crave those scintillating 5 star reviews so we can jump up and down and post in our groups what wonderful authors we are and here is the validation to prove it.  But what is 5 stars?  Do all 5 star reviews deserve 5 stars?  What does it mean when someone gets one star?  (Thankfully, it wasn't me.)

I started out checking my stats on Amazon, then I moved over to the "top 100" books on Amazon.  Curiously, I saw a book there with only 8 reviews, then I saw another with only 6 reviews.  I thought Amazon adjusted their ratings to only count paid sales, but I am left to assume that these books must have been given away for free to earn their rank.

Out of curiosity, I decided to read the reviews on one of them.  Only 6 reviews, sounds easy.  But what I found was unexpected.  The book had a few 5 star reviews plus a four star and a ONE star.  The reviewer ripped the author for poor grammar and juvenile writing style.  Personally, I suspect that there are scads of independent books released under these same conditions.  My first reaction was BRAVO!  Someone tells it like it is.  But then, I clicked the link to read the reviewers other reviews.  I was curious to see if he trashed all books equally.  It was his only review.

I'm not naming names, chiefly because I don't want him to go post one star trash on my books.  I thought Amazon was rooting this crap out of their review system.  I don't know about you, but I think that only one review of one star is a mighty big red flag.  Maybe they need someone to post a complaint first.

Of course, it is possible that his assessment was spot on.