Saturday, January 25, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 4 AKA How Best to Sell Direct and Book Murder

Scott D. Parker

Other than my typical writing and publishing books this year, the big goal is to create an online store in order to sell my books directly to readers.

The thing is, how best to do it.

Why Sell Direct?

I've had a few folks ask me why I'm creating a website to sell books and other products directly to readers? Aren't there enough other places--sites like Amazon or Kobo or Audible--where users are more accustomed to go? Yes, there are. But there are some compelling reasons to try.

One, naturally, is money. Minus the transaction fees assessed by the companies like PayPal, I would keep a higher percentage of each sale. Nothing wrong with that.

Of more importance, however, is the bond between buyer and seller. As it is now, readers can buy my book via an online store and they will get the book. The store takes its cut and I get the rest. But the store is the middle man, and the middle man can make any rules he wants.

Take ownership. Right now, when you purchase an ebook from an online retailer, you only purchase the license. If the online store negotiates a new deal with a different company, then the book you paid for vanishes from your device. It happened this week with the game Tetris and it happened last year to owners of ebooks purchased via Microsoft's store.

A key component of any store I create is ownership. When I reader buys an ebook from me, they get the digital file. It'll be theirs to keep and do with what they want. Kind of like a paperback. Ownership. It's a fundamental thing for me, even though I still purchase ebooks via online stores. But at least I know it going in.

One might say, for example, that it'll never happen to Amazon because they're too big to fail. Well, so was AT&T in the 1980s.

Which Platform to Use?

When it comes to the selling platform, there are a wide range of choices. A friend of mine started up an online business in the last few months and he selected Shopify. They take any payment method he knows about and the onus is on Shopify to collect payment and distribute the money to his bank account. Now, you might think this contradicts my ownership argument, but when it comes to money, that's a whole other thing. Better to let Shopify, Stripe, or Apple take care of that.

Shopify has a decent number of templates you can use to get the store started. The minimum viable product, the MVP, or the 1.0 version of the store. I am simultaneously getting my store started while helping my wife get hers up, too. We can tweak as we go, so it's better to get it up and running.

Late this week, however, I learned about Payhip. Joanna Penn (as J.F. Penn) uses it and I dove into a bit of research about it. Payhip enables sellers of digital products (ebooks, software, music) to sell direct to customers. In terms of an MVP, I can enable Payhip on my author website with little effort, so I might try it first while I get the store setup.

I'll admit: I'm leaning to Shopify for many of the same reasons my friend used to start his store. If the new store grows rapidly, I can always upgrade along the way. It's remarkable the number of tools and services available to use creatives to distribute and sell what we make.

For any writers reading this, do y'all sell direct? I'd love to hear some real-world tales, pros and cons, about the various services.

Book Murdering?

As it does multiple times a day, the internet exploded when a tweet was launched into the world. As best as I can discern, writer Alex Christofi posted a photo on Twitter of a few paperbacks that were ripped in half. The reason: better portability.

I love physical books: the smell, the feel, the shelf appeal. I have long taken pencil, pen, and highlighter to the pages of books I'm reading. Always in the Bible, often in non-fiction, and occasionally in fiction books when I see a particularly good piece of storytelling. I dogear pages if I don't have a bookmark or if I don't have any post-it notes handy. Basically, I view the book as mine and I can do with it whatever I want in order for me to get the most out of the reading experience.

Maybe it's the ebook reader in me, but I can't imagine ripping books in this manner. Granted, I don't have a commute via mass transit where carrying a heavy tome is something I do. I do all of my physical book reading at home where this isn't an issue.

But I can't imagine ripping a book like this. I don't find it particularly abhorrent. See my rational for book ownership above. But if Alex or other use this method to get the most out of the words on the pages--the real reason you buy a book in the first place--who am I to judge.

They would look weird on the shelf, however. Then again, you'd know exactly which books you've actually read.

TV Show of the Week: Modern Love

Just got around to seeing this show. Holy cow, is it good.

Modern Love, on Amazon Prime, is an eight episode series showcasing not only excellent acting and storytelling, but the various ways in which people love each other. From romantic love to familial love, old love to happenstance love, this show is a wonderful reminder that kindness and love can pierce through the mundane and the sadness we too often see in our world. The full review is here.

Highly Recommended

Friday, January 24, 2020

Beau Is Back

Once upon a time, Laura Park was a normal college sophomore with her best friend at her side. A year later, Laura was on a deserted road on the outskirts of Las Vegas killing a man. 
She didn’t expect to get away with it but she did with the help of a stranger named Simon who took her in, liquored her up, and broke her down. 
Soon the ambitious Simon introduces her to Frank Joyce, a man who would teach her how to become a stone-cold professional killer. 
Laura learns her deadly trade and earns her money. Twenty-six years old and she thinks she’s found her happily ever after. Sadly it all falls apart when Simon leaves her for another. Now some other woman, blonde and polished, all shiny and new, is living Laura’s happy life.
Heartbroken, but knife always at the ready, Laura waits for any opportunity to get Simon back. The question is, when she gets her chance, will she take it? 
In Laura’s world anyone can become a target, loyalties can shift in a blink of an eye, and when everyone is homicidal, people are definitely going to die.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Last Thrift Store on the Left

By S.A.Cosby

Growing up poor in the South a lot of  things that others take for granted were either out of my grasp or foreign to me. There was no bakery or pizza place on every corner. The closest grocery store was five miles away. When I was a kid our town had one department store that sold off brand clothes. We used to call the sneakers they sold "blanks" because they didn't have any symbols or names on them. We didn't have access to a lot of what could be termed modern conveniences and even if we did we were too poor to take advantage of said conveniences. I didn't walk into my first actual bookstore until I was deep into my twenties. That being said my town did have two great outlets for broke nerdy kids like me. A great library and a thrift store.

The library was a bastion of hope and peace for me in those days. Even today the concept of a library blows me away. You will literally give me all the books I can carry and all I have to do is promise to bring them back in two weeks?  As my granddaddy would say that's crazy as a bag of cats. Despite how much I enjoyed the library it was a bit...sanitized. it was after all a library in the South in a town so steeped in the Confederacy and  religion they once tried to make Robert E. Lee our patron saint. Conservative would be an understatement when talking about their fiction department.

However... the thrift store was where the action was. Our local thrift store benefited from numerous estate sales and abandoned storage units. They were the happy recipients of the overly abundant detritus of  unfulfilled lives and lost dreams. They scavenged the bones of the body electric with the thoroughness of grave beetles. They wasted no part of the animal. A big part of the animal were books. All kinds of books. Books that a twelve year old probably shouldn't have been perusing. Among the dusty shelves and haphazard piles of polyester pants I discovered books by authors I knew and loved and authors I had never heard of but found interesting. I found books that were way over my head at the time and books that I understood so intimately it made my heart ache.

This was where I discovered Kerouac and Burroughs, Eldridge Cleaver and Richard Wright , Anais Nin and Henry Miller. Jim Carroll and Alan Watts. This was where I was hopelessly confused by The Story of O.( My poor mother thought it was an educational book when she glimpsed the cover.)  But it was crime fiction that I was really able to immerse myself in as I walked the long aisles of  the Forgotten Treasures Thrift store. I found the complete works of Agatha Christie next to a huge stack of Mike Hammer novels. A Rage in Harlem lying next to Lord Peter Wimsey Omnibus. I stumbled upon a book that had a short story from the magnificent Edogawa Ranpo, whose work I would devour in the coming years. I learned about obsession and desire from Cornell Woolrich. I scooped up The Bride Wore Black in a pile of books that included a bunch of 87th Precinct novels and a few books by Barbary Neely.  The thrift store was my own private MFA program. I not only enjoyed a rarefied education in the best crime fiction the 20th century had to offer I also got glimpses into the lives of those who had these books before me. Cryptic inscription, Lovingly rendered dedications, the random address or scribbling of a  kid not much older than me when they were presented with a copy of Edgar Allan Poe's collected works. I often wondered what happened to the boy who wrote "This book is the property of Sam" on the front flap of  By Reason of Insanity by Shane Stevens.

I hope you enjoyed that book Sam. I'm sorry you had to let it go. But I'm so happy I found it. That's the true magic of a thrifts store. We become pieces of a shared tapestry that is made of imagination. We are all dreaming the same hazy dream at different points along this chaotic timeline.

Think about that the next time you find yourself in a used book store or thrift store. You're the next link in a chain that goes all the way back to  cavemen gathered around a fire.

Nom nom noms

MWA Announces the 2020 Edgar Nominations

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Energy Usage

I think there comes a certain point where you realize not only that time is precious and limited, but so is energy.  Your own energy. Everyone can say something similar to this, I'm sure, but I remember when I could stay up late hanging out with people at my local bar, drink there, get about 6 hours of sleep, wake up and play two hours of morning tennis - singles - and then come home and write for four hours before going to my night job.  Not so anymore, though I still do average about 5  to 6 hours of sleep a night, on weekdays at least.  I reserve more time for sleep on weekends.  

But my point: energy.  It's difficult to do at 57 what you could do at 37 (which is the period I'm talking about with the hanging out and then getting up to play tennis, etc), and anyway, that was before marriage and kids.  Then mornings are completely taken up for years, and you might find yourself, as I did, squeezing in hours whenever you can after dinner and after everyone has gone to sleep.  That's tough, and I've touched on it here before, methods employed like drinking coffee late at night, napping briefly right after the coffee, and setting the alarm for 20 minutes later when the caffeine is kicking in.  It works, though it can be difficult to shut yourself down later at night and get back into bed for the sleep needed for a coming day of work.  

Regardless, my routine has changed once again, thanks in large part to the new availability of early mornings.  Now the onus is all on me to get to bed early enough (11 to 11:30 is good) so that I can wake by 5 to 5:30 to get in some work before I go to my job.  I have to stop myself at 8 usually to be at my job on time.  I have the coffee machine loaded, the timer on, and all I need do when I get up from bed is pour myself a mug.   

Are there days when I find it hard to drag myself from bed so early even if I went to sleep on time?  Of course.  But this early morning routine, writing when the mind is clear and the energy level is high, beats the exertions I sometimes had to go through to get anything done at the end of a day.  I carry the same principle over to most weekend days, though I don't have to get up and get to my laptop quite so early on a Saturday or Sunday. 

Listen to your body, a lot of athletes say.  For a while now, I've been able to do that, by working early mornings instead of late at night, and I'm enjoying this more productive use of whatever energy I have.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

In Praise of Elizabeth Wurtzel

“But for all intents and purposes, the deeply depressed are just the walking, waking dead.”
Elizabeth Wurtzel, PROZAC NATION

The author of “PROZAC NATION: YOUNG AND DEPRESSED IN AMERICA” and “BITCH: IN PRAISE OF DIFFICULT WOMEN”, Elizabeth Wurtzel died, far too young at 52, on January 7 from metastatic breast cancer.

The New York writer published her best-selling memoir PROZAC NATION when she was only 26.

The book chronicled her long struggle with depression and her eventual treatment with a laundry list of medications, including lithium and the often-mentioned and maligned Prozac, when she was still a college undergraduate. Twenty-six years ago.

Stop for a moment. Think of the people in your life who have acknowledged battling depression. 

Imagine the number of people Elizabeth Wurtzel persuaded with her memoir. 

With her honesty, intelligence and palpable talent, Elizabeth Wurtzel changed the way we see depression and mental illness. She helped ferry depression from shadows and shame to the light of day, from an uncomfortable, misunderstood disorder to a mainstream condition that can rest itself on anyone at any time. And, perhaps hardest to accept for those not familiar with the suffering, depression can happen for no “good” reason. It influences the brain and impacts how you think, feel and act. You can’t wish away depression with affirmations and positive thinking.

“That's the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.”
Elizabeth Wurtzel – PROZAC NATION

Extreme. Self-indulgent. Needy. Attention-seeking; terms often whispered behind the backs of those working through depression, those who are forthright and brave enough to share their pain. Their experiences. And these are the terms those unmoved and unimpressed by Wurtzel’s work use to describe her writing. Wurtzel was aggressively open regarding her mistakes and bad habits. Her selfish side. Thoughtless side. Her manipulative and shifty side. By opening and exposing herself, she showed how depression is actually the height of absence. Emptiness. Yes, she was hard rock. Edgy. Unapologetic. Not for everyone. But her talent cannot be disparaged. She unabashedly captured readers with her words.

“If PROZAC NATION has any particular purpose, it would be to come out and say that clinical depression is a real problem, that it ruins lives, that it ends lives, that it very nearly ended my life; that it afflicts many, many people, many very bright and worthy and thoughtful and caring people, people who could easily save the world or at the very least do it some real good, people who are too mired in despair to even begin to unleash the life spring of potential that they likely have down deep inside.”
Elizabeth Wurtzel

She lived a big life. Sex. Rock and roll. Battled drug addiction and crippling depression on a near-daily basis. Overcame a fragile and unsure childhood. Rose above the black wave that threatened to drown her. Lived with the ridicule so often thrown her way in light of her candor and willingness to share.

In the end, after the shock and awe of her tumultuous life, Elizabeth Wurtzel helped so many people.

“That’s all I want in life; for this pain to seem purposeful.”
Elizabeth Wurtzel

Do Not Pass Go

The book censors are at it again. This time, instead of groups taking aim at specific books (Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird, Two Boys Kissing), one Missouri legislator is gunning for an entire set of people. Librarians.
Republican Rep. Ben Baker has just introduced the “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act,” which I will henceforth refer to as POOPLA because that’s what it is—a complete shit law.
The proposed legislation would establish local parental library review boards that could ban any book that has “age-inappropriate sexual material.” Any library personnel who don’t cooperate will be convicted of a misdemeanor and either fined or imprisoned.
Each board would be made up of five members who must be residents of a library’s geographical area who bother to show up at a specific meeting and garner the most votes from those present—so not all voters in an area, just the folks who are in the room. To me, it seems like it’d be pretty easy to stack a meeting with people who have a lot of time on their hands and censorship in their hearts.
As a reporter, I’ve covered governments that do this. An item gets added to the agenda at the last minute; put as the last item of a long, boring meeting; and when it finally gets addressed, only the few people in the know are still around to vote. It’s classic circumvent-the-public governing.  
Now I can just hear POOPLA-ists saying to all of us pesky free-speech, equal-access harridans, “Well, if you really cared, you’d make the effort to show up and try to get on the board.” Well, Ol’ Ben thought of that horrifying possibility and has surgically eliminated his biggest threat. He specifically excludes library employees from serving on the boards. For good measure he throws in anyone who works the state or any of its political subdivisions. That’s not very many people, right?
Librarians across the country are condemning the proposed legislation—loudly. The Missouri Library Association points out that public libraries already have procedures to help patrons protect their own children while not infringing upon the rights of other patrons or restricting access to materials. “Missouri Library Association will always oppose legislation that infringes on these rights,” the organization’s statement says. I’ll echo that with my own words—feel free to parent your own children, but do not try to parent mine.
“This is a shockingly transparent attempt to legalize book banning in the state of Missouri,” James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America, said in a statement. “This act is clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves as censors over their state’s public libraries. Books wrestling with sexual themes, books uplifting LGBTQIA+ characters, books addressing issues such as sexual assault—all of these books are potentially on the chopping block if this bill is passed.”
Baker is just a year into his first term as a Missouri state representative. He represents a district that’s only about 90 miles west of Branson in the southern part of the state. The whole region is very conservative, but his move seems like it might be too severe a move for even this area.
“We are against censorship in every way,” Carrie Cline, the director of Baker’s local library, told the Neosho (Mo.) Daily News. “It is YOUR job to parent your children. We will not tell you or your children that you cannot check something out … we are very proud of our collection and will fight to preserve your right to read whatever you wish for your family.”
If you live in Missouri, please contact your representative and let her or him know that you support free speech, equal access, and the rights of librarians. You can enter your zip code here to find your legislator’s contact information.