Thursday, December 18, 2014

Part 1: The price of buying -- and selling -- words

This is going to be a very long work in progress.  Rather than wait until I have the whole thing written, I'm going to post each part as it's completed and then post updates and/or corrections as needed.

The quick background is this:  Effective 1 January 2015, the European Union ("EU") will require all sellers of digital media to include Value Added Tax ("VAT") in the listed prices of the item being sold, to collect the VAT from the buyer, and to remit the VAT collected to the appropriate authority.  This requirement has been public knowledge for at least six months as of this date (18 December 2014) and some sellers of digital media have taken steps to comply.  Others have not.  Others are trying to but cannot.  There appears to be a huge amount of misinformation, misunderstanding, ignorance, and, well, a lot of other stuff.

I don't have all the answers, and don't claim to.  I'm just trying to ask the questions and put whatever information I find into some coherent order.

The concept of VAT has been around for quite a while.  It functions as a national sales tax for some 28 European countries, and ranges from a low of 3% to a high of 27%.  Much like state, county, and local sales taxes in the U.S., VAT is imposed on the buyer of physical merchandise at the time of purchase.  The merchant collects the tax at the rate imposed on the location where the purchase is made and then remits the monies to the appropriate authorities.  The purchaser may be from another country (or state, county, or city) where the rate is different -- higher or lower -- but the rate is charged based on where the actual transaction (where the buyer actually takes possession) takes place.

Unlike U.S. sales taxes, however, the VAT is included ("VAT inclusive") in the advertised price.  Assuming a 20% VAT rate for the United Kingdom, an item with a price of £5.00 would be displayed/advertised/listed at £6.00.  The customer thus knows up front what the total price is.

With physical goods, this isn't difficult to understand.  VAT being a national tax, even such things as printed books could (but in actuality may not) carry the correct VAT-inclusive price printed right on them.  Merchants collect the taxes at the time of the sale and then later report and pay them.

The U.S. having so many different taxing authorities -- state, county, city -- as well as various exemptions within those authorities, sales taxes are calculated after all the retail prices are added up.  Again, the merchants collect the taxes and remit them to the appropriate authorities.  Large retail merchants who sell a variety of goods at various tax rates have much of the complicated calculations programmed into their scanners and cash registers.  Smaller merchants who only sell one category of merchandise are permitted to calculate manually; in some jurisdictions they may even be allowed to calculate tax as a percentage of the list price paid rather than adding it to the list price.

You may think I'm writing this on the wrong blog and that this applies more to selling my arts and crafts than to writing books.  In fact, this has everything to do with books, and almost nothing to do with selling jewelry or wooden bowls at an art show.  Well, almost nothing.  We'll get to that later.

What worked for physical commodities sold in physical stores/locations was one thing.  Online selling of physical merchandise posed a different scenario.  In the U.S. as well as the EU, application of taxes to physical goods that were ordered online and delivered from one taxing location to another required some new requirements and strategies as well as implementation procedures.  In some cases it works, and in some it doesn't.

Digital distribution of digital products across jurisdictional boundaries was a bit trickier, for a variety of reasons.  The most obvious issue was that since there was no physical object being transferred, there was no physical point at which the taxing authority could intercept a package and demand payment (or evidence of prior payment) of taxes before turning the merchandise over to the purchaser.

Digital downloading via the Internet also meant that buyers and sellers could be in different states, even different countries.  Which taxing authorities then applied?  What rates?  How could the funds be collected and remitted?  What currencies would be involved?

The rapidity with which digital selling of digital products has increased apparently caught the EU taxing authorities sort of flat footed.  Especially when digital behemoth -- and infamous tax avoider -- Amazon got involved.

For one thing, the EU were upset that Amazon was taking over retail markets of physical goods and not paying any VAT at all, nor was Amazon paying any corporate taxes.  While various negotiations were taking place to rectify those situations, the EU took steps to begin collecting VAT on one market where Amazon had a very visible market dominance: ebooks.

The EU, in order to capture revenue from huge digital sellers and Amazon in particular, declared that VAT on digital media would be assessed based on the location of the seller.  Amazon then chose to set their EU location as Luxembourg (so did Nook and Kobo) whose VAT rate on ebooks is 3%, even though such a low VAT rate apparently contravened EU directives.  (France's rate of 5.5% on ebooks has also been deemed in violation.)

Effective 1 January 2015, that will no longer be the case.  Because of the amount of VAT funds being lost, the European Commission has stated that sales of digital products -- electronic books, crochet and knitting patterns, music recordings, digital training materials, etc. -- will have to be taxed by the seller but the rate will be based on the purchaser's home location, or at least the IP registered location of the computer or ereader device to which the file is downloaded.   This is similar to how U.S. sales taxes have generally been assessed on physical goods:  It's not the point of sale that matters; it's the point of purchase.  As online purchases of physical goods have increased, many taxing authorities (usually the individual states) have implemented measures by which sales taxes can be collected based on the buyer's location, especially if the seller has any physical presence in that particular state.  But again, it all depends on the taxing authority.  They're the collectors; they set the rules.  (Enforcing them may be a different matter.  We'll save that for another post, I think,)

There are several stipulations involved in all this beyond just the assessing, collecting, and remitting of the tax itself.
  1. The listed price posted by the digital seller must include the specific VAT amount for the prospective purchaser and that VAT-inclusive price must be posted prior to any sale.  The VAT amount can't be tacked on afterward the way sales taxes in the U.S. are.
  2. The seller must be registered with the EU and each member state (there are 28) in order to collect and remit the funds.  (There are some procedures in place for "one stop shopping" programs to allow digital merchants to remit VAT monies to just one location, which will then distribute according to the merchant's tax return.)
  3. Returns must be filed quarterly to those 28 member states.
  4. Records identifying each and every purchaser's location via IP as well as corroborating indentification evidence must be kept a minimum of 10 years and it must be stored on a server in the EU for auditing purposes. 
  5. Sellers' records must be auditable.
  6. And so on.

Amazon is complying with the order, albeit imperfectly.  Some other distributors of digital publications are not.

Amazon's fix is not, as I said, perfect, and that lack of perfection will have a direct and potentially serious impact on the digital self-publishing author.

Digital publication has allowed author-publishers to put their digital products online via a single distributor and then sell virtually anywhere in the world.  Amazon's Kindle dominates the ebook market.  One report suggested that 9 out of every 10 ebooks purchased in the UK came from Amazon.  But Amazon isn't alone.  There are other ebook distributors such as Smashwords, Nook, and Kobo, but there are also craft-oriented sites such as that allow "shop" owners to upload and sell digital files such as knitting patterns and downloadable graphics files.  The files are held on the website's servers -- not the seller's -- and downloaded automatically upon payment, usually through PayPal or another automated payment platform.  The EU and the UK's taxing authority HMRC have stated that such platforms constitute "3rd party" sellers who are liable, as is Amazon, for the collection and remittance of the taxes as well as the recordkeeping.  I'll get to the details of that distinction in a subsequent post, but I wanted you readers to know that Amazon isn't alone.

But getting back to ebooks in the EU.  The VAT rates on ebooks in the European Union range from 3% (Luxembourg) to 27% (Hungary).  There are 28 taxing bodies.  (Because most of those member states have more than one rate, there are actually the possibilities for 75 or so different rates on various products, but this post is only concerned with ebooks.)

Let me reiterate part of this:  The law that is slated to go into effect on 1 January 2015 (two weeks from today) includes the stipulation that each digital product be priced to include the appropriate VAT amount.  Thus, to use one example, a digital book priced by the publisher/author at £5.00 in the U.K. would have to be listed at £6.00 to cover the 20% VAT rate.  Amazon has its website, so the Kindle edition of the book would appear there at £6.00.  Amazon would collect that amount, remit the £1.00 VAT to the taxing authority (HMRC), and pay the author's royalties based on the selling price of £5.00, which the publisher/author set.

In the event, however, that a copy of the book is purchased from the site by a customer in Ireland, the numbers change.  The Republic of Ireland has a VAT rate of 23%, which on that book would be £1.15.  Since there is no separate Kindle pricing available for Ireland, the Irish VAT would be assessed and paid out of the posted price of £6.00, but now the publisher/author's selling price is docked to cover the shortfall, and subsequently her royalty from Amazon is based on £4.85.  In effect, the author in the U.S. has subsidized the higher Irish VAT rate.  The author can set a higher price, of course, to cover the Irish VAT, but that means the UK buyers will also be paying the higher price, too, and higher than they really need to.  Amazon will essentially split the difference with the publisher/author.

Amazon does not provide sufficient information to the publisher/author distinguishing the number of sales to Ireland and the number of sales to the UK.  The publisher/author just has to make a guess.

The VAT was never intended to be paid by the producers of the goods but by the consumers.

Amazon does have a variety of websites for Kindle publishing and publisher/authors are able to set the prices for each of those venues to cover the VAT rates.  But those venues do not cover all the taxing situations. would presumably cover the 19% rate for Germany as well as the 20% rate for Austria, since Amazon doesn't have a unique Austrian platform.   The publisher/author will have to cover the 1% shortfall.

No big deal, right?

But what about situations involving France? will presumably require ebooks to be priced to include the 5.5% French VAT on ebooks.  Can a Kindle buyer from Sweden buy Kindle books from  If so -- I've searched and haven't been able to find anything definite yet -- who pays the difference between the French 5.5% VAT on ebooks and the Swedish 25%?

So far, I have not been able to find out if buyers from Sweden even can purchase from, or are they restricted to, or can they buy Kindle books at all?

If there is a shortfall, even if it's 19.5% between the VAT-inclusive French price and the 25% Swedish VAT rate, how much you wanta bet it's gonna be charged to the publisher/author as a deduction from the selling price of the book, with a resultant diminution of the publisher/author's royalties?

So far, only France, Luxembourg, and Malta have applied a substantially reduced VAT rate on ebooks.  Austria, however, only applies a 10% VAT to physical books and periodicals.  Other EU member states also have lower rates on books, magazines, newspapers.  Ireland and the UK impose no VAT at all to physical books and periodicals.  That reduced rate does not apply to digital books and periodicals, per the EU declaration that it's not really clear that digital and print media are equal, the same, equivalent.  (They are discussing the issue, however.)  After all, digital books have linkable indexes and so on.  (Never mind that digital books require some kind of digital reading device; physical books don't.  Or that digital books cannot be legally resold because they aren't legally "owned."  Did you know that?  You really don't own any of those Kindle books.  All you have is a license to read them. . . .)

If the Kindle books are sold(sic) and taxed at the rate posted on the Amazon marketplace website but purchased by someone in another country with a different VAT rate, the tax is going to be applied unfairly.  Either the publisher/author will have to subsidize the buyer if the posted rate is too low, or other buyers will be paying more than they should.

There is another effect of this variability in taxation:  The publisher/author may take an even greater hit when it comes to royalties because of KDP's two-tiered royalty schedule.  That issue is just full of math (or maths) so let's save it for Part 2, shall we?

Friday, December 5, 2014

And another dangerous word


It does not pay to be honest.  It is not safe to be honest.  Honesty is a very dangerous commodity.

In the past, with my blogs and reviews and other writing, I have tried to be as honest as I can.  I believed very sincerely that that was what was needed.

Honesty may have been needed, but it was not wanted.  I learned that over a year ago when Goodreads instituted the infamous September 2013 Purge.  I learned it again last month when Goodreads permanently banned me. 

It doesn't make any difference.  I don't know how to be dishonest about these things.  I can lie about other things -- I assure you, I'm no saint -- but what point is there to lying in a book review?  Or in a discussion related to books and writing and reading?  What's the freaking point?

Authors need to get a clue.  I am amazed, yes truly amazed, that there is so much ignorance out there still, after all this time.  Maybe it's more willful ignorance than the innocent kind.  And yes, this is the kind of not-nice-but-honest comment that gets me into trouble.  No doubt I will get into trouble again before this post is finished.

Reviews are not commercials.  Reviewers are not there -- wherever there is -- to write ad copy for authors.  How difficult is this to understand?  Leaving out the semi-pro reviewers -- by which I mean those who have formal book blogs and regularly obtain advance copies for the explicit purpose of reviewing -- most reviewers are just readers.  They're consumers.  They bought the damn book, or obtained it free when the author was giving it away, or checked it out of the library, or whatever, and then they read it.  Where in that commercial transaction is it decreed that the reader owes the writer anything at all?  Where is the requirement that the reader help the author sell her book to other readers?  Or help the author become a better writer?  Or fix the mistakes in the present book?

That's right.  It's not there.  Readers do not have any obligation to review at all.  They don't have any obligation to rate a book on Goodreads, or shelve it on Leafmarks, or proofread it or anything else.  None. At. All.

And readers are most certainly not obligated to lie for you, the author of a terrible book.

You know who you are.  I don't have to put your name out here for everyone to see.  You know who you are.

I've read your books.  Or at least I've tried to.  And they're terrible.  And you just can't stand to have that truth held up in front of you.  You just can't stand it.

Truth is a very powerful thing.  It can be painful, very painful, but if it has the power to hurt, then it must indeed be very powerful.

You will hate me, if you don't already, but you cannot stop me from being honest.  You can, like someone else about whom I dared to tell the truth, take revenge against me.  I already know, however, because I am capable of at least a certain amount of honesty with myself, that I cannot be anything but honest with others, especially if they are being dishonest in a way that would hurt the innocent.  I know, because I do try to be as honest with myself as I am with others, that this makes me Not a Nice Person.  I know that people will dislike me because of it.  I know that I have almost no defense against them or that revenge, because my only defense is the same damn honesty that got me into the mess in the first place.

Your book is terrible.  Whether you're so ignorant that you can't see it for yourself, or you're in total emotional denial, or you know it but you've decided to just lie about it anyway, the fact remains:  Your book is terrible.  But you want me to lie about it so someone else will buy it?  Is that the name of your game?  You want me to try to get someone to believe that they will be sufficiently entertained by this piece of tripe you have written and published so that they will fork over $2.99 or $3.99 or whatever the asking price is?  The only way anyone will think this piece of garbage is readable is if people lie about it.  People like me.   Well, no, not exactly.   People like me won't do it.  We won't lie.

What will you do then?  You can, if you so choose, pay people to lie about it.  You will pay them to post online that they loved your book, that it's the greatest thing ever written, that it should be made into a movie starring George Clooney, Orlando Bloom, Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian.  Some people will believe those lies.  Most, however, won't.

Your writing stinks.  But you don't want anyone to point that out.  Rather than be honest and want honest "reviews" of your book, you want to silence the honest voices.  You throw up a litany of reasons why low ratings and negative reviews are by definition  invalid.  You think no one should read books they aren't enjoying, that they should not rate or review books they have not completely read, that they should think of the author's feelings and only review books they can give five stars to.  You declare only other authors are qualified to write negative reviews because they are the only ones who know how much blood, sweat, and agony goes into the writing of a book, any book.  And then you accuse any author who posts a negative review of being jealous and cruel and unsupportive of her "fellow authors."

By that standard, authors are only allowed to post positive reviews . . . or none at all.  And readers, who by that definition are disqualified from leaving negative reviews, can only post positive ones.

You want readers to lie by omission.  You want them to shut up and say nothing about your awful book, as though that will make your writing any better.  It won't.

Your book is indeed awful.  You can't write.  Your story is banal, your characters are wooden, your plot is implausible.  Your cover looks like something knocked together by a couple of 12-year-olds, and your formatting is an embarrassment to MSWord.  This product has no redeeming features whatsoever.

Yet if I say that, and if I provide evidence to substantiate my claims, you will call me a troll and a bully and a meanie.  You've done it in the past.  You will accuse me of jealousy, and I will laugh hysterically because there is no reason for someone who is reasonably competent with the English language to be jealous of you and this file of putrescent gibberish that you call a book.

You will tell me that I should think of your tender feelings, but I should not care at all about the potential readers to whom my silence is a lie of tacit approval.  Those readers are nothing to you, or at least nothing more than their credit card numbers on their one-click accounts.  To you they have no feelings worthy of respect, worthy of honesty.

You want me to be what I am not.  I am not a liar.  And I will not lie for you. 

A few people stood up with me when I took on Goodreads (which is well on its way to becoming nothing more than the advertising arm of Amazon if it isn't already) but most did not.  A few have spoken out since my banning, but most of gone back to their previous silence.  It is one thing to "take one for the team" by reading and then reviewing a terrible book, because of course that is done voluntarily and there are a lot of laughs to go around in the process.  And one really doesn't take any kind of risk when doing that.

I took one for the team over and over and over.  Under my real name.  The blog posts are still on Booklikes.  And here.  And there are screenshots of many of the now-erased posts on Goodreads.

I put my Goodreads account on the line in the name of honesty.  I am not one to blow my own horn when it comes to my books, but I will blow my horn 'til the cows come home over what I did on Goodreads:  I documented the dishonesty.  And that's what I was banned for.

The excuse that will probably be given, if there ever is one, is that I wasn't nice enough.  And that much is true.  I wasn't nice.  I was honest, but I wasn't nice.

When authors came onto Goodreads threads and asked whether or not they should buy reviews, I was honest:  I told them they shouldn't.  I told them those reviews might be removed.  I told them those reviews could be identified and then their books would be labeled as "This one is so bad the author has to pay people to pretend they read it."

Could I have been nicer?  Could I have written, "Oh, dear, I don't think that would be a very good idea.  What if people found out you bought those reviews?  What would they think of your book?  What would they think of you?"  Yes, I suppose I could have written it that way.  Would it have got the point across?  Maybe, or maybe not.  Would it have been me? 

No, it would not.

I understand the allure of reviews.  I recognize that they are repeatedly touted as the key to making sales.  One has only to read the posts of the frankly desperate authors who beg for reviews because reviews are, they believe, needed to generate sales.  They believe this as surely as they believe night follows day.  Except that night really does follow day; unfortunately, reviews do not generate sales.

Amazon, however, has a vested interest in fostering that belief. 

Amazon wants people to keep uploading books.  The cost to Amazon is negligible, since they do none of the actual work of publishing.  They do not edit, provide artwork, or market those author-published works.  They do, however, get a cut of each one that's purchased.

Though these are rough numbers and there are exceptions on all, these are the basic figures.  On a 99-cent Kindle book, the author's royalty rate is 35%.   Amazon keeps 65 cents off the top, the author gets 34 cents.  The same percentages hold up to $2.98.  At $2.99 and up, the author can elect a 70% royalty, which means Amazon's cut is 90 cents plus they charge a few cents to cover the cost of digital storage and delivery. 

Amazon is much better positioned to cover the minuscule costs of those thousands of free downloads than the authors are, even the perma-free titles.  Will that benefit someday disappear?  I expect it probably will, but that's another discussion.

So who benefits from the Kindle Direct Publishing platform the most?  Amazon.   And it doesn't matter how good or how bad the product is, Amazon still gets a cut.

Crappy books do not sell.  Not even hundreds of glowing 5-star reviews can push crappy books into best-seller status -- and profits for the authors.  Some of you who are reading this are very well aware of what you've done to rack up those reviews and ratings.

Have you given the books away free and then asked readers to leave a review?  Have you used social media to make friends with your readers, in Facebook groups or on Twitter, on Goodreads and Amazon and Booklikes, and then solicited just a short review from them, telling them how much it would help you?  Did you make them feel obligated to do so?  Of course you weren't really pressuring them.  You just sort of left the suggestion in their minds, and they of course being flattered were more than eager to do so.

Why is it then that the next book, the one you didn't give away free and didn't pressure readers to buy and read, didn't get hundreds of 5-star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads?  Why do you suppose that is?  Maybe because people didn't like it?  Maybe they lied in their reviews on the first book because they'd been flattered by your attention, but in reality they knew the book was garbage?

Amazon doesn't care why your second book didn't sell.  Or your third, fourth, or any of the subsequent titles.  Did it ever occur to you that maybe Amazon is using you as their loss leaders to put the competition out of business?  Probably not.  Probably not any more than it ever occurred to you to read the 1- and 2-star reviews that were left for your crappy books on Amazon and Goodreads, on Leafmarks and Booklikes.

Nor does Amazon care if you buy reviews.  Many of you do, of course.  Many of you have been caught red-handed on  Many of those reviews have been removed from Goodreads and the reviewers' accounts have been terminated, but very few of you have lost your author status there, unless like Michael Beas and Cheryl Persons you were also selling reviews on Goodreads.  But do you remember how this paragraph started?  "Nor does Amazon care if you buy reviews."

Amazon doesn't care because they've got that wonderful "Verified Purchase" button.  It's supposed to imply that the accompanying review is a legitimate consumer opinion, the kind that's required under Federal Trade Commission guidelines.  There are probably a lot of genuine consumers who trust that label.  But you've figured out a way around that, which is exactly what Amazon wanted you to do.  So now when you buy your "reviews" from fiverr and the other shill outfits, you buy another "gig" so the reviewer can buy your book and get that "Verified Purchase" stamp.  And Amazon gets their cut and they're happy to turn a blind eye to the transaction. 

How's that working for you?  Two fiverr gigs are going to cost you $10.  On your $2.99 book you'll net roughly $2.00.  You'll get that back when the reviewer buys your book, and then you have to hope they don't return it and pocket the extra $2.99.  Even if they honor the agreement and don't ask for a refund, that review has to generate four more sales just for you to break even.

Amazon got 90-some cents for doing pretty much nothing.  That's why they don't care if you buy reviews that say your paranormal YA chicklit book is better than Tolkien and Herbert and Martin and Gabaldon and Rowling all wrapped up together even if anyone with more than twelve functioning brain cells can see it's absolute dreck.  Amazon has a vested interest in not caring about, well, about honesty or integrity or ethics or quality or any of that bullshit.  Honesty and integrity and ethics aren't profitable.  And Amazon, like all corporations, is all about profit.

None of the Amazon accounts identified as belonging to fiverr "reviewers" have been removed from Amazon by Amazon.  None of their reviews have been removed by Amazon.  Some of those individuals attempted to establish new Goodreads accounts but were quickly identified and quickly removed.  However, Amazon doesn't remove them.  Even though Amazon's review guidelines explicitly state that paid reviews are a violation, no amount of reporting "abuse" will get them removed.  I know this because I've reported them.  Repeatedly.  They're still there.

During the months that I routinely monitored Goodreads and Amazon reviews to connect them with fiverr "reviewers," I came to be very familiar with the names under which they posted their reviews.   They're still posting.  That means you're still buying. 

And yes, in case you're wondering, I'm still monitoring.  I'm still taking screen shots, though not as many as I did before.  And of course I'm not reporting to Goodreads.  Why should I?

I already took one for the team, a big one.  I did my part.  Now it's someone else's turn, if they care enough that it.  My guess is that they don't.

Does that mean you're in the clear?  Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't.  Maybe I'll get angry enough with you again and start posting more screenshots to Booklikes.   Because remember,  I'm not a nice person.  I have no reason to be nice any more.  My being nice or not nice really has nothing to do with it, does it?  No, the real issue is that I'm honest, and you just can't stand that.  You just can't stand it at all, can you.

Maybe you're one of those authors who self-righteously brags that you never bought a review and you didn't stoop so low as to give your books away to anyone.  You put time and effort into your books and you don't think you should let someone benefit from your effort without, by God, paying you for the right to read it. 

But when I look at your book on Amazon, I see more familiar names.  No, not fiverr shills but the names of other authors, other self-publishing authors, other self-publishing authors who have been desperately looking for people to buy and read and review their books and they'll do the same in return.  It's different, you insist, when you agree to swap honest reviews with each other. 

You and I both know those reviews aren't honest in the least.  You and the other author are going to stroke each other's egos because you're afraid that if you don't tell him his steaming pile of manure is the next Hunger Games, he'll retaliate and let the world know your book isn't the next Interview with a Vampire.  Both of you believe that 5-star reviews will generate sales, and that's what it's all about.  You're no different from Amazon in that respect (pun intended).  You don't care one fig about honesty.  You only care about sales.  You will lie, and you will ask someone else to lie, in the name of selling your terrible, terrible book.

The CJRR continues -- that nefarious group of self-publishing authors who rate each other's absolutely suckworthy spewings with unalloyed 5-star ratings and attack anyone who dares do otherwise.  The sockpuppet ratings continue unabated.  The fiverr shills haven't missed a beat.  It gets worse instead of better on Goodreads and Amazon, because that's the way Amazon wants it.

Readers may ask, "But why?  Why does Amazon want to promote crap?"

Because it sells.  If it doesn't sell itself, it at least sells advertising.  Every time a reader clicks on a free book, other items pop up.  Try it sometime.  Recommended.  Readers who bought this also bought.  And so on.  And Goodreads is just an advertising platform for Amazon.  So Goodreads doesn't really care either.

They cared a little bit for a little while.  They cared long enough to remove a few of the shadier accounts.  Michael Beas with more than 350 purchased reviews.  "Meghan" from Manila with almost 800.  The publicist and her sock puppet army who had over 2500 5-star reviews posted on Goodreads.  Did someone from Amazon come along and tell the Goodreads staff that they had to axe Linda Hilton's account because Linda Hilton wasn't being nice? 

Did Amazon not like it that I was posting screen shots that linked Amazon "Top Reviewers" to fiverr accounts? 

Were publicists like Kelsey McBride buying enough ads for their clients on Goodreads and Amazon that those websites took the cash over ethics to let those publicists, their employees, their sockpuppets, continue to post reviews in violation of FTC regulations and didn't want Linda Hilton to publicize (pun intended) that information?

Yes, I'm angry at you uploaders -- you're not really authors at all -- because you've fouled the nest we all need to live in.  I despise you, and I know the risk I'm taking even in posting this screed.  Amazon is big enough and powerful enough, and I am insignificant enough, that they could refuse to publish my books.  Believe me, the loss of my sales wouldn't hurt them financially.  (Actually, it probably wouldn't hurt me financially very much either.)  If they do that, you'll know and I'll know that what I've written here is important enough for them to want to silence me. 

They don't go out of their way to silence the insignificant.  Honesty is never insignificant.  It's too dangerous to be insignificant.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Words that fill unusual needs

Once again, I need to remind myself that I do not believe in omens.  Really and truly, I don't.

Coincidence?  Yes.  Even serendipity and luck.  But omens, with their implication of supernatural manipulation of human events?  No.  Just, no.

On the other hand. . . .

Several years ago, a rather unusual sequence of events put me in possession of a faceting machine.  Though I have played around with rocks and stones and gems for a very long time, I had never considered faceting.  The equipment was too expensive for my budget, for one thing, and I had no clue how to go about learning the craft.  But the machine was offered to me for free and would have ended up in a Dumpster otherwise.  So I took it.

I subsequently found out what it was worth and was more than a little astounded.  Flabbergasted is probably a better word.  I also learned that a few small and inexpensive but absolutely essential accessories were missing.  They were quickly and easily replaced and the machine was fully functional. 

As I wrote in Really Neat Rocks, faceting is one of the lapidary arts that requires significant investment.  The basic machine can cost several thousand dollars, but then there are the accessories -- laps and dops and transfer jigs and so on -- not to mention the rough rocks.  Facet-grade rough is a lot more expensive than the agates and jaspers that can be found out in the desert for free.  The machine I acquired came complete with all those expensive accessories and with a modest supply of rough as well. 

I should have been all set.

I wasn't.

The machine came with a little booklet of maybe 60 pages, Facet Cutter's Handbook, that purported to be all one needed to learn how to facet.  For me at least it was woefully inadequate.  I already had an old edition of John Sinkankas' Gem Cutting: A Lapidary Manual, which was likewise inadequate as well as out of date.  I needed a well-illustrated, step-by-step manual.  If I have that kind of guide, I can usually figure out how to do just about anything.

The books that might have filled that niche were, unfortunately, long out of print and subsequently priced way out of my budget.  I played with the machine a couple of times, and managed to achieve some results, but I didn't really know what I was doing.  So I quit.

But I did join an email discussion list sponsored by the U.S. Faceters Guild.  Almost every day I receive emails from the other participants, most of which comments are way above my head because I know so little about the craft.  There's never been a temptation to unsubscribe, however.  Though I delete most of the emails -- they're archived should I ever decide to revisit any of them -- I do read them all.  Now and then there's something that either adds to my store of knowledge about other aspects of lapidary or is something tucked away for an indistinct future when I will actually get to use the machine.

As I recorded yesterday, I gave notice two weeks ago to quit my day job.  Just a couple days after I made that rather scary decision,  one of the members of that USFG email list posted that he had published a book.  Two books actually, because two volumes were needed to contain all the information. 

I bought the books.  Immediately.  They arrived yesterday.  I've read the first chapter of the first book, and I'm very, very impressed.  Tom Herbst has done an excellent job, and if the rest of the books live up to the promise of the first chapter, they will fill a huge need.

He acknowledges right at the beginning that self-publishing is the way to go for this kind of specialty books.  Digital print-on-demand allows authors to create the special-interest volumes that just can't be commerically viable for a traditional publisher.   Are these POD editions lacking the glossy full-color photos that many of us in the arts-and-crafts fields are accustomed to?  Yes, they are.  Though Herbst's books are loaded with black and white drawings and photos, there are no color pictures.  Because I've researched it myself, I know that the cost of including color printing in a CreateSpace product shoves the cost into the stratosphere.  In a way, these new books are a step backward in terms of the illustrations.  They're more like Sinkankas' 1963 hardcover than James Mitchell's 2012 Gem Trails of Arizona.

But today we have the internet and the www and Google images and Flickr and if we need color images, we know where to get them.  We don't need the glossy color photos; we can get more and better pictures online.

Tom Herbst's books arrived, in more ways than one, just when I needed them.  A few weeks ago, I probably would have ordered them but maybe not.  A year ago the probably drops down to possibly, but not very likely.  But last week there was no question.  Everything came together at just the right time.  I have the equipment, I have the time, and now I have the books.

What does this have to do with writing romance novels?  Ah, I'm so glad you asked.  ;-)

We never know, as readers or as writers, how our words are going to impact other people's lives.   We never know, as writers, how our product is going to be received.   It behooves us, then, to make sure our product is the very best that it can be.  I'm not an expert faceter.  Hell, I'm not even a beginner yet!  So you can bet I'm going to be watching the reviews, even the informal ones, that show up on the USFG email list.  And I'm going to pay attention to what those people have to say.  Because they are the experts.  I've seen the kind of work they produce and I know they know what they're doing.  As reviewers, they may not have perfect grammar or spelling, but that's not the expertise they're utilizing.

And they won't hesitate to criticize if necessary. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

The first words of the rest of my life

I do not believe in omens.

Really, I don't.

What I wrote a few weeks ago was a tale of connections and coincidences, nothing more. 

At about the same time as I wrote that blog post, I gave notice of my intention to quit my day job.  The reasons were many, some practical, some irrational.  I had been doing this work for six and a half years, and that is longer than I had ever remained at any other paid employment.  My tenure was not due to the lavish pay (I can't even laugh at the absurdity of that notion) or working conditions (I worked at home); I stayed as long as I did because I needed some income and because this was a job where I never had to interact directly with real people.

I do not always get along well with real people.

Perhaps that has been one of the attractions writing has always held for me, too.  In the world(s) I create, I can control the things that are uncontrollable in the real world, and I do not have to deal with the frustrations that sometimes overwhelm me here.

So today was my first day after the end of the day job.  I still feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do in my real life that I had not been able to do because of the day job.  I feel as if I want everything done, right now, today, and yet I know that isn't remotely possible.  One day at a time, I remind myself, because I'm no longer rushed, no longer trying to squeeze ten hours of productivity into two hours of free time.

I began this morning much as I always do:  Rising early and checking the email.  But early is no longer the crack of pre-dawn.  I got enough sleep and didn't feel the pressure to get right to work.  I did have an Etsy shipment to take to the post office, so I packaged the orders and set out shortly before 9:00 a.m.  And because the post office is just around the corner from the local municipal complex, I finally -- eight and a half years after moving here -- got a library card.

My personal collection of reading material is more than enough to keep me occupied.  What I've lacked, though, is the time to read.  It doesn't matter that there are 2,500 books in the house, 3,300 more on my Kindle, another 800 or 1,000 in boxes stored in the workshop.  There is no such thing as having enough books, let alone too many.

But it takes time to get a library card, time to go to the library, time to browse the books, time to check them out, time to read them and then return them.  I didn't have the time.  Now I do.  So I got my library card and checked out two books.

Then it was home to the work of having a life again.  I had more listings to post to Etsy -- that will be a major on-going project -- which meant photos to take and edit.  I didn't have to rush through the process, however, because there will be more time tomorrow, too.  I can experiment with light and backgrounds, indoors or outdoors.  I can edit the descriptions of my wares rather than slap something together and post it as "good enough."

Did I address the cleaning that needs to be done in my studio?  No, not yet.  Maybe tomorrow.

Did I even look at the mountain of sewing that awaits?  No, not yet.  Maybe tomorrow.  Or the next day.

Did I read?  A little bit.  Not much, but I'm in no rush.

Did I write?  Ah, that's what the evening is for!