Thursday, December 27, 2012

Goals for the Year of 2013

The new year is around the corner (Already?!), and the time has come to set goals, goals we hope to accomplish for the upcoming year.

I'm a writer and a reader, so here are some of mine:

As a reader, I want to finally read Tuesday Next series (Friends whose opinions I trust keep telling me the series is such that I'll likely love it), to finish Dracula (Yes, I write vampire fiction, and I've never finished reading Dracula), and to read more frequently in Spanish. (I realized my Spanish isn't half bad when I can read a technical article on em dashes and understand what I'm reading, although I don't know all the jargon yet.)

As a writer, I'm looking on my huge list of to-do projects and forcing myself to take deep breaths while I pick what's to to worked on now, leaving the rest to be tabled for later.

Projects I aim to finish in 2013 (with "finish" meaning "write, edit, and publish"):

  • Know Thy Frienemy
  • A Fistful of Water
  • A Fistful of Air
  • Lost Her Magic, Hates to Dance
  • the short stories I've already planned out for Nirmoh and Wight
  • two more collections featuring Lyn Burgess (and doing a better cover for that one…)
  • the two planned sequels to “The Nymph and the Goblin”
  • the short stories I've already planned out for Emris and Ember (I really love those "E", "M", and "R" sounds, don't I?)

I'm hoping to also finish the story of Manal and Conláed (The Cripple and the Hawk), but that list already contains a good 300k words, so I don't want to plan too much and overwhelm myself. I suspect that if I plan small enough, I'll be able to finish all the aforementioned goals within a year.

But here's the thing about me being a self-publishing author with a blog:

I'm going to let your requests influence my story queue.

Know Thy Frienemy (sequel to Destiny's Kiss) almost has the first draft done, and the way that one's written, I don't see much revision being needed. Most of the delay before publication will likely come from the detail checks—anybody fluent in modern Greek?—but it's going to betas soon.

Once that e-mail's sent, I'll be working on A Fistful of Water.

But after that… I'm not sure, thanks to the popcorn kittens.

I so I put it to you: What story or stories—either that you've read or seen me mention—do you most want to see or see continued?

And, more importantly:

Do you have any reading/writing goals for the upcoming year?


Thursday, December 20, 2012

On Christmas and Other Holidays

I don't celebrate Christmas.

Now, I don't mind if you do. I don't think there's anything innately wrong with celebrating Christmas, exactly. I don't care for it's often celebrated—hey, let's be obligated to give everyone presents so I'm harried and stressed and don't want to mess with giving them anything when it isn't Christmas—but I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

My reason for not celebrating stems from the details that 1. There's no command in Scripture to celebrate Christ's birth (which, as a Christian, is really the cincher for why I'm free to not celebrate) and 2. The holiday as commonly celebrated is just an excuse to not do nice things for folks at other times—because, yanno, you already got them something—that or you're having to get started on next Christmas.

I actually have times when my friends refuse to accept things I've gotten for them, because I've already given them so much that [time period]. (But as a pertinent note: I'm perfectly capable of putting my foot down if someone tries taking advantage of me.)

As a result, the holidays get awkward. Everyone asks, "Are you ready for the holidays?" or "Get all your gifts yet?" or "Looking forward to Christmas?"

My options:

  1. Get in a short (and not always appropriate at the time) conversation mentioning that I don't celebrate (and risking the other person thinking me offended).
  2. Give a demure, polite answer that lets them assume I celebrate (and possibly coming across as a goody-goody, because who says yes, they're ready for the holidays?) and strikes me as uncomfortably close to a lie?

Add in the detail that I'm Christian, and I not infrequently get "O.O You don't celebrate?" even from fellow Christians.

And then there's the risk in getting folks all riled up about how I should be celebrating Christmas, and it's wrong of me to not celebrate Christ's birth. >_> That one happens sometimes, too.

Now, Easter—that I celebrate. As in, I celebrate Christ's resurrection and avoid the eggs and chicks and bunnies of the pagan fertility celebrations.

But that's my choice of what holidays I celebrate and how. You have your own choices.

We all have a right to celebrate the holidays we want, the way we want to, and to not celebrate other holidays.

And those choices need not reflect common cultural stereotypes.

Not for me. Not for you. Not for our friends. Not for our characters (for those of us who write fiction).

Believe it or not, your choice need not even reflect that of your family. My extended family all celebrates Christmas and other holidays I don't.

Some friends and family know I don't celebrate and they still feel obligated to give me a gift. I suspect that rather illustrates how twisted this holiday is. It's presumably a celebration of family or of Christ's birth, so why should anyone feel obligated to give gifts? It doesn't make sense to me.

But that's me. I regularly break social taboos because they don't make sense to me and therefore can never remember them until after I break them. (•Never tell how much a gift cost! —Er, not even when it's something the recipient'll want to buy more of for themselves? •Never tell someone her hair's a mess! —Er, but I'd want them to tell me… •Never talk about how much you make. —Er, what if you're in a pertinent conversation with folks who have business sense and therefore understand that increased responsibility and stress should equal greater pay?)

So I suspect I'm breaking some other social taboos (at least for some folks, since politeness is relative) when I tell such self-obligated friends: "You can give me something if you want, but I won't be giving you a Christmas present back."

And then I don't.

And funny thing I've noticed: Most of the folks who feel obligated to give me something lose that feeling after a few years of unreciprocated gift-giving. Makes me wonder if selfishness is what's at the heart of all the "obligatory" gift-giving, because if you get things for a bunch of folks, then a bunch of folks should return the favor.

Now, some folks just like giving gifts and use Christmas for an excuse for that. As long as those folks aren't hurting their own bank accounts to do so—which some of them do—that's different from the "obligatory" gift-giving.

At any rate, it illustrates that not all of us celebrate (or neglect to celebrate) holidays for the same reasons.

What do you think of the idea of not celebrating Christmas? Are there any culturally popular holidays that you don't celebrate? Do folks try to make you feel guilty


P.S. "Of Her Own", a short story covering how Lallie met Silva, has a new cover and a new price (at least, in those places where I was able to drop it). Feel free to check it out!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Some Updates for December 2012

First, A Fistful of Fire and A Fistful of Earth now each cost $6.99 for the e-book.

Second, I'm having website issues with Wordpress (on my main site—this blog is Blogger), and those issues are bad enough that I will probably be abandoning WordPress once I get a few spare days to write a new site layout. It's eating sections that displayed perfectly fine previously, and I can't seem to get the rollback to take. *sighs* WP just updated, though, so maybe that'll fix it.

Third, I should be getting a response soon from the latest magazine where I submitted "Kill Jill". If it's rejected, I'll be self-publishing it. It's even prepped and ready to go, so watch for that.

Fourth, I've self-published a dark fantasy novelette. This is dark, disturbing, not for kids. If the "Donkeyskin" fairy tale bothers you, avoid this novelette. Otherwise, you might like this slaughtering of "Beauty and the Beast" of about 11,600 words / 65 pages, available in electronic and print format.

Electronic Format: $2.99 US
Amazon US | UK | DE | FR | ES | IT | JP | CA | BR
Barnes and Noble
All Romance Ebooks | Omnilit
DriveThru Fiction
Print Format: $6.99 US
CreateSpace (I get a larger % if you buy direct from there.)
Amazon (Might suit you better if you're seeking Christmas gifts.)

Fifth, Captain Morgan's spiced rum is pretty good, but I think I like coconut rum better. (Couldn't resist an alcohol comment on that one.)

Sixth, did I mention I hate WordPress and will probably be redoing my site from scratch?

Seventh, I'm hoping to soon finish a companion story to "A Blackmail and a Birthday"—namely, what exactly happened a year before that when some werewolves tried to eat Ember. I'm hoping that finishing that story will assuage my subconscious's desire to explore a particular related one that's a good twenty-five years (story timeline) down the road… (Lord willing, I'll get to writing it eventually. Likely not for a few years, though.)

Eighth, I need some funny but morbid music, along the lines of "Oh, Michelle" or "Mad Science Love Song" by Seanan McGuire, or "None Too Ladylike" by ApologetiX. Anyone have any specific recs?

Ninth, I need that music because all my major projects on my to-write list are at emotional low points. Usually, I can bounce between a happy moment and a downer one. But right now… I have one narrator who's borderline suicidal, and another who's angry, bitter, and shortsightedly dumb enough to ruin multiple lives along with her own.

I may take a break to write something about someone who's, yanno, emotionally healthy. Or maybe I'll get on a "Let's hang out with the loonies!" kick and knock most of it all out at once. We'll see.

Tenth, I'm seriously considering a side business of making allergy-safe lip balm. It's fun to make, and most lip balm contains things that aren't good for you or that aren't good for me. (Anything ending in –paraben isn't good for your skin. It makes the item feel nice, but it's bad for your skin.) I can easily make my own, but recipes produce along the lines of 5–50 tubes at a time, so it wouldn't take much before I would be swimming in lip balm, so starting the business would really be just setting up something I do anyway so I could make money instead of losing it.

If I did start the aforementioned business, I'd publicly post my recipes so that anyone who wanted to could make the lip balm, themselves. I'd also want to offer customability—for example, if you're allergic to apricot, I could whip up a batch with something like olive oil, instead of apricot kernel oil—but with unshared plastic equipment. Metal and glass can get allergens cleaned off. Plastic…not so much. So I'd either need my lip balm fill trays marked with specific things they're for—and that's if I didn't just fill tubes by hand. (It's doable, although a bit messy.)

You have any particular plans or news or goings-on you'd like to share? Or do you have any particular reaction to any of the above points? Or perhaps a question or something you'd like me to address in a future post? ^_^


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Should a Blogger Be Discreet or Discrete?

Stretching only a little with the literal definitions of the two homophones involved, bloggers can be discreet about their controversial opinions—keeping quiet about them—or bloggers can be discrete about their controversial opinions—using those opinions to separate them from other bloggers.

And I say that as someone who adheres to some mighty controversial opinions.

Most of them, I'm discreet about. You can identify at least some of them if you find me on some specific sites online, but I don't use my blog as a pedestal and proclaim to the world that I'm a six-day creationist. (Er, oops.)

Okay, so I don't use my blog to proclaim or explain why I'm a six-day creationist.

But some opinions, like my thoughts on how to price your writing and my belief that there are no bad words—those opinions, I announce, proclaim, and explain.

Why am I obvious about those, but not about others?

Any time a blogger gives an opinion, they're giving some readers an excuse to stop reading.

And any time an author gives an opinion, they're giving some readers an excuse to avoid their writing, be it fiction or non-fiction.

This blog is entitled "Another Author's 2 Pence", making obvious from the get-go that it's an author's blog. I therefore have no qualms about admitting writing-related opinions, because authors write. That's what we do. So duh, we'll have opinions on it.

(Frankly, when an author has a blog and never so much as mentions writing, it bewilders me. Even the so-hilarious-her-books-are-on-my-to-buy-list-and-I've-not-yet-read-one Twitter feed by Kiersten White sometimes mentions writing. Often facetiously, because it's mostly intended for her YA-reading fans. Lindsay Buroker's often-O.O-worthy Twitter feed is more chatty, but it still mentions writing at times.)

Authors/writers write.

And we have therefore opinions on the process.

Other things, like my my allergies, my hobbies—I really need to finish knitting that garment, because if it works, it'll save me a good $250—my faith, my beliefs about the world… Those color my writing, so there's a sense in which they're pertinent.

I mean, Zoe Winters is a Buddist. Her paranormal romance world features reincarnation. Those two things are kinda related.

Zoe Winters even comes from a Christian background—possibly Southern Baptist if not fundamentalist, from what she's mentioned on her blog—so when she explains a point of view on her blog, the line of reasoning she sets out makes sense to me. I won't exactly agree, but I can at least follow what she's thinking.

Her novels and blog aren't preachy. Her beliefs are…there, and she doesn't hide them, but she doesn't prosthelytize, either.

Some folks believe that such presentation of personal beliefs is unprofessional.

By that argument, the only "professional" way to write is as an effectual agnostic.

That type of writing has its place. (Example: Press releases.) But agnostics generally believe people are basically good. That produces an entirely different way of looking at the world from someone who believes people are basically bad—a perspective that colors opinions, story worlds, character development…

See the problem?

Your beliefs affect what you write, be it a story or a college essay.

So let's step back and bring up the detail I mentioned about being a six-day creationist. That's actually very pertinent to my writing.

Say what?

Standard evolutionary thought is that mankind is getting smarter through the generations, better, as mutations improve the human race with each generation. I doubt that's news to any of my readers.

Due to how mutations have only been demonstrated to delete or rearrange already-existing information (never creating information), six-day creationists believe mankind is actually losing ability and intelligence with each generation.

That's a fundamental detail that influences the development my characters and story worlds.

For example, due to the belief that genetics are getting progressively worse, my Darkworld stories feature a world wherein originally, everyone could do multiple types of magic, like Destiny Walker of Destiny's Kiss. But by the twenty-first century, she's a freak rather than the norm. Most folks can't do magic. (And that world's scientific community attributes that change to bottleneck effect.)

I'm sure some of you readers are intrigued by that detail—you might not agree with me, but you might like the peek into how another person views the world.

And I'm every bit as sure that some of you readers will now refuse to read anything more that I write.

Will the number of readers who like my forthrightness outnumber the readers who dislike it?

I don't know.

I can't know.

And therein lay the danger of being discrete as a blogger.

Being discreet offends no one, while being forthright about opinions will offend someone.

There's a marketer whose e-mail list I stay on for the sole reason that he's unapologetically Christian. I get a kick out of analyzing his writing, which combines intentionally low-brow grammar and unabashed declarations that "Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life"…

So unprofessional, if you ask most experts.

But he gets attention. (Mine, anyway. ^_^)

Discretion is one tactic; forthrightness is another.

I think every blogger should evaluate the potential gains and losses before picking which to be.

And I think it's rude of folks to pitch fits when others don't adhere to some ideal view of "professionalism". Everyone's opinions and worldviews are different.

What's rude to one person is polite for another. And vice versa.

Unfortunately, a lot of folks are stuck on one definition for "polite" and get indignant over others' presumed idiocy when they demonstrate other perspectives.

Do you prefer when a blogger is discreet about their opinions or when they let their opinions make them discrete from other bloggers?


I hope you're getting value out of these blog posts. Each one generally takes me an hour or two to write. That's an hour or two that could be spent doing paid work. Blogging doesn't pay any bills.

So if you've found the post valuable, please consider leaving a sign of your appreciation in the tip jar. Thanks!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Writers: Beware! (and Readers: Be Aware!)

If you haven't heard about Simon & Schuster joining forces with Author Solutions, well, it has.

And Author Solutions was recently bought by Pearson—the same corporate entity that owns Penguin.

That latter detail is…worrisome in itself, but when you pair it with Simon & Schuster jumping in…

First, for any readers who don't know, Author Solutions is the parent of many, many vanity presses, the type that are known in the writing world for charging would-be authors thousands of dollars to get their book in print—and screwing them over in further hidden fees, in the quality of editing, the layout, the printing, the…

I think you get the idea.

All you would-be authors out there: You can get your 80,000-word book edited, proofread, and formatted to self-publish in print and e-book form for $1,000. Or less. It's even possible to get another proofread and the cover design tossed in, at that price, depending on what kind of editing your book needs.

Thanks to POD (Print on Demand) technology, writers no longer have to buy thousands of copies of your book to self-publish it, which makes self-publishing a viable career option for more situations than it used to be. (That thousands-of-copies method is viable—and still ideal—in some situations, mainly business-type ones. But for most of us, POD is the better option.)

Readers: Thanks to the outlier success stories, self-publishing is currently a popular get-rich-quick scheme. I suspect it'll get worse before it gets better, but self-publishing is like Mary Kay makeup: Folks who dabble won't last long. Folks who make a business out of it can do well. Folks who jump in with unrealistic expectations will crash and burn, getting loudmouthed and bitter about it being a "scam" (though it isn't).

I dabbled in selling Tupperware, a decade back. I know how it goes. *wink*

The companies from Author Solutions are often termed "vanity presses", because most authors spend thousands of dollars and get nothing to show for it but a garage full of books and the ability to say "I had a book published."

That's why anybody who takes great pains to stress "We are not a vanity press!" is probably lying. A "vanity press" targets folks who are unlikely to benefit from its publication model and plays sales hardball to get them to dish out their hard-earned cash.

Sales hardball gets my hackles up. Softball, fine. Hardball, ulgh.

But I'm also an experienced copywriter. I recognize sales tactics pretty quickly. Not everyone does.

What does that have to do with the Author Solutions thing?

Author Solutions targets folks who don't know that they don't have to spend thousands of dollars—and give up half their income from vendors—to get their book(s) published. (To be fair, Harlequin has also been in this pond, but I'm not sure if they still are—though that company has some, ah, issues of its own that may not be unique to them—but it's hard to say, since these things often seem to get hushed up.)

Penguin and Simon & Schuster are now partnered with or connected to Author Solutiosn. Writers therefore need to beware of both vanity presses themselves—and to be aware of their connections. Do you want to seek or sign a contract with a publisher that has ties to such a vanity press?

Even as a reader, I personally am considering boycotting publishers tied to vanity presses like that, even though at least two authors' series on my auto-buy list are from those publishers, and a quick Google search says more such series are from subsidiaries of those publishers.

As an author, if I had a contract with one of those publishers, I would be very interested in my contracts' termination clauses, and I would be unlikely to sign with

Thus why I say "Be Aware!" to readers: Not infrequently, series are orphaned, end up unfinished, even when the author's willing to continue signing with a publisher. I suspect the number of unfinished or delayed series will increase, a few years from now.

Why "a few years"? Because that's when contracts signed today often end up being effective, in the publishing world.

Not that I think many authors are going to drop their publishers. Writers as a group put up with a lot of junk. Laura Resnick's essay collection Romance, Rejection, and Royalties comes to mind, and I could name more examples, but that would gett off-topic.

So writers: Beware of sales gimmicks—and be aware that you might be losing some readers for no fault of your own.

And readers: Be aware that some of your favorite authors might be having dry spells, soon.

What are your thoughts on vanity presses? Have any predictions about how things'll shake out?


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's the first time my out-of-state family has visited for Thanksgiving, so I'll be out with them when this posts. It'll be the first time my cousin and her husband have been here, so that'll be interesting.

Have a great rest of the week, even if this isn't a holiday where you live!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Some Ideas on Series Cover Branding

(Thank Camille LaGuire for making me think of this as a blog-worthy topic.) Some say the cover makes or breaks an e-book, since it's the first impression. Some say that it doesn't matter—the content does.

And then there's the detail that what's appealing to one person is downright revolting to someone else. Either way, you can't win. (I could give examples of some recently released covers that I don't like at all, though others do—but that would be rude.)

But one thing I'm coming to appreciate more is the concept of series branding.

I read a lot. In fact, I'll sometimes skip lunch to be able to afford a book. (Can't always do that, due to to hyperthyroidism, but when I can…)

As a reader, I get frustrated when I like a book, go looking for the related ones, and can't easily figure out from the vendor page which ones to buy.

As an author, I know that there's only so much an author can do to enable a reader to easily peruse the book list and know, "Okay, there's book 2, 3, and 4. *purchase*"

Seems to me that cover branding—making the series recognizable at a glance—could go a long way towards doing that.

Author branding? Eh. I have specific aesthetics that I prefer on a cover (title on top, byline on bottom—which will be apparent in a moment), and I can let that work as branding.

But how to brand a story world?

And then how to distinguish the short stories from the novels?

And what about distinguishing story narrators?

I've been struggling with this for quite some time. The Aleyi novels, I decided how to brand a while ago, but my other works? I've been floundering.

Knowing myself, it's likely that the failure to have this figured out has also been contributing to my difficulty with writing. (Subconscious avoidance, because I don't have covers finished. I'm learning that my subconscious loves doing things like that.)

Everything I came up with kept looking so busy. Ulgh.

I had an epiphany for what I could do—something that would let readers distinguish short story, story world, and story narrator at a glance. (Although the story narrator issue admittedly isn't a big deal at the moment with what I have released, it's an oddly big deal to me.)

And then there were the sales vendor updates that changed the cover requirements, enough that I had to go back to the drawing board.

Or so I'd thought. When I updated Gimp recently, I—finally!—got the plug-in I've been searching for, a plug-in that lets me not have to go back to the drawing board. ^_^

I've created updated e-book covers for the Darkworld stories, and I'll be doing it for the Aleyi ones, too. (I've not put the covers on the stories yet—I have to update the cover credits in the files.)

So… What was my epiphany?

Use specific cover traits for author, length, series, and narrator.

Author: Byline across bottom, title across top.

Novels will be text worked into the image. Short stories will not (and have colored bars behind the byline, etc.). Novellas and novelettes will have traits of both, the length determining which one it skews towards.

Series: Specific font choices, and specific traits to the color bars.

Main Character: Color of those colored bars.

What on earth am I talking about?


I might adjust some details, but that's the crux of my design idea. (Comment on them if you like, but that's not why I posted them. ^_^)

Wait, you're wondering what "Kill Jill" is?

*grin* I suspect you'll be able to read that short story in a few months.

In the meantime, it's amazing how refreshing it can feel to have a ready-to-go cover.

Do you like when an author's covers easily brand for length? What traits do you like in covers?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Unintended Hero

I have a confession: Lyn Burgess, the MC for the "PRIMpriety" stories and other, as-yet unreleased stories, has bewildered me for a while.

She's foul-mouthed, bitter, angry…and mysteriously easy to write and fun to read. I've been mulling on it for some time, trying to figure it out.

But then I read the guest post from Tiffany Reisz over on Janice Hardy's blog, which talks about the Han Solo–type hero… and I realized that the post was describing Lyn.

She's a scoundrel. She won't think twice about killing you if you give her reason, and she'll even eat you if she can get away with it. (Er, she's a vampire.) But she's willing to help you out if you bother to ask her, and she's not above volunteering for a situation that she's particularly gifted to handle, if nobody else would be as well-suited for it.

She isn't Evonalé, who wants to be selfish as long as nobody else will suffer for it. She isn't Destiny, who hates being selfish but has reason to believe that more folks will suffer if she isn't. But…

It's like that motif of a harlot or a rake that's just waiting for the right person to pull him or her into a committed, monogamous relationship: A scoundrel Lyn might be, but she has a heart of gold.

Lyn isn't pleasant, and she isn't nice—but, like other characters that I've found appealing in other folks' works, she isn't some sadistic monster, either.

Between her enemies and her being trapped in a body that's lethally allergic to sunlight and that's taking centuries to age from child to adult, she's even downright pitiable.

Maybe that's what appeals to me. She makes no apologies for what she is or what she does, but she's not scrambling to crush everyone else beneath her. No, she's just carving out her own little bit of life, to survive in peace, and she's willing to do whatever she must, to pull that off, and to help others in her position who lack her particular abilities.

And maybe that makes her a hero.

What do you think? Does the scoundrel hero appeal to you, or are you more of a Luke Skywalker fan? Have any hero examples to share?


Thursday, November 1, 2012

News: A Fistful of Earth + CreateSpace Editions Are Here!

At long last (and as some have already discovered), A Fistful of Earth is here—and so is the print edition for A Fistful of Fire (with the print version of A Fistful of Earth in the final stage before release)! (Er, a print version is also available for "PRIMpriety", if you're interested in that one.)

And as a bonus for my blog readers, use the coupon code G55ELYAK to get a discount on any of the CreateSpace titles. (Note that this code will not last forever, so get the discount while you can!)

The e-book versions of A Fistful of Fire and A Fistful of Earth cost $4.99—a price that won't last forever. In a few weeks, I'll be raising the price to $6.99 per e-book, which is still a deal compared to the costs of what publishers like Ace charge for the genre ($7.99+), and compared to the cost of the print version.

Enough said on that front, methinks. Wouldn't want to start sounding whiny or apologetic. ^_^

So, if you want the books (and remember to use the coupon code G55ELYAK if getting the print version):

Print Versions:

A Fistful of Earth E-Versions:

*The Barnes & Noble website seems to be having some trouble, due to Hurricane Sandy. So if you want to buy the book from the B&N store, I would recommend waiting at least a few more days, first. The cover's gone AWOL and the EPUB file seems corrupted, and the system won't accept my re-upload.

So. Here we are: All caught up (finally!) from that Kickstarter thing. (Well, except for two donors who won't give me the info I need to give them their particular bonuses, but that's not my fault. You two know whom you are. *poke*)

If I hit my writing goals for NaNoWriMo*, we'll see about either audio versions (or a Kickstart for audio) being next… Assuming anyone's interested in audio? I've already been chatting with some narrators and running the numbers for it, and audio is a whole lot cheaper than translation (which is…expensive).

*For anyone who doesn't know: NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, wherein a bunch of masochists get together and seek to write 50k words in the month of November and often discover how doable it is.

Not that I always write 50k words per month—yeah, I suck at those goals—but I'm going to try setting it as a time goal, this coming month. I suspect that might work better.

What do you most want to see from me next (on the blog, as a released story, etc.)? Would you be interested in audio versions for my fiction?

What will you be writing or reading, this month?


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Honey vs. Vinegar

I'm a fan of the saying, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar."

Can I use vinegar if a situation calls for it? Yes. But vinegar's more drinkable with honey in it, so I always try to bear in mind that most folks don't perceive themselves as villains. (Which helped me figure out that my brother's at his most obnoxious when he's tired—something I had trouble figuring out, because I'm an early bird, he a night owl, so by the time he's tired, I'm exhausted and irritable.)

Case in point: Piracy doesn’t bother me.

I see some fellow authors get frothing mad over book piracy and its potential negative impact on sales (ignoring that there are also case studies showing potential positive effects)…and my opinion is that they aren't doing their health any favors. Life has enough stress, so why stress over something that happens?

With my years as a freelancer ghostwriting web content, it has happened. If I were to fret over it, I'd have an ulcer and nothing productive to show for it.

Will I send C&D letters if I find my work pirated? Yes. Will I get stricter than that if necessary? Yes.

But there's a world of difference between being firm or stern and being so angry that I can't see straight. Piracy might make me sigh, at worst. A repeat offender would irritate me. But furious?

Nah. Bad for my health.

Fury isn't too productive for getting folks to listen to you, either, because all that comes out is vinegar.

Ask nicely, and folks who didn’t intend to steal your content will repair things and go about things properly in the future. Whereas if you’re a witch from the start, you lose potential customers who didn’t intend to steal from you but who like your writing enough to want to use and share it.

Folks who don’t care, who insist content should be free—they don’t care what you think. But I’ve discovered that, again, presenting my side of the argument pleasantly and politely is far more likely to get a long-lasting positive response.

Once you have to get harsh, you lose the chance of making an honest customer and fan of the erstwhile thief. You also lose the chance to convince them to agree with you, so while you might win for yourself, you do nothing for all the others whose content the person then goes on to take.

This concept even applies to things like online games.

I'm a high enough level now in RuneScape that I often don't have to worry about other players stealing my kills and such out from under me, but recently a lower-level player was having trouble with someone suddenly mining the same rocks he was and taking all the ore. The lower-level player started off sharp about it, but I suggested he ask nicely.

After a bit of trying to converse with the thief, we discovered that his first language was Dutch, not English. I used Google Translate to say something along the lines of "It's considered rude to take another person's rock." The guy apologized and immediately went looking for somewhere else to mine.

And I have more success stories than that, many more successes than all the failures I see when folks get antagonistic.

Many more successes than when I get antagonistic, for that matter.

I do hate being antagonistic.

I actually don't much care for conflict, either, though I'll step over that dislike if I have sufficient cause.

But in any case, I find honey far healthier and more productive than vinegar.

Are you more inclined to use honey or vinegar?


Friday, October 19, 2012

News on A Fistful of Earth + some author recs

A day late (but hopefully not a dollar short), here's the announcement I didn't get to make yesterday:

The e-ARC is out for A Fistful of Earth, for those who participated in the Kickstarter campaign!

What's that mean for those of you who weren't around or who were unable to participate? The official e-book should be out soon—"soon" meaning "in the next two weeks".

And with that, the POD books will also be coming out. I'm working the kinks out of A Fistful of Fire now, which gives me the template for formatting the POD for A Fistful of Earth, too.

So, here we are! Despite so many delays that I am downright embarrassed, the end is at hand! (And I will not run a Kickstarter for an incomplete book again, until I get a better handle on how long it actually takes me to finish a rough draft, rather than just math based in how quickly I'm capable of finishing a rough draft.)

Thanks for bearing with me!

On other, sort-of-related news, Lindsay Buroker (Emperor's Edge series: steampunk fantasy), Seanan McGuire (October Daye series: urban fantasy), and Shanna Swendson (Katie Chandler series: chick lit fantasy) all had books release recently, all of which I highly recommend. (I think there's a theme going on…)

If y'all want me into go into more detail than "I liked 'em. If the blurb interests you, you should like them, too," I will, but I'll say this much about those authors: Despite getting several books into all three series, I find the most recent books just as good if not better than the predecessors. (In fact, I'd argue that all three series get better with every book.)

Of course, having read all those in release week (and thanks to an ARC from Lindsay, I read that one pre–release week…), I'm now chomping at the bit for more.

What about you? Do you have any books or series that you're eager to see continued or eager to read?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Quick Note:

For folks who know I usually post by now, I'm fine. I'm just wrapping something up today that I want to post about when it's done. :)


Thursday, October 11, 2012

AVOID: Mark Williams International (MWiDP)

The eagle-eyed might've noticed that I've taken down all links to the two Saffina Desforges Presents… anthologies I've been in. After giving the publisher due warning that I would go public about my issues with Mark Williams International (MWiDP), after I've spent more than 4 months trying to get answers to a few simple questions.

Something I should mention: Due to the nature of such anthologies, I never expected to make a lot of money off the anthology. The story was sitting on my hard drive, and I was (and am) busy with my Aleyi and Darkworld series.

I was honestly happy I'd found someone who liked "PRIMpriety" enough to want that story and more. I've gotten so many personalized rejection letters for that one and its related second-person story—which was rejected for the vampire or the framed narrative as often as it was for the POV—that I'd been wondering where to send her next.

But with Ann Crispin's recent issues with Ridan, I was reminded that while this situation is mainly a nuisance to me, MWiDP has a good reputation, like Ridan did. Keeping mum about my issues could end up putting someone else in Ann's shoes of needing money that the publisher doesn't send.

I haven't even been asking to be paid. On that front, I've just been asking for the royalty statements that I haven't been getting, though I told MWiDP at the beginning of this year of a way they could set things up to keep anyone from falling through the cracks.

But have I gotten the royalty statements monthly, as stipulated in my contract? Never.

For the second anthology, I haven't even gotten statements when I've asked for them.

Let's go back to the beginning…

October 14, 2011

I signed my first contract with MWiDP, for my novelette "PRIMpriety".

November 26, 2011

Anthology came out…Kindle-only. I had no Kindle-capable device at the time, so Amazon wouldn't let me buy a copy to check it out. (And yes, I am tech-savvy enough to know what I'm talking about there.) Stormy (whose stories are for mature audiences only) kindly bought a copy for me to check it out…and there wasn't a table of contents (ToC).


Figuring that accidents happen—and I'd helped Mark with some tech details before—I brought the issue to his attention and suggested that I might be able to make the ToC for him, depending on how he'd created the file.

He apologized, stating that it was an oversight, and said "IT is a nightmare for me". He sent me all versions of the file that he had.

Note that this all happened on the selfsame day.

I made the ToC and had it back to him within a few days.

December 28, 2011

I signed a contract with MWiDP for the short story "For Want of Cruelty", which I was told would appear in the 3rd anthology. (Which has never been released, so rights have reverted to me. However: I had to ask to get a specific clause that reverted rights if unexploited for X duration, so I doubt it's in their standard contract.)

January 21, 2012

Nearly 2 months after the release of the first anthology, and I hadn't gotten any e-mail with sales numbers, which I was contractually supposed to receive "per calendar month".

I wasn't too worried about it. Mark had been sick—snake bite, if I recall correctly—and I knew from the blog that he and Saffina had been busy. Not that busyness was reason to breach a contract, but accidents and oversights happen.

Are you feeling better? I've seen that you and Saffina have been busy. :)

Any idea when we contributors to volume one will be getting the "full sales data per calendar month"? (Wondering when to expect it, so I know when to follow up. If you have no clue when to expect it, look up the "Contract for Primpriety", point 10.)

…And, after including that little side note to remind them about their contract terms, I added another story that I'd written, same world and character.

Confession: I'd written "Hello, Kitty" in the few days before I sent it, so I was also curious about if that speed would affect the quality, to someone who already liked the narrator. From my experience ghostwriting web content, I doubted it would, but I wanted to try.

January 23, 2012

(Letters in square brackets are numbers, removed by me.)

Hi Misti,

This email just appeared, though appears it was sent two days ago.

Yes, fully recovered, thanks, and busy indeed, as you noticed! :-)

We're trying to get an automated system up for the sales reports. Doing them manually at the moment, and inevitably missing a few people. Sorry!

Stats for the partial month of November were [X] sales on and [Y] on, so a respectable start. We were not expecting as much take up in the US as is the brand is not as well known there.

December stats: We put the title into KDP Select to take advantage of the five three days, to maximise exposure.

Before it went free the title had [Z] sales an and [A] on am,co,uk. During the free period it had a respectable (bearing in mind the huge number of free titles suddenly available through Select) [ZZ] free downloads on and [AA] on

As you saw from our updates we have plans afoot to get our titles and others to a far wider audience (the Select option is only for ninety days to benefit from the free exposure), and the sales continue to build.

Once the new site is fully up and running we;ll be able to push these anthologies more, and of course each new release will add to the overall impact.

Love the Hi Kitty story, We are literally just preparing to launch volume 2 and just had to pull one title after some copyright issues (it had been published in a magazine and the author belatedly decided they had rights, not him). We could well slip Hi Kitty in if you can get the contract back asap. If not, then in Volume 3. Your last story with its mixture of vampires and such had some great private feedback btw.

I've had some e-mail flukes, myself, so I appreciated the prompt response once he'd received my e-mail. And as a self-publisher, myself, I knew how annoying it could be to get those sales numbers figured out, so I figured it would be a lot worse for someone who wasn't very tech-savvy.

I let them know about e-mail groups as a way they could send sales numbers to everyone in a specific anthology and not miss anyone.

Mark's response (still January 23rd):

Great idea. Shall look into that.

Note: When I got the contract for "Hello, Kitty", a certain clause had been removed from the previous one, a clause that had explicitly limited the exclusivity period to a certain time frame. Now, I'm no lawyer, so this isn't legal advice, but I read contracts with an eye towards "worst possible interpretation". In that case, "worst possible interpretation" was giving MWiDP full 2 years' exclusivity—and, from what I was told, other authors had insisted on that clause's removal, so my (non-professional, non–legal advice) understanding is that the contract clause therefore would be read in the publisher's favor, not in the favor of the party that insisted on the clause change.

In any event, I'd rather have an explicit timeline for exclusivity rather than a vague one that could be read in my favor or against it. Mark readily changed my contract back, and he even offered to go back and amend the second one—but that one didn't have the clause removed, so that wasn't necessary.

But I found that difference because I read my contracts—and when I have more than one from the same publisher, I compare them.

Again, I'm not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, and I have the added confusion here of MWiDP technically being a foreign publisher, since I'm USian and they are not. I'm just pointing out that, in my little non-lawyer opinion, contract negotiators need to be careful—and I include myself in that warning.

March 31, 2012

My e-mail to Mark:

Hey Mark,

I've not heard any update on sales figures since the January 23rd e-mail from you, so I know nothing since December's numbers. When can I expect updates?

Everything going well? Do you have any themed anthologies coming up where you need a story? I could see if I have or can come up with something, if you like. :-)

For those of you thinking, what was she thinking, offering to write another story?

I had several reasons for saying that, among them giving Mark an opening to say "Thanks, but no thanks; we've shelved that idea for now." (I do know how to use NovelRank.)

When I'm stupid, I try to be intentional about it.

April 2, 2012

Mark's response:


Juggling too many balls at once this past month, on top of catching up with everything I'd fallen behind with.

Finally got everything ordered now and should have everything out on time and up to date hereon (for Amazon)..

See attached the latest stats, up to end February.

Vol 1 is now live on B&N and will shortly be appearing on Kobo and other platforms in the UK and internationally, but these only report quarterly figures.

Best wishes,


Aw, I thought. Poor guy. I, myself, had fallen sick for pretty much the latter two full weeks of February, so I could relate.

He planned to be on time henceforth. Sounded good to me—even if he did seem to think that "full sales data per calendar month" on the contract could be read as "full sales per calendar quarter". I could live with that.

I would have accepted that.


June 28, 2012

I e-mailed Mark again.

Hi Mark,

Me, again. A few questions:

1. Sales figures update? I've received nada since the below April e-mail. (I'm in Volume 2, as well.)

2. Any ETA for when payments will go out? I've double-checked PayPal, but per my records, I've never received a payment for my contributions.

3. What's the ETA for the release of Volume 3? (Which I'm also in.)


Note again that my contract stipulated that I was to be getting sales figures monthly.

Rights also reverted to me after X days without being used, so technically, they had no right to include my story in volume 3, but I figured I could at least find out if they were even planning to release volume 3 before I pointed that out.

July 6, 2012

No response came. So this time, I e-mailed Saffina and CC'd Mark:

Hi, Sorry to trouble you, but I sent this to Mark a week ago and haven't heard back. In case it's gotten eaten by the ether, I'm passing it on to you.

1. Sales figures update? I've received nada since the below April e-mail. (I'm in Volume 2, as well.)

2. Any ETA for when payments will go out? I've double-checked PayPal, but per my records, I've never received a payment for my contributions.

Note that those two items do put MWiDP in breach of contract. Not trying to be difficult—I've been patient—but…months? And then to not get an answer after a week of bringing it up? This is getting annoying.

Also, I was looking at the contract and noticed that my contract has expired for volume 3. (Point 12 on the contract for either "For Want of Cruelty" or "Hello, Kitty"; I was told "Hello, Kitty" would be in volume 2, but I haven't been able to confirm that.)

So, in addition to the two above questions, I also have two questions regarding those stories:

1. Can you confirm which story of mine appeared in volume 2? (I've checked the online pages about the volume—even checked reviews—and can't find anything.)

2. Can you give your intentions for the other story, considering the contract has fallen void?

Thank you.

Same day, I got the below response (in response to my June 28th e-mail, not the most current one—and the time stamp did show June 29th on his version):

HI Misti!

Quick acknowledgement, In transit at moment (rainy season, so very slow). Will follow up over weekend.


…Well, I thought. At least he gave me a heads-up. With the time differential, I should have an e-mail in my inbox on Monday morning.

July 9, 2012

Monday morning, and nothing's in my inbox. Not promising.

I'd noticed that one lady in the first anthology with me also had another book recently released by MWiDP. If she's having problems, then the company's probably in trouble.

I don't have that author's permission to name her, but her response was essentially that I was a fluke, per her experiences with MWiDP.

Granted, that particular author had several books with MWiDP, not just entries in the anthology, so they had further reason to keep her happy. But maybe all the problems I was having was a fluke. Improbable, but possible.

If things had gotten resolved that week, I would've been willing to believe that. I doubt I would've ever signed with them for a book, but I would've given them the benefit of the doubt.

July 10, 2012

Tuesday—coming up on Wednesday, for him, if my math was right—and the promised follow-up hadn't arrived.

I sent the following e-mail, forwarding the promise of follow-up below it:

Hi Mark,

I haven't gotten any e-mail from you since this one, which said you were going to follow up over the weekend. If you followed up, the ether ate it.

Also, I sent another e-mail after I noticed that the contract for #3 has fallen out of date. Also, which story of mine appeared in #2, anyway? That was never confirmed.

I was…irritated.

July 11, 2012

Mark responded:

Just back at my "office". Rainy season barely started here, but inland travel suffering.

Following up as soon as I get settled in.

At this point, I was hoping so, Mark. I was very much hoping so.

Because I prefer not being a grouch, even when I have a right to be.

July 17, 2012

No response had come, so I forwarded the July 11th e-mail on to Mark, saying:

Hi Mark,

Again, it's been nearly a week, and the below is the last I've received from you. If you sent something else, the ether ate it.

July 19, 2012

Wouldn't be at all surprised! But equally morel likely fault on my part. Having one of those days when nothing goes right, and that lasts for several weeks.

Attached are the sales reports for the SDP series. Never expected miracles from them, but the results are disappointing, though perhaps not surprising given amount of free books since Select,

We plan to move beyond Amazon and get these on Kobo, B&N, etc, and just maybe tap into an area where the competition is less and have some better traction.

Pretty sure you raised some other points in your "first" email. I'll get to that very shortly and explain things in more detail. We've just had all our power and net upgraded here and in theory working better, but inevitable teething problems.

Will follow up further asap, Misti.

Best wishes,


Attached was a spreadsheet that only went through June, only included the first anthology's numbers (except for an error in one month that evidently has the second anthology's instead of the first), and even had math errors in it that would've been resolved if they'd used the spreadsheet ability to calculate for them.

Despite the promise to "follow up further asap", I have not received another e-mail from MWiDP to date.

August 13, 2012

Hi Mark,

If you've sent me another e-mail since the one below, I haven't gotten it.

Also, I found errors in that spreadsheet you sent me. It says it's for volume 1, but on one month it mentions volume 2, so I don't know if that's a typo or if volume 2's sale accidentally got in instead. Also, the "running total" amounts are wrong.

I just spent an hour adding another sheet to the spreadsheet that takes the data you handed me, highlights the problems in red (and highlights the data that's missing in yellow). The sheet I made is easier to read and update than that mess you handed me, so you might want to use that layout.

I still haven't gotten any comments on 1. what's going on on the payment end; 2. confirmation that "Hello, Kitty" was, in fact, the story that ended up in volume two; 3. sales numbers for volume two.

At this point, July's sales numbers would also be nice to have, too.

Not trying to be difficult, but please notice that it has been 2 months since I first contacted you, pointing out that I'd fallen through the cracks on getting sales reports and payment. More than once, you said you'd get back with me, and now it's nearing a month since the most recent promise to get in touch with me "ASAP".

What do I have to do for you to keep your attention long enough to have my questions answered, Mark?

I did, in fact, attach that repaired spreadsheet.

I received no response.

August 17, 2012

Okay, Mark wasn't answering. I tried e-mailing Saffina directly:

Hi Saffi,

As you can see from the e-mails below, my questions I first raised TWO MONTHS AGO have not been answered. I've gotten a few "I'll get back to you ASAP" responses, but the response doesn't happen.

The one answer I did get was incomplete (and actually flawed, but you can see the below e-mail I sent Mark 4 days ago for the details on that).

What do I have to do to get my questions answered, Saffi? I've been polite; I've been patient. But this was ridiculous a month ago—which is when I was last told I'd get answers "ASAP". Nearly a month later, and I've still gotten no update.

I didn't get a response to that e-mail, either, though I waited.

And waited.

And put off starting the next step, because I didn't want to go here.

October 8, 2012

I finally bit the bullet and gave due warning, sent to Saffina and Mark both, and BCC'd to my friend who's my emergency contact on my contracts for MWiDP.

See the below forwarded e-mail for my questions and issues that have been ignored for 4 months now.

I have been patient. I have been polite. That hasn't worked.

Therefore, if I do not get answers (not another "I'll get back to you" that then doesn't happen) in the next 48 hours, I will go public on Thursday about the breach of contract.

[Question e-mail was forwarded here]

October 11, 2012

And here we are.

I haven't even been asking for them to abide by their contract terms. I've just been asking for information that I am required to get due to my contract.

And even when I ask for it, I can't get it.

So, to sum up my review of my experiences with Mark Williams International Digital Publishing (MWiDP): Ditch and avoid.

Fortunately, due to my contract, I have non-exclusive rights back to my stories at this point, regardless of which one was actually in the second anthology. I've therefore taken all three contracted stories, had them copyedited, created my own cover, and bundled them for sale*. If you're interested in another urban fantasy world that's a bit salty and gory, closer to "The Corpse Cat" than the other Darkworld stories, feel free to check it out. Be warned, though: These are salty and gory and well-dosed with black humor.

However, if you've bought one or both anthologies, please don't feel as though you need to again. E-mail me, and I'll send you a Smashwords coupon code for the stories.

Will you please help spread the word about MWiDP? Thank you.

*If you want to show solidarity and have money go to the author, please be aware that other authors have far more need of "mercy buys" than I do. For example, I understand that Ann Crispin is battling cancer. (If you like sci-fi, you might check out her Starbridge series: Amazon US | Nook | Kobo).


I am not asking for you to go up in arms and attack MWiDP. That does little good for someone ignoring e-mails, and I don't like the idea of using the public mediums of Twitter and Facebook to debate a private dispute.

I am asking for you to help me spread the word about MWiDP. I'll be alerting who I can about this post, but you surely know folks I don't.

These are my experiences. I make no claims as to how well (or poorly) this publisher is treating other authors. I've heard a third-hand rumor that I'm not the only one, but that was anonymous, so I can't verify it.

But from how MWiDP has responded to me, I can only recommend that they be avoided.

Update (10/13/12):

The best update I can give is to link to the thread on KindleBoards.

Short version: Saffina Desforges had to change her e-mail address. Evidently posted on her FB about it, which I found out about because Elizabeth Ann West kindly reposted it in the thread. I e-mailed Saffina; she e-mailed me back with some of my questions answered (and I've been paid, now). She also posted in the KB thread, posting the e-mail (which included monies owed) in the thread.

She also included a gem of an insult that I just have to laugh over, because it's that or get ticked to the point of joining her level: "Maybe if the authors *hooks fingers around the words in the air* on here spent more time writing books instead of shite on here, they wouldn't be moaning about £15 quids' worth of royalties! ;-)"

I really have to take my hat off to the folks on KB on this one—they're covering all the reasons why the behavior there's appalling, so I can focus on the ludiocrity here. Because really, things have gotten ridiculous.

Update (10/15/12):

KB thread's been locked, due to some amusing but unnecessary joking that started, but I want to thank everyone who's contacting me in support—publicly and privately.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

There Are No Bad Words

Whether you think salty language should be avoided or if it should be used for realism, you likely have an opinion on its propriety. (Warning: The below post contains some salty language by dictionary definition.)

Leave that opinion by the door, please. You're welcome to your preference. If you want to avoid it, want to use it, only want to use it when it fits the character and story—whatever your preference, that's fine.

I honestly don't care about that. Sometimes I don't want to read salty language, myself. Sometimes I don't care and have friends give me odd looks after they check out a recommendation.

However, by "salty" language I mean things like vulgarities. I don't write blasphemy (that's using any of God's names as an expletive), and I don't like reading or hearing it. I find it far more offensive than salty language.

I'm Christian. Even if "keep His name holy" weren't one of the Ten Commandments, why would I be glib about my own deity? Folks don't casually insult other religions' gods, not without backlash. But for some reason, to insult the Christian God (capped because it's a name) doesn't even give pause to most otherwise politically correct folks.

Not that I'm usually a fan of political correctness, but some things are just polite. If you're going to belittle my god (not a name here), at least be an equal opportunity offender.

But notice that my complaint here isn't about the use of things like "God" and "Jesus" themselves, as words. My complaint regards how they're used.

And that's even true of "salty" language: The usage is what's "bad", not the word itself.

Take damn. Meaning: Condemn to hell, a place of eternal torment. So to damn a person is to wish that the person would suffer from eternal torment.

That's not nice, so it's understandable why some people complain about (or want to avoid) uses of damn in reference to people.

But many folks go reactionary against all uses of the word, even cases where it's used in reference to its actual meaning.

However, to call the word itself bad is to say the problem is with the word, not the attitude behind its use.

How can a word be innately bad? (For the Christians among my readers, the question becomes: "How can a word cause someone to sin?")

Calling the word itself innately inappropriate, bad, or sinful is like calling a corset innately inappropriate, bad, or sinful.

Some corsets are underwear, which limits the situations wherein they're appropriate, and they're not useful for everyone. Some are outer wear—for medical or aesthetic purposes—and different styles and shapes suit different people.

But neither type of corset is suitable for, say, swimming. Or other situations wherein the wearer needs to breathe deeply. ^_^

Again, it's up to you if you want to avoid a specific type of word (or corset!). I put content advisories on my own stories for that purpose.

But gracious, at least acknowledge that the problem is the way the word is used, not the word in itself. The latter attitude misses problem entirely.

What are your thought on "bad" words?


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Alert to Subscribers!

You might have noticed that I've removed subscribe links from my blog.

Reason: Feedburner looks as though it's shutting down on Oct 20th.

…And all my feed handling stuff has been with Feedburner.

So if you're one of the folks subscribed to my site by e-mail or feed reader, you'll want to switch to another method. I'm trying to find an alternative. For now, if you're subscribed via a feed reader, you'll want to reload the URL.

(Speaking of which, if you know of any alternatives to Feedburner, I'm open to suggestions.)



Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Ethics of Product Reviews

It's no secret that my allergy list is longer than some students' homework lists. I also happen to mix my own homeopathic anti-allergy capsules (for regular maintenance) and can't use medicines like Claritin* because I develop a tolerance after a week.

Would it be ethical for me to review Claritin?

I've tried it, and it didn't work for me, so I have that personal experience to draw from for my review. I also know plenty of people who use it and are happy with it, so while that's not needed to review something, it can help a reviewer balance their review.

However: I mix my own anti-allergy capsules.

Does that make me a competitor? Would it be unethical for me to review a medication because I make an equivalent home remedy for my own personal use?

No? Okay. What about if I start selling my recipe?

Now, if I were given a free sample of Claritin to try and review, most folks would deem that acceptable.

But what if the company heard that the medication didn't work for me and gave me compensation for my trouble, like a $10 gift card to buy something that'll work for me? Would it be ethical for me to review the medication then?

Yes? No? I seem to be getting conflicting answers, there, and the compensation wasn't even directly for the review. I can imagine it would be sharper if I were paid for a review.

What about if I knew the company's CEO?

Hmm… Answers also seem to be conflicting there. Some folks assume that knowing the person would make you more likely to give a good rating, while others insist that knowing the person doesn't have to affect the rating whatsoever. And a few up here in the rafters with me say that knowing the CEO would make us more critical in our reviews.

You might or might not have heard the recent hullabaloo about people paying for product reviews, including John Locke of How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months fame. (And for the record, I do still believe his book can be useful as a reference for some marketing techniques, or at least for nudging your imagination into ideas for further ways to market something.)

And then J.A. Konrath went investigating fake reviews and had so much fun reading them that he posted some himself, for fun.

Any argument about ethics appeals to morals—but it also relies on assumptions.

  • Someone who says it's never ethical to review someone you know assumes that knowing someone means you won't say what you actually think.
  • Someone who says it's never ethical to review a product for which you receive compensation assumes that compensation necessitates a positive review.
  • Someone who says it's never ethical to receive money for a review assumes that money is compensation for the review.

Depending on the situation, any of those can be incorrect…or correct. ^_^

Have I ever paid for reviews? No—as long as you don't consider a copy of the story to be "payment".

Would I ever be willing to pay for reviews? Theoretically—because someone who writes a review has spent their time on the product, so the payment would be reimbursement for that time. But I'd have to 1. have a budget for that and 2. find reviewers I could trust to list what they actually think, rather than cater to what they think I want to hear…and I'd have to do damage control for folks who assumed the reimbursement was necessarily for a positive review… Really, my time's better spent elsewhere. ^_^

In the latter situation,would I be willing to rehire someone who posted a negative review? If they supported their complaints, sure! (That would, of course, be dependent on their willingness to work for me again.) I mean, if you're squicked by first cousins as spouses (which is perfectly legal in most municipalities and actually not all that unusual), then a paragraph or two in "The Corpse Cat" will turn your stomach. By all means, put that in your review so others like you will be warned.

Notice, though, that I'm saying I have no problem with reviews by friends or relatives or employees as long as they're honest.

And it's entirely possible to be honest when reviewing someone you know, are related to, or have been paid by.

Ergo, calling one of those things necessarily unethical is missing the point about what makes that something unethical.

(Note: Fake reviews are honest, too, because they're obviously jokes. Don't believe me? Check out some of Konrath's.)

Now, such reviews might still be good to avoid, to avoid the appearance of dishonesty, but that's an entirely different matter.

Do you agree with me? Why or why not?


*I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Claritin. I know some folks who've used it for years, and it's still working great for them. I mention it specifically because it's a well-known antihistamine medication, at least in my area.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yes, You ARE That Stupid (and so am I)

Even if you haven't heard about the agent Pam van Hylckama's carjacking by a rejected wannabe client, you've doubtless heard of the ill-informed mob swarming to take down the perfectly legal LendInk, or some other incident that makes you wonder "How could they have been so stupid?!"

You might've even been one of those "stupid" people and are therefore now kicking yourself for that stupidity.

If you are—whether you're sniggering or embarrassed about the stupid—stop. Stop being embarrassed if you did something dumb, and stop sniggering at those who did something foolhardy.

Because every one of us is just as stupid.

Our individual types of "stupid" just show up in different areas.

I wasn't one of the fools who helped take down LendInk or who lashed out at those folks who helped take down LendInk…but you do not want me in an argument with someone who's upset and not saying what's really bothering them. It takes me far too long to catch on when someone's being roundabout or figurative, and I therefore am gasoline on their indignation.

Yet every so often I forget and try to jump in and diffuse a situation.

Since it's never worked, expect me to know better.

You have your own areas where you do something that you know—you know—is foolish.

And if you put any of us in an echo chamber about one of our "hot button" topics, we'll be just as likely to do something dumb…because all we're hearing is "This is okay, not stupid."

(By "echo chamber", I mean a place where you only hear one opinion about what's "right" to do or say, with any problems with that opinion and alternatives to that opinion being non-existent or squashed whenever they're brought up.)

For example, take KindleBoards. If you're a self-publisher, common advice there is to go exclusive with the Kindle Select program and to price low-low-low, get as many readers as possible, as fast as possible. While that model fits some folks' publication goals, it doesn't suit everyone.

But considering the overall tone and population in the Writer's Café on KindleBoards, a writer could easily be convinced to do something that goes against their goals—like, for example, giving their book away for free. And that website isn't an echo chamber.

Oh, KindleBoards sometimes sounds like one or acts like one, but it isn't a literal echo chamber. (Ah, on most topics, anyway.)

All of us have our hot buttons, topics that bypass our analysis and get us riled. Put us in an echo chamber that appeals directly to one of those hot buttons, and…

We'll be just as stupid as those featured in our favorite "I can't believe he did that!" stories.

Do you agree with me that everyone's that dumb? Do you have any "dumb" stories to share?


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Of Allergies and Medical Care


You've probably heard of—or know someone with—horrific allergies to latex, some involving seizures. It's like peanuts: Some folks are insanely sensitive. (I know someone who has an unusually bad reaction to both, actually, among other things.)

There are entire medical facilities, now, that are latex-free. That's due to people who can't even handle trace amounts of latex in the air, like I react to strawberries. (And the protein that people usually react to in strawberries is also found in latex and other things, but evidently that's not what I react to in strawberries.)

What do those latex-free facilities use? Nitrile. Unless they're one of the extremely rare facilities where 1. a nurse has developed an allergy and 2. the administration believes the nurse about that allergy (which is uncommon, because folks dislike admitting that fixing one problem has only caused another).

Problem #1: Most medical practitioners don't even know that the gloves they're using are nitrile.

Problem #2: Nitrile gloves are now following the pattern of latex ones, wherein first some nurses started developing allergies; then with the common usage, medical personnel started claiming the gloves harmed them; then the administrators insisted the allergy was due to the powder in the gloves—complicated by the detail that the administrators were sometimes correct; and gradually the genuinely allergic medical personnel proved that no, they weren't idiots.

Problem #3: That pattern probably has a good decade or more before it plays out, as far as nitrile is concerned.

Problem #4: The other alternative, vinyl, will doubtless follow the same pattern when it gets popular.

Problem #5: A patient carrying his or her own gloves for medical personnel to use is a risk, both for the personnel—who can't be sure the gloves are medical grade—and for fellow patients—who could have a hypersensitivity to the rubber the glove-carrier has.

Okay, so I carry a mini box (unopened) of medical-grade vinyl gloves in my purse, marked on all sides with "ICE", with my allergy also listed in my phone. But I'm well aware that, in case of an emergency that renders me unconscious, I'll probably wake up after medical personnel are wondering what's making my skin flake off like dried glue.

I haven't heard of anyone yet with a hypersensitivity to vinyl, though I'm sure they exist. I just pray I don't meet that person.

People allergic to cleaners and soaps also have issues with medical care. After those issues I mentioned that I have with standard, over-the-counter soap, imagine what happens when I encounter that tough antibacterial soap that's in every hospitals (which was a stupid move, biologically speaking—they at least should have switched out antibacterial types every month or week to keep them effective, rather than killing off all the bacteria they worked on so only the resistant strains remained to breed).

Yeah. Not fun.

Then there's the other type of allergies, probably the most common type: allergies to medicines. I'm allergic to acetaminophen. My mother has to avoid aspirin (and might be allergic to acetaminophen, too). My brother's allergic to penicillin and sulfa and all related medications. One of my friends can't have ibuprofen.

Someone once told me about a time when she went to the doctor for pain. She had symptoms of an allergy to the acetaminophen-based medicine they gave her, so they gave her yet another acetaminophen-based medicine—not once, but twice!

Seriously. I can't help but wonder what those medical personnel were thinking. "Hey, she's evidently allergic to this one, so let's give her a related medicine!" (What…the…[expletive deleted].)

I mean, I'm careful to track down my painkiller herbs to see what medicines they're related to, and I clearly mark that on my bag. I will never give my mother white willow bark or meadowsweet root, because both contain a chemical that's in aspirin. If she wants to try it on her own, fine. But I won't hand it to her.

I'll even ask if someone's allergic to fish before I hand 'em something with GMO corn, though it's highly unlikely that someone allergic to fish will be allergic to the specific plasmid that was taken from a fish and put into corn. Just in case.

But that's the weird thing about hospitals. It's frightening how often I have to repeat my allergies to medical personnel who are supposed to know to take these things seriously. I've been patronized, all but called a hypochondriac, asked how I know I'm allergic to something (in a disbelieving way, not a curious one)…

My mother once happened to be me once to witness a nurse's passive-aggressive, "I have to open these expensive surgical gloves." Mom was appalled, more so when I shrugged and found the comment mild.

To be fair, I do know doctors and nurses who actually listen and like my scientific approach to my symptoms and their causes. (Not uncommon: Walking into the doctor's office with a list of symptoms to hand the doctor, including potential causes for problems I already know I'm having.) And those folks are often appalled themselves when I thank them for not being condescending.

And I must admit that one of the two times I was poisoned after a surgery seems to have been caused by the hospital mixing up my prescription with someone else's. (The other case was an example of Murphy's Law. I can only guess that the surgeon was having a bad few months, because I've been told by nurses who've worked with him that he's very competent in surgery, he was a bit snappish when his one nurse displayed potential incompetence in front of him—and she also screwed up my allergy list on my medical file. Correcting that took a good five minutes of arguing.)

Allergies to medicines can effect people (and characters) in interesting ways. Did you know penicillin is bread mold? Imagine how that affects people who are hungry and only have moldy bread to eat. Eat the bread and suffer from the allergy—which can be debilitating or life-threatening—or not eat it and starve—which can also be life-threatening?

But food allergies—and how long I think I'd last in case of an apocalypse—are a topic for another day.

Do you have any allergies that affect your medical care? Have you known anyone with severe medical allergies? Have you read or written any characters with medical allergies?


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Of Tea and Toothpaste: Allergies to Sweeteners and Herbs

To continue my mini-series of how different allergies can affect everyday life, last week I covered some basic contact allergies. I also asked if anybody could think of an allergy I'd mentioned before that would affect my ability to use toothpaste and drink tea.

Nobody did, but no biggie. My own mother loses track of my allergies. (Yeah, that can get fun when she hands me food.)

I was thinking of stevia. Gives me headaches.

Stevia is both a sweetener and an herb, but reactions to sweeteners are actually fairly common, particularly to artificial ones. There's a reason anything with aspartame has a warning on it, and it's not that one of the byproducts if formaldehyde. There's a disorder wherein people can't break down phenylalanine. It can cause neural issues like seizures and mental retardation.

The odd-ish thing about that? All chemical sweeteners have molecular structures that are odd to the body and don't necessarily digest (and there are some studies showing correlation between artificial sweeteners and obesity + cancers, which suggests causation). So poor aspartame is singled out for the terrible side effects it has on that minority of the population, while the other artificial sweeteners are ignored.

(I've read before—but I don't know how verified it is—that when you taste sweet, your body tells your brain, "Prepare to store calories," so if you don't get them, your body still wants them and it may even make stuff to store. That might just be a theory for why some studies have shown correlation between obesity and artificial sweeteners.)

Granted, I still avoid eating aspartame, but that's because I don't want formaldehyde in my body. Sugar, honey, agave—I'll eat those over the others, any day. And I'm working on getting corn syrup (with its many name variants) out of my diet, because my insulin's wonky enough and I don't need that adding to it. ("Corn syrup" is a misnomer, and though it doesn't affect your blood sugar right away, it affects spikes your blood sugar higher than table sugar after your body's done digesting what you ate. Thus why some folks call soda pop "Diabetes in a can.")

Okay, to get back on topic of allergies, what does all this about sweetener have to do with allergies? ^_^

Sweeteners are in everything. Baked beans, cheese, chicken nuggets, canned asparagus—if you eat it, the major brands probably have sweeteners added. Because sugar's nicely addicting like that, encouraging you to come back for more—and it can act as a preservative, too.

Xylitol's in most gum and toothpaste. Stevia's often in tea blends. Food usually has some form of sugar or corn syrup added—unless it's natural, in which case the added sweetener is more likely to be stevia or brown rice syrup. (And remember my rice intolerance? Makes it hard for me to find "all-natural" pre-made foods I can eat.)

So anybody allergic to a sweetener—and I've known people allergic to Splenda and others—has to be careful with what they consume, reading labels for particular families of foods…

And then there are the exceptions, which can get more common as different sweeteners get chic and other ones lose popularity. If you're allergic to a sweetener and you don't read every label, you'll probably end up blindsided sometime and wondering why on earth you have a headache. (Oh, toothpaste, I hate you.)

Now, imagine you were allergic to peppermint. Or cinnamon. (I once knew someone allergic to cinnamon and nutmeg.) Or to the most popular flavor where you live.

If you eat it, somebody's allergic.

Technically, you could even be intolerant to a food and not realize it. I'm a chatterbox, and I've discovered that a fair number of people have symptoms of a food intolerance and don't know that's what it is. Some people just think "My stomach hurts all the time" or "Sometimes" or "Sometimes my digestion's really screwed up".

For girls in particular, those things can happen due to hormones, but they can also be due to food sensitivities—and you can be sensitive to a food in one form and not in another. My brother can't have cooked cabbage, but he can eat raw cabbage just fine, though it's harder to digest.

My own mother, no stranger to allergies and intolerances and such, had symptoms of being allergic to Lortab and didn't realize it until I pointed out, "Er… Mom? What you're describing as your reaction to Lortab is how my Tylenol allergy started." (Tylenol is in Lortab.)

So don't assume you have no allergies or intolerances or sensitivities. You won't be doing yourself any favors—though if you have as limited a diet as I've heard the average person does, you may not ever encounter anything you react to.

Do you ever read the labels in what you eat? What's your sweetener of choice?


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Allergies around the House

As I mentioned back in my post about allergies (and how they can apply to fiction), there are several types of allergies. Let's focus on what life's like for someone with contact allergies or contact dermatitis.

Reactions can range from itchiness or rashes to skin blistering and peeling off. Not everyone will have all types, but once you have one allergy, you're likely to have or develop more.

Someone's sensitivity to an allergen will also vary, though it'll probably get worse with repeated exposure, depending on if it's more of an allergy (antihistamine reaction) or an intolerance (body can't process it). Intolerances tend to get worse if you don't let yourself heal in-between exposures, but you can expose yourself, heal up, and expose yourself again—the reaction probably won't be any worse. Allergies, on the other hand, tend to get worse with repeated exposure.

So, what does all this mean on a practical level, either for worrying about friends' allergies or for creating a character with an allergy?

Since I have pretty much every type of skin reaction you can think of, I'll be using myself as a case study to demonstrate three types of reactions and what I have to do about it. (Short version: I read pretty much every label, and I usually end up regretting it when I don't.)

Case 1:

Trigger: most cleaning agents, including antibacterial handsoap. (Non-antibacterial handsoap can bother me, too, but not as much.)

Reaction: My skin gets thin to the point of touching stuff hurts. By the time it reaches the "painful to the touch" stage, it's also red and blotchy.

Degree of sensitivity: Medium
antibacterial soap: >1x every other day = too much; other soap: >1x in an hour or three = too much.

How this affects life: Obviously, I have to wash my hands. So I buy mild, non-antibacterial soap, and I wear vinyl gloves when cleaning or when performing messy cooking tasks. I also frequently treat my hands with oil (I like argan) or lotion (Desert Essence organics).

Case 2:

Trigger: tea tree oil. (My mother is castor oil.)

Reaction: skin blisters and peels off

Degree of sensitivity: Medium-high
If I touch even a small amount, I must immediately wash it off.

How this affects life: If something has "natural" on the label, I read it carefully. Chances are, it'll have tea tree oil. (I also watch for castor oil in the soaps I buy, so I don't hurt my mother.)

Case 3:

Trigger: berries (strawberries or raspberries) and some flowers

Reaction: rash (and with strawberries, trouble breathing)—if the soap uses natural ingredients

Degree of sensitivity: High
Can't touch most of them, and some I react to smelling.

How this affects life: I have to check the soaps at friends' houses before I do something that'll need me to wash my hands. I also have to be careful about the scents in my own soaps, lotions, body wax, etc. (I'll generally go for "fragrance free" or a scent like tea or cinnamon.)

So there you go—three examples of how a skin reaction can affect your everyday life.

I'm thinking next week, I might talk about allergies in regards toothpaste and tea. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what can often be in both? I've mentioned the allergy before.

Do you know anyone who seems to read all soap labels before touching them? Can you think of a character you've read or written with a skin allergy? Do you think it's something you might like to play with?


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pricing like a Business Person

This week, on one forum, someone opened a thread saying she'd raised the price for book 2 in her series, but book 2's sales went up and book 1's sales were tanking. She asked what to do to salvage book 1's sales—if she should drop book 2's price again.

Now, take a moment to think about that situation. Now that Product B has a higher price, Product B sells more copies than Product A, and Product A's sales are dropping (though it's priced lower). What should you do?

When I last looked in that thread, responses were "Drop Product B's price" or "Don't worry about it."

What puzzles me is that option #3—the one that makes the most sense, if the author's concerned about profit—was ignored: Raise the price on Product A. With Product B's increased sales at the higher price, perhaps the higher price made it compare better to similar titles.

To be fair, there are some different schools of thought on pricing, but creative types have a tendency to get ridiculous in how little they charge.

For example, I bought a scarf recently from someone. It was simple, and I could've easily made it myself, but I recognized the yarn. It would've cost at least $3 for the yarn alone—assuming the scarf only took one skein. (It might've been two or three.) It probably took about an hour to knit.

What did I pay? $15.

Why am I calling something "cheap", when the maker might've made $12 for an hour's work?

First off, self-employment taxes and health insurance. That $12 an hour ends up being closer to $8, which isn't much money, considering how hard knitting can be on the forearms and wrists.

Second, in my state and in that city, there are business licenses needed even to sell crafts. Artistic folks can get a special one that costs less than the regular one. (I guess the state knows how much being a hobbyist tends to net folks.)

Third, it would've cost around $40 to get that type of scarf, machine-made, from the store. So that scarf, including materials, cost less than half of what its comparable store product would've been.

Fourth, it was exactly what a particular friend of mine would like—a friend for whom I needed a birthday gift. The color, width, and length were perfect for her. I considered buying two, because another friend of mine (with the same birthday) loves the same color, but I realized she wouldn't wear a decorative scarf.

I would've paid more for that scarf.

In fact, I almost didn't buy it, because it was so cheap. I eyed it carefully, concerned that the maker wouldn't have taken the time to do the ends well.

Now, depending on how the lady who made the scarf wanted to target her products, she might only worry about the expense factors. However, if she wanted to, she could have also targeted her prices to attract buyers who definitely wanted her work, rather than who maybe wanted her work.

See, that's the problem with handicrafts: The up-front expense in time and money tends to be high, so you have to be a speed demon, make bulky items that don't take much time, or target folks who are after the handmade appeal. Fewer customers fall into that category than not, but you have to sell fewer products to make ends meet, too.

Writing is a bit odd—and nice—in that you can write a bunch, sell it for whatever you want, and then you can keep reselling that same thing and not worry about it. So it can be hard to see that the similar detail still applies.

That doesn't mean it's wrong to, for example, price a novel at $0.99. It isn't even wrong to price one at $18. The latter price… Well, evidently the publisher's trying to milk that bestseller name to get the maximum revenue possible from the "true" fans who'll buy whatever Rowling writes. The former price targets bargain shoppers who are after cheap, which tends to be a different audience from folks who buy at $3.99, which can be a different audience from folks who buy at $6.99.

Different audience.

Different customers.

So if raising a price (or lowering it) makes one of your products sell better, then perhaps your target readership tends to hang out in a different price zone.

But to assume that an option—of raising or lowering a price—is always the best thing to do, in every scenario…ignores how varied customer bases are.

Is there something that you would've bought at a higher price? What about something you almost didn't buy because you thought the price suspicious? Or something you would've bought, but you thought its price ridiculous?


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