Resolute, 2015

2014 could have been worse, but wasn’t a good year for me. There were, however, some bright spots.

While I failed in last year’s resolve to publish a piece a month, or to finish any novels, or to tie some writing into the season or holiday in which it was being released, I did at least get something written and published — Spring That Never Came is close to being a short novel (and I got complaints from a few friends that it should have been longer, which is a good complaint to have), and I pounded it out in a white hot frenzy in about a month, ran it through beta readers and fine-tuned the writing and logic in another two weeks, threw together a cover that I, at least, loved, and had published it to great indifference.

But that’s okay, because I like it and know why I had to write it. Plus, while it only got one (pretty darn good) review, the free Creative Commons download numbers were heartening, even if actual sales numbers weren’t life-sustaining.

Lesson learned? Write fast, publish fast, and stop avoiding the marketing side of things.

Also, even though I suffer from chronic fear that my writing sucks, I keep liking what I’ve written once I actually do it.

Most of the other things on the list I didn’t even come close to doing, so in some form they carry over to this year, with additions and modifications.

  • I will finish and publish one piece a month.

  • I will bloody well promote what I publish, and not just by whining “buy my book” on Twitter.

  • However unstable my employment situation is (and it is extremely unstable, thank you idiot governments that think you can tax your way to prosperity), I will put aside as much money as possible for The Dream (see below).

  • I will put all savings into Bitcoin, BlackCoin, or silver (not certificates, actual bullion). Yes, I think the dollar is going to collapse. I don’t know when, it might not happen for another few years, but I can foresee no means of escaping it, only of delaying it a little more. Presently I need currency more than anything, but I also need to get saving.

  • Since I am getting a freelance gig with a Bitcoin news and analysis site, I will do everything I can to make that site successful. (Can’t say which site it is till things are a little closer to relaunch.) If things work the way I’m hoping, this gig will be mainly for putting aside savings. We’ll have to see if that’s a reasonable thing or not.

  • I will explore a few other paths to publication, separate from Amazon. Yes, I’ll probably put most of my work up on Amazon, because that’s where the paying customers are right now. But I also want to put a novel on Unglue.It, and some of my work on BitcoinBooks.

  • I need to decide if I’m ever going to use Kindle Desktop Publishing Select again, as an author. It didn’t do a lot for Spring That Never Came except for the first free giveaway, but that giveaway translated into no reviews, no ratings, and few if any further sales. And I’d have to look at the numbers, but I think only three or four Prime members “borrowed” it, total, during the six months it was available that way. Granting that my marketing skills suck, that’s still not every impressive.

  • Though I made a half-hearted attempt to crowdfund my NaNoWriMo, I never promoted that attempt at all. Part of this is psychological, hangover from my childhood, expecting people to hate me when I ask for any value at all, and I need to get the hell over that. Another, much smaller, part is that BitcoinStarter seemed to go down or be unresponsive every time I got up the courage to try promoting it. Yes, that was disheartening, but it was also a convenient excuse not to bother people with my press release or any other promotion at all.

  • When my circumstances are even a little bit more stable, in addition to my daily writing time, I will devote several hours a week to getting The Tutoring Method up and running in a regular fashion. Preferably on its own website instead of a WordPress.com site.

  • I will continue seeking out unloved public domain books, and working to convert them to epubs. And I’ll even start making them available, which I keep meaning to do, but never actually doing. (Bringing one to professional completion would be a good start, of course.)


So, what is The Dream?

I’m chronically poor, an introvert, and simply don’t play well with others most of the time. And I’ve been just terrible, up to this point in my life, working out a way to make a living while not going against my nature and character.

But this year I discovered the Tiny House movement, and a few other things clicked into place as well, mentally. Yes, a large chunk of the movement is made up of hipsters being holier than thou about their environmentalism, which is in no way who I am. But. It’s still not a bad idea, for me, viewed from a different perspective.

The Dream, while fluid, details subject to change without notice from day to day, is essentially as follows.

  • Make a lot of money (for me, that is). Fifty thousand dollars or so seems to be the minimum for what I want, though if I’m artful and tricksy, I can probably do it for forty-ish. More would be better.

  • Buy a truck. (Used.) If I go with a tiny house on wheels (debatable right now), I’ll need at least a three-quarter ton truck to tow it. In any case, living out in the sticks, being able to haul almost anything will be a real boon. Speaking of location…

  • Buy as many acres of desert land in Arizona as I possibly can. I prefer it to be near the California border for personal reasons, but I’ve settled on Arizona being my future home.

  • Buy or build a tiny house, preferably of at least 200 square feet, preferably with a loft (or, if it’s not mobile, a second floor).

  • Buy or build all the tools needed to live off-grid. Solar panels, batteries, inverter, graywater collection and treatment system, rainwater collection system, sink a well, and lots of other little things that don’t need to be done immediately.

At this point, The Dream is realized, if incomplete. I’ll be able to live for a minimal level of expenses (food, propane, fuel and maintenance for the truck, land taxes, and internet and cell phone service), and outside of that I won’t owe anybody anything.

If I get to that point, I can just hunker down and write for a year. (And read, of course.)

But, of course, The Dream goes further than that.

After I get settled and make enough more money, I want to build a stealth tiny home for traveling, which I can then use to traverse the great 48, visit friends I’ve never met, and possibly attend SF conventions and do other personal-appearance marketing type things. (I don’t ever want to go through an airport again, least of all in the US, and I hate dealing with hotels and motels in general, so when I saw this “take your room with you” solution, I thought it was genius.)

I also want to build several structures on my property. All relatively small. One can serve as a writing office, then a larger (but still not huge) house, then some other tiny houses, to serve as guest houses for friends, especially if the economic collapse happens as I expect. Instead of being someone looking for refuge, I’d like to provide it.

There are other details, like storing slightly-out-of-date hardware in a large farraday cage, having a greenhouse and open air garden, setting up a still, lots of other details that would make the high desert my own little Galt’s Gulch, a totally independent concern.

But that’s about the size of it for now.

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Some ideas are just not series or franchises

Here’s the first trailer for the stupidly-named Terminator: Genisys:

Now, before I get to the ranty part, let me make clear that I actually had some hope for this movie. The cast they put together is pretty great, and I’ve been a particular fan of Jason Clarke ever since I watched him in The Chicago Code. He deserves to be a big star, and he’s also got serious chops as an actor. Starting with the fact that I thought he was from Chicago based on his accent, not Australia, until I looked him up after the first several episodes of Code.

I had hope that the great cast was a sign that the story was something new, different, and interesting.

Unfortunately, as the above trailer makes painfully clear, there is no compelling reason for this movie to be made except that the bean counters think it will make bank (and it probably will).

There are a number of reasons for this, and I’ve been ranting privately to friends about some (MBAs thinking that a weekend seminar on the Save The Cat checklist makes them experts in story, e.g.), but as I was about to tear into it with another friend who agreed it was awful (some seem to think it looks good, or at least has potential; I worry about them), something clicked with me.

The Terminator is a terrible idea for a franchise or series.

OK, I probably need to qualify that statement a bit. James Cameron got two superior movies out of the idea, which right there makes a series, technically. And there is material to make a series out of, or at least to springboard. But there’s a major problem there — if you take that material, and do something new with it, you can’t call it Terminator in any honest way.

What makes a good franchise or series idea, and what makes a bad one? I could probably go on for days and days about this, but I can boil it down to a fairly simple dichotomy.

A good franchise idea is open, and a bad one is closed.

Let’s take a look at three megahit movies from the 1970s, two of which became series, one which didn’t.

Star Wars was just about born to be a series. You’ve got limitless possible worlds, a galaxy-spanning conflict, and many, many characters who could serve as protagonists in their own films, should George Lucas have wanted to go that direction. The story of the film was over with the Death Star blowing up, but the larger story had infinite possibilities. There was Luke’s dad and the Clone Wars (remember what wasn’t known at that time); Han Solo’s background, and new responsibilities on finally committing to the rebellion; there was the struggle against the Empire, which could have been a continuing story with entirely new characters each film, if necessary; and so on and so on. It was wide open, and the only limitation imposed by the title (which is actually important) was that there had to be wars, and they had to be among the stars. Not especially limiting, unless you wanted to do a small domestic drama among the Wookies or something.

Jaws was a monster hit (no, I shan’t apologize), and deservedly so, it’s a spectacular entertainment with surprising dramatic heft into the bargain. But the idea is a closed idea. Shark attacks town, until it stops. If you want proof of how not-a-series the idea was, watch Jaws 2 (inferior but non-sucky retread of the first one), Jaws 3 (stupid, silly, ridiculous, and only connected to the first two by a shark and dialogue establishing series newcomer Dennis Quaid as Roy Scheider’s grown son[!]), and Jaws: The Revenge (in competition with The Apple for the “What in BLAZES were they THINKING!?” award). As indicated, the second movie is okay, but the next two entries are abominations. Because the studio and producers kept forcing a one-story idea to be a series. To the point of assigning sharks sentience and psychic abilities by the fourth entry, just to justify making it all one series. (Note: That’s not a joke.)

Finally, another massive box office hit from a regular hit-maker, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. This is, again, a fairly closed-off idea — aliens have been observing and investigating us for decades (or longer), and decide to finally make contact. They want to contact certain individuals, earth’s governments want to choose the individuals themselves, and that’s the conflict engine. You follow Richard Dreyfus’s character as he dissociates from his family and seemingly goes nuts, until in the end all is made clear — he was chosen by the aliens as Earth’s ambassador (or whatever). The story ends when the aliens are revealed, and Dreyfus goes flying off in their ship. If you made a prequel, it would kill the original film, which milked the audience ignorance of what, exactly, was going on for atmosphere and suspense through the first two acts of the film. If you made a sequel, what would that be? Dreyfus’s adventures on alien worlds? His family’s rebuilding back on Earth? Dreyfus’s return fifty years later the same age as his now-grown kids? Any of those might make a good story, but none of them could ever, possibly, be More Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. It is a one-story idea and title. And, thankfully, there was no attempt at a sequel. While it has a very recognizeable “brand” that could be “leveraged in the marketplace”, saner heads prevailed and left it at Spielberg’s “special edition” added scenes a few years later.

(Now, those in control of the money in Hollywood will never understand this, but you, as a writer, need to: “series” and “brand” are different concepts. There’s overlap, but it’s not one to one.)

What can we take away from these examples?

A couple of things, I think.

First, in any story, there are really two stories at work. I don’t have any focus-grouped, mareting-friendly terms for them, let’s just call them the background story and the foreground story.

In Star Wars, the background story is the Rebellion against the Empire, while the foreground story is a farmboy leaving home and becoming a man.

In Jaws, the background story is a shark attacking a small coastal town, and the foreground story is the water-fearing police chief who has to go to sea to stop it.

In Close Encounters, the background story is alien contact and communication with us, while the foreground stories concern an everyman trying to understand the visions he’s been having, and Francois Truffaut trying to figure out how to handle the contact situation, and what the aliens might really want.

Star Wars’s background story continues over three movies, and its ending leaves open further developments (rebuilding after a war, among many, many other possibilities). Even if Luke Skywalker died, the series could continue.

Jaws’s background story is finished at the end of the foreground story, which is what makes the sequels so increasingly awkward and silly.

Close Encounters’s background story is also finished at the end of the foreground stories. You could argue that there are other stories that could be told in the same world, and there are, but they are different stories, and not close encounters anymore.

Getting back to The Terminator, we have a background story about the singularity, when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware, and starts exterminating humanity, while humanity valiantly fights to survive, then to defeat the AI. The foreground story is the result of the last battle, when the AI sends a battle unit back in time to prevent humanity’s leader from ever being born, before the war began, and the human soldier sent on a one-way trip to protect that leader’s mother from being killed. By the end of the film, both stories are resolved and intertwined into an ouroboros of causality. The war will happen, the AI will lose, it will send the kill unit back, that unit will fail, and in failing, it enables John Connor to be conceived and born, leading to the AI’s defeat.

Both stories are finished. No series.

James Cameron, because he is (or used to be) brilliant, looked at the story he had told, and realized he could do something more, and different, with it.

The first film, as it left things, argued against free will. (There was ambiguity, for sure, but the fact that things ended up the way they always ended up strongly suggested that time is fixed, despite dialogue to the contrary.) Terminator 2, with a small retcon, continued the story to explore actual free will, and while the story as a whole is far less ambiguous, its ending leaves the future open and unknown.

The background story in part two is the same, almost down to the second, with the additional detail that the AI sent back two killbots, to two different times, as insurance. The foreground story is all about free will. Sarah Connor has to learn that the future really is not fixed. The Arnie terminator has to learn to think for itself, to value, and to make decisions based on those values. John Connor has to learn to trust his mother, while still judging things for himself, and that some decisions require terrible prices, no matter which way the decision goes.

And once that story is done, the background story is intentionally left unresolved (will there even be a war of machines against man?) as part of the thematic point, and the foreground story is again completely resolved.

The original film was a closed loop of a story, complete in and of itself. Not just the story, but the entire world in which it took place.

While it is definitely possible to carry on with new stories from this point, it is also inadvisable, but not for the reasons of background or foreground stories. They are limiting, but there are workable solutions to expand them outward.

My problem here is the series title. The terminators are limiting.

In the overall premise of the war of the machines against humanity, terminators are a very tiny part of the story. The one in the first movie was only important because it was the vessel which represented all of the AI’s war against our species. The entirety of the conflict boiled down to one machine hunting down one human. If you keep going forward, but keep centering the story entirely (or even largely) around these minor components and forcing them into a larger role than is natural for the larger story, you make them the always-returning sharks of Jaws. They go from terrifying to running joke.

ASIDE: The series started getting silly when it jettisoned one of the core ideas of the original Terminator — that Terminators were created to infiltrate human populations. Based on that, what damn sense does it make that every one of them looks like Arnie? I can, with very little thought, lampshade that enough to get Arnie into a few stories, but just throwing away the very reason they’re made to look human in the first place? That’s stupid. END ASIDE.

You can tell stories of the war of the machines against humanity. Probably an endless number of them, in fact.

But most of them won’t be terminator stories.

Terminators will be, realistically, just one part of the larger story. (Star Wars isn’t called “Storm Troopers” for a reason.)

You can tell stories about John (and Sarah) Connor, but really, those shouldn’t be terminator stories either, though at various points terminators will enter into them. (I’ve never seen The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and understand that it’s very good and well done, but I avoided it for the very reason I’m citing — terminators out the wazoo, for the main reason that the “franchise” is named for them.)

Terminator Genisys, going from the trailer, is the result of people who have no concept of story dictating what a story should be. They got the rights to the Terminator franchise, sat down, and said “All right, what are the elements of this story that we can use in a sequel?” But they didn’t want to explore the world of the man/machine conflict, they just wanted to bring Arnie in and repeat all the things that people remember from the previous movies, while giving the story a mind-numbingly stupid “twist”. (Not a twist in the sense of a surprise direction in the middle or the end of the story, but a “fresh, new direction” of a premise, which is neither.)

Decision Time’s a-comin’

What what what should I do? (Image by geralt, CC0.)
What what what should I do?
(Image by geralt, CC0.)
As I wrestle with the horror novel that probably will not be ready before Halloween (though I would really, really like it to be, dammit), I am faced with another writerly dilemma.

Spring That Never Came is coming to the end of it’s 3-month Amazon KDP Select exclusive availability.

Being who I am, every single copy that has gone out (post publication, at least) carries a Creative Commons license, so it’s already in the commons in theory. The question is, should I re-up the KDP program, take it wide to every ebook retailer I can, or take it wide and set it free by posting it to the Archive, Feedbooks, Unglue.It, and Leebre (if they’ve got their stuff together and that’s a working option come 7 September).

If I keep it in KDP, I can run promotions again and be pretty sure about my numbers, rather than only having a loose idea of my readership.

If I go wide and put it in every ebook store I can get access to, my potential market grows a bit (but I’m guessing not a whole lot, given Amazon’s dominance).

And if I go free, my readership will probably grow exponentially, though when any particular downloader will bother to read it is open to question.

I am somewhat tempted to hold off “freeing” Spring until I get the not-a-sequel The Doppel Man written and ready for release, so that I can bring in more free readers and entice them into the new Neon Noir series that follows on from it.

All of these options have pros and cons. I’m even thinking of not setting it free myself, but letting a reader notice the license and do it himself. Not thinking seriously about that, but thinking about it a bit, maybe.

But what seems to be the way to mass readership (for some definitions of “mass”; seriously, just ten thousand regular readers and most of my financial problems would be gone) is to plug away at one, maybe two, series. And the problem there is that I tend to think in stand-alones, not series. Though the way that I ended Spring did leave open the possibility for two series, one of which, as noted above, is going to be written in the near future. The other, I’m not sure when it will happen, as I have to flesh out just how it would work and where it would go.

What I don’t want to do (and, honestly, am probably incapable of doing) is to get trapped in a “marketing” mindset, where everything I say, write or think is insincere, always bullshit-positive, just vague enough to give myself deniability, and so on. I seriously just want to tell stories, and get paid enough that I can survive on them.

How about you, other writers? I’m not interested in arguments over whether the Creative Commons is a good thing or not (it is, and if you don’t agree, good for you). But how do you/would you factor the free release into your publication scheduling and marketing? Feel free to leave comments.

Buzzword Kill: I Am Not A Brand

Yippee! I know buzzwords, now I don't have to think! Image by Geralt, CC0
Yippee! I know buzzwords, now I don’t have to think!
Image by Geralt, CC0

There’s no point in commenting in any detail on the words of D. It is worth remembering, however, that D is also a college graduate and a certified teacher. What’s interesting is his touching faith in the “handout of material,” a handout that will include, you will recall, “the things not to do & how to do them right.”

Handouts of material are big business in Education. A typical class in Education starts with a handout of material, which handout provides nifty terms like “preassessment test” and “behavior modification.” Then the class breaks up into small groups so that the students can rap and reach for themselves the conclusion that behavioral objectives are “an overall good idea.” After four years of this, every graduating student walks into the world clutching thick sheaves of handouts of materials made up almost entirely of words and phrases that have little or nothing to do with real things or people or events in the world of experience.

— Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say

Jargon is a handout of material designed to prevent the need for thought. Consider the infamous “input.” For certain technicians, this word has a concrete meaning and points to something that can be pointed to with no other word. For sales managers, deans, politicians, and most of the rest of us, “input” provides an ornamental cover for a hole in the brain. When a vice president for administration asks for your input, what exactly does he want? Does he want your opinion? Your advice? Your hypothesis? Your knowledge? Your hunch? Your money? What? Does he know? If he wants to know how many long distance calls you’ve made this month, why does that get called “input,” the same term he would use in asking for your height, weight, and blood type? Does “input” describe adequately anything you might send someone?

Again, a word that means almost anything means almost nothing. The man who asks for your “input” is not put to the trouble of understanding what he wants. Furthermore, sometimes even bureaucrats and administrators seem to be able to tell you what it is they actually do want. You get a letter from the district manager asking for your hat size. He is making a study that will discover whether skull capacity is related to monthly sales figures. Simple enough. But suddenly your hat size becomes input. This isn’t so bad; that number may in fact become part of what might technically be called “input.” In his next letter, however, the same district manager asks if you think it’s worth the trouble to keep the company bowling league going for another year. And that becomes input. The word no longer makes any useful distinction.

Every craft has its technical lexicon, and the terms often make useful and necessary distinctions between one thing and all other things, sometimes exceedingly fine distinctions. The more technically demanding the craft, the more it needs an extensive and precise, technical lexicon. Contrariwise, crafts that make only small demands on the technical skills of their practitioners require only a small list of technical words and might even get by with none at all. The practice of some crafts, and schoolteaching seems to be one such, requires very little that could be called an organized technology. Such crafts ought not, therefore, to require much of a technical lexicon at all, but, strangely enough, it is often in just such crafts that we find the most elaborate jargon.

ibid.

Richard Mitchell was focused, in that book, primarily on what was wrong with education. (The book was published in 1979. As you can see, things have not improved.)

There is another use of jargon that I see a lot, and is rampant in any writing on marketing. I sometimes refer to it (disparagingly) as Seth Godin-ism.

In addition to muddying up clear communication and replacing the need for thinking with catchy buzzwords, Godinism also serves the dual purposes of manipulation and control.

Seth Godin is a business writer who is probably immensely wealthy because he does one thing well — taking an unremarkable idea, branding it with a trade-markable new name, writing a book about it, and then getting paid obscene amounts of money to lecture about the wonders of this “new” idea and how everyone should use it.

For example, he had a whole book about how your business needs a Purple Cow™. If your business has a Purple Cow™, then it can “leverage” it into more business. If your business does not have a Purple Cow™, then it needs to find one, or else die.

Know what a Purple Cow™ is?

It’s what used to be called a “unique selling point”.

But because Godin has to reframe everything, it now means you must “be remarkable”. Because that is totally different and new and not old and clichéd at all.

From what I’ve seen, every new Godin-created and -marketed fad has been pretty much the same stone-souping of a commonplace idea into enough foggy marketingspeak bullshit to confuse the gullible and get him those sweet, sweet speaking gigs at conferences and expos.

But it’s hardly confined to Seth Godin. The entire corporate world is awash in people determined to make sure you know that they all “think outside the box”. None of them follow the herd, they all think independently and for themselves, in exactly the same set of buzzwords and catchphrases.

You’re hip. You’re cool. You think outside of the box, just like every other buzzword lemming.

I am not a fucking brand. I’m going to write fantasy and science fiction and mystery and literate historical thrillers, and I Do Not Care if that’s not what I am Supposed To Do or not.

I am not a brand. I do not have a “platform”. I’m me, I write what interests me, and I refuse to reduce myself to “that one guy who writes nothing but dinosaur porn”.

On the buying of reviews

Some reviewers are less than reputable. Image by Nemo, CC0
Some reviewers are less than reputable.
Image by Nemo, CC0
I don’t.

Here’s why. (And no, it’s not because I’m poor.)

In any human society or culture, orders arise spontaneously. Things grow “organically” without any need of direction.

Immediately following the first rise of something new, smart people, often with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Asperger’s, in addition to (not infrequently) sociopaths, figure out the “rules” of the organic order, and the sociopaths (and anyone else with a conscience deficit) proceed to manipulate and game the system. They try to figure out the ways they can bend the rules to their own benefit, and if the system gets broken in the process, too bad.

You can see this in any part of society to some degree, but it tends to be especially acute in marketing, and doubly so in Hollywood marketing.

Take movie trailers. In the late 1990s, it seemed like every trailer began with Mr. Voice intoning “In a world where…”. (I was deeply thankful to Jerry Seinfeld for killing that cliche deader than Caesar with one single movie trailer of his own.)

Currently, we are still suffering a surfeit of trailers done by not especially creative people who thought the second Inception trailer was totally awesome. (As it was.) We’re still, five years later, getting the Hans Zimmer “BWAWM!!!!” in every second trailer that’s not for a comedy.

But that’s just imitation. That’s not really “gaming” the system.

An example of gaming it happened with the invention of movie critic David Manning for the purpose of putting good quotes on movie posters. (As if the existence of actual critic Rex Reed wasn’t enough!)

A Sony executive looked at the use of movie quotes on posters and newspaper ads, and said “You know, I’ll bet nobody checks these things.” He invented Manning, threw up some positive quotes, and possibly created a positive impression in the minds of a few potential movie-goers to convince them to see the latest piece of crap that wasn’t good enough to get actual good reviews.

That was simply an extension of the deceptive quotes from real reviews that posters had long used. Something like “As fun as having your head sledgehammered for two hours” would show up on a poster as “FUN!”

This isn’t much different than the way Amazon reviews are coming to be used.

It’s not about thoughtful engagement with the work in question. It’s about getting the largest number of five-star reviews possible. Period.

And, hey, if some of those reviews are purchased rather than honest appraisals of the work being reviewed, so what? Everybody needs sales, right?

I know it’s not fashionable to look beyond the immediate consequences of anything these days, but I can’t help it. I don’t want fake short-term numbers at the expense of having real long-term readers (and, hopefully one day, fans).

There is a musician I follow sometimes because I’ve liked some of his music, even if his politics are largely odious, and he has a very cynical term for life in American culture (he’s an expat in Eastern Europe): The Empire Of Fake.

And while I don’t agree with a lot of his assessments, he’s pretty bang on about this.

It’s easier to be fake.

It’s enticing to fake it and let people praise your fake qualities, and how well you fake things.

It’s much, much easier to buy a hundred five star reviews than to write a book or a story that earns one real five star reviews from someone who just happened to read it.

And I’m sorry, but I’m not fake enough to do that.

“But what if those fake reviews bring you real fans? Isn’t it worth it, then?” (You just know that some MBA jerkwad who sells his “services” to indie authors and has never written a readable story in his shallow plastic life will say this, don’t you?)

No. It is not worth it. Because that won’t happen. People, no matter how many MBAs you hold telling you otherwise, are not stupid. They might (might) be fooled by the first gung-ho, hyperbolic, shallower-than-a-puddle-in-the-desert five-star review. Then they’ll read the story, say “This is crap”, and avoid anything with a review that even remotely reminds them of that first stinker.

So unlike, apparently, a vast host of other indie authors, I will not purchase reviews as part of a “marketing strategy” (again, marketers do this, then wonder why people like me hate their trade with the white hot fury of a thousand suns). Nor for any other purpose.

Free copies to review? Certainly. Paying you to bullshit other people into buying my work? Nope.

Sorry, BookReviewNinja and all you others.

Magic words and our cultural passive aggression

Martial artists at sunset
How social interaction should NOT feel.
(Artist: bykst. License: CC0)
Recently, two religious kids came to my door trying to sell me stuff to help fund their scholarships. I politely declined, and they immediately demonstrated why I declined, turning a general principle into a concrete reality.

They ignored my “no” and kept trying to find a way to get me to buy.

And kept trying.

And kept trying.

I should note that, because of my background, I am extremely touchy about anyone at all even pretending that I do not mean what I say. But they seemed like nice enough kids (apart from the script they had clearly been trained to follow), so I restrained myself from my usual response, which is generally along the lines of “I just told you ‘no’ in civil and polite terms. However, since you are now rudely assuming that I did not mean what I said, I’m going to repeat it to you in a way that will leave absolutely no doubt in your mind that, yes, I did in fact mean it.” I merely kept denying them in (reasonably) polite terms until they finally gave up. (Or, much more likely, ran to the end of their script.)

Not two days later, I got a sales call, unsolicited. And the smarmy lady who called had an even more hostile script, which she seemed to enjoy acting out. She asked if I was the man of the house. I asked what she was calling about. She asked if I was the one to make decisions for the household. I asked what she was calling about. She asked if my name was my name. I asked what she was calling about. She sniffily said, “Well, since you’re being uncooperative, you have a nice day,” (translation: eff you, bye) and hung up.

This problem is not confined to marketing (though it is especially acute there), it has been rising in our culture as long as I’ve been alive, maybe forever. It is the idea that there are Magic Words, words that when you speak them, elicit the response you require. In the case of sales and marketing, Magic Words will get you to buy the product on offer, without thinking.

This is so offensive to me that I treat anyone who tries to control me with Magic Words as a hostile enemy who is trying to kill me. I have free will. I have a working brain. Want me to buy something? Then trying to manipulate me, to manage my impressions and steer me through your choice of words and carefully practiced script is the one guaranteed way to get me not to buy. If, on the other hand, you treat me with basic respect, tell me what you have, answer my questions directly and without trying to use impression management but just bloody answer what I bloody ask, then I might. If I want it. Which you do not get to decide or control. And if you can’t handle that, too fucking bad for you.

In politics, you get the obsession with “messaging”. Did you know that the only problem with Obamacare is that the administration didn’t use the right messaging? That’s it. Not the government takeover of one-sixth of the nation’s economy, not the partisan way it was ramrodded through Congress, not the umpteen-thousand ways it violates individual rights or the Constitution. Nope. They just had “ineffective messaging”. They didn’t find the right Magic Words.

There’s an old saying from Alfred Korzybski, inventor of General Semantics: The map is not the territory.

More and more, our culture seems to take it for granted that if you change the map, the territory will follow suit. And anyone who disagrees is an unmutual doubleplus unperson.

Well, count me as one of those. Approach me in a manner I consider hostile, and I’ll treat you appropriately.