Eight years of WordPress…

Sometimes I forget just how long I’ve been blogging. Then the internet jumps up and gives me its standard shocking reminder. Look, my blog has been around long enough to have once called MySpace home, so I’m well aware that I’ve been rambling for a long, long time now. That fact that WordPress has been home now for eight years, though, somehow feels more shocking than the fact that it use to live at a url that ended in myspace.com/blog.

I like it here. It feels comfortable. The longer I do this, the more I appreciate simplicity and ease of use in a website. The point all along, I suppose, has been to learn what I can about being a better writer rather than learning how to run a website. The later would probably have been a far more lucrative endeavor, but I still find the former much more fun.

There’s something deeply satisfying about barfing up what’s usually the worst of the day onto the page and hitting publish. It’s my 21st century equivalent of applying leeches and purging myself of bad humors. The two or three hundred words that end up here on the typical day let me purge off the most obnoxious and annoying bits of the day and settle in with the good stuff. If I weren’t blogging it, I’d just end up having to find another way to get the mess out of my head.

So, I’m celebrating eight years with WordPress. In all likelihood it will go unremarked and unnoticed, but it really does mean the world to me.

The spamming of WordPress…

I’ve been using WordPress as my blog platform since 2010. It’s been a good, feature-rich home that is about as straightforward to use as anyone could reasonably expect. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but overall it’s the kind of happy technology that just works and lets itself fade into the background so you can focus on content instead of the nuts and bolts of how the website itself functions. I’m just not geek enough anymore to be particularly interested in that side of running things.

The last couple of weeks, though, I’ve found myself inundated by an unexpected and unprecedented amount of spam message traffic making its way past the WordPress filters. Each and every post on jeffreytharp.com seems to generated a responding barrage of dozens of likes and follows from click bait sites filled with brilliant marketing strategies and tips for monetizing your page. For the purposes of my writing here, each and every one of them is both pointless and annoying – spam messages in their most pure form.

Until now, the filters provided by WordPress were sufficient to hold this onslaught of wasted electrons at bay. Since that is true no longer, I’m trying to manually enforce some kind of discipline on what makes it through to my inbox. That being the case, I’ve had to impose rather draconian restrictions on what notifications I’m receiving from WordPress. The free and easy days of letting everything flow through to my inbox and sorting through one or two messages a day seem to be over.

So look, if you are trying to reach me through the blog for some reason, chances are I haven’t seen your message. Feel free to leave a comment, though, because for the moment I am seeing those notifications without undue amounts of spam getting in the way. It feels like there should be a better way to manage this sort of thing but it’s the best I was able to implement on short notice. Frankly, though, any option that stops the flow of this junk to my inbox is more than welcome so I don’t see any major changes in the foreseeable future.

The Year in Review: 2017 Edition

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 9.55.36 AM.png WordPress use to helpfully provide a year in review feature that would auto-magically spit out a post with all the facts and figures about what posts were popular, where your views were coming from, and all manner of information about what your readers found interesting. Sadly, they discontinued that feature a couple of years ago, so it’s up to me to come up with something to say here at the end of the year.

In plain language, this year was almost exactly average with about 6,600 views and 3,684 visitors. Some years have been better, some worse, and I guess that’s about all we can reasonably expect to say about blogging – or life for that matter.

The most viewed post of the year wasn’t even a post from this year. Instead, you have to reach back all the way to 2014 find the post titled For Official Use Only. Some people would mind that, but me, I’m not picky about where people are looking so long as they’re looking. In case you’re wondering, you had to drop all the way down to the third most viewed post to find one written in 2017. You probably won’t be shocked to find out it’s about people making bad decisions and the rest of us poor sods who have to listen to them talk about it.

In related news, it’s also the first year that “hot lesbian cheerleader” didn’t lead the ranking of search terms that brought people here. I’m not sure if that says more about what people are searching for or the content I’ve been posting this year… so make of that what you will.

I won’t even speculate what 2018 holds for the world. Assuming the new year is about the same as the old, it’ll be about equal parts joy and terror, with a heavy dose of “what the actual fuck” thrown in for good measure. The only thing I’m reasonably sure about is that as long as I have an internet connection and and a few thoughts that I can’t stand keeping to myself, I’ll be here writing them down and sharing them with the world. That too could be good or bad, depending on your perspective. Since it seems to help preserve my sanity, I’m going with the idea that remains a net good overall.

AMA: Tell me about your ebook…

Editorial Note: I stumbled on a few “Ask Me Anything” questions I got a few months ago and had completely forgotten about. Over the next week or two, I’ll do my best to work them in to the schedule.

Tonight’s AMA question is another posed by someone I’ve Identified as LS. LS asks, “Kindle books… how many titles have you published, how many have sold, how you decided to set prices and whatnot?”

That’s not as straightforward a question as it might seem at first glance. To cover the basics, I’ve got two formal ebooks published under my own name. The first, Nobody Told Me: The Cynic’s Guide for New Employees, is my treatise on what it means to be a youngish employee in the bowels of a giant bureaucracy. It’s still one of my favorite efforts to date. The other primary ebook I have up for sale is Retribution: Chasing Hearts and Minds. That’s my first foray into proper fiction – and one that I hope gets a follow-up sooner rather than later. I’ve actually got that next installment “sort of” outlined, but haven’t forced myself to sit down and do the hard work of putting words on paper.

I’ve also done a bit of short story writing under a pen name that, for the time being, is not a topic for public discussion. Writing under a name other than your own is a remarkably freeing experience and lets you dive into topics and ideas that you wouldn’t otherwise explore. I’ve made a conscious decision to largely keep me and my alter ego completely separate for purposes of discussing what I write about on a regular basis. Although I’m not ready to drop that veil just yet, for purposes of answering this AMA, I’m including the sales totals from these 15 or so other short stories.

I try to be “platform agnostic” when it comes to sales. I’m happy using Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Smashwords, and a dozen or more other small e-retailers. Without making this post into an enormous spreadsheet of sales figures, between all my titles and across all print and electronic platforms I’ve had 1905 total sales and earned near enough to $1,450 in royalties.

That’s not setting the world on fire in the publishing business, but I’m proud of those numbers because it’s something I carried through every step of the creative process and convinced people to pay real money for. It’s a deeply satisfying experience.

When it comes to price, I keep it simple. For ebook buyers short stories go for $.99 and the longer works for $2.99. Paperback copies come in at $7.99. Those are pretty much the lowest prices allowed by the retailers unless you’re running a giveaway promotion. I realize that I’m competing against a host of people who have jumped into the epublishing world over the last five years. My logic there is that I don’t have a built in audience and can’t expect anyone to pick up something I write over any of the thousands of other “no name” competitors. I never wanted price point to be the factor that sent someone over to the next guy to find a bargain.

I’d love to spend a little time talking about what might be next, but the reality is I’ve got seven different files sitting on my desktop right now in various stages of development. One is ready for final editing. Most are somewhere between notes or rough outlines and fully fleshed out written chapters. Some are “mine” some belong to my alter ego. What I work on largely depends on my mood. It’s not exactly an efficient way to operate. It might not even be an effective way to operate. Fortunately, since I’m doing this more as a way to blow off stress and be creative, the need to be effective or efficient isn’t exactly a driving force.

I love writing and get a real charge out of seeing someone pay money to read something I’ve come up with. At heart, though, I still mostly identify as a half-assed blogger so it’s safe to assume that the lion’s share of the day’s word count is going to keep pouring out on these pages for the world to see at no additional charge.

You’re welcome.

This (not particularly) old house…

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an open call for readers to “Ask Me Anything.” One reader asked what projects I’d tackled around the house since moving in. This post is my best effort at describing what was, what’s been done, and where we’re going in the future.

Anyone who has ever owned a house knows that home ownership isn’t so much a state of being as a state of doing. Over and above the normal cleaning tasks, there is, literally, always something that needs some kind of attention – a leaking toilet, an overflowing gutter, filters to clean, driveway cracks to patch, trim to touch up, brush to haul away, or mulch to lay down… and that’s just the basic upkeep work that goes in to keeping a house from falling down around your ears. Sure, I know that people can go months or even years without doing any of that stuff but in addition to a place to live, home is an investment and it’s one I’d like to make sure pays off when it’s time to hang up the for sale sign.

I’ve been in this new house of mine for a little over two years now, which means I’ve lived with it long enough to have found a number of its personality quirks. Some of those quirks are tolerable – like the section of kitchen floor that’s just enough out of level that it will try to trip you if you are tempted to shuffle your feet instead of picking them up when you step. The basement window that let in a small flood every time it rained for more than 15 minutes was one of those that was less quirky and more demanding of an immediate fix. Mercifully that hole in the ground is now relatively dry and my paranoia about returning home after a rainstorm to find an indoor swimming pool has begun to recede. In the garage, I’ve removed the wheelchair ramp that occupied an entire bay when I moved in. That space is now occupied with set of steps cannibalized from parts of the ramp, a proper work bench, a bit of shelving, and a Jeep.

The work that never ends continues outside, where so far I’ve pulled out or cut down two score trees and shrubs of varying sizes, stabilized a muddy mess of a hillside that washed across the driveway in the slightest fall of rain, and filled in a badly designed flower bed with sod. As far as I can tell, most of this work is in compensation for 5-7 years of maintenance deferred by the previous homeowner. Adding a permanent generator sized to meet all possible power needs of the homestead was a personal priority of mine that felt like an extravagance… right up until the point where the power was out for the better part of 24 hours this past winter. After that, being assured that life can continue uninterrupted by weather or falling trees has come to feel like something essential. The last (I hope) significant outdoor project was adding a “rustic” fire ring in the back yard… since “burning brush” is frowned upon by the local home owners association, but having a fire pit is not. Two birds with one stone, that.

I’m sure there will be more to do, because there always is. I can’t even blame the honey do list on anyone else since mine is entirely self-generated. I want to move a few light switches and add a few electrical outlets, which (probably) I can do on my own. Unfortunately I’m also reaching the point where many of the things I want to do are beyond my level of technical skill and expertise. The master bath is badly in need of a walls-in renovation. Four rooms and a hallway need new carpet. I despise the laminate counter top in the kitchen. Seriously. That was a crap place to cheap out on the original build back in 2000. There’s also a 10×8 foot alcove in the living room that’s crying out to be floor-ceiling book shelves.

So the list of things to do never really gets any shorter with me adding one or two new things for every one that gets ticked off. I figure that at the rate I’m going, by the time I’m ready to sell the place off in eighteen years I’ll just have finished up everything I wanted to do with it.

Three long days…

I had three long days to get a post together. I’d like to sit here and make some brilliant excuse for why it didn’t happen. The truth is I kind of completely forgot that today was actually Monday and not the second coming of Sunday. The fact that it’s Monday utterly escaped my mind is the closest thing I have to an excuse for today’s lack of pithy commentary/bitching and complaining.

If I’m painfully honest it was nice to have three consecutive days when I wasn’t particularly worried about stringing words together in something close to a coherent (and mildly entertaining) order. I’m sure all will be as normal by this time tomorrow, but just now I’m going to soak in the last of these three days and appreciate them for the unplanned break they became.

Ask me anything…

​I try my best to keep a pretty extensive list of ideas I want to write about on the sideline just in case I run into one of those bad days when ideas just stop flowing. Over the last few months I’ve been cheating a bit and dragging ideas off the list. I find that quiver becoming uncomfortably empty at the moment and I’d really like to start adding things back to the list of potential topics rather than continuing to draw it down.

You, my dear readers, can do something to help. Although my personal pride would never let me ask anyone for cash donations, I clearly have no shame about asking you to help me out with ideas.

As I do here from time to time I’m opening the doors wide and encouraging you to go ahead and ask me anything. Is there a subject you think I should talk about? Do you want to know my thoughts on man-rompers or fidget spinners? Do you want to know my favorite food, color, and shoe size? I won’t sell this as a once in a lifetime opportunity, but if there’s anything you’ve been dying to know, this would be an awfully good chance to get an answer.

You can leave your questions in a comment here on WordPress, or on Facebook, or Twitter. Since I’ll be focused on answering your questions, that will give me the chance to refill my own pool of ideas, so really everyone wins here. You get the inside scoop about what’s rattling around in my head, I get to sharpen my writing chops on ideas I would otherwise be thinking about, and maybe we all get to learn a little something in the process. Really, what’s not to like about that?