Zero point zero…

Let me be among the very first to say I can admit bad decisions when I make them. My idea to kick off an August AMA was met with a resounding silence zero point zero.jpgfollowed by the distant womp womp of a sad trombone. Level of interest: Zero point zero. That’s ok. The sheer volumes of topics around here that never get past the idea stage is staggering so it’s just one more aborted notion on the pile.

Of course if there’s no one out there feeding me ideas, that means I’m back to relying on my own devices. After compiling a couple of thousand posts, I guess you can say that I’m ok with that. It’s not exactly a new thing. I’m just going to proceed from the assumption in this case that silence implies consent and that I should continue doing what I’m doing.

So, you may be asking, what does that mean? Well, it means you’ll be sure to see more stupid things that happened at the office, a bit of commentary about the news of the day, and whatever else happens to catch my interest in the moment. After so many posts I’m finding it’s nearly impossible not to tread some of the same ground, but I’m finding it entertaining to look at how my thinking has evolved over time. All things considered it’s not a bad way to run a joint.

What’s on your mind?

About once a year, but on no actual specific schedule I like to throw open the doors here at jeffreytharp.com and let you tell me what’s on your mind. No, I’m not asking you to click, or share, or forward to 10 friends to prevent the ghost in the machine from deleting all your porn links, but I am offering up the chance for each and every one of you to set the agenda for a little while. I usually do this kind of thing when it feels like my own topics are getting a little stale and it’s safe to say looking back over the last few months’ worth of posts, I get the distinct impression that the day job is getting way too much time inside my head. Thanks to the power of social media and the vast reach of this blog (you know, 20-60 people per day), I’ve got a chance to set out of my head for a little while and stretch my legs – or more aptly, my fingers.

So, you may be asking yourself, what are the ground rules? There really aren’t any. Want to know my thoughts on a topic I haven’t talked about? Ask. Want a deeper dive on something I’ve only tangentially touched upon? Let me know. Want to hear more about dogs and less about work? Tell me. Have an unanswered question about that one time I did “this” when I clearly should have done “that?” It’s your chance to get the straight dope from the horse’s mouth… or horse’s ass, I suppose, depending on your particular point of view.

Now for the fine print: While I will provide an answer to every question asked, I do reserve the right to “vague up” some details that could be incriminating for me or embarrassing for others. I will, however, provide the straight dope answer directly to the questioner in these cases. All questions will be answered in the order in which they were received, or the order in which I feel like answering them. Scheduling really depends on the day. I will lead off each AMA response by crediting the asker, by name, link to their blog, twitter, etc as appropriate unless they have requested to ask anonymously.

So now, it’s all up to you. What’s on your mind?

The hidden posts…

As happens from time to time the blog post that you should be reading tonight is officially embargoed. It’s written, saved to WordPress, and then intentionally published privately. I do this occasionally because the writing itself is cathartic and it helps me more clearly understand my own mind. That, however, doesn’t mean the words that make it to the page are in any way ready for public consumption. They may never be – or more precisely, I may never be willing to share them with you. It’s nothing personal, I promise.

For the vast amount of information I’ve been willing to share across the electronic world over the last couple of thousand posts, there are some few things I’m sure will just belong to me. I almost wish that wasn’t the case because many of those are the most impassioned, wide ranging, celebratory, hopelessly melancholy bits of writing I’ve done. They’re almost always the most raw and least edited.

Maybe someday I’ll sneak these hidden posts out into the wild where they can fall in to the larger sweep of whatever else happened to be going on in my head at any given time. For now, just know that there are hidden gems lurking here in the ether. If you’re lucky (and I’m brave) you might just happen to see a few of them some day.

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.

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?

A picture and a paragraph…

 

More and more often I’m running into links on “news” sites that dump you off at a video rather than at an article. For me at least, if I’m interested enough to click on a link, I’m interested enough to learn more than whatever can be offered up in a 13 second video clip. Call me a curmudgeon but I like my news stories to have a little bit of depth, maybe some background, and even a touch of analysis if the editors are feeling a little froggy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of digital media, but there’s a big part of me that still likes getting my news in the written word format. I’m not advocating for an immediate return to running newspapers in a morning and evening edition, but I don’t think it’s too big an ask to expect generally reputable news sources to include a little more meat on the bone. Then again, maybe that’s just another art form dying in the modern age.

With that said, a few weeks ago a friend turned me on to a site that specializes in collecting a sort of “best of” series of long form articles from across the web. Longform.org tends to be a bit eclectic in its offerings. It’s certainly not all the news that’s fit to print. What it lacks in width on a day to day basis, it almost always makes up for in depth. Right now on the main page articles range from campus activism to nursing to Swiss banking. I check in a few times a week when I’m feeling myself fall into the normal routine of things being a thousand feet wide but only three inches deep. It’s a helpful reminder if nothing else that somewhere, someone is practicing some deep thinking skills – even when I reject their premise or conclusions.

Sometimes a picture and a paragraph just aren’t enough. Mercifully there is at least a small group of people on the internet who agree.

Fundraiser…

I was reading an article today. The subject of the article isn’t particularly important unless you have a particular interest in Antarctic tourism. It was well written, articulate, and humorous. This blogger was ticked off all the appropriate boxes for what make a post enjoyable reading.

As the author regales us with tails of expedition ships and Russian sailors, and researchers who seem ever so slightly “off,” there was a thought lurking in the back of my mind. I wondered who the hell has the time or money to take off on 38-day cruise to the bottom of the world just to have something to write about. The blog itself was a fairly run of the mill affair without many bells or whistles – the kind of think you build when you’re more interested in writing than working in web design.

The answer to most of my questions came when at the end of the post, when the author thanked all of his supporters for donating to his Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter. Sonofabitch. This guy was crowdsourcing his writing and travel habits by taking online donations. I didn’t know that was even a thing people did, but it is… and it’s apparently far more lucrative that selling short stories $.99 a copy on Amazon.

With trepidation in my heart I sought out the Kickstarter campaign for the blogger in question. I wish I would have let it go, because I can’t unsee what I saw. I’m never going to be able to forget that 900+ people donated a total of almost $38,000 to this heroic blogger to go out and play advanced tourist. I’m amazed and jealous and sunned all at the same time.

It’s given me more than a moment’s pause as I wonder how I can coax 900 people out of $42 a piece – or more importantly can I coax 3000 to donate that much. Is it possible that someone is out there now using Kickstarter as their primary source of income? If there is, can that person please give me a bit of “how to” coaching?

There’s a quiet little corner of beach on St. Thomas I think would make a great spot for writing. Send me there and I’ll tell you all about it.