What Annoys Jeff this Week?

​1. The “to read” pile. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve always had a problem with acquiring books. For most of my adult life it’s been manageable largely because I moved every couple of years and shipping large boxes of books gets expensive. I had an incentive to purge the shelves from time to time. After settling in at Fortress Jeff, though, moving every three years didn’t become much of a threat. What we have now is a collection of books that I want to read, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. The shelf I bought to store this unread library is already filled to capacity and spilling out across the floor. It’s a hot mess. I read an article recently that argued your “to read” pile should always be larger than the collection you’ve already read because it reflects your goals as well as you’ve accomplished… but I’m fairly sure they were thinking about books that teach you things and not a shelf filled with detective novels you’re going to get to at some point. If I were slightly less compulsive about displaying books-as-conquests I could probably have convinced myself to get a library card or fully embrace e-books. Now with no physical check on how many is too many, I fully expect the pile to get worse long before it gets better. I need to either make more time or learn to read faster.

2. Geography. I got a notice that something I ordered online has shipped and was expected on time for delivery. I was apoplectic to see that it was scheduled for delivery “tomorrow” but was sitting quietly in New Jersey. It turns out that even after being here for more than seven years it’s hard to remember that this part of Maryland is about 25 feet from New Jersey and items might not take a week to get here from there.

3. Facial recognition. Monday afternoon I was having trouble getting my phone to unlock with facial recognition. Having to manually enter a six digit password is so 2000-and-something. It was annoying. In displaying my annoyance to the phone, I inevitable scowled at it… at which point the fucking thing immediately opened. Apparently that really is “just how I look.” Frankly, though, I’m a little surprised the infernal contraption didn’t also require me to roll my eyes.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Brand new paving. You spent many weeks this spring pushing traffic into one lane or another so you could pave the one route into town. Then you promptly cut a hole in this nice new paving and laid down steel plates that have been there for the last three weeks. Solid work that.

2. Sleep. I use to comment that I didn’t sleep long but at least I slept well. I can’t even claim that lately. Tossing. Turning. Dumbass dreams that I can’t quite remember but know I had. It’s the opposite of restful. Of course it’s not every night, but lately it’s been more than it hasn’t and that’s a problem.

3. Shelving. I can buy a reasonably priced couch. I can buy a reasonably priced mattress. I can even buy a reasonably priced car. When it’s time to buy a bookcase my options are include the used market where most will be best to Hell and no two will match, go to Ikea for a product that will inevitable bend and warp under the weight of hardbacks stacked on them, paying the Amish $1500 for a basic unit, or hiring a carpenter for $8500 to build a whole unit in place. It just seems to me that finding a reasonably priced place for your books to live shouldn’t involve a months long exhaustive search.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shipping. If you’re selling a book as a “rare first edition” in “like new” shape, don’t be surprised if I call raising three kinds of hell when it arrives at my house with a shredded dust jacket and mangled pages. especially when the only shipping method you offer is “dumped in an unpadded plastic envelope, slap a shipping label on it, and hope for the best.” There are entirely too many options available to justify dealing with a company that clearly has no regard for their own product. 0/10. Would not recommend.

​2. ​Disagreement. There’s a trend that has always been built into the internet – stretching back into the dim mists of newgroups and chat rooms – that is constructed around the idea that if you don’t agree with every single point of my 12-point statement, you are a communist Nazi heathen enemy of humanity whose father smelt of elderberries and we can’t be friends. I suppose it’s fine if you feel that way, but I generally like my discussion and opinion to have a bit more nuance that’s more fitting in a world where virtually nothing is ever 100% one way or the other. Whether you agree with me or not, I’ll continue to state my opinions in what I hope are reasonable and constructive (and often sarcastic) ways. What I won’t do is feel any compulsion to defend my opinion from someone having a “come at me bro” moment. If I do engage in that discussion, I promise, it’s purely because of the entertainment value I’ll find in it.

3. The rules. In this place there are many rules. I did not write them. I am not making them up on the spot. The rules were here before I arrived and will be here long after I am gone. The fact that there is a rule (or rules) preventing you from doing that which you want to do is one of those facts that is interesting, but not particularly relevant. While I may share in your frustration, you’re really going to need to find someone with the authority to change the offending policy, regulation, or law before there’s a damned thing I can do about it.

Shelving crisis…

Some people mount animal heads on their wall as trophies. Other people fill their walls with art as artifacts of their travels. Me? Well, I tend to acquire books at a prodigious rate. I seem to be acquiring them now at a far faster rate than I can actually read them, which leads me to my current troubles.

While the books I’ve read are happily filed and displayed on shelves in nearly every room, the growing “to read” stack has become something more like a “pile.” When doing most of your shopping at Goodwill or flea markets or used books shops, the time to buy is when you have it in your hand for $.50 or $1. The troublesome part, at the moment, is just what to do with this excess before allocating them “trophy” status on the display shelves.

The only logical thing to do, of course, is go out and find some inexpensive shelving that I can install in one of the spare bedrooms to serve as my own in-house book shop. Yes, I realize the far more reasonable option would to be get over my completely ridiculous desire to physically own the books I read and start drawing reading material from the local public library… but that doesn’t feel like something that’s actually going to happen. So, really using some of my newly found time off this week to rig some shelves and un-cluster the home library feels like something I can reasonably expect to accomplish without adding undue stress.

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.

The problem with Goodreads…

A few weeks ago I wrote about going “all in” with Goodreads.com as the means and method of keeping tabs on what I’ve read, what I want to read, and generally keeping me from buying the same thing twice. Yes, that happened more than once.

Now that I’ve been living with it for a few weeks, I’ve discovered what I’ve come to think of as its major problem… that would be the fact that every time I log in it forces me to face the ever growing list of books I’ve purchased, but not yet taken the time to read. It’s a problem I was vaguely aware of in the past, but now I’ve got this marvelous automated tool to remind me constantly that there are 31 books just sitting on various shelves and flat surfaces at home waiting for my attention. It wasn’t nearly so much of a problem when all they did was sit there quietly.

I’d like to be able to tell you that I’ll simply resolve this problem by delaying the purchase of any new reading material until I’ve cycled through what’s already here. I think we both know that’s not going to happen, though. What I’ll probably end up doing, in the interest of freeing up more shelf space for books I’ve actually read, is order yet another bookcase and set up all of my eventually-to-be-read collection in the spare bedroom. That’s how normal people do it, right?

On history…

I’ve been thinking a lot about it these last several months and have come to the conclusion that I was incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a student of history before the culture of political correctness and hurt feelings took root. You can make heroes out of villains and villains out of heroes, re-write the books, declare that up is down, left is right, and that only the “correct” speech should be free for the listening, but that doesn’t change the history – our history.

Quite simply history is what it is – our victories and our defeats, our best moments and our worst. Our history is what made us. You can crush it, tear it down, and trample its monuments underfoot, but it’s still there in our national DNA, undergirding the world built by those people who lived long ago.

We aren’t our history, but it does inform who we are. It shaped us and molded us in hundreds of ways both known and unknown. Having spent so many of my formative years around those who live and breath history, I’m comfortable saying that despite the best efforts of those who would fold, spindle, and mutilate the history of this Republic, it will never really be lost… all the same, I’m glad I built my library up in a time when the world was a little less timid and not not quite so prone to falling out with a case of the vapors at every available opportunity.