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.

Not in my backyard…

The local county zoning board is set to hear a request for a variance centered on our little corner of the Ceciltucky. This long stretch of the Elk Neck peninsula we call home ranges from protected wetlands, state park, state forest, conservation trust land, horse farms, and what in zoning parlance is “low density residential” housing. That LDR designation is what’s important here in that it’s what’s prevented all manner of undesirable development – things like condo blocks, giant houses on tiny lots, and, last year, a proposed “RV park” that got rolled back when property owners howled.

Now that county is considering what, at first blush, might seem to be a so what variance that would allow an additional 2500 square feet of space to be put under roof on that particular parcel of land that was once home to a now-defunct local convenience store. The wider issue, and there’s always a wider issue, is that the stated purpose of the variance is to allow Dollar General to develop the site as a commercial retail space squarely in the middle of what is almost exclusively a low density residential area. I say almost, because the Dollar General property is directly next to a small, locally owned convenience store where you can stop to get your lottery tickets, a fried egg sandwich, coffee, and as much of the local gossip as you can stand. This place is a community asset.

The request, of course, discusses all of the wonderful benefits of having a Dollar General come to “town.” As a consummate writer of bullshit memoranda, I can tell you whatever legal beagle put it together did a fine job off adding the bells and whistles to make an appealing case without saying much of anything at all.

I have great discomfort about telling a property owner what they can or can’t do with their property. That said, though, the owners purchased it knowing full well what was and wasn’t allowed based on the zoning in place when they purchased. I moved down to this quiet part of the county specifically because it was far away from the “retail opportunities” along major local highways. The last thing I want is to see some generic rubber dog shit selling baby big box store moving in just up the way. Based on the electrons I’m seeing being burned up online, the bulk of my neighbors agree. I guess all that’s left is seeing if we can pummel the county into submission one more time.

The virtue of Prime…

After getting my notice of another Amazon Prime subscription price increase, I’m realizing that I either need to start using it for more than watching 10 episodes of The Grand Tour a year or get rid of it. I signed up way back when Prime’s major benefit was two day shipping on books. Although it offers many more features now, I find I’m barely using it for any of them. With many of items I’ve bought from Amazon recently not making the 2-day shipping window and/or being damaged to some degree in packing or transit, it’s starting to feel like less of a bargain overall – especially when Amazon has opted to push it over the $100 price point.

I’m well aware that arguing over the value of $21 per year increase is patently ridiculous on its face, but there’s just something about that three-digit bill that really sets me wondering just what the hell I’m paying for and if it’s actually worth it. In all likelihood I’ll just go along letting apathy and inertia carry it along, but don’t let that in any way be confused with my willingness to bitch and complain every year when that $120 bill shows up in my list of financial transactions… because I still want my dented and damaged crap showing up in two (or three or four) days.

I supposed that’s what Amazon has been counting on all along.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Ice. I hate dumb stupid ice and the asshole who didn’t salt his driveway because “why bother, it’ll melt in a few days anyway. Occasionally I am a real idiot. Conveniently I was summarily punished for it so I feel balance has been restored.

2. Not doing the maths. I don’t even want to guess how many times I’ve watched someone walk to the checkout only to be rung up and announce in what appears to be complete surprise that “I don’t have that much.” Maybe some quick maths before getting to the counter would have been helpful. On any given day I’m keeping a reasonably accurate running total on two different checking accounts, three savings accounts, two brokerage accounts, one e-trade account, two IRAs, a “401(k)” type account, the Dow and S&P 500, and the spot price of gold, silver, and bitcoin. I won’t always know what those numbers are to the cent, but you can bloody well believe I’ll know if I have enough funds available to cover a cart full of whatever it is I’m trying to buy before I get to the point of sale. It isn’t about wealth or poverty. It’s about awareness and knowing the condition of all the resources you can bring to bear on the day. Situational awareness in all its many forms is your friend, kids.

3. Mr. coffee. My venerable 11 year old Mr. Coffee seems to be on his last legs. It’s mostly failing to drip through the last cup of water and when it does, it brings a quarter cup of grounds through to the carafe with it. No amount of scrubbing or spring adjustment seems to make a difference. I’m suspect of change at the very best of times… and changing something as central to my life as the coffee maker feels likely to set all my nerves twitching.

Almost a fiasco…

Saturday morning I discovered that my local Apple Store had in stock availability of their new flagship, iPhone X. I wouldn’t usually venture anywhere near a mall two days after Thanksgiving, but the desire for new and shiny tech got the better of me. Stunningly, I arrived five minutes after the mall opened and parked within 20 yards of the door. It seems that their “holiday hours” are poorly advertised and almost no one realized they were opening an hour early. Fine by me.

I was an AT&T cellular customer since back in the mists of time when they were known as Cingular. I was generally a satisfied customer, too – until I moved to Fortress Jeff, which is located in a black hole of their coverage map. I could make and receive calls over wifi, but when wifi was down, my cell was pretty much an expensive paperweight. Unacceptable. With this change of phone, I wanted to make the jump to Verizon, who neighbors promised had at least a bar or two of coverage even the local power and cable is out. It happens more often than you’d imagine out here at the end of the transmission line.

Without going into details, I’ll just say that AT&T, Verizon, and Apple corporate policies all threw up roadblocks to converting from the Apple Upgrade Program under AT&T to the same program under Verizon. The guy I was working with, though, was an absolute bulldog and took the problems first to the floor manager, who was as confounded as we were. The floor manager then elevated the issues through two layers of management “in the back.” Finally they decided there was actually no way to get from Point A to Point B using existing policy and procedures. That’s they point where one of them decided “we’re going to break the rules” to make the sale.

I can’t say for sure if any rules were broken, but if the number of Apple employees standing around looking concerned while they fiddled with various entries on their tablet is any sign, they were certainly doing something unusual. In the end it took six people and almost an hour to make the sale.

It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t seamless, but in the end I walked away with exactly what I wanted. I appreciate that level of tenacity when the easy answer was “we can’t.” I appreciate it even more when I’ve got two bars of service when the wifi’s off. Well done, Apple. It’s a wonderful lesson for other business out there that customer services really, truly doesn’t have to suck.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Work days.” Pretending that the day before and after Thanksgiving are “work days” is ridiculous. Sure, the lights are on and there may be a skeleton staff in the building, but no one is doing shit. Even if those who were in the office wanted to do something, the chance of them being able to find another person interest in and able to deal with that issue falls somewhere between slim and none. But year after year we continue the monumentally expensive farce of maintaining the illusion that these massive office complexes are “open for business” because it’s better optics than admitting that yeah, we’re going to go ahead and take a knee for three days. Illusion trumps reality every time.

2. Recycling. I like the environment and believe that recycling is a net good overall situation. That said, though, if you want people to recycle you’ve got to make it easy. To those of us who don’t spend our lives pondering the subtle differences, plastic is plastic. If you have to hire someone to yell at people when they drop the “wrong” kind of plastic at the tip, your process is not easy enough. I try to recycle because it’s the right thing to do, but honest to God if you don’t go back to “single stream” meaning an actual single stream I’ll just start paying the extra $5 on my monthly trip to the dump and you can bury it all.

3. Sales. I love Amazon… most of the time. When it comes time for their big sales, though, I can’t quite shake the feeling that what they’re really doing is just knocking a few percent off stuff they’re trying to clear out of the warehouse. That’s well and good, of course. It’s a sales model that’s been around as long as retail… but just because a random piece of junk is now 20% off doesn’t fill me with a burning desire to acquire a piece of junk that I wouldn’t otherwise want to own.

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.