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.

The virtue of big boxes…

I don’t generally spend a lot of time perusing through Salon, but an article ended up in my news feed today that caught my attention. The rise and fall and rise and fall cycle of the American downtown is something I find endlessly fascinating – particularly why some communities can make their stretch of Main Street thrive while others never manage to clear the tumbleweeds.

Today’s article, like so many, place the blame on our friendly neighborhood “big box” retailers. I don’t doubt that they create a business environment where it’s awfully hard for the average corner store to compete. Volume pricing and favorable tax incentives to bring jobs to a community are hard to overcome. The piece that no one ever seems to discuss in detail is the shopping habits of the average American.

Of course I would never consider myself average, but if I use my own experience by way of example I find that the time I want to allocate to shopping for weekly essentials is pretty damned limited. If I go to the magic big box, I can find ample parking and pick up everything from spark plugs to underwear to fresh fruit and be on my way home in well under an hour. If I’d shop for the things on my average weekend list at small local businesses it would take three times that long because I’d have to make at least six separate stops, look for four or five parking spaces, wait to check out six times, and then go somewhere else when one of those retailers doesn’t have a specific item or brand I want. That’s not a slam against small business. It’s just the reality I’ve experienced.

I don’t hate small businesses by any stretch of the imagination, but if they want my business they need to deliver something I can’t find at the big box – there’s a shop here locally that sells fresh roasted coffee of fifty or more separate types and styles. They get my business because I’m willing to suffer a little inconvenience for a superior coffee experience. As for the anything else on my list, it’s not a matter of looking for the best, but rather simply a matter of time. The virtue of the big box is that even if it doesn’t always save me money, it saves me time and that counts for a lot.

Time is the most limited resources any of us have and the less of it I have to spend shopping – whether for bread and eggs or for a new car – the happier I’ll be with the entire process.

Review me…

Retribution: Chasing Hearts and Minds has been out there in the wild for a little over a week now. I know from a few private messages and from the retailer’s weekly reports that a few copies are floating around. The individual feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – and trust me I never get tired of hearing good things about myself so I thank all of you who have taken the time to drop me a note. I do, however, have one small favor to ask of those of you who have already purchased your own copy (and those of you who plan to purchase your copy in the future).

It would be incredibly helpful for me if you’d go back to your retailer’s page and leave a review. I’d never presume to tell you what kind of feedback to give – either positive or negative – but as I’ve learned the hard way, when it comes to selling ebooks, nothing gets a no-name work noticed like good reviews and ratings. In addition to total sales numbers, reviews are a big part of the secret algorithms the big retailers use to decide what moves up the rankings, what gets featured, and what doesn’t.

Retribution will probably never make it to Amazon’s top ten in ebooks > sci-fi > dystopian, but if someone were to happen across it using a key word search, a few reviews could really help make the difference between picking up their own copy and moving on to the next alternative.

To pick up your own copy or leave a review, all you need to do is follow one of these helpful links:

Once you’re there, I’m sure you can figure out what to do without any more prodding from me. Now go forth and say great things!

Skynet…

I keep seeing these Terminator-esque news stories pop up fueled by fear of computers gaining sentience and destroying humanity. Apparently it’s an actual concern and not just something you see on TV. I can’t quite bring myself to lose sleep over it, though. As long as Facebook keeps prompting me to “like” 5k runs and exercise clothes, I’d say we’re all pretty safe from Skynet. I realize an inordinate number of my friends have this strange obsession with running for “fun”, but I’m not going to be in the same town as that bandwagon at any time in the foreseeable future. I have a feeling it’s safe to assume that if our would-be evil computer overlords can’t get the advertising right, AI clearly isn’t quite ready for prime time. Sleep well Sarah Connor.

Roadmap…

So, we’ve got the cover, we’ve got the narrative, and we’ve got the sales blurb. That means it’s time to race over to Amazon and get this thing published, right? Well, the answer there is more of a “sort of” than a yes or no. I’m not ready to pull the trigger today, but as always I have a roadmap laid out in my head of what I think the way ahead looks like for Retribution.

Sometime between tonight and Friday I’m going to load it onto my Kindle and read the thing from cover to cover one last time. I’ve discovered through a lot of trial and error that just because you think you followed all the formatting rules for e-readers, there’s a pretty good chance that you screwed something up. Unfortunately that mostly shows once you have things loaded onto the actual device itself. Yet another of the minor pitfalls and annoyances of self publishing that in the end will be worth the trouble. Fixing those will be the main event for this weekend.

Sunday, if all goes according to plan, is going to be the great day of reckoning. That’s when I’ll sit down in the morning and start uploading the final product to the retailers. I’m going to work primarily through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but also fall in on Smashwords to get access to their own storefront as well as take advantage of their “special relationship” with Apple’s iBooks. By the time everyone’s long weekend is ending, Retribution: Chasing Heart’s and Minds should be going live. That’s the roadmap, anyway. How close that comes to reality remains to be seen.