What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Political (and non-political) violence. The halls of Congress, school, the workplace, the local supermarket, and nearly everywhere has always been filled with people who make me want to crack skulls. Somehow, I’ve always managed to resist the temptation to threaten or carry such notions into action. I’ve never found it particularly hard to avail myself of that restraint. Increasingly, issuing threats, tantrum throwing, and violent outbursts seems to be turning into the default setting. I’ll never for the life of me really understand why this section of the population can’t glom on to the notion that there are always going to be people doing shit they don’t like and the best solution is to just go home, have a highball, and remember that 99.99% of what anyone else does has absolutely no impact on their daily life. For the other .01% of the time, hire a lawyer and let them fight it out instead of acting like some kind of bloody ill-bred yokel.

Door-to-door sales. As a 44-year-old man, I can honestly say that I’ve never purchased anything (Girl Scout cookies excluded), from someone shilling their wares from door to door. There’s a long and storied tradition of this type of marketing, but this is the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-two and I can order almost anything I can imagine for two-day delivery directly to my doorstep without the add inconvenience of needing to tell an over-eager salesman no. I appreciate that everyone needs to work, but I’m not looking for a drive-by power washing any more than I’m looking for a new selection of Fuller Brush products or a set of encyclopedias.

Magically appearing new rights. Food is a right. College is a right. Healthcare is a right. A house is a right. Transportation is a right. This is a right. That is a right. Every damned thing you can think of is suddenly a right and should be provided to people at no cost to them. Except, of course, someone is always going to have to pay. Usually they mean “the government” should pay for it, but which they mean that whatever they’d decided is a right today should be paid for by those of us who are a) Paying the local, state, and federal income taxes the government will use to pay these things and b) Already paying for our own food, college, healthcare, house, and transportation. If I wanted to support a local family of four, I’d have had one of my own by now. You know what I see very little discussion of when people talk about their “right” to other people’s money? If you guessed getting a job and being responsible for yourself, your actions, your decisions, and your future, you’re a spot-on guesser. Well done.

Of scouts and resellers…

I go to a respectable number of book sales each year. It’s not an every weekend thing, but six or seven times a year, one catches my attention sufficiently to make venturing off the homestead for it potentially worthwhile. The ones I like to dig into are usually put on “friends of the library” or other organizations who specifically take in book donations – they’re specialists rather than “used stuff” generalists. If I happen to be passing by an estate sale or yard sale, I might stop out of curiosity. I don’t generally seek those out even when someone advertises “lots of books.” It seems my definition of “lots” is wildly different than the average person’s. Nine times out of ten, what’s on offer is a box or two of kids’ books or beat to hell paperbacks.

There used to be a breed of person who frequented these sales called a book scout. They knew their business. They knew their points, editions, conditions, and values and could evaluate a book on sight. The best of them seemed to have a sixth sense about whether there was real value in a book – whether even the newest ultra-modern was a $2 reading copy or a $200 first edition.

Time seems to be replacing proper book scouts by roving bands of resellers. They ply their trade online, making their money in arbitrage – buying for $2 and selling for $3. Their business seems to be one of volume over quality. They’re hell with a barcode scanner and figuring out the spread on Amazon. They collectively seem to know price, but not value. 

These resellers are in there like vacuums sucking up all oxygen in the room – sitting on the floors, sprawled out, making obstacles (if not spectacles) of themselves, trying to scan every barcode in sight. It feels tawdry somehow. There’s not a bit of old-fashioned book scouting about any of it. They surely passed over the $200 book I walked out with for $10 last weekend because it simply didn’t have a barcode to scan. It must be more cost effective to sell 200 books on a $1 margin, but there’s no soul in it.  

I don’t think these guys are evil. They wouldn’t be doing what they do if there wasn’t a market for the $3 book. Increasingly, though, I wonder if my days at the sales are numbered. At some point the sheer aggravation of dealing with them won’t be weighed out by the utter joy of making a real score. There’s a big part of me that would rather just pay a dealer something close to retail than continue to trip over 101 resellers.

Sales envy…

In the last six months I’ve watched as about 30% of the neighborhood hung out a for sale sign. Each time the home in question was sold in a matter of days – and if internet records can be believed, commanded sales prices that no one would have dreamed of two years ago. Two more just on my far exurban road have “coming soon” signs that went up last weekend.

I’ve seen enough of these boom and bust real estate cycles to know that seller’s markets don’t last forever. Then again, neither do buyer’s markets. Even knowing that, I have to confess to just a touch of jealousy at those cashing out and moving up or on.

By the same token, I’m spectacularly happy that I’m not trying to find a house to buy in the current market. Too many people chasing too few good options. I don’t have the patience for a bidding war or the tolerance for assuming all risks by waiving every contingency.

Part of me would dearly love to put up a for sale sign of my own and unlock the COVID equity built up over the last 18 months. The real trouble is, the house I really want hasn’t been built yet – because I’m still toying around with floor plans and design ideas to somehow hide the contents of a neighborhood library in a traditionally styled house.

I’d very much like my next move to be my last move. With seven of them under my belt since August 2000, I feel like I’ve had my share of packing and unpacking in town to town, up and down the dial already. Changing houses now would be, at best, a change of scenery. Since the scenery I’ve got is pretty damned good, though, it’s not an idea swimming with motivational appeal.

So, yeah, I have a little bit of sales envy, but no intention of doing anything about it for the time being. Barring untimely death or global economic collapse following the Great Mask Wars of the early 21st century, there will be time enough to cash out and have everything put together just so.

What I learned this week…

I spent the day Thursday scouring the dark recesses of used book shops. I didn’t find any treasures, but made off with a fair few reading copies of things that looked interesting. I spent the night Thursday reading books and dispensing ear scratches between three critters.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that my natural calling in life was to be a used book shop owner. Then, of course, I remember that particular line of effort would mean daily interaction with customers, who I would in no way be able to treat as “always right.” Putting me anywhere near the general public could only result in disaster for everyone involved.

So this week I learned the thing I’m probably most suited to do by inclination is something I’m utterly unsuited to do by temperament.

Not all learning is helpful.

Doing my bit…

As of a few minutes ago I’ve probably taken my last official action as a property owner in St. Mary’s County in scenic southern Maryland. I’ve added my John Hancock to a few pieces of paper and in about 48 hours they’ll be countersigned and magically turn into a big bag of cash… or, well, whatever the electronic equivilent to a big bag of cash is, anyway.

I really expected signing it all over would leave me feeling some kind of way, but what I seem to be feeling most is a sense of relief… that I’ll never have to worry about finding another tenant, or that someone is going to tear the place up, or that I’ll get a random phone call in the middle of the afternoon that the furnace or air conditioning compressor needs to be replaced. I made some damned good memories in that little condo during the short time I lived there, but its life as an income stream (or suck depending on the year) lasted far longer than did my time really living with it. I’m mostly left feeling that it was an investment that served its purpose and it’s time to cash out.

Maybe the sick dog has just used up all the feels I’ve had allocated for the week before we got to the real estate transaction portion of shit to do. Anyway, I’ve done my bit. All that’s left now is for the seller to do his. And then we can all feel well satisfied and get on with whatever is next.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Losing my mind. Any time I leave the house I carry my wallet, a wristwatch, and a pocket knife. Stopping to pick them up on my way out the door happens just by force of habit. When I come home, I set them down in exactly the same place every single time. It’s a usually foolproof system that works for me. Except for the one day when it don’t. Walking out of the house “unarmed” isn’t life altering. I could have gone to the local bank branch for cash in a real pinch. It’s mostly the inconvenience of it. Plus, knowing that for some reason i deviated from what should be a perfectly repetitive routine makes me wonder what else I missed…. and that bugs the hell out of me.

2. George R. R. Martin. I swore to myself I wasn’t going to give George R. R. Martin another nickel until he gave us the next proper installment of the Song of Ice and Fire series by delivering The Winds of Winter. Of course my resistance caved immediately when Amazon put the option to pre-order Blood and Fire directly in front of my face while I was looking for something totally unrelated.

3. Cecil County Public Works Department. The CCPWD took the last three months turning what was once a tree-canopied country road into my neighborhood into what looks like a 1/2 scale model of Route 40. Sure, the old road lacked a shoulder, two full sized pickup trucks could barely pass in opposite directions without rubbing mirrors, and getting distracted meant running into the ditch or driving headlong into a tree. It was the thoroughly un-modern counterpart to what I’m sure is a well-designed and engineered modern road. It also lacks 100% of the soul and beauty of the road it replaced, which is part of the reason I moved way the hell down here to the end of the peninsula to begin with.

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.

Like a used car…

I had another interview this afternoon. Different job. Different organization. Still in roughly the same geographic area I’m in now. It seemed to go well enough, though I may be a spectacularly bad judge of that sort of thing. I generally count not tripping myself on the way in the door as a personal victory.

What I’ve found in interviewing for positions in the local area is that you tend to run into some of the same people. Repeatedly. In both recent occasions, I’ve known at least one of the other people interviewing for the position. Some people would find that awkward. Maybe I should be one of them, but I’m not. One of the helpful skills I’ve developed over the last decade and a half is that I just don’t take any of this stuff personally. And for the most part it really, truly isn’t personal – because the bureaucracy just doesn’t have the time or inclination to care about you the individual. That may sound negative, but with hundreds of thousands of moving widgets it’s generally just a function of trying to find the one that appears like it would mesh best with the other cogs that are already in motion and then cramming it into the available opening.

Look, I’d rather get offered one or both of these jobs than not. I mean I wouldn’t have bothered putting on a tie if I wasn’t at least interested. What I’m not doing is giving these decisions a lot of life or death credibility no matter which way they break. I’d like the chance to do some different work and if neither one of these pans out it seems like I’ve at least cracked the code on getting my resume in front of the people making decisions. Having sent out hundreds of resumes in my time with Uncle, I’m secure in saying that’s easily 95% of the battle.

The other 5% is about selling yourself like a used car. If you’re feeling a little dirty when you’re done, you’ve probably done it right. Talk about life skills no one ever bothers to teach you.

Interview…

There are times in my career I’ve struggled mightily to extract myself from a less than desirable job. One of the perks of working for Uncle is that, like Visa, he’s “everywhere you want to be.” I’ve known for some time though that I don’t particularly want to depart the sunny shores of the northern reaches of the Chesapeake. That said, the day in and day out of life as a glorified wedding planner doesn’t feel like something I can see myself doing for the next 17 years, 6 months, and 13 days.

Unlike some previous occasions when getting on to something new was the only priority, this one has been more of a slow burn – sending out feelers here and there as opposed to an approach to sending out resumes that was more akin to carpet bombing. I didn’t so much want to just run away as also make sure what I was running towards was something of a right fit. Being in a position of not desperate to escape definitely helps set a tone where one can be a bit more selective.

That’s a long way around to saying I’m currently waiting to hear back on a final time for an interview later this week for a gig that sounds a lot like a better fit than this current situation. Maybe it’s frying pan/fire territory, but a change of scenery would probably do me a world of good. As my past experiences with hiring freezes and months spent sending out hundreds of resumes to anyone who vaguely sounded interesting has proven, there are hundreds of vagaries and problems with Uncle’s hiring process – not the least of which is actually convincing someone they should give you the job.

Still, I like to think once I’m in the room, I’m pretty good at selling myself… although it’s been a while so I guess we’re going to roll the dice one more time and see what happens.