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.

Pain management…

I got a call today from a number I didn’t recognize. Usually I (not so) cheerfully ignore those, but since I was working from home today, I accepted the call… at which point I started down the rabbit hole.

Them: Hi, Mr. Tharp. I’m Casey from Whatever-the-Hell-Company. I’d like to talk to you today about your prescription pain management program?

Me: Uhhh. My what now?

Them: I’m Casey from Whatever-the-Hell-Company and I’d like to talk to you today about your prescription pain management program?

Me: Yeah, I don’t have one of those.

Them: Well, Mr. Tharp, I’d like to talk to you about…”

Me: *Ends call and wishes hanging up a cell phone felt any bit as good as slamming down the receiver of an old fashioned rotary telephone*

Now this was a live person who I’m assuming was working off a script based on my three days as an inbound tele-marketing center employee. Cold calls are fine and all and since she had a pleasant voice and didn’t immediately try to sell me on Amway I was trying to be cordial… but when I’ve told you for the second time that whatever information you have is incorrect, it’s best not to keep telling me that I do, in fact, have a prescription pain management program. Frankly I feel like that’s something I’d know about.

I’ll be reinstating my policy of letting all unknown numbers ring through to voicemail immediately. I should have known better.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sales tactics. We live in the real world. I’m perfectly capable of understanding that the price of everything generally tends to go up over time. It’s the nature of inflation. Fine. I don’t know who the marketing executive who decided it was a good idea to make everything smaller while also charging more for it, though. I really truly don’t mind paying more for a product I was going to buy anyway… but I hate the hell out of paying more for less while being expected not to notice that everything from packaged coffee to toilet paper is half the size it use to be.

2. Parties. You’d think retirement parties would be moments of supreme satisfaction. In my experience no matter how nice they are they can’t help but being a reminder that we all spend our lives trading youth for a few bags of cash and some nice words at the end. No matter how well laid on, I always find them just a little bit depressing.

3. Information. I need to get my fingerprints taken. The why isn’t germane important to the story. What is germane, however, is that I spent some of this week calling several of the places the State of Maryland say are approved on their website. Each of the three places I called were only too happy to inform me that they don’t do those pesky state-approved prints any more. It seems to me that if the state is going to mandate prints they might at least be able to tell you where to go to get them. Then again that presupposes that the state has any interest in actually facilitating this particular type of lawful commerce instead of making it enough of a pain in the ass that the average person might be tempted to give up.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Selling online. There are a few pieces of lawn equipment and other odds and ends I don’t have use of anymore. For ease of listing and in hopes of not dealing with too many crackpots, I opted to post them on the local neighborhood website instead of Craigslist. In retrospect I would have been far better off just loading everything in the truck and hauling it over to the dump. I know I’ve spent at least $150 worth of time answering questions about a $25 item. Lesson learned. From here on out I’ll just throw stuff away. It’s not worth the aggravation for so little return on investment.

2. Walking and talking. If you’re on your phone and wander into the street without paying the least bit of attention I should be within my rights to hit you with the truck. I’m not talking about flattening anyone, but it feels like giving these dipshits a glancing blow with the side mirror should be accepted if not encouraged.

3. Connectivity. Having access to email and the Internet are pretty much my only real job enablers. I’m sure I could do at least some of the work without those tools, but everything would take days longer than it should. Some of it I can get done by phone but the “must have a signature” stuff not so much. If you’re a knowledge worker access to a function network isn’t a convenience or a perk, it’s a necessity. If you the employer can’t provide that then you’d best not look at me cross eyed when I start telling you there are things I can’t do. Like it or not, without connectivity there’s no path between Point A and Point B that doesn’t involve hand written letters and a book of stamps.