Friday, June 23, 2017

Scams and Gullible Writers by Debra H. Goldstein

Scams and Gullible Writers by Debra H. Goldstein

How many times a week do you answer a phone call or read a news story or friend’s post and immediately know someone has been scammed? How many times do you ask yourself how can anyone be so stupid to fall for the “your computer is reporting a problem,” “You’ve been left a million dollars, but it will take you $5000 in handling fees to receive it,” or “I’ve been stranded in Timbuctoo, would you please send me $1000 to get home?” Most of these seem blatant – things we would never believe, but this weekend I realized the vulnerability associated with being scammed.

I had the privilege of moderating a “Being Published” workshop panel hosted by the Atlanta Sisters in Crime chapter. Our panel, composed of writers published by small and Big 5 traditionally published authors, was quite lively. Besides the technical aspects of writing the best book possible, revising it until it really is the best book possible, pitching and querying, agents, contracts, obligations to a publisher and marketing, we stressed avoiding scams and noted traditional publishers handle things without a financial investment by the author. After the panel, an audience member approached me and related how she wrote a book which was rejected by every agent and publisher she submitted it to except one house that loved it just as it was.

According to this author, the publisher promised, for a flat fee, to copyread it, give it a cover and ISBN, give her a certain number of hardcover and paperback copies, place it online as an e-book, and make it available for purchase from Amazon and other online distribution sources as well as their own catalog. She went with this publisher, but other than the copies purchased by friends and family, the book isn’t setting the world on fire, so she decided to bring more attention to her book by writing some short stories. She entered a few contests without success, but then found some other sources for short stories. Most asked for a hefty fee, but she was fine with that until she paid two fees but never received the promised links to upload her stories. That’s when she realized she might not be dealing with a legit publication.

My comment – “Don’t do those anymore! You’ve been scammed.”

I went on to explain that there may be a legitimate contest fee that is more like an administrative fee, but for regular publications – literary or mystery, there are many places to submit without paying a fee. Most reputable magazines and journals don’t charge. They also specify whether they don’t pay for stories published, pay in copies, or pay only x per word. These legit outlets can be found by networking with your friends to see where they are being published, joining groups that specialize in short stories in the genre you are writing, repeatedly checking free blogs that announce publication calls (My Little Corner - comes to mind), or subscribing to a reliable service like Duotrope.

A few minutes later, another audience member shared his story with me. I was stunned. Both people were educated and intelligent, so how did they fall for very similar scams? Desperation. It is very easy when everyone says “No,” to take the easy way out. Writers want to see their work in print. To feel they have accomplished something. Consequently, many cave in a moment of weakness. In the end, being scammed can hurt in so many ways – financially, a record of poor sales, never being able to claim a first book again, or having a book or story published before it is ready giving you a cloud on your name. We all want success, but getting there means not being gullible. As writers, we are obligated to write the best book or story we can, but we also are obligated to wear a business hat to protect ourselves and our work products.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Clicking Our Heels - Our Favorite Numbers and Why

Clicking Our Heels – Our Favorite Numbers and Why 

Kimberly Jayne – My favorite number is 4.  Has been since I was a little girl.  It’s more meaningful now because I had four kids.  It’s even and sounds good rolling off the tongue. Four is me.

Paffi S. Flood – My favorite number is 13.  It’s my birthday and kids made fun of it when it landed on Fridays, so I decided to do the opposite and adopt it.

Dru Ann Love – The number 4.  It is an even number and my birth date.

Sparkle Abbey – We don’t really have favorite numbers.  Maybe if we played the lottery we’d have a different answer.  Right now, our favorite numbers are 9 and 10 because those are the numbers of the books that we’re currently writing.

Jennae Phillippe – I am terrible at favorite, so I have a list: 3, 7, 8, 9, 13, 42.  Each of them has a different reason behind it.  The most obvious ones are 3 and 7, as numbers that show up in stories over and over again; 13 because it is my lucky number, and 42 because of Douglas Adams.

Bethany Maines – 8.  Because I kick ass at Crazy Eights.

Paula Gail Benson – 4. It’s always been lucky for me.

Kay Kendall – My favorite number is eight.  I think I love the symmetry of how it looks as a numeral – 8.  My lucky number, however, appears to be seven.  Those are definitely two different things.

Debra H. Goldstein – 27.  It has a nice ring to it and is the date my twins were born.  I had a difficult pregnancy during which this type A person spent almost eight months counting the hours to viability.  They were born two days and seven hours after the point at which I had been assured they would have a good chance of surviving.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The 80/20 Rule for Readers

By Kay Kendall

This afternoon my husband asked me an upsetting question. “Are fewer people reading books these days?”
I gulped. “Yes,” I replied, “but I try not to think about it.”

On the one hand, I see statistical reports monthly and year-to-date and this year versus last year. The trend is down, slowly but steadily down. This depresses me. 
On the other hand, I hang out with writers and readers—both in real and in virtual life—leading to a false sense of euphoria. Why, everybody reads and buys books and complains about no space in their homes for ever more books. Heated debates appear online about the virtues of e-books and paper books, which is better and why. In truth, my world is replete with readers. Everyone cares, and cares enough to argue heatedly, but usually civilly, which is nice in this fraught climate of ours these days.

Twenty years ago I learned how important it is to “compartmentalize” one’s mind. President Bill Clinton was said to have mastered this skill as he went through his impeachment crisis. Perhaps I learned how to compartmentalize my views on today’s declining book sales from reading about his ability. Who knows?
So today, after I gave my husband my anguished answer, he scuttled off to his French class and I was left to ruminate on the conditions of publishing today. That is when I remembered the 80/20 rule.

Have you heard of it? I first learned about it in a marketing class in the 1980s. The concept seemed unreal to me at first. The professor said that 80 percent of a product was bought by just 20 percent of customers. Therefore, the marketers had to define their target market and sell to them. That way led to high sales and success.
Since that time I’ve seen the 80/20 rule applied to all types of situations. I have also learned that this rule was first promulgated in 1906 by an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. His research showed that 80 percent of land in Italy was owned at that time by 20 percent of the country’s inhabitants. From there the 80/20 rule was applied to many other areas of human endeavor. Also known as the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule is now used to describe almost any type of output in the real world. The rule is commonly used to analyze sales and marketing. Companies must dissect their revenues to understand who makes up their core 20 percent of customers…or readers as the case may be.

At this point you probably are wondering what this has to do with my concerns for declining book sales. The answer is simple. The 80/20 rule relates to the two parts of my brain. There is the joyful part of my brain that focuses on my friends who love reading and buy many, many books every year—every month and even every week. That joy lives because of my acquaintanceship with people who make up that blessed 20 percent who buy 80 percent of all books.
That happy part of my brain hums along, plotting my current work in progress and planning future books to write. It willfully ignores the other piece of my brain in which knowledge resides that book sales are declining.  
When I unlock that gloom, I allow myself to think of my neighbors’ house, where I have never seen one book, and not even a magazine. While I know the whole family can read, that is not the problem. They simply do not choose to read books. Since they have lived next door for at least 15 years, I know that even before the explosion of online media, they read no books, magazines, or newspapers. The two children read, but it is only on iPads and cell phones, and usually just for gaming.
This leads me to share an anecdote that happened a few years ago. Two of my friends were discussing what to give a third pal for his birthday. The first friend said, “How about a book for John?” The second friend replied, “No, he already has one.”
Although I thought that was hilarious—and apt in John’s case—I also wonder if that could be said of more and more people today.
I cannot change a societal trend. What I can do is focus on the 20 percent of people who still read and love books. These are my people. I shall write for them. Should I be so lucky as to have one of my books connect by some miracle with a non-reader, I shall hope to ensnare her or him into the grand world of the imagination, found in books. Be they real or virtual, books contain multitudes of wondrous imaginings. What a pity if someone misses out on all that magic.

Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery,                                                                                      
That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book.  Her first novel about Austin Starr‘s sleuthing, DESOLATION ROW, was a finalist for best mystery at Killer Nashville in 2014. 
Visit Kay

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Radical Self Love and Pride

by J.M. Phillippe

I first became an activist in 2008, when, on the night of Barack Obama's historic win of the presidential election, Proposition 8 passed in California, my home state, voters declaring that same-sex couples shouldn't have the right to marry. I happened to be watching the results with a good friend and her girlfriend, on the day of my friend's birthday. Her tears moved me to action, and when she looked for ways to get involved and protest Prop 8, I went with her.

That was also the first year I went to the Pride Parade in Los Angeles. It was the first time I became fully aware of the multitude of rights LGBTQ folks were being denied because of the bigotry of others. And it was the first time I understood what an ally was -- and started the long process of learning to be one while confronting my own privilege.

A lot has changed for me since 2008, including earning a masters degree in social work, and working in the field for almost five years post-graduation. My understanding of privilege and being an ally has continued to evolve. It has not been an easy process, and in fact, I often find myself frustrated both with the multitude of battles for equality that still need to be fought, and the various ways I have, both specifically and generically as a white woman, been called out. I am reminded daily that I need to  be called out in order to grow -- and that it is up to me to work through my frustration in order to be an effective ally.

June is Pride month in many places across the US, including NY (where I am now). It has also been a very challenging month. It was the one-month anniversary of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It had the devastating results of the case against the officer who shot and killed Philando Castile (acquittal). It was yet another month full of terrorist attacks against Muslims, both here in the US and abroad. My social media feeds continue to be filled with heartbreaking story after story. Most of us are still reeling from the reality of living in a post-Trump world, and all the hatred that has emerged with it.

I am back to wondering what it is to be an ally, and what it means to make space for pride in my life, not just as someone who feels more queer than straight (though isn't sure how to identify as queer without a strict label to go with it), but as someone who constantly spends time with others who take pride in the very identities that they are prosecuted and attacked for. Pride is a radical act of defiance in the face of oppression. Pride is about daring to celebrate, even in the midst of all the reasons to mourn. Pride is about radical self-love, and radically loving others.

So I am sharing with folks several websites that have become my go-to spaces for helping me grow as an ally, and celebrate the concept of radical love and pride all year long:

The Body is Not an Apology: founded by Sonya Renee Taylor, the mission of the website is to "foster global, radical, unapologetic self love which translates to radical human love and action in service toward a more just, equitable and compassionate world."

Everyday Feminism: founded by Sandra Kim, the mission is "to help people dismantle everyday violence, discrimination, and marginalization through applied intersectional feminism and to create a world where self-determination and loving communities are social norms through compassionate activism."

Wear Your Voice Magazine: is an intersectional feminist magazine "run by women and femmes of color who are trying to make more room for marginalized voices away from the white, cis-centric, heteronormative, patriarchal gaze." 

PEN America: part of PEN International, it is an community that works together to "ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to make it possible for everyone to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others" with a specific focus on "the intersection of literature and human rights."

And finally:

Pajiba: a community of movie and pop culture reviewers and commenters that is my favorite corner of the Internet, and who I have been reading for so long, I have added all the writers as social media friends because I feel like I know them that well. Radical self-love is also about connecting with community, and I have been part of this online community (if often as a lurker) for as long as I can remember. 


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.