Thursday, 31 July 2014

Cleaning Out The Family Junkyard

I want you to do something, right now. Stand up and look around you. Take in everything that you see and really ask yourself, "Do I absolutely need all of this crap in my life?" If aliens arrived tomorrow and told you to take a handful of things with you before they evacuate mankind from the planet, would anything you see be among your treasured items?

If you're like me, you'll find yourself amazed at how much stuff you have cluttering up your home. Most things that you thought you couldn't do without when they were sitting on the store shelf, all new, sparkling and luring you in by the wallet, now seem more like expensive dust collectors, once their luster wears off.

For almost two weeks, we've been swamping out our three bedroom homestead in the transition to our new lives as apartment dwellers. We're taking only the bare essentials to fill a few rooms and jettisoning the rest. The experience has proven to be a real eye-opener into our family's habit of junk hoarding.

Thankfully, we have plenty of relatives in possession of a whole fleet of trucks, who are both willing and able to collect our old furnishings for their household junkyards. Additionally, we're probably responsible for choking curbside garbage pickups with the sheer volume of our trash, despite the lessening of their burdens by scavenging passersby. If the city had an inkling of the forest of plastic bags filling my shed at the moment, waiting on the availability of a truck so I can transport them to the dump myself, I'd probably be slapped with enough citations to see me moving into the poorhouse.

Since we started The Great Purge, I've grown accustomed to beginning my mornings with a cup of coffee and a trip to the local charity with carloads of bric-a-brac, clothing, doo-hickeys, and what-not. This was the first morning in days that didn't require an excursion to the donation door of the nearby thrift store. My schedule was so out of whack that I almost forgot to make coffee also.

Between our efforts and the occasional good Samaritan dropping by in response to my online notices of free furniture giveaways, you'd think that not even a shed full of garbage bags and clutter would be enough to block out the light at the end of this tunnel that we've been systematically polishing clean for days. Not so! Despite achieving near-Spartan levels in our remaining decor, our junk detectors are now firmly stuck on on overkill. Sometimes it seems that only a cleansing fire to the gods could provide the means to escape the web of junk in which we find ourselves trapped.

If you're still reading this, you really should stop and begin tossing out those non-essential things within reach, before the garbage begins to multiply exponentially. It creeps up on you before you know it, until one day you're standing in a deep valley, surrounded by mountains of trash bags, and wondering what you were thinking when you dragged all of this useless stuff into your life.

We're looking forward to the day when we can settle into our much smaller apartment, occupied only with those things that made the final cut. I wonder how long it'll be, before the urge to splurge on something new and shiny to help fill this space overwhelms us. After the monumental effort it took to reach this plateau, I'm hopeful that we can at least last a week.

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Not that you asked for it, but here's some of the highlights of my exploration into our family's twisted treasure trove:

- Seventeen handsaws with varying degrees of rust on the blade. Because one rusty saw just won't suffice!

- Five broken watch straps. I guess we must have been thinking we could somehow connect them and make a belt or something.

- Enough batteries to power three city blocks for a month, if any of them actually worked.

- Nails... NAILS! My God! I'll have nightmares of nails of all sizes chasing me for the rest of my life!

- Power cords and adapter thingies for appliances that were off the market before I was out of diapers.

- A 50-ton kerosene heater, still in the original garbage bag that we wrapped it in when we dragged it over from the last place we lived. I'm gonna miss that!

- Old TV's and old stereos, every one five sizes too big and twenty times heavier than a walrus... and for some strange reason all of them stored downstairs.

- Paint. Cans and cans of it! I'm thinking about painting my car and calling it motion art.


Saturday, 26 July 2014

Goodreads vs. Spammers, Indie Authors and Readers Both Lose

Recently, Goodreads has issued an ultimatum to authors spamming their books in various groups throughout the site. Group moderators are being advised that their approval is required for all self-promotional postings. Any author not playing by the rules will have their thread deleted.

Though this is undoubtedly welcome news to anyone irritated by "author flies" buzzing their book praises in the ears of readers trying to conduct a discussion of an unrelated topic, it could present yet another hurdle to indie authors trying to make legitimate connections with readers, on what was formerly the last (semi) indie author-friendly site on the web.

Personally, I'm torn about the news. Nobody likes spammers, not even other authors. However, I'm worried that the line in the sand that Goodreads has drawn does leave some wiggle room for individual interpretation about what exactly constitutes "self-promotion." I now find myself worried about posting anything on Goodreads. I'm afraid about there being too fine a line between self-promotion and innocently mentioning something about your book during a conversation, or replying to genuine interest about your book from another poster.

Goodreads, should writers not respond to questions about their own books in a public thread? If a reader says they're interested in a book and wants to know where to buy it, should the writer wait and hope that someone else responds to the question, potentially losing a valued reader when that never happens? How much self-promotion is too much? Does the act of mentioning that you wrote something mean instant ostracization on your site now? Perhaps Amazon would be happier if all indie authors only promoted those books on their best sellers list. Is that what you're hoping to achieve?

Spamming should be abolished and penalizing offenders is one way to go about it. On the other hand, as enjoyable as it is to spend hours talking about everyday things with readers, writers do need to manage their time carefully to be successful. Writing and marketing are the two big concerns for every author. 

If Goodreads is worried about authors forcing their titles on people, perhaps they should instead provide an unbiased system to allow readers to find what they want in a book, using a search tailored to their individual interests. One that lists titles based on relevance, rather than popularity. Penalizing authors who lack the financial means to compete with publishing houses only helps the privileged few. 

It would be far more helpful to allow readers to discover the merits of a particular book, giving equal regard to the works of indie authors as well as tradpub best selling authors. In case you're thinking this sounds like science fiction, let me clarify: this is not a new concept. There are numerous music search engines that provide links to "similar artists." Some sites (I'll refrain from mentioning which, since I'm not on them) have already started this kind of service for books, but it's still very grassroots and their databases are far from complete. Most don't have nearly the volume of authors and books as, say, Goodreads and Amazon.

Any indie not on Amazon's best seller list knows the impossibility of ever climbing out of the bottom of the pile to build a meaningful readership. Most every book site out there, including Amazon, only pushes the top sellers and those authors with the expense account to buy some recognition, leaving tons of great books unread and innumerable talented authors unknown.

I've been on Goodreads for over a year, and as much as I would love the opportunity for any of my titles to be considered in any group's Book of the Month, I know better than to ask. I'm not traditionally published and don't have a multi-million dollar marketing machine to push my titles before their release, so competing against books that are already in the public consciousness is somewhat of a lost cause. Unfortunately, there are more unknown authors sharing this same boat than there are familiar names on the typical reader's lips. That connection with readers often never blossoms.

Spamming is an act of desperation by authors trying to be heard in an increasingly controlled market, designed to squash any book that doesn't immediately fly off the digital bookshelf. Given the chance, I'm sure most authors would prefer not to have to resort to such measures. It's not entirely their fault. When you're adrift on the ocean, alone, the natural instinct is always to scream for someone to find you.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Job loss? No problemo!

It's been an eventful morning! I lost a job and gained a life...

It never dawned on me how much I hated working for Yorkville University until I got canned. Even the sky looks brighter! I have more time to write, to think, and to plan how I really want to spend the rest of my life. I have money in the bank and the computer skills to look into working for myself for the first time in over twenty years.

I know I should be worried or sad or something, but the more I think about being jobless and having to cut all of the dead weight that's holding me down financially, the happier I become. Does that sound weird?

Friday, 4 July 2014

Independence Day Weekend Free Book Deal!

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