Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BlogTalk Radio stardom, and pausing for the holidays.

Business first:  Over on the left and a little bit below, you'll see a link to BlogTalk Radio.  That's because I was a guest on Book Bags and Cat Naps blogger Donna Brown's Christmas show tonight.  Donna runs Adopt an Indie, and because I'm participating in AAI in February, I was invited to be on her podcast tonight to talk about SwanSong.  To be honest, I was a little surprised at how much fun I had; after so many years of being in control of the interview, it was kind of refreshing to be on the other side of the microphone.

Anyway, if you missed the show when it aired live, you can click the link and download it.  It's a two-hour show and my segment is near the start of the second hour.

Oh, yeah, so about Adopt an Indie:  Sometime next month, the site for the February event will go live.  I encourage you to stop by and look through the books on offer, and if you're so inclined, offer to "adopt" one for the month of February.  Basically, you're pledging to read the book, and then either blog about it or submit questions for an author interview to be posted on Donna's blog.  It doesn't cost anything (even your "review copy" is free).  The idea is to promote indie publishing -- to help dispel the mistaken notion that all self-published authors are so awful that they couldn't get a publishing contract to save their lives.  This is the last AAI that Donna's going to do for awhile, so now's your chance.  I'll let you know when the site is live.

And yes, all this is happening at the same time as the craziness of the holidays.  We are deep into the cookie-baking and gift-wrapping frenzy here at La Casa Cantwell.  I spent yesterday bouncing back and forth between the kitchen and my bedroom, where I was wrapping gifts on the floor.  (Why the floor?  More room, of course.)  At one point, my daughter said it looked like the wrapping paper container had thrown up all over my room -- which was not a bad description.

Anyway, Yule:  This is the name Neopagans uses for the winter solstice.  In some traditions, the old God dies at Samhain (Halloween) and is reborn of the Goddess at Yule, the son and the sun returning on the same day.  Other traditions consider Yule the day the Holly King ends his six-month rule and turns things over to the Oak King for the next six months.  But all traditions see Yule as a day of rejoicing for the return of the Light.  It's also a day out of time -- a day to pause, after all the preparations, and mark the turning of the Wheel.

I wrote this Yule poem a couple of years ago.
Traffic lights
Tarmac lights
Headlights
Stop!

Stop
Just for a moment
And savor the season.

Tree lights.
Hearth fire light.
Moonlight on snow.

Put out the flame
At one end of your candle
And
just
Be.
Happy holidays, everyone.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Amazon wants to be your ONLY bookstore.

I got a check in the mail this week from my friends at Amazon, for royalties from the launch of SwanSong.  (Thanks for buying it, everybody!)  So I'm disposed to be cheerful toward them right now.  But they're not making it very easy.

First up this week was an e-mail from Kindle Direct Publishing, announcing a program called "KDP Select."  Amazon has set aside a fund for author reimbursement for titles borrowed from the new Kindle Lending Library.  All I have to do is enroll my book in the program, and I can get a chunk of that fund (based on the number of times my book is "borrowed" compared to the number of books participating).  Sounds like a no-brainer, right? 

Well, there's a catch.  I would have to make my book exclusive to Amazon for 90 days.  Which is to say that I would have to unpublish it at Smashwords, and anywhere else I might have made it available for sale -- even on my own website, assuming I sold my books here.  (Interestingly, unpublishing at Smashwords doesn't necessarily mean my book would be unavailable anywhere but the Kindle Store. That's because Smashwords acts as a distribution hub for a number of other e-bookstores, including Barnes and Noble's Nook store, the Sony Reader Store, and iBooks, and it would take several weeks for all of them to take down my book's listing on their sites.)

I've also heard that Amazon's not making it easy for authors who publish new works on KDP to opt out of the lending program.  Apparently, they've kind of hidden the button.  (I bet you were surprised, huh?)

Then Friday comes an announcement from Amazon about its new Price Check app for smartphones.  With this app, you can scan the barcode for an item at a brick-and-mortar store, and Amazon will tell you what it would charge you for it -- and, of course, will allow you to place an order immediately.  So far, you can't buy books this way.  But independent booksellers are already complaining.  For one thing, they stock puzzles, games, and other items that are eligible for the Price Check app.  But the real problem is that small local businesses can't afford to sell stuff as cheaply as Amazon does -- they don't do the same kind of volume, obviously, but they also have brick-and-mortar expenses that Amazon doesn't have.  Independent booksellers are accusing Amazon of encouraging its customers to use their stores as a "showroom":  test drive the item in person, then order it cheaper online.  Some are even going so far as to reward customers who can prove they've cancelled their Amazon account.

I'm not inclined to go that far.  Amazon has an amazing selection of stuff, a decent distribution system, and good customer service.  But its current business model does seem troubling, and I don't think "predatory" is too strong a word for it.  We've seen all this before, of course, when the Wal*Marting of America a few decades back caused the deaths of so many small-town downtowns.  And Amazon has already proven itself capable of taking down behemoths:  witness the death of Borders earlier this year.

Isn't this the kind of corporate behavior that Occupy Wall Street has been about?

I like doing business with Amazon.  I just hope they have the sense to rein in their winner-take-all ambition soon.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Knitting, or: my other creative outlet.

I'm letting the NaNo novel "ripen" (take that how you will!) for a few weeks before plunging into the editing process.  The less fresh any stupidities are in my mind, the thinking goes, the easier it will be to spot them.  In the meantime, I'm knitting.

The Washington Post ran an op-ed piece last weekend about twentysomethings taking up crafts, including knitting, that their mothers and grandmothers wouldn't have touched with a ten-foot pole.  The writer came up with various reasons for it, feminism chief among them.  I don't know which feminists she's been talking to, but this feminist has been crafting since she was a kid.  I was doing embroidery before I was ten, sewing and crewelwork in my teens, needlepoint in my twenties.  In short, I was crafting before crafting was cool.

I also doubt that the author has stepped away from her jam-making to visit a local yarn shop, or she would have noticed that it's not just twentysomethings who are picking up needles.  I didn't learn to knit 'til I was in my forties, and I'm certainly not the only knitter coming late to the game.  I think one reason middle-aged women are getting into it, or getting back into it, is that nicer yarns are more readily available.  There are only so many things you can make with the cheap acrylic worsted in brassy colors at the chain crafts stores.  But these days, you can walk into an independently-owned yarn shop (or find one on teh intarwebz) and oooh and aaah over handpainted and subtly shaded yarns in colors that don't look like they came from your kid's crayon box.  And older knitters have the cash to pay the premium prices for these yarns.

I have my own theory about why these homey crafts are becoming popular again.  A lot of us spend our working lives in an office, pushing (virtual) paper or answering phones.  You don't create much of anything tangible at a job like that.  I suppose you could tally up the number of calls you answered or e-mails you sent, but it's not like you can take them home and hang them on the wall.  Radio news is even more ephemeral -- you write a script, you read it on the air, and poof!  It's gone forever.  You can save scripts or tapes, sure, but who would be interested in them next week or next year?  By contrast, crafts allow you to make something to hang onto.  The hat I made in a day last weekend will still keep my head warm several years from now.  Talk about longevity.

The author of the article got at least one thing right:  women enjoy doing crafts today because we don't have to.  When I was teaching myself colorwork, I did a little reading about the women who invented Fair Isle sweaters.  They were churning out a sweater a week, using skinny yarns in intricate patterns, to supplement their household income.  A sweater a week!  I can't imagine they were having much fun.  And I would bet you money that they never picked up the needles for relaxation.


Speaking of money, I have a friend who's been after me to set up an Etsy site for my knitting.  I think I've finally convinced her it wouldn't be worth it.  Once you add up the cost of the yarn and something approaching a reasonable hourly rate for the labor, the item would be so expensive that nobody would buy it.  In addition, I suspect I would end up like those Fair Isle women, having all the joy sucked out of the craft in order to make a quota.

I have noticed something else about my own knitting: when I wasn't writing regularly, my knitting projects were much more creative.  I have been known to sit down with graph paper, yarn and needles, and devise my own colorwork pattern.  It's been quite awhile since I've done that; in fact, lately I've been downloading a lot of ready-made patterns.  It's not that invent-your-own-design knitting isn't fun for me any more -- I think it's just that lately I'm flexing my creative muscles in other ways.

And when it comes to writing and publishing e-books, the materials costs are negligible, storage space is minimal, and the inventory is inexhaustible.  Sounds, to me, like a much better return on my investment.