Goodreads

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Random Thoughts for March (i.e. Madness!)

march

Every once in a while, I write a Random Thoughts post (copyright, patent pending). As advertised, it is random. The equivalent of blathering, often with the intent of being humorous. Think funny raft floating on a stream of serious, then don’t take it too seriously. Streams of Consciousness are on the protected conservation lands list, after all.

Or were, before some powers-that-unfortunately-be started “unprotecting” everything in the name of plutocracy, autocracy, oligarchy, et al. You know, as Lincoln never put it: “Government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations….”

  • Here in the Estados-Disunitos, we have this thing called “March Madness,” denoting a time of year when a billionaire organization (read: The National Collegiate Athletic Association) reaps fistfuls of advertising dollars while “student-athletes” play for no pay.
  • It’s called “Madness” because every American worker, student, and self-anointed “expert” jumps into a pool (despite the chilly time of year, the water’s fine!) and speaks mysteriously (e.g. “Hey, Bud. All three of my upset picks won last night,” and “Oh, man, is my West bracket busted, or what?”).
  • Nothing galls the office pool dudes more than some “mere woman” winning everything because she picked teams by color, mascot, or dartboard. Thus, the beauty of it all.
  • What? The Mueller Report is out this weekend? I lied. March Madness means the same as every other month’s madness we’ve been experiencing since January 2017 when the White House turned into the House of Orange.
  • Given the increasing time it takes to hear back from poetry markets, I’d say, as is true with the casino industry in the northeast, that the market is saturated.
  • Quick-response poetry journals, when they reject you within a week, are the poetry-journal equivalent of euthanasia. A bittersweet form of mercy, that!
  • Speaking of bittersweet, it’s always odd to enjoy a personal note from an editor (vs. a boilerplate rejection). You know the one I mean: “We particularly enjoyed your poem ‘Dover Beach’ but decided the tide wasn’t quite right for us just now. Please consult your tide charts and try us again six months from now.”
  • Such notes are found in the dictionary under paradox (n.) — “a compliment that isn’t; an endorsement that confirms and denies; a pair of mallards.”
  • Goodreads continues to skew bad. Since Amazon dot glom took over, they’ve slowly been trending more and more toward being an advertisement site, one where members get “used” for free (kind of like basketball stars in the NCAA!).
  • Exhibit A: Huge ads framing 40% of the screen when you click on a book title to learn more about that book (hint: the ad is for a completely different book). The moral of the story? Pay no attention to those blinking GIFs and videos no longer behind the curtain!
  • Exhibit B: the second entry on your activity feed, which is now an ad pretending to be an actual activity feed, saying something like (Goodreads Friend Z loves “Book Title Whose Publisher Has Paid for This Ad”).
  • Of course, Goodreads Friend Z has no clue that her innocent “like” of a book has been appropriated by the Amazons-That-Be for free advertising. It’s all in the fine print written by lawyers (a.k.a. “Terms and Conditions”).
  • Speaking of Goodreads “likes” and other fluff clicks, can you imagine if the “Wants to Read” button was a “one-click” purchase of said book? All of you writers under small, independent presses would be feeling the love (vs. the cruel tease) right now! Right in the royalties!
  • What if there were brackets for the Top 68 poets? Who would make your Sweet Sixteen? Your Elite Eight? Your Final Four?
  • Would it change, year to year?
  • I hope so. But then, I hope a lot of things. Kind of like Pandora, just before she shut the box as someone quipped, “Too late, sister. But good luck to you.”

For Authors, Goodreads’ “Giveaway” Program Becomes a Misnomer

Sherpa

News Flash: Four days remain for Goodreads members to sign up for a free copy of my new book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness. If you do the Goodreads thing, you can sign up for a lightning bolt’s chance here.

I’ve spoken to the GR’s Giveaway program before on these pages and have decidedly ambivalent feelings about it. For publicity purposes, I signed on three different times for my first book, The Indifferent World, and dutifully sent books out to the lucky winners.

Unlucky me, however. Not one of the winners bothered to review the book, and as the losers do not buy books once they fail to win the freebie (at least in my experience), it’s a net loss for the author–in this case, the cost of three books plus postage.

The news flash I trumpeted above will be my swan song with the Goodreads Giveaway program. As of January, they will be turning to pay-to-play, charging authors $120 to use the program. Of course, to the big publishers, this is nothing. But to small independent presses like Future Cycle Press (which accepted my first manuscript) and Kelsay Books (which accepted my second), it’s a bigger deal.

The small presses cannot afford marketing, so it’s all on the author. Can I afford $120 to play in the Amazon-owned Goodreads Giveaway program? I don’t think so. I’d have to sell an awful lot of books to justify the cost. Meantime, the rich (although that word doesn’t quite capture the dimensions of Amazon’s wealth) get richer. And Amazon adds to its growing reputation as an author-unfriendly bull in a china shop.

I argued against this move in the Goodreads Feedback group, and was somewhat amazed at the number of posters who praised the move by Goodreads. You are a business, one poster lectured in browbeat mode, as if authors from Dan Brown to Ken Craft were the same animal worthy of the same broad brush.

Uh, no. Not all authors are the same.

Nothing in life’s for free! the pro-paying posters chirped. Plus this should weed out the dreck we freebie hunters have to swim through–all those self-published books and that other stuff.

I guess I fall under the category of “other stuff,” as all published-on-demand (POD) books– even if they undergo the process of being read and accepted by small independent presses–follow the same model as self-published ones if they use a publishing outfit like Amazon’s CreateSpace. It’s all one to those who argue in favor of payment for services.

Of course, I would argue that readers who post reviews on Goodreads (many of them not only beautifully but professionally done, all of them for free) should be paid if we’re following the same logic.

After all, do these free reviews drive sales and feed Amazon’s insatiable money machine? Rhetorical question. Amazon has buttons under every book on Goodreads, each leading to the Mother Ship sales juggernaut.

Different, though, the naysayers cry. What’s good for the golden goose (Amazon) is not good for the old gray gander (every day readers’ reviewers). Meantime, ironically enough, most small presses who cannot get precious shelf space in bookstores must sell on the Mother Ship’s web site. That’s right: Amazon dot all-is-not-calm.

Anyway, to come full circle, there’s a free book if you want to enter and take your chances by December 10th, midnight eastern standard time.

After that? I hope you’ll buy a book and strike a blow for the little guy (publisher AND poet). If you like poetry or feel the call to reconnect with the genre, it’s better than Dan Brown, I think you’ll find.

But then, I’m a little biased. Just a little.

Take the Free Book (and the Long Odds)!

TIW

I’ve written about Goodreads’ Book Giveaways before. To say the least, I have ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, they’re good publicity for the little guy (read: humble author) who’s lost in a big jungle (read: the published world). On the other hand, the odds of winning (meaning you) are longer than a certain island off the Connecticut coast, and the odds of garnering a review (meaning me) are wider than a certain mouth in the White House.

In any event, for the third go-round, The Indifferent World, is now available as a Goodreads Giveaway until June 9th. Yes, you could win a signed first (and no-doubt last) edition for free, and yes, you could get hit by lightning (unsigned, I’m guessing), but that’s why Hope waited til last to slip out of Pandora’s box. It’s also why you might just enter your name.

I’m rooting for you, trust me. The fact that you’re reading this post tells me you’re a fan of poetry’s, or at the very least, a fan of writing’s. That means you’ll probably actually read the book if you win. It also means you’ll be kind enough to write a review.

If I could fix the damn giveaway, I would. This is the Age of Authoritarians, after all, so one can dream about silver linings that work in one’s favor, no? The past three GR Giveaway books I’ve mailed into the world, suitcases packed with destination stickers, have disappeared into a void. Nothing but nothing in response! Just Simon & Garfunkel’s dreaded “Sound of Silence” (cue melancholy disc jockey).

Those books, I fear, were snapped up by the Freebie Junkies, the professional Goodreads Giveaway people who have 398,875,193 books on their “To-Read” shelves and 0 books on their “Reviews” shelf.

But, no. This time–perhaps the last time–I have faith. And, as the New York Times has failed to publish this version of the “Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book” series, I’ll slip it in here in case free things intrigue you:

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

The idea lies in the first of the book’s four sections, titled “Woods & Lake.” This suite of poems was inspired by my years on a Maine lake where time seems to have stopped because not much has changed there since the Eisenhower Administration. Were he alive, even Thoreau would be at home there. (Thoreau gets a cameo in one of the poems, by the way).

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

By God, I can write poetry! Originally, the plan was to write short stories with a long-term plan for working up to novels. In fact, I actually completed a young adult novel in the 90s. The feedback from one New York editor was something to the effect of “wonderful descriptions… it’s the plot that needs attention!” Like my lake surroundings, my prose often took leisurely turns toward lyricism and imagery. Poetry in prose’s clothing, in other words! Coupling that realization with a full-tilt teaching schedule, my shift to the more compact (and challenging) genre was complete.

In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

Some writers start with a master plan, an endgame in sight before the first word is writ. This would not be that book. The Indifferent World evolved as I wrote and rewrote it. Eventually I noticed common themes and grouped the poems accordingly. The four parts are entitled Woods & Lake, Homebodies, Mysteries, and The Indifferent World.

Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Most of the book was written to his music. It fit the mood I was trying to create. I wanted the poems to be simple yet thoughtful, something readers could relate to. Like Pärt’s music.

Persuade someone to read “The Indifferent World” in less than 50 words.

The poetry is approachable. It’s also not afraid to break “rules” because, frankly, I was not up on the “rules” when I was writing it. I did not avoid certain words, like (gasp!) “darkness.” I did not avoid certain topics, like dog poems. Instead, I wrote what inspired me, figuring that would inspire readers, too.

The Tricky Ethics of Goodreads Giveaway Program

gr

Everybody loves freebies and, if you’re a bibliophile like me, you especially love it when that freebie is a book. Welcome to the Goodreads Giveaway, a program where GR’s reading millions can get in on some free action by simply registering for the many, many books that site offers for free consumption.

Of course, giveaways are not a new concept. In the publishing industry, ARCs (advanced reading copies) have been provided to readers since the beginning of book-publishing time. The purpose? To generate buzz and provide fodder for reviews leading to sales.

Amazon, the new owners of Goodreads, has its own giveaway program called Amazon Vine. In the beginning, Vine members only had to write reviews for some of the free books they received. After a year or two, however, Amazon changed the rules. All free books had to be reviewed or else you were cut off. That’s right. Your vine would wither and fall off the Giving Tree just like that.

Some Vinesters were not wild about this change, but I saw some justice in it. Why? Because, in this day and age, some people run mini-businesses out of their homes. E-bay is only the best known of the many ways to do this. You get something for free (or at a reduced price) and then resell it on-line for personal profit. It’s the American way, no?

But wait a minute. At least most Vine books are imprinted with “Not for Resale” or “Advanced Reading Copy–Not for Resale” on them. This is often NOT the case with the Goodreads Giveaway program. Meaning? The books obtained for free look like any book you might buy at a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Thus, reselling is easy-peasey.

But is it ethical?

It depends on how you look at it. Some publishers and authors see the purpose of a giveaway as buzz, pure and simple. It gives the book attention. After all, hundreds (and sometimes over a thousand!) readers sign up for the free book. Can this be a bad thing?

Yes and no. If the buzz translates to sales, readers, and reviews, then no, it can’t be a bad thing. But in the case of Goodreads Giveaways, books people sign up for (by default, they  get put onto “to read” lists) are as likely not to be read as read. Even after they WIN the book against hefty odds and it shows up gratis in their mailbox, participants are under no obligation to read or review the book. Life is busy, after all, and as St. Frank of Zappa once said: “So many books, so little time.”

According to GR, excited publishers and authors have good reason to use the Giveaway program. Up to 60% of winners review the books they receive, Goodreads tells us, but this seems optimistic. A look at the stats of some Giveaway participants reveals why. Many posters sign up for free books in serial fashion. Each day dozens upon dozens of additional books accumulate on their “to-read” shelves until you see poster stats like “To-Read: 23,749” next to “Read: 0” or “Read: 7.”

Ouch. Will they ever return to the hopeful author’s “to-read” book in three months or even three years? With 23, 749 books on deck, probably not. Heck, even with 749 or 49 on deck, probably not. There are even Goodreads Giveaway groups, where posters can brag about the spoils of war and the blessings of Lady Luck. If it sounds like fun, it apparently is.

What can we conclude? That, at least in some of the cases, people use the program either for the thrill of the win (an innocent form of on-line gambling) or for the chance to sell books for personal profit. In the case of those who do choose to sell the book, the publisher loses on printing costs and the author loses on royalties.

You might call this a form of piracy, but it’s not. It is legal, after all, and publishers and authors put their books up knowingly, eyes wide open and hoping for the best. Which is really what the Goodreads Giveaway program amounts to from the writer-publisher point of view: Hoping for the best (and what is the publishing industry if not a metaphor for hope?).

Bottom line: If I win a giveaway (and I haven’t among the few I’ve signed up for), I will read it and offer my honest opinion because, to me, that’s not only the purpose but the right thing to do. Could that be bad for the publisher or author? Sure. I could 2-star the book. Is that any worse than not reviewing the book at all and reselling it for personal profit? It’s an interesting question I’ll leave to the philosophers. At least until Goodreads Giveaways follows Amazon Vine’s lead.

 

Dean Young on Reckless Poetry

dean-young

Here’s my review on Dean Young’s _The Art of Recklessness_. I read it because I could use a little shaking up. Hell, everybody can. Seems everyone’s writing the same poem sixty-seven different ways (that look amazingly similar), my and self included. Young, who has a facility for flights and fancies, makes it look easy–then talks about it as if it’s easy. If you’re interested in his little book, here’s a preview:

What? There’s an ART to being RECKLESS? Seems I took no classes as a kid, as a teenager. I just had at it, the devil take the hindmost (because he seemed little interested in the foremost). The title, though, is chosen because it is part of Graywolf Press’s “Art of…” series. Dean Young (who else?) got the call for recklessness because, well, HIS recklessness (called “poetry” in some rhomboids) is quite artful. Came this close (holds fingers an inch apart) to winning the Pulitzer Prize for his collection, [book:Elegy On Toy Piano|147931].

What did I gain from this book? A lot of what, a bit of why, but not much how. That is, if you’re looking for Dean to share secrets to his controlled anarchy, keep looking. Instead, he shares a few opinions on the wild and the crazy, on the Dadas and the Surrealists. And though he claims John Ashbery to be our greatest modern poet, he mentions him but once, giving the lion’s share of attention to poets we don’t immediately consider when we think “reckless”: John Keats (with his wild and crazy Odes), William Wordsworth (who never met a word he didn’t consider worth writing down), and Walt Whitman (leaves and the grass electric).

“If the poet does not have the chutzpah to jeopardize habituated assumptions and practices, what will be produced will be sleep without the dream, a copy of a copy of a copy,” The Dean of Recklessness tells us. He also is a great cheerleader. Any poet would love to have him as a teacher (U of Texas, Austin, methinks). “Our poems are what the gods couldn’t make without going through us.”

Dean Young may seem playful as hell in his poetry, but this book can be scholarly as all get-out at times, throwing around some big-boy words (the kind where I say, “Huh?”). He also quotes with abundance. Here’s a Wallace Stevens, for instance: “It is necessary to any originality to have the courage to be an amateur.” Oh, I love it. <i>The Art of Being an Amateur</i> I have nailed! Where do I begin collecting checks and raves?

And there’s humor here: “Poetry, as everyone knows, is in competition with girls’ volleyball for the crowd. It’s all about numbers… And in regards to the common bellyache that the only audience for poetry is poets: but it’s been noted by many that poetry is like a foreign language; you need to learn grammars and idioms to get it, so what’s so terrible about people who know Portuguese being the people who are interested in listening to and reading Portuguese? Arcane specialization? Elitism? Surely no more than girls’ volleyball. Poetry’s greatest task is not to solidify groups or get the right people elected or moralize or broadcast; it is to foster a necessary privacy in which the imagination can flourish. Then we may have something to say to each other.”

Dean also calls complacency the greatest enemy of art, with an aside about the hidden “me” in “poetry”: “It is also worth entertaining the notion that the least important time in any workshop is when your own work is being talked about. It’s called ‘Poetry Workshop,’ not ‘Me Workshop,’ after all. The imagination wants to say something you can hear and often what you say about someone else’s poem is exactly what you need to hear about your own. The way in is to go out.” Clearly Dean Young has trafficked with a few poets in his day. Self-promotion (while pretending not to self-promote) is the name of the game.

As for examples of reckless poems, they are few and far between, given the brevity of the book. It’s more Young providing the Old history of imagination’s resistance. All in all, equal parts cheerful and depressing. Cheerfully, you might wing it next workshop or on-line critique group, even though you know the mavens of tradition are waiting in the wings to nitpick your punctuation, your grammar, your syntax. On the other hand, he warns, sometimes reckless art is bad art.

Great. Just when I was beginning to take wing and feel the exultation of freedom, I get the overheating rays of the sun again, melting my wax. You can write bad poetry conventionally OR unconventionally, I’m afraid. The World of Art takes no prisoners, even in a minimum-security prison like Recklessness.

 

You Won’t Find This Quiz on Goodreads*

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*But if you did and took it, you’d probably be in first place thanks to this sneak preview.

 

Nota bene: This quiz is for experts–that is, anyone who has ever read a poem (ANY poem, even “Roses Are Red–Still”). Having read The Indifferent World itself is not a requirement. It only helps a little, I promise. So go ahead. Impress yourself!

 

What is this poetry collection about, anyway?
___ Non-GMO Corn Flakes
___ John Calvin, predestination, and midnight Skip-Bo games in Plymouth
___ our world
___ nobody knows

What does “indifferent” mean, anyway?
___ quiet, shy
___ perspicacious
___ shrinking
___ Who cares?

How many rhyming poems will I find in this book, anyway?
___ one
___ eleven
___ twenty-one
___ none, which makes it more fun

In an earlier Goodreads life, the author went by what pseudonym, anyway?
___ Bwana
___ Newengland
___ Talleyrand
___ Alfred E. Newman

What lake is pictured on the cover of The Indifferent World, anyway?
___ Lago Maggiore (Frederick Henry’s favorite in A FAREWELL TO ARMS)
___ Lake Tahoe (Mark Twain’s favorite in ROUGHING IT)
___ Lake Victoria (Queen Victoria’s favorite in Africa)
___ Lake Anon (Anon Ymous’s favorite in Goodreads quizzes)

What is the author’s favorite infinitive, anyway?
___ to eat
___ to sleep
___ perchance to dream
___ to craft

After writing a novel (unpublished), a collection of vignettes (unpublished), and numerous short stories (unpublished), why did this author choose to write poems at such a very late age, anyway?
___ It was free (verse).
___ He was out of options.
___ He met a Muse on Facebook.
___ It was the only genre to take the “un-” out of “published.”

The first poem in this collection is about what pressing social issue, anyway?
___ A hunter choosing to shoot a deer.
___ A hunter choosing NOT to shoot a deer.
___ A hunter choosing to watch “Bambi” or “Old Yeller” on Wednesday night.
___ We’re going to build a wall.

According to GR reviewer Alex, poetry is WHAT, anyway?
___ “…sublime” (as opposed to sub-lemon)
___ “…supreme among the arts.”
___ “…like an onion left in the root cellar too long.”
___ “…dumb.”

How difficult was it to create ten questions about a 98-page poetry collection containing 80 poems, one that POETRY magazine said nothing about and THE NEW YORKER chimed in with “We’ll second that!” anyway?
___ very
___ very
___ very
___ all of the above

 

Answer key: 
Do you really need one?

 WHAT IT MEANS:

None Correct: Now that’s indifferent (then again, who cares?)
1-2 Correct: You know, infinitive! A verb with to in front of it….
3-4 Correct: Poetry. You’ve heard of it, right?
5-6 Correct: It was the sub-lemon that threw you, right?
7-8 Correct: Very, very, very (all of the above) good!
9 Correct: Call Mr. T! You’re on the A-Team!
10 Correct: You know me better than I know me. Drop me a line, why don’t you. I’m still trying to find myself and California’s a long way aways.

Playing Favorites with Your Own Poems

weathercock

As any parent knows, you don’t play favorites among your kids. You can HAVE a favorite, of course, but you take that scandalous secret to your grave. If you have a toothpick of common sense, that is.

For your children, circumspection is clearly called for, but what about your poems? Publish a book and people will inevitably ask, “So, which one is your favorite poem in the entire collection?” Sharing this knowledge will lead people to flip to that page and read that poem, so you hedge. What if they don’t like what you have crowned “the best” and think it’s so-so? They will assume the rest of the book is so much poetically-licensed garbage (see Jersey Turnpike, Exit 157), that’s what.

OK. Maybe I exaggerate. Slightly. In fact, although I’d rather know what my readers’ favorite poems are (which I don’t ask because it presumes they’ve read the book cover-to-cover–a healthy presumption), I will admit here that I do have favorites (plural, thank you). Having more than one is safer (the old “safety in numbers” adage). One of them is the second poem in the collection, “Barnstorming the Universe,” which first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Off the Coast, that estimable poetry journal from Maine.

Why do I like this poem so much? It’s playful. And it harbors a story (but then, most poems do, kind of like the “surprise inside” you expect from a box of Cracker Jacks). Here’s the poem. Ostensibly it’s about an old leaning barn in Maine. Ostensibly.

 

“Barnstorming the Universe”

The big barn must have landed
overnight, the jolt of its descent
crippling one side so the whole
structure leans south. The white
paint, curly from reentry, looks
foolish as a washed cat.
The roof, too, shows evidence
of atmospheric stress, the mottled
landscape of its green top—tar
paper from missing shingles
probably scattered from Pittsburgh
to Poughkeepsie—having the look
of some moody old bass lurking
in the shallows, scales flaked and
grated at the speed of light.
Incredibly, atop the cupola, a rusted
and outraged weathercock still claws
the ridge. His wattle and comb hang
sideways, one eye searching for
intergalactic beetles, black-backed
fugitives from Andromeda or the
Crab Nebula. A sliding door is ajar,
exhaling the stench of stardust,
of Saturnine ring particulate, of dead
Martians matted on rotted hay.
In the side window, a single shard
of glass clings to the sash. If only
the barn could speak of the yawning
silences, of the teeming nothingness
that peered inside as it hurtled
its way home to this Maine field.

–Ken Craft, The Indifferent World (Future Cycle Press, 2016)

 

In the summer, I run 5-8 miles most every morning, and when I do, I pass this barn on the top of Mayberry Hill. It is, in fact, nowhere near as bad as this poem says it is, but the roof! The roof was the image that inspired this poem. Some shingles are there and others are missing, giving it a mottled green and black look and reminding me of the scales on an old fish that has been through the wars. Atop that roof is a tilting weathercock which no longer abides by orders, the wind’s or God’s.

From those two visuals, I imagined a leaning, disheveled barn that landed overnight in the middle of a Maine field–a barn that had witnessed things that NASA’s astronauts had not even seen.

Barns with a history like that belong on the endangered structures list. I don’t care what condition they’re in. Thus we get the shingles “scattered from Pittsburgh/to Poughkeepsie,” the “rusted/and outraged weathercock” clawing the ridge, and–my favorite–the “stench of stardust,/of Saturnine ring particulate, of dead/Martians matted on rotted hay.”

If you’ve ever wondered how runners pass the time as they jog along country roads, wonder no more! Their bodies may be on automatic pilot, but their minds? God only knows. Some planet the Starship Enterprise sailed past, maybe. All the poet has to do is make his entry in the Captain’s log when he gets home and downs his chocolate milk. Sometimes that leads to favorite poems, even.

Just don’t tell anyone. Because it’s only one of them. Honest.