3 posts

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

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


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. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


When you utter the word “amazon” as in “dot com,” you get varied reactions. Many consumers love the behemoth for its convenience and price. They are loud in their praise and often in their clicks-to-cart. Many others are “closet amazon” fans. They talk the good talk about supporting small independent booksellers, but if they want a specific book (and they do) at the best price available (and they do), they order it from the privacy of their amazon-prime homes.

Of course, amazon is more than just books now. It hawks just about dot-com everything. And if you get into a problem with a delivery like I did a few weeks back, you get the best horrible customer service correspondence in the world. Long letters in need of an editor. Cookie-cutter apologies that sound as sincere and as empty of humanity as a Donald Trump rally.

In fact, when my 2-day delivery never showed up and I asked why, amazon customer service assured me it would arrive on Day 3. Then Day 4. Would you believe Day 5? Uh, no. So the amazon solution was this: To show they care and to assuage my alarm, they offered me a one-month extension of our amazon prime membership (retail value: $8.43).

I replied, “Button up your shirt because your heart’s falling out!” but they didn’t get the idiom and probably considered me an idiot. A brief glimpse of human irritation slipped out when the long-winded response (an amazon staple) included a reference to concern about my “precious time.” Sarcasm dot com. Even amazon customer service reps in need of an editor and a Strunk & White lesson on succinct writing are subject to it.

Which brings me to Barnes & Noble, the step-child in the behemoth bookselling world. I did the usual irate customer act and took my business elsewhere, elsewhere meaning Barnes & Ignoble. My amazon grudge order will arrive in a week or so, depending on pony changes (they ship Pony Express, apparently).

Still, these days, you can’t take behemoth booksellers for granted, just like you can’t take successful deliveries for granted. In an article in the New Republic, culture news editor Alex Shephard writes that the impending demise of B&N will hurt writers. No, not the rich-get-richer writers referenced  in my last post. The little guys (includes 99.3% of poets). The rising stars. The literary outsiders. Here’s Shephard on what will happen if B&N goes the way of Borders:

“…Big-name authors, like Malcolm Gladwell or James Patterson, will probably be fine. So too will writers who specialize in romance, science fiction, manga, and commercial fiction—genres with devoted audiences, who have already gravitated to Amazon’s low prices. But Barnes & Noble is essential to publishers of literary fiction—the so-called “serious” works that get nominated for Pulitzers and National Book Awards. Without the initial orders Barnes & Noble places, and the visibility its shelves provide, breakout hits by relative unknowns—books like Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven—will suffer.

In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits. Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all. And rigorous nonfiction books, which often require extensive research and travel, will have a tough time finding a publisher with the capital to fund such efforts.

The irony of the age of cultural abundance is that it still relies on old filters and distribution channels to highlight significant works. Barnes & Noble and corporate publishers still have enormous strides to make in fully reflecting America’s rich diversity. But without them, the kinds of books that challenge us, that spark intellectual debates, that push society to be better, will start to disappear. Without Barnes & Noble, we’ll be adrift in a sea of pulp.”  (The full article can be read here.)

Bad. Ugly, even. But amazon will just keep keeping on.

So maybe, in addition to supporting the little independent booksellers when you’re in their brick-and-mortar neighborhood, you can support one of the big guys on the ropes while you’re at it. For writers like us, the trickle-down economics of a Barnes & Noble implosion might just be the beginning of the end, also known as the end-of-publishing days.