Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On the Train to Auschwitz II

Electricity is shooting from my fingertips. My heart is racing. My breathing fast, too fast.

“I can't understand your accent. I'd like to talk with a supervisor, NOW!” My fifth ask.

I'm on the phone with COMCAST, have been for the last 2 hrs, today; 3 hrs on Sat, 2 more the Sat before...etc.

“I sody mem for the inconvenents,” the COMCAST operator delivers his line politely, though I'm yelling at him.

I'm yelling at him because he's the 17th Indian employee, talking to me from India, I've spoken with in the last year alone, and I've been trying to get my internet connection stabilize, i.e. consistently ON for FOUR YEARS NOW.

“I here do help you, mem. Wvat is you account numba?” He's lying. He doesn't want to help me. He wants me on the line so he has a job tomorrow, because he wants to feed his family. So do Americans, but he doesn't care about that either.

“I want to speak with a supervisor NOW, dickhead. Do you fucking understand me?” I'm getting mean. I've learned not to care about him, as he doesn't care about me, or even the problem I'm having with COMCAST. He does not deserve my respect. Past experience with COMCAST customer service has taught me that he is the enemy, making sure he takes care of himself, regardless that he's screwing the very people he's supposed to be working for—the COMCAST customer.

Germans drove trains, turned in their neighbors, sent millions to slave labor and gas chambers to protect their own asses. They didn't stand up to Nazis (COMCAST, PG&E, AT&T). They let the German government tell them what to do, how to think, what to say, what not to, just like COMCAST teaches their employees, Indian or otherwise.

It is insanity that COMCAST delivers HALF THE SERVICE they claim to offer, but I have to pay ALL OF MY BILL monthly. Sure, I can go with AT&T, who were just fined $18.25M for STEALING FROM THEIR CUSTOMERS, cutting internet speeds to you and me, to give more bandwidth to whoever they liked. And do you REALLY believe that AT&T will stop stealing time and hurting productivity for small businesses like yours and mine after this fine? Seriously. They'll do what they want, get sued again, then raise their rates to pay for the lawsuit. Just like PG&E, who MURDERED 8 people in San Bruno, destroyed an entire neighborhood, was fined the most EVER in a lawsuit of its kind, and simply raised their rates to cover the suit. We're all paying to let them get away with murder.

Is this the society you all want? It makes my skin crawl every time my husband insists on paying a bill that is wrong because COMCAST and AT&T make it a 2 hr journey of frustration to talk to an operator in India or Mexico who has little to no training, can barely speak English, and who DON'T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT YOUR PROBLEM. They have to feed their families, on the backs of Americans, because their governments are so corrupt that only the wealthy thrive, while the rest of their people struggle to get by. Or flat out starve, like the begging children that surround foreigners in India.

Well, now our government is equally corrupt, placating to COMCAST and big business lobbyists. And WE ALL LET THEM.

My father-in-law spent between the ages of 13-18 in Auschwitz after watching his entire family murdered by Nazis. His neighbors, their kids that he used to play soccer with, all turned a blind eye. AMERICANS ARE NOW DOING THE SAME THING. We've become complacent, as long as we have Netflix, and Amazon, and Uber for food delivery. He told me once that anything becomes acceptable to most people, that watching Nazis murder children daily, for sport, or seeing prisoners throw themselves against electric fences to commit suicide became the norm in Auschwitz. It is now the norm to accept bad behavior from big business. And regardless of our Supreme Courts twisted decision that "Corporations are people, too," there are actual people working for them, from managment down the line, that are at the core of this issue.

The German train drivers, or the local store owners that stopped serving Jews and Gays and Gypsies, they were simply “following orders,” like the Indian rep working for COMCAST delivering the company's lies with every line he spoke. 

Those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it

You can all plug into your devices and apps and ignore the news, and pretend the economy is stable for you, even though it's a house of cards with Disney and other major employers firing U.S. workers and replacing them with H1Bs, and just bend over and pay every bill without protest. You can choose to be one of the Nazis, or the 'good Germans' who turned their heads while their neighbors were murdered.

Harsh? You bet. But again, is a society where the few rich thrive, and do whatever they want, whenever they want, with NO ACCOUNTABILITY, or real punishment, where you want to live?


Protest—tweet, update, share your stories when you are screwed by COMCAST, AT&T, PG&E. Take the time to tell the world that SAMSUNG put a ton of apps on the phone you just purchased that you don't use, don't want, and YOU ARE PAYING FOR in loadtime and battery life. Sign petitions by people who give a shit enough to fight corruption and are looking for support to stop it, and not just causes that adversely effect you directly, but humanity, and the planet. Fight every bill that's wrong. Don't speak with respect to the CS reps who show you none! Their politeness is a facade, taught to them by greedy, ugly management who are happy to keep you on the line repeating the same information to the next rep who doesn't take notes, maybe is even illiterate, and has no clue what your issue is. Show your outrage passionately!! Make their job hard, because they are willingly stealing your time, and your income, and most assuredly making you miserable not caring about your needs to guarantee their jobs. And if you think these reps are not aware of what is happening on the back end, that's BULLSHIT—an excuse to remain ignorant, especially since almost every call they get is from beleaguered customers like me who take them to task on COMCAST FAILING TO DELIVER on their promises. If you make it misery to work at COMCAST, perhaps they'll look for real jobs that require thinking, literacy, and actually add value, benefit customers, instead of blindly obeying the Nazi leadership of the COMCAST regime.

Friday, June 5, 2015

How Men Are

I have this lump in my throat as I write this. I want to cry, for the 'Thousand Slights' you'll suffer. I want to shield you from that pain. But I can't. And it makes me feel helpless and small, and scared. I love you, Jess. You were in the playroom when I came in yesterday night after shopping. You were building with Magnatiles, this beautiful amphitheater structure. Dad and your brother were playing Stratego on the kitchen table. At first I thought the scene was good and you were happy down there on your own. But as I put the food away, I noticed your face, I saw your sadness, and as I write this I can't stop my tears.

Daughter of mine, I want to tell you about a billion things here, things I got along the way, and ponder with you the world of things I'm still missing. But one thing I know for sure, men are not wired like women. They're not. They're not connected outward, outside themselves most of the time. Most men anyway. And that is going to come back and bite you again and again. And hurt you. And I'm sorry. I wish it was different.

The thing is, throughout your life you're going to have to work really hard with most men to bring them outside themselves. I'm not indicting men. After knowing many in my 45 years, marrying one and raising another, I've come to see that the genetic differences between us truly do separate us. Perhaps because women give birth we are connected outside ourselves, naturally maternal, hardwired to be caregivers, our senses plugged into the scene for the most part, Men have focued on tasks, not so much emotional outreach. And even though women work along side men now, at this point in human development, it still falls on women to help men become more aware of others, more connected outside of themselves.

Dad and E were plugged into themselves last night. I'm sorry you were excluded. And I'm sorry I wasn't there to make them more aware of how that affected you. And I know it doesn't really count to say they had no intention of hurting you, but this is the work to which I'm referring. You're going to have to bring men to you-- make them aware of your needs. You did that when you asked daddy to be on his team, but when he said no, you should have told him how that made you feel. Don't just walk away and feel hurt. For one thing, they didn't even notice they hurt you.

Men are genetically wired inward, their senses connected to their body, and inside their own mind. Most must be taught to expand their awareness to you, the kids, the complexities of the moment at hand. Our technology driven society no longer requires brute force to survive. Narrowing focus to battle the Mastodon is no longer necessary. Again, this is not an indictment. Both sexes have many gifts for the other. Each of us needs to be more aware of, and responsive to the other in our ever shrinking, volatile world.

Jess, you are my ray of sunshine, you're positively delightful by everyone's reckoning who has the privilege of knowing you. I fear the 'Thousand Slights' will rob you of your lightness. I hope you don't let them. Express what you need, how you feel, keep pushing the envelop of awareness, and know evolution takes millennium. We are all works in progress, and we must learn from one another to thrive.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Marketing Today

There's an attitude in marketing these days that if you throw enough shit against the wall (cyberspace), some will stick, and generate sales. The problem with that is, there's so much shit out there, the web's becoming one big crappy ad platform, and most of the marketing has little to no impact.

Case in point:
I took three PPC ads out on Amazon to help me sell my novels. Not 'promote' or 'brand,' or 'engage,' or any other bullshit term marketers tell clients. I took the ads out to SELL my novels. Here are the results (click on image for larger view):

So, let's examine them. 89,116 “Impressions,” and I had 0 sales. Amazon got $8.96 of my money (and times this nominal amount by the ten's of thousands of others like me out there). Hmm...about the only one making money here is Amazon.

Same crappy ROIs with most Google Adword campaigns as with Amazon, but we keep doing them because Amazon and Google tout them. They show us our 'analytics' everyday, in some cases in real time. It's a buzz watching the number of “Impressions” rise. And Impressions, i.e. eyeballs leads to sales, eventually, right?

Not so much. Clearly, with the above example. Breaking down the three campaigns, the bottom row, the one I terminated, I categorized by product segment, i.e. a BOOK, and it was a ROMANCE novel.

After viewing a webinar from Amazon detailing how to “target” audiences, I ran the two campaigns above it. For these I was required to authorize a minimum $100 spending limit for each of my ads. I was then allowed to choose my PPC (Pay Per Click) rate, then spent hours inputting Amazon product page URLs that I felt related to my novels. If my PPC rate was accepted, Amazon then ran my 'ads,' which were merely a tiny thumbnail image of my book cover, the book title, which doubled as a link to the book's purchase pg, author's name, star rating, and price.

My campaigns were a waste of my precious time, which, at least in this case, is more important than the minor expense, as TIME must be considered in ROI of all marketing efforts.

So what went wrong...

● First, “Impressions” don't mean shit. Obviously. What the hell are they, really? According to Twitter's definition: “Number of times users saw the Tweet on Twitter.” And what the hell does that mean. When I drill down, NO ONE seems to know exactly. How does Twitter know who's looking at their cellphone or computer screen when my tweet flashes by? At best, they're making an algorithmic guess, and it serves them to show high Impression numbers.

I average 500 Impressions per tweet, and I tweet 6-18 times a day. As fun as it is watching the number of Impression rise in real time, it doesn't convert to sales all that much, when considering the ROI in time— setting up TweetDeck to continually auto-tweet unique text and visual content. (I average close to 100 retweets a day, with the same underwhelming effect on sales as Impressions).*

Link Clicks are bullshit too. Even with their sophisticated detection algorithms, Amazon, Google, and any other site that sells stuff online can NOT detect all the bots, robots or low-wage workers gaming the PPC system by repeatedly clicking on each AdSense ad on their sites.

● My 'ads' had NO differentiator. No headlines. No text reviews. Nothing to distinguish them for the 8 million other ROMANCE novels on Amazon.

● My tiny 'ads' were stuck on already visually overcrowded pages, full of book recommendations, similar purchases, and other ads for the same genre as my novel.

Amazon's strategy of 'targeting' my audience was a joke. Something like 95% of women polled say they like books with ROMANCE in them. For my 'targeted' ads, the two with the most Impressions, I loaded over 300 Amazon URLs for each of my ads into their “Target These Sites” UI, with a cross-section of books like mine. I even loaded music URLs. Very time consuming! But with no headline, no differentiators, my novels were like everyone else's on the product pages I authorized Amazon to bid to display them.

● Copywriting and marketing are now being done by clueless web developers, or outsourced for slave labor, or become job functions of the pubescent [cheap] workforce (who don't know how to sell value and fall back to pushing image), not marketing pros trained in generating response. Sadly. And while the cheap solution initially seems attractive, in the long run the ROI doesn't pan out.

Barraging the net with crap advertising, with little to no ROI, is sticking alright, to all of us, making the internet into one big shit ad platform. I can't watch a video, read a news article, scroll my Facebook feed, do virtually anything online these days without being bombarded with garbage. So, now, even good marketing, the kind that touts products and services that actually fulfills a need for a target market, isn't seen through the muck.

The great hope of the internet connecting us all, may, in fact, be isolating us. As we train ourselves to shut out the unrelenting stream of shit marketing, we're learning to ignore each other.

*Content Marketing— 'engaging' potential and existing customers by entertaining rather then selling, even in the abstract, has equally bad ROI as PPC, but often gets a lot of “Impressions.”

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Little Kindness

Other day I was running my usual route and a woman pulled her car out of a business park driveway and blocked my path. The instant she saw me approaching she pulled her car back, allowing me room to continue running on the sidewalk instead of into the street to get around her. I smiled. Waved thanks as I passed in front of her car. She smiled and waved back. Felt nice, made the rest of my run less jarring, lighter somehow. Simple really, but oh, what a simple little kindness can do...

Most every day someone does something kind; lets us into their lane on the highway; opens a door, holds an elevator; Likes our update or post; simple acts of kindness that personify our potential for goodness. And while this may seem small on the surface, the residual effects of these displays of caring builds trust, connects us to each other, and gives us hope in our humanity.

We hear about the bad all the time. We hear about the good, too, but on the large scale, like doctors going to Nepal after the quake, or philanthropic superstars and their latest cause. But it's really the little acts of kindness that unite us, everyday simple actions that show we care for one another and the world we inhabit that builds a solid foundation for our race to thrive.

What simple act of caring did you give or receive today?

Share a little kindness and exchange a little hope...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Cutting the Cord with Teens

WATCH OUT for the teen years, my friends with kids told me when mine were young. Your adorable children will turn into...and they'd paint this horrific picture of my beautiful kids morphing into monsters.

I didn't believe em. After all, I'd donated more of my time and energy to my kids than my career since they'd arrived on the scene. No Latchkey kids, unlike we were raised, my DH and I agreed. Between the female artist, and the male software developer, reason dictated he would be the primary bread-winner. My creative career would have to shift to the background of my full-time job as mom.

Beyond taking care of our kids physical needs, I've spent the last 16 yrs working so very hard at keeping our communication open, honest, constant. I've probed and prodded and insisted my kids talk to me. Everyday. And not just chatter, but tell me something real—who they hung with, what they learned, how they feel. And for quite some time, and maybe even still today, my teens would likely say that I'm their best friend.

I've been anticipating a separation to occur between us, excited for the teen years to come, for both of us. My beautiful kids are turning into kind people, for which I'm both grateful and proud. They're growing up, moving on to their lives. It's time for me to step back, let them take care of themselves more and more. For 16 years I've been deferring my muse, entrenched in being a mom and caretaker first. I'm ready, eager to go back to directing my life.

My teens, on the other hand, aren't so thrilled to move on—cut the cord. Prickly and passionate like most teens, they're searching for themselves, separate from family, yet are still unable to be truly independent. They're brains are mature enough now to understand our competitive, often harsh world they've felt little impact from during their formative years. Seeing what it takes to make it on their own today, a good percentage of their psyche wants to stay a kid, continue being taken care of. Safe at home. I get it, though have not lived this. My home was neither satisfying, nor a safe emotional space.

I'm glad to provide an environment my kids are happy to be in. And I'm lucky, to be sure, that even in their teen years, beyond loving them, I really like both of them. But sometimes I wonder if the environment we're providing is a little too secure. Staying a kid only works with a mom, or benefactor. Growing up is about taking care of yourself. As their taxi, their therapist, their teacher, their bank, their cook, their conscience, my kids have it made here. Regardless that they are now mature enough to converse more articulately than most adults I've met, the difference between their words and actions is the Grand frigging Canyon. And while I'm ready for them to take the reins and guide their own lives, they aren't even on the horse.

Parents of teen assured me my kids would become rude, distant, aggressive—angling to put in place a separation between us. And while some of this is going on, it's minimal at best, comparatively speaking from what I've witnessed. What parents who made it through the teen years didn't tell me is that I would be the one looking to cut the cord.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Virtual Friendships

4,605 Facebook, 'friends,' as of today. Over 1,000 Twitter 'followers,' and another 1,000 'connections' on other networks. Out of my 6,000+ 'friends,' I know less than 10 personally—who I've actually met in person, and only a handful of them are family, or the classic definition of 'friends.'

I'm a die-hard recluse. Holed up in my home office, I communicate with clients and vendors mostly online. I started social networking to market my novels. My publisher insisted I open a Twitter account to grow my fan base and extend my reach. I did, but made a magnificent, half-hearted attempt. I didn't follow-back, or engage in dialog, or join groups on LinkedIn or FB except to post my blogspots and reviews of my books. And while my FB page swelled with connections, it really was just a numbers game to me, collecting 'friends' to extend my reach.

Thing about social networking is, if you want it to work—help writer's get read [find a job, or just be heard...] you actually have to BE social. Hmm...not easy for a hermit like me, so I avoided partaking in SNing beyond the periphery for the last decade.

Over these years I met a few reviewers, even readers who've messaged me directly, and for some unknown reason we connected on a deeper than virtual level. These people have crossed the line from surreal acquaintance, to an intimate view into each other's lives. They have helped me face my fear, rejection, bad reviews. They've been my therapist through hard times in my personal life, my guidance counselor, my teacher, my preacher to whom I confess my sins. You know who are, and I'm so humbly grateful for your continual support.

10 years into SNing, few reviewers and readers is an accurate depiction of my reach. So, last summer I contacted an author SNing her novel, titled the same as one of mine, through FB. Her sales...were where I wanted to mine to be, so I messaged her asking how she'd managed to achieve this. I'd contacted other authors before, but none had ever gotten back to me, so I was happily surprised when she messaged me back with an offer to share her publishing path. In fact, she called me from England, spent over an hour on the phone describing her journey, and then sent me emails with people to contact, groups to join, private hashtags to use to get retweeted. Beyond that, she helped me set up giveaways to increase my Amazon ranking, twice, and was my social media advocate on the days my promotions ran by tweeting and updating and getting her 'friends' to do the same. Again, you know who you are, and if we were face to face, I'd be bowing, then give you a heart-felt hug. Thank you (a thousand times [isn't enough]).

Upon her recommendation, I recently joined a private group of authors, who have extended their knowledge and encouragement again and again. This is the first social network I've ever interacted with consistently, and it is beyond rewarding. It's fun to be a part of, instead of on the outside looking in. They bolster me when I go black—assure me that I'm a talented writer, and with exposure I'll get known. Whether that's true or not, having people who believe in me, especially in times when I don't, has saved me from myself. Thank you, ladies!!

Another surprising discovery— there is a ramp up in readership the more I interact online. But as it turns out, this is not the greatest benefit of SNing to me anymore. The more I invite these virtual people into my life, the more real they become—with similar fears, hopes, and dreams as mine. Around the block or the other side of the world, in cyberspace distance is meaningless, and I now realize there are actual people on the other side of the wire.

Until recently, I never considered, or even imagined the folks I hookup with through social media were my 'friends.' I've taught my kids that real friendship is a bond between people who truly care about each other. Not just in words, but actionsTo those I've met social networking who have impacted my life with their acts of kindness, this blog is a shout out of thanks! Though we've never met, probably will never meet, I'm glad to know you, and consider you among my real friends.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The REAL World of Publishing

A while back I sent an essay to LIVES—stories about daily lives of unknowns like me, in what used to be the last page in the NY Times Magazine (before they went with their horrible new format for additional ad space). A few days later I got an email back from the editor of the column accepting my essay. Or so I thought, until I read it all. That's when I noticed it wasn't addressed to me. It was to a literary agent. The email I mistakenly received was chatty, congratulating the agent for landing the new author. “Happy to run the piece before her book releases,” the email said. It ended with, “Always nice to hear from you, and I'll update you when we schedule the essay for LIVES.”

This is the real world of publishing. I was under the delusion that LIVES was written by unknowns, about unknowns, not back door deals worked out with New York lit agents to promote their authors.

My first novel, REVERB, I published through an indie publisher. It did not go well. I blogged about it: The Problem with Indie-Publishers, in an attempt to warn other authors off of ending up in the same mess I did. Apparently, according to agents, authors aren't allowed to share their experiences if they are bad:

I always Google. Always. Usually at the query stage. I’m looking for how that person presents him- or herself online. Are sites updated? Are they sloppy or professional? Are they complaining about agents and publishing? (That’s a red flag.)”

"I’m not usually looking for something that may have been swept under the rug, but occasionally I do see something that makes me think, Okay, this is a pass.”

My novel REVERB was accepted by Bookbub last October. I did a free giveaway through Amazon. I got 26,000 free downloads, which, even for Bookbub was very high for their Literary section (their recommendation, and the only section they would list my novel). I was hoping that with the large response I'd do very well on the back end, after the promo, with sales. I never made back the $140 I spent with them to run my ad for REVERB. After the promotion, I was told by other Bookbub authors that their Literary section is a dud, and few make any money there.

Bookbub had an open forum discussion about their company, policies, how to get in with them, as so many authors are clamoring to be on their lists. EVERY post was laudatory. And I'm not just talking about, “You're great!” Authors posted how Bookbub turned their part-time writing into a career, launched them to stardom. I posted my experience with them on this forum, asking if it's typical not to make back your investment with them. The post was taken off the forum. When I posted it again, I got a note from the admin saying that my comments were “inappropriate,” and she would take down any post I put up regarding my experience with Bookbub. Now I get why ALL the posts were so positive.

You can guarantee, Bookbub won't accept me again. Neither will Laurie Abkemeier and Stephany Evens, or any other agent who is using the philosophy that writers should shut up and write fiction, not reality, ever, unless, of course, it's happy, sunny, successful. And I'd like to tell you I don't care, but that would be a lie. I WANT to be a famous author, just like most of you reading this. And I want the help of an agent or publisher to rep me to achieve the greatest reach. What author doesn't?

Thing is, I NEED to be a advocate for writers! Being one, I truly appreciate author's experiences, both good and bad, their insights, their failures to avoid, their successes to model. And while I realize the cost of confession is steep, it's better than being an automaton, protecting myself by towing the party line of the corrupt, rather ugly publishing industry.