Maybe someone bored out of their mind on coronavirus lockdown will have some happy days and nights reading my witty and oh so sexy prose, (about the adventures of a young man named Polo Shawcross, his family’s attempts to kill him, and his personal inability to keep his trousers on, and what you might get when you splice genes).
Australia is doing okay compared to a lot of places, and everyone’s currently saying “Well, we could be worse off, we could be in the USA.” Sorry if you’re in the USA, i guess that’s not very reassuring, and as deaths there go past 3,000 i can only say i’m glad Trump stopped putting the economy first, even if it was out of fear his base will all die because he told them originally the coronavirus scare was a Democrat hoax.
My ex in London lives next to a supermarket (almost) and can’t seem to get anything there.
I went to the shops today, there were stocks of toilet paper, fresh milk or UHT, bread, fruit and veg, even some flours, sugar and pasta, tinned things, (still no hand sanitiser or isopropyl alcohol but apparently the world stocks of that somehow ended up wherever all the loo paper went at first).
I squealed aloud when i saw the toilet rolls. As i said to the woman laughing at me, i never thought i’d squeal over loo rolls.
There are lines taped everywhere on floors, signs too, saying you have to stand HERE or THERE and people understandably not noticing (cos we’re all immured to massive shouting signs at the supermarket), just diving in where they see a free till, then being Social Distance Shamed by me and the checkout operator (behind a massive perspex shield), who tried to wave the woman back but i freaked. “Please! Don’t stand so close to me!”
I actually said that. I know, then i had to talk the poor lass down from her incipient hysteria… we’re all on edge. She’d just managed to get herself an 8-pack of toilet paper and the checkout person and I really messed with her happy high. Was okay, we all parted friends.
A lot of that going on, which is actually fkn beautiful. People start to shout, then say hang on, sorry, what did you mean? Or sorry, (like me at the checkout) i’m immuno-compromised and scared shitless. Because we all are.
It’s becoming clear that this (variant of?) Covid-19 is not just for old people, fat people, or people with existing lung conditions or other ill health. A healthy 21 year old girl died in the UK, babies have been infected, children have died, and (formerly) healthy men and women too. And so many doctors. In the USA, the death toll has passed 9-11.
Many healthy people (not just in USA) didn’t need to die. They could have been saved with enough space in Intensive Care Units but those were simply overwhelmed.
[EDIT 13/May/20 THIS IS OUT OF DATE. MY BOOKS ARE CURRENTLY (CORONAVIRUS) FREE on SMASHWORDS – yeah, but i’ll leave the rant up – it still stands]
Just pulled my books off Smashwords.
Indie writing? You can shove it where the sun don’t shine. And anywhere it does, I’m not fussy. I’m going to start actively looking for an agent the moment i get a new book finished for them to look at. Not the Polo series, that’s going to have to wait – nobody will touch a book previously self-published. Not unless your current book sells, of course, then they suddenly get very interested.
A bit of a relief, really. So tired of struggling to promote them singlehandedly, with Smashwords not helping. They made it hard for anyone to find my work unless i managed to catch someone’s attention on Twitter and give them a direct link.
I foolishly marked my first book Adult (back in 2011) , thinking just that it wasn’t a children’s book, so the first 10 weeks my first book was published, Smashwords literally made it invisible unless someone opted in to ‘Adult’ which to them meant “hardcore erotica”. Continue reading →
In 2009 I started on Twitter. I was already writing, and had gleaned from the interwebs (those i first experienced back in about ’88, and wanted to play with, but didn’t get my chance until about 1998) that a social media presence was required. So i started this blog, and tweeting, and met some interesting folk.
Experienced as an editor, i wanted to self-publish, and didn’t even send the manuscript to any agents to look at. I decided Amazon wasn’t for me – for a start, they needed you to have bank account in either US, EU, Japan or Brazil, and i didn’t have one. (This has changed quite recently.)
Finally, in 2011 i published one book on Smashwords – and my dream since my teens (’73-79) was complete. I was a publisher! I hung onto that thought through a series of disasters and awful choice in friends, as it took me until 2017 to release the follow up to that book, and its companions. A quartet. Very proud. Released them literally on Thanksgiving (not a holiday in Australia!) As usual, my marketing is flawed. But still, i was in publishing.
I worked in actual big money publishing, so doing it myself felt wonderful. Once i’d got the books selling on Smashwords (and various distributors) I’d start with Ingram Spark and their Publishing On Demand packages, and put out paper versions of the books. I couldn’t wait.
Meanwhile, i found typos, edited those and put up new versions, and that was pretty much 2017 gone. And so i started really pushing my books, as the mistakes i’d clocked were fixed and they were fit for reading. I was selling. Selling well enough off the back of the good ratings for the first two books (which are free) that i could see the first paper versions, could even smell and feel them.
I was top of the ‘best reviewed’ charts, and that was the only reason i was selling. People go with the crowd. They don’t scroll through to page 120 to see who rated very poorly in case there’s a hidden gem. However i was nearly on the front pages of various most-downloaded and best sellers’ lists too, so i could see a glorious future, one with paper in it.
Then someone gave me a non-5 star review. And then another book got one too. They didn’t seem to dislike the books, they said they liked them, but still, 4 stars. Then another. And my books disappeared off the top of the charts. Not just down a bit, they went to page 120 or worse.
When i found my books, i saw that other people with even more 5 star reviews than me also had been nobbled by one 4 star review and were on page 120 too.
My sales dried up as my books moved off the front pages. Then they stopped.
I tried talking to Smashwords, even to Mark Coker (the CEO) and they were nice about the facts – which were – Smashwords rating system is unfair. It’s also open to abuse. I can go on there now, give the top rated people 4 star reviews, and they will disappear FOREVER. Unless you page through to page 120. They will be behind the guy whose mum gave him 1 glowing 5 star review. Yep – one 5 star review outweighs 20 of them if you get just one 4 star or lower review.
I have written about this before, but i figure you probably can’t be bothered paging back then coming back here again, so trying to sum it up. So Smashwords said they weren’t planning to do something about it in 2018, but they’d consider it for their 2019 list.
Since February 2018, i’ve been looking for some way to fix this. I tried Patreon (it’s supposed to be ‘be a patron to the arts’ but it seems to turn out ‘lots of artists begging and a tiny number get lucky’), discovered it wasn’t really my scene. And a week or so ago, i got Smashwords “Plans for 2019”. You guessed it, no plans to sort out the ratings system.
Which leaves me completely at sea. My entire marketing plans hinged on how well reviewed my books were, which gave them visibility – not just on Smashwords, but on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and in the Apple iBookstore. That visibility gave me sales, gave me more visibility, and so on.
I’m poor, i cannot afford to do more. I’m crippled and ill – i can’t get a better job or save (about $1500 would do it) or the usual tricks. And i’m 58 so even if i was fit, turning tricks is out of the question.
I could remove the books from the site, redo them enough to be plausibly ‘new editions’ then republish, but i’ll still be open to that one spiteful person who decides their books need to sell more than mine do, and gives me 1 bad review. So i won’t.
So this is it. The end.
I’m going to do more books, i just won’t be bothering to put them out as an self-publisher. It will be the more usual route of Agent followed by (if i’m lucky) Publisher. Seven years of my life (and another two learning how to), i gave it a good shot.
N.B. Having just noticed that Amazon Australia (which opened in December 2017) allows me to publish via Amazon, i might put the books on there – seems better than allowing them to stay rotting in the basement equivalent of Smashwords.
So maybe i’m not at the end, it might be another beginning. Aargh, not again!
It’s still 2018? Phew. Thought i’d zoned out for an entire year. I turned 58 eleven days ago – so anything’s possible. I remember freaking at idea of turning 25, ‘omg so OLD!’ and then when i was 30 being shocked to discover i had survived my 20’s, which was unexpected.
I carefully worked out that in the year 2000 i would be 40 and that was so far in the future i didn’t really bother doing any more projections.
Now i’m approaching what in the UK would be bus-pass age (though like in the UK, pension age keeps being moved here in Oz) and not just shocked. I’m completely stunned. I see 20-30 year olds going on about bucket lists (usually pathetically low-aiming like “drive a v8” or “see band x in concert” or “go to some place when a million other people are going there too”) and wonder what happened to life? I mean, having a good one?
When did a good life come down to ‘well i saw the Doobie Bros at the WACA circa 1977 so i can die happy”? Or “the year before that, I saw Elton John, so i’m so fkn fulfilled i could cark it with the knowledge my life was perfect”? Cos i’m telling you, that seems like cold comfort from here.
Places visited, bands seen, supercars driven (a Rolls can do 140mph/225kphh on the London to Brighton motorway – hey, it was pre-motorway camera days and we were lucky over no cops – but stopping 3 tons of beast isn’t as easy), all don’t add up to happiness and fulfilment.
In fact, to me it’s just shallowness-of-being, no lightness to it. If it does mean you can die happy, then we have a problem – because somehow happiness and fulfilment have been reduced to simply ‘it was fun/scary as fk’. No work, no real effort, just some artificial fear and hey presto. It was a good life. Really? Balls.
Climbing Kilimanjaro, bungee jumping off a bit of New Zealand (it seems to have bungee jumps almost everywhere there’s a gap in the landscape), is actually just distracting yourself from your life. Yes it can be fun. But it’s not a recipe for a good life. Or even for fun that lasts more than 10 seconds.
I decided to google bucket list and discovered most of them were just lists of ‘outdoor activities’ like out of doors means ‘On my deathbed i’ll be like, smirking and y’all be jelly because when i was 17 i went on a jetski’.. I don’t fkn think so.
And if that IS all that makes a person feel their life was well-spent? Gawd. Life may be wasted on the young, but there’s a fair few older ones who could punch their ticket now and we’d all just have less in the queue for the bungee jump.
The Urban Dictionary (which has sadly not managed the gravitas that Wikipedia now claims) says a bucket list is “A list of things you’d like to do before you die, like visiting the Grand Canyon, falling in love or falling into the Grand Canyon.” They haven’t lost their sense of humour, though they have in many places been invaded by the same women-hating bigots that infest a lot of the net.
As i suspected, most people seem to use bucket list items as excuses for living – after all, if you’re too busy following the herd up Kilimanjaro or to Iceland to swim in a volcano (i know, not exactly accurate, but if you told a lot of people it was a bucket list thing, they’d be adding it as an item on theirs, a Darwinian moment of triumph) you might not notice bucket lists aren’t just for stuff that scares you a bit or is outdoors.
We all know the type – they shout (usually to camera, because these days, everyone’s a mockumentary) “Skydiving makes me feel ALIVE” as they jump out of a plane, and then die horribly as their parachute fails to open. What they actually mean, is “My emotions are completely shut down, and now – like a man who learned to masturbate with sandpaper – i can’t feel anything without first going through massive amounts of fear.”
They laugh and say yeah, i’m an adrenalin junkie. Nah, mate, what you are is an emotional cripple. Learning to have a relationship with themselves that doesn’t involve running away and jumping off a building wearing the parachutic equivalent of a small umbrella (and calling it base jumping to make out like, this is totes a sport, yanno?) would be something to really achieve, worthy of bucket list inclusion. Overcoming their fear of intimacy with another human could also go there.
So, to sum up – if you want to get through your life and not be horrified at the results when you’re 58 (or 30 or 40 or 100), look a bit deeper than the surface gloss. Yes, it’s good to travel – and easier when you’re young and cheap digs or sleeping on the actual floor can be tolerated. But take the time to learn a little.
Choose happiness, (not just ticking off items on a list that covers up the unacknowledged misery you feel inside), and life might be different. I’m glad i did – doesn’t stop the depression, but it does remind me that there’s an end to it. Depression is (for me) like waves on an beach. No matter how bad the storm, eventually they drop down.
And i get to ride a horse along the water’s edge, hooves flinging up divots of sand and spray, the light dazzling and the day about perfect.
Oops. So this year so far that’s three blog posts. Well, three counting this one. Yes, as usual, there have been distractions. Nazis? Well, of course, they’ve all slid out from under their rocks, now Trump has made them out to be nice guys, mostly, with the fact that they are in favour of killing Jews, Muslims, women who have abortions, women who vote, People of any Colour, and anyone who says “whoa!” not enough to stop him promoting them from the Oval Office.
Then there were the distractions that distracted me from the distractions and then…. yes, more distractions. I ended up banning myself from Twitter most of the time. Thanks to LeechBlock (simple and free, stops you wasting time on sites like Facebook or Twitter except in allowed times/days) i only visit about 1-2 times a day, no more than 30 minutes in any 6 hour block. It’s freeing, I enjoy my time more, and i no longer ‘come to’ four hours after i logged onto Twitter ‘just to say hello’. Most of the time, i only pop in every few days.
So here we are. Nearly October. Which is Spring in the Southern hemisphere, for the climatically-challenged among you.
Another year in Queensland. I know, i wanted to come back here, anything to get away from New South Wales and 9 months a year of crucifying humidity.
Turns out Queensland and 6 months a year of crucifying humidity with a much higher average temperature is about as hard to deal with. When i first lived here nearly 20 years ago, i had a pool.
Now i have an un-insulated house in an area so prone to mosquitoes, sandflies and midgies, i can’t go outside without spraying myself every few hours with insecticide. Especially hard to deal with are overnight highs of 25-30 (80’s to 90’s F) with 100% humidity – not just once, but for months on end.
I’m thinking of the South Pole next. Penguins, no mosquitoes, and less humidity? I’m in.
Meanwhile, my books are selling. Not a lot, but just. I phone Centrelink, report my monthly income, they laugh, so at least someone’s getting a kick out of my sales.
I’m working on other books – mostly stuff i’ve already written that i’m taking the bones from, rewriting and once-filleted, hopefully ready for publication. I’m also working on a follow up to the first set of four (first 2 are free, here) because i’m fond of Polo and want to see what happens to him now. Guilt, i’m guessing.
I’ve also dug out all my writing from the early 80’s on, filed it and scanned a lot of it, and finally have all my poetry (most of it) on the computer. Yes, that’s how long i’ve been writing, i have lots of stuff that was TYPEWRITTEN!
Some was even *drumroll* hand-written. In script. Which these days, would be as safe as a spy’s code, because nobody under 50 can read it. Of course, nobody under fifty (and a fair number of those over it) can write script any more, so my communication options would be limited.
The depression i’ve been struggling with this year/last year/most of my life is still biting, but i’m fighting. The main trick with depression? Remember, it lies. You’re not really hopeless, useless, or better off dead. Even if your family don’t understand you, that’s not a reason for suicide. If it was, the entire world would be looking for a cliff to jump off.
Anthony Bourdain’s ungraceful exit saddened me. If someone like him, with all that money, can’t be happy, what hope do i have? And i was reminded. Happiness is. It is not external. It is not money. It’s inside, and achievable simply by relaxing and focusing our gaze inwards. Sometimes, sure, we don’t like what we see, but that’s normal.
We can change. That’s what humans do well. Change, mutate, adapt. It’s how we got here.
I for one, intend to keep going. Hope you do too. The calm centre is right there. Right now. I know it. Just because today i am filled with bitterness and tears, it doesn’t make it disappear, or be a fraud. Depression is the fraud. It twists life, even the most beautiful, into an unrecognisable vale of tears.
So i found out a really awful thing. My first book, Polo Shawcross: The Birthday Dragon (Book 1 of the Dragon Quartet), has been out since 2011. Since then it’s sat happily on the top of the Top Rated Sci Fi and Fantasy lists in its categories. By end of January it was TOP of entire site. Yep, non-fiction/fiction, any length. Highest rated Free book.
One of the others got a 4 star review, which was disappointing, but i just got on with life.
But something happened to Book 1. Someone gave it a 4 star review in February. Oh well, i thought, has to happen sometimes. And some people don’t ever give 5 star reviews. I’m never going to please everyone. I was a bit upset, but managed to tell myself a few platitudes like those above and get over it.
I kept promoting my books on Twitter, and did notice my only sales and most of my downloads were when i did so. No Smashwords traffic to speak of.
That’s when i noticed something. Something horrible. Book 1 had disappeared from the Top Rated listings. Just gone. I looked and looked, and was about to contact Smashwords to ask what had happened, when i found it. On Page 22 of the Top Rated listings, where literally nobody would ever see it.
I also realised there were others like me. 14 or more 5 star reviews, but one 4 star – and suddenly we were rated lower than anyone with only ONE 1-star review. I contacted Smashwords, politely. Yes, they said, they were aware of the issue, but they had no plans to do anything about it, other than ‘We’re working on a way to make it more fair. However, unfortunately there’s no date on when it will be implemented.‘
Meanwhile, as i said to Smashwords, my entire marketing plan – based on my books being high rated and 1’s across the site, just got harpooned. Fortunately, the two most recently released were charting on the Bestseller lists but only on the front page if you narrowed the field (by selecting a length or division of the genre like Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Fantasy » General). Most people don’t get that far.
The first two (free so not on the “best seller” lists) were coming up the Most Downloads charts, but thanks to not showing on the Highest Rated charts, they were not getting the same exposure and dropped off the first two pages of those (again, unless you narrow the field to over 100k, Free).
I was miffed over the 4 star reviews, but then i thought about it. There are people there with many more 5 star reviews than me, and thanks to one 4-star review they’re also suddenly invisible. So i wrote again to Smashwords, and the CEO got back to me – yep, Mark Coker at Smashwords. He knows it’s a problem, along with the gaming of reviews (aka ‘fake reviews’).
Basically, it’s unfair that books with more than one 5-star review are behind books with only one. Sure, if i have fourteen 5 stars, you do too, we’re equal, until i get rated lower, that one 4-star? I get to be behind you in the listings, fair enough. But not if i have 20 5-star ones. Especially not if you only have one 5-star review and i have 20.
It’s also too easy to mess up a rival author’s ratings. During my investigations of some of the authors who should be on the front page (with 20+ 5-star reviews and 1 4-star one) it was one reviewer who’d knocked them off the front page. As reviewers are anonymous, it’s a system made to be corrupted. Especially when the one reviewer is possibly not a reviewer, but an author out to make themselves number 1.
There are signs of this on several of the books that are only being held off the top spots by one bad review. Or two of their books knocked down by the same ‘reviewer’.
I’ve written before about fake reviews on Smashwords, and how Smashwords (when alerted, and after their own investigations, which admittedly can take OVER a year) removed sometimes a hundred of them from authors who proved to be faking their glowing 5 star reviews.
I won’t be number 1 if they change this, by the way – there are several books ahead of mine (currently showing on page 33 of highest rated Sci fi) which will take over the 1 spot. Which i’ll be fine with, because it’s FAIR.
Anyway, currently waiting for action from Smashwords – which won’t be in 2018 but is on their list of Things We Want To Change. So if you think it should be changed, and SOON – vote in the poll, leave a comment, and i’ll make sure Mark Coker gets to hear about it. Smashwords, like all good companies, has excellent communication between the people on the front lines and the boss.
See what i did there? Yep, deliberately being nice, after a bunch of critique. Why? Because deep down, i love Smashwords, i love what they’re trying to do, i love that i get to play publisher without massive personal investment.
I don’t think the review system works – but the rest of the site is getting better all the time.
Polo Shawcross: The Birthday Dragon is 34 on the Most Downloaded Free Epic General Sci Fi (not bad seeing it’s only been free for less than 6 months and there’s books that have been free for 8 or more years in the listings). #38 on the matching Fantasy list.
It would be top of the Highest Rated (aside from the others above me with more 5-star reviews) except for that one 4-star review. It makes it to 18 if i narrow the field to just free epic general sci fi – just a reminder, before that one 4 star review, it was top rated free book on the whole site, all genres.
Mind you, there’s a writer there with 34 reviews, 32 of them 5 star ones, then someone decided to harpoon them, and the last two reviews were 4 star, knocking them even lower down the listings than me. (The more 4 star reviews you get, no matter how many 5 star ones you have, the worse your score gets – yep, that’s REALLY unfair.)
The others are suffering from similar problems – without the good reviews giving them front page exposure, they’re simply invisible. So i have to keep pushing my books here and on Twitter.
Seriously, this is not how i thought being a writer would be.
So – *drumroll*
For your reading delectation – rollicking sexy adventures, laugh-out-loud funny right to the end, and more schemers than you’ve seen since the last ep of Game of Thrones…
Introducing Polo Shawcross, the wannabe Dragon and stoner, the man to whom omnisexual isn’t just a label. And what did he get up to in the vegetable garden with that diplomat’s wife? Polo just wants a quiet life, one with wild women, some men, good weed and food. Something interesting to read. His family however have other ideas, and keep trying to kill him. Genetic engineering was always going to be flawed when you started with humans.
After a drunken binge across a kingdom or two, Polo is in trouble. With a capital A that stands for Army. Weed will keep him sane, but staying alive is trickier. He can save himself, he just has to remember, he’s Dragon, deep down. Dragon were made for fighting. He’ll be fine. Won’t he?
Still alive! Free! Polo gets his perfect life back. Although there’s that king with the crush and the queen who’s off limits. Polo’s trying out diplomacy as a career path, failing to keep secrets or his trousers on, and his family are still trying to kill him. Finally finding the way to change shape is the key to survival.
Polo can escape, but he’ll lose his perfect life as one of the privileged few close to the King. Choices, choices. And despite finally figuring out the shape-changing, he can’t get the people part of life right. People are Dragon and human, and Dragon were made from humans, and that was always going to be a bad idea. Kill or be killed, the law of the jungle comes out of the warzone and to Court. Polo surrenders. Last book in this series, but gives the kick-off for the new Polo Shawcross books to come.
Oh – and the best joke of all? I’ve issued DCMA takedown notices to about 15 people in the last 2 months – yep, people pirating my work and selling it – or giving it away for ‘site dollars’ on various ‘let’s pretend we’re not pirating but we are’ sites. (I found them via Blasty – every writer should belong – and if you’ve made some money, you can invest in their premium version to do the DCMA Takedown notices for you.)
The joke is (and it’s on me), if the people too cheap to spend $2.99 on a book – or those too lazy to realise that the guy getting site dollars for providing my books ‘free’ was simply downloading already free books – had all gone to Smashwords (or Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, etc – everywhere except Amazon), i’d be top of all the sales and download charts. Some of my books are free, but they ARE NOT Creative Commons – nobody except Smashwords and affiliates are allowed to distribute them.
The pirates boasted of 100’s of downloads. Hundreds.I haven’t sold that many in 5 months. I did get that many downloads over the period, but the lost revenue and lost downloads in the first few months of publication can never be recovered. The guy getting site dollars literally put my books up for free download from his site within a week of publication.
However, it’s part of the internet. And even big authors with loads of DRM protection on their books are getting pirated. I know because i saw their books on the same sites that were pirating mine.
So of course, being a good net citizen and a fellow-writer, i made sure i contacted at least one or two major authors (or their publishers) whose work was being illegally sold/given away. I figured even if the pirates didn’t give a shit about me, someone like Simon & Schuster would make them sit up and pay attention. It worked. Those who didn’t immediately remove my books did so once i put the big guys on them.