Memorial Day 2015 and rolling a natural 1

I’ve cried so much lately, and I don’t know why.

At least, that’s what I tell my wife while I’m crying, that I don’t know why.

I might know why. We might know why. Our most recent move and everything that has accompanied it has entirely overwhelmed me.

**

There was a point at very early in my career where I was given lots of responsibility over a small company’s supply chain. I had very little idea about what I was doing, what I was supposed to be doing, what the company expected me to accomplish, how much the work was supposed to cost, or how much they expected me to spend. I told them during the interview that I wasn’t the right man for the job, but maybe spending an entry-level salary to power a venture that hadn’t proved itself yet seemed like the most frugal course: I was young, resourceful, somewhat knowledgable, and discontent with current industry practices. Anyway, it worked out well.

A metaphor for that early job was that they hired me to tread water in an above-ground pool that had already filled to overflowing from a garden hose. My job was to stop the spillage and drain the pool without turning off the hose. As I treaded water and poked holes in the side (first through process then through building a team to execute the process), someone would sometimes come by and say, “Look, he’s just treading water!” or “Look! He’s just poking holes in the sides of our pool!” But my boss never listened, and I kept at it as best I could, and eventually I had poked enough holes in it that it drained faster than it filled. After three years I stood on the floor, and though the hose kept pumping, the holes kept draining, and with no plans to implement a larger hose or for the holes to seal up, I called my work done and left.

My next role was just as vague and entrepreneurial: the new company had work to do, and it wasn’t getting done, and they needed someone to figure out what work wasn’t getting done, how to get it done, and then to do it. I did that for a while and succeeded at it; I was treading water again, but I’d been in that position before, so I defined and executed a strategy. Just like at the first company, I felt that if I were ever going to drain the pool completely and keep it drained, then I needed a team, but when push came to shove they refused.

Right in the context of their refusal, another offer presented itself that included more responsibility, more money, and the resources to tackle all issues at hand. I took it.

Let it be said that all red flags should be paid attention to for any offer dropping out of the sky: This job’s vagueness isn’t like a vagueness I have solved before; it’s like trying to contain the Ganges in a pint glass. I dove from a platform into and no follow-through about resources or bandwidth to implement change. It didn’t help that there were one or two rock-thrower colleagues, too, who were calling out from the sidelines about how “The pool’s still overflowing, the pool’s still overflowing!” (Note: Nothing makes me so anxious as people calling out my failures in public even when my failures aren’t really failures at all.),

That said, my anxiety may have just have been projection. Yes, colleagues continually asks me to do “better”, though their definitions of the term were always vague at best. Yes, I’m pretty sure I heard annoyance and doubt in my boss’s voice when she mentioned that her boss hoped that I would be able to take over her role in a few months. Yes, I’m pretty sure I saw doubt in my boss’s boss’s face when he looked at me as we passed by each other in the hallway. Yes, I didn’t know how to solve their problems without follow-through on their promise of new resources. Yes, this all made me feel extraordinarily anxious. I don’t know whether it comprised the tapestry I saw in my mind, but I suspect so, and I carried that heavy load of anxiety all the time.

Further, the move (from the East Bay to Marin) was expensive, and we borrowed money from my parents to make it happen, and now we live in this old house (which Ashley adores) with a live-in landlord who seems to dislike everything about us from the fact that we’re alive to the fact that we share a trash can. It’s just another form of oversight, another form of someone looking at me the jeering, and I’m tired of that right now. (Jeering has always been an act with which I have the least tolerance, and my response to it often is to cry. In public. With hot shame.)

On the other hand, our new home is so beautiful that Ashley and I have picked up meditating. Three days now (and I hope for many more to come) we’ve gone out to the patio and listened to her little chimes ding, quieting the whole valley below, and thought quietly for a time. Memorial Day morning felt pretty routine: I breathed in and thought as my wife’s book suggested, “I am in this moment.” I breathed out and thought as the book suggested, “This is a beautiful moment.” I opened or closed my eyes as my instincts suggested. I breathed and thought and breathed and got distracted by work and checked myself and breathed and thought and got distracted by how middle-classy house-wifey my adopted mantra seemed and checked myself and breathed and thought and breathed and thought and watched as Ashley checked the time on her phone and breathed and thought and breathed and listened as she chimed her bells to close the session, and I breathed again. Then a lightly violent buzzing filled my head, and I flinched away to my left, and there to my right was a red-headed hummingbird. And I looked at it in wonder and didn’t want to say anything for fear of scaring it away and didn’t want to look at Ashley to miss it fly away. And I asked her, “Do you see it?” and she said “Yes,” and I turned to look and see if she knew what it was, and she was looking where I’d been looking, and when I turned back it had already flown away. I cried. I got frustrated with myself for crying, and I told Ashley I didn’t know why I was crying, and she consoled me and said it was OK, and then we got up and went inside, and she packed up and left for work, and I worked from home on Memorial Day, and I worked on Memorial Day while attempting to write this piece about why I’m crying.

We began meditating three days ago because I started crying regularly four days ago.

The hummingbird struck me with it’s beauty, and that’s not the first time this neighborhood has met my anxiety with beauty. The other day as Ashley and I left our house to go to work, I began complaining about my new job, and Ashley said that even if I lost the job, she’d rather be bankrupt here than rich anywhere else, and as we broke the topmost step heading from our apartment to our car, we spotted two three-point bucks standing in the private road our house is on, and they looked at us, and we approached them, and they walked away slowly without fear, turning to us on occasion like symbols promising that our lives are protected by providence. They watched us get in our car and drive away to work, and I promptly forgot them in the busyness and stress of the new office, but I remembered them today as I watched the hovering hummingbird, and I felt at peace and protected. And then I got up and got on with my day, and I felt immediately anxious again. And this is the cycle of my days lately.

So I cry due to overwhelming anxiety about the lack of definition and ability to succeed at my new job. I cry due to its burden and having to carry its weight all the time. I cry at the beauty of our new place and the promise it offers that all my anxiety is misplaced. I breathe deep and try to find a sense of peace, and I find it, and then I stand up and immediately lose it. I’m exhausted after only six weeks. I do think I’m sorely in need of a break. But I only got some of a break yesterday, and I’ll only get some of a break today, and work will resume tomorrow.

Hopefully I’ll find a way to manage it all. And if I don’t, my wife will still love me and my parents will still care for me (not that I want to rely on them; I am an adult after all.). But I want to succeed at work and in general, and I want to be considered a success, and I want to protect and care for my wife. I want to be a man of means and of good conscience. I don’t want to sit at a bench and cry like my father did when he got laid off the second time in two years, not knowing how he would provide for his well-provided-for family.

Therefore I somehow find that I need to rediscover myself. I’m not sure how I lost an emotional knowledge of myself along the way, but I’m also pleased by at least one of the surprises I gave myself: The more anxious I become, the more I rely on Ashley and the more I appreciate her. Since the move, I have been drawn to her in a way that I never felt drawn before. She is acting as a support, as a bulwark against the world, as a remind that life is good and the anxiety I have is made by myself. Her support of me is what allows me to cry, is what pushes me to cry. And I love her dearly for that.

In my younger years, whenever I became anxious I would push away those closest to me. This was described to me once as a control issue: If I couldn’t change the thing that was bothering me, then I would change something else just to make me feel like I was improving something. Of course, the net result was usually just a change and not always an improvement, but that’s not the point. Change itself is the point.

There are two particular times I can remember that I participated in this behavior:

Christina and I were having a bad time of it in college. It was our first stint, sophomore year, and we were struggling through finals. Having her around was a distraction for me. (I considered her and masturbation to be significant distractions for years.) For Christmas break, Christina was going back to Houston, where she knew she’d see her ex Billy, and I think she had an instinct that if we didn’t break up she would cheat on me. I had an instinct, too, that I would rather be single in Dallas than attached to some far-away girl, and so between being annoyed at the distraction of her and the binding agreement of her, I took the offer when it appeared.

(Christina did hook up with Billy, she told me later, though I’ll never know whether they were having sex at that point or not, not that it matters much. I suspect so; I suspect she lied to me about her virginity, like so many other topics. What I know is that she told me she was a virgin but that she had no maidenhead and bled none our first time. I think maybe she liked having boys to string along, and she strung him and me along, and we liked it, and we let her.)

(I put a night together for Justin before he left: Ashley Walker was interested in a boy she knew going off to be a man, and Holly Hood joined in for the adventure, so the evening was something like a double date but altogether more exciting. Something about good a Texan Christian girl and me wearing a purple fluffy thong; it was good a good night to be single.)

Also near Christmas, when I moved to Boston in 2006, I was in a very distressing long-distance relationship with Sarah (quiet distress: her ignoring me seemed like an aspect of the long-distance factor of our relationship at the time), attending my night-time courses in Emerson’s Graduate Certificate in Book Publishing, and working another awful, awful, anxiety-riddled job. I left home woke up to the sound of my roommate brushing his teeth and clearing his throat around 6am, and I would shower and take Kalli for her little walk around the property, and then I would leave the house for work and school and not return until 10pm or so, at which point I would jog Kalli to the closest dog park about a mile away, come home and experience the cutting pain of the fascitis I was tempting–sometimes I would lay in bed and massage my foot for a good twenty minutes while moaning in pain–and fall asleep on the phone to a wordless Sarah doing her homework. At some point I broke, and I felt that something had to change, and I called my father and begged him to help me get Kalli back home so I could give her to Steve’s parents, who had offered to keep her rather than me taking her to Boston with me. To my lasting pleasure, such tormented gnashing lead to nothing, and I kept Kalli–her perfection, God rest her soul–to the end of her days. Osteosarcoma, poor thing, my great love.

So there: two times I casted about in distress, and two times I pushed my greatest joys (relevant to the time) away.

I am happy to say that is not my habit today. Today, every ounce of new pressure I feel, the more closely I cling to my wife. I feel compelled to tell her of my love a few times a day, where at other more normalized points in our relationship I was so engaged in my work that I barely gave her a thought except when during breaks. Between boredom at work and Kalli’s death and the pitbulls at home, between busy tourist-filled dirtiness of the city and the barbed wire view from our home, I felt pretty miserable, and I spent more of my time wondering about myself and what I might do than my wife and what I might do for her.

Now, though, I reach out to my wife almost hourly. Also, I call my family weekly, when I have never felt particularly compelled to call them before. I feel guilty with my wife when I change our plans around my work’s demands. I feel guilty with my parents when all I do is talk with them about my job and its issues and my anxiety. Even though this behavior may be entirely selfish from me, it’s different (and less destructive) than how I behaved before, and while I could wallow in the guilt of my selfishness, I’m fascinated by the change in my behavior.

I’m thinking now that instead of just reaching out to my wife with “I love you”s, which I know she adores, I should put more thought and effort into my little messages. That’s another way in which I’ve changed: the amount of effort I spend on courting has never matched the fervent energy I gave to Christina, and like my attempt to offload Kalli, it’s one of the burdens I carry dangling from its hook in my heart.

**

One day in the week following having written this essay, Ashley and I meditated and I prayed to Ganesha to remove obstacles from my path, and I thanked Mount Tam for letting us live in Marin. I then went to the job, and when I sat in my seat, my face flushed, and I began to sweat, and my heart drummed. Then my anxieties were confirmed in full, and I quit within the day. (Thank you, Ganesha. Thank you, thank you, thank you.) One way or another, I was not the man for the job. I feel very fortunate to be able to recognize that and be able to act on the knowledge.

Also, I changed the mantra from Ashley’s book: I now inhale and think “I am in this moment,” and exhale and think “I am of this moment.” Without the primary source of anxiety, meditation comes easier and its effects are less fleeting.

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Filed under Features, Personal essay, Professional ambitions, Writing, YM&S

Christina, a terror deep in my heart

The way that I met Christina was a total fluke, like most of the best things in life are. Sometime in the fall first semester of my sophomore year at Baylor Jennie and I had just broken up, but she was committed to remaining friends (she was still a freshman, and I was her best friend on campus apart from her roommate Rose) and had decided that we and my next door neighbor Jay and his girlfriend Brandy should all go to a movie together. Rose was invited but wouldn’t attend; she didn’t like me very much, or she was busy that night, or both. I dreaded what seemed essentially like a double date, so I began inviting everybody and anybody without any sort of filter.

The person I was most excited about having invited was a guy named Grayson. He was handsome and smart, built like a linebacker and as quick to answer classroom silence (with the correct answer, no less) as me–just the sort of person I’d like to know. We were taking the BIC’s Social World I class together, which meant every Tuesday and Thursday we would meet for an hour and a half in one of Tidwell’s old classrooms, and this was before my switch to the Great Texts program so I was only so acquainted with the building at the time. From outside it had the undeniable look of a phallus with a transept as long as the central tower was tall, meaning it had two bulbous two-story wings skirting a five-floor tower. I believe we would have met in the west wing, second floor.

I asked Grayson to the movie, and he said yes, and I smiled and asked a few of the people around us if they’d like to come too, and Christina said yes. I hadn’t noticed her much before, but she had an easy (if small) smile and straight brown hair draping vibrant brown eyes, and her skin had an almost iridescent glow. I believe she sat behind Grayson a row. I accepted, and she wrote her number on the inside cover of my Republic paperback, and we coordinated.

Of all the people who accepted my movie invitation, only Christina actually attended. She showed up at the doorstep of my shitty, wood-panneled, straight out of the 70s apartment with an awkward smile to spend the evening with a group of people she’d never met before, one of whom was my very recent ex-girlfriend who may or may not have been trying to keep the relationship alive.

We clearly got along, Christina and I, laughing and talking and getting to know each other, mimicking all the movement of a first date in front of Jennie, Jay, and Brandy, who had to content themselves to together playing third wheel. I was so interested in this new person and the sweet sound of her laugh and the softness of her hair that I didn’t pay my friends any mind. After the movie, Jennie went home in a huff–she wouldn’t forgive me for weeks–and Brandy went home at some point, which left just me, Christina, and Jay in my living room getting to know each other.

The movie we had gone to see was The Ring. I had never particularly liked horror–one of my childhood memories is my parents’ second honeymoon, when they left my sister and I at home with a live-in babysitter who made me watch Witches and screamed at me very like a witch every time something scary happened; I also remember the shivering fear I felt during Arachnophobia–so I didn’t pay it much mind at the time except to feel a few jitters under my skin and to act brave in front of this girl I was beginning to desperately want to befriend. Little did I know that I had just bought myself three years of nightmare fodder.

When I woke up on my couch in the morning, Christina and Jay were both gone. I must have fallen asleep while we were all still chatting, and they left me to go to their homes and sleep. I yawned and stretched and prepared to wake up, and then my TV turned on–

To static. Loud white noise filled the room.

I blinked at the TV for a minute and looked around the couch for a remote before remembering I didn’t have one. I squinted at the TV for a moment, remembering next the drowned girl crawling and the water spilling out of TV screens before each murder in The Ring. Ghosts aren’t real, I chided myself. This is just some fluke. I got up and went and turned the TV off, shrugging. I walked to the kitchen wondering whether I had woken up to the TV and its noise. Maybe Jay and Christina had tried to watch some cable and screwed up the TV settings before they left for the evening and just hadn’t turned it off. I shrugged again.

When I cracked open my fridge to grab some breakfast, the white noise filled my apartment again. I poked my head around the corner to see the TV playing static. I squinted suspiciously at the TV again, trying to figure out how it had turned back on. I resolved: I’ll turn off this TV again and stand a few feet back for a minute–in case of groping, ghostly arms looking to pierce me or drag me down to hell–and if it turns back on again, I’m fucking bolting. Fuck whether ghosts aren’t real or not.

So I walked up to it and I turned it off again. I stepped back out of arm’s reach of the TV. I waited.

It turned on. I bolted.

Outside, Christina and Jay had begun to laugh big belly laughs. I heard them before I had opened to door of my apartment. When I got outside, I saw Jay crouched under my living room window with a smart remote in his hand, which he and I had programmed to my TV the week before. Christina looked at me somewhat sheepishly. I suppose from my current vantage she was waiting for my reaction as a sort of social test, to see whether I had a sense of humor or would react violently or whatever she was waiting for. At the time, it seemed like an innocent reaction to their perfectly played prank. I cracked a smile, and I took a deep breath, and I said with a nod, “Good one.” Then we packed up and went to Denny’s.

I had only had one recurring nightmare before: My (unnamed, anonymous) friends were trapped on a docked submarine with a green-faced witch chasing them. I entered the submarine to help them escape, but all I found was the terror of long corridors and outstretched, sharp-nailed hands. I couldn’t help anyone, and the witch pursued me (and my friends?) around the submarine until it left dock, and submerged, and we were all trapped together forever. Sometimes my mother would wake me up before the witch caught me; sometimes I would wake up with a gasp as the hand finally stretched for a grab I couldn’t escape. I dreamt this maybe every few months between eleven and thirteen; I remember it occurred one morning before my family attended a regular Custer Road United Methodist service, and we only attended those for a year or two.

The witch from the submarine never permeated my waking life the way the drowned girl of The Ring came to. I saw her bloated rotting hand every time I closed my eyes in the shower. Sometimes in the dark of night before bed, I could see her silhouetted against the textured plaster of my bedroom. When Christina and I would take one of our cars and drive out into the darkness of a Texas night to kiss and fondle and chat under the stars, sometimes Christina’s straight brown hair would drape around her face to shadow or cover her features, and fear would stab my heart, and I would remind myself to breathe, that I shouldn’t fear a movie, that Christina and I were in love and her kiss and her hand softly resting on my chest was the fuel of my life. After I admitted my fear to her–with a laugh, pure posturing and silliness–Christina would climb on top of me in bed and move her hair into her face and lean over me, and the drape of it would tickle my cheeks, and always I found this electric, though sometimes with endearment and sometimes with fear.

I never dreamed again of the submarine witch. Instead, it became a drowned girl with damp brown hair for a face standing in the expansive lawn of some autumnal manse, brown leaves covering the grass between the road and the half-circle gravel driveway. She would stand there in the lawn and watch me from behind her hair, and I would bask in the utter terror of her presence, and leaves would rustle peacefully around us. Every few months I had that dream, me and The Ring’s ghost standing under fall skies in the lawn of some wealthy house.

Years passed before these dreams broke, before I could close my eyes in the shower without succumbing to a dreadly suspicion and opening my eyes to suds to make sure no girl had appeared in my tub. Still more years had to pass before I could think of Christina outside the scope of sheer dread. I didn’t (and don’t) think of her this way often, but as an introduction: It has been so difficult for my to write about college because behind this funny circumstance is a nugget of terrible truth: I fear that I lost happiness in college, that I sold it for a few tragic months, that I lost my ability to engage and empathize, which had always defined my idealism, itself my defining quality. What shell of a man must I be to lack those things today, and how (or even did I) lost myself so thoroughly along the way?

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

Snapshot: Ashley and I looking something like adults, circa 2014

We’re looking at Rego Park/Forest Hills/Kew Gardens in Queens, which is one extended neighborhood with Forest Hills definitely being the Queen Bee of the bunch, and at Prospect Park South/Flatbush – Ditmas Park in Brooklyn.
For context, because I felt inspired to write it, and inspiration comes slim these tired days:
Recently, Ashley and I have been arguing about whether we should have a couch in our apartment. To her, a couch is part of the basic definition of a home. To me, we have two big dogs and a cat that pees on couches when it feels threatened, which with two bigs dogs in the house is… often? So we argued, and we go to this point: She is willing to stipulate that everything I’ve said is absolutely correct and a good justification for not having a couch, but she just can’t wrap her mind around it. A home without a couch isn’t a home, period.
So I thought about this some over the last week. I actively refused to go couch shopping with her and told her I might not even help her bring it inside; that’s how set I was against it. She went shopping on her own and considered everything I had said to her against a new couch and managed to get some lightweight modular thing–our (I think) fourth couch in four months–that addressed most of my concerns about moving it and disposability, etc. Bottom line: She’s having a fucking couch in her house, the end.
Well, of course her definition of “home” doesn’t end there. Really, it all reaches back to Florida: Ashley wants a couch because her mom had a couch. Ashley wants a clean home because her mom has a clean home. Ashley wants other things she had as a child in Florida, and she won’t be happy as an adult or potential mother until she has them: particularly, a lawn, a garden, a neighborhood network. (Fortunately, I think, she overlooks a pool and mosquito netting….)
Beyond my own psychological understanding of Ashley as a person, we had all of these things in Savin Hill, our second apartment in Boston, which was the top 2/3s of a two-family home and also represents Ashley’s favorite period of our relationship. I was unemployed and unemployable as an MFA student, and she was working full-time at Mass-General Hospital under an abusive boss and attending an intensive French course at UMass every night, but the summer was gorgeous and we went on bike rides along the beach, and the streets were tree-lined, and the landlord’s father kept a tomato patch in the side garden, and we had Kalli and she was so happy and rein-free, contrasted against the near-constant rein we had to keep on her in Jersey just because we don’t have a lawn or isolated tree-lined streets or convenient access to a beach or all the other Savin Hill perks.
So, being her husband and life-love, I’ve set out to give her those things. I want to give her all the things she wants, even when she doesn’t know how to ask for them. If I have to change cities to do it, then so be it. But maybe, just maybe, these neighborhoods will work for her, or at least buy me another 2-5 years in New York before she’s really over it. All I know for certain is that as nice as Jersey City is for city life, she’s over it, and to be honest, I am, too. I, myself, want to take my leash off and bask in some tree-shade.
​​
Yeah, Historic Downtown is nice. It’s about as nice as you can get and still have what we think of as city life. But I’m just a good old Southern boy, and Ashley is a good old Southern girl, and all we really want is grass under our feet and dirt in our nails and happy dogs. If I can find that in a suburban neighborhood in the city, then I’ll happily give it to Ashley and take it for myself.

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Filed under Personal essay, Writing

How to edit Word attachments from Gmail in Google Drive

I’m a Google advocate. I love Android and Gapps. I love Samsung devices, and ripping off their OEM Android and sideloading custom ROMs. (Here’s looking at you, Carbon!) But there’s one thing I really need Google to get right where they’ve been letting me down, and that’s content drafting. I’ve briefly written about it before, but a recent assistance-request has dredged up the topic again. Here it is, in case it should prove helpful to you:

I downloaded an attachment from Gmail to Drive, and then clicked “Show in Drive”. It opens a tab to view, but I can’t edit the document. Edit is an option in the menu, but I can only highlight text. So I downloaded it to copy and paste a section – any tips? I searched help edit, but nothing applied…in internet explorer; maybe need to reinstall chrome.

Bad Google.

Google Drive can’t actually edit Word documents; it has to convert them into Google Doc format and then re-convert them to Word. You, the user, don’t need to worry about this except insofar as that’s why you can’t edit the saved Word file.

Once you’ve saved the document to Drive and selected “Show in Drive”, instead of clicking on the file name to open it (which will open it in the Google Drive Viewer, a fairly useless app), click the checkmark next to the file name. Then click on the “More” button in the toolbar at the top and select Open With -> Google Docs. This will convert the document to an editable Google doc and save it as a Google doc, so when you go back to your Google Drive list you’ll see two files, the Word file and the Google Doc. You can delete the Word file whenever you want; it will become outdated the moment you edit the Google Doc file.

Make any edits you want to the Google Doc, and when you’re finished, select File -> Download as -> Microsoft Word (.docx). The updated DOCX will download, and you can send that as an attachment in Gmail. You could also share the file through Google Drive, but I’ve found this annoys most Office users.

I hope this helps.

Another option that would avoid having a redundant Word file would be to download the attachments from Gmail to your hard drive and then upload the document from your hard drive to Google Drive. In order to avoid the redundant file, make sure “Convert documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and drawings to the corresponding Google Docs format” is selected. A pop-up with this option should load when you attempt to upload the file(s), but if it does not, navigate from the Google Drive home screen to Settings -> Upload Settings. In this menu, select either “Convert documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and drawings to the corresponding Google Docs format” to convert all uploads automatically or “Confirm settings before each upload” to select each time you upload a new file through the web interface.

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Filed under Technical, Writing

Why anyone can succeed at publishing, or why publishing is failing

Just an abstract scenario, because I don’t want to get anyone (or myself) in trouble:

Publisher owns print rights to backlist title. Publisher does not promote said title, resting on the title either selling well on its own or rotting. Publisher has first dibs at electronic rights, fumbles them with a bad offer. Other publisher secures e-rights by offering a competitive deal. New publisher promotes same backlist title, blows it out of the water. Promoting ebook leads to collateral sales of pbook; also gets mentioned in industry news as a huge success. First publisher gets upset about accidentally succeeding, even to a minimal degree, calls the agent that represents the title, and complains about how first publisher didn’t get the ebook rights.

Yes, this really happened, like right just now, today.

Hint, first publisher: YOU DIDN’T GET THE EBOOK RIGHTS BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T PROMOTING THE TITLE AND DIDN’T OFFER FAIR ROYALTIES. Now quit harassing other people for your bad business practices and get back to work, such as it is.

Also, as a note, the phone call from the agency at your bequest to ask why their title was doing noteworthily well led to new business for us. So thanks, I guess.

**

On all sides, publishers are uncompetitive. They offer bad deals to their producers, pay too much for the internal services they offer to secure those producers, and then can’t figure out how to make peace with their retailers, any retailer. Only one of these facts has been in the news for the last few years, but make no mistake, all three are true.

These facts are the exact crazy-person reasons that makes me think anyone with the slightest business sense can get ahead in this industry, and also, why publishing is going down the shitter.

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Filed under Criticism, Publishing

Amazon.com: Tags Customers Associate with This Product

The “tags” that appear on Amazon product pages are user-generated tags and can be as helpful or spiteful as any user comment. Publishers and individual authors have no control over what tags customers associate with any given product.

The best practice one can do, if one is so inclined, is to navigate to the “Tags Customers Associate with This Product” section of the page and select ONLY the tags that are true or beneficial. This will weigh the selected tags heavier against the malicious tags.

To be frank, if this were going to have any significant impact one way or another, it would require thousands of selections instead of ones or dozens, and recommending this course of action to your authors would probably help them to feel more in control but otherwise waste their time. In fact, the most memorable use of this feature was to flag books as “DRMd” or “DRM-free” to help tech-savvy customers make purchases that reflect their ethical values. People do still flag products this way, but I haven’t known a massive push on this front for years. This makes me feel relatively certain that the impact of user-generated tags on search functionality and product discoverability is minimal.

These user-generated tags are in no way related to the tags publishers associate with their products at submission, which will always play the primary role in search functionality and product discovery. It is likely that your publisher has either good or good enough practices in place for their own distributions, but you may always query your editor about what metadata they’re associating with your book. Like most decisions, however, I would not recommend using your marketing instincts to try any correct their decisions; instead, consult with someone who knows about SEO before reacting to your publisher’s information. Being informed instead of reactive will help everyone involved.

 

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Filed under Technical

The fate of indices in an ebook world

Indices are a problem across ebooks. Page numbers are no longer relevant in a digital space, which in itself makes 90% of an index immediately useless. To address this problem in books with simple indices (one page reference per item), publishers sometimes delete the page number and attempt to link the item to its corresponding reference (links being the digital equivalent to page numbers: faster, but not smarter). Creating these links is manual work that is both expensive and prone to error.

The more complicated the index, the more complicated the solutions to translate it for digital use. For example, the indices often contain multiple page references per item. Should publishers keep the page numbers as a means of having individual items to link to each particular reference, knowing that page numbers no longer apply? Regardless of what solution is reached here, since the linking is manual work, the more complicated the task becomes, the more expensive and the more prone to error the task becomes.

To be honest, of course, creating a digital index is not any more manual or prone to labor than creating a physical index, but digital publishing, though booming, is nowhere near the point of paying the sums of money that index experts (fairly) demand, and the basic reading experience that current devices aim for actually preempt putting anything close to this effort into a product. (Tablet publishing is another beast, perhaps to come to bear, but perhaps not, consider my solution below.) Therefore, we rely on the same companies to whom we outsource our digitization work, which itself even poses problems in titles that contain only narrative text and share the same escalating problems of complexity.

To respond to the index problem, I recommend implementing a solution to aggressively remove all indices from all titles. You may not feel like this is a perfect solution for your books, but let me offer the primary positive reason for which we made this decision.

All ebook readers (devices, apps, and other instances) have search functionality. Readers will have varying comfort levels searching for important terms, trained by their use of Google and other search engines. The solution is not perfect but is actually more likely to return what the user was looking for than an index, especially when you consider the human error that goes into making the digital index.

The ability to search for relevant terms is synonymous with a level of comfort with technology assumed in owning an e-reading device and provides an opportunity to improve reader experience without notifying them that a more frustrating option (a digital index) could also have been available.

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Filed under Criticism, Publishing