Sorting out a Web audience

So has been chugging along, which has been interesting for me. I've been a firm believer in half-assing my own online marketing, but while this blog serves multiple purposes (and marketing myself isn't really one of them), that Web site was created for the sole purpose of marketing. So stuff like checking Web stats, which is just an amusing diversion on this site, is actually important there.

Originally, when I made the Web site, I had a certain audience in mind: Myself, when I first discovered the group. There were a lot of Web sites catering to obsessed fans, but I wanted to serve people like me: American native-English speakers who didn't know much about Block B and wanted to find out more.

Well, one of the first things I realized was that, duh, the people who go looking for a Web site called already know quite a bit about Block B. What got me hits was adding to the free mixtape songs available on the Music page. It can be kind of a pain to find those songs, so the more of them I put in one place, the more helpful the site was. (And I probably should keep adding songs, but OMFG THERE ARE SO MANY that editing that page is a major hassle.)

The other thing that I've noticed is that I get hits from people all around the world--Asia, Europe, you name it. That's been the cause of some reflection: If I'm writing for native English speakers, I should feel free to use more-sophisticated language (especially because I don't want to reflect poorly on Block B by sounding like an idiot). But if I'm writing for people who speak or read only a little English as a second language, well, then, I should make things easy on them, right?

I haven't changed the language, but what I have done is to list fan sites that translate the group's Korean Tweets into any other language, not just into English. I didn't do that before, because how the hell would I know if someone is doing a good job translating Korean into Chinese or Arabic or Hungarian or whatever? But given who is coming to the Web site and the response to that particular expansion, clearly it's needed.

Some of the cultural stuff isn't going to change--you'll notice that there is absolutely no mention of how handsome/cute/attractive the guys are (except for Jaehyo, because he was pretty much Miss Korea for a while there, and that's a lot to leave off a resume). This is very uncommon when people talk about Korean music, because looks are considered extremely important in that industry. But 1. I'm 43 years old, for Christ's sake, and 2. as the above statement implies, I'm American, and I know that to Americans it's a huge turn-off when people start talking about how musicians look instead of how they sound. "He's soooo cuuuute!" is basically taken to mean, "I'm 14 years old, horny, stupid, or otherwise entirely without critical judgement!" The American market is really big and really worth aiming for, so I'm not going to cater to the teeny-boppers (who have eyes and can decide that a particular young man is soooo dreamy!!! all on their own) because that will alienate everyone else.

Goat humor

The other night, I watched Tere Bin Laden, a Bollywood comedy about Osama Bin Laden (it came out before he was killed) and the war on terror. It was quite funny in the ways I expected--a lot of dark, absurdist political humor--but it was also funny in a way I didn't expect: namely, there was a lot of goat humor.

What do I mean by goat humor? Well, in that movie there's a TV news report on a peace agreement between the Afghan warlords and the American military. The peace is formalized when a delighted Afghan warlord VERY proudly puts a goat he is carrying into the arms of a somewhat-baffled American general.

The movie is full of this sort of thing--one of the major characters is a chicken farmer who has a genuinely touching emotional connection to his prize rooster. It's a riff on modernization--sure, we Bollywood South Asians fly around the world and are modern media junkies, but we're not too far removed from being dirt farmers whose main source of pride is their livestock.

You see something similar in Stephen Chow's movies--he's from Hong Kong, which is an expensive big city and can seem like a very glamorous place. But Chow's characters are almost always comically poor: In one movie he lives in a literal dump; in another, he lives in a stairwell; in a third, his bed is a piece of cheap lawn furniture (and yes, he does wind up having to romance the girl of his dreams there). There's always that idea that if you scratch a sophisticated and urbane Hong Konger, you'll find someone who used to live in a closet with eight other people and knows full well how to kill a chicken. 

It's interesting to me because it's a type of humor that is largely absent from American comedy nowadays--but that didn't used to be the case. Shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, characters like Ma and Pa Kettle, all of that rube humor dates from a time when urbanization and modernization weren't simply big words but actual experiences in many American lives. Now we're so past it that we think of rural poverty as a Serious Social Problem rather than as the way we used to live--and the way our grandparents, embarrassingly, pretty much still do.

I guess the modern American equivalent are comedies about celebrities and slacker comedies: We might seem glamorous and perfect, but really all we do is sit around on our couches, smoking weed and eating Doritos.

I think I'm getting a migraine....

It must be from the way I've been banging my head against my desk.

OK. Let's back up. Remember how I said that I was switching from listing books directly with Kobo to going through Smashwords, since apparently Kobo can't manage to pay people? (And I did shortly thereafter.)

You might think that I'm a tad oversensitive on this topic, but it is a policy for me: I do not do business with those who make a habit of screwing others over, because I am certain that they will eventually get around to doing the same to me. That's why I pulled out of Google Books back when that was a thing. As I've said before, I regard this policy as major reason I was able to survive as a freelance writer for so many years.

Backing up once again: Remember how Block B was totally screwed by its label? Well, they managed to buy their freedom and are planning to release new music soon. (Yay!)

And what is the guy who ran their old label doing? Giving interviews explaining how he doesn't regret a thing and how everything bad (including the lengthy and no doubt expensive court battle Block B just had with the label he owns) just kind of happened. It just happened. Like the weather. He certainly had nothing to do with it.

Why is this guy giving these kinds of interviews? He's put together a new group. A bunch of people looked at everything that was happening to Block B--not getting paid, having money stolen from their families--and said, "I want that to happen to me!" (And for the record, this guy doesn't run some HUGE company that you simply must sign with. He's had one successful group, and they just ran away as fast as their little feet could carry them!)

Yes, Virginia, apparently a sucker is born every minute.

You don't always get to pick your priorities

It sure felt nice to set a goal and decide that Priority #1 was going to be the novel!

Well, man plans, God laughs. The problem is that Priority #1 has to be the family, and everything's not quite mopped up from the crisis earlier this year. The lasting suckage of the last two family deaths is that Team Responsible Adults is now permanently down two members. My fingers are crossed that the situation can stabilize without radical, time-sucking solutions (like a cross-country move on my part), but who knows? Anyway, it's requiring some added attention now, but hopefully will settle down soon.

Varieties of inertia

Random Life Crap has come up again, but hopefully tomorrow will be better (and the bathroom is almost finished). In the meantime, Kris Rusch has a good post comparing publishing to the music industry. There's an interesting bit about how off-putting it is to consumers when producers refuse to be flexible or adapt. I've whined about how much it annoys me, but none other than Kanye West has provided the data to prove that it can hurt sales:

For his latest album, he did almost no appearances (very important in music), and had no advance streaming [i.e. free samples] or preorders. As a result, his first-week sales were at a career low for West, and went down 80% in the second week.

Meanwhile, Jay Park told me on Facebook yesterday that he's going to release a free single tomorrow. Just saying.

What else is happening? Well, I realized that I never updated my covers on my Facebook page. Then I thought, "I never do anything with that page! It just sits there. I should take it down!" And then I realized that it doesn't matter that I never do anything with that page, it costs me nothing to have it up, and even if only one person uses it to get updates, well, then having it is doing more good than not having it. Which is kind of my entire social-media strategy, such as it is--just have it, but don't drive yourself crazy with it. Even doing it poorly is better than not doing it at all, and takes about the same amount of effort. So I'll just update the graphics later today.

Here we are, in September

OK, it's September 1st already. It looks like things are more or less settling down on the family front (fingers crossed), and I did say that Trials would be coming out in 2014, so...I'm setting a goal for my self (sound trumpets): I want to get the first draft done by the end of the year! Ho!

A quick note

I've got the kids this week, but since it looked like the Science Fiction: First Contact free bestseller list was coming back up, I ran a Facebook ad just to make sure Trang would still be on the front page if and when it did. It did, and Trang didn't lose ranking, so yay.

Not that this solves the dependence issue....

I don't think I've actually sold much of anything on Kobo (impressive how well I keep on top of the business end of things, isn't it?), so I've never had a payment screwed up there, but it sounds like other people have. So I'm probably going to switch to distributing through Smashwords with them, too. If they can't cut a check properly, they're not much use, are they?

Hey, look! Amazon is unreliable!

Ever since that outage two days ago, Amazon's Top 100 Free First Contact Science Fiction list has been showing--well, yesterday it was six books, and right now it's two.

Guess what that means for sales of Trang and Trust? In an amazing coincidence, exactly two days ago they fell off a cliff and died!

As I've mentioned, I've been not paying attention to the business end of things especially hard lately, so yeah, I've set myself up to be a classic case study of what happens when you become excessively dependent on one retailer and one method of marketing. Since I don't actually count on the income from my books to live or to feed my familly, it doesn't really matter, but if I did, I'd really be up a tree right now, you know? (And I was going to make an Illuminati joke, but that link went away! Boo-hoo!)

Why did this happen? I don't know. Is it a deliberate evil plan on evil Amazon's part, or just something that will be fixed by the end of business today? I don't know. More important, it doesn't matter. This is what always happens when you become overly reliant on a single client. Always. Always. Always. Good reason; bad reason; no reason at all--all you need to know is that it will always happen. If the income matters to you, plan accordingly.

As for me, I may very well continue to ignore everything, because (as is often the case after a tragedy) I feel a need to simply my life and focus on priorities. In all honestly, selling a lot of books is just not that important to me, especially if it's going to steal focus away from writing new ones. Any advertising campaign is going to be more cost-effective if there are more books behind it, so there's a business rationale for waiting as well, assuming I want one. Of course, it's not like doing a campaign is hard, so maybe I should suck it up. We'll see.

(Oh, and as for working on the audiobook, there's one little glitch in that plan: Contractors and children are not quiet.)


My stomach went insane again last night (note to self: If you are fighting off a bacterial GI infection, DO NOT eat a box of cookies before you go to bed. That was just stupid), so today my big accomplishment was getting groceries without falling asleep behind the wheel. (Huzzah!) And tomorrow the contractor cometh at the crack of dawn (he's fixing the bathroom--I've decided against replacing the ceiling, BTW, because I'm probably going to sell the house this year or next). And since school is starting, next week I have the kids pretty much every

Anyway, I noticed a surge in traffic to this site from The Passive Voice because ABE linked here about making audiobooks (and click the "audio" tab if that's what you're after), so now I'm thinking...audiobooks...a schedule shot to hell...audiobooks..... I couldn't tolerate the work earlier, but I'm less messed up now, so maybe I should give it a go.

I also noticed that a lot of people are coming here by Googling some combination of "minons" and "piñatas." Should that frighten me?

That dream....

Hugh Howey and Kris Rusch both have some good things to say about that fantasy that traditional publishing is gonna make you a star

Howey notes:

As for the 99.9% [of self-published authors] who won't see my level of success, I would point out that 99.9% of those who submit material to the traditional machine will never see a similar level of success. It isn't like our option is to self-publish OR see how well our novel does fronted out on an endcap in a bookstore. Our options are to self-publish OR spend a few years landing an agent, another year selling the book to a publisher, a year waiting for that book to come out, and then three months spine-out on dwindling bookshelves before you are out of print and nobody cares about you anymore. If you're lucky. Most likely, you'll never even get an agent. Because you aren't Snooki.

Could I agree more? No, I could not. I haven't had anywhere near the success of Howey, but I've come sooooo much further in two-and-a-half years of self-publishing than I did in the previous six years of trying to get published traditionally, it's comical. Hello--I HAVE TWO BOOKS OUT. That's two more books than I ever got out going the tradpub route. You can't sit around and say, "Your books would have sold more with a traditional publisher behind them!" because they never would have existed.

And Rusch points out that the headline earners will always be traditionally-published authors, not because they're necessarily earning the most, but because their information is being made available.

Every year, Forbes tallies up the “World’s Top-Earning Authors” and invariably, they’re all traditionally published. Why?  Well, Forbes explains it to you:

  FORBES bases its estimates on sales data, published figures and information from industry sources between June 2012 and June 2013.

In other words, the only place Forbes gets its data is through traditional media. If you earn a million dollars on your latest indie published title, well, that’s between you and your banker. Amazon doesn’t give out the sales figures, nor would Kobo or any other e-book publisher—because that’s your proprietary information. They don’t do it with traditionally published books either.

That information is released by the publisher. So if you’re an indie published writer, and you’re making tens of millions, the only way to get on the Forbes list is to broadcast your earnings to every damn media outlet you can find. (Which I would not recommend, by the way, since you’ll discover relatives that you never knew you had.)

I'll add that if we see the "world's top-earning authors" suddenly making less money, that won't actually mean that bestselling authors or authors in general are earning less. You can't get a good picture of the whole if you only survey one part.

"I hate Strong Female Characters"

This (via Pam Stucky) is an article I really, really agree with about how unsatisfying Strong Female Characters are.

Now, to clarify, we're not talking about female characters who aren't helpless or female characters who have integrity. We're not really talking about strong female characters at all--at least, not well-written ones.

What we're talking about are Dumb Fantasy Fulfillment Characters, and yes, I happen to find them annoying even when they are carefully crafted to appeal to my demographic.

Why? Because they're 1. Dumb, 2. Violent, and 3. Unrealistic.

My personal nominee for worst Strong Female Character is Dr. Temperance Brennan from the TV show Bones. In the pilot, Dr. Brennan beats the shit out of a TSA agent. Does she get a one-way ticket to Guantánamo? Does she spend the next decade in prison for assaulting a federal law-enforcement official? Does she get into trouble with her employer, the very same federal government that employs the poor slob she just beat the hell out of?

Of course not. Say it with me: She's spunky! 

Oh, violence is so adorable, isn't it? As long as the person who kicked your teeth in to retaliate for you doing your job is female and has big blue eyes, it's just as cute as hugging a widdle baby bunny!

The extra-magical bit about Dr. Brennan is that, although she is anorexic and never, ever exercises, she can easily pound the crap out of people with combat training who are ten times her size. Why? Because she's a martial-arts master! Who never trains! Or exercises! She's just like--and I mean, exactly like--those models who just happen to stay rail-thin without dieting and have shiny hair and perfect skin and it's definitely not because there's a massive team of people working behind the scenes and Photoshopping every picture. She's just perfect, you know? Just Perfect.

The Strong Female Character is a new bottle, but it's the same old wine.

And not for nothing, but the new, seemingly-PC layer of shellac over this particular turd is not really progressive. Basically, it's valorizing violence, with the patronizing and, yes, extremely sexist twist that if a woman is violent, it's OK, because she's just so gosh-darned cute.

Violence is not cute. Where I grew up, everyone, including girls, was expected to fight--and yes, I fought boys, what choice did I have? As an adult I look back and am really shocked (those schools should have been shut down), but at the time, it was just the way of things, and you either fought back or stood there while someone punched you in the mouth.

Unlike the kids who had the misfortune of being small or disabled, I happen to be big enough that I did just fine, but I never liked it. I actually stood there and took the mouth shots on occasion because the other kid wasn't going to be able to cause me serious injury and I really didn't want to mix it up. Even if I won, I lost, so what was the point? I was hugely relieved to leave home and realize that, in other parts of the country, fist fights are not considered an acceptable method of self-expression.

Violence against women is very bad, but what kind of morality goes on to argue that violence by woman is totally cool. (And fun! And spunky! And cute!) But I've seen women just eat up the Strong Female Character thing, claiming that it's "Girl Power." Jesus. If you think power comes from being a thug, I hope you heartily enjoy the empowerment of prison.

Finally, a decent vampire show!

I mentioned being very disappointed in The Vampire Diaries (the first season is OK, but then it goes downhill in a hurry), and I abandoned True Blood after one season. A big part of the problem I had with both shows was how vague and sloppy they got about the supernatural--the only rule that seemed to get followed was, What's convenient for the writer right now?

Since I haven't been good for much lately, I decided to try another vampire show--Vampire Prosecutor. Not a promising title, but hey, it's Korean, so you can't really expect the English to be all that catchy.

Anyway, so far it's been great! Basically, it's a police procedural, and it reminds me a lot of the Lord Darcy stories. As the title suggests, the main character is a prosecutor (and the head of an investigative team) who just so happens to be a vampire (hey, stuff happens sometimes).

Why the show works is that it turns out that being a vampire isn't all that different from being a person, except for the whole pesky blood-lust thing. (And apparently once you start drinking blood out of people, you don't stop, so he has to keep that in check.) The vampire is fast and strong, but he's not unkillable--he takes a knife to the gut at one point and almost dies. He can go out in the sun, enter houses without permission, and cross water; he can't brainwash people, change form, or control animals.

What are his powers? Well, the vampire can smell blood, which is very helpful in his line of work. If he vamps out at the scene of a violent death, he gets flashes of how that death happened. If he drinks the blood of the dead person, he can see what they saw as they died--and then he experiences the pain of dying, which kind of sucks.

The visions can be helpful, or they can be useless (so, he just experienced the pain of dying for no reason--oops), or they can be totally misleading. Even when they're helpful, they cause problems--there's one other person on the investigative team who knows that this guy's a vampire, but everyone else is getting increasingly irritated by these seemingly-random decisions to stop investigating Viable Suspect A and to start investigating Apparent Dead End B. (And sometimes their skepticism is totally warranted, because sometimes the visions are misleading!)

Anyway, it's a great example of the benefits of putting limits and rules on magic. It also helps that, so far, there hasn't been the spread of supernatural beings that afflicted Vampire Diaries and True Blood--there are vampires, and that's it. Everything else is just normal human agency.

What's up with me?

It's been a few days of stomachache, poor sleep, and generally feeling crappy. It finally occurred to me today that it all just might be related to that food poisoning earlier this week--honestly, I'm so much slower and dumber when I haven't slept, it's terrifying. Anyway, I've started in on the probiotics and hopefully will be at 100% soon.