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Don’t Be Evil: The Other Side of the Tech Industry

Another one of my articles published on Impakter:

HOW TO ADDRESS THE TECH WORLD’S MORAL BLINDNESS

Who leads the tech world and what is their impact on the economy? Put together two remarkable statistics:

  • Of the ten richest men in America, only three are not tech billionaires: Warren Buffett and the Koch brothers;
  • Tech firms represent 21% of the 500 largest American firms, yet they employ only 3% of the workforce (Guardian, 2017);

and you get an exact description of the New Golden Age.

We’ve moved from the Robber Barons of the 1900s to the tech billionaires of the 2000s. Same concentration of wealth, same political and economic power, same income inequality, same moral blindness – with one big difference that hurts the working class: compared to the Robber Barons and the manufacturing giants of the 1950s, they create very few jobs.

Worse: The ‘frightful fives’ – Apple, Google (Alphabet), Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook, as noted by the New York Times’ columnist Farhad Manjoo –  are gobbling up start-ups, buying out the most successful rather than allowing healthy competition to develop. This puts the very process of innovation at risk. Instagram, WhatsApp, DeepMind are some of the better-known examples.

The rise of tech is affecting not just the economy, but our politics and culture too, twisting and straining the moral fibre of our society. In his 2016 speech at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Obama somberly noted that “technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us”. And he reminded us that “the scientific revolution that led to the splitting of the atom requires a moral revolution as well.”

The moral revolution certainly has not arrived in Trump’s America, focused for now on its America First agenda, denying climate change and trying to rebuild the coal-based manufacturing of the 1950s instead of addressing the real challenges of the future. Challenges that stem from tech industry AI products, robots and supercomputers, displacing jobs and ruining the middle and lower classes.

Tax havens are a big part of the story.

After the Panama Papers, we now have the scandal of another offshore firm, the Appleby files. Among Appleby’s long list of ultra-rich clients, including 31,000 Americans, we find a range of businessmen, pop stars and royals, including George Soros, the financier and philanthropist, Carl Icahn, the equity investor, Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, Madonna, Bono and even (for the first time) Queen Elizabeth II.

Inevitably, we find tech titans like Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

IN THE PHOTO: FROM LEFT TO RIGHT, PAUL G. ALLEN, GEORGE SOROS, BONO AND QUEEN ELIZABETH. SOURCE: COLLAGE FROM PHOTOS IN WIKIMEDIA COMMONS 

 

While bashing the tech industry on moral grounds has become fashionable, how useful it is in curbing it is debatable. After all, the tech industry has changed our lives, sometimes for the worse, to be sure, but also for the better. And the industry has many friends and supporters, not to mention ample lobbying power both in Washington and Brussels. And so long as the industry is making money, criticism, however right and morally grounded, will fall on deaf ears.

There are other ways to curb the tech industry and ensure it becomes a responsible citizen.

To read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Free Book Promotions Are Not What They Used to Be – Lessons Learned and Tips for Success

A lot of people won’t go free with their books, they think it’s degrading. They’ve worked hard, sometimes for years (I know I have) and it just breaks you inside to give away the result of your sweat and tears for nothing.

Plus we all know that anything not paid for is not taken into consideration. It hurts to give your baby away and it’s not even appreciated. A double whammy!

So why do it at all? Three reasons:

1. On Amazon, it helps to populate  that screen “Other Customers Also Bought” with books similar to yours – and therefore, your own book is also on someone else’s book page and gets additional exposure. And for indies, Amazon matters, it’s the place where they sell most of their books.

2. If successful – but you need to have 10,000 downloads and over – it helps to draw attention to your book and earns you bragging points that you can use with an eventual publisher or a literary agent if you happen to be looking for one.

3. There may be possible ties between Book Promotions (0.99 cents and free) and reviews, jumpstarting a wave of reviews on your book.  That can work into a huge breakthrough. More about that later.

As those who follow me here know, I did my own free book campaign last week, for Gateway to Forever, from 4 to 8 November and I wanted to share with you how it went. Compared to 2 years ago, the campaign was a dismal failure: the number of downloads was 75% lower ! I’m not kidding, the number was one fourth of what is used to be.

Conclusion? The market is obviously saturated, people have their e-readers bursting with books – so many that it is likely they will never get around to reading them.

Or will they?

There is a silver lining: since fewer free books are downloaded now than in the past, it means that the people who add them in their e-readers actually mean to read them!

Noteworthy is veteran, best-selling author Elizabeth Spann Craig ‘s opinion in this regard. This is what she recently wrote on her blog:

The only thing I’ve done with my self-pubbed books to garner reviews is to run sales.  I didn’t advertise the sales in any way…not on my blog, newsletter, Twitter, Facebook…nothing.  I just ran them.  The free promos tend to garner more reviews than the $.99 promos.
Pros with this approach are that your book finds its way into the hands of new readers.  Many of these readers tend to write reviews (expect them usually a month or so following the sale).  It’s free, unless you’re counting the cost of the lost sales (I like to think of that loss as a form of unofficial advertising). I put books out for free by making them free on Smashwords and then Amazon price matches.
The only con with this is that you sometimes hook readers who don’t read your genre and, perhaps, don’t even like your genre. They will sometimes write reviews too.   I think that most readers are savvy enough to realize that these types of reviewers simply don’t care for those types of books.
I got in touch with her and asked her whether she could illustrate this experience with some specific examples and here is what she said:
Hi Claude–Free absolutely worked better a couple of years ago than it does now…no doubt about it.
It usually takes about a month, I’ve noticed, although some speedy readers will leave them sooner.
As with everything in this business (heaving a big sigh here) there is not enough data on what works so my analyses on what works have been purely observational.
Here’s the evidence I’m working with (and I’ll use a recent example, since it’s freshest in my mind). The book that has been free most frequently is Dyeing Shame and it’s at 617 reviews right now. I’d “gone off” free mentally for a while last year (read a bunch of anti-free blog posts that influenced me) and I never put a 2013 release, “Death at a Drop-in,” out as free…it had only 54 reviews (which is pretty staggeringly low for that series).

Realizing I needed to do something (it was selling poorly), I decided in mid-October to run a free promo on it.

Now it has 27 more reviews (already…although I’m expecting more for later in November, since it does usually take about that long for folks to read and review).
And…I’m realizing it’s still free. 😦 And I even put a reminder on my calendar…will have to go in now and change it. But getting it to 81 reviews is worth it.

Please note something amazing here: She didn’t advertise her promotions in any way, either on Twitter, Facebook or on her (well-read) blog and I find this both extraordinary and…very wise!

Lessons learned?
1. Advertising does.not.work. Don’t tweet, don’t buy ads, most of them don’t work. Yet, I’ve got fellow writers happy with their ads, and it seems that certain advertisers are very good to help you reach out to new readers: for the US market, Bookbub and Kindle Books and Tips, and outside the US, Ebooks Bargains UK. One friend, using Kindle Books and Tips recently got 4,000 downloads, good for him!But there’s a catch with the better advertisers: for example, on both Bookbub and Kindle Books and Tips, you need to have 8 customer reviews and at least four 5-star reviews in order for them to accept your ad. I had four 5-star reviews but I didn’t have a total of 8 reviews, so they didn’t allow me to use them, sigh…I did try to advertise on Facebook. I boosted a post written under my alter ego on Facebook (I’m that blue guy called Boomer Lit – the logo of my Goodreads group that I set up two years ago to discuss Boomer Lit and that has now over 500 members). It had 18 “organic likes” before I boosted it (at a cost of $40) and a day later, on the fourth day of my free book campaign, it had over 4,400 “likes”, see the screenshot I took showing the result:

So I rushed to my Kindle Direct Publishing dashboard to check out whether the FB boost had had an effect on the number of downloads. I’m sorry to have to report, the impact was…Zilch! Nothing, zip, nada. If anything the number of downloads was way down that day, half of what it had been the day before.

 2. “Soft” advertising works better. I believe that Goodreads works (marginally) better than Facebook. They allow you to set up an “event” to tell your “friends” on Goodreads that you have a promotion (see here). Of the over 900 friends I’ve got, 13 (!) answered yes. That’s not much of a response, but it’s better than nothing. Presumably a lot of people click on the Amazon link to the book without telling you that they did.

As every marketing guru in the publishing business will tell you, what works best is the personal newsletter you send to all those who’ve signed up for it, and my experience seems to confirm it. Both the percentage opened and number of clicks was about double the industry average (around 40% opened the letter and 4% clicked through). And I’m sure a lot of my fellow writers do even better – please share your experience with us in the comments!

3. Free book promotions work better than Countdown Deals 
I’ve run two countdown deals for Gateway to Forever, one in the US and the other in the UK – alas, Amazon has not set it up for any other marketand I’ve noticed the results were (1) identical in te US and UK and (2) much lower on average than a free promotion, about half the number of downloads.


4. Free promotions work better than 99 cents. That is Elizabeth Spann Craig’s experience and it tends to be confirmed by my own experience with Countdown Deals (they are never free, they are simply daily discounts, starting from 99 cents and working your way up back to the original price).

5. The Best Days to go free are Monday and Tuesday. In fact, week-ends should be avoided, people tend to stay away from Internet, they go hiking, they do to discos or whetever. But on Saturday already my downloads were way down, about 20% of what they had been on the first day (which was a Tuesday).

Hope this information helps you.  And do share your experience, I’m eager to hear from fellow writers!

And if you’ve downloaded my Gateway to Forever, I hope that you are enjoying your read and if you do, please share your opinion with your friends, both on the Net and in the real world. If you missed out on the free campaign, you’re still in time to grab your copy at a highly discounted price ($2.99 – click here). Hey, I don’t plan to leave it that low for long, I really believe that it deserves to be sold at a higher price…

Alice, (one of three protags in Gateway to Forever) really expresses the way I feel about free promotions (chuckle!)

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What Makes for an Expert Book Review

The joy when a reviewer “gets” your book!

This morning it happened to me and I wanted to share this joy with you. It concerns my latest book, Forever Young, my climate fiction set in the near-future – well, not so near, 200 years from now because that’s the time I figure it will take for mankind to face extinction on Earth. Contrary to most science fiction and climate fiction that set environmental and societal catastrophe at some 40 to 50 years ahead, I wanted to give my novel a chance to be plausible: I really believe this final disaster will require about 200 years to mature…

So here is what Australian author Alana Woods wrote (that’s her picture – not me!):

“Some time ago I read Nougat’s short story compilation Death on Facebook, Short Stories for the Digital Age and was impressed with the range of stories and the skill with which they were presented. One that caught my imagination was I will not leave you behind, the futuristic story of a 122 year old woman who is part of an elite program that keeps you young until you die. In FOREVER YOUNG Nougat has taken that short story and woven its premise into a four-part series of short novels I enjoyed reading very much.
     The over-arching theme is the approaching doom of Earth from climate change. The story is set 200 years into the future and what becomes apparent very quickly is that humankind never did learn the lessons of what it would take to save the planet. Everyone, including big business, is still only concerned with the present and what they can get out of it for themselves. People are still divided into the have’s and have not’s, only now the have’s—called the OnePercenters—can afford to have old-age and illness permanently eliminated right up until death, whereas the have not’s—the 99PerCenters—continue to struggle as we struggle in this day and age.
     The story and struggle is told through three characters who all aspire to be a OnePercenter, highlighting the fact that even in Earth’s extremis we’re still only concerned with what advantages we can garner for ourselves.
You can come away from reading this series feeling a great despair for where we’re heading. The alternatives that the author presents, that of leaving Earth to inhabit a new planet and starting again, or remaining and hoping Earth regenerates itself, are stark contrasts.
     A thought-provoking, confronting read.”
      The review came as a total surprise and most welcome after I had received an awful review sarcastically titled “the future isn’t futuristic”. For this reviewer, my book “didn’t work at all” because “many of the same technologies that we use today are still prevalent. How many things popular 200 years ago, even 30 years ago are still in use today? It was not a forward-thinking, imaginative conception of the future and I just didn’t buy it.”
      Not a “forward-thinking” conception of the future? I was crushed, I felt totally misunderstood. How could this reviewer not see that this was the whole point of my book? The “future” she yearns for does come in Forever Young for the ultra rich but only for them because they are the only ones who can afford the advances of science. Alas, it does not come for the rest of mankind, no one can afford the technological innovations the rich are enjoying!
      Is that so unrealistic? I don’t think so. Consider further the argument she makes that many things “popular 200 years ago” are no longer in use today. Quite frankly, that argument doesn’t hold water. Anyone who has travelled in the Third World knows how the poor live, in conditions that are barely better than those prevailing in medieval times, no electricity, no running water, no public transport and only wood or dung to cook.  And billions of people live that way, nearly half of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day, and according to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.
Collecting millet in Darfur (this woman has 5 children) UN photo library
     This is why Alana Woods’ review was so welcome, she “got” it, that social difference between the poor majority and the rich minority – a trend that I think will only be exacerbated if we continue on the road of income inequality on which we have embarked (and I’m not the one saying it, Thomas Piketty is, in his Capital in the 21st Century – I highly recommend reading it).
     What fundamentally differentiates Alana Woods’ review from the other one is this: it’s not a customer review that simply states “likes” and “dislikes” (unsubstantiated phrases like “I didn’t buy it”) but a carefully thought-out review that examines the book’s premise and follows how it was developed, critically analyzing it.
     I also deeply appreciate Alana’s review for another reason: she is a demanding critic and, as she puts it on Amazon, “I like to choose the books I review.” In this case, she certainly chose my book, I was surprised when she told me she was reading it (she’d picked up the first book in the series for 99 cents) – I was surprised and pleased. Because she is truly a professional writer who knows the art of writing. She is the author of a guide to writing good fiction, chock-full of good advice:
     Jason Mathews considers it “the best guide for indies” and hosted her on his site to discuss it with two other authors, Lisa Grace and Samantha Fury:

 
     Alana Woods is not only an excellent literary critic but a remarkable writer in her own right, “the queen of intrigue”. Three of her books are currently available on Amazon, two award-winning literary suspense novels and an intriguing collection of short stories:
 
Visit Alana Woods on Amazon, click here
     If you are wondering why she hasn’t published more books, that’s because she is very demanding of herself. As she puts it: “I’m a storyteller from way back but not a prolific producer like other authors. It can take me years to be satisfied with the quality of a story and my telling of it.”
     Right.
     To take years to be satisfied with one’s manuscript is the mark of  a careful, professional writer but also of one who respects her readers. It think that’s remarkable and I believe more indie authors should take Alana as an example and think twice before publishing. There are times when I wish I hadn’t rushed into self-publishing and waited for my books to “ripen” until they were ready. 
      Good writing takes time, and now (I think) I have learned my lesson and no longer publish too soon. How about you? Has it ever happened to you to publish a book only to discover six months later that it could have been better? Have you ever had the urge to revise it and upload a new, better edition?  I plead guilty to having done that and would love to know whether you’ve done it too! 
 

 

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Too Much “Noise” on the Net: is “milq” the Answer?

 We can all agree that we are bombarded with information and that most of it is useless. It’s coming at us from all directions: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Goodreads, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, Tumblr, online magazines, blogs, the list is endless. 

We’re deafened with “noise” on the Net.

And in all that “noise”, do you find what you want to read? Not often, and when you do, you may try to save or bookmark that gem on your computer but most of the time you just lose it.

That’s where milq comes in. Or would like to try to come in. 

Instead of a timeline or feed or wall, the way you have it on Facebook, or picture boards like you have on Pinterest, you get “beads”, i.e. topics where you can upload your find, whether a video, an article, a song. Their landing page looks like this (my screen shot):

A very minimal design, and easy to navigate. It’s also very easy to join, just let the app access your Twitter or Facebook data and you’re done. 

Is it of any use?

Three weeks ago, the New York Times took note, (see here) and remarked, without really reaching any conclusion, that milq is intended to “separate wheat from social media chaff”. That’s a nice way to put it, but does it do it?

I tried it from my own standpoint and interests: remember, I’m into books, I like to keep abreast of social trends (how else could I write a book set in the future like Forever Young?). 

Well, I was thoroughly disappointed. 

Basically, the “beads” are a series of virtual shelves showcasing stuff about the same topic or theme, or to use their exquisite terminology, they are “collectively curated channels of culture”. And the stuff uploaded by someone with a big Internet presence gets precedence over the little guy. Also, their business model foresees that they “sell” beads to businesses – for example they’ve already got Condé Nast interested in topics, sorry, I mean “beads” linked to their magazines.

I tried to find the bead about books and that’s where things started to unravel. I stumbled upon a vast series of beads on bizarre topics, all phrased as questions (this apparently is meant to attract people’s attention) – here’s an example:

“Movies that made me want to become a filmmaker” or “genre stew”? To be honest, I have never seen a film that made me want to become a filmmaker, as to “genre stew”…I’m not sure what that means anyway nor whether I want to waste time to find out (even if some people feel enthusiastic about it).

Finally I found the books bead:

You’re told that Pamela Talese created this bead in February of last year and the picture of books surmounted by chocolate candies suggests the bead is going to be yummy. 

Wrong, the bead is meant to be…musical! Yes, it is about books but only if expressed in songs: the introductory blurb says it’s “about books, their characters, authors, poets, and playwrights. Also-librarians, bookworms, comic-book collectors, folks hooked on the phonics but SONGS ONLY please. There are many fabulous interviews on this topic-but words to music keep the story moving.

This songs-only approach is highly restrictive. Result? Very few posts over a year – maybe a dozen or two dozens, I didn’t count them. 

Another restriction is that you can only share or comment on the posts, with no hope of response. NO real discussion. This is not a give-and-take forum-like website. Just a place where you collect stuff, the way you collect pictures on PINTEREST – with the possibility of starting your own bead, provided it is highly visual or musical or both – authors addicted to the written word are warned!

Did you try it? If you did, please share your experience!

BIG NEWS! Part 4 of FOREVER YOUNG is OUT, see here – now all 4 parts are published on Amazon and all major e-platforms, the full book is out! 

You can start reading Part One for free on Wattpad where I release a new chapter every day – 5 chapters published so far, click here to start reading. And if you like it, please “vote” (that’s how “likes” are expressed on Wattpad) Many thanks!

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