Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it.
~ Russel Lynes
I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.
~ Albert Einstein
There is no nonsense so arrant that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate governmental action.
~ Bertrand Russell
Last week’s post was the scariest one for me so far, me alone with my numbers and photos. After that, I was originally going to talk about metrics and other reporting this week, but I decided to go a bit sideways and instead talk about who I’ve brought along on the journey from an external professional standpoint, the team that I’ve put in place to help me survive the journey.
For overall context, I feel that in most areas of my life, I am pretty self-sufficient on the psychological front. Most things I can either handle on my own, or I know how to figure out how to get help / who to seek help from in order to handle it. When my mother passed away, grief was kicking my ass about a year after her death. The efforts to settle her estate kind of delayed part of the impact, and then when that was done, grief came flooding in unexpectedly. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why none of my mental processes and analytical functions were working to help me figure things out, but I dismissed grief as a likely cause. I felt it must be something else because she had been gone for a year already, but I didn’t realize that grief often manifests itself as a wet blanket over top of everything, dampening things down, lowering energies so that when I asked myself if it was “grief” that was bothering me, my internal diagnostic came back as “no”. In fact, EVERYTHING I tried came back as “no”. I needed help.
So I decided to give our Employee Assistance Program at work a try. I called, told them I wanted to talk to someone about stress and depression (I was mentally run down), they asked me politely if I was suicidal or going to harm anyone else, I said no, and so they referred me to a counselor in my neighbourhood. I was offered two or three to choose from, I chose one, and they authorized three initial meetings with an option to do up to eight.
The woman I went to see is named Shirley, and she’s a retired social worker who used to work at the Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre, now part of CHEO. She is almost the perfect choice for me…some of what I wanted to talk about included Jacob, and how I handle things with him, and she has 20+ years of dealing with kids and parents of kids with Cerebral Palsy (which is similar to what Jacob experiences). I had no need to go into the basics, she knew EXACTLY what I was talking about. She’s a social worker by training and practice, not a psychologist or psychiatrist, although she works under the supervision of an overall psychologist for the purposes of the business model. We did the first three sessions, I extended it for five more, and between us, we got me back on track. A mental tune-up, if you will.
A few years later, I wasn’t feeling quite right, so we did another three sessions as a mental tune-up. I like her, feel comfortable with her, and she’s given me some really good insights to think about over the sessions. As an aside, I had a real problem with something at work back in late January, and I was having real trouble “letting it go”. Shirley was out of the city for an extended period, so I saw a specialist in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Wow, *that* was an experience. It was helpful, but a way more active form of counselling, not my style at all. It was easy enough to deal with in two sessions but still.
So I don’t have trouble asking for psych help, and she’s a good resource and I’ve met with her a few times in recent weeks (I’ll come back to that later). Yet with my big plan in place as of mid-summer, I knew I needed other types of help with my weight loss, and a lot more guidance. I just don’t have much previous capacity in those areas.
On the health front, I’ve mentioned before that I really don’t like the supervising physician that I’m assigned to in my doctor’s practice. We just don’t get along well. So when I can, I choose to see the intern / resident instead. Anyway, in mid-summer, I went in, met the new intern (Dr. Ali), and said, “Okay, let’s do this. What do I need to do first before I start such a massive change?”.
First up was some blood work. And we had meant to do a stress test a couple of years ago but scheduling was a problem, I was on a waiting list, and then I somehow disappeared from their waiting list or something. It wasn’t urgent, but still, I wanted one. So we booked that. I already wrote about my experience with the first stress test (#50by50ish #36 – A stress test with a side of manscaping) and I did the bloodwork the same day.
I immediately got a call a day or two later — come see us now, Dr. Ali needed to talk to me about the bloodwork. In the blog post mentioned above, I was expecting one of several possible outcomes of the bloodwork. It might have been that I was high for something related to diabetes. Because there is diabetes in my family, and I’m carrying extra weight, they always want to test for that. But it has always comes back negative. Not even close. Alternatively, it could have been some sort of infection (my ears were giving me problems unrelated to blood pressure). Or it could have been some completely unrelated item about cholesterol or my thyroid or something else that spiked. I was mostly worried about the fact that I also have large lymph nodes and regular headaches, so I had asked them to check some protein markers.
As it turns out, it was about diabetes. My AC1 number had blown up in the last two years — I went from “not close” through “pre-diabetes” and now officially a 0.1 step into officially being diabetic.
But the diagnosis meant nothing to me. I don’t mean that I didn’t understand it, I mean that it meant nothing new. I already knew my weight was affecting me, I already knew I needed to make changes to my diet, it wasn’t at a level to require insulin, and so nothing really changed. I was in the same situation before the diagnosis as after, more or less. That seems incredibly weird to me, but it really didn’t change anything in my approach. Except in a round-about way, it did. Since I am officially diabetic, and a new diabetic at that, four things happened at once.
First, I get to go on a higher-priority list for all follow-up. I’m no longer on the routine “let’s check this out” list, I’m on the “do this reasonably soon” list. Works for me. I’m not on the “TEST HIM NOW” list, but I get relatively quick referrals.
Second, my diagnosis automatically triggers offers of additional supports through a diabetes clinic. I get a nurse (Rosie) who works in their social worker unit (although most of what she does is talk to me about foot care, not a small issue for diabetics), a registered dietician (Genevieve) to go through my diet with me and answer questions, and at my request, access to a kinesiologist (Anna) to help me figure out some of my plans for exercise.
I’ve already had my first big session with the nurse, Rosie, and as I said, it was all about my feet. No real concerns, my circulation shows fine for now.
The time with the dietician was more instructive. I had already gone through a bunch of online materials two weeks earlier and changed my diet, so when I met with her, almost all of it was her answering my questions, I already had covered the basics.The biggest challenge for me is a form of binge-eating, not the classic view of binge-eating of wolfing down a whole gallon of Rocky Road ice cream. My problem? Eating large amounts at irregular intervals. So my primary changes are:
- Eating breakfast…I am not a morning person, I’m a night owl. So when I get up in the morning, I am frequently out the door ten minutes after getting dressed, and that includes a bathroom stop. When I say that I “skipped breakfast”, I mean that I would only have had something to eat before 10:30 a.m. on average about 1-2 days per month. Very rarely. Now I make sure I have SOMETHING decent every day.
- Drink more…I suck at consuming water during the day, mostly because I have very bad experiences with water coolers. Almost every time I’ve tried to up my game to drink more water each day, and start using the coolers, I get sick almost immediately. A cold, the flu, something. I’m also terrible at plain water. I thought that was the only option, as I don’t like adding lemon or cucumber thingies, but the dietician approved a couple of flavourings that I showed her that are just fine. I’m still not doing great on this, too many days where I have gone most of the day with nothing other than the morning yogourt drink or something, so definitely a work in progress.
- Sugary drinks…This one was bothering me, not because I didn’t know I should dump them, but more because I didn’t know what would be left as a replacement. As I said, I don’t like plain water normally, too raw on my throat, etc., and if I eliminated soda, I was screwed. I knew that you’re not supposed to have too much milk, I don’t like tea or coffee, I don’t drink alcohol, and honestly, there aren’t a lot of other choices available that I even like. I could dump the regular drinks and switch to diet, and while it would be better to have none of them, the dietician showed me that in limited quantities, the diet sodas were viable options. Plus, as I noted above, the flavoured water was okay as my main “go to” choice.
- Snacks…Most people think of the change for snacks as switching to healthy ones, and that was part of it, but more important for me was simply HAVING a snack. I am really terrible at this. This has actually been a source of tension at times with Andrea…we would be doing something, and she would go 3 hours without at least a snack and be ready to pass out; meanwhile, I had skipped breakfast, had no snack, drank nothing, and I was still raring to go. Probably cranky, but still okay. And at work, the scenario was not regular but not uncommon for me to get to work in the morning without having anything except a yogourt drink on the way, sometimes not even that, no snack, working away, and the next thing I know it is 3:30 p.m. and I’m feeling peckish, but suddenly realizing the last thing I ate was almost 20 hours earlier for supper. Yes, I know how stupid that sounds. But I wasn’t dying of hunger or anything, in fact, sometimes I only noticed because of the time, not hunger. And yes, the dietician explained what my body was doing during that time to compensate, almost none of it good. I guess I just felt that my extra fat reserves were at least good for something.
As noted above, the dietician helped fine-tune what I had already figured out. Most of my new plan was one she approved of and thought was looking great. She wondered if I had enough variety to keep it interesting during the day, so I’ve tried to expand a few things her and there. And she was able to answer certain “this or that” type questions as to which was better.
I confess, I thought she was going to suggest a lot more changes, that I didn’t have it quite right, and thus give me a “diabetes diet” to follow. But from the first health appointment to the meeting with her, I was already almost six weeks in, so I had already made most of my changes. And she pointed out, there is no such thing as a “diabetes diet”, it is just healthy eating that everyone should do. Which I guess is true, but I felt like the diabetes diagnosis DID help with my diet choices — I went from having an almost infinite variety of diets and diet advice out there to wade through, and suddenly had it all more narrowly focused on diabetic-friendly advice.
I haven’t met with the kinesiologist, Anna, yet, as I have had to move the scheduled appointments around a bit.
The third thing that changed was that it gave the doctor some ideas for changes to my medicines. For example, I’m on blood pressure meds and there are some that work better for diabetics, so she wants to transition me. As well, another med helps the body handle insulin usage so I’m trying to work that into my regime without shortcircuiting what I’m already doing/taking.
Oddly enough, when the doctor gave me the diagnosis regarding the diabetes, she said almost in passing, as part of her encouragement, that “even” losing 20 pounds could be helpful. And I laughed. I actually laughed. I didn’t mean to be rude, but she was asking me to try to help her help me by my losing 20 pounds, rather than the reality that I’m planning to lose 157 pounds and she’s along for the ride. I might even describe my reaction as almost scoffing at her. When I went back later for a follow-up and told her that I already passed the first 25 pound mark, I think she was almost shocked. Very few patients do that, I know. But the diabetes diagnosis wasn’t a motivational factor for me, it was more an afterthought for what I’m already doing.
The fourth and final part goes back to my mental health mentioned above. I am doing okay, but I am confronting a big-ass dragon in a cave, I am saying openly that it is tough, I’m feeling scared AF on certain posts, and it occurred to me. — shouldn’t I have another professional in the mix? Not as part of the Employee Assistance Program, I felt that was more for acute issues than planned / regular mental health care, but just for my own mental well-being?
So I made some appointments with Shirley again, the social worker who helped me work through the grief and with mental tune-ups previously.
Which means, I have a decent team of professionals:
- Dr. Ali, the overall doctor who will be around for most of the journey;
- Rosie, the nurse, to help me monitor foot care issues and potential circulatory challenges;
- Genevieve, the dietician on demand, to help me modify my diet regime as I go;
- Anna, the kinesiologist. to help me figure out some decent exercise options (some people prefer a personal trainer, and I may do that at some point, just not what I need right now, which is more planning advice); and;
- Shirley, my therapist/counselor/social worker, to help me through the mental anguish and to help me chase down random squirrels.
Shirley cautioned me with last week’s post, asking me if I was sure that such a drastic step was possible or needed. I understood her concern, and I’m glad she raised it. But I was sure. And I feel I was right. The relief I have felt in the last few days of having that over and done with, at least for the first time ever, was almost a mental cleanse. I’m more focused, I’m more attuned to some of my issues, I’m more patient with my progress. Well, generally. I’m down about my current plateau.
I had another session with Shirley today, heavily focused on the upcoming six weeks. My previous project at work was finishing, and I didn’t have a new one starting right away, so I took advantage of the lull to take six weeks leave from work just to focus on me. Not great for the paycheque, true, but I am hopeful it will help me through the time and maybe kickstart some of my exercise options too.
Yet I still have a somewhat tightly-bound set of issues to deal with, and we’re coming up on a stressful time of year where two of my frequent coping tools — drink and food — are not available to me. It is not as bad as an alcoholic having to get through a bunch of social occasions where everyone is drinking, but there are some similarities in there for me. I am worried that I won’t be able to maintain my commitment and resolve, or that I’ll feel self-conscious with every bite, since I’ve been more open about my weight loss and now everyone knows.
In the meantime, I have Dr. Ali, Rosie, Genevieve, Anna, and Shirley to back me up. I may need more professionals in the mix before the journey is over, but for now, this is my external medical team — five women advising me on how to save my life.
I shall never be ashamed of citing a bad author if the line is good.
Since a lot of friends know I have my own website, it isn’t uncommon to get questions about how they get their own website, dipping their toe in the vast sea of having their own presence online. Usually I frame the discussion around three questions.
A. Do you want your own domain?
This is almost always a no-brainer for people as they often think in very specific terms and have some domain names in mind. My domain, polywogg.ca, is registered to me and only me. It is the same for every company on the planet that has a site, usually. They all register a domain name that is unique to them.
It isn’t the only way to go. Lots of people use free sites at various hosters and end up with sites like “http://AndreasWorld.wordpress.com” or “LoveOfBooks.blogger.com”. Their “unique” presence is still there but the hoster’s name shows up too. For some, they don’t care about that; for most, they do.
If you care about having a site that only has your name in it, you need to register a domain. If you don’t, you can go with lots of hosters that will give you an address like above. Or even trick out a bunch of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Now, the REAL question is more difficult, and for me it’s not a question. I do not and will not register a domain with the same company I choose for my hosting of the site. Let me explain.
When I put my website online, I need two things:
a. A registrar who tells the internet that polywogg.ca is registered to me and also tells all its internet friends where to find my website (the technical numerical address of my site); AND
b. A server of some sort that hosts the files and content for my actual website.
A registrar and a hoster. I need both. And lots of people who are hosters will also offer registrar services. And some registrars have also gotten into hosting. A fully-integrated service, as they pitch it.
Yet there is an inherent conflict of interest for them. Sure, they have to do it all properly and everything, but when you register your domain, it actually records four pieces of information — a registrant ID, a tech ID, an admin ID, and the DOMAIN NAME SERVICE (DNS) address where your website can be founded (like your REAL IP web address that the internet servers use, not the word form users see).
For most people registering a personal site, the DNS will be given to you by your hoster; the admin ID is likely you; and the tech ID may be whoever is helping you set up the website or just you. Regardless of who is doing the registry, these three things are pretty much the same across the board. The problem comes with the REGISTRANT ID.
This basically says who owns that domain. When you do the registry yourself, it should always say you. However, here’s the kicker…sometimes companies that offer cheap registries and hosting packages actually find it easier to just register themselves in that field. They may also register themselves as the tech or admin ID, which is not ideal, but not too problematic, they’re easily changed. But the owner / registrant ID requires the registered ID holder to agree to any changes.
Most people don’t think anything about this. And if you ask the hoster, they’ll tell you there’s no issue. You just move the registry to somewhere else. But unless you have that in writing, why would you simply trust them?
There are countless stories on the web of BADHOSTER X registering a domain “on behalf of” customer Y. Fast forward five years, the person’s needs have changed in what they’re looking for in a website, and they see lovely HOSTER Z sitting over there with exactly what they’re looking for at the right price. No problem, Y will just move from X to Z. And then X says, “Whoa, wait a minute. We want your business. Let us do blah blah blah.” And so they delay and cajole the person into staying. And eventually it turns acrimonious as the person just wants to leave, and BADHOSTER X won’t relinquish their ownership of the domain. They’ll let the DNS address point to another service, but they won’t do it quickly (they serve their own customers first), and what a surprise, they’ll only do it after paying an admin fee. If you’re Mr. or Ms. Big and Popular site, sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, look at our sliding scale…we’ve been discounting, so now you have to pay our full admin fee based on usage, and oh look, they want $1000 to transfer your domain.” It’s extortion, pure and simple, and yes, it is indeed illegal.
Is this a frequent problem? No. Is it a possible problem? Absolutely. They also might just jack the rates after year 1 for your renewals (you have to pay a yearly fee to keep the domain registered to you).
When I went to register my domain, all the experts said “do it separately”, it’s just less risk of future hassle, and while a bit more manual, not egregiously so. And I did. I found Canadian Domain Name Services in Canada, registered all three of my domain names with them over time, and that’s the only service I do with them. They now offer hosting too, but I don’t need that. I just need the basic service I signed up with them for, and it works perfectly. No muss, no fuss, no extortionary practices if I decide to move my website hosting. Which, by the way, I have done four times in my website’s life. Just deciding that the previous hosting wasn’t what I wanted. Three clicks later (almost), and I was with someone else’s hosting package, so I just closed the previous one. And if any of the hosters gave me a hard time, I didn’t care — I just went to the registrar and pointed away from that hoster to my new hoster, leaving me with an up and running site. By contrast, if I was in dispute with my old hoster, they could literally hold me and my website hostage if they were also my registrar.
And yes, ALL the current hosters will offer you deals on your initial registry to get you to join, and almost ALL of them will register themselves as the owner of the domain. You decide if you want to trust them with that part of your site.
In the end, the question is easily answered by a simple metaphor…if you paid a lawyer to register your business, would you let them register themselves as the owner?
B. Do you want a dynamic site or a static site?
If you read any web design advice on the web, they’ll tell you that static sites are the worst possible thing to do. But they mean something different than what this question means.
What they mean is that sites need updates and new content in order to generate buzz and traffic. New things to encourage people to visit your site regularly. What they mean is “dynamic content”.
In my case though, I mean two things — is there going to be dynamic content (as per above) and are you going to want to change the look and feel, menus, etc. on the site over time?
If all you want is a relatively static site — both for content and design — then there are lots of simple hosters out there that offer HTML-based websites (simple web pages) with slick looking templates. You go to their site, sign up for a hosting package, choose a template, and voila, your site is designed. You add your info, some pics and graphics, and you’re done. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.
GoDaddy used to be the biggest player on the block for this. Then companies like WIX came along. They’re cheap, they’re slick, it all works pretty well. The only thing you’ll have to do is provide your credit card, click some buttons, and then go tell your registry whatever info the hoster tells you to enter (it’ll basically be something like “Your DNS entry is AndreasWorld.wix1.com” and you’ll go enter that in the registrar site — it’s basically like telling the post office where you live).
There are GREAT sites and templates available. Prices can be as low as $5/month or even lower if you pay by the year. So why wouldn’t everyone use it? Because it isn’t easy to modify the template. If you decide you don’t like the colour of the lines on a table? Well, good luck changing it. Maybe it’s easy, likely it’s not. Some features aren’t even available to be edited, regardless of your technical ability, unless you’re a pro.
Cheap, easy, fast, and relatively professional looking. But it’s not easy to update regularly (nor change the design).
Others, by contrast, want to basically add new content every day. A story. A photo. A post. A new page. Random thoughts. If this is what you are after OR you will be mostly static but with lots of sub-pages, then another solution is better. Officially it’s called a CMS — content management system.
The most common CMS available are blogging platforms aka blogs or gallery platforms aka photo galleries. If you’ll be mostly posting text, you want a blogger; if you are mostly posting photos, you might want a gallery. And of course, just to be confusing, most galleries allow you to have blog-like posts and most blogs also offer galleries. But if you’re mostly text, go with the blog.
There are two main blogging platforms that are like Wix or GoDaddy — already available blogging setups ready to go. One is called blogger.com, and the other is WordPress. Blogger is entirely a self-contained site, you can host your site with them (with your own domain, just like Wiz) and have a bunch of templates to choose from. Click, click, click, you’re good to go. A little basic in their offerings, but you can be blogging in minutes. Literally.
WordPress took a different approach. Yes, they offer both free and paid online accounts (as does Blogger), and the more you pay, the more power you have. Even the most basic site though is more powerful than the free site (and you can have your own domain as opposed to polywogg.wordpress.com). Like Blogger, you can be up and running in minutes, but there is more power under the hood, so it can be a bit more daunting.
The alternative approach they took though is that they ALSO offer their software as a full download and you can run it on other hosting platforms i.e. I am registered with a company called Web Hosting Canada, and can install WordPress to run on it. There are competitors out there too — Moodle, Joomla, Drupal, etc. Actually dozens, if not hundreds. But WordPress is the biggest player.
Running your own “install” of WordPress might sound daunting, and it is at first. But there aren’t that many menus under the hood, and they are relatively intuitive after you finish with setup. Plus there are thousands of templates available to tweak to your heart’s content.
Definitely more work, but the payoff is that a blog is inherently dynamic. Write a new article, post it, and BAM, instant dynamic content. If you don’t plan to do that, then stick with a static site.
C. What else do you want on the site?
After you get through the basics of a static or dynamic page above, you should be leaning one way or the other. Now I need to make your life more complicated. What else do you want on the site?
Do you want a guestbook? If you do, it is easier to do and control with a dynamic site (after all, static sites don’t inherently let you make simple updates like adding your name to the page).
Do you want a catalog of products that might change? If it’s a few services or products and they are relatively the same all the time, maybe just price changes, you can go with a static site. If you want a lot of products listed (almost like a gallery), you need a dynamic site.
Do you want sidebars, banners, advertising, changing menus, galleries, calendars? All argue for a dynamic site. The more “custom” you need it, the less the basic static sites are going to meet your needs.
What am I not telling you?
If you are going to hire someone to do the design for you, none of the above may matter. If they are good, they’ll set you up with a solution that meets your needs today and tomorrow. Of course, there may be a small conflict of interest in their advice in that they may get more money out of you if you redesign later.
So, in short:
- Simple site, not much change in content, few pages, basic web presence — go with static site;
- Changing content, multiple pages, regular updates, evergreen web presence — go with dynamic site like WordPress.
At least those are the basics.
Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English — it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable. A wordy habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.
~ Mark Twain
Like everyone else, I am going to die. But the words — the words live on for as long as there are readers to see them, audiences to hear them. It is immortality by proxy. It is not really a bad deal, all things considered.
~ J. Michael Straczynski
As someone who is interested in writing, I naturally have an interest in the publishing world. I grew up as an insatiable reader, and always dreamed that perhaps one day I would be selling books as an author. Later, I realized it wasn’t my primary interest in life, or at least not my only interest, and that I was more interested in the steady-paycheque world of being a salaried employee of a government entity doing public administration and policy. You know, a public servant, without the snide view of their role.
My writing has shifted over the years. Some email stuff from time to time, later some blogging and presentations. A few long reports for government. And I realized that as much as I might have dreamed of writing fiction, I have a knack for taking relatively opaque and / or complex topics and simplifying them in order to explain them to others. It’s fueled much of my career in government, as well as some of my personal blogging.
In addition though, my interest in traditional publishing was never very high. Sending off query letters? Getting rejections? Negotiating rights? Maybe seeking an agent? I have zero interest in ANY of those things. The rise of self-publishing with Amazon, rather than through the myriad of vanity printers, and the further development of the publishing system with more robust delineation of small- and medium- presses to combat the once-infamous big 6 publishers housed in New York, all led to a bifurcation of the type of authors out there.
Some still want the traditional publishing model — queries, agents, submissions, acceptance, advances, editors and eventual release of a book. Some authors look at it as a dream; some look at it as a nightmare. Some want the self-publishing model — formatting, self-editing, faster time to the market, and total control of all aspects from soup to nuts.
But what often amazes me is how some authors view one publishing model / path as the ONLY one anyone should ever choose. They will quote reams of data to suggest one way or another, compile anecdote after anecdote of famous author X who did it their way and made more money. Or, more pointedly, author Y who started one way and ended up switching and, after trying both models, only takes one of the paths now.
So I read a lot of articles about the industry, and I rarely share anything that is too one-sided. The article below is an exception, and for the first 80%, you’ll wonder why I shared it — I disagree with almost all of the opening. But there is gold near the end, I promise.
Over at BookBaby, the President of the company, Steven Spatz, has written a post called “Six Myths (and a Few Facts) About Traditional Publishing”. Spatz is DEFINITELY a convert, and most of the company’s business model relies on that conversion. But when I saw that the Passive Voice site (one of my favorites) had curated the above post, I hopped, skipped and jumped to the page. And immediately found myself arguing with almost the entire content of the post! Don’t get me wrong, some of it is fine, it is just so one-sided as to be laughable. Let’s go through it in detail.
Tackling myth #1: Traditional publishers serve as “gatekeepers”
Spatz argues that the myth is that the publishers “curation” ability will ensure good quality out the other side. Sure, there are some that believe that. In fact, it is the primary basis for all curation. That someone, other than you, has time, energy and expertise to review more things than you, choose what is better than average, and ditch the rest. Spatz argues that the curation really doesn’t guarantee quality, and that lots of things that are drivel still get through while lots of things that are quality are rejected.
Okay, so what? It doesn’t mean that the average book out of the traditional publishing isn’t better than the average book out of the entire slush pile. And a lot of those rejections are completely specious…three success stories that were initially rejected, yet a rejection doesn’t say it’s a bad book, it just says that the current curator didn’t see it working enough to invest in. There are people who didn’t invest in IBM, Google or Amazon either when they had the chance. So what? The only test if it works is the marketplace. Some people reject books simply because they don’t think they have anything to bring to the project — it’s not right for them. So they say no. Doesn’t mean they’re saying “Terrible book, you have no hope ever.” A simpler way to look at is like movies or TV shows…many are offered to lots of people who pass on it, not seeing what it will eventually become.
But that’s not my real problem with the so-called myth. The traditional publishers are not called gate-keepers in a positive tone by everyone because they ensure curation, just those around them. The rest call them gate-keepers for the simple fact that they control the gate. They don’t let everyone in, many are rejected. It’s not a myth, they ARE gate-keeping. If you want to be traditionally published, you have to be chosen to pass through the gate. And just about everyone views the term as negative, not merely a substitute for curator. The justification the gate-keepers use is curation, it isn’t what their name means.
Tackling myth #2: You can only make the big bucks through traditional publishing
I think the funniest line in the whole article is “The truth is, thanks to today’s self-publishing revolution, you have an equal chance at huge sales results no matter which route you choose: traditional or independent publishing.” Normally, I would agree with the initial statement as a myth if it said “you can only make money” through traditional publishing. But there are no self-published authors who are hitting the big time sales and profits of JK Rowling or James Patterson. If you’re looking for Rowling-level results, you are NOT going to get there with self-publishing. You can’t. Well, unless you have a couple of million dollars to generate the machine that can drive such a juggernaut. In early days, sure. Mid-list self-publishing vs. mid-list traditional publishing? No comparison self-published will kick their counterparts butts in revenue. But truly “big bucks”?
The bigger myth is that ANYONE ever makes that kind of money. Rowling might, after huge success building on huge success, movie tie-ins, etc. Patterson has volume and sub-licensing out the wazoo. But lots of big name authors hit the so-called best-seller list and are not suddenly multi-millionaires. They make money, sure, but 20K sales isn’t going to give you enough to retire on.
The worst part of the post is that they are relying on Authors Guild letters as their citation. Just about everything they write should be treated as immediately suspect, and often their data is so weak, it can’t be relied on for anything.
Tackling myth #3: Traditional publishers will provide all the marketing support
Is it possible for me to agree with the myth being a myth, while still wondering if it is a myth that it was ever a myth? Basically the argument is that traditional publishers have drastically cut back. Absolutely. Because if you look around the publishing industry, the world inside and out has changed. We don’t consume books and promotional material in the same way we used to…the classic joke was that only 50% of advertising works, except nobody knows which 50%. That was true in the book biz. But mid-listers never really got much support anyway, although some was better than none. And over time, it is narrowed further to not even A-listers get much. However, when I open my copy of Entertainment Weekly, there are still quarter page and full-page ads for upcoming books by major publishers. NO small or self-publishing companies are doing that. You can do it on your own if you want. But only the most naive and uninformed have believed that myth in the last 10 years. So was it really still a myth?
Tackling myth #4: A publisher will ensure my book gets on the shelves of brick and mortar bookstores
This one actually pissed me off. Basically, Spatz has worded it as yet another strawman to say “publishers will ensure” and then knocked down the ensure part. Except what is missing is more clear emphasis of what he throws away as “OK, it’s true that traditional publishing is almost the only route to bookstore placement” followed by some buts that negate the “ensure” part. No buts. This first part is NOT something you mess with when communicating with would-be authors.
If you want to get your book on a store shelf, it is close to impossible to do it without traditional publishing of some kind. Small press is better than no press, medium is better than small, big is better than medium. Most of the stores order through consolidators…if they don’t consolidate from your press, you can’t even get ordered. And often the store will have a corporate policy that won’t even CONSIDER self-publishing because they usually can’t do returns. They’ll order stuff, maybe if you wrote a local mystery and they want to showcase you, you might have a shot at a couple of copies being ordered, but don’t bet on it. TONS and TONS of self-publishers have beat their head on this particular door and with little success. Not zero success, but not much.
So, sure, if you word it as a traditional publisher will ENSURE you are on a shelf, then it is indeed stupid; however, if you said going with a traditional publisher at least gives you more than a snowball’s chance in Hades, it’s not quite a myth. Without it, you’re almost dead in the water.
Tackling myth #5: Once you land a book deal, your author career is set for life
Similar to the #3, only the most naive believe this. Any writer who has done ANY research at all as opposed to just writing and thinking they were done will have heard the word “mid-listers”. And they know that even being a best-seller (by whatever definition) doesn’t guarantee future deals. Or that you’ll even want them. To me, this is another strawman myth — I don’t think it even exists anymore except in the mind of people who know ZERO about the business.
Which bring me to his myth #6 (If you self-publish, you kill your chances of landing a book deal — actually SOME publishers WON’T touch you, but the rest is fine) and so-called Truth #1 (The biggest reason people still pursue traditional publishing is ego — actually the biggest reason is that they think it is more legitimate than self-publishing, not for their ego). Both are written to denigrate those who go traditional, and neither are very good. However, if you are running a business like BookBaby, I can see why you might want to mislead people into believing those views.
And if this was all that was in the article, I wouldn’t highlight it. I would dismiss it with a snort, self-promotion of the company, bad writing, etc. But Spatz has this one little section that is pure gold and reflects the true value of the self-publishing business model:
Truth #2: There are many compelling reasons to self-publish
I’ll just list the top three:
- Royalties. By self-publishing, you’re not sharing your royalties with a publisher. Indie authors make more money selling 500 books than traditionally published authors selling 5,000.
- Time. The traditional publishing timeline is long and slow. On average it will take 24 months to go from edited manuscript to a book arriving in bookstores. In the same two-year period, an indie author could have written, published, and promoted three titles.
- Control. When you sign a traditional publishing contract, you are signing over all your control of the book. The words, ideas, pages, cover design — they’re no longer yours. You’re pretty much at the mercy of Mr. Bigtime Publisher — until they throw you out on the street because your book wasn’t a bestseller.
And that truth is one I think is worth sharing.
I know, I know, you saw that headline and thought, “What? There’s fake pumpkin carving?”.
Well, no, it’s just I do VERY basic pumpkin carving. Triangle eyes, triangle nose, jagged mouth, often with only four or five teeth (two on top, two or three on the bottom). I have no real skill with it. And while I have enjoyed doing them with Jacob for the last 9 years (he wasn’t that into the first couple, I admit), they often look like this:
Nothing to write home about, but we have enjoyed doing them together. The first one above was fun as Jacob did all the design on paper and I tried to do it on the pumpkin.
Our normal process is pretty straightforward. I cut the opening for the lid using a huge honking knife. Jacob and Andrea scoop it out. Jacob or I do a design on paper and then draw it on the pumpkin. And then, using one of our really sharp chopping knives, I cut out the pattern. Laboriously.
I’ve seen lots of little ads for “pumpkin carving tools”, and they often look like cheap plastic kits at Shoppers Drug Mart or Walmart. They even come with plastic scoops. The knives are small with plastic handles, and it looks like they are not even remotely strong enough to go through the pumpkin.
But this year, I decided to give our pumpkin carving a boost. One of the little kits was $10, and came with 2 scoops (both had somewhat serrated edges to help scoop the soft insides) and about 4 little knives (a couple like awls, and two of varying sizes with little sawtooth blades on them). The kits also come with stencils. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. Mostly I just figured I’d try the tools, decide if I liked the design, and then maybe consider getting real ones off Amazon for future years.
Well, blow me down and call me dusty. The cheap little things worked like a CHARM. I was totally shocked. Even, or especially, with the stencils.
I thought the description of the stencil process was kind of weird. There were ten stencil patterns, and they are printed on somewhat thin paper. You wet them under the tap, and then “stick” them to the pumpkin. After they are on the pumpkin, you add a layer of plastic wrap over it basically to hold the stencil in place and give it some rigidity as you carve out the dark areas. As you go, the paper is wet, so a saw blade going back and forth through it would tend to catch and tear the paper — the plastic wrap lets it keep its form.
We had two pumpkins this year, and even that was an innovation. Normally we go over to one of the local vegetable fields and pick out 2 or so from the pile. Prices range from as low as $5 to as high as $20. I just assumed that was normal. Until I was at Farmboy in October and realized that they had really good size ones, which would go at the “local” stand for $20, ready for sale for $4.99. And they’re sourced in Ontario still, so we’re not too far off the local support window. But I digress.
This is from this year’s production line:
Jacob was able to do some of the carving although it was still a bit hard on his hand pushing through the pumpkin for long. But using the cheap little “saw blades” of the tools edges, rather than a sharp kitchen knife, was a way bigger difference than I expected. After you get all the black areas “cut out”, you then remove the plastic wrap and the little bits of paper that are left, and clean up the design a bit. I was way beyond impressed with how easy it was, how well the cheap little tools worked, and the quality of the outcome. I used to think there was some sort of pumpkin carving gene out there that I just didn’t have. But apparently if you have no carving ability, you can hack the process. 🙂
When I put this on my 50by50 list as a possibility, I honestly expected to dump it later as unattained. Instead, I’m more than happy with the outcome. I might still buy some slightly stronger carving tools, but now that I see the approach, I’m willing to carve a whole village of pumpkins!