• Waiting for the end of the world

    The world is alive, changing every second, breathing through me, breathing through you. Someone, somewhere is drumming, stamping out the beat of life. Someone, somewhere is singing – for pleasure, for sorrow. We are united in flesh, in sweat and fear, in love and laughter. We are strong, striding out along these unexplored paths. We are weak, coming to the ends of our lives, but with the paths still branching out ahead of us. Here is my wisdom, here is my reason for being. Carry on. Range far, see the mountains tipped with burnished gold, find the people scattered to the winds.

    Find the people scattered to the winds. When you are strong, lend them your strength. When you are weak, let them lend you theirs. We are united in flesh, in sweat and fear, in love and laughter. We are a shared story that unravels over the generations. When you are broken, crushed with night terrors, when you know the face of the monster; find something to cling to. Hold on with everything you have. One day the sun rises again, one day the monsters turn to dust. We are born in fear, pain, blood, and love. We die in fear, pain, blood and love. But in between we range far, we are strong, we see the mountains tipped with burnished gold, we find the people scattered to the winds.

     

  • Hello 2015

    Happy New Year! Etc. Etc.

    I already have my 40 before 40 list, so I don’t really feel the need to set myself more goals at this point in time. The only two real resolutions I have for this year are:

    1. Write *something* every single day — even if it’s just a full-stop.
    2. Complete the 100 push-up challenge.

    My ability to manage my life generally is good — I eat pretty healthy, without obsessing. I exercise reasonably, without beating myself up when I miss a week or two. I have income and feel reasonably confident about the future.

    My main hope for 2015 is to finally get my visa and move to the USA. But as this is somewhat out of my control, I’m not setting it as a resolution.

  • Farewell 2014

    This has been a strange year.

    • I left my job and went to America for 3 months, where I survived on goodwill.
    • I watched my visa get further and further away.
    • I experienced an emotional roller coaster of goodbyes and hellos.
    • I made money from freelancing.
    • I wrote several flash fictions and two first drafts of novels.
    • I read 64 books.
    • I lay for hours in the sun.
    • I made new friends.
    • I lost old friends.
    • I celebrated my sixth wedding anniversary, but spent only 3 months in 2014 with my husband.
    • I waited for my life to start, and meanwhile my life kept happening all around me.

    Tomorrow I will write about my hopes for 2015.

     

  • So be good, for goodness sake!

    It’s been a while since I’ve posted a flash-fiction here. Life’s been busy! Luckily, the Christmas holidays are on the way… so here’s a bit of Christmas Cheer for you. Written for the terribleminds Flash Fiction Friday challenge: Holiday Horror Extravaganza!

    So be good, for goodness sake!

    We watched them. For seven years we had crept after the boy, Tommy. Watched his dark curly hair and followed his growing obsession with marine life. Shadowed him, close to his heels, watching as he poked about in the river and spent hours in the pet store studying the tanks of bright tropical fish.

    We watched them. For five years, silent as ghosts, we had followed on the heels of Sandra, as she stubbornly followed her brother everywhere. She was less interested in the fish, but stared at them because Tommy did.

    Every year they had been good. So good. Tommy had protected and looked after his sister, slowing his pace so she could keep up. Making sure she had her coat and hat and gloves during the cold weather and her sun hat in the summer. Sandra had worshipped at the heels of her brother, bolstering his confidence and expressing her admiration for his feats: jumping from rock to rock in the river and persuading the pet shop owner to let him feed the fish each day. Every year they had been good, had left out a mince pie and a glass of milk for Santa. And every year Santa had stopped at their house, peered at us with those icy blue eyes and shaken his head: no.

    This year we both felt it. A change. Tommy impatient, hurrying his pace to try and lose his sister. Sandra shouting and wailing, fearful of losing her beloved older brother.

    We watched them. A grey February day, the children’s breath steaming in the cold air. Tommy half ran down the river bank to try and lose Sandra. Sandra slipped and flailed as she tried to follow, until her feet went out from underneath her and she plunged into the water with a shriek. She scrambled out, soaked and covered in mud. The wind cut at her like ice. She hugged herself and looked around for Tommy, but he had gone.

    She trudged home, frozen to the bone and crying silently.

    When Tommy returned from the river, Mum berated him soundly.

    “I didn’t know she’d fallen in,” he objected. “I thought she’d gone home!”

    We knew the truth. We had watched him look back at the sound of the splash, had seen the moment of indecision on his face. Then he had started running, away from Sandra.

    But still, it was only February.

    In June, Sandra asked if she could feed the fish at the shop. Tommy refused her indignantly. “You’ll only mess it up, you’re too stupid to do something like that.”

    “I’m NOT stupid!” Sandra shouted, fists clenched and cheeks red.

    “Yes you are,” Tommy said. “You’re so stupid you don’t even know you’re stupid. Anyway, the pet shop owner said it was a responsibility and I had to do it right. I can’t trust you.”

    The next day Sandra came to the fish shop before Tommy, and emptied all the fish food containers into the bin when the pet shop owner wasn’t looking. Then she went home.

    Tommy returned home later, sullen-faced. The owner had been furious when he’d discovered the feed missing. “You’ve been drastically over-feeding them! You assured me you would do it properly.”

    We watched them. Tommy as he stomped upstairs and slammed his door. Sandra as she smiled a little to herself.

    But still, it was only June.

    In August, when heat wrapped the country in a sticky blanket, they fell to fighting over a lego piece. Sandra had built a car, Tommy an airplane. Both needed the same part to complete their models.

    “It’s my lego.” Tommy gripped the piece so tightly it left a red mark in his fist.

    “It’s our lego,” Sandra spat, standing with her hand held out. “You’re meant to share.”

    “You can’t have it.” Tommy went to click the piece into place and Sandra made a grab for it. Tommy swung away and Sandra fell on him, her fingers clawing at his hand.

    He shoved her away. Sandra growled and kicked out at him. Her foot connected with his shin and Tommy’s face went red. He grabbed her car and threw it against a wall. Lego scattered across the floor. Sandra stood frozen, staring at the mess. Then she let out a shriek and flung herself on Tommy, pummeling with her fists until he managed to grab her wrists and push her back onto the floor. She glared up at him, tears in her eyes, and he glared back at her.

    We were excited now. Watching them fight. Our tails lashed back and forth, and we felt drool collect in our mouths and leak down to the carpet where it dissipated like mist.

    But still, four months to go.

    In October they went to visit their grandmother, out in the country. Their mother drove. Tommy and Sandra sat in the back.

    “Can we listen to the Rainbow CD?” Sandra asked.

    “I don’t want to listen to those baby songs.” Tommy crossed his arms. “Put on War of the Worlds.”

    “I don’t like that, it’s scary.” Sandra stuck out her lower lip. “We always listen to the Rainbow CD when we visit Gran!”

    “We can listen to the Rainbow CD on the way there, and War of the Worlds on the way back.” Mum glanced in the rear-view mirror.

    “The Rainbow CD sucks!” Tommy kicked his foot against the back of the seat. “I don’t care what we listen to, just anything except that stupid baby CD for idiots.”

    Sandra’s face screwed up. “We always listen to the Rainbow CD.” Her voice wavered into a sob.

    “Sandra, you and I can listen to it together when we get to Gran’s house.” Mum drove them around a roundabout.

    “I want to listen to it NOW!” Sandra bellowed.

    We looked at each other, hunched over each child, our tails curled up together and pressed against the rear windscreen, our shoulder spikes jammed against the roof of the car. Seven years I had waited, five years we had waited. Two more months. We stretched our jaws open, lowered our heads to let drool mist away around each head.

    In December they strung fairy-lights around each window. Tommy helped Mum carry the box with the Christmas tree inside. They pulled the tree out slowly, reverently. Sandra squealed with excitement as green branches were revealed. They pulled each branch straight.

    “I’ll put the fairy lights on the tree,” Tommy said, already reaching for the looped wire.

    “I want to do it!” Sandra reached the other end of the wire.

    “Come on you two,” Mum said. “It’s nearly Christmas. Tommy, why not let your sister have a go this year.”

    “She’s too little, she won’t do it right.” Tommy frowned.

    “You did it when you were her age.” Mum took out a bag of baubles. “You can hang these, with me.”

    “I want to hang the lights!” Tommy yanked the wire out of the bag. Sandra clung to her end and for a moment they played an intense tug-of-war. Tommy suddenly let go. Sandra, taken by surprise, fell backwards and cracked her head against the edge of the coffee table. She let out a wail, and Mum swore, jumping to her feet.

    “Can’t you two get along for five seconds? You know Santa’s watching right? You’re meant to be good!”

    Our claws curled around Sandra, the glittering knife edge millimeters from her tear-streaked cheek. We lowered the tip of one claw to her eye, imagined thrusting it home.

    Twelve more days.

    On Christmas Eve we watched, two shadows in two bedrooms. Sandra awake and excited, listening for hooves on the roof. Tommy half-critical, half-hoping, pretending to sleep. Our hunger yawed inside us, a great and empty space. We longed for flesh.

    The clock ticked down. They had been naughty, such naughty children. Santa’s sleigh flew silently overhead without stopping. As his shadow flickered across the window we knew he would not be stopping at this house. Not this year.

    We loomed over each child. Sandra’s eyes widened and her mouth opened but we closed our jaws about her head and her scream was cut off before it could begin. Tommy tried to roll from the bed, but we tore his lungs through his spine with a single stroke.

    The next morning we woke at the same time. We each moved to the door of our bedroom and smiled at each other as we emerged into the hallway. I touched my small hand to his.

    “Merry Christmas, Sandra,” we said.

    “Merry Christmas, Tommy,” we said.

     

    I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you thought in the comments :)

    Other ‘horror themed’ Christmas Stories for your enjoyment:

  • Impostor syndrome, women in tech, freelancing

    When I was seventeen or so you would find me staring at lines of code, resolutely programming a custom CMS in PHP or designing yet another layout for my blog. I was that kid, the one terrified of speaking to people. Who had a bizarre fear of the telephone. Whose social circle was limited to playing D&D and who truanted from just one class – Physical Education.

    By all rights I should have ended up a developer. Maybe a designer. The place I actually ended up was… communications and marketing.

    It seems bizarre now, looking back on it. The kid who once let a store short change them rather than risk making a scene ended up managing relationships with people for a living.

    The reason I didn’t study computers or programming at University is probably down to a combination of things. Neither of my parents went to Uni, I had a vague idea I wanted to create comic books for a living, my career advisor was crap. I ended up doing English & Creative Writing. It was a good degree. It even had a web design module, which taught us how to use Dreamweaver. (I sidestepped it and just wrote my code directly.)

    My first ‘proper’ job after University — after a six month stint in a call-centre — was working for a Video Game start-up. I was super-excited! They hired me because I said I wanted to work in something that would use both my writing and my tech skills.

    I used my writing skills. My tech skills were limited to copy&paste. Somehow I got pushed more and more into the marketing and PR side of things. I organised LAN sessions — but I didn’t play in them. I wrote peppy news-posts and managed the forum.

    At some point, I got the chance to write a fiction blog detailing the lives of two ‘background characters’ caught up in the video game’s universe. I developed a character: an older woman, struggling with arthritis, a missionary in a strange land. The artist did a fantastic job drawing her.

    Then our lead designer came back: “What is this shit? She looks sick! We need her to be SEXY.”

    I quit not long after. For lots of reasons. I wasn’t getting paid even minimum wage, I was expected to be on call at 7am and 11pm. And I had realised I would never be much more than the peppy female face of the company, not someone who had any real input into the games.

    All the designers, developers, programmers were male. The PR staff were mainly female.

    After that I ended up in a part-time admin job, and decided to set up a freelance web-design business on the side. I worked pretty hard, coding up around twenty websites over the first year or so. I even built another custom CMS, this being before WordPress and its like had really taken off. I developed e-commerce sites. I learned Magneto’s templating system.

    Then my part-time admin role went full-time. I couldn’t really afford to say no. I kept the freelancing up but on a very ad-hoc basis.

    After three years or so doing the admin job, I eventually landed a new job. Digital Communications Offer for an environmental charity. Some of the essential skills included HTML, CSS, experience with Drupal, even Flash. There was to be a core coding component to the role.

    But it was still a marketing role, not a tech role. It was the most ‘tech orientated’ of any of the jobs I have had. I built internal sites, including custom php scripts to manage an internal bulletin system. I built a localhost site for a touchscreen. I managed a linux server. But day-to-day? Producing fun graphics and running social media. Writing newsletters. Managing bloggers.

    Don’t get me wrong. I have come to enjoy that side of my job — and I’m good at it. I tripled web traffic and increased conversion rates. I launched our social media strategy. I gave presentations to rooms full of people. But the days I really enjoyed my job were the days I spent picking apart php code.

    I struggle with impostor syndrome — the feeling that I’m never good enough, that I’m out of place. When I meet ‘real’ developers I stay silent, unable to contribute.

    Whilst working for this charity I liaised with a web development agency that managed our main website – one of the top London agencies, charging £750 a day — and discovered that many of their coders were no better than me. I frequently suggested solutions to the bugs I found. We had many problems that I ended up working around with code over-writes (a terrible solution, by the way).

    I left that job, to try and move to the USA, and in the last couple of weeks I’ve launched myself as a full-time web developer.

    I do know my stuff. I’ve been reading tech blogs for fun my whole life. I love learning about UX principles. I can solve css issues. I’m not up to speed on things like Ruby on Rails, but I can build a damn website.

    But the voice that says I’m not good enough doesn’t go away.

    Sometimes I wonder how different my life would be if I’d ever managed to get one of those developer jobs at an agency that I applied for. I applied to so many of them! Was it my skills that weren’t up to par? And yet my social skills, my marketing skills, they really were not ‘up to par’ when I started my career, and that’s where I ended up.

    I guess I will never know.

     

     

     

     

  • Home sweet… home?

    We can sometimes overlook the importance of friendship and (dare I say it) community. In a world where people are uprooting themselves, travelling further and further, taking opportunities in other cities, countries, continents… we should remember what we lose when we travel far from home.

    It’s something I lacked in the USA. I went out and about with my partner’s friends and family, of course. But friendships that have lasted five, ten, even fifteen years are impossible to replace overnight.

    Coming back to Towcester — my childhood home — felt strange. I know all the streets, can wander easily around the water-meadows, and the fields behind Belle Baulk. I run into people I haven’t seen since I worked as a bartender and they wave and say hi. A decade has passed, but they still recognise me. I have friends here, and in the nearby cities. People that did not ‘run’ as far as I did.

    I worked here, built relationships with fellow writers (Hi Miss Write! Hi Matt Holland!)

    There are people here that would take me in if I became homeless, that share their wifi with me when my internet breaks down, that recommend my web-development skills to people they know. A network, some people close friends, and some people just to wave at me in the street. But I am known.

    It takes time, so much time, to build a group of friends and colleagues like that. And the benefits go far beyond someone to have a drink with. Those people have found me work, helped me move, kept me sane. They don’t call it a ‘support network’ for nothing!

    Of course, it’s easier now. Emails, blogs, facebook, skype… they all help keep you in touch with people far away. But the truth is: nothing beats face-to-face, and nothing beats that web of favours given and received.

    It’s good to be back, although I hope it is temporary.

  • The heartache of bureaucracy

    He left in October 2013. Went across the Atlantic, to tend to family and duty and home.

    I stayed in England. Filled out forms. A petition to apply for a visa to join the person I’d been married to for six years. The website said six months. I posted the forms and waited. Rented a room in a house closer to work. Each day I came home and cooked dinner for one. Watched netflix in an attempt to drown the wrongness. Slept on one side of a double-bed. Researched Cincinnati.

    We got a letter that said the Nebraska Service Centre had received our petition to apply. We waited in vain for some confirmation that the petition had been approved, that we could move to the next step and fill out an actual application. Six months came and went. The days were filled with friends and work and people, but each night I curled up on the left side of my double bed and hugged myself. Each night the tension grew a little tighter.

    In April I gave up. Cancelled my plans to catch a boat, triumphant immigrant, papers in hand. Instead I booked a plane ticket. Three month tourist visa. I would leave in June and return in August. Three months together: our seventh wedding anniversary, my birthday, his birthday. I would turn thirty, and had no desire to spend that day apart. I gave up my job, any hope of income, and absconded to Cincinnati for three wonderful months.

    The approval to apply didn’t arrive until the end of July, eight months after he had left and we’d begun this process. The approval told us they’d sent the case on to the National Visa Centre, who would be in touch within thirty days. We waited thirty days. We waited another seven. I sent a polite email, having not been provided with a phone number. We had no response.

    My leave date loomed. I found myself tearful, clingy. A sense of impending doom hung over us, made every minute together bitter sweet. A desperate attempt to stockpile love, to hug long enough that it would carry us through.

    I leave on Tuesday. We have just got the next letter through, a bill for $88 from the National Visa Centre. His Dad pays it. We can finally submit the next stage of paperwork. As for how long that will take, nobody really knows. It could be a month. It could be another six months. It could be a year.

    I leave on Tuesday. My skin crawls with the sick anticipation of a half-empty bed. All this heartache, all this uncertainty. We cannot make plans. Cannot book tickets. I cannot even take a permanent job, knowing that I could be walking out the door in a month. Our life together has been on hold. Skype calls that were exciting when we were first dating became infuriating after so many years together. Too many memories of low wifi, poor video quality, trying to sync up across a five hour time difference and radically opposite schedules. The months ahead of me stretch out like a cold desert that I must cross with no map.

  • Designing Pipettes in the Dark: thoughts on responsive design

    I recently developed a custom ‘responsive design’ wordpress theme for new science blog Pipettes in the Dark. (I freelance in web design & development – you can see my portfolio over here at Monochrome Rainbow).

    You should definitely go read the first post — about Lego and WOMEN IN SCIENCE.

    It’s been a little while since I’ve developed an entire theme from scratch. One of the big challenges in web-design is crafting layouts that work on a range of screen sizes. We use a range of devices these days, from smartphones right up to smart TVs.

    Don’t think a bigger screen-size is such a challenge? Well, you’re wrong. Text is easiest to read in columns of about 50-75 characters. This is why newspapers and magazines print in columns.

    You have three choices on a big screen:

    1. Fix the max-width of your text areas so that they don’t grow (can often end up with ‘tiny website lost in acres of white-space’ syndrome).
    2. Make the font-size increase proportionally to the column width (actually not a bad idea, especially if you assume people are sitting further away from bigger screens).
    3. Or, final choice, you can ‘flow’ text into multiple columns using responsive design and media queries.

    Native apps versus responsive design

    There are two approaches to ‘solving’ the multiple screen-size problem. The first is by producing native apps for mobile, tablet etc. These usually work better, and can take advantage of mobile technology like GPS, notifications, etc. However they can be pretty expensive and hard to keep up-to-date.

    The other approach, which works better for individuals and small businesses, is to use a responsive design. That way you can have one website that is fluid across different screens. You lose some functionality, but if you’re basically just delivering content then that’s no big loss.

    Responsive design is mainly coded via media queries.

    Media queries are awesome. Deliver different stylesheets based on screensize, and you have one website that works on multiple devices.

    Media queries are used for responsive design

    Media queries used for three breakpoints to create a responsive design

    Pipettes in the Dark is a fairly standard blog, with no sales pitch or calls to action. I was able to stick to a tried and tested basic layout that everyone will be familiar with. The closer you stick to ‘standard’ layouts, the more familiar people will be with navigating and using them. Originality can be over-rated! Just remember the last overly-complicated flash website you tried to use. Frustrating, right?

    So I went with the two-column site with a header and footer. I then adjusted the width of the columns once you hit the tablet size, enabling the sidebar to stay readable.

    Finally, for mobiles, I got rid of the sidebar altogether. Sometimes, hiding non-essential information is the best way to go when you have limited space.

    Designing for SCIENCE

    The design elements have an interesting backstory. The header text or logo is meant to look like text spelled out with ‘PCR Bands’. Nope, I don’t know what PCR Bands indicate either, but I googled some images and was able to approximate the general look and feel in Photoshop.

    The background texture is channeling the idea of pipettes in a box.

    The colour scheme is grayscale, accented with hot pink. Keeping a limited colour-scheme can be challenging, but we kept enough contrast in each section to retain legibility. Hot pink is vivid and exciting, plus it is associated strongly with women. The blog itself will tackle some of the gender expectations/challenges within the generally male dominated field of science, and the colour scheme reflects that.

    Pipettes in the Dark is also the first of one hundred websites I designed and deployed as part of my Forty Before Forty! I’m expecting almost all of the other ones to also use responsive design… unless there is a really good reason not to.

    Want me to help you with your website? Get in touch with me suzie@monochromerainbow.com

  • That email from Amazon about the Amazon-Hachette Dispute

    So I got THAT email this morning. The one that compares the contract dispute between Amazon and Hachette to WW2 and Orwell and I don’t even know what?

    Here are my thoughts:

    Dear KDP Author, Could you not have used my name? Seriously? I’m in your KDP program!

    Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year. Hurrah for paperbacks. Didn’t stop hardbacks from being sold though, did it?

    With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion. CITE YOUR SOURCES. This seems like a really bug-eyed view of this period of literary history, and also I quite respect George Orwell as an author so, you know, I’d think he probably had some rationality behind his reasoning. 

    Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. The first part of your email is irrelevant. Great.

    Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive. I generally agree with this BUT. I buy ebooks for a wide range of prices. The value is dictated not by the format, but by how much I love the author. I’ll buy Robin Hobbs books at any price. Pretty sure this is true of most readers. JK Rowling can charge more than me: that’s kind of how a creative industry works. 

    Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers. 

    The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books. Already happened, frankly. If you want low-priced ebooks, you’ll find them on amazon, by KDP authors. And lots of people are buying them. For once, the marketplace is working. We’ve got erotica for all tastes, genre fiction by the bucketload, and we’ve got a platform for many of the voices that traditional publishing has often been adverse to broadcasting (e.g. minorities, LGBT, etc.) Ebooks are an important and disruptive force — but Hachette aren’t trying to stop ebooks. They just want to set the price for their own ebooks that they are publishing. 

    Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive. This bugs me. The video game market supports 99c iPhone games right up to $60 AAA games. Both models are viable. TV is supported by adverts, and Netflix is supported by subscriptions. News sites are in a bit of flux at the moment, but you have ad supported, subscription supported and paywall supported all co-existing somewhat peacefully. The point is, different audiences want different things.

    Some people want cheap ebooks and are prepared to wade through the self-pubbed stuff that isn’t professionally edited etc. Some people want to buy paperbacks. Some people want to buy ebooks from a traditional publisher… and are happy to pay a bit more, knowing the quality control was there. Some people like to try new authors and some people only read Stephen King/Jodi Picoult and will pay whatever to get that latest novel by that specific author. 

    Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger. Give us the source data. There’s nothing more annoying than cherry-picking a few facts and figures to make an argument. As the saying goes ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’. 

    In fact, give KDP Authors more data generally. We’re using your system and we don’t even know what our conversion rates are! The day I get A/B testing is the day I’ll be able to make marketing decisions based on real data. 

    But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that. Ebooks have already disrupted the market. You are emailing the millions of people who took the self-publishing route. We’ve ALREADY enacted the change. 

    And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading. It’s almost like people are diverse and have different wants and needs. And it’s almost like businesses can target different niches and support those differing wants and needs!

    We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle. Basically Amazon made a number of PR moves that would have meant Hachette would not have been able to pay their editors, cover-designers, proof-readers and everyone else involved in bringing a traditional-published ebook to market. But let’s get this straight, this is a contract negotiation. Nobody ‘has’ to give in. Both companies can choose to walk away and deal with consequences to their business. Both parties can choose to accept and deny terms. 

    We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us. Wait, wait, are you asking me to troll a work-email? 

    Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

    Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.comApparently you are. Great job. A multibillion dollar, international corporation has just taken the disruption tactics of people who genuinely don’t have voices, and used them against another corporation.

    You know when it’s valid to call for mass emails? When you’re emailing a political party claiming to represent your interests or when it’s consumers speaking against damaging corporate behaviour. NOT when it’s one corporation negotiating with another corporation. 

    Please consider including these points:

    - We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive. 
    - Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
    - Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
    - Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue. You just asked your authors to ask Hachette to stop using their authors as leverage? Ummmm. Pot, kettle? 

    Thanks for your support.

    The Amazon Books Team Did you just make up a ‘Books Team’? 

    P.S. You can also find this letter at www.readersunited.com

    So there it is. A complete clusterfuck of an email, that has completely undermined any respect I once had for Amazon.

  • Guardians of the Galaxy: some thoughts

    I’m a huge MCU fan. Seriously. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers. I have loved each and every entry, and was fully prepared to love Guardians of the Galaxy as well.

    And I did! It’s an awesome movie, funny, with a fleshed-out sci-fi world, awesome fight scenes, great characters (GROOT!) and plenty of colour and atmosphere.

    The story is pretty macguffin-y, but it works well enough. Ronan is an instantly forgettable villain, with his motivation wrapped up in a single speech and then forgotten. Nebula is more interesting, but has very little to do.

    There is, however, a little seed of discontent growing within my love for MCU and it’s about the women.

    Marvel is constantly lauded for creating movies with good female characters. And I am truly grateful for Pepper Potts, Black Widow, Peggy, Agent May, Jane… varied, interesting and often given story-centric moments.

    But, in part because they are such great characters, I want more.

    Every character in Guardians of the Galaxy was fantastic, but it was everyone except Gamora who sang. Heck, Groot and Rocket were more charming and sassier respectively. Gamora was just the straight woman. Black Widow kicks ass in Captain America 2, and is an integral part of the movie… but it’s still called Captain America. It’s still the relationship between Cap and Bucky that takes centre stage.

    I want a female villain on par with Loki or Thanos. I want a franchise with a female title character.

    I was hopeful that with a team-up franchise we would get more from the woman. But make no mistake, Guardians of the Galaxy is about Peter Quill. He’s the one we open with, he’s the human (our entry into the sci-fi world) and he’s the one who does the most to save the Galaxy. Of the ensemble, three are definitively male and one is presented as male (Groot).

    Kevin Feige has been dangling the promise of a female-led movie in front of us for a long time. It’s time he stopped hoping and started doing. Give us Black Widow or pick someone else from your plethora of comic book titles or come up with a female Big Bad. But stop short-changing the female fans. Half naked Thor can only placate us for so long.