Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Amazon Charts--What's It Doing for You?

Amazon has a new feature that they rolled out recently--Amazon Charts. The charts published weekly include the most read books on the site and the most sold. The question here is who benefits from this information, and is it enough?

Let's start with who I think doesn't get any benefit from these charts: readers. I just don't think that readers can gain much from this list (I also really don't think they get anything from NYT or USA Today bestseller lists either). At most, it encourages a reader to buy a book based on the popularity of it rather than the substance. Not all popular books are good, and not all good books are popular. It simply feeds a reader's ego: "Oh, I've read all those books that are popular this week. I must be an astute reader!" Nah.

Okay writers--it's your turn now. Amazon Charts can be beneficial to you, but only to a point. Knowing the difference between what's selling the most and what's being read can clue you into what genres are getting the most movement. However, because these charts take into consideration different formats (paperbacks sold can be tracked; paperbacks read cannot), it's not a full picture of what's going on. For example, my personal preference is to get a nice hardback copy of a book if I know I'll enjoy it. If I can get a great deal on an ebook ($2.99 or less) I'll take the risk to try something new. For Amazon Charts, one of these purchases would count, one would not. Writers can't really distinguish a reader's motive from the charts alone.

And while the charts can tell you something, it won't tell you everything. Specifically, it won't give you numbers. It doesn't include how many have been sold, downloaded, or how many pages read for any title. Those would be like gold to a writer. That would give a much better perspective on how these titles end up on the charts any given week.

So, reader or writer--will Amazon Charts have any impact on how you buy and read books? 

Monday, May 01, 2017

What's Left

It's the end of Camp NaNoWriMo and I have a poetry manuscript. It's certainly not complete. Some of the poems at the end haven't been edited, I haven't started putting them in order, and I didn't hit the page count I really wanted. But there's something there.

It's not what I expected. Don't get me wrong--I like what I've accomplished. I think I wrote some good pieces. The thing is, I understand the current trend in poetry. I know all the nuances of this particular style. I've read half a dozen authors who have been faithful to the trend. It consists a lot of focusing on the I, You, Me and We with an emphasis on removing all flowery language that often turns people away from poetry in the first place. It speaks like a conversation, and it ends with a full explanation. There's no way you come away from it without understanding the poet's intended meaning. It also mimics what a good haiku should be: focusing on the ordinary, but making it surprisingly extraordinary.

And none of this work fits that mold.

It made me want to chuck it all out the window, if only for a moment. I come from a background of being forced to read poets that made no sense, poets that seemed to have secret meanings behind every twist of phrase, dozens of super-archaic Shakespearean sonnets. That's what influences my work, and that means I have hidden meanings. I make obscure references. I play with metaphors and use all the colors in the crayon box. I'm in no way traditional, but there are hints of tradition in it. And that's not what the current market dictates. You would think a poet wouldn't concern themselves with market trends because poetry, overall, doesn't sell very well on its best day. But I've learned with both indie and traditional publishing, you're working with a ten percent effort on writing and a ninety percent effort on marketing if you want to be successful.

The issue I really have with the current trend is that the trend itself is being diluted with every new book that comes on the market. In my experience, Milk and Honey is the Holy Grail. It can do no wrong. It began the trend that you see. But those other poets, the ones who followed the trend? It doesn't quite hit the same notes when you read it. It doesn't contain the contemplative moments, and there's no sense of urgency when needed.

Because we live in a society where we can get whatever we want when we want, some of us don't want to put in the work to read poetry. Some of us don't want to have to work that hard to feel something. And this trend makes it easy to feel something without feeling stupid for not understand some deeper meaning. The meaning is on the surface, and it's not trying to hide behind anything. I don't write like that. The poets before me made me do the work, so I'm trying to hand down the same skill set to the next generation. I just don't think the next generation has the attention span for it.

I'll still polish it up and get it ready to send out into the world. It deserves that much.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Heading into the Final Stretch

At ninteen days Camp NaNoWriMo is more than half over. My project is currently sitting at slightly over half (45/80 pages) completed. I thought I would easily have 80 pages to cobble together, but it's harder than it seems. I felt like I've written thousands of poems over my lifetime, but really I haven't. Sure, I spent more than a year writing haiku which makes it seem like a large volume, but I'm excluding those from this project because of the length and the fact that haiku just seems to go together as a collection on its own.

Hopefully I'll find some more poems laying around, otherwise I'll have to get writing again. I'm not too worried, because 80 is sort of the center point of a poetry book. Most manuscripts are typically 60-100 pages. I wanted a little wiggle room in case I throw any out of the project. And length is really a smaller concern. The bigger concern is the order of the poems. It's going to take a lot of testing to see what order they should be in so that it flows and it seems like a cohesive entity instead of just random poetry slapped together. We'll see what happens!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Why ModCloth Fans are Angry -- And Why That Matters

Those of  us in the world who embrace all things vintage know the name ModCloth. It is a company that has been the center of my vintage-inspired lifestyle for years now. As you may have heard, ModCloth's owner announced the sale of the company to Walmart last Friday. This move has angered casual shoppers and diehard fans alike.

You can say, "Well that's just business." And there's the problem for fans of the brand. ModCloth wasn't just a store. It had a life and personality of its own--it was the type of dream branding most companies never achieve. It provided a space for all shapes and sizes to not only get awesome clothes and accessories, but for many of us to embrace our love for 20th century style, weird obsessions and general geekiness. It was the modern shopper's ideal of what a great store that cared about its customer base should look like.

I must admit that I didn't make purchases from ModCloth very often, but when I was able to make a purchase I was taking on as much as a 25% markup on the products I bought. I knew there were places I could get it cheaper (often directly from the brand of a particular item). I happily paid up because I knew I was supporting a business I believed in. And when I wasn't able to shop, I stayed engaged with the brand and its message.

What loyal customers can't reconcile with is who they did business with. ModCloth could have sold the business to almost anyone and you wouldn't have gotten this kind of reaction. Target? Sure! Department stores like JCPenney or Macys? Absolutely. A high-end company that would have jacked up the prices to an astronomical level? As a last resort, maybe. But not the scourge-of-the-earth Walmart.

You can't search for news about Walmart without running into the terrible practices it perpetuates. People stuck working for them (particularly women) have to deal with a lot of misery for little benefit. It is in direct opposition to the brand mission of ModCloth. That's why fans are angry, and that's why no one knows what to do with this move aside from saying sayonara.

Before anyone calls me a hypocrite for talking about Walmart, please let me be the first one to call myself out. Yes, I shop at Walmart. I can't help it--it's literally in my backyard. I live in one of those areas of the Midwest almost completely devoid of independent businesses because of Walmart's presence. There are a couple of restaurants in this town that aren't owned by conglomerates--that's it. I have little option but to shop there, as much as I don't like it.

This sale has proven that you can do anything you want because this is America--including doing something that's not in the best interest of the people that made you a success (see also: politicians). I'm sure that ModCloth weighed the pros and cons of the sale and knew that there would be an exodus of customers. But to think that they will get the same level of loyalty and engagement with a new set of customers is ridiculous. The dream is over, ModCloth. It was nice while it lasted.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

April Bringing Showers... of Projects

If you haven't figured it out by now, I like to celebrate National Poetry Month every April. This year, I've decided to work on a poetry project--a manuscript for submission to a publisher (one of the few that still consider unsolicited work).

I thought this would mean skipping out on April's Camp NaNoWriMo, but they've implemented some pretty awesome changes, including letting you set your writing goal to word count, line count, page count or hours spent writing (I hope these options carry over into November's contest as well). So now I can use Camp NaNo to complete my manuscript within a month. To be honest, a lot of the work is written; it just needs edited and compiled to a full-length project.

Now that there are plans in place, I can't wait until April!