Want to Succeed at Self-Publishing? Reviews Are a Double-Edged Sword

19 July 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

Kealan Patrick Burke won a 2004 Bram Stoker Award for his novella The Turtle Boy, but he still couldn’t make writing his full time job. Eventually, he stopped writing altogether: his job as a fraud investigator sucked up much of his time and energy. “But because a writer can never really quit writing,” Burke looked for ways to get back into it. He decided to try self-publishing his considerable backlist as an experiment. Three short years later, he was able to quit his job and start writing full-time again. Publishers Weekly gave one of his self-published novels, Sour Candy, a starred review, calling the writing “visceral” and said of Burke “[he] creates a stomach-twisting ride through the depths of horror, breathing new life into an often-stagnant part of the genre.”

Burke did much research into self-publishing before he committed to it: “I sought out advice from and read the accounts of those who had already done so…I wanted a balanced view of both the positives and negatives before I committed to it. I brushed up my Photoshop skills so I could design my own covers (a practical and economical consideration), read the formatting how-to books…and basically over the course of six months, tried to learn everything there was to know about the process.”

However, Burke readily admits that he underestimated the need for marketing, despite his research: “I was naïve and supposed that if the book was more widely available, the amount of promotion I would have to do would be minimal, that the exposure itself would sell it. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the lessons I had to learn the hard way (and it’s same no matter what the medium), is that no matter how good a book is, nobody will read it unless you teach yourself to be a savvy marketer. It’s a simple fact that many people continue to ignore, and then they blame Amazon, or competing writers, or the publishing climate, when quite often it comes down to the world not being aware that your book exists.”

. . . .

 “Good reviews are wonderful for the ego, but an informative negative review can be invaluable. You are not infallible and you cannot expect your work to be any different. It can always be better. The minute you think you’ve nothing left to learn is the moment you’ve given up on your craft. Do not engage reviewers. It is not their job to answer to a writer, and while you may not agree with them, the fact remains that you had your one and only opportunity to sway the opinions of reviewers when you wrote the book.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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Amazon tests personalised video ads

14 July 2016

From the BBC:

Amazon has revealed it is experimenting with personalised video adverts.

The clips feature images and text about products the US retailer has detected the user has shown interest in.

Amazon regularly displays customised static ads on third-party sites, but the videos have the potential to be more eye-catching and appear in more places.

One expert said the idea had potential but Amazon would have to be careful that its ads did not seem creepy.

“This is something we’ve only experimented with at very small scales,” Graeme Smith, managing director Amazon’s software development centre in Edinburgh, told the BBC.

“They have been out there in the wild.

“I’m not able to share any more details of where, but potentially anywhere you can see a video is potentially somewhere you could consider running personalised video ads, right across the internet.”

. . . .

But rather than just directing pre-made clips at targeted audiences, Amazon aims to make its adverts more effective by creating them on the fly, tailored to each user’s interests.

It is able to do this by using graphics templates, whose elements are superimposed with images and text selected by the company’s algorithms.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Jan for the tip.

The Year of Numbered Rooms

30 June 2016

From Humanities:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is the winner of the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award and was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award.

. . . .

By the time I arrived in Michigan this past fall, I’d been on tour for so long that I had to take a picture of my hotel room door every time I checked into a new place, because otherwise I’d forget my room number. “We have a budget for five cities,” my American publicist had told me at the outset, before the book for which I was touring came out, but then five cities somehow became 17, then 30, and then the tour turned into a sort of self-perpetuating phenomenon that seemed somehow to replicate by itself.

The e-mail from the Michigan Humanities Council arrived in January 2015, somewhere around my fortieth book tour event: The book had been chosen as the 2015–2016 Great Michigan Read selection. It’s a biennial program, in which a series of regional committees pick a book that has some bearing on both Michigan and the humanities. I have no particular connection to the state of Michigan, but the book in question, Station Eleven, involves a traveling Shakespearean theater company in a postapocalyptic Michigan lakeshore region. If I agreed to participate, the Michigan Humanities Council would distribute several thousand copies to schools and libraries and then send me on a series of tours all over the state.

I was declining most event offers by that point, because it was clear by then that what had started as five cities in six or seven days was going to be something closer to 50 cities in 14 months. I am aware at all times of how lucky I was with Station Eleven, having published three previous novels that came and went without a trace, but it is possible to exist in a state of profound gratitude for extraordinary circumstances and simultaneously long to go home. I missed my husband. I was increasingly worn down by life in hotel rooms and airports, and worn down by other people; most of the people I’d met on tour had been wonderful, but a few too many seemed to expect serious responses to questions and statements like, “What’s with all the sentence fragments?” and “Don’t take this personal, but I found your characters a bit over-the-top, by which I mean they weren’t believable” and—my personal favorite—“Obviously, All The Light We Cannot See was better, but yours was good too.” In the brief intervals when I was home between tours, I’d come to dread the inevitable hour when I left for the airport.

. . . .

Travel was easier before Room 948 than after, although never as difficult as I feared it would be. The tour shifted from the Antipodes to the Midwest. Room 409 was the best room, in Iowa City. It had a kitchen, I could walk to the event venue, and the hotel was next to a grocery store. Room 411 was the worst of all the rooms, in a Marriott. Where? It doesn’t really matter, because all Marriotts are the same. “Have you stayed with us before?” the woman at the front desk asked, and I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer, because if you’ve stayed in one Marriott, haven’t you stayed in all of them? The room was very beige. The corridors were empty. It was a long dark Marriott of the soul, but what made it a bad room wasn’t that it was a Marriott, it was that there was yet another gun massacre in a different state that day.

. . . .

I flew to Chicago, or more precisely to a hotel marooned in an ocean of parking lots on the outskirts of Chicagoland. The lights of big-box stores shone in the distance. The hotel bar was full of independent booksellers. I stayed in Room 627 that night, memorable because it was the first room in some time with a window that opened. By then the pregnancy was extremely obvious. “Congratulations,” one of my favorite Penguin Random House sales reps said, in the hotel lobby. “I don’t know how you found the time.”

. . . .

A woman at the back raised her hand to ask whether my book is modern or postmodern. I’d actually never thought about it. It occurred to me that if I were a little less tired, I’d be able to remember the technical definition of what constitutes a postmodern novel and could probably dance my way to an adequate response, but in that moment both the definition and the jargon eluded me. “I don’t know,” I said.

“Even though you don’t know much about literature and couldn’t say whether your book’s modern or postmodern, I think your book could still be taught in colleges,” she assured me later, in the signing line. Even though you don’t know much about literature. I refrained from throwing a book at her head and left as quickly as possible for Scottville.

Link to the rest at Humanities

PG expects an endless book tour strikes more than a few authors as a special kind of hell. It’s one of those things that is flattering at first, but becomes physically and emotionally exhausting for an introvert after a few days.

PG would be interested in knowing how much the author earned from additional book sales for each day of traveling. Certainly much less than the publisher did.

A publisher would think twice before sending an executive on an extended promotional trip consisting of a series of meetings with small groups of readers. But, of course, the author’s time doesn’t cost the publisher anything.

Are Libraries the New Bookstores?

27 June 2016

From Writer Unboxed:

Last year I was about halfway through my book tour in Ohio when I noticed something strange: I had not yet laid eyes on a bookstore.

I was traveling with my father and my sister through northwest Ohio. My novel Thieving Forest, which prompted the tour, took place in this area in 1806, when it was known as the Great Black Swamp. Today the swamp is mostly drained except for a few state parks and forests, and what has taken its place is farmland. Miles and miles of farmland.

“Hey, have you noticed there are no bookstores anywhere?” I asked my sister.

She said, “But there are a lot of libraries.”

That was a good thing, since I was on a book tour of libraries—eight of them. Every reading I held except for one (there’s always one) was extremely well attended with an audience full of avid readers. They had interesting questions, insightful comments, and we always engaged in a lively discussion. It was every writer’s dream. And then, after each reading, my sister and I sold my books—at a discount, since there wasn’t a bookstore’s cut to consider. The readers were happy and I was happy, too.

It turns out that just because there were no bookstores didn’t mean there were no readers. They were all at the libraries.

. . . .

Authors are becoming aware of the benefits of reaching out to libraries and making their books and themselves available. For one thing, nearly every library has at least one book club, if not two or more. What author doesn’t want to promote their book to as many book clubs as possible?

But book clubs aren’t the only ways that libraries promote books. According to Holly Kabat, the Acquisitions Editor at Medina County District Library and the librarian who organized a reading for me in Cleveland, “Libraries spend a lot of money and time, including training staff and coworkers, on best marketing practices. . . We want your books to circulate as much as you do!”

. . . .

“Academic, public and school libraries are experiencing a shift in how they are perceived by their communities and society,” according to the latest State of America’s Libraries report from the American Library Association. “No longer just places for books, libraries of all types are viewed as anchors, centers for academic life and research and cherished spaces.”

Libraries are becoming what’s known as “Third Spaces”—a social area apart from home or work. Even in the most rural of areas, I was told that people drove for miles to attend libraries events. And in fact I witnessed that first-hand as I read from my novel in crowded rooms.

. . . .

Don’t wait: contact libraries as soon as your book is released.According to librarian Holly Kabat, “Libraries rely heavily on their “new” section for continual circulation, because a lot of patrons don’t look beyond displays, and a lot of members don’t have an interest in books that aren’t new releases, for whatever reason. It is very rare that I buy a book with a pub date more than a year or two past the current date.” Also, keep your request short, giving a concise summary of the book.

Ask friends to request your book from their library, especially if they live in different cities and/or different states. Libraries listen to their members, and often have automatic requests built in to their web site—you can request without leaving your couch!

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

In PG’s experience, libraries often have much better facilities for readings/gatherings than most bookstores do.

I Lost $6,500 on My Last Book Launch

27 June 2016

From Renegade Writer Press:

Hello, Renegades! You may remember that I started a series of posts on the work and expenses that have gone into writing and publishing my new book,How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie.

I promised to follow up with a final accounting and to let you know if all the work and expense was worth it. That’s what you’re reading now.

In short, I’ll tell you that the book cover designer, interior layout designer, and proofreader were all 100% worth the cost. They all delivered on what they promised in their contracts.

The launch team that constituted the bulk of my expenses ($6,500 of the $10,000 spent)? That’s another story. I learned a lot of hard lessons from this, and hope you will, too, as I’m passionate about helping writers and want to make sure no other self-publisher has to go through what I experienced.

. . . .

I hired Insurgent Publishing to launch my new book. I had interviewed the owner, Tom, in the past and liked him.

When I contacted Tom in November 2015 about doing a book launch for me, he created a short video outlining the services he would provide. He mentioned in an email that “I only work with people who intend to sell more than 10,000 books in the first year alone.” Of course I intended to sell over 10,000 copies — who wouldn’t? — so that was a go! He put together a page of testimonials, and those included some very big names. Finally, Tom was very charismatic and reassuring, for example telling me (since I’m no longer on social media) that “social media is overrated” and “you do not need to blast on all channels to make this happen.”

. . . .

[I] decided to hire Tom for a full launch of How to Do It All, which I was about to start writing. After a bit of haggling from the initial quote of $10,000 to include a “rebranding” of Renegade Writer Press, Tom drafted a contract where I would pay $7,500 over the time leading up to the launch of How to Do It All, plus “15% net receipt of all book sales” for the next 12 months.

. . . .

Some of the particulars of the contract included:

  • “Active promotion and outreach during launch sequence (30 days prior to campaign start through the completion of the campaign, and post launch to facilitate ongoing sales of book).”
  • “Insurgent Publishing will manage an ambassador group/launch team for the Client, with input and feedback from the Client. (b) Insurgent Publishing will provide feedback and direction on marketing collaterals and develop alternative marketing channels for promotional efforts.”
  • “Create an ambassador group/launch team.”
  • “Finalize outreach timeline and materials. For example: how we need to approach influencers and mainstream media, how we’ll track and follow up with them, and all the organization and tracking that goes along with this process.”
  • “Conduct promotional outreach 30 – 60 days out from launch. Arrange podcasts, blogs, and other promotional opportunities with the help of the Client.”

Tom set me up with Jamie [not her real name] as my account manager.

. . . .

Jamie and I spoke once a week, and I started to notice that every week we would come up with a list of tasks that Jamie would promise to do or follow-up on, but by the next week’s call, many of items were not completed and the list would remain much the same for the following week. But I liked Jamie and trusted that things were moving along on their end.

As the book launch date approached, I started noticing that more and more was left undone. For example, the contract stated that Insurgent Publishing would identify and reach out to 200 “mainstream media, blogs, podcasts, listing sites, forums, FB groups / social media groups.” A few weeks before the launch I saw that the team had reached out to about 30 outlets — and those were mostly business podcasts and writing blogs, not women’s and mom podcasts/blogs (which is the obvious audience for this book), and certainly not the “mainstream media.” Moreover, the writing blogs were all ones I had written for multiple times before, and I’m friends with the owners; even if their readers were an appropriate audience for my book, I wouldn’t need any help placing guest posts with them.

. . . .

I started to worry, so I sent an email to Tom asking what was being done for the launch. As per the schedule we had agreed upon, I had been updating my early notification list at least weekly, managing the Facebook group, writing guest posts I landed, reaching out to my own contacts, and building a website. I had also made plans to contact every website, author, and business I mentioned in How to Do It All. But I wanted to know: What had Insurgent Publishing done?

Tom responded with, “We do what we do on our end” and that I should “trust the process.” He also said, “We also have plenty of stuff up our sleeve for launch day, from a Reddit promo, to ProductHunt, etc.”

At the time I didn’t see this as a bullying tactic, and I’m very non-confrontational, so I just put my head down and kept working, hoping that on launch day I’d see the results of the $7,500.

. . . .

On April 13 (remember, the launch was scheduled for April 18), I noticed that Jamie had not been responding to the emails I had been CCing her on. We had a phone meeting scheduled in 15 minutes, so I went to ding her in the Facebook Group for the book. I was surprised to see that she was no longer a member of the group. I emailed Tom, and he replied that Jamie was no longer with the company and the call would be with him.

The fact that I hadn’t been told that my main contact at the company had left goodness-knows how long ago — I noticed the last time she had responded to one of my emails was April 4 — and that I had been emailing her all that time with questions and comments, kind of freaked me out. But again, I tamped down my worries and kept a smile on my face.

In the week leading up to the launch, the communication from the company became even more scarce. The Friday before Monday’s launch, I sent a pleading note to Tom for information and support. He didn’t respond.

. . . .

The launch was scheduled for Monday, April 18. After all that work and expense, along with the promises from Insurgent Publishing, I was expecting congratulations, updates on what they were doing, and updates on results. Or at the very least, the promised Reddit, ProductHunt, etc. Instead: silence. No promised Reddit posts, no ProductHunt listing, no emails from the team — nothing.

I was stunned. Even when I sent a note asking for an update, I heard nothing from Tom or Insurgent Publishing on launch day. And even more troubling was that they were doing nothing that I could see to launch my book.

I went into the book’s Amazon dashboard to see if Insurgent Publishing had at least done something with the SEO (search engine optimization) terms, which they had said they would do. I discovered that they had changed the keywords to “Leadership in Management,” “Communication in Management,” “Inner Child,” “Study Aid,” and “Consulting and Psychology,” keywords that were irrelevant for How to Do It All — which is, if you’ll recall, a self-help book for women.

. . . .

Sandra told me that boilerplate packages used by launch companies often include software to generate keywords in order to save the company time from reading the actual book. If anyone working on my behalf at Insurgent Publishing had read the book, they would have known that those keywords were completelyinappropriate for my audience.

. . . .

So the next day, I took some important screen shots and sent an email to Insurgent Publishing. I said I feared Tom had some issue that was preventing him from working on the project, so I would need to cancel the contract. I requested, at the very least, a partial refund. To this point, I had already paid him $6,500 of the $7,500 fee.

This e-mail finally got his attention: Tom responded just 17 minutes later with a lengthy missive that questioned my character, and that said he didn’t respond to my emails on launch day because was too busy doing tasks that would have happened later that week. He also blamed the fact that I had sent an Advance Reading Copy to my list for the extremely slow sales (just over 30 sales on launch day) — which seemed pretty strange to me, considering I had paid Insurgent Publishing $6,500 so far to reach out to the media, bloggers, websites, podcasters, and more. If I was expected to rely solely on my subscriber list for sales, why hire someone to help?

. . . .

While I was reading this e-mail, I happened to have Basecamp, our project management program, open and I could see that Tom was going through our to-do list right then and checking off all the to-dos that hadn’t been completed, including low-priority tasks on my own list that I hadn’t yet done. Luckily, I had a “before” screen shot, so I took an “after” one that included the time stamp. Now I had proof that something fishy was indeed going on.

I responded with a very simple note requesting that Insurgent Publishing stop work immediately, and asked for a full accounting of not only the extra time they spent over the $6,500, but also for the entire $6,500 — including what they did, when, and proof that they’d done what they were contracted to do.

Tom wrote back immediately and said, “Let’s consider the contract cancelled.” To me, that was a big red flag that he didn’t want to show me an accounting. I emailed back, requesting the numbers I had asked for.

On April 23, I received an email from Insurgent Publishing with eight attachments meant to serve as proof of hours worked. And behold, the final tally of what I owed was $7,600 — $100 more than the total worth of the original contract.

Link to the rest at Renegade Writer Press and thanks to Toni for the tip.

Kindle Instant Book Previews

22 June 2016

Along with many others, PG just received a promo for Kindle Instant Book Previews.

We all know how easy it is to share our favorite pictures and videos online. Now you can just as easily share your favorite book with Kindle instant previews so anyone can start reading the book for free.

. . . .

Kindle instant previews can be embedded on the web or shared as a link via email, text and other favorite apps. Anyone can start reading the preview for free by clicking on the link, just like this example. The Kindle instant preview provides:2px-spacer

• Free content to keep traffic on your site

• Free access to a sample of the book

• Adjustable font sizes for the readers’ comfort

• Direct link to book purchase from Amazon

• Download link to get the free Kindle app

Link to the rest at Kindle Instant Book Previews

This appears to be easy to implement.

Here’s an embedded version of one of Mrs. PG’s books (note the buttons at the bottom of the cover):



Here’s a link to a preview of the same book.

Booklife Prize in Fiction

10 June 2016

From Writer Beware:

I’ve been getting some questions about the BookLife Prize in Fiction, a new award for unpublished and self-published novels. Prizes include a “brief critical assessment” from Publishers Weekly reviewers for all entrants (BookLife is owned by PW), a book blurb from “a bestselling or award-winning author” for semi-finalists, and a grand prize of $5,000 for a single winner.

BookLife claims to “[tap] the experience, integrity, and authority of Publishers Weekly to help indie authors achieve their goals.” It offers a free submission portal for writers who want to submit self-published books for review, along with “editorial content—success stories, interviews, author profiles, how-to pieces, news, and features”.

. . . .

I’ve been skeptical of BookLife since its inception, in part because of the failings of the Service Directory, in part because much of its content is generic info widely available on the web, or else reprints from industry bloggers or PW itself. Also, although BookLife is free, the site promotes PW Select, which charges $149 for a listing in PW and “featured” presence on BookLife.

. . . .

Entering BookLife’s Prize in Fiction requires a whopping non-refundable entry fee of $99.

A big entry fee like this, as many of you know, is one of the signs of an awards profiteer–an organization that runs writing awards and contests not to honor writers but to make a buck (I’ve written a lot about such organizations on this blog). So I contacted BookLife to ask why the fee was so high. I quickly heard back from BookLife President Carl Pritzkat, who confirmed what I suspected: part of the fee goes to cover honorariums for the PW reviewers who’ll be providing the critiques. But he also told me that “in terms of the entry fee we were modeling it after prizes like Forward Magazine’s INDIES ($99 with an early-bird rate of $79), IndieReader’s Discovery Awards ($150 for the first category of entry) and IBPA’s Benjamin Franklin Awards ($95 per category for members; $225 for non-members).”

Link to the rest at Writer Beware and thanks to Deb for the tip.

This Vermont newspaper is having an essay contest. The prize? This Vermont newspaper

9 June 2016

From Poynter:

The Hardwick Gazette sent out a press release Wednesday for an essay contest with a newsworthy prize – The Hardwick Gazette.

The contest winner will assume ownership of The Hardwick Gazette, the historic Main Street building where the newspaper has been published for better than 100 years, and equipment and proprietary materials necessary to operate the business.

It’s real, said Ross Connelly, editor and publisher of the Hardwick, Vermont weekly. He hasn’t gotten any entries yet, of course, since the release just went out, but they’re supposed to come in by mail anyway. “Real mail,” he said.

The cost to enter the contest is $175. The guidelines: 400 words “about the entrant’s skills and vision for owning a paid weekly newspaper in the new millennium.”

From the press release, which you can find here:

“We want to hear from people who can hold up a mirror in which local citizens can see themselves and gain insights into the lives within their communities,” says Connelly. “We want to hear from people with a passion for local stories that are important, even in the absence of scandal and sensationalism. We want to hear from people who recognize social media is not the same as a local newspaper. The winner of his contest will demonstrate this is a business that employs local people, that keeps the money we earn in the communities we cover, that is here week after week because the people who live here are important.”

Connelly, who turns 71 on Saturday, bought the paper with his wife in 1986. She died four years ago, and running the weekly paper by himself isn’t the same, either emotionally or financially, as it was with his partner, he said.

“The newspaper needs more energy than I have to offer now,” Connelly said, “I’m older than I used to be.”

. . . .

The Gazette has one full-time person in production, two people in part-time production, a reporter who recently went part-time, several other correspondents and a courier who picks up the paper at the printer each week in New Hampshire.

. . . .

He previously advertised the newspaper through Editor & Publisher, and people did come and look at it, but they were mostly tire kickers. The conventional way of selling the paper didn’t work, but Connelly felt that this institution that’s served the community since 1889 is still an important one.

Weekly papers fly under the radar of the mainstream press, who swoop in when big news hits, he said. But there’s still a lot going on that residents have the right to know about.

Link to the rest at Poynter and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG has a soft spot for tiny newspapers in tiny towns that originates from his high school days when he was the unpaid sports editor for the local paper. Aside from learning all sorts of synonyms for “scored”, he listed the editorship on his college applications and was accepted everywhere he applied, so perhaps there was a tangible benefit other than seeing his name in the paper every week.

Authors Are Paying for Ads and Their Books Aren’t Being Seen

6 June 2016

From Indies Unlimited:

Several authors have reported to IU that they’ve had disappointing sales after paying for an email advertisement, only to find their book didn’t show up in emails sent to recipients using a few of the big web-based book promotion services. Why not? Because companies like Gmail cut off emails they consider too long. So, here’s a typical scenario an author has reported to IU:

I was all excited because I got accepted by one of the advertising sites for discount books. On the day my book was scheduled to run, I opened up the email, scrolled all the way to the bottom and didn’t see my book. I was really mad as I paid money and was told I was scheduled for that day. I was about to email the site to find out what happened, but I decided to look at the email again, just to make sure I hadn’t missed my book. Then, I saw something I’ve never noticed before. At the bottom of the email, it says: “Message Clipped” and indicates to click here to “View Entire Message.” I clicked the link and it opened a new screen where I saw my book listed as one of the last few books in the email. But, my heart sank as I realized I was probably the only one who clicked that link. I didn’t even notice there was a link until I realized my book wasn’t there. And the resultant sales — or lack thereof — confirmed my suspicion. Very few people clicked to view the entire message. Most people didn’t even know my book was advertised, even though I paid money to be advertised in the email.

It’s a very frustrating situation for the author. It’s not entirely new in email marketing though. Mail services like Gmail have been truncating long messages for several years.

. . . .

So, if you’re an author and you’re about to advertise on a site, what do you need to do to make sure you don’t pay for an ad that gets clipped? Well, there are no guarantees, but here are a few suggestions of things to do to lessen your chances:

1.    Subscribe to the book promotion services you plan to advertise on (using a Gmail and/or Yahoo address) and check the emails for a week or two. Are their emails getting clipped? If so, that may not be a site you wish to advertise on.

2.    Ask the book promotion service how they combat the problem of truncated emails. If they can give you an answer, it means they’re aware that this is a problem and are actively striving to make sure you are getting what you pay for: an appearance in their email ad.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited and thanks to Melinda for the tip.

Having signed up for approximately two zillion email addresses, most of which he has forgotten about, PG has multiple Gmail, Yahoo, etc., addresses. He has addresses for personal emails, business emails, old business emails, accounts likely to be spammed, etc. The number of email addresses is exceeded only by the number of free news, updates, etc., email lists he’s signed up for that become less interesting over time.

One tweak to suggestion 1. in the OP is to use a descriptive username for the Gmail address you use for your truncation test and other email checks so you immediately know why you’re receiving the email – might not be an email address you want to use for friends and family, but it’s easy to see when emails to that address show up in your inbox.

If you don’t want to check lots of different Gmail accounts for new mail, you can set your test account to forward a copy of incoming emails to your main email address. Over time, you’ll gain a collection of various promotional emails in the test account so you can quickly scan through the emails to check formatting and other changes over time, how other authors word their book promos, etc. When you don’t want test account emails showing up in your main email address, just stop the forwarding.

You can accomplish something similar by creating one or more Gmail filters to sort and tag incoming email arriving at your main Gmail account. Here’s a link to Gmail filter information.

So far as PG is able to ascertain, Google will be happy to collect and store email for any number of Gmail addresses forever at no charge. And spammers will discover any Gmail address you create.


The Complex Psychology of Why People Like Things

17 May 2016

From The Atlantic:

In the time of the Facebook thumbs up, what does it mean to “like” something? What is it that makes humans decide they prefer one thing over another, so that you click replay on one song all day and cover your ears whenever you hear another in public? And how do Netflix and Spotify and other recommendation engines seem to know your taste as well or better than you do sometimes?

What determines people’s preferences is a fuzzy, hard-to-pin-down process, but Tom Vanderbilt takes a stab at it in his new book, You May Also Like. He examines the broad collection of likes and dislikes that make up “taste,” and how they come to be. Sometimes, people just prefer the familiar. Sometimes they like what their friends like. Sometimes they pretend to like movies they never really watch or music they don’t actually listen to. A lot of the time, they can’t say why they like something, they just know that they do.

. . . .

Julie Beck: I’m going to start really broad. What’s the point of liking anything? Why do humans as a species have preferences for things in the first place?

Vanderbilt: Taste is just a way of filtering the world, of ordering information. I use Michael Pollan’s phrase, [from] The Omnivore’s Dilemma—when humans do have this capacity to eat everything, how do you decide? I felt like the sheer availability of cultural choices is similar. We all face this new kind of dilemma of how to figure out what we like when the entirety of recorded music, more or less, is available on your phone within seconds. What do I decide to even look for now that I have everything available to me?

. . . .

Beck: Sometimes the things that we say we like and the things that we actually like in our secret hearts don’t match up. Is that a matter of lying to ourselves?  I was thinking of Netflix specifically; you mentioned in the book that people never watch the foreign movies they say they’re going to watch.

Vanderbilt: I think a lot of people are, in many ways, always striving for improvement. You want to eat the food that you think is best for you; you want to consume the culture that you think is best for you. That depends on who you are, of course.Just to segue a little bit to the concept of the guilty pleasure—this is a very interesting and complicated dynamic. I do think it has been used culturally as kind of a cudgel to try to shape people’s behavior and influence them and rein them in. You can find intimations going back to the emergence of the novel, for example, that the novel was a guilty pleasure enjoyed largely by women. I do think there has been this tendency to try to reign in guilty pleasure behavior when it comes to women. As a weird example here, if you go to a stock photo site like Shutterstock or something like that and type in the words “guilty pleasure,” what you will see is a page of women basically putting chocolate into their mouths.So that’s kind of the social aspect. And then for the personal aspect, maybe we’re just reflecting that cultural anxiety and trying to be those people that we’re supposed to be, those better people. The key to deceiving others is the ability to deceive yourself. That helps the lie. So I create these playlists and reading lists, and I orchestrate my bookshelves very carefully to have nothing but the finest tomes. How many of those I’ve actually read is another question.

. . . .

Beck: So it’s easier to like things if we’re able to fit them into some kind of label or category that we already understand and if it’s too new, too different, than it’s more baffling.

Vanderbilt: Absolutely. We like to sort things into categories to help us filter information more efficiently about the world. The example I like that’s been used in talking about what’s called categorical perception is: If you look at a rainbow, we read it as bands of color rather than this spectrum that smoothly evolves from one color to the next. Many things are the same way. In music we will discount things out of hand or be attracted to things because of the genre they fit in. But when you actually mathematically analyze that music, you might find something similar to that rainbow effect. You say, “This song by this artist, that’s an R&B song.” Well if you actually put it on a map, it might be closer, musically, to rock than most of the other R&B songs, yet it gets classified within R&B. When we classify something I think all those things tend to [seem] more like one another than they really are.

There’s this processing fluency argument out of psychology that comes up too, which I really subscribe to quite heartily. As with a foreign language the more we hear something, the more we begin to know what to listen for, the more familiar it becomes, the more we actually begin to like it. The less it sounds like pure noise. The argument is that what we’re really doing is beginning to become fluent [in understanding that thing]. We feel good about our fluency and we almost transfer some of that good feeling onto the thing itself. You may like French more because you can speak it, but what you might really like is your ability to speak French.

Beck: Thanks to the Internet, not only do we have easier, cheaper access to the stuff, but we get to hear everybody’s opinions about all the stuff. Do you think that has changed what people like and why they like it?

Vanderbilt: For certain things, it’s great. Just take If you’re looking for, let’s say, a remote control for your television, you can pretty much intuit right away what is the best remote control by sheer aggregation of star ratings. Because the remote control is a pretty functional object, people aren’t going to have a lot of quirky personal preferences on there.

When you go to something like a novel, it’s harder to arrive at that same robust conclusion, because you’re going to start to read comments like “I just couldn’t relate to the main character,” and that is not an empirical statement. We don’t know who that reviewer was that said that, or whether we can relate to them. So what you’re getting there are potentially unwise crowds.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

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