Monday, October 29, 2012

Report from Self-Publishing Book Expo, Part One


On Saturday I attended the fourth annual Self-Publishing Book Expo in Manhattan. I boycotted the first one in a feeble effort to protest what I viewed as a misuse of the term "self-publishing." By the time of the second expo, I stopped fighting a losing battle, and went over to the dark side. In reality, I was not joining Darth Vader, and the three Expos I've attended have been both pleasurable and informative. Here's what I wrote the first time, including a look back to an event I covered in the same venue for my first job as a journalist way back in 1970.

When attending conventions, trade shows and symposia for various industries and groups, it can be useful to try to distill an overall trend, mood or message. For this expo, there was no message. The mood was definitely optimism. The trends I detected were:
  1. A diversification of services offered by companies that provide services to authors
  2. A growing number of companies trying to unite authors and writers online
  3. Concern about the quality of self-published books (the concern may be bullshit)
Some exhibitors have been at the Expo since the beginning, so they obviously find it beneficial. Other companies, such as Outskirts Press and Author Solutions, tried once or twice and did not return. Hope apparently springs eternal, and each year there are new companies in the exhibit hall to replace the dropouts. There seems to be a lot of personnel turnover in this business, and many people who manned the tables for companies in past years were replaced by fresh faces.


The saddest faces this year, as in past year, were on authors who paid to exhibit so they could tout and sell their books. These folks get little 'traffic' in the exhibit hall compared to service providers. I admire their perseverance -- but not their business judgement. SPBE is simply not a place where people go to buy books. If someone does stop by an author's table and does get interested in a book, it's easy to delay the purchase and order it for less money from Amazon.com, and not have to carry it around.

In addition to the exhibit halls, SPBE provides teaching and discussion "panels" all day long. These are extremely popular (and unlike the exhibit hall, not freebies). Some are 'standing room only' or draw overflow crowds of eager acolytes listening from adjacent hallways. Because multiple sessions are held concurrently, attendees may have to choose which sessions to skip. Some trade shows offer audio or videotapes of sessions, and I encourage SPBE to investigate this.


The first session I attended was "The Secrets of Ebook Publishing Success" conducted by Smashwords boss Mark Coker. While I disapprove of books and seminars that use the term "secrets," (few if any 'secrets' are secret) Mark is a fine speaker and provided useful information and guidance for both novices and veteran self-pubbers. Some of his points:

  1. It's too easy to publish. There are lots of unedited books with bad covers (he showed some real losers).
  2. Authors must honor their readers, or readers will ignore the authors.
  3. It's important to turn readers into evangelists.
  4. With a limited budget, self-pubbers should spend more money on editing than on marketing.
  5. Publish more than one book. They can promote each other.
  6. Give books away (however, some freebies don't 'sell' because they are so bad or are poorly promoted).
  7. Self-pubbed e-books can stay in print forever -- there is no pressure to yank them from store shelves.
  8. Maximize availability -- make your books available wherever readers are.
  9. Don't worry about piracy. Obscurity is a much bigger problem. If you make your book easy to buy, few people will steal it.
  10. Virality (word-of-mouth) is critical; eliminate friction that hurts virality. Avoid negative virality.
  11. An improved cover can double book sales.
  12. In one study, a $2.99 book sold six times as many copies as when it was priced at $9.99. Less expensive books sell in greater quantity to build your reader base, even if the overall income is the same.
  13. (I'm not sure if I'm ready to accept this one.) Be positive. Don't say mean things about other writers.
  14. Think globally. E-book growth will be faster outside the USA than inside.
  15. Pinch pennies. Do as much as possible yourself.
  16. Never borrow money to publish or use money needed for necessities.
  17. Reinvest your income from publishing -- in publishing.




The other panel I attended was "Distribution for the Independent Author" with David Lamb of Vantage Press, David Wilk of Creative Management Partners and Alex Kampmann of Midpoint Trade Books. Some of their points:

  1. With traditional publishing, books must become popular FAST. There is just a 60-to-90-day 'window' before slow-selling books are returned by booksellers to publishers.
  2. Although many e-books sell for 99 cents, there is also a trend to higher-priced e-books. Some sell for as much or more as the printed versions.
  3. It is nearly impossible for self-published books to get into 'big box' retailers like Costco and Walmart. These stores are 'product-driven' for books as with clothing and electronics. They require big co-op advertising allowances, have limited space, and will return books in just 30 days if they don't sell. Costco chooses different books than Walmart.
  4. Some stores put their own price stickers on books and then return them, making them unsuitable for reselling to other stores.
  5. Your book can travel the world. Lightning Source has established printing facilities outside the USA. A reader in Singapore can get a book printed on demand in Australia.
  6. With indie books, Barnes & Noble often starts regionally to see if the book has appeal, before trying national availability.
  7. Marketing is the key to publishing success. (However, Mark Coker said it is more important to spend money on editing than on marketing.)
  8. Lots of stores that are not bookstores sell books. Think about gift shops and even supermarkets. Local retailers are interested in local authors.
  9. Sell books to friends. Use the power of personal marketing.
  10. Most distributors prefer to deal with publishers that have multiple titles, but sometimes will work with single books.
  11. There are many barriers to selling print-on-demand to bricks-and-mortar booksellers. Consider offset.
  12. Barnes and Noble will not stock books published by Amazon's CreateSpace.
  13. Booksellers are interested in NEW books, not books which have been on the market for months. Purchases are planned six or more months in advance.
  14. Retailers and distributors want to know your marketing plan. You have to prove that a book will sell. It's not enough that a book is the best book ever written.
More tomorrow (probably).

Friday, October 26, 2012

Authors Donot Need A Editor


There are at least a dozen different kinds of book editors. Do you know the difference between hard editing and soft editing, or what developmental editors, technical editors and copy editors do? Of course not -- and neither do most people.You can go broke hiring book editors, and delay making money by years while these high-priced, thick-lensed nerdy English majors destroy your work.

Editors are notorious for distorting an author's 'authentic voice,' turning macho into effeminate or vice-versa, rearranging your sentences and paragraphs or even removing words and entire sentences. Lots of editors create errors while trying to correct what they think are errors. Editors are just a bunch of pompous, power-mad manipulators who can't write well enough to be actual authors. They are jealous of authors and want to destroy them. Things that snotty and snobby editors think are mistakes are your personal style, and should be preserved. It's ridiculous for you to pay money so someone you don't even know can mess up your great book.

The most popular book of all times is the Holy Bible -- and the Holy Words of God didn't need any editors. The Good Book is perfect just the way it is, and readers should read your precious words just the way they come out of your head.  Microsoft Word has a built-in spell checker and it will take care of any spelling misteaks just fine.

The courageous people who make political signs don't need editors, and their messages are powerful just the way they are. Nobody cares if words are not spelled the way an English teacher prefers, or if some funny curly thingees are in the wrong place or are left out.

Do you even know what a subordinate clause is? Or a gerund? Or an adverb? Of course not. Don't worry about it. Just write.
Languages are not 'fixed' or 'static.' Languages evolve, and you can help to make English more suitable for the 21st century. Write what you want the way you want. Shakespeare invented words. You can, too.


More great advice at 99 Buck Books.http://www.99buckbooks.com

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I'm a "bestselling author." You can be one, too.

Lots of writers you’ve probably never heard of are described as “bestselling authors.” Unlike lists of the winners of Oscars, Emmys, Pulitzers and Nobels, there may be no official registry where you can check the validity of the claims.

Also, there’s an almost endless list of bestseller lists. Unless an author, publisher or promoter provides a detail like “103 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List,” it’s hard to document or disprove bestseller status.

The Times, of course, is the biggie. Other important lists are provided by USA Today, Amazon.com, IndieBound, Publishers Weekly and Barnes & Noble.

There is often disagreement among the bestseller lists and it may not be obvious how the lists are calculated. For example, online booksellers and “big box” stores may be excluded.

  • A book about flea removal from pregnant three-legged albino Weimaraners could sell exactly one copy and still be the BESTSELLER IN ITS FIELD. There is no law that requires an explanation on the cover or a footnote inside the book.
  • Anyone can call any book a bestseller (or “best-seller” or “best seller”) and the label may help it to achieve more sales—deserved or not deserved.
  • Keep in mind that even if a book is on a legitimate list, the fact that many were sold does not necessarily mean that it’s a good book, or even that buyers have read what they've bought. Used bookstores are filled with "used" books that have obviously not even been opened. From Wikipedia: Bestsellers have gained such great popularity that it has sometimes become fashionable to purchase them. . . . The rising length of bestsellers may mean that more of them are simply becoming bookshelf decor. In 1985 members of the staff of The New Republic placed coupons redeemable for $5 cash inside 70 books that were selling well, and none of them were sent in.
  • There are even fudged bestseller labels that are more the result of marketing than of statistics, such as “summertime bestseller” or “underground bestseller.”
Amazon’s bestseller list has been manipulated by elaborate online campaigns to maximize purchases during a brief time period to temporarily elevate a book to bestseller status.


One day last year, with no manipulation, my newest book, STINKERS! America's worst self-published books was ranked NUMBER EIGHT on one of Amazon's bestseller lists. The next day, it was up to NUMBER TWO. That's pretty amazing, especially since I was still tinkering with the book and had not made an official announcement that it was available. It's on a very specific list (maybe a very obscure list), but now I can legitimately call the book a “bestseller.” My wife is not impressed. If you are impressed, please buy the book. It's important, useful and funny.



My first book about self-publishing has been on TWO Amazon bestseller lists. Sadly, bestseller status has not enabled me to quit my day job.

(pooch pic from http://arizonaweimaranerrescue.com)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I started a self-publishing company in 45 minutes for free. So can you.




(left-click image to enlarge it)
(CLICK HERE for 99 Buck Books website)

I've been intrigued -- and troubled -- by some recent new entries in the self-publishing field such as Esquire Publications, MindStir Media and A Book's Mind. Some of the companies simply don't seem "ready for prime time" and I was curious to see how easy it is to form a self-publishing company.

It's very easy.

I did a Google search for "free website," chose a hosting company (wix.com), chose a template, put in some words and pictures, chose a business name and I was open for business in about 45 minutes. My "company" quickly became Google-able through this blog, and will probably have its own Google link in a day or so.


(above) Just as Lulu and other companies advertise "free self-publishing," it's also possible to form a self-publishing company for free. All I needed is an email address, and accounts with Paypal and CreateSpace. I'll let the authors do the writing, editing and designing, and offer various services for additional fees. Books will automatically be available for sale.   

Here's the website for 99 Buck Books. Will I defeat Outskirts Press and CreateSpace? Will 99 Buck Books get bought by Author Solutions or Amazon for millions of dollars? Will I get sued by Sarah Palin for millions of dollars. I'll let you know what happens.

Anyone who can read, click and type can become an author or a publisher. That's sad.

Update: I'm having so much fun that I upgraded my freebie website to a paid one so I could have a normal URL: 99BuckBooks.com. I'll probably put links to some of my books on it so I can sell some books to cover the cost of the website. 
. . . . .

NO, I'm not really starting a self-publishing company. This was just an experiment to see exactly how low the "barrier to entry" is in self-publishing. I'm too busy with my own books to publish the work of other writers. I learned that it's very easy to form a self-publishing company. Before you choose one, carefully investigate its qualifications and successes -- and remember: price isn't everything.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is A Book's Mind really serious about publishing books?



Just as new technology -- especially print on demand and Internet marketing -- has made it much easier for an author to get published, it's also easy to form and operate a self-publishing company to serve authors. (It can be done in an hour.)

New entries seem to pop up every few months, and older ones fade, get remade, are merged or are bought by other companies.

Yesterday I heard about the strangely named A Book's Mind ("ABM"), which calls itself "the smart way to publish" and "a smart publishing option," and touts "progressive self-publishing" and "alternative publishing."

Most companies seem to manage just fine with merely one tagline, like "Think" (IBM), "Better Living Through Chemistry" (DuPont) and "Shift" (Nissan) -- but A Book's Mind thinks it needs four.

I'm not sure that ABM needs four taglines, and I'm also not sure that the world needs ABM.

Despite its claims, ABM doesn't seem to be any better than its competitors which have just one tagline, generally claiming to be the "leading" something.

Actually, ABM wants us to know that it "is quickly becoming recognized as a leader in customer satisfaction and superior cover designs in the publishing industry." It is unclear who has recognized it as such.

ABMs main pitch is that its author-customers will make more money than if they used another publisher: "you are able to buy your book at cost, not wholesale or at an 'Author Discount,' and sell your book yourself and keep 100% of the profit." If authors keep 100%, how will ABM stay in business?

The ABM website emphasizes book sales through author's own websites -- which often get somewhere between zero and no visitors -- rather than through traditional online or terrestrial booksellers.

The chart below (left-click to enlarge) entices hopeful authors with apparently higher profit than two competitors can provide, and shows absurd sales figures of 500, 3,000 and 12,000 novels sold "from your web site or by hand." It could take five years to sell "only" 500 novels by hand.



The header of the first column says, "Quantity of Book's Sold." A company that wants to sell editing services for $1250 should have someone who knows that the plural of 'book" is not formed with an apostrophe!

The ABM "Print Cost Calculator" shows that printing a common 6-by-9 paperback will cost $1.75 plus a penny a page. Therefore, a 300-pager will cost $4.75. ABM says, "We are a smart publishing option that can generate almost twice the amount of money per book sold as other publishing companies." The price for a 300-page paperback from CreateSpace is $4.45, providing 30 cents more profit than ABM. OOPS!

ABM wants us to know that "As an independent author, getting your book into local stores might be easier than you think, [actually, it's often quite difficult] and you receive 100% of the profit." If the author receives all of the profit, how will the store (and the printer) stay in business?

There's lots of sloppy thinking, typography and writing on the ABM site -- such as "Your web site and online storefront allows" and "have the ability to chose." Where is the ABM editor?

One ABM printing cost comparison includes Lulu, AuthorHouse and BookSurge. BookSurge was bought by Amazon in 2005 and absorbed into Amazon's CreateSpace in 2009. The chart is three years out-of-date.

ABM offers four packages priced from $1,500 to $4,600. The incremental features reveal some very high prices, such as $1200 for a press release. Many services and products are available a la carte, such as $900 for cover design. OUCH! 

The company will set up a blog for its authors, but the company doesn't seem to see much value in blogs. Its own blog had three posts in 2010, four posts in 2011 and not even one yet in 2012. That's not a good sign.

ABM has 23 followers on Twitter, compared to about 4,500 for AuthorHouse and nearly 9,000 for CreateSpace. Most of the ABM Tweet addicts do not seem to be authors:
  • My name is Frank Waszut and I'm a narcissistic ginger that use to be a professional mixed martial arts fighter.
  • I live in Republic of Korea is a middle-aged man. Love music, poetry, and good for the usual.
  • i am lesbian and like to be with my partner all the time and i am a freak but that is ok, i like myself that way
  • My way to anonymously share with the world the ridiculous shit my roommates say. And sometimes my neighbors. You're welcome.
I doubt that any of these folks are the next Hemingway or Rowling.

There's a lot about ABM that indicates that it is simply not ready to compete in the publishing business. The company's phone number is answered by a man who announced "This is Floyd." I had to ask him if I had reached A Book's Mind. He said I had.

The phone number and Floyd Orfield are not exclusively devoted to book publishing. The same toll-free number is used by Par For Par -- an advertising program/game aimed at golfers.

Competition is good for people who buy products and services. I like to see lots of companies providing services for authors. Sadly -- as I've said about other recent entries in the field -- there just doesn't seem to be any good reason to use A Book's Mind.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Has "Media Matters" hired Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World?"


Media Matters for America "is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media." Conservatives compete with their own "watchdog," Accuracy in Media. "AiM" tells us that the liberal-biased media are "anti-family and anti-religion."

"MMfA" produces a radio show aired on weekends on Sirius XM satellite radio. I'm very much interested in both media and politics. I look forward to the show and it's usually informative and interesting. BUT... the amateurish-sounding hosts Brad Herring and Jess Levin often seem like the annoying, giggly kids on "Wayne's World."

Brad and Jess severely diminish the impact of the show and their voices sometimes make me choose a different radio channel before the show ends. If I close my eyes, I can see acne on their teenage faces. (No, Brad and Jess are not really teenagers with acne -- they just sound that way. Radio is "theater of the mind," and voices create visual images.)



I don't know of any contemporary radio broadcasters with the authoritative and comforting tone of Walter Cronkite (1916 - 2009) or the perfect diction of legendary H. V. Kaltenborn (1878-1965), but the unprofessional-sounding MMfA hosts are not the equals of a current competing male/female media critiquing team, Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." 

A radio show covering politics and media requires BROADCASTERS -- not just researchers who can speak. Brad and Jess (and their listeners) would benefit from the services of a voice coach -- like  Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady. Oh, wouldn't it be loverly?

Saturday the MMfA show planned to air an interview with Woodrow Hay, mayor of Boynton Beach, Florida. The town (where my parents used to live) was described as being located "between Miami and Fort Lauderdale" and "20-30 miles north of Miami."

It is actually about 32 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, and about 60 miles north of Miami. I guess I have to do some of Brad and Jess's work in correcting inaccuracy in media. Harrumph!


(Map from Google)




Friday, October 19, 2012

If you use Outskirts Press, you pay to get published, and then may loan money to the company

Outskirts Press is a frequent target of this blog because it does so many things so badly, and is so sleazy. Here are some highlights from the Outskirts author contract:

Author receives 100% of the royalties profit for each wholesale print copy sold for which Outskirts Press receives payment. [If you work your ass off promoting your book, and pay Outskirts to promote your book, but Outskirts sells copies of your book and doesn't get paid, you don't get paid.]
 
Royalties are paid to Author within 90 days following the end of the calendar quarter in which Wholesale Book Sales occurred [If a book is sold on January 1, Outskirts doesn't have to pay you your royalties until 90 days starting on April 1 (i.e., the end of June -- six months later!).

The Outskirts Press online bookstore offers discounts on purchases of 10 or more books to "Wholesalers, retailers, distributors," and requires payment by credit card. A bookseller's money should be in the Outskirts checking account two days after a purchase, but Outskirts doesn't have to pay you until up to 178 days later.

You will become Outskirts's bank, potentially loaning it money for nearly half a year, but not being paid any interest.

Outskirts will cancel your book if you don't pay their $25 annual digital storage and hosting fee within 30 days, but you must allow them six months to pay you. Conceivably, your book could be canceled if you owe them $25 for 31 days, even while they owe you hundreds or thousands of dollars.]

 
Outskirts Press does not warrant that the service or product provided will be uninterrupted or error free[That's certainly no surprise.] Outskirts Press disclaims any and all representations and warranties, expressed or implied, including, without limitation, the implied warranties of merchantability, salability, or noninfringement of copyright. [In other words, don't expect Outskirts to do anything right.]

Outskirts Press’s total liability to Author or any third-party for any and all damages shall not exceed in the aggregate the amount of fees actually paid by Author to Outskirts Press during the one month period prior to Outskirts Press’ act giving rise to the liability. [If the author paid $5,000 two months before the screw-up, but didn't pay anything in the immediately preceding month, the author gets nothing -- even if the Outskirts error costs the author a million bucks.]

To the maximum extent permitted by applicable law, in no event shall Outskirts Press, its parent companies, subsidiaries, or affiliates, or any of their respective officers, directors, employees, or agents by [TYPO: should be "be."] liable for punitive, consequential, incidental, exemplary, indirect, or special damages, including without limitation damages for loss of profits, revenues, business data, or other intangibles, whether or not such damages were foreseeable and even if Outskirts Press had been advised of the possibility or likelihood of such damages.  [In other words, if Outskirts Press screws up, don't expect them to pay for any loss caused by their errors -- even if they knew in advance about the problem.]

Any legal action related to the terms of or obligations arising under this Agreement shall be brought in the District Court of Douglas County, State of Colorado. [If you live in Hawaii or New Hampshire, and you don't like what Outskirts did to your book, you have to travel to Castle Rock, Colorado to sue them.]

Outskirts says its mission statement is "To exceed the expectations of every author we help publish." Authors can expect crappy books and inadequate promotion from a company that hides behind legal weaseling, denies any obligation to do the right thing, and may deny any liability when they do the wrong thing. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How important is book VALUE?



Most books are not commodities like lumber, copper or sugar. Books by different authors, about different subjects written for different audiences are not interchangeable. Shoppers probably don't compare the number of pages per dollar or the number of hours of pleasure provided by two different books and pick the one that provides the best value, like Happy Meals at McDonald's vs Kids [sic] Meals at Burger King.

Nevertheless, it's very important for a publisher to consider the prices of other books aimed at the same audience when putting a price on a new book.

The two books above are aimed at different audiences (I may be the only life form in the entire Milky Way Galaxy who purchased both). However, both books are non-fiction and may be used to educate readers to help them make money -- so a comparison of the books can be useful.

If you look at the numbers above, it's obvious which book is a better value. This doesn't mean that the book on the right is better than the one on the left, but it does show which one gives more for the money. If you compare page size, color vs. B&W and binding, the difference in value is even stronger.

As a publisher, you have to figure out the perceived value of your book. If most of the competitive titles are selling for $12.95 - $14.95, you'd better be very sure you can justify a $19.95 price and that potential shoppers will understand the difference and can afford the extra dollars. If not, keep your price in line, or even go low if you are trying to establish your “brand” and think you can attract buyers with a low price.

On the other hand, some books can demand higher prices.

If your book is vitally necessary for business or government, and doesn’t just provide entertainment or casual reading, a book that costs $4 to print could bring $29.95 or even $75. If people can be convinced that your reference work or new theory will save them or make them many times the investment, there is really no limit to the price it will bring.

Just keep in mind that at a certain price point, the book has to look better physically, and probably should be hardcover not a paperback, and have multiple strong endorsements (”blurbs”) from experts in the field.

I've previously written about the low profit for an author caused when a self-publishing company dictates a book's retail price based on the number of pages in a book without considering prices of competing books or the perceived value of the new book. Unfortunately, authors who have the freedom to set their books' prices can cause even worse trouble for themselves: very low sales.

It's important that authors write books they can be proud of, and that authors be proud of their books. Unfortunately, some authors seem to have too much pride. They have an unjustifiably high opinion of their work and their position in the marketplace. The authors set prices that are so absurdly high that sales will be hurt.

[above] For a mere $7.95, readers seeking WW2 love stories can purchase the hardcover Love Stories of World War II, compiled by Larry King. Or, for $37.95, they can buy the hardcover Every Thought of You, compiled by Paula Berryann.

[above] Readers who like epic fantasy tales can purchase the hardcover Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling for just $13.67. Or, they can buy the hardcover A Chronicle of Endylmyr by Charles Hill for $27.95.

Study your competition before you decide to put a high price on your book. Will your book be perceived as several times as good as a book from an established pro like Rowling or King?

Probably not.

Hmmm. Is it a coincidence that all three of the high-priced books were published by inept Outskirts Press?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dog story



As some of you know, my dog, Hunter J. Marcus, is eleven years old today. As a present, and a tribute, I gave him a Facebook page. Rin Tin Tin and Lassie have FB Pages, so why not Hunter? Hunter's page is more fun. Hunter is more fun.

In a way, it seems strange to refer to Hunter as my dog, as if I own him -- like _my_ iPad. Hunter is a live being capable of independent thought (sometimes too independent), and not a possession. However, since I speak of "my wife" or "my friend," Hunter is "my dog." Actually he is "our" dog because Marilyn and I share the joy and the work. However, as part of my deal with Marilyn, only I pick up Hunter's poop.

Hunter is much more of a friend/relative/housemate than a possession. Just as I don't believe in racism, sexism or ageism, I don't believe in speciesism. All mammals have full rights and privileges in our home. If Hunter wants to nap on a couch -- or on the kitchen table -- that's his right. 

Hunter is a "rescue dog," but not in the normal sense. He originally belonged to neighbors. They bought him in an effort to improve a bad marriage. They also had more kids to improve the marriage. Ultimately the marriage fell apart. The wife got the kids. We got Hunter. We got the better deal because one of the kids was not nice.

Hunter is a golden retriever. Retrievers are very gregarious. They need interaction with other intelligent life forms. Sadly, the neighbors kept him in a cage in their basement -- a miserable existence for any dog -- especially a retriever. (Golden retrievers and labrador retrievers have similar personalities and both love being cold and wet. Goldens have longer fur.)

I worked from home at the time (early 2002) and started borrowing Hunter for longer and longer periods each day. 

My wife had never lived with a dog, but had gotten to like Hunter, and was willing to go along with the 'rescue,' provided I agreed to clean up the crap. I had always liked dogs, and since the places where Marilyn and I had lived previously were not dog-friendly, I never seriously considered getting one. Hunter was my dream-come-true.

I don’t often dwell on my lack of human children. Marilyn and I tried to reproduce, but we didn’t; and adopting seemed like too much of a gamble. Hunter, however, was adopted, and he’s just fine. If I had to be a dog, I’d like to be like him. But I’d want parents like us, to spoil me.

Hunter has proper AKC papers. The neighbors had paid $1,000, but he'd be ours for just the price of food and a few toys and the annual shots. HAH.

It didn't take long before we realized that he wasn't happy going for morning and evening walks and spending most of the day in the house, so we spent $100 for a gate on our rear deck, and then $3,000 for a custom awning over the deck to keep him cool when it was sunny.

As he grew bigger, he needed more room to roam than the rear deck provided, and he wasn't happy being tied up in the back yard, so we decided to have a fence put around the yard. A three-foot-high fence would have been tall enough to keep him in, and would have cost about $5,000. The helpful salesman pointed out that if we spent just $2,000 more, we could have a fence that was five feet tall, tall enough to protect a swimming pool, “just in case.”

“Just in case” came the next year, and cost us about $75,000. We didn’t buy the pool just for Hunter, but we probably would not have gotten it if we didn't already have the dog fence, and Hunter uses the pool much more than people use it.

Hunter is the ultimate SBD (silent-but-deadly) farter. His farts smell as bad as his crap, but I’ve never heard him fart even once. His butt hole is a stealth weapon, striking with no warning.

Hunter 'gets away' with a lot. Marilyn and I reward bad behavior because Hunter is a perpetual puppy and everything he does is cute. We have no human kids so Hunter gets -- and returns -- a lot of love. Dogs have advantages over human kids. No bad report cards. No bar/bat mitzvahs, college or weddings to pay for. I just pick up poop. 

There’s an animated movie called "All Dogs Go to Heaven." I’ve warned Hunter not to die, because Heaven won’t be nearly as good as what he has here and now.

Hunter eats chicken breast meat for breakfast and supper, supplemented by Natural Balance dog food and lots of dog cookies and dog biscuits -- and whatever 'people food' he mooches from nearby human beings. Sadly, he probably has a better life than millions of people on this planet.

When Marilyn is watching, Hunter drinks only Poland Spring water. When she is not watching, he is happy to slurp from a puddle or a pool.

Hunter is a very enthusiastic eater and has apparently never disliked any food. He loves cheese, chopped liver, shrimp, clams, lobster, won-ton soup, matzo ball soup, chicken noodle soup, eggs, spaghetti, ravioli, ice cream, Rice Krispies, Cheerios, apples, melon, pizza, spare ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers and, of course, steak and chicken. There are a few things we don't let him eat.

Unlike Rin Tin Tin, Hunter has flaps over his ears. However, his hearing is extremely good. Even from upstairs to downstairs he is able to hear the sound of foil, paper or cellophane being unwrapped and will quickly appear to share whatever was wrapped inside.

A few times he found and ate Hershey's Kisses, He shat out the foil.

If Hunter is in the back yard and we want him to come in, we yell "chicken." He has escaped a few times but never roamed far because he knows how good he has it here. We usually find him across the street at the front door of the house where his best friends Copper, Cheech and Buddy live.

Hunter has never had a broken bone or a serious illness. His adult weight is always about 80 pounds. He is an 80-lb. lap dog.

Hunter has never been in a kennel. He travels wherever 'mommy and daddy' go, and usually sits in the right-front seat of the car.

Although he is an 'old dog,' he does learn new tricks and loves to perform. He understands about 30-40 human words (maybe more that he chooses to ignore) and is quite able to make his wishes known with whistling, whining, tapping, posturing and pointing. I've learned to understand "doggish."

Hunter starts each morning with 'tripod." He raises his left-rear leg in front of me and stands on the other three so he can get scratched under the raised leg. Some people think it's weird.

He will also jump up and take a cookie from my mouth. Dog lovers think it's cool. Other people think it's disgusting.

When we are ready to leave the house, I tell Hunter to "walk the doggie" and he picks up the end of his own leash and walks to the door. At hotels, we go to the front desk and he stands up and puts his paws on the counter as if he's going to sign the guest register.

Hunter likes almost all people, but only a few dogs, and gets upset when a lawnmower is used nearby. He used to hate vacuum cleaners. He loves to 'grab' water coming from a hose. He does't seem to notice thunder.

Our front door has an intercom speaker and a button that makes our phones ring in bursts of three rings, instead of the normal two. Hunter is able to count the rings and goes to the door when appropriate. He can also count to give five kisses before getting a cookie.

Hunter has a few personal dog friends he likes to play with, but generally doesn't play well with strange dogs. However, he seems to recognize other goldens and labs as cousins and is instantly eager to play with them. 

Although Hunter is sort-of trained, he has trained us _very well_. We keep a water bowl in our bedroom, about five feet from the bed. At night, Hunter knows that if he starts panting, one of us will fetch the bowl and put it in front of him on the bed. We seem to exist to serve him.

Like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, Hunter understands acting. He likes to wrestle with me, and will clamp his jaw on my hand, But, as in "The A-Team," there is never any blood. If I express displeasure, he immediately switches from biting to kissing. If I make a fist, put it near his face and say "nose wrinkle," he'll wrinkle his nose, bare his teeth and make believe he's a ferocious beast instead of a cuddly animated pillow.

Hunter is extremely strong, able to pull an adult on a sled or in a wagon. He can be tough to control on a leash when he wants to go off-course to smell something disgusting, but is very gentle with small children, and more obedient to three-year-old walkers than adults.

It's sad to face the reality that, despite his good health, Hunter probably has just a few years left. That's the way it is with dogs. We don't get to keep them. We just borrow them. It's important to make every day a good day. Whatever good things you can do for a dog will be returned ten times over.

People who abuse animals deserve to suffer for eternity. People who don't like dogs don't know what they're missing. I don't understand why people will get a dog and then spend $1,000 to have them trained _not_ to stand up on their hind legs to kiss and hug. Dog kisses are the best kisses. Dogs are the most enthusiastic greeters. Dogs are the best people.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Did Outskirts Press's Brent Sampson replace his wife?


According to the Internet Wayback Machine, as recently as May of 2011, Jeanine Sampson (Mrs. Brent Sampson) was part of the "executive team" that ran inept and dishonest pay-to-publish company Outskirts Press. [below] As recently as today, LinkedIn identifies Jeanine as COO of the company. [This paragraph should be flush-left, not centered. Blogger will not let me fix it.]


[below] And, as recently as today, 411.com shows Jeanine and Brent living at the same address. 

Also, as recently as today, Facebook shows that Jeanine and Brent are married to each other and Jeanine is still the Outskirts COO.


Lots of people don't update their LinkedIn and Facebook pages. However, the Outskirts exec page has been updated [below]. In the current version, Jeanine is notably absent, and Kelly Schuknecht has been added.

  • It's possible that Jeanine and Brent are no longer Mr. & Mrs. Sampson and that 411.com, LinkedIn and Facebook are out-of-date.
  • Or maybe Jeanine decided to be a stay-at-home mom.
  • Or maybe Jeanine got another job.
  • Or maybe Jeanine decided to retire early.
  • Or maybe Jeanine realized that Outskirts Press is such a shitty operation that she no longer wants to be associated with it. If that's the case, I applaud her.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Use your hidden assets from Amazon and elsewhere


For years, airlines have awarded frequent flyer miles ("flier," actually) that can enable folks to fly for free.

Amex and bank credit cards provide "rewards" and "points"  that can be exchanged for all kinds of services and products -- or even gift cards that can be used in stores, or online, or even be used to pay bills, or be given as gifts.

"Store" cards do the same, but unless you get into the habit of checking your point balance, you may accumulate lots of potential freebies without realizing it. Sony sends me email reminders. BestBuy and Bank of America do not.

As we approach the big gift-giving season, take advantage of your hidden assets that can reduce the cost of gifts to zero

When you shop, use a card that pays you back.

Even if you don't need to buy gifts, you can grab free iPads, iPods, Kindles, Nooks, cellphones, cameras, jewelry, small appliances, books etc. that you can sell on eBay and get real money.

If you are an author and need copies of your own book to give away to friends, family and reviewers, you can get them for free with points, and also earn money from your publisher or printer, and maybe raise your sales ranking a bit.

You can plan your shopping to maximize points. The Amazon/GE 'store charge' doesn't earn anything, but the Amazon/Chase Visa Rewards card does. If you don't have this card, you can get $30 in freebies when you get the card. If two people in your family get new cards, that's $60. You can even get a card in a business name.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

GOP baby talk



It's sad that some Republicans have the intellectual sophistication and debating skill of playground punk Nelson Muntz in "The Simpsons."

Children insult each other by distorting their names. Back in grade school I was "carcass" and "Marc-ass." I haven't heard those epithets since around 1954.

I had assumed that adults were too mature to engage in this silliness -- but the hatred of teabaggers and other right-wing extremists seems right out of third grade.

They seem to be unable to disagree with the president without referring to him as "oSHITHEAD," "NoBama," "Ovomit," "Oblubberhead," "O-Bite-Me," "Barack HUSSEIN Obama" and "Barry Soetoro."

I've referred to Romney as "Willard," but that's his real name. "Mitt" is not.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

The sad state of Pittsburgh education


From a comment by "Tom" from Pittsburgh on the New York Times website: "Of course, in Pittsurgh, there were more t.v.'s turned to the footall game than the debates.
  1. "Pittsburgh" has a "b" in it.
  2. The abbreviation for television is "TV," with no periods.
  3. The plural of TV does not have an apostrophe.
  4. "Turned" should be "tuned."
  5. "Football" has a "b" in it.
I'm not perfect, but I don't think I've ever made that many errors in one sentence.



Friday, October 12, 2012

Who should we trust?



Depending on the media I consult, last night's debate was won by either Joe, Paul or Martha. Or there was no winner.



A few years ago, on the same day and working from the same information, The New York Times ("the newspaper of record") and the Associated Press ("the largest and oldest news organization in the world") came up with very different headlines. You can believe the one you prefer -- or neither of them.

(Yes, I know that a college and a university are not the same thing, but the headlines did not intend to imply a difference.)

This reminds me of when I was an editor at Rolling Stone magazine in Manhattan in the early 1970s. I walked up Madison Avenue from Grand Central Terminal to get to my office at 78 East 56th Street. There was a point where I could see giant clocks on both the Newsweek Building and the IBM Building. The clocks were often more than two minutes apart. I can't remember them ever agreeing. My own watch, of course, had a mind of its own. 

Right now my phone says the time is 6:57 and my PC says it's 6:58. Oops, the phone now shows 6:58 like the PC. Oops oops, now the PC shows 6:59. If my wife asks what time it is, I'll say "seven."