When A “Pro” Service Fails To Perform

I don’t like to blog about incompetence, but I think in this case I must make an exception.

My latest experience with Ingram Spark has left a bad taste in my mouth about relying on self-styled professional printing and distribution, especially from a service which touts about its global reach. I would have done better if I had simply gone up to the local FedEx Office and printed the damn things myself, then sold them direct from my site to anyone who wants them. But I wanted the distribution, which I cannot manage on my own. When I was working with Lightning Source alone I had access to global distribution. Now, I have discovered that Ingram Spark set my distribution to just the U.S., with the failure to notify me or indicate on the help module that I must set distribution myself for several different channels, and whether to destroy or not. With the ebooks, I had to indicate separate pricing for other channels and Apple. I did not see the difference since I was charging the same price. Even numbered pricing was not possible, apparently. So I set the prices according to page count rounded up to .99. Then I had to indicate what prices should be set for each currency involved.

In 2014, Ingram Spark started sending me compensation reports by separate sources, so in other words a report for Barnes & Noble and a report for Apple, as well as other reports. I don’t see why they could not just lump them all together on one report. It did not seem logical to me, because all of it was going to go on one sales account record anyway. But that was not what got to me.

What got to me was the idea that I had absolutely no control over what was going on with my books, and day before yesterday I received an invoice for a group catalog fee which I should have received back in November. Now, today Ingram Spark told me by email that they were adjusting the invoice to March 31, and I would be charged for it accordingly. Also, emails to them to cancel a title I have already set to “out of print” at Bowker went ignored. The title was still on sale today. I got on the phone to talk to support and was left on hold for almost an hour before I gave up and emailed them that I was thoroughly angry at their incompetence and if I did not receive satisfaction for my frustrated efforts, I would sue. It was not just the frustration, it was the thorough disappointment that a publication service which I had come to rely on did not perform as promised. I was patient for over six months, as the weather prevented any kind of normal operations, but now it is April and by now they should have returned to some kind of regular schedule. Then I reasoned that I was left on hold so long because they were understaffed or there were other angry publishers giving them grief. If that is the case, then perhaps I should be looking at other options.

Since my books were not being distributed as I expected, I had already lost thousands of dollars making them attractive to readers without knowing that a significant sector of the marketplace did not even know they were there. This is another facet of service incompetence which makes me angry. It was bad before, with Lulu and CreateSpace, but this is even worse. Since I discovered this lack of attention to detail I have tried to correct the problem myself. But it’s like fighting with one hand tied behind my back.

I am also trying to redesign covers for my back list, while trying to finish one book and begin research for another. Now, I may not be publishing them in print first, and I may begin using Smashwords again for the ebooks. Smashwords was extremely limited with distribution, but I had access to some of the majors and subscription sites. It was not global but it was better than nothing. Hell, sometimes I think I should give up on print altogether, and statistics show that people are reading less than ever. But thanks to all the frauds and incompetents in the book world, none of my books are going to enjoy their day in the sun. I did not expect to be a #1 bestselling author, I expected a reasonable return on my investment; but it looks like it’s all money down the drain.

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Mischief managed, for the time being.

So, this morning I had to get in touch with my printer’s corporate people to address the issue of no access to my account. Then, lo and behold, suddenly I had access. I don’t know if I yelled enough or the fact that I threatened to close it entirely was what did the trick. Naturally, after I checked I found I had sold 1 book somewhere. Then I had to go back into my web site and change the shipment schedule. Sheesh.

I code my own sites, which means a lot of typing and making things fit, replacing the code which had to be stripped out, and in general wasting a whole day and a half on fixing problems. Usually it just involves changing a price, making special offers, and so on. This time, however, I was gnashing my teeth and growling at what could have been easily solved by their staff. When I send emails pointing out a problem, I am frequently replied to with a form letter. This is not good customer service, and usually does not address the problem.

My customers do not appreciate delays. Neither do I. And I am on the brink of suggesting that if the winter weather is this big a problem, that my printing service should relocate to sunny California, where the summer appears to be becoming year-round. The Polar Express and other severe weather events may be a permanent fixture from now on. But I cannot afford to delay shipments like this, and my business has suffered enough already.

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Books Are Over.

You know that it’s time to pack it in when people tell you they don’t have time to read. That’s what I learned this weekend.

It’s not only that. My printing service has denied me access to my account with a pair of security questions which do not relate to my account. They don’t recognize my computer; the same computer I had been using before the problem arose. I had tried to contact support before with no reply which satisfied my concerns. Since I can’t sell the books, I am wondering now if I should just go to ebooks and leave it there. I mean, I was selling very few books to begin with, while others with distinctly less dedication to the craft are selling their books like gangbusters.

My enthusiasm for the projects have already waned as the amount of difficulty trying to reach my target audience increases with the proportion of books entering the market. The genre fiction I write is now out of fashion, my nonfiction interests no one but real studious nerds or high school and college teachers. I place the books for sale on my jewelry table but they sit there, unsold and neglected by people I would expect would have an interest, but who don’t want to take a book home unread. Seriously.

In a few months I am going to sit down and calculate how much it takes to maintain that even strain which is required to remain dedicated to what appears to be a lost cause. I missed my peak period, which should have been in the middle of 2000. Thanks to the evil terrorists who ruined things for everybody I lost my momentum. In my struggles to catch up, today I have 16 books published and nothing to show for it. I will NOT tailor my books to fit the expectations of casual or bored readers, so once I make my decision to switch to ebooks only or unpublish altogether, I will continue to write but in private, and if there are any real readers out there, I will remind them that they should have done something to encourage me.

Quite honestly, I am tired of being picked on and reviled for trying to sell what I am writing about, which is history, fantasy, and science fiction. Others don’t get this kind of flack. You don’t fault Neil Gaiman for writing, nor many of the other successful authors who write books which they like to write. But the lack of sales is what really rankles me. I think it is about gender and age prejudice, not about the quality of writing or the effort. Most of the most successful writers have been male. If that is the kind of ceiling I have to transcend then I am living in a world which does not appreciate good writing from women. So the world has won. It was never meant to be a battle for rewards or kudos. It was a battle because others made it so. So if I stop publishing, it is because it is practical and economical to do so. I have spent thousands of dollars getting the books prepared, polished, ready to publish. I have spent thousands of dollars on advertising and promotions. For me, it is a matter of throwing good money away on selling. So I am switching to a different paradigm.

Today, I had to change my shipment parameters to available stock, since I cannot get into my publisher’s account. That alone is irritating. Maybe it’s not worth the effort anymore.

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And So It’s All Water Under the Bridge, As Usual.

As part of my effort to make my books more attractive to readers who apparently judge a book by its cover, I had already been thinking about changing the whole layout of several of them to make them consistent across the range of the series. Today I started changing them, though I don’t know when they will be published. I have just finished changing the platform that I get them distributed from, so it’s a matter of uploading revisions. Which of course costs money.

See, this is what few people understand. Books do not spring up out of a cardboard box like magic. Writing a book can take about 2 years, which is a rapid pace, to as long as 5 years. I have heard of writers taking 10 years just to reach a serviceable first draft. Then, when the final draft is finished it is edited and polished into the galley manuscript. Depending on the scope and complexity of the book, this can take anywhere from a month to 6. Then a good cover must be designed and created. This can take as long as another 6 months, and even then there will be critics, because of course they have never written a book or designed a cover. Or if they have, suddenly they grant themselves the right to judge others’ works with seeming impugnity. This of course results in the stones being thrown back.

One cannot expect perfection. I have not been satisfied with my own designs, but I can’t keep redesigning them, then throw them up against a wall and see what sticks. There are too many authors in a similar circumstance. Perfection is an illusion. There is no such thing.

There are several elements involved in designing the cover. First of course are the primary elements like the title, a subtitle if necessary, and of course the author’s name. Then, there is a rudimentary symbolic representation of the plot. Which can get tricky because there are so many so called “experts” willing to get in line and tell you because they have not read the book; they simply want to interfere with an artist’s process or to pump themselves up. To them I say: “try it. I guarantee you will fail.” Then there are color schemas. Depending on the mood one is trying to convey, one cannot simply slap stock photos on a dark background and hope that it will work. And yet I see thousands of covers just like that on what is expected to sell.

Case in point: a writer friend of mine posted a cover on Facebook which was for a book by another friend. It was supposed to be a vampire novel, but the cover suggested that the artist thought it was supposed to be a children’s book, because it was all wrong in terms of what the book was about. There was even (ugh!) pink in the background. It simply did not evoke any kind of terror, or romance or anything remotely resembling a cover for a book about vampires. And this was supposed to be a novel published by a big house. The author was distressed; no input from her was invited, and I don’t know what became of it, because it certainly was not going to sell.

As an artist, I studied advertising design in college, so I do know about graphic design. What I don’t appreciate is everybody getting in my face and telling me how to do it, when they don’t have a clue themselves. Cover design is a difficult process, and requires special handling. Often, I did not have the proper tools to make them better, and maybe that’s my fault; but in the final analysis, my covers are really no different from anyone else’s. I’ve seen some truly awful covers on some best sellers, and I am not going to tell you which ones, because I’ve got the sense not to stand there and criticize. Yet they seem to get by just fine without the harsh input an independent publisher like me receives.

So the next time you see a book that has a “bad” cover, pick it up, read a few pages, and you may discover that judging a book by its cover is not the best way to discover a good book.

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The World Is Changing, and Not For The Better.

In my efforts to improve my web sites, I have taken note that the internet is perhaps not as bright a place as it used to be. Or perhaps I expected more from it than I used to. I am not sure about it. I have taken a measurement of the amount of work I have performed to code  them properly, so that I have not missed anything. I am also aware of the hack attacks which have made internet users skittish of late. But there is a general avoidance of areas which I am unable to account for. I have two sites in operation. Both are primarily coded in HTML according to current ideal protocols. Both do not contain any javascript, as I have been advised that any reliance on javascript means that I am operating in dangerous territory. I don’t know why Google has a tendency to exclude sites which rely on javascript, and the other search engines are not nearly as forthcoming about their particular eccentricities. I followed the mantra that “javascript is bad; HTML is good.” In general, javascript seems to work at cross purposes with the standards set down by the W3C, and “experts” in HTML insisted that using HTML alone should be sufficient to create an operable internet presence.

During the month of December, when other sites have been largely prosperous and popular, mine had apparently gone completely dormant as far as the outside world was concerned. No one visited the sites, and no one notified me that the sites were not compliant with any secret protocols that I was not aware of. The end result is that I had no sales at all during a time when I should have sold something. That in itself was an indicator that the world changed, virtually overnight, and I would never enjoy the same success other sites do. On investigating the cause of this seeming obscurity veil, I discovered that the registrations on the sites were not complete. But even after I corrected the problem, there was no activity.

The problem was that the cyber hackers created an atmosphere of fear, so much so that many internet users may not return; and those who do refuse to buy anything for fear that their credit card data may be stolen. Several major retailers were attacked and their data stolen, causing a huge problem.

But how does that affect me, you may ask? It affects me when I rely on a payment processor which has not been hacked, yet no one trusts it enough to use it. It affects me when people avoid using the internet and fail to discover my works, my books and my jewelry. It affects me when people avoid buying anything from me because they fear having their credit data stolen by hackers. It affects me when they compare my prices with cheap Chinese goods sold online by frauds and counterfeiters, and they think my hand made items are just like theirs. It affects me when no one can trust me even when I deal honestly and try to do the right thing; because of the prevalence of frauds and cheaters on the internet. It affects me when they would rather shop on the giant retail sites than to look for unique and different items from small businesses like mine.

What used to be an opportunity to sell on the internet because it was more convenient for everyone has turned into a snake pit, where everyone is exploited and denied the same chance to sell as the big corporations. The world has changed so much that it is now virtually and factually unrecognizable. There is no appreciation for art and creativity. There is an expectation that anything created by one person is nothing more than a commodity, free for the taking, to be used and discarded like so much trash. There is no more intellectual curiosity, there is no appreciation for anything. People are regarded as nothing more than freeloaders while the corporations grow fat and bloated with riches earned on the backs of the artists, no matter what discipline is referred to.

The incentive to create has declined so much for me that I am tempted to stop creating. That is what the internet has done for me. I never had the opportunity to succeed in the outside world. So many people wanted to tear me down or destroy my ambitions, because they were either jealous or wanted to control my life. I only wanted to be successful like anyone else. But they would not let me be. Now, Amazon stands as the symbol for their selfish avarice.

Millions of others like me will never succeed, nor will future generations. As for me, much of my creative work stands in obscurity, and the internet is so vast and so crowded that my work will never be seen. There is no political will in the outside world to make the improvements in culture that I need to survive. So I have been forced to see that what I do means absolutely nothing to anyone. It is make work only, which I will enjoy doing for myself, but will never be enjoyed by anyone else. This is the 21st century, but it feels like the 10th. I cannot see myself as anything more but a hopeful nobody, who has no chance for my books to be read, nor my jewelry to be worn. In such a world, there is no hope for me. There is only the prospect of dying in obscurity, which I am sure everyone on this Earth wants me to do.

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Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again

I had volunteered to chair projects before, years ago. And not only was my work not appreciated, or my dedication to the task, but most of the time I found myself in a ceremonial (read, figurehead only) position. I took time from my other personal projects to do what other people did not want to. These are tiring, thankless jobs, but someone has gotta do it. Right? Apparently not.

Just this year, however, I bowed to a legal distinction and volunteered for a position which I was not eager to do. But everyone else in the room did not raise their hands. It was a position which carried the onus of being necessary according to the bylaws, so I felt I had to do something to preserve the status quo. However, over time I discovered that my efforts to perform were largely seen as unnecessary to anyone else. And others thought that my efforts were poorly done. As I discovered just today, the web site on which I relied for the necessary data to perform my tasks had several errors. This means that the data was inaccurate and in some cases completely contradictory.

Emails passed between me and the higher echelons. At some point it was suggested that I was the one in error. I told them I would be glad to resign, as I have better things to do than to argue. The ball is in their court. What they say to me in the next 24 hours will determine what I do next.

It used to be that I grew very upset to the point of tears whenever I was confronted with these issues. Also that some in the club view me with some contempt, for what reason I do not know. Today, however, I feel no pain or angst. I have my priorities, and they shift radically toward what is important to me, not to them. I feel only that on the day the post was filled, no one else in the room raised their hand to volunteer but me. That in itself is telling. No one else felt that the club was important enough to their lives to help out. So why should I?

So, next time there is a need, I will not raise my hand. I will not try. I will simply take my ball and go home.

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It’s Difficult To Do Damage Control When No One Tells You What Is Wrong.

Here I was humming along for the past year thinking that my 2 shopping sites were operating normally. Now I have discovered that the major search engines are still not carrying my sites in their proper categories, as well as inserting someone else’s images in my image list. I have had to resubmit the sites through a submission robot yet again. Or maybe it is normal for the sites to drop off after a year; I don’t know. I have posted my contact email addresses on the sites so that people can let me know if a link or posting is not correct or isn’t working. So far I have had crickets. This means I have lost sales, lost contacts and lost any real presence on the internet. I keep getting dunned by Indian SEO optimizing services trying to charge me $$$ to do what I do myself. I taught myself HTML coding and try to keep up with the latest changes, but apparently the sites work for me but don’t show up in the proper listing categories anyway. The people I need to reach don’t even see them. I promote them on Facebook but no one visits anyway.

This is becoming a bone of contention for me. These so-called “major” search engines can’t be bothered to do the proper placement for small businesses, granting favored status to giant retailers instead. I will not carry Google or other click ads, period. They distract from my products, which I work hard on, and try to price fairly. What gives them the right to hide my sites in cubbyholes? If they were honest and fair they would allow for an open platform like they used to. Now, it’s just advertising and commercials 24/7.

Also, once in a while a cyber squatter from overseas (China or India) tells me they are going to buy the suffixes for my sites, which I have not bought because I don’t do business in their countries, and to take my trademarks for their own. I usually just report their contact addresses to the FBI and the UN Internet Relations Board and warn them off when I think they are being a bit pushy. Their arrogance and stupidity is shocking. If they were in the room with me I would be sorely tempted to take a baseball bat and knock their blocks off. They are thieves, pure and simple, and they deserve to be shut down.

It is bad enough that I have to put up with the constant presence of Amazon (800 lb. gorilla) overshadowing everyone else on the internet. I am a small mammal. It is to my advantage to remain small while all the other digital creatures whittle that monstrosity down to size. So far it is working, and I am still waiting for the Dept. of Justice to focus on breaking it up. Moody’s has downgraded its credit rating to BAA (down from AAA). And it thinks it can make an end run around the FAA, which so far has resisted giving it a go for drone deliveries. Let’s face it. If a delivery drone goes down because someone decides to shoot it, it will spell the end of drone deliveries, and Bezos will have to explain the loss of the packages. Not to even mention the intrusions into restricted air spaces, and the attendant buzzing noise everywhere. It has already been reported that the FAA has been inundated with numerous complaints from commercial airlines about anonymous drones straying too close to their fight paths. I would rather he spent the money on hiring delivery services and pay workers to truck the packages around. A drone does not eat, it does not drink, and it does not pay rent. And it robs a human being of a job. How is he going to sell anything if no one has a job? Let him figure it out. Nuff said.

As for me, if I have said anything negative it is because the whole country has turned negative. We have minorities and their supporters marching in the streets because of old resentments revived by murder, chronyism, stupidity, racism and greed. We have pundits making up stuff instead of presenting the news in a fair and balanced manner. We have radio talk show hosts preaching to the choir and advancing their biased opinions to a flock of narrow-minded sheep with hate in their hearts. We have so-called “news” channels focusing on one or two domestic topics instead of real news during the day. We only get the world view after 11 or midnight, or have to go to a different news channel to get the world view. We have self-proclaimed “prophets” declaring that anyone who does not believe the way they do should go to Hell. We have selfish, ignorant politicians blocking nominations or bills which would restore our country to health because they were bought and paid for by major corporations, who ensured that they were elected by any means necessary. Now we have roll-backs of needed legislation because the politicians are more focused on keeping their jobs than actually doing the will of the people they were elected to serve. In fact, I am looking forward to yet another political failure and fervently hope that the government shuts down, because that is the only way to get people to look at what has gone wrong. Without needed government services, the politicians will have demonstrated what their greed and selfishness can do to a country. And it won’t be pretty when the recall elections start. Must the American people, who paid these clowns’ salaries, be disenfranchised further by Congress’s inaction and lack of political will to be adults? I think not.

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