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Week of 21 March 2011

Latest Update: Sunday, 27 March 2011 09:22 -0400

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Monday, 21 March 2011
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09:49 - Here's a shot heard 'round the world. Barry Eisler, a NYT bestselling author, has turned down a $500,000 offer from St. Martins in favor of self-publishing his next book. Eisler is by no means the first traditionally-published author to reject traditional publishing in favor of self-publishing. Many mid-list authors whose names most readers would recognize have already done so, and in the past couple of months several mid-list authors have turned down $100,000 and $200,000 advances. But Eisler is the first really heavy hitter to reject the NY publishing houses in favor of publishing himself.

If the Big Six have any sense, they're already at panic stations. The vast majority of their revenues and profits come from their top-selling authors. It's the old 80-20 rule, except for publishing it's more like 95-5. That is, 5% of their authors generate 95% of their profits. If those top authors jump ship, publishing companies are doomed. Well, they're doomed anyway, but top authors leaving makes that doom imminent.

In reality, there's probably no panic this morning at the Big Six. They're in a state of complete denial about ebooks, and I'm sure they're telling themselves that Eisler is an isolated case and has done a foolish thing. But the truth is that Eisler is just the first big crack in the dam, and we'll soon see a flood of big-name authors rejecting traditional publishing in favor of doing it themselves. The economics are simply too compelling for any author other than those literally in the top 0.1%. If you're James Patterson or J. K. Rowling, you can still make more money with a traditional publisher. Otherwise, not.

And that's with ereaders at only 10% or so penetration and ebooks at 15%. Within a year or at most two, ereaders will be at essentially 100% penetration. Anyone who wants one will have one, and ebooks will make up at least 90% of the fiction market. At that point it will make sense to self-publish even if your name is James Patterson or J. K. Rowling.

In an attempt to stave off the inevitable, we're going to see traditional publishers abandoning the agency model, or at least setting more reasonable prices on the ebooks for which they still have rights. We're seeing that already. Some ebooks from traditional publishers are now in the $2.99 to $3.99 range, and not just as sale prices. High ebook prices make sense only to protect paper book sales. As paper book sales disappear, publishers will no longer have anything to protect. At that point, they'll take an axe to their ebook prices because they can make a lot more money selling tons of copies at $2.99 than they can selling a piddling few copies at $12.99.

The next year or so is going to be very interesting if you're a reader.

12:42 - Here's a shot of work-in-process on the microchemistry kits. These are some of the first three dozen chemical blocks, each of which has six test tubes and 11 of the eventual 42 chemical containers in place. The final two positions in each 50-position block will be occupied by empty containers, which are used in some of the experiments. All told, labeling the containers and caps, making up the solutions, filling the tubes, and populating the blocks is by far the most time-consuming part of the kitting.

I plan to produce and ship these kits in batches, initially once a month. I'll accept pre-orders, for example, for kits shipping 15 May, 15 June, 15 July, 15 August, and so on. If the kits sell in high numbers, I'll eventually change to producing and shipping in weekly batches.

Fortunately, some stuff scales well. For example, I've made up only one liter each of the various chemicals, but it doesn't take much longer to make up five liters of each. Similarly, cutting a purchase order, receiving, and checking in 30 dozen of an item takes little longer than doing the same for three dozen. Unfortunately, the kitting itself doesn't scale at all.


Tuesday, 22 March 2011
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07:56 - Winston-Salem mourns the death of 15-year-old Brooke Edwards, a freshman at Reagan High School who was killed in an accident Friday evening after a lacrosse game at another area high school. Apparently, she and some of her friends had crossed to the median of the road in front of the school when for some reason Brooke reversed course and stepped back into the road, where she was struck and killed by a minivan. Our thoughts are also with the driver of the minivan, 32-year-old Clavena Canty, who was not responsible and was not charged.

09:37 - I just put the paperwork in the mail to incorporate The Home Scientist, LLC.


Wednesday, 23 March 2011
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00:00 -


Thursday, 24 March 2011
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09:22 - We were having problems with Netflix streaming the other evening, and I put it down to wireless problems. I got email from Netflix this morning saying that they'd been having some network problems. The email included a link to click to get a credit for one day's worth of the streaming portion of our monthly subscription payment. I didn't bother to click the link, because Netflix already provides excellent value for money. So much so that I sometimes feel vaguely guilty for just how much we're getting for how little money.

For $20 a month, Netflix provides far more video, streaming and on-disc, than we have time to watch. We could pay the cable company $75 or $150 a month, and still not have access to as much content as Netflix provides for a piddling $20. And the content that Netflix provides is a much better match for our viewing preferences. I just wish that everything we want to watch was available streaming. That way, we wouldn't have to deal with physical discs, and Netflix wouldn't have to pay all that postage.


Friday, 25 March 2011
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08:16 - I don't think I've ever reposted someone else's blog entry verbatim, but I'm making an exception for this one from Joe Konrath's blog.

Although it's seldom talked about, serious depression among writers is a very real phenomenon. My last conversation with my friend Caroline Llewellyn, just before she killed herself, was about her final novel being rejected by her publisher. Such extreme reactions are fortunately rare, but there are probably a hundred novelists who've seriously considered suicide for every one that's actually done it.

Joe is no mean writer himself, and he says Kiana is a much better writer than he is. So I just did something else I've never done before. At Joe's request, I bought Kiana's book, without even reading the description. If Joe says she's worth reading, that's good enough for me to risk a measly $1.99. I hope you'll consider doing the same.

Here's Joe.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Depression and Writers

I get a lot of email, and though I try to read it all, I can't reply to everyone.

Here's one I replied to, reprinted with the author's permission.

It think it's important for reasons I'll disclose afterward.

So here's Kiana Davenport...

"Dear Joe Konrath...this may never reach you. You must have millions of fans. Nonetheless, I need to write and express my gratitude to you.

My last three novels were pretty good sellers. Scribners, Ballantine, you know the drill. A few years ago, sales dropped drastically, no more royalties, the recession hit and I started living on my meager savings. Other than that all I own are 3 acres of land here, which in this market no one wants to buy. I don't even own a house.

I studied Creative Writing at university, but for years I was a fashion model in NYC, lived it up and never saved a dime. Then I went back to writing, prepared to scale down and live modestly. But as you know, things got even worse with the economy. It took me four years to write the most recent novel for which a NY publisher offered me less than HALF my previous advance. A depressing figure, to be paid out in fourths through 2013! By then I could be dead, and it won't even pay my bills. I was so desperate I accepted. Now I have to wait another year for the book to be published.

Agents and editors were admitting we're in a 'dying industry.' With dwindling publishers, rock-bottom advances, I didn't see any reason to write anymore, which is what I LIVE for.

Unemployment is staggering here, I couldn't find a job. I sold my good clothes and jewelry, made out a will leaving the land to my daughter. I felt I'd rather die than scrape and starve. (I'm a good swimmer, I'm half Hawaiian, I know how to swim to exhaustion, then unconsciousness.) If I couldn't make a living at what I love to do - publishers and bookstores folding left and right - I felt I'd rather pack it in. I was dead serious, I've never been afraid to die. Its a Hawaiian thing - we always have one foot in the other world.

At first friends thought I was kidding, but then they saw me making plans, they watched me begin to withdraw. Then one day a friend came to my house and said two words. "JOE KONRATH." That's what she said. "This man is going to save your life."

I had never heard of you. She forced me then and there to sit down and start reading your blogs.

I read for two days straight.

You were my epiphany. You were telling me there was life beyond print publishing. In fact a WHOLE NEW WORLD in digital. You led me to the revolution. I started reading your books. So far I have loved SHOT OF TEQUILA and TRUCK STOP. They're tough, fast-paced and humorous, and now and then poetic. I'm still reading.

Most importantly, within one month, following your example, I had uploaded onto Kindle my first indie ebook, HOUSE OF SKIN - PRIZE-WINNING STORIES by Kiana Davenport. All the stories I could never get published in NY as a collection. I kept my price low as you suggested, $1.99. Reader reviews have all been 5 stars.

Its selling well. I may never be a bestseller like you, but I am a HAPPY WRITER AGAIN. In fact, I'm ecstatic. My book is mine. My cover is mine. I can write what I feel, not what a publisher demands. I'm now working on my second collection of stories and a new novel. I am digital for life!

Joe, I hope you can go to Kindle and check out HOUSE OF SKIN...I owe it all to you. I kid you not, you saved my life. I am your fan, and have never said that to anyone, not even Norman Mailer. I read everything you write, I take your advice. I thought your recent interview with Barry Eisler was brilliant, shocking and prophetic as hell. I have recommended it to everyone, everywhere, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I'm just building a website and will highly recommend you there as well.

Again, I want to say a million Mahalos! Thanks! For giving me back my deep joy in writing, and my life. I so glad I didn't take that swim. With my alohas from Hawai'i..."

Joe sez: Well, first of all, I'm not deserving of her gratitude. I'm just a writer sharing what I've learned, which is something we all should be doing. I don't have millions of fans, and though she said kind things about my writing, having bought and read a few selections in HOUSE OF SKIN she's much better than I am.

And of course I didn't actually save her life. Kiana did that all by herself. It's a nice thing for her to say, but it was her own inner strength that kept her going, not the stuff I blog about.

As you might expect, I was humbled, touched, and ultimately concerned by this letter. Artists by nature are temperamental, and depression is common in this business.

When Hyperion dropped my Jack Daniels series, I was pretty much a mess. I'd worked like a dog to make sure those books sold. And they were selling. Still are. But I was counting on that next advance to feed my family, and when it didn't come I felt devastated. Worthless. Helpless. It made no sense (still doesn't) and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.

There are few worse feelings than trying your best and it not being enough.

I wound up getting another contract a few months later, for much less money. And I kept a brave face in public, downplaying how badly I felt.

I know for a fact I wasn't the only one who had to go through something like that.

Over the years, I've lost count of the conversations I've had with writers who had similar experiences to Kiana and me. Tales of rejection. Of bad luck and stupid publisher decisions. Of getting the shit end of the stick, over and over and over.

It got me thinking. For every writer popping open the champagne because they just got a new deal, there are dozens who have gotten screwed. And no doubt some of them thought about swimming out to sea. While my depression never got that severe, I certainly wouldn't want to relive those dark, depressing, frightening months without a publishing contract.

But I never have to feel that way again. None of us do. We don't have to rely on a gatekeeper's "yes" or "no" to dictate how we feel about ourselves. We don't have to put all of our eggs into the legacy publishing basket anymore. Hell, we don't have to put any eggs in there at all.

For the first time ever, writers have a choice.

Choices are empowering. Having the ability to control our futures, even with something as simple as self-publishing an ebook, means we aren't helpless anymore.

That's a very good thing.

Kiana's latest advance for her upcoming novel is a shame. And though she says her self-pubbed ebook collection is selling well, her current rank is so-so.

HOUSE OF SKIN is $1.99. I already bought a copy.

I'm asking you to buy a copy as well.

Let's see how low we can get her Amazon ranking. Right now it's #134,555.

I'd really like to see it crack the Top 1000.

Help me spread the word.

10:49 - When Joe posted that blog entry this morning, Kiana's book was languishing at 134,555 overall in the Kindle store. When I bought my copy, it was still over 100,000. As of a moment ago, it had climbed more than 130,000 positions to a rank of under 4,000 overall. More importantly, I'm told, Kiana's book is now in the Top 100 in the Erotica category. Imagine that. I just bought my first-ever erotica book, without realizing what I was doing. I'm not entirely certain, but I think "erotica" is the feminine form of what we guys call "porn".

12:42 - Oh, my. As of a moment ago, Kiana's book had climbed the Amazon ranks from #134,555 overall in the Kindle store this morning to #856. If the momentum continues, she should make the Top 100 later today. More importantly, Kiana's book is now #12 in the Erotica category, and may well hit #1 later today. Getting into the Top 100 overall gets a book exposure, but being Top 100, let alone Top 10, in a genre list is even more important. Most buyers don't really pay much attention to the overall list; they check the genre list(s) that interest them. Having a title sitting in the Top 10 in one of those lists is likely to get her noticed by a ton of readers.


Saturday, 26 March 2011
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10:49 - I haven't kept a close eye on the Amazon rank of Kiana's book, but when I looked last night it had climbed into the 180 range and was #2 paid in her genre. The outpouring of support for Kiana has made a big difference to her. Not all that long ago, she'd literally sold off her possessions, made her will, paid off what creditors she could, and was ready to kill herself. With the boost that Joe Konrath gave her, she has a whole new outlook. I'm sure she understands that she has a lot of work left to do, but Konrath got her noticed, which is no small thing. I don't know Joe other than by exchanges of email, but he's obviously a very good man.

I keep learning stuff all the time. I don't know how many times I've made up phenolphthalein solution since I was about 12, but it must be dozens. So, I needed some phenolphthalein solution for the kits. Phenolphthalein is essentially insoluble in water. In the past, I'd simply dissolved the powder in whatever alcohol came to hand, usually 70% isopropanol or 70% ethanol. But I'm trying to keep the chemicals in the kits as non-hazardous as possible, and I'd read somewhere online about a 1% phenolphthalein solution in 20% IPA.

So, I carefully weighed out 2.50 grams of phenolphthalein powder, added 143 mL of 70% IPA to the beaker, and swirled it. It dissolved slowly, but it finally did (mostly) dissolve. I planned to add water slowly with swirling to make up 500 mL of 0.5% phenolphthalein in 20% IPA. So I added 57 mL of water and swirled. So far, so good. In fact, the slight cloudiness in the solution disappeared, indicating that I had complete solution at that point. I added another 100 mL of water with swirling, for a total of about 300 mL, and then another 100 mL of water to a total of about 400 mL. The solution remained clear. So I measured another 85 mL of water, intending to leave the solution just short of 500 mL so that I could make it up to 500 mL in a volumetric flask. I dumped the final 85 mL of water into the beaker, and the solution immediately turned opaque chalky white. It appears I've made colloidal phenolphthalein.

Either the guy who wrote that was a lying weasel, simply mistaken, or he was talking about m/m ratios rather than v/v. 1000 mL of 70% v/v isopropanol contains 700 mL of 100% isopropanol, made up to 1000 mL with water. Note that I didn't say 300 mL of water, because the volumes are not additive. But that 700 mL of 100% isopropanol masses only about 550 grams, versus 700 grams for the same volume of water. That means the m/m percentage is something under 70% (again, volumes aren't additive), probably something in the 64% range. At this point, I know that 2.5 grams of phenolphthalein is soluble in 400 mL of solution that's 25% isopropanol v/v, but not in about 500 mL of solution that's 20% isopropanol v/v.

So, the easy fix is to dissolve another 2.50 grams of phenolphthalein in 215 mL of 70% IPA, add that to the 500 mL of chalky white solution, and make it up to 1000 mL. Coincidentally, that solution will be very close to 20% IPA by mass.


Sunday, 27 March 2011
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09:22 - One of the reasons I think all drugs, with the exception of antibiotics, should be available over-the-counter is that prescriptions enable pharmacies to rip off customers.

Our local government is considering issuing drug-purchase discount cards, which are managed through a program run by CVS. The local independent pharmacies are up in arms, because those cards put them at a disadvantage. This morning, one of those local pharmacies ran a full-page ad in the paper that compared their usual-and-customary prices against the "discounted" prices that would be available with the cards.

One of the drugs listed was tramadol. Malcolm gets four 50 mg tramadol tablets a day, two morning and two evening. Tramadol is a cheap generic. As it happens, Barbara had just had Malcolm's prescription filled at Walgreens yesterday. They charged $75.89 for 150 tablets. The ad showed the independent pharmacy's price as $18.00 for 360 tablets. So Walgreen's just ripped us off by a factor of ten. We paid $75.89 for 150 tablets at Walgreens versus $18 for 360 at the independent pharmacy.

I'd be surprised if 150 tablets actually costs Walgreens even $1. A bottle of 5,000 probably costs them $20 or $30 at most. So, they're marking up tablets that cost them $0.005 each to $0.50 each. That's outrageous. The independent pharmacy is probably paying $0.01 per tablet and selling them for $0.05 each. That's a pretty good markup, but nothing compared to Walgreens. And CVS is no better than Walgreens.

If tramadol and other drugs were OTC, the drugstores wouldn't have this opportunity for price gouging.


Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.