Marketing’s Big Lie: Instant Results

SherlockMost writers want to do just one thing:  write our books.  Few of us come from marketing backgrounds.  Still fewer of us think of ourselves as entrepreneurs and business owners.  In the old ages of traditional publishing, authors rarely had to be any of those things.  We slaved away trying to get a publisher to notice our work and/or securing a literary agent who would pimp our work for us — for a fee — while we went off and kept writing.

Self-publishing and the digital age has changed that for both self-published and traditional publishers.  Just as cigarette machines have gone by the wayside and Sherlock Holmes uses nicotine patches instead of smoking his pipe in response to smoking regulations in London, the days of in-house marketing and advertising for books by publishers are gone.  Today authors must do most of the work themselves.

There are no shortage of marketing firms to delegate to, of course, but as I found out across the winter of 2014 when I hired 180Fusion, marketing firms too often care about getting the business — any way they can.

new-york-times-best-selling-author3

What this means is that marketing firms promise the sun and moon to you — if you hire them.  180Fusion promised to put me on the New York Times bestseller list within 30 days, using my natural optimism to augment their pitch.  I, like most people, want to believe that people are telling me the truth.  I have faith that everything works out.  I have faith in the quality of my work.  I know these books are well-written and reflect a lifetime of scholarship and dedication to my craft.

180Fusion took that and used that very positive quality against me with their pitch about what they can do with advertising on facebook.

Facebook advertising can and does work for some people.  The essence of their work is to study the numbers to make facebook ads profitable, making adjustments until the ads result in sales.  As Jonathan Gebauer points out, this actually is sound — but with one catch that was omitted from the pitch until I was ready to close my account:  it takes time, often months and years for it to work.

This is not something that can be achieved in the 30 days promised to me back in December 2013 when I signed up.  In fact it was only when I made a fuss about not getting results that I was told, quite condescendingly, that what they promised was actually not at all possible.  Then they said I needed to give it more time.  Just give it more time.

This was the truth in the lie.  It takes time.  Except they never told me this upfront, before I signed up.  They told me when I was ready to cancel, when they knew my patience was at an end.

permission to walk awayNow normally I am a very patient person.  If this service had cost me $10 a month, odds are very good I would have stuck it out.  Except it costs a minimum of $300 a month — when my budget was $10 a month!  This was known from the onset.  So they promised me the sun and moon and instant results.  It didn’t matter that their service was many times more than my budget!  Because I would re-coup what I spent with them very quickly.

It was a lie and they knew it!  It was predatory, disrespectful, and sadly not atypical of far too many marketing firms.

Instead, their focus was on getting me to sign up; it didn’t matter that to pay for their service I would have to plop down hundreds to thousands of dollars on a high rate credit card; as long as they were getting paid, they really did not care about me or my books.

Most people have a word for that and it is not nice at all!

gbp-50-british-pounds-2

So what can we learn from this?  

Number one:  NO MARKETING STRATEGY GIVES INSTANT RESULTS.  As Jonathan Gebaur puts it, “Marketing never comes with a red button. 90% of the time marketing means: Work… Frustration… Small Improvements. Working out the little details. Improving little things to improve our results just a little bit. Good results take a lot of sweat and tears.”

Number two:  no matter what a pitch says, do not spend what you do not have in cash right now.  Set your budget honestly and hold to it.  If a company tells you that your budget doesn’t matter and you must spend more than that with them, they do not care about you; they care about getting your money.

Number three:  choose carefully.  Know that whatever do in terms of marketing and advertising will take several months to get results from.  Don’t just throw money at things hoping they will work; approach this with a plan and a clear set of perimeters and goals.  Pick one primary approach (like guest posting) and focus on that.  Don’t try to make everything happen all at once from everywhere.  Chaos works against you and ultimately robs you of your ability to focus, concentrate, and respond to your business and reader’s needs.

Marketing firms are out there to help you and should be used by independent authors.  But as with so many things, the rule “buyer beware” applies.  Ask questions, probe firms for answers, and if you see even a whiff of a hard sell or pressured pitch, run do not walk away.  Any business who cannot respect your budget and your goals is not really interested in working for you; rather they just want your money.

Helicopter parenting, abortion, and childlessness: an ounce of prevention too often absent in America.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,”  is one of those tried and true axioms that underscore common sense.  It costs less money to build a sturdy house than it does to rescue a family trapped in a poorly built one that collapses during a storm (see data on this in American Poverty:  Why America’s Treatment of the Poor Undermines Its Authority as a World Power). It costs less to vaccinate your children than it does to treat a life-threatening and highly preventable disease like polio or measles.  It costs less to abstain from smoking than it does to treat smoking-related diseases.

We all know this axiom.  Yet sadly in the United States, common sense is lacking on some of the most important decisions of our lives.  Let’s start with the Pope Francis’ recent comments regarding couples who consciously decide not to have children.  On the 11th February 2015 UK’s The Guardian reported Pope Francis’ remarks, “A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society…. The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.”

So deciding not to have children is selfish according to the pope.  But is it really?  In making his universal claim that deciding not to have children is selfish, the pope ignores that there are many very solid reasons for delaying or foregoing childbearing.  Economics is a key consideration.  Children cost money to raise.  This should be obvious and common sense.  Bringing a child into the world is not free — not before birth, not during birth, and not after birth. The physical needs of children must be attended to and provided for by their parents on a daily basis along with their educational, intellectual, and social needs.  Most if not all of this costs money and resources which are not easy to provide even under the best of circumstances.  Calling someone selfish and belittling someone for recognizing this is not only uncalled for, but it punishes those who are most responsible.

I am one of them.  At the time of writing this blog post, I do not have the material resources to properly provide for a child.  Though I think I have the potential to become a good parent someday, I recognize that right now I am not able to properly provide for a child.

To me this is being responsible.  This is me caring about quality of life over the quantity of life.  The pope should not be calling those of us who make the responsible choice selfish; he should be praising us for caring about the quality of life for every child that comes into this world.

Contraception and abortion also feed into this.  The child that is not born is the one that does not need to be provided for.  While in general I do not like abortion, I know that it is not for me to decide for anyone else how that person should live nor do I want anyone else deciding for me what I can or should do.  These are personal choices that touch upon the most intimate part of our lives; in a free society no one intrudes into our private lives unless we are somehow jeopardizing the lives of another (hence I do believe in mandatory vaccination for diseases like polio and measles).  Whether I take a pill or a fellow I am intimate with uses a condom or not is for him and I, not the state, not my neighbours, not some religious group or business to decide.

It is common sense that all pregnancies should be planned for, that all children born should be born with a reasonable expectation of living in a loving family where every need is met and where the child can grow up in safety.  And if this is not possible for an individual or couple at any given time, it is common sense for them to take precautions to prevent the pregnancy without interference or pressure from anyone else.

sb10062905q-001

One final area of common sense and parenting I see sorely lacking:  “free range” parenting.  Free range parenting is what our hyper-protective society now calls common sense parenting.  For some very bizarre reason we now consider helicopter parenting normal in the United States, that tendency to perpetually treat anyone under the age of 18 as a helpless infant who needs to be wrapped in bubble wrap and never exposed to anything that could potentially cause injury, disease, or danger of any sort.

There are two major problems with helicopter parenting.  Firstly, it creates dependency.  Children never learn to do for themselves because they are never expected to do anything for themselves.  The purpose of childhood is to learn the skills needed to survive as adults from a position of reasonable safety.  A human child is not born running nor does a baby bird come out of the egg flying.  For every living being there is a process of learning.  You learn by doing.  Helicopter parenting destroys this process; children never get to do anything because there is a risk something bad might happen.  Therefore children never learn to do anything.

Story Which brings us to point two:  helicopter parenting destroys competence. If you never experience the discomfort of trial and error, never experience failure or stress, you never learn anything and never learn how to do anything.  The child who is never expected to set the table or clean her room or cook for the family never learns how to do these things for herself at the time when it is easiest to teach these life skills.  When she turns eighteen (legal adulthood in the United States) she enters university and her own home having absolutely no idea how to do the most mundane tasks like cooking, cleaning, washing clothing, and managing her time effectively.  She does not know how to study.  She does not know how to fulfill the obligations of the work place.  She does not know how to be self responsible.

She fails.  Only since she is a legal adult, there is no help for her.  Society says “too bad; here are the consequences for your failure.”    Often she knows of only one solution:  move back in with mom and dad where she expects to receive everything she received when she was younger.

She never learns how to survive on her own.

Rather than punishing people for responsible choices, we need to praise them.  We need to praise the couple working two jobs who knows that they cannot provide properly for a child and chooses to not have children.  We need to facilitate use of contraception and respect those who choose to end existing pregnancies for making what is usually a very hard decision.  And we especially need to encourage “free range” parenting, the parenting style that facilitates competence in children by expecting them to do for themselves and giving them the space to learn from experience.

I want to make it clear that there is a line between negligence and free range parenting.  Negligence is not caring.  It is ignoring the child when s/he asks for help or brings a problem to the parent’s attention.  It is making excuses for ignoring the child’s request for help.   Free range parenting is caring so much about the child that the parent lets the child practice independence and develop competence.  Not one expert in anything started out that way.  To me a good parent allows her or his child to work through the learning process.  Experience is the best teacher of all.  Instead of hovering, we need to keep a safe but proper distance that shows we love our children and we care without smothering, without creating dependency.  Good parents let their children do for themselves.  Good parents trust their children and gradually let go as the child matures.  Teach your children properly and there is no reason to hover.

This is what I call common sense.  This is the ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure.

Saint Patrick’s Day: Celebrating the Myth, Not the Man

Saint Patrick’s Day is a festive day celebrating Irish heritage and culture and Irish-Diaspora around the world. It’s a day when everyone wants to be Irish and wears Irish green. Yet the holiday itself is named for an English Bishop who hated the Irish and did everything he could to destroy and undermine the same Irish culture and heritage most of us today celebrate in his name.

I am 1/8th Irish. As I became more and more interested in my Irish blood, Saint Patrick became of historical interest to me personally. Who-and what-are we celebrating? I’d heard the myths of course about Saint Patrick and serpents, but know from my science background that snakes were never indigenous to Ireland-they are absent from the fossil record and Common Era accounts (see ancient and medieval Irish texts on the subject at sacred-texts.com). So who-or what-were these serpents?

The aforementioned discussion on serpents in Irish culture and history makes that answer plain: it’s a reference to ancient Irish culture, to Irish clans, Irish religion, and Irish heritage. To drive the serpent out of Ireland actually, in its proper historical and cultural context, therefore means “to obliterate Irish culture, religion, and customs from Ireland.” This is hardly a new idea in world history; the Americans did the same thing to the Cherokee, Lakota, Iroquois, and countless other native peoples.

So then why would Saint Patrick, a man so tightly associated with Ireland, wish to, at least mythologically, destroy everything Irish? The answer comes from an examination of the historical person. Brigette de Silva’s paper, “Saint Patrick, the Irish Druids, and the Conversion of Pagan Ireland to Christianity” (strangehorizons.com), provides a fascinating glimpse into the man that lived-as best as we can redact from period sources.

Born and raised to his teenage years in England among the land-owning upper class and grandson to a priest, Patrick was not a religious man at all-until captured by Irish raiders and made a slave. His conversion to Christianity came out of his resentment towards his new life and his master. When he finally escaped from his master, he begged some traders to take him back to England. The traders refused him at first, but then agreed. However, it is unlikely they went to England. De Silva tells us the historical consensus is that he was taken to Gaul where he was either re-enslaved or made part of the group while they raided in Gaul. Regardless which way it happened, it is clear that Patrick was 26 by the time he returned to England to his family. At that time, he decided to return to Ireland to convert them to Christianity. Not long after his return, Patrick was appointed bishop of Ireland and began his work to convert the Irish to Christianity.

Myths on both sides depict Patrick as both more successful than he was and far more brutal. One story speaks of his returning to his former master to force him to convert. However, the story says, the local king recognized Patrick for the threat he presented and, per Irish custom, burned himself alive rather than be force-converted. Other stories credit Patrick with converting large numbers of Irish. Yet de Silva’s research shows none of these claims as historical. Bishop Patrick died in obscurity until others, at the end of the Christianization of Ireland, revised his history and created his mythos.

What we can say for certain is that Bishop Patrick was motivated far more by vengeance and disdain for the Irish in his missionary work in Ireland than we typically associate with Roman Catholic clergy. He is canonized as the Saint of Ireland, yet was a wealthy Englishman. And of course, that most of what we associate with Patrick is myth created decades and centuries later. Like his contemporary, King Arthur, Patrick remains more myth than man in our imaginations. Bishop Patrick was truly no saint and was, ultimately, one of the first missionaries driven by racist impulses.

No Excuses: One Star Reviews on Ebooks

permission to walk awayEvery author wants five star reviews.  This is a given.  As human beings we want everyone to love and adore our work, even when we know that is impossible.  Everyone has different tastes in books.  I like non-fiction history, you like a spicy romance.  You want to escape into another world; I want to better understand the one we are already in.  Different tastes make the world go round.

Indeed, critical reviews help authors by offering substance, feedback, and credibility.  No author with more than five or six reviews has a perfect five star average; someone will always find something imperfect about your work.  This is how it should be.  Your work should receive a mix of reviews.

With one exception:  the one star review.

Ghosts of the Past cover webOn books, there is absolutely no reason for a one star review.  Why?  Because all book retailers offer book SAMPLING — try it before you buy it.  The purpose is obvious:  if you like the sample, odds are really good you will like the book and buy it.  If you do not like the sample, odds are equally good that you will move on and not bother to purchase the book.  Sampling helps match books with readers who like and appreciate them so that there is SOMETHING the reader likes before purchase.

If you like a book before you buy it, odds are good you will still like something about the book after you read it.  Yes, there are plenty of examples of books not living up to their promise by the end — those are the ones who receive two star and three star reviews.  But a one star review is different:  it means there is no redeeming quality to the book.  If this is the case, why did the reader download it after reading the sample in the first place?

To this, only one logical answer resonates:  the person did not read the sample before download.  Why not?  In my experience this happens with free books.  A person who pays nothing for a book risks nothing by downloading it (this is often why authors often their books for free).  The flip side to this is that the person who pays nothing invests nothing in the same book; there’s no value to it because no money is actually paid.

When we pay money for something, we value it.  It matters to us.  We are careful about our choices.  We make sure before we buy something that it is something we (or any person we give it to) really want and expect to enjoy.  The more something costs us, the more careful we are to evaluate whether or not we really want it in the first place.  With books, we take our time and read the samples.  We research.  We investigate.  Then and only then do we spend the money and buy.

Every single one star review I ever received came from people who received my book as a gift in some way — a winner in a giveaway, a special sale promotion, or a permafree book.  In paying nothing, the reader invested nothing.  By investing nothing the reader had no inhibitions about trashing my book and hurting its review average with that one star.

That is, if s/he read it at all; I have reviews where it is clear all the person did was skim the sample, then write the review based on a few paragraphs and feign to have read the entire thing.  These too were negative reviews whose content did not match with anything mentioned in reviews written by those who read the books.

Why do people do this?  Give me your thoughts!  Let’s talk about our experiences dealing with negative reviews!  Post your comment here or tweet to https://twitter.com/laurelworlds.

Character Profile: Benjamin Taylor

Today’s character profile is Benjamin Taylor.

Bendragon
Series name:
The Six Worlds

Parents’ names: Andrew Taylor and Zinder Zanzburg

Character’s date of birth: January 14, 2000
Place of birth: Zargon – one of the Six Worlds

Book appearing in: Ben the Dragonborn

Profile: Ben is a 14 year old boy. He does not remember his mother and his father has disappeared. He is plagued by nightmares of strange worlds and creatures that carry him through the sky before dropping him into water over his head. Ben is terrified of being in deep water.
Ideal actor or actress to play in a film adaptation: Griffin Gluck

Primary genre: Children’s Fiction

Content rating: G; may contain religious content

Connect with Dianne Astle on twitter.

From Resurrection Sunday to Easter: How Ancient German and Christian Celebrations Merged at Easter

Originally posted March 27th, 2012

 

From Resurrection Sunday to Easter: How Ancient German and Christian Celebrations Merged at Easter

Easter Sunday-for Christians around the world Easter is arguably the most important holiday in the Christian calendar. The message of Jesus’ act of self sacrifice by allowing himself to be crucified by the Romans as a zealous rebel to Roman authority, his preaching against the legalistic status quos of the time, and the literal or metaphorical resurrection of Jesus just days after his execution is all central to Christian belief. And yet American Christians refer to the commemorating festival associated with all of this by the name of the German goddess of spring and the dawn, Easter, also known as Ostara in High German.

Christians decorate eggs, hold sunrise services, wear new and typically pastel-colored clothing, decorate with spring flowers, and embrace Easter’s egg-laying messenger hare, all of which are part of how Germans have honored Easter/Ostara in the centuries and millennia before the Common Era. American Christians even use the German goddess’ name to refer to their holiday rather than referring to it by its proper nomer, Resurrection Sunday.

So how did this happen?

Diverse sources indicate that changes in the Church began in the 5th century Common Era (the same era as King Arthur in Britain and Bishop Patrick in England/Ireland) when Germanic tribes such as the Vandals, Visigoths, and others, in search of Roman prosperity, moved south and east into Roman lands, often seizing these territories from Roman control. The same Germanic warrior culture that produced the epic poem “Beowulf” infused these lands-just as previously the Germans and Celts had sought to adopt Roman culture and values in the centuries before. As Rome collapsed under these pressures, and the social pressures created by the oppressive policies of the elite over the vast majority of residents in the empire (seehttp://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/romefallarticles/a/fallofrome_2.htm for more on the 5th century Roman Empire), the Church found itself needing to change with the times. In “Christianizing the Germans, Militarizing the Church” athttp://atheism.about.com/b/2006/11/04/christianizing-the-germans-militarizing-the-church-book-notes-fighting-for-christendom.htm, Austin Cline explains how Christian leaders were forced to convey Christianity using native German values. Jesus became “The Lord of Victories,” and a “generous mead-giver.” Heaven was described as being similar to Valhalla, and so on. These are not terms that probably any of us have heard in modern churches, but those familiar with early English and German literature are certain to recognize the flavor of these declarations. Using these descriptions, Jesus ceases to be a part of his native Jewish culture and becomes a fellow German, someone members of each German tribe on either side of the Rhine could relate to.

But the process of Christianizing hardly came overnight. The German travel guide athttp://www.germany.co.za/christianisation.html details how slow and gradual this process was. Chlodwig (Clovis) of the Franks was the first German king baptized in 498 CE; his Catholic wife, princess Chrodechildis of Burgundy is believed to be largely behind his “conversion.” Later, in the 8th century CE, Karl der Grosse (Charlemagne) used Christianity as part of his visions of a united German empire. He first conquered Bavaria and Lombardy, and then attacked the Saxons of the north. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned him emperor, creating what became known was the Holy Roman Empire. Christianity was now the official religion of Karl’s empire.

In the three centuries between Chlodwig and Karl der Grosse, the Church adapted itself to native German culture, evolving and integrating German ideas and customs-just as the Church in Celtic societies needed to integrate Celtic culture. It is easy to see, in the light of this history, how the Church came to refer to its Resurrection Sunday by the name of the German goddess of spring. At first the German church, more likely than not, dovetailed Resurrection Sunday observances to the existing festivals for Ostara/Eastre celebrating spring, simply tacking on Christian elements to those services and rituals. This probably meant celebrating the festival when the Germans celebrated it-on or close to the vernal equinox. Later, as the Christian elements became more accepted, the celebration was moved to its “proper” date as required by the Council of Nicaea (325 CE): the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (seehttp://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/f/Calculate_Date.htm), until finally the old references to Eastre/Ostara as a German goddess faded from memory. The two very distinct holidays and theologies became inseparable. Today, most Christians are fully unaware that most of observances for “Easter” they practice come from a far older German religious tradition. Easter/Ostara is evoked merely as the name of the holiday-without recognition for the goddess whose name is evoked each time.

Only recently have we come to recognize how these very different religious traditions merged. Christianity assimilated the Old Religion and, in true irony, therefore preserved it. Academic honesty requires us to recognize this history of religious joining and honor every choice-Christian or Old Religion-each individual makes for her/his own life. Likewise, it is my hope that Christians will honor the role that Jewish culture played in the early Christian church and strive to understand the beauty of Jewish society-independent of religious bias. Only by respectful learning of diverse cultures and traditions may we attain true harmony, respecting all and hating none for being different.

Honoring Ostara, Easter: Simple Ways to Honor the Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

Originally published March 20th, 2012, this is a practical guide to the spring equinox celebration of Ostara.

 

Honoring Ostara, Easter: Simple Ways to Honor the Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

 

Wicca is a predominately reconstructionist religion. That is, one of its aims is to redact the Old Religion practiced in pre-Christian Europe. One key way we do this is by recognizing the European cultural and religious traditions that were preserved-even if altered-through Roman Catholicism. A simple example of Old Religion traditions preserved by the Church and our culture at large include wearing costumes at Halloween, decorating with evergreens in December, and sunrise services for Resurrection Sunday (a better and more accurate name for “Easter,” the Christian version). These are all customs most people in the western world recognize; far fewer recognize their roots in pre-Christian European cultures.

No other holiday, besides Yuletide, has been preserved in regards to the old ways and the old stories as the holiday called Easter by Christians. The name Easter is a simple Anglicization of the Anglo-Saxon name “Ëostre,” the high German form being “Ostara.” As witchvox tells us (seehttp://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=1991), both forms of this name reference the idea of “East” in Germanic languages (modern German, Osten-note the connection with the Ostara form of the name), the direction of the dawn. Ostara is both goddess of the vernal equinox and goddess of the dawn.

But beyond simply telling the story about Ostara and her magical egg bearing hare and the gifts of flowers she bestowed on the faithful, beyond all the ideas so commercialized and so taken over by Christianity, how can we, who wish to honor the Old Religion, do so as we welcome spring this year? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Greet the morning in which the equinox arrives by getting up at sunrise and watch the sun at dawn for some quiet time with nature.
  2. Meditate and pray for balance and harmony-for yourself, those around you, and the world. This is a good day to pray for divine help in preserving endangered species and reversing global warming. The optimal time for this: the five minutes leading up to and after the exact moment of planetary equinox when the planet is in “the moment between moments and hour between hours” as I pray every year as part of this prayer. Pray outside touching a tree or plant if you can.
  3. Bring in some colored flowers to your home and place in a spot where everyone will see them regularly.
  4. Wear pastel clothing on the day of the astronomical spring equinox
  5. Make and eat at least one colored boiled egg. Skip the commercial egg kits; a few drops of kitchen food coloring in boiling water with vinegar and extracted with a spoon is all you need!
  6. Spend at least thirty minutes outdoors communing with nature.
  7. Leave food offerings of thanksgiving for Ostara; the animals near you will be thankful!
  8. Plant a tree, herb, or shrub
  9. Drink a cup of lavender or lemon balm tea. Both herbs are associated with the holiday. Be sure you brew from culinary (aka English) lavender. If your preferred herb, spice, or tea retailer does not sell it, ask for it!
  10. Integrate marjoram, lemon balm, culinary lavender, thyme, and/or sunflower seeds into a special holiday meal.

For more information on Ostara/Easter please consult: http://www.pagannews.com/cgi-bin/sabbats1.pl?Ostara , http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=1991, and http://earthwitchery.com/ostara.html.