Thanksgiving Turkey Facts

Here in the States it’s Thanksgiving Day, which means Go Eagles and Lions! Here are a few interesting facts about Thanksgiving, courtesy of trove.com:

1. There are three places in the US named Turkey. 
Three small towns in America are named after the nation’s favorite bird. There is Turkey, Texas; Turkey, North Carolina; and Turkey Creek, Louisiana, according to the US Census Bureau. Turkey Creek, Louisiana is the most populated, with 441 residents.
There are also two townships in Pennsylvania called Upper Turkeyfoot and Lower Turkeyfoot.

2. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade used live animals from the Central Park Zoo.
Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York took place in 1914 when Macy’s employees dressed in vibrant costumes and marched to the flagship store on 34th street.
The parade used floats instead of balloons, and it featured monkeys, bears, camels, and elephants all borrowed from the Central Park Zoo.
It was also originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade, but was renamed the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927.

3. Jingle Bells was originally a Thanksgiving song. 
James Pierpoint composed the song in 1857 for children celebrating Thanksgiving. The title was “One Horse Open Sleigh,” and it was such a hit that it was sung again at Christmas. The song quickly became associated with the Christmas holiday season, and the title was officially changed in 1859, two years later.
4. The night before Thanksgiving is the best day for bar sales in the US.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is responsible for the most bar sales in America, more than New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl, or even St. Patrick’s Day.
It makes sense, since nearly all Americans have Thanksgiving off and dealing with family members can be very stressful. (But at least stuffing your face with fatty Thanksgiving foods is a perfect hangover cure.)
5. Thanksgiving leftovers inspired the first-ever TV dinner. 
In 1953, the TV dinner company Swanson overestimated the demand for turkey by over 260 tons, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The owners of the company had no idea what to do with all the leftovers, so they enlisted the help of company salesman Gerry Thomas.
Taking inspiration from airplane meals, Thomas ordered 5,000 aluminum trays, and loaded them with the turkey leftovers to create the first TV dinner.
6. Thomas Jefferson canceled Thanksgiving during his presidency. 
George Washington was the first to declare Thanksgiving as a holiday, but it was on a year-to-year basis, so presidents had to re-declare it every year, according to the Washington Post. Jefferson was so adamantly against Thanksgiving that he refused to declare it a holiday during his presidency, and many say that he called the holiday “the most ridiculous idea ever conceived.”
Most historians agree that Jefferson really refused to declare the holiday because he fervently believed in the separation of church and state, and thought that the day of “prayer” violated the First Amendment.
It wasn’t until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a federal holiday, that our beloved turkey day was officially scheduled to fall on the fourth Thursday of every month.

9. FDR tried to change the date of Thanksgiving — and it caused a lot of problems. 
In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second-to-last, according to the US National Archives.
The change was made in an attempt to lift the economy during the Great Depression, the idea being that it would give people more time to shop for Christmas.
But it ended up making everybody confused. Most states held Thanksgiving on its original date, and three states — Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas — celebrated the holiday in both weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
It caused such a public outcry that people began referring to it as “Franksgiving.” After two years, Congress ditched the new policy and set the fourth Thursday of November as the legal holiday.

two more from The Blaze site:

Many credit Harry S Truman for being the first president to pardon a turkey, but the Truman Presidential Library admits there’s no documentation to substantiate that claim.

Truman’s successor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, admitted he ate the two turkeys presented to him at the White House for Thanksgiving each year during his two terms in office.

When President John F. Kennedy was presented with a turkey wearing a sign reading, “Good Eatin’, Mr. President,” Kennedy simply responded, “Let’s just keep him.”

When President Ronald Reagan was asked about possible pardons for Lt. Col. Oliver North and national security advisor John Poindexter in the Iran-Contra affair in 1987, he joked about pardoning a turkey, but the practice of “officially” pardoning the bird wasn’t formalized until 1989. Since then, each president has “pardoned” a turkey each year, allowing it to be spared from the roaster to instead live out the rest of its natural life.

One of the most ardent advocates for an annual national day of Thanksgiving was Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Ladies Magazine and “Godey’s Lady’s Book.” Hale began lobbying for such a day in 1827 by printing articles in her magazines and writing to elected officials. After 36 years of persistence, Hale won her battle. Buoyed by the Union victory at Gettysburg, President Lincoln proclaimed that Nov. 26, 1863 would be a national Thanksgiving Day and that Thanksgiving would be observed each year on the fourth Thursday of November.

So there you have it. To all Americans, Happy Thanksgiving! And if you’re not American or you aren’t celebrating, Happy Thursday!

My first-ever writer’s conference

As approach Thanksgiving I though I’d share a few thoughts on the 2014 Baltimore Writer’s conference I recently attended. This was my first-ever writer’s conference and looking back at it it was an interesting time. Sadly, no photos 😦

The highlights:

  • Took place at the campus of Towson University.
  • -about 125 people, mostly under 30. Mostly White but there was some diversity (more than the publishing industry, I’d guess)
  • -Four session times offered. I first went to the session called “Publish your own lit journal” The takeaways were: don’t quit your day job, set specific times to allow for author submissions, get a great cover designer, figure out the costs for physical copies if you’re selling, and make sure you have a phenomenal editor team in place to read submissions. One magazine assigns one editor per genre, another passes it around to 5-6 editors and has a “two votes and you’re out” policy. Despite the challenges facing print publishing the publishers featured were enthusiastic about what they publish, seeing it as more of a hobby or life-long fulfillment than as a way to make millions.
  • -The second session I went to a session called “how to craft a better query letter” which turned out to be about how to pitch story ideas to a local Baltimore feature magazine. The session was not that interesting to me since I have no desire to become a reporter for any local featurettes, so I went to the “creating dialogue for fiction” session, which had about half the total conference participants in it. Although I missed the beginning I got these tips:
  • -don’t use dialog in low-contect situations. Skip hellos, goodbyes, self-appraisals, and statements of feelings (can use in high-contect situations like family feuds and spousal arguments)
  • Characters only ask, say, answer, and reply. They never chortle!
  • Strike out words like “Oh, yes, well, so, um, etc.
  • Avoid dialect in dialog.
  • Avoid over-telling
  • Have characters do stuff while they talk. People don’t always sit around doing nothing.
  • 3 lines of dialogue per one character speech. Save longer monologues for specific situations.

Do you agree/disagree with any of these?

After a lunch of penne paste and grilled chicken I had a critique section! Jessica Blau, who wrote a best-seller, critiqued my work. She liked my chapter but we disagreed on some of the dialogue structure. She did catch a few errors but it would have been nicer to show her an entire book and not just one short chapter. A good experience; I’d never had work critique by anyone before. My mom doesn’t count. I was surprised only 30 of the conference attendees came to this session. Maybe they didn’t have anything they were ready to have critiqued.

There last session was by a woman named Bonnie Friedman who talked about “Envy fear, distractions, and other dilemmas in the writer’s life”. This was a forum attended by younger people who had to suffer anxiety, frustration, and a lack of support from friends or family in regards to their writing career. I know this: tell people you write and most folks are either unimpressed or they don’t think I’m spending my time wisely. I hope they’re wrong! One girl started crying and she said she suffered from anxiety issues related to her work. Later on the elevator on the way down she told me she had a mental health issue. I won’t divulge her name but let’s just say it isn’t the way you want to introduce yourself to people. Even if she was telling the truth, there’s a time and place to talk about those things and a writer’s conference with strangers isn’t one of them.

Overall I had a great time. I met a few people I hopefully will talk to in the future and  who knows: Maybe somewhere in that conference call is a person who will write a best-seller or a Hollywood blockbuster.

I’ll have a post on Tuesday, my last before Thanksgiving, providing a few fun (and little-known) Thanksgiving facts. Until then, !hasta luego!

How “The Shazam Effect” changed music- and could change book publishing

There was an interesting article in The Atlantic earlier this week called “The Shazam Effect.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Shazam is a tech start up founded in 2000 by a Standford Ph.D. named Avery Wang who wanted to develop a service which could use a cellphone to identify any song within the phone’s range using an algorithm which created a unique acoustic fingerprint for each track, turning each song into a piece of data which could be read by the Shazam program. 500 million downloads later the program is used by music industry executives to determine not merely what songs are popular, but which songs will be hits with the right marketing effort in the future based on early-detection. Read the following (edited for length) and for those of who who like reading substitute “music” for “books”, “songs” for “self-published novelist” “artists” with “authors”, “hear” and “listen(er)” with “read(er)”, and “labels” or “music executives ” with “traditional publishers”:

“By studying 20 million searches every day, Shazam can identify which songs are catching on, and where, before just about anybody else. “Sometimes we can see when a song is going to break out months before most people have even heard of it,” Jason Titus, Shazam’s former chief technologist, told me.  Last year, Shazam released an interactive map overlaid with its search data, allowing users to zoom in on cities around the world and look up the most Shazam’d songs in São Paulo, Mumbai, or New York. The map amounts to a real-time seismograph of the world’s most popular new music, helping scouts discover unsigned artists just as they’re starting to set off tremors.

Shazam searches are just one of several new types of data guiding the pop-music business. Concert promoters study Spotify listens to route tours through towns with the most fans, and some artists look for patterns in Pandora streaming to figure out which songs to play at each stop on a tour. In fact, all of our searching, streaming, downloading, and sharing is being used to answer the question the music industry has been asking for a century: What do people want to hear next?

It’s a question that label executives once answered largely by trusting their gut. But data about our preferences have shifted the balance of power, replacing experts’ instincts with the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, labels have gotten much better at understanding what we want to listen to. This is the one silver lining the music industry has found in the digital revolution, which has steadily cut into profits. So it’s clearly good for business—but whether it’s good for music is a lot less certain.

Next Big Sound, a five-year-old music-analytics company based in New York, scours the Web for Spotify listens, Instagram mentions, and other traces of digital fandom to forecast breakouts. It funnels half a million new acts through an algorithm to create a list of 100 stars likely to break out within the next year. “If you signed our top 100 artists, 20 of them would make the Billboard 200,” Victor Hu, a data scientist with Next Big Sound, told me.

Last year, the company unveiled a customizable search tool called Find, which, for a six-figure annual subscription, helps scouts mine social media to spot artists who show signs of nascent stardom. If, for example, you wanted to search for obscure bands with the fastest-growing followings on Twitter, Find could produce a list within seconds.

To get a song on the radio in the first place, music labels confront a paradox: How do you prove that it will be a hit before anyone has heard it? DJs consider unfamiliar songs “tune-outs,” because audiences tend to spurn new music. In the past, labels sometimes pressured or outright bribed stations to promote their music. Songs became hits because executives decided they should be hits.

But radio, too, has come to rely more on data, and now when label executives pitch a station, they’re likely to come armed with spreadsheets. The search for evidence of a song’s potential has become exhaustive: you can’t just track radio data, or sales, or YouTube hits, or Facebook interactions, or even proprietary surveys and focus groups. To persuade a major radio station to play a new song, labels have to connect all these dots.

The Hot 100 matters because it doesn’t just reflect listener preferences, it also shapes them. In a groundbreaking 2006 study on the influence of song rankings, three researchers at Columbia University showed that popularity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The researchers sent participants to different music Web sites where they could listen to dozens of tracks and download their favorites. Some sites displayed a ranking of the most-downloaded songs; others did not. Participants who saw rankings were more likely to listen to the most-popular tracks.

The researchers then wondered what would happen if they manipulated the rankings. In a follow-up experiment, some sites displayed the true download counts and others showed inverted rankings, where the least-popular song was listed in the No. 1 spot. The inverted rankings changed everything: previously ignored songs soared in popularity, and previously popular songs were ignored. Simply believing, even wrongly, that a song was popular made participants more likely to download it.

Everyone I spoke with about the Hot 100—label and radio executives, industry analysts, and other journalists—agreed with Jay Frank’s assessment that consumers have more say than they did decades ago, when their tastes were shaped by the hit makers at labels. But here’s the catch: if you give people too much say, they will ask for the same familiar sounds on an endless loop, entrenching music that is repetitive, derivative, and relentlessly played out.

Because the most-popular songs now stay on the charts for months, the relative value of a hit has exploded. The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn 77 percent of all revenue from recorded music, media researchers report. And even though the amount of digital music sold has surged, the 10 best-selling tracks command 82 percent more of the market than they did a decade ago. 

And not only are we hearing the same hits with greater frequency, but the hits themselves sound increasingly alike. As labels have gotten more adept at recognizing what’s selling, they’ve been quicker than ever to invest in copycats. People I spoke with in the music industry told me they worried that the reliance on data was leading to a “clustering” of styles and genres, promoting a dispiriting sameness in pop music.

In 2012, the Spanish National Research Council released a report that delighted music cranks around the world. Pop, it seemed, was growing increasingly bland, loud, and predictable, recycling the same few chord progressions over and over. The study, which looked at 464,411 popular recordings around the world between 1955 and 2010, found that the most-played music of the new millennium demonstrates “less variety in pitch transitions” than that of any preceding decade.

The problem is not our pop stars. Our brains are wired to prefer melodies we already know. (David Huron, a musicologist at Ohio State University, estimates that at least 90 percent of the time we spend listening to music, we seek out songs we’ve heard before.) That’s because familiar songs are easier to process, and the less effort needed to think through something—whether a song, a painting, or an idea—the more we tend to like it. In psychology, this idea is known as fluency: when a piece of information is consumed fluently, it neatly slides into our patterns of expectation, filling us with satisfaction and confidence.”

You can see what data analytics can do for music, you can imagine what they can do for books.

Imagine major publishing companies using data algorithms to predict what self-published author or book might be the next big hit. Rather than let the market decide, they take someone with potential and make sure he/she is shot up to the top based on data and the assumption people want more of the same. Since most people prefer things they already know, they will support whatever is considered “popular”. So if the major publishers decided a particular book should be popular, they can simply bump it to the top, knowing the book-buying public will buy a print or e-book copy because they think everyone else is. The power of peer pressure, combined with people’s comfort in seeking out things we are familiar with and enjoy, could continue moving the literacy world in the same direction as the music industry: Authors will be chosen based on potential popularity and fitting their books into a formula for what people want, which means make sure your books look like everyone else’s with only minor differences. Those who are “chosen” will earn even more of the take on book revenue because they will perpetually be near the top. Only now people will be chosen by data analytics rather than someone reading the slush pile.

This could be a boon to self-publishers, who with a little marketing, social media presence, and luck, could be plucked from relative obscurity and made into the next big thing. Agents will have an important, but diminished, role in finding new talent because the publishing companies will just pay a tech company for this service. In this system agents would focus more on the contract and business side and less on presenting an author to the editors and publishers.

However, this system would further increase the disparity between the top and the bottom, as anyone showing even a modicum of talent will be whisked to the top just as the music industry has been successful at doing. And we all know there is a reason authors on a major bestsellers list stick that achievement on their books.

What do you think about this article? Could reading become like listening? Books treated like the music industry treats authors? the gap between the wealthy few mega best-sellers and everyone else continue to grow? Or are reading and listening too separate for this ever to happen?

The image is owned and copyrighted by The Atlantic.

Is Indie book publishing the best way to go?

There is a lot of debate among authors as to which methods of publication is best. Here are the four most common options:

1. Traditional publishing (Big 5- Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillian, Simon & Schuster, and all of the smaller printing companies they own)

2. “Indie Publisher”: small and medium sized printing and publishing companies unaffiliated with the Big 5.

3. Self-publishing with a major company like Amazon publishing, where you publish with a major company but it’s largely self-publishing, just on their platform.

4. Self-publishing: you do all the work yourself of creating  or hiring someone for the content, graphic design, editing, etc, and then you publish it on a site like Amazon, Nook, or smash words as an e-book with the possible Print on Demand function.

*Disclaimer: I am not at this time a published author. This is my take on how I view the industry based on the experiences of other authors and my understanding of the publishing industry.

Traditional publishing has the biggest pro in terms of marketing and budget. They can get your book into stores faster than any other method, you can sell copies, print in particular, faster through a big company AND they can quickly have your book translated and sent to foreign nations. They also have massive credibility. The catch is, you actually have to get these services. Go on your typical author message board and notice how many authors complain about the contracts they have to sign (granted, they may have other reasons to complain, but that’s another topic). these contracts often require signing away rights to books for a long time, if not forever. You would get a very low royalty, unless you have had previous success. Advances can vary but they seem to me to be almost totally at random, depending on whether you “fit” with the current crop of publishers. Even if you get a book deal you are still going to have to do your own promotion, though they can help you out. Many authors don’t seem to be good at self-promotion. Also, you will have very little say in how your book is produced, including cover art, illustrations, etc.

Small/Indie publishing: Small/indie publishers are more likely to work one on one with you to make the book look the way you want. As a legitimate publishing house they will take the costs of production onto themselves, and you can (and should) expect better contract terms- higher royalties, more control over cost and production, and legitimate assistance in marketing and promotion. However, you should not expect a large advance, your print runs will be smaller, and you will likely have to do even more self-promotion because indie publishers rarely have the staffs to keep up with the bigger publishers. One bonus is that BECAUSE budgets are smaller at indies your books won’t cost as much to produce, and a basic  economic principle is that the lower the price of a good or service the more likely you are to sell that good or service. Also, books get out to market much faster than big houses but slower than self-publishing.

Amazon publishing or similar service, including Kindle Direct Publishing- many authors who don’t want to write query letters, can’t handle rejection, and/or who can’t, don’t, or won’t wait for an agent to accept a book, pitch the book, sell the book rights, and then have the publisher decide when to print and sell it. You sign with a large company like Amazon, choose what contract terms you want (in KDP), and your book is available as a Print on Demand (POD) or as a legitimately published book. But I got this from the website today:

Amazon Publishing does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, proposals, or other submissions at this time.

Plus you also have to realize you’re working with Amazon…now while the “Big 5” don’t seem like the most pleasant bunch to deal with, and they do control way too much of the book publishing industry, Amazon controls over half the total e-book publishing market and they control a large number of sales volume on the internet. And another economic principle- monopolies are not a good thing. Replace the big 5 with Amazon and it will be exactly the same, but with one company in control and not five.

True self-publishing: You don’t sign a contract with anyone, other than choosing your terms with KDP or Nook Press, for example, for how much in royalties you want to receive. You write your book, take care of production yourself, and sell it as an e-book with POD option available. You publish it on as many sites as you are allowed (depending on your terms) and hope for the best. If you are lucky you might even sell a bunch of copies while keeping 100% of profit and not signing away any rights to anyone!

But…self-publishing has a bad stigma. Anyone can do it, and when anyone can do it, it isn’t very valuable. You will have to take care of ALL your publishing, production, promotion, etc. Many authors, as I stated above, cannot manage to essentially become entrepreneurs. Plus publishers can get access to media and brick and mortar stores you the lonely author are not likely to get access to, even if you’re nice.

My take: I personally favor the small indie publishing model, provided they are a credible publisher. You get the advantage of working with a real publisher who will handle much of what a big publisher will just on a smaller scale, and you will have a better chance of getting a more favorable contract. Self-publishing is very risky and giving your printing rights to a big corporation carries its own risks too, that you’ll either be drowned out by the huge roster of authors they already publish or you’ll have to live with the knowledge of letting an oligarchy have control of your hard work.

Salute to all Veterans Today

Today is the 96th anniversary of Armistice Day. If you don’t know your history, that means 96 years ago today, at 11:11 AM on 11/11/1918, the Central Powers led by Germany and Austria-Hungary surrendered to the Triple Entente led by the U.S., U.K., and Russian Empire (on its way to becoming the Soviet Union) in Compiegne, France, in a boxcar from an old freight train.

This day is commemorated around the world, generally to mark the end of a war which saw over 20 million human beings slaughtered, often in the most gruesome manner. Mustard seed gas, tanks, air combat, and trench warfare were used for the first time to kill, mostly in the nation of nationalism.

In America we mark this as Veterans Day, to acknowledge not only the end of hostilities in World War One but to honor the service of every man or woman who has ever put on a military uniform for any of the Armed Service branches. On this day I would like to thank our veterans for their service. All of you exemplify the best about being an American, no matter which branch of the Armed Forces you served in.

I would like to acknowledge the following for their service: John Stapleford, retired Vietnam veteran Air Force Captain and winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with clusters; John Darr, who served in the 7th fleet during the Vietnam War as a company engineering officer; my grandfather, Frederick Friedman, who served as an Captain Chief of Obstetrics 551st USAF hospital Air Force doctor during the Vietnam War at Otis Air Force base in Massachusetts; and my great-uncle Eugene Cohen, who served in the Navy during world war 2 and took part in naval bombardments in the Pacific Ocean as America was advancing on Japan’s homeland.

History note: During World War Two, when the French Surrendered to Nazi Germany, Hitler forced the French to sign their surrender terms in the same boxcar Germany signed theirs in nearly 22 years earlier. That boxcar then got shipped off to Germany as a ‘prize’ for the Germans to gloat about.

How the (bored) internet community can make or break your book or business

I can’t wait to finalize my recap of the election results (which I will put at the bottom of this e-mail) but I saw this story in the New York Times and I think if you aspire to have a successful book or business or anything else, you might want to pay attention as to what can make (or break) celebrity status. Article truncated for length:

“While political analysts spent Wednesday interpreting the significance of the midterm elections, social media pundits obsessed over the meaning of Alex from Target.

Alex is Alex Laboeuf, a 16-year-old from Texas with Justin Bieber-ish looks. He became the latest Internet sensation after a photo of him working at a Target checkout counter went viral this week and teenagers — both girls and boys — started gushing over him. By Tuesday, he was flown to Los Angeles for an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

But why did he thunder to online stardom? Was it a marketing stunt by Target? A hoax by a couple of bored teenagers? Or was it absolutely nothing at all?

“There is a whole attempt at making sense of this now,” said Andrew Lih, a journalism professor at the American University School of Communication. “But I can’t find any. The Internet is more and more like your local high school where inexplicably the crowd picks something that is not that interesting and elevates it to popularity status.”

Social media pandemonium over Alex started last Sunday when a young woman named Abbie posted the photograph on Twitter. The image acquired its own hashtag — #alexfromtarget — and Alex, who started with 144 Twitter followers, now has more than 600,000.

The Alex phenomenon became the subject of news articles on the websites of Time, The Washington Post and CNN over the last two days. The Dallas Morning News tried furiously to confirm just which Target he worked for.

Various Internet memes ensued. Some began snapping photos of other teenagers in jobs, for example: Kel from Good Burger and Kieran from T-Mobile. There were Alex imitators posted on the video service Vine.

Ms. DeGeneres was confused as everyone else by Alex’s popularity. Do you have any skills like singing and dancing, she asked?

“I can apparently bag groceries pretty well,” he said.

Late Tuesday, CNET reported that a marketing start-up, Breakr, was taking credit for Alex’s rise. On its web page, Breakr offers this opaque definition for its business: “helping connect fans to their fandom.” In a post on Tuesday on LinkedIn, the company’s chief executive, Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares, wrote: “We wanted to see how powerful the fan girl demographic was by taking an unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral Internet sensation.”

Breakr’s claim then set off a whole new round of articles suggesting that the whole Alex phenomenon was the product of these crafty marketers.

It also compelled Target to issue a statement.

“We value Alex as a team member and from the first moment we saw this photo beginning to circulate, we shared that the Target team was as surprised as anyone,” the company said. “That remains the truth today. Let us be completely clear, we had absolutely nothing to do with the creation, listing or distribution of the photo. And we have no affiliation whatsoever with the company that is taking credit for its results.”

Alex and Abbie, the young woman who supposedly first posted the photo of Alex, also disputed Breakr’s account and denied they were part of any publicity stunt. This caused Breakr to “update” its LinkedIn post to say that neither Alex nor Abbie were part of any scheme, that it occurred organically and the company “jumped on it” to draw attention to its services.

“I didn’t know the pic was taken or tweeted until my store manager showed me,” Alex wrote on Twitter late Tuesday.

“This just shows you it is another Tuesday on the Internet,” said Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “There is all these important things going on like the election, but some portion of the Internet is paying attention to something else.”

What you have here is a normal 16-year old handsome boy who was doing his job- and then for really no reason whatsoever the interent decided he should be made into an internet celebrity. I have no objection to Alex’s 15 minutes of fame; in fact, he didn’t even ask for it! But this shows you the power of the internet and also the problem with trying to develop a personal brand when sometimes you can just post a photo or write something and the (bored) internet users decide to give you a few minutes of fame.

This is a great Public Relations lessons because there is a difference between developing a brand and “getting lucky”- sometimes there is just chance as to what your consumers will want and find interesting. Things which seem clever or creative may win awards but not get you much traction; things which are totally boring might get you somewhere.

There is one other point to be made: take a look at the bolded comment on “the internet is like high school.” I wonder- what if, instead of spending time and effort focusing on a 16 year old Target employee, those people making this photo viral spent time, say reading? Or developing a business plan? or studying? Or taking a dance class? If authors want to increase book sales we’re going to have to convince people that reading a book is a better use of their time than hanging around the internet looking for the next fad opportunity.

Bonus Tip: Try tweeting a photo of a tuna sandwich with the hashtag #ThisIsMyTunaSandwich and see if it gets thousands of tweets and goes viral. If it does, you have to thank me.

photo credit: Abcnews.com

Vote today! Midterm election projections

Unless you’re coming back from Burning man or living in a cave with Crocodile Dundee you know it’s election day in the US of A. The question is, who wins and who loses? I offer a few brief thoughts of my own on key races across the country. Apologies in advance for spelling mistakes in this post. I’m multitasking right now.

Incumbent candidate or party listed first.

New Hampshire: Scott Brown vs. Jeanne Shaheen:

Alaska: Mark Begich vs. Dan Sullivan- As you will see today, the midterm election is being shaped as a referendum on President Obama, and a lot of Democrats are defending seats where Obama is not well-liked. Alaska is one of these. Begich has baggage for supporting ACA (“Obamacare”) and he will lose. Winner: SULLIVAN

Arkansas: Mark Pryor vs. Tom Cotton- Cotton is a US Army veteran, having served inboth Iraw and Afghanistan. This plays very well in the deeply conservative Arkansas. Pryor is not a bad candidate, but Cotton’s campaign has been very succesful at tying him to Obama. Close race but decided early in the night. Winner: COTTON

Louisiana: Mary Landrieu vs. Bill Cassidy: Landrieu is from a Lousiana political dynasty. She has tried to make herself appeal as a somewhat conservative Democrat in the conservative state. Unfortunately for her, see Arkansas and Alaska above. Winner: CASSIDY in a runoff against Landrieu.

North Carolina: Kay Hagan vs. Thom Tillis and Sean Haugh (libertarian)- third party candidates are often blamed for taking votes away from D’s or R’s, and Haugh will be no exception. But who loses more votes? My guess the winner will be just a shde under 50%. Hagan has run a very good campaign and Tillis is not the most liked guy around. Winner: HAGAN

Colorado: Mark Udall vs. Cory Gardner: Udall ran on ONE issue: women’s rights, meaning abortion/birth control, etc. This strategy was so bad even the Denver Post, no lover of Republicans, endorsed Garder just to spite Udall. Gardner is a strong candidate, Udall less so. Very close race, decision early morning hours. Winner: GARDNER

Iowa: Burce Braley vs. Joni Ernst: Neither is an incumbent, they are trying to win the seat beign vacated by Democrat Tom Harkin. Braley has been shooting himself in the foot, first disparaging Iowan farmers over the summer and then Harkin made a comment about Ernst’s looks no Republican could ever get away with without being called “sexist.” Add this to the fact that Ernst is a military mom (and grandmom!), and this is one of the big upsets of the year. Winner: ERNST.

Kansas: Patr Roberts vs. Greg Orman (Independent) and Randall Batson (libertarian)- Orman is the fill-in for the Democrats who did not run anyone against Roberts. He is a centrist businessman and a good candidate. Roberts, like the Kansas governor Sam Brownback, is not very popular. BUT- Kansas is a deeply conservative state. Expect multiple recounts over the coming weeks but I will stick with the incumbent by less than 0.5%. Winner: ROBERTS

Georgia: David Perdue vs. Michelle Nunn and Amanda Swafford (libertarian): For a while Democrats were excited about taking this seat from the GOP vacated by Saxby Chambliss. Despite two women running to become Georgia’s first-ever elected female senator, Obama is very unpopular here and Nunn has not run the best of campaigns. A chance to pick off a seat from a not-very-likeable corporate businessman seems to have gone by the wayside. Swafford won’t play a factor. Winner: PERDUE, no runoff

Delaware: Chris Coons vs. Kevin Wade A shout-out to my home state. Coons is up for re-election, having finished Joe Biden’s term when Biden left to become Vice President. Wade is an interesting candidate but he doesn’t really have a chance. He’ll be lucky to crack 40. Winner: COONS

Kentucky: Mitch McConnell vs. Alison Grimes- Democrats were dreaming they’d tae down the Senate Minority Leader, who is seen as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) but a lot of Kentuckians. But, a) Obama is despised because of the war on coal b)Grimes ran a terrible campaign and c) by old white guy standards, McConnell is actually well-liked. Winner: MCCONNELL

Michigan: Gary Peters vs. Terri Lynn Land and three third-party candidates with no shot: Land is the former Secretary of State for Michigan. She doesn’t appear to have much traction and has made some bizarre remarks (and lack of them-check her ‘War on Women’ ad on Youtube) and while Peters isn’t the most charismatic guy, he’s going to win. Big. Winner: PETERS

Mississippi: Thad Cochran vs. Travis Childers: There has been speculation that Cochran might have lost this race because of spiteful Republicans bitter about his campaign’s under-handed tactics to defeat Chris McDaniel. However, I think the prospect of Harry Reid staying on as Senate Majority Leader is too much even for the R’s who hate Cochran. A  very close race. Winner: COCHRAN

Montana: Amanda Curtis vs. Steve Daines and Roger Roots. This is an open seat vacated by Max Baucus. That’s the only reason I bothered to list this race: Because the Republicans are going to take it. Curtis is a bad candidate, filling in after the previous front-runner was caught in a plagiarism scandal. She has no chance unless aliens invade. Winner: DAINES

South Dakota: Rick Weiland vs. Mike Rounds, Larry Pressler (Ind) and Gordon Howie (Ind.), Seat vacated by Democrat Tim Johnson. Some think this might be close with the third-party candidates, but South Dakota is a conservative state and Weiland isn’t very good at convincing people he’s conservative enough. Also, Obama is not well like here. Winner: ROUNDS

Virginia: Mark Warner vs. Ed Gillespie: Gillespie is a former GOP Chairman. Warner is the incumbent. Warner was leading for a while, but a late surge by Gillespie has made this race close. Again, Obama is hurting Warner because of how close his voting record is to the President. But, with northern Virginia now more like San Francisco than Virginia, that won’t hurt Warner like it will other Dems. Winner: WARNER, but closer than expected.

West Virginia: Natalie Tennant vs. Shelly Moore Capito: we conclude our key Senate races with…two women! That’s right, West Virginia will decide which woman will represent them in the Senate. Ironically, there are three independent candidates, but they’re all men. So which woman will win the seat? West Virginia is actualyl a Democrat-party leaning state. But: Obama is viscerally hated in this state. As in, he’s about as popular as Ebola, mainly because of his war on coal. Winner: CAPITO

Key Governor’s races:

Colorado: John Hickenlooper vs. Bob Beauprez: this is one of the closest to call. Hickenlooper is a slight favorite but he might get dragged down by lack of enthusiasm for Udall. Beauprez, like Gardner, is done well courting the Hispanic vote. This is an absolute toss-up, but I’ll give it to the challenger for one reason: Hickenlooper’s support for gun control in a state where guns are more popular than you-know-you. Winner: BEAUPREZ

Connecticut: Dan Malloy vs. Tom Foley: Foley is a moderate Republican businessman. Malloy is a dishonest politician (surprise!) who raised taxes on the middle class after saying he wouldn’t do that. In a state so Democratic like Connecticut, the fact that Foley is within the margin of error in polling is an embarrassment. Still, this state is blue. Winner: MALLOY, with at least one recount.

Florida: Rick Scott vs. Charlie Crist. This is one of the suckiest races to vote for. Both are dislike able, Crist is a shapeshifer who “goes with the flow” while Scott comes across as insensitive and too business-like instead of diplomatic. I think, because Scott went back on his word after suring the Feds over Obamacare, the good-will vote goes to the former governor. Winner: CRIST.

Georgia: Nathan Deal vs. Jason Carter- Jimmy Carter’s 39 year old grandson wants to be governor. Some polls have this as a possible Democrat upset. I say: see Obama, above. Winner: DEAL

Illinois: Pat Quinn vs. Bruce Rauner. Quinn is, like Scott and PA governor Corbett, among the most disliked governors. He is an embarrassment to the state and even Democrats know this. Given Illinois’ blue advantage and the fact that Rauner is a super wealthy developer/stock market guy, he shouldn’t be well received here, except that under Quinn’s “leadership” Illinois’ bond and credit ratings have taken a hit. The dead vote in Chicago will decide the winner of this one. Winner: QUINN

Kansas: Sam Brownback vs. Paul Davis: Whereas most GOP governors maintained or managed to somewhat improve their state’s economic climate (at least enough for re-election), Brownback cost Kansas their top credit rating. Plus, he broke one too many pledges here.  This is one, like the Senate race, going to multiple recounts. Winner: DAVIS

Maine: Paul LePage vs. Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler (Ind): Cutler and Michaud are solid liberals. LePage is actually Tea Party more than Republican. If Cutler wasn’t running the Democrats would have won this seat. But Cutler IS running, and he will take votes away from Michaud. LePage will win with less than 50%…just like he did in 2010. Winner: LEPAGE

Maryland: Anthony Brown vs. Larry Hogan: Brown is Martin O’Malley’s Lieutenant Governor, and this state at this point is solid Dem. Oabam got 62% here in 2012. So why is Hogan close? Brown is a weak candidate, O’Malleable imposed a “rain tax” (if it rains on your property and runs off into the street you pay a tax on that) and MD’s running of the Obamacare website totally stunk, and I think this might be the upset of the night. Winner: HOGAN by less than 1.5%.

Massachusetts: Martha Coakley vs. Charlie Baker: Coakley lost in solid D Mass 5 years ago to Scott Brown because she didn’t bother campaigning. She evidently hasn’t learned her lesson. Plus, she is a weak candidate with few views on anything of note. Baker has taken the lead and it looks like the Republicans are picking this race up, Winner: BAKER

Michigan: Rick Snyder vs Mark Schauer: Snyder isn’t super well liked either, and Land will probably hurt him. This is one of those races where Snyder benefits from being the incumbent and just competent enough, especially with the Detroit turnaround. Winner: SNYDER

New Hampshire: Maggie Hassan vs. Walt Havenstein- I think all the female governor candidates up for re-election are up this year. Hassan is up narrowly in the polls and New Hampshire seems to have turned somewhat blue. It may be that the Brown-Shaheen race decides this one. Winner: HASSAN

Texas: Wendy Davis vs. Greg Abbott: I only threw this one in because of all the noise made about Wendy Davis “Standing up for abortion rights”. This is going to be a Texas-sized massacre. Winner: ABBOTT

Wisconsin: Scott Walker vs. Mary Burke. Walker is running for the third time in four years, and Burke is a succesful businesswoman. Walker has the momentum and he’s looking at a presidential bid for 2016. Walker will hold Burke off by abour 4-5%. Winner: WALKER

Ballot initiatives:

Marijuana decriminalization is on the ballot in: Alaska, Florida, and Oregon. AK and OR will have weed, Florida will vote against it because of the large number of religious people in the state.

Minimum wage hike is on the ballot in: Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, South Dakota. This is an issue D’s are hoping drives people to the polls. IL and AR will vote yes, the other states no.

Your thoughts? Who do you think will win tonight?

Amazon’s new publishing move: bold or dumb?

If you missed this story because you were too busy enjoying Halloween, you didn’t see that Amazon is taking publishing to a new level: Now the public will determine which books Amazon publishes on its Kindle Scout program:

“Launched on Monday, Amazon’s Kindle Scout program provides excerpts of unreleased books. Your mission: Read the excerpts and vote on which books you think deserve a shot at being published and sold through Amazon.
You can nominate up to three books at a time to be published. New books are added each day, so you can check the site on a regular basis and update your nominations along the way. Currently, a variety of romance, science fiction, mystery and thriller titles are up for nomination. At the end of a 30-day voting period, the Kindle Scout team reviews the books that have received the most votes to help decide which ones will be published.
The books that garner the most votes aren’t necessarily shoe-ins for publication. On its Kindle Scout Basics page, Amazon explains that “nominations give us an idea of which books readers think are great; the rest is up to the Kindle Scout team who then reviews books for potential publication.” But clearly the votes will play a role in determining which titles make the grade.If you happen to cast your vote for a book that does get published, Amazon will reward you with a free, full-length Kindle edition of that title one week before its official release. An Amazon video reveals more about the program.”
So basically you put your book up and hope the people who vote in this competition select your book, which must still clear Amazon’s publication team. Whoever votes on your book gets a free copy, though it isn’t clear if you get credit for a sale of this book or if this is the “reward” you get for “getting” your book published.
There’s more:
“Kindle Scout shortens the time it takes for a book to be chosen for publication, according to the company, with the whole process from submission to selection taking 45 days or less. Author contracts offered through Kindle Press include a $1,500 advance, a five-year renewable term, easy rights reversions and the benefit of Amazon marketing. You will have to split the royalties 50-50 with Amazon. But independent and unknown authors may find the program a good way to bring attention to a new, unpublished book.”
I haven’t read the full contract yet (will do for a future post) but $1,500 isn’t great money especially if Amazon takes 50% of the royalties. Normally publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct program gets you 70% of royalties in most countries, though without the whopping $1,500 advance.
My take: On the one hand, Amazon is introducing a new concept here. Traditional publishing means you have to convince an agent to like your book, based on her/his preferences and best guess as to whether your book might sell enough copies to make a publisher profitable. Then the agent pitches the novel to a publisher, who decides based on her/his preferences if she/he likes the book (yes, there are more women involved in traditional book publishing!) and if there’s a chance of profitability.
If all the stars align you get a book deal where, if you are a first-time author, get little in the way of royalty and the hope your book gets enough marketing buzz to hit the best-seller’s list. The traditional “Big Five” have way more marketing power than your typical small publisher but they have more titles to sell. So in a nutshell, your book’s chance at publication and success depends largely on whether a few people taking their most honest educated guess think your book can sell. What Amazon is offering is to bypass this process and let the people actually buying books decide what they want.
There are three negatives with this proposal: One, many books are not good. My favorite ad of all time (not counting the funny Super Bowl ones or Apple’s iconic ‘1984’ ad) is from TheLadders.com. After you watch the ad you realize WHY the website exists: the more people you ‘let play’ the harder it is to stand out. Amazon’s idea will inevitably crowd out decent book ideas because books will become a popularity content. In that sense having ‘gatekeepers’ makes a certain amount of sense, though i personally champion the free-market approach to book buying.
Second, the contract isn’t that great for the reasons I mentioned above.
And finally, remember you’re dealing with Amazon. Now I have no dog in the fight between Amazon and Hatchette, and countless other authors/publishers have weighed in. But think of it as a billionaires vs. billionaires fight. Just because one side is bad doesn’t make the other side better. While I can’t express any love for the “Big 5”, most of which appear to be run very poorly, ceding control of the book publishing market to Amazon is a bad, bad, idea. Monopolies don’t have the incentive to improve quality and the more power Amazon has over the publication and distribution of selling books, the harder it will be to negotiate with them when they have all the power.
Final Takeaway: I like Amazon’s concept of letting the customer decide what they want to buy but I want to see it tested out first to see if the public is good at picking the “winners” and if authors will benefit financially from this deal before i declare it a winner.
Coming up next: Tomorrow is Election Day, so during the day I’ll give my (non-partisan) same-day election projections for the country and for Delaware, where I live.
Coming up soon: I will finally conclude the “Power Cues” Trilogy by wrapping up the book I’ve meant to finish for months.