It’s confirmed: Our Kids are Being Turned into Heroin Junkies

One of the advantages of tabletop gaming is that you are a) required to interact with other humans in person when playing a multi-player game and b) looking at something that is not a screen, does not change upon command, and does not have a universe’s worth of information on it. As someone who has played at least 10,000 hours of video gaming, I know just how fun-and addicting-games can be. Even now, as I try to work to a schedule and get a lot done with my internet access (blog posts, social media, writing books, answering e-mail, working on some game concepts) it’s FREAKING HARD not to want to get the answer to a question or to want to know what’s going on in the outside world.

The fact is, nearly all of us are now carry symptoms of ADHD (which includes those of us to either have ADD or ADHD or suffer from recognized neurological disorders that go along with ADHD and OCD), especially around electronic devises. We are now obsessed with what the internet has given us. This weekend, I spoke to some incredible people at TempleCon and I’m going to share their thoughts with you, because it made me stop to think. My one regret was not being able to record these talks, because we should all be thinking about the issues discussed. Specifically, we talked about technology and its benefits/ negatives.

Anyways, as I’ve said before, there is going to be a serious problem in this country if people are turning away from reading and social activities and instead become slaves to their smartphones, eagerly awaiting the next social media like or approval from strangers. Yes, kids prefer print to e-books, and yes, the tabletop industry has grown 7 consecutive years and was worth about $850 as of 2015. But the total video game market is $100 BILLION and that’s mostly electronic games.

So here to confirm what Captain Friedman has been saying, is the mainstream media. Normally I’d clip the article, but this is so good that I’m reposting the entire thing, including the original link:

http://nypost.com/2016/08/27/its-digital-heroin-how-screens-turn-kids-into-psychotic-junkies/

 

It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies

Susan* bought her 6-year-old son John an iPad when he was in first grade. “I thought ‘why not let him get a jump on things?’ ” she told me during a therapy session. John’s school had begun using the devices with younger and younger grades—and his technology teacher had raved about their educational benefits—so Susan wanted to do what was best for her sandy-haired boy who loved reading and playing baseball.

She started letting John play different educational games on his iPad. Eventually, he discovered Minecraft, which the technology teacher assured her was “just like electronic Lego.” Remembering how much fun she had as a child building and playing with the interlocking plastic blocks, Susan let her son Minecraft his afternoons away.

Still, Susan couldn’t deny she was seeing changes in John. He started getting more and more focused on his game and losing interest in baseball and reading while refusing to do his chores. Some mornings he would wake up and tell her that he could see the cube shapes in his dreams.At first, Susan was quite pleased. John seemed engaged in creative play as he explored the cube-world of the game. She did notice that the game wasn’t quite like the Legos that she remembered—after all, she didn’t have to kill animals and find rare minerals to survive and get to the next level with her beloved old game. But John did seem to really like playing and the school even had a Minecraft club, so how bad could it be?

Although that concerned her, she thought her son might just be exhibiting an active imagination. As his behavior continued to deteriorate, she tried to take the game away but John threw temper tantrums. His outbursts were so severe that she gave in, still rationalizing to herself over and over again that “it’s educational.”

Then, one night, she realized that something was seriously wrong.

“I walked into his room to check on him. He was supposed to be sleeping—and I was just so frightened…”

We now know that those iPads, smart phones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug.

She found him sitting up in his bed staring wide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing iPad lay next to him. He seemed to be in a trance. Beside herself with panic, Susan had to shake the boy repeatedly to snap him out of it. Distraught, she could not understand how her once-healthy and happy little boy had become so addicted to the game that he wound up in a catatonic stupor.

There’s a reason that the most tech-cautious parents are tech designers and engineers. Steve Jobs was a notoriously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Waldorf Schools. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see the aggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wandering attention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by their hyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children that become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.

But it’s even worse than we think.

We now know that those iPads, smart phones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex—which controls executive functioning, including impulse control—in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels—the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic—as much as sex.

This addictive effect is why Dr. Peter Whybrow, Director of Neuroscience at UCLA calls screens “electronic cocaine” and Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin.” In fact, Dr. Andrew Doan, the Head of Addiction Research for the Pentagon and the U.S. Navy—who has been researching video game addiction—calls video games and screen technologies “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for drug).

That’s right—your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs. No wonder we have a hard time peeling kids from their screens and find our little ones agitated when their screen time is interrupted. In addition, hundreds of clinical studies show that screens increase depression, anxiety, and aggression and can even lead to psychotic-like features where the video gamer loses touch with reality.

In my clinical work with over a 1,000 teens over the past 15 years, I have found the old axiom of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” to be especially true when it comes to tech addiction. Once a kid has crossed the line into true tech addiction, treatment can be very difficult. Indeed, I have found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts.

That’s right—your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs.

According to a 2013 Policy Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 8- to 10 year-olds spend 8 hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. One in three kids are using tablets or smartphones before they can talk. Meanwhile, the handbook of “Internet Addiction” by Dr. Kimberly Young states that 18 percent of college-age internet users in the U.S. suffer from tech addiction.

Once a person crosses over the line into full-blown addiction — drug, digital or otherwise — they need to detox before any other kind of therapy can have any chance of being effective. With tech, that means a full digital detox—no computers, no smartphones, no tablets. The extreme digital detox even eliminates television. The prescribed amount of time is four to six weeks; that’s the amount of time that is usually required for a hyper-aroused nervous system to reset itself. But that’s no easy task in our current tech-filled society where screens are ubiquitous. A person can live without drugs or alcohol; with tech addiction, digital temptations are everywhere.

So how do we keep our children from crossing this line? It’s not easy.

The key is to prevent your 4, 5 or 8-year-old from getting hooked on screens to begin with. That means Lego instead of Minecraft; books instead of iPads; nature and sports instead of TV. If you have to, demand that your child’s school not give them a tablet or Chromebook until they are at least 10 years old (others recommend 12).

Have honest discussions with your child about why you are limiting their screen access. Eat dinner with your children without any electronic devices at the table—just as Steve Jobs used to have tech-free dinners with his kids. Don’t fall victim to “Distracted Parent Syndrome” —as we know from Social Learning Theory, “monkey see, monkey do.”

When I speak to my 9-year-old twin boys, I have honest conversations with them about why we don’t want them having tablets or playing video games. I explain to them that some kids like playing with their devices so much, that they have a hard time stopping or controlling how much they play. I’ve helped them to understand that if they get caught up with screens and Minecraft like some of their friends have, that other parts of their lives may suffer: they may not want to play baseball as much; not read books as often; be less interested in science and nature projects; become more disconnected from their real-world friends. Amazingly, they don’t need much convincing as they’ve seen first-hand the changes that some of their little friends have undergone as a result of their excessive screen time.

Modal Trigger

Developmental psychologists understand that children’s healthy development involves social interaction, creative imaginative play and an engagement with the real, natural world. Unfortunately, the immersive and addictive world of screens dampens and stunts those developmental processes.

We also know that kids are more prone to addictive escape if they feel alone, alienated, purposeless and bored. Thus the solution is often to help kids to connect to meaningful real life experiences and flesh and blood relationships. The engaged child tethered to creative activities and connected to his or her family is less likely to escape into the digital fantasy world. Yet even if a child has the best and most loving support, he or she could fall into the Matrix once they engage with hypnotic screens and experience their addicting effect. After all, about one in 10 people are predisposed towards addictive tendencies.

In the end, my client Susan removed John’s tablet, but recovery was an uphill battle with many bumps and setbacks along the way.

Four years later, after much support and reinforcement, John is doing much better today. He has learned to use a desktop computer in a healthier way, and has gotten some sense of balance back in his life: he’s playing on a baseball team and has several close friends in his middle school. But his mother is still vigilant and remains a positive and proactive force with his tech usage because, as with any addiction, relapse can sneak up in moments of weakness. Making sure that he has healthy outlets, no computer in his bedroom and a nightly tech-free dinner at the dinner table are all part of the solution.

I’ve seen this everywhere: Parents, particularly both single-parent homes and where both parents work, provide the child with an electronic device to keep him/her busy while Mommy and Daddy work. The problem is, the device provides the unsuspecting child with all kinds of stimuli that trigger strong feelings of attachment to the device. Soon the child is obsessed with getting stimulated by the games, and the parents begin to wonder why their child loses interest in sports and playtime. The obvious thing is, if you cannot take time off to be with your child, is to routinely replace the electronics with books, puzzles, board games (or card games) or some other simply, non-electronic hobby. Yet this kind of common-sense is lacking in our society, among other things that are seriously wrong. We need to get away from the obsessive nature of the internet and return to our roots- recognizing that while our ancestors did live short and rather horrible lives, they did at least not have to worry about what someone in the next village over said about them on Facebook.

 

Book Publishers Support White Privilege

At least according to a survey done by Lee and Low, the independent book publishing company:

Lee and Low created and executed a large survey of publishing players in the States. The report tells us that the survey went to “1,524 reviewer employees and 11,713 publishing employees for a total of 13,237 surveys deployed.” With a gratifying 25.8-percent response rate, the team has reason to feel good about how much input they received. I’ll give you the very useful infographic here produced by the company. In addition, the results are set out in a slide presentation you can access here. And the report, itself, from Lee and Low is here, dated January 26: reactions have been coming in for about a week.

Lee and Low’s corporate information makes it clear that the company’s own mission in publishing is “to meet the need for stories that children of color can identify with.”  Writing about the story for Quartz, Amy X. Wang described the Lee and Low ethnic results this way: “In the industry overall, 79 percent of people are Caucasian while just 4 percent are black, 7 percent are Asian, 6 percent are Hispanic, and less than 5 percent are Native American, Middle Eastern, or biracial. Figures on sexual orientation and disability status are no less lopsided.”

Lopsided, clearly, and most of us, sadly, are not surprised at these figures. In such campaign efforts as #weneeddiversebooks and myriad other consciousness-raising efforts, the failures of publishing to serve major sectors of the population adequately have been clear for some time. These are serious, pressing shortcomings and the more discussion about them, the better.

Basically, Lee and Low tells us that most publishing employees are straight, physically-abled, college-educated white women. Even at the executive level, long seen as the domain of men to the exclusion of women.

From the Lee and Low Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS) 2015

Lee and Low are big promoters of the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign (disclosure: I’ve entered in two of their contests) and I do want to address that in a future post, specifically my objections. But basically, the recap here is that they believe authors who fit a mold- college-educated, straight white women, are going to be the most likely to be published, because they look like the typical publishing employee.

I do believe that kid’s literature is too female-dominant. When I went to the SCBWI conference in Virginia in October, it was 93% female (I counted) and almost all were Caucasian. Granted, that tends to be who is most likely to read and want to be authors, not to mention editors and illustrators. Now the members were polite and no one made me feel uncomfortable. But I could see how someone like me might wonder if s/he belongs. The same is true in the indie publishing world. Just about all, if not all, bestselling indies are Caucasians writing primarily from their own middle-class POV.

As a kid I had no problem reading books with girls as the main character. But Goosebumps were one thing: Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Slumber Party is another. And unfortunately, I see too many variants of the latter these days and much less of the former. I personally do not care who runs what in publishing: My contacts, smart white women, are great and I enjoy working with them. But I actually do agree with Lee and Low that there is a bias, however unintentional, that promotes certain types of stories unappealing to boys and certain groups, and favors authors who fit a certain profile and who write a certain kind of story.

If book publishers want to reach boys and increase literacy overall, especially among kids, they have work to do. Now I don’t necessarily want white people getting bumped to fit “affirmative action” programs if the books are inferior. But publishers need to consider making an effort to reach audiences like boys and men if they want to boost sales. This means taking risks on those who may be able to bridge that gap between potential customers and the authors.

The ultimate goal is to get people to read, and be interested. Not to pander to the latest fad of making works shorter and more shallow, or giving up on books to exclusively sell coloring, connect the dots, fill-in-the-blank, and whatever else is popular, or that teaches people that books are outdated and we should just tweet stories instead, but more interesting and more engaging. That does mean embracing technology and maybe making books more interactive, available for mobile devices, and making books cheaper  and somewhat shorter than what they are now so they’re affordable to more people and folks decide to read and not do other things. I saw two kids at the library last week playing games on their phones. The horror.

Indie publishing is different-the only real barrier is cost. That’s not something that can be controlled. For now, I think indie publishing is the domain of middle-class and above authors who can afford to spend several thousand dollars on something that is unlikely to earn money in the short term. That may change, and I hope it does, so more people enjoy stories and the people who tell them.

 

Will Authors Quit Writing in 2016?

photo: Wikipedia       

That seems to be the prediction of Mark Coker, Founder and CEO of Smashwords. Via his blog:

“Many indies and traditional publishers alike reported flat or lower sales in 2015. The go-go days of exponential ebook market growth of the early days (2008-2012) are over. As I shared in my November 2014 post, Things Get More Difficult from Here – Here’s How to Succeed, a key factor in the slowdown is an emerging equilibrium for consumption of print and ebook formats. Due to the law of large numbers, ebook sales growth (or declines) will begin to more closely mirror the overall market for all books. The book market is mature and is therefore a slow or no-growth industry.  Additionally, there’s an ever-increasing glut of high-quality low-cost ebooks that will never go “out of print.” These continuing factors paint a picture for a more competitive landscape for authors in 2016 and beyond. Every author will face more competition today and tomorrow than they faced yesterday. In addition to the factors I outlined above and in the “Things get more difficult” post, the growth of Kindle Unlimited presents a new existential threat to the industry (more on this in the next item).

 Kindle Unlimited will gut single-copy sales and drive greater ebook commoditization

Earlier this year I blogged how Amazon’s merchandising pages encourage Kindle customers to read books for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime subscription. Most of the publishing industry remains oblivious to the long term ramifications of Amazon’s strategy here (not a surprise, because despite Amazon operating with amazing transparency and predictability, most industry watchers and media still don’t understand Amazon’s long term self publishing strategy). The issue of immediate concern is that Amazon’s merchandising tactics discourage readers from purchasing single copy ebooks. Amazon is training Kindle customers to view even 99 cent ebooks as too expensive when other books can be read for what feels like free. Amazon’s success with Kindle Unlimited, which now offers over 1 million books almost exclusively supplied by indie authors is going to gut the market for single copy sales at Amazon. It’ll be death by a thousand small cuts.  The pain will be felt by four publishing industry constituencies. In descending order of pain, and in order of who will feel it first, these constituencies include traditionally published authors and their publishers which I’ll consider as a single group; non-exclusive indie authors; Amazon-exclusive authors; and competing retailers.

Basically what Mark is saying is that selling single e-book copies, or even e-book bundles will soon become obsolete, replaced by subscription programs. The only question is whether the distributors assume an pool-sharing model (where money is collected and distributed equally among contributors as the distributor sees fit) or agency (where the contributor is paid for each book downloaded or read as an individual unit). If Mark’s prediction is accurate, and Amazon shifts more and more e-books into a subscription program, then you should know much much harder it will be for an indie author to make money. Especially since Amazon continues to dominate e-book sales. Read his post; it’s worth your time.

He also writes:

“During the early days of the indie ebook revolution, it was relatively easy for a quality writer to earn good income self-publishing low-priced ebooks. The market was doubling and tripling each year, readers hadn’t really seen 99 cent ebooks before, and everyone was happy.  As I mentioned in the “Ebook publishing gets more difficult from here” post, the exponential growth masked challenges that market’s maturation has now brought to light. Many indies who quit their days jobs to pursue writing full time will find they need to return to a “real” job in 2016, especially authors for whom writing is their sole source of income and they’re already feeling challenged to make the monthly rent. This means production will decline among the indie midlisters. As I’ve been telling the audiences for my ebook publishing workshops for the last seven years, if you want to make a lot of money publishing ebooks get a job at McDonalds instead. Publishing has always been a tough business. Witness the fact that most traditionally published authors must maintain day jobs. Ebook publishing is NOT the path to riches except for a very few authors. Yes, I’ve been pleased see the many Smashwords authors whose indie ebook earnings have allowed them to pay off mortgages, buy homes and save for retirement. These stories inspire me, yet we must remember these are the exceptions, not the rule. In 2015 I witnessed a growing desperation among many bestsellers, some of whom – I can imagine due to their prior successes with indie publishing – had might have changed their lifestyles or quit their day jobs. These authors are now feeling the financial and emotional pain of struggling to make ends meet. I hate to see this pain and anguish. As I’ve advised in the past, your prior success is no guarantee of future success. If you’re among the many Smashwords authors who’ve been blessed and have done well, or if you’re fortunate enough to sell well in the future, please bank that money when it comes. Pay off your debts and be conservative with your savings so you can build up your rainy day fund.”

No one has ever said publishing was easy, but I’ve noticed big-time indies are often more optimistic than the rest of us into the future of indie publishing, in terms of making serious money and not just doing it as a side-hobby. It’s easier to think earning money writing is easy and Amazon is great if you’re one of the lucky few to earn 6- or even 7- or 8- figures a year writing, just as a lot of the blockbuster best-sellers in the traditional system rarely complain about their publishers or support changes to the traditional publishing system that are needed. It’s a matter of whose bread is begin buttered by whom, I guess. I’d guess an author has maybe a 2% chance at best of earning enough money a year to sit around and write (and do writing-related activities) all day. That includes authors who could do that, but who choose to maintain other occupations, such as with non-fiction writers. And that’s just to pay bills; that’s not the lavish lifestyles some of them live.

David Boyle of the Society of Authors, based in the UK, writes:

“You worry a little, as an ebook author, that people might be sceptical that you have ever written anything. Or indeed whether all that writing exists in any real sense, since you can’t see it on your shelf. I mean, where is it? You can’t lend it, copy it or give it as a present. Yet bizarrely, online pirates seem capable of giving it away for free within days of it going on sale.

There are certainly advantages to writing the new generation of ebooks that are designed as such, rather than as reluctantly issued e-versions of printed books. They are often a convenient length – maybe a fifth or quarter as long as a traditional book, just long enough to read on a transatlantic flight or a train to Scotland. And they are priced low enough to sell widely. It is a marginal decision to buy a short book at £1.99 or £2.99. You might as well buy it as not.

an ebook writer, I’m only too aware of the problem flagged up by the Society of Authors, that the income of writers is still falling. I certainly agree that authors should get at least half the royalties on ebooks; the big publishers often fob them off with 25% or less. Well, I would say that.

Yet this is not primarily a difficulty with ebooks. It is a symptom of two more fundamental, linked problems. The competition watchdogs have allowedAmazon and the big supermarkets to strangle what had been a working business model. As a result, the remaining, desperately consolidated, mainstream publishers are trapped in a business model that works for nobody – except perhaps for the 5%, the mega-earning authors, who take 43% of all the money.”

Though Mr. Boyle says he will continue writing (and I assume working his financial services job while he writes on the side), no doubt many authors will come to the conclusion that yes, it’s really, really hard to earn a living from writing and the time spent writing could be better done doing other productive things.  I think his concern is more aimed at the Big Five traditional publishers, who are losing to Amazon and who don’t offer a good deal on e-book royalties to their writers. I can’t speak for smaller presses.

So writers of the world: How many of you will continue to write, and how many will decide the time spent writing just isn’t worth it anymore?

Do readers prefer longer or shorter books?

Big pile of books

I saw this article from The Guardian:

Books are steadily increasing in size, according to a survey that has found the average number of pages has grown by 25% over the last 15 years.

A study of more than 2,500 books appearing on New York Times bestseller and notable books lists and Google’s annual survey of the most discussed books reveals that the average length has increased from 320 pages in 1999 to 400 pages in 2014.

According to James Finlayson from Vervesearch, who carried out the survey for the interactive publisher Flipsnack, there’s a “relatively consistent pattern of growth year on year” that has added approximately 80 pages to the average size of the books surveyed since 1999.

The literary agent Clare Alexander agrees that long books are more portable in electronic formats, but points out that much ebook reading is focused on genres such as romance, crime and erotica. For Alexander, the gradual increase in size is evidence of a cultural shift.

“Despite all the talk of the death of the book because of competition from other media,” she says, “people who love to read appear to prefer a long and immersive narrative, the very opposite of a sound bite or snippets of information that we all spend our lives downloading from Google.

This would have surprised me. All along I’ve been told short stories are back in style because of declining attention spans and people reading from their phones, on smaller screens unlikely to be suitable for a 500 page turner. Therefore, the argument goes, quit writing those 300 page stories and instead sell 15-40 page short stories at 99 cents a pop.

But longer stories also sell better, according to Mark Coker at Smashwords:

Longer books sell better than shorter books.  This finding is consistent with each of the prior year’s surveys, though as I mention in the presentation, this year’s finding comes with a lot more caveats.  In a nutshell, I suspect the rise of multi-author box sets, often at deep discount prices, is probably throwing off the data this year, and as I discuss in the presentation, some of the dynamics will cause it to understate impact of longer books and some will cause it to overstate it.

I think this is what’s happening: Casual readers who would rather watch TV or play video games prefer shorter works, because they can finish a book or short story in an hour or less and feel like they read something to completion. But passionate readers prefer a story they can connect to, and more often than not shorter works don’t do that in fiction. Now that doesn’t mean shorter is worse: Animal Farm, The Notebook, The Alchemist, The Old Man and the Sea, MacBeth, are all examples of shorter works which told stories most readers still remember today. Animal Farm and The Alchemist are considered among the best fiction works ever written. That said, some of the best-selling works are longer and it does mean I believe a well-written story is more important than a short one, even if some are emphasizing shorter over quality.

As readers, do you prefer shorter or longer works?

 

 

 

The decline in serious reading continues thanks to profiteering

hooked app

The Atlantic points out what we’ve known for a long time: Many students graduate unable to write coherent sentences or make a logical argument using writing. After all, why write when you can just text or Snap?

“In “The Writing Revolution,” Peg Tyre traces the problems at one troubled New York high school to a simple fact: The students couldn’t write coherent sentences. In 2009 New Dorp High made a radical change. Instead of trying to engage students through memoir exercises and creative assignments, the school required them to write expository essays and learn the fundamentals of grammar. Within two years, the school’s pass rates for the English Regents test and the global-history exam were soaring. The school’s drop-out rate — 40 percent in 2006 — has fallen to 20 percent.

The experiment suggests that the trend toward teaching creative writing was hurting American students. In a debate about Tyre’s story, we asked a range of experts, from policymakers to Freedom Writers founder Erin Gruwell, to share their thoughts on Tyre’s story.

So we can all safely agree that a lot of children are simply not writing well enough to function in the workplace. We don’t mean write fiction novels; we mean do enough to hold a good-paying job.

So we would assume the solution is for businesspeople to take a chance on returning us to learning the basics, right?

Nope.

New app offers ‘books for the Snapchat generation’

“Umm…why do u have Claires phone?”

“Well if u must know i sat down on this park bench to read”

“And sat right on someone’s phone. Claire’s I’m guessing”

“What r u reading?”

That’s an excerpt from a book meant to be read on an iPhone or Apple Watch. It’s available on an app that launched this week called Hooked.

Prerna Gupta describes her app as “books for the Snapchat generation.”

Hooked will feature short fiction for young-adult readers. Gupta said that 80% of young-adult novels are read digitally. So the teen-set seemed like the most natural audience.

Each book will be roughly 1,000 words and is designed to be read in about five minutes. The stories will be told entirely through dialogue and read like texts. Messages show up on screen when readers click “Next.”

“Epistolary literature is nothing new,” she said. “Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ is one of my favorite books and the story is told entirely through letters.”

Gupta, who envisions the app as being like “Twitter for fiction,” turned to some of the top MFA programs to recruit alumni writers.

“We listed that we had paid creative writing opportunities and the response was overwhelming,” Gupta said.

While she wouldn’t disclose actual figures, Gupta said pay varied by story but was very “competitive.”

Initially, the app will only feature content from screened contributors. However, eventually users will be able to submit content of their own.

The app is free to download and features one free story a day. Readers can unlock more stories with the subscription service. A week of unlimited stories costs $2.99. A month is $7.99 and a year is $39.99.

There are currently over 200 stories and Gupta said they add more every day.

Stories are broken into categories such as “Dark & Stormy,” “Primal Terror,” and “Love as Deep.” There’s even a section called “Telepathic” that is “hand-picked” by Hooked editors to “blow ur mind.”

If you were able to stop pounding your computer in anger at the sleaziness of this app, then you should take note: sorry, improving literacy is NOT THE GOAL of these business ventures. Pandering to people’s already-short attention spans is not going to make kids smarter. I don’t think too many of us think the problem is that we have TOO MUCH serious thinking in this world.

There is no such thing as a 1,000 word “book.” Even flash fiction, the shortest form of long-form fiction there is, is 1,200 word limit. It’s okay to promote short stories, but you not get any meaningful text if you write a cell phone-style story.

Think about the last time you read a deep, profound fiction story in less than 1,000 words. The kind of story which makes you think. Yeah, I can’t either. If you want to Tweet a flash fiction piece, go right ahead. There’s nothing wrong with it. But these people ought not to act as though they are contributing to improved literacy.

What this appears to be is rich people preying on poor, aspiring writers by promising them what the internet generally will not do for them-pay them for their work. Toss up work you can write in 5 minutes, and you will get paid for it. Who among you wouldn’t take that offer? Unfortunately, you will end up so desperate to make any money you will do what you have to do to get attention, even if that means writing nonsense for the occasional money, distracting you from focusing on more serious efforts. What, you thought you’d rake in six figures writing flash fiction?

This is how Silk Road merchants made so much money: whoever controls the distribution controls everything. How else do you think social media companies make so much money without providing any content? Because they are great at getting you to give away your content for free, because they convince your customers that anything you write or post has no value at all. If you don’t agree to give away everything for free, customers will just go with whoever will. Essentially, you have no choice, whether you want to or not.*

*disclosure. Many people’s thoughts really ARE worth nothing. Ouch.

They then go to people uninterested in reading and, rather than promote a way to encourage learning, they seek to make a profit off exploiting people. This is no different than the trashy Reality TV and “pop music” industry where profanity and shallowness are celebrated and encouraged. The people running the shows and those who act in them get rich, but they leave behind a lot of impressionable young people who are less able to think deeply or do anything but curse or act dumb to be “cool”.

I know those who run these types of industries will make the usual claim that “hey, at least people are reading.” But in all honesty, encouraging shallow reading of other people’s texts is not an improvement. If anything, it teaches people to have “twitter thoughts”: anything which can’t be explained in 140 characters isn’t worth understanding. This attitude already has ruined political debates. This is not a case of a problem that need solving. This is a case of a married couple seeing $$$ and figuring out how to exploit that.

Most likely this app will fail within 2 years, though the market will decide that. I just can’t see too many people shelling out $40 a year for a blast of shallow short stories when you can already read flash fiction on the web for free (or at least for less). What we need is for business to create new ways to improve learning and literacy, so people will not just read, but understand what they read so they will become thinkers. I have seen far too many business people exploit this gap by pandering to the lowest-common denominator in our media. Pardon the language, but we need to call out these BS artists who are not helping us with the problem.

Image from CNN Money.

Why Authors aren’t ‘sexy’ and how to fix this

is this younerd

Have you ever noticed how much people around the world idolize singers, dancers, models, athletes, and even reality TV “stars”, but not authors? Today’s post is about the decline in reading for pleasure, or frankly at all, around the world.

There are many reasons for this, such as, the sad state of literacy, the boringness of reading still words when moving images and games are so much more interesting, the lack of respect for education in many parts of the world, the poor (or perceived poor) quality of books being put out around the world, and the work overload, especially here in America. For these reasons, even an indie musician can still gain respect, or a Broadway actor, but an indie author gets very little, and books simply don’t reach as many people as we’d like.

But there’s one reason I believe, whereas music and movies have grown in appeal, books have not: Authors just aren’t sexy.

I mean it. Think of the most stunning, dashing writer you know. Most likely, it’s someone writing a nonfiction book about their life, or it’s a celebrity writing a children’s book (this seems to be common). In those cases, the author may be Channing Tatum or Scarlett Johansson hot. However, most fiction authors, particularly those who may earn fame or respect from writing, are not walking the red carpet in $10,000+ suits and dresses.

Please note: I am not saying authors are ugly. What I mean is, we do not live the “glamorous” life so often depicted on reality TV, live in the hills of Malibu with the other Hollywood stars, etc. Whereas other entertainers make their living performing in front of other people, book writers make a living working alone, indoors, probably not in stylish clothes.

Authors also tend not to be very extroverted: Compare the lifestyle of the biggest-name authors to rock stars or actors. THOSE people go to A-list parties, fly around on private jets, and have paparazzi following them around (Most of them secretly like this, even if they pretend not too) telling the celebrity-obsessed public what the celebrity is wearing, who s/he’s hanging out with, and what restaurant they eat at, etc. In contrast, most authors are like the type who’d rather wear sweaters and go on NPR to discuss Immanuel Kant’s philosophies or the secret meaning of Catcher in the Rye. I can’t think of one big-time author who behaves the way the public expects a rock star to behave.

Here’s the problem: As the concept of celebrity obsession travels from America and goes around the world, people are connecting to anyone they see on TV, the Internet, or magazine covers. These are going to be populated by hyper extroverts. Reality TV shows and cable shows depicting the next superstar singer/dancer/model/actor/personality drive the global demand for celebrity.

Even indie musicians have it made. For example, Delaware is home to one of the biggest indie music festivals in America, Firefly. Based in my former hometown of Dover, roughly 70,000 people are expected to go this year. In comparison, Woodstock had about half a million people. While top indies may not fly in private jets or drink $10,000 wine, you still get the “cool” prestige in being a band that can afford to go on tour around the country, and you can still have the groupie/roadie tag attached to your band. At least you can still sell some merch.

In contrast, there isn’t a single author reality TV show (at least not in America) to get people up. Imagine American Idol or The Voice but with people performing short stories pieces, judged by authors with quirky or interesting personalities. Before you say “It can’t be done. People don’t want to hear someone talk about stories”, just know there is basically no limit to what folks will watch, provided you make it interesting and entertaining.

Picture aspiring authors showcasing their best stuff to demonstrate their storytelling skills. Who says talking and performance don’t matter?

Perhaps find some A-list authors and let them to a Hard Knocks style show where they show the process of what inspires them to write, and how they come up with their ideas. With a little showmanship from the author(s), this could be done to get people interested.

Musicians perform their art in front of other people. Actors make films which are show to people. Models walk catwalks in front of other people. In all cases, the person is shown, moving, acting alive. In comparison, all most people see of authors are the completed books, and maybe a photo on the dust jacket or back cover. Nothing moves, nothing looks alive in the moment. All is frozen in time.

I sincerely believe that if we could find a way to make reading and writing “cool”, and use A-list authors to show this to younger people, we could build some interest in reading. This does NOT mean dumbing down the product or turning into “pop”, the way many songs and movies have become. We can still tell great stories, inspire, explore, and share messages. We just need to figure out a way to make what we do appealing so people get connected to the reading and writing process and gain interest in books.

if you’re concerned that writers will soon become associated with fur coats, VIP lounges at clubs, and a sleazy lifestyle, let me be clear: we can panic only if Stephen King and James Patterson are caught snorting coke of the backs of dancers at Le Crazy Horse. THEN we can worry about the negative celebrity effects of exposing the greater public to the world of writing.

Your thoughts: What do you think should be done to build people’s interest in reading and writing? Would my idea listen above work? Why or why not?

photo credit:  http://flic.kr/p/afQpJy (note: This link does not work anymore)

The Obvious Answer to Why Boys Read Less than Girls

I love switching out planned topics for new ones at the last minute. Answering this question “Why don’t boys read as much as girls?” Is one of those unexpected but elephant-in-the-room questions when it comes to kids books.

Today’s pondering article, from The Book Seller: (spelling differences left in their original form).

“The children’s book market is in fantastic health. As The Bookseller have reported, in 2014, children’s book sales were up by almost 10 percent, year-on-year — particularly impressive in the context of an overall decline in print book sales — and this shortlist shows why: it’s a brilliant selection of books, demonstrating how much imagination, creativity and talent exists in children’s publishing at the moment.

Selling books to boys is difficult. As has been discussed elsewhere, only 3 of the 18 authors on the Waterstones shortlists are men (one of them, G.R. Gemin, is a Nosy Crow author, shortlisted for his fantastic debut novel Cowgirl).

Boys don’t read as much as girls. Tempting as it might be to dismiss that statement as a gross generalisation, it is objectively, statistically the case. Recent research by the National Literacy Trust (NLT) found that more parents of girls said that their child read daily than parents of boys (75 percent vs 68 percent). Parents of girls were also more likely than parents of boys to report that their child enjoyed stories “a lot” (83 percent vs 74 percent). And girls are almost twice as likely as boys (18 percent vs 10 percent) to read stories more without than with an adult.

This is what motivated us (please excuse the shameless self-promotion) to create our Jack and the Beanstalk app. More than any of our other apps, Jack and the Beanstalk is aimed at reluctant boy readers. It has an emphasis on reading for pleasure, built within a “game-like” architecture — a non-linear narrative, a “scoring” mechanism, multiple endings — that we think works well at encouraging boys who love on-screen gaming to participate in a reading experience.

I don’t mean, by all this, that because we’ve found ways of using screens to engage some boys with reading that we can give up on print (and it would be foolish to think so: while the children’s print market enjoyed its meteoric growth last year, digital revenues remained stubbornly small).”

Um…I can answer this question. And no, non-linear books on e-readers won’t solve the problem.

When I was a kid I read a lot of books in: Goosebumps, Fear Street (R.L. Stine’s Teen series), Hardy Boys,  Encyclopedia Brown, Harry Potter, and some sci-fi books like Ender’s Game and my favorite, Boat of a Million Years (not a kid’s book but still a good read). Later in my teens I read more manga like Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Worst,and Elfen Lied. What did they all have in common? Other than HP, which was more mystery-oriented plots, all the other books had more action and drama and less “feeling” about characters. Action and mystery, not narrative prose, drove the plots.

Heck even my video games had more substance than the teen books offered to me as “bestsellers”. I was simply not interested in Twilight and general romance novels, or the typical BS which may win critical acclaim but sell few copies (like how many Oscar winners are well-received by critics but rarely do well at the box office) which is a lot of what is published as Young Adult (teen readers). So the Japanese mange gave me: ninja fights, pirate fights, ghost soul fights, high school street brawls, etc.

All of these series, the English and Japanese, still had emotion and character development as part of their backgrounds, but the action drove the plot, not “literary prose” (writing about how one feels about something) which tends to be more published. Granted, there are also thriller novels but most of the more interesting ones are adult-oriented, and thrillers often lack deep character development needed to sell a great series. Go look up the rejection histories of Dr. Seuss, HP, and Chicken Soup if you want to see how great series are not even given the time of day while what the “literary community” wants rarely sells well.

So then, why don’t boys read:

Answer: Too many kid’s books are “female-friendly”. Focused too heavily on romance and “how someone feels” about something, or poltiical correctness (minority books with minority settings- I am Latino but I don’t want to read a book about some Hispanic kid living in racist White America trying to get by- how about a Hispanic kid who swings powerful swords and is cocky but brings the heat when it matters? Saves the day because he’s badass and not because he’s Hispanic/Latino? (hmmm). Most literary agents and acquisition editors are women with English lit or Creative Writing degrees, and action adventure books like James Bond are generally frowned upon in the academic world, especially when compared to books like The Great Gatsby, War and Peace, etc.. If you don’t believe me, compare the number of books about ninja/pirate fights published annually to “critically acclaimed” books  minorities living in 1950s racist America or books heavy on female characteristics.

I’m not against these books; they have their own appeal and their own place in literature. But if you want boys to read, how about stuff I want to read and not what adults think kids should be reading.

The Problems with Children’s Lit in 2 Graphs (Super Bowl Edition)

First off, let me say American Sniper is a 5/5 movie. Bradley Cooper surprised me by playing the part of Chris Kyle well, naturally, as though it really was Kyle and not an actor playing a former Navy SEAL. I HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see war through the eyes of a person who actually went to Iraq and fought.

Second, Children’s lit. Publisher’s Launch is a project of Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and PublishersMarketplace.com and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company to provide better data analytics on the book pub world to publisher’s. Such as, who’s buying what and what the trends are for literature and literacy, two big issues I care about. Education is so important to me that I do a lot of grassroots work to improve education but that’s a post for another time.

Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book had a presentation at Publisher Launch’s Launch Kids session at the most recent Digital Book World conference called “A look at the US Children’s book Market”. He posted his slideshow to the ‘net, for those of us who couldn’t go.

As someone who read a fair amount of kid’s books, and who just finished manuscript #1 for a middle grade novel, here is what’s wrong with children’s lit in 2 graphs: 

The takeaways:

1. Notice the book is missing from graph #1 for kids 14-17. For most American children once they turn 11 books drop off and YouTube and TV take its place.

2. By 14 social media and mobile devices are more important. Reading drops out of the top 8 slots and even sports drop towards the bottom. I was surprised that gaming was less interesting than Facebook and YouTube among teens. This must explain the rise in watching strangers on YouTube play video games and “commentate” rather than actually picking up the controller yourself like I did when I was a teen. Let me note: They are watching random strangers just play games and talk. Whenever I wanted to watch someone play a game and talk, I would go to friend’s houses and do the same thing! But I digress.

This sadly means it’s tougher to get kids and teens to read, which is noticeable when 80% of Young Adult books are bought by adults, for adults. Unless..

3. Graph #2 shows the rise in getting YouTube (and presumably other) internet celebrities in “writing books”. Now to be fair I’ve never heard of any of the celebrities listed on graph 2, but I found this tidbit on “Girl Online” by Zoe Sugg, who goes by the name “Zoella” online. The article notes that Zoe’s debut novel outsold other major authors like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and E.L. James. Apparently, though, her first week accounted for nearly all of her sales as she has since petered out near the 100,000 mark, surprising given that she has close to 7 million YouTube subscribers. She apparently did not actually write the novel; it was ghostwritten, a rather unusual thing for fiction novels, unless you’re bestselling author “Snooki” from the Jersey Shore.

No doubt the internet was a useful tool to help these YouTube stars, of which I am not one of them (I think I’m too old), sell books. However, in the long run, whose books sell better? The three authors Zoe beat, or Zoe? We all know the answer. Now in the short-term, getting celebrities of all stripes (internet, reality tv, etc.) is a better way of selling books than relying on little-known debut novelists with smaller platforms and fewer social media followers. You fans will go buy a book because it’s “you” and, like, you’re famous. BUT again, what are the odds of these books becoming the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Stephen King just because they have a celebrity’s name on it? Want to place a bet?

I can tell you why. At the end of the day it’s the product quality, not the person/people endorsing the product, which determines a product’s success. While I acknowledge I am a bit envious of my far-fewer social media follower status in promoting anything I have, I can say in the long run relying too heavily on poor-quality celebrity books, even to get kids to read, is not the answer. The kids who are not fans of these celebrities just won’t read or will go back to reading other things by established authors. I love Lord of the Rings, I consider it one of the all-time greatest fantasy series ever, but it’s a little sad to me when 2 of the top 5 best-selling Fantasy novels for January are by a man who’s been dead for 42 years, as though literally no one in the world can ever write a good fantasy book again.

Please share your thought about whether you think it’s a good idea for book publishers to rely heavily on celebrity-driven books, or take risks on little-known or unknown debut novelists. Remember. celebrity books are nothing new or bad. They can certainly boost sales at least in the short run over non-famous persons. My argument is that relying on internet & reality T.V. celebrities to “write” kid’s books is not a good long-term trend for brand development and literacy improvement.

The full report is here

SUPER BOWL PICK: I will be rooting for New England with my Pats shirt on at the bar tomorrow. Initially I had Seattle 27-16, but I’m more torn on it now. New England plays very well with the “us against the world mentality” and for that reason I leaned towards NE. But Seattle has shown the ability to do their best no matter what the other teams do, and can the Pats defense stop Lynch and Wilson?

The key players are Gronk vs. Wilson. I’ll go closer but I say Seattle 26 New England 23. Seattle’s defense has been very good at shutting down good offenses and even with the injuries in the back 7 I don’t know how good New England’s defense will be at slowing down the Seattle run game, even IF their WR’s are mediocre.

My First Query Rejection

Anyone who has submitted work to be represented in the traditional manner (by an agent, who then tries to convince editors at a publishing company to buy your work) knows how daunting it is for first-time noncelebrity authors to get representation and publication.

Now I know a lot of you who are authors, writers, or aspiring professionals in this regard have self-published material and I know there are some very opinionated bloggers on the web who are very passionate about this issue. There are pros and cons to both self- and traditionally- published books but we’ll save that for another time.

I’ve redacted the name of the agent I heard back from since it isn’t relevant for this blogpost. First off, I appreciate her very quick (1 day) AND her personalized response, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear:

“Dear Samuel,

Thanks so much for thinking of me for your book.
Unfortunately, this is not quite right for me. However, I really appreciate the opportunity to see your work. I’m wishing you the very best in 2015!”
Warmest Regards,
xxxxxxxx
We know the reading market has slowed down growth as it’s increasingly less likely people will sit through an entire book as opposed to watching videos or going online. This is actually not an insurmountable challenge, and stay tuned because later I will explain why we can’t give up on literacy and getting people to invest more time in reading. It isn’t just good for the industry, or for someone’s bottom line, but also for society: a more literate society is a society with less crime and poverty.
I also, having read books on publishing by publishers and on agent representation by current and former agents, know it’s tough to find that one person out of (tens of) thousands whose idea and marketability is solid enough for a publisher to put in serious effort to market and distribute a book. Sometimes we as aspiring professional authors wish there was less clutter in the agent’s e-mailbox to give ourselves a better shot, but this is unfortunately not true.
But here’s the question: How much of an eye-catching query letter is based on the plot of the book versus the author’s ability to sell it? I have a feeling your credentials or “platform” matters more than the actual book itself. Otherwise Snooki could never have gotten a contract. In other words, was the problem that she isn’t “the right fit”, or that I do not yet have a few ten thousand social media followers whom I can tweet or post about this book to get traction? (speaking of, please follow me on Twitter @sammydrf and I will follow you too). Speaking of social media, as your friendly “Millennial” social media “expert”, I have written, and will write again, about why social media platforms are overrated when judging the value of what is salable or not.
I sent out a few other representation requests, highlighting my active use of social media across multiple platforms AND my experience speaking on live commercial radio, tv, and being printed in newspapers. I actually have been published before as an author in both printed and online newspapers, but not as a fiction author. Sadly, I get the impression this does not have much bearing on my publication history for Big 5 book publishing.
If anything interesting happens with this, I will let you know. Any ideas? share ’em too. I love feedback (and I will subscribe to your blog!).

Survey Shows Fewer Children Reading for Pleasure and Why This is a Bad Thing

Scholastic Books and YouGov conducted a poll asking 2,558 parents and children on how often the children read for pleasure and the results are not good. The report is long but I picked the results which I think are most important and in some cases most troubling.

Problem 1: Roughly 54% of children ages 0-5 are read to at home 5-7 days a week. But only 34% of kids 6-8 have their parents read to them as frequently, and this drops to 17% for kids 9-11.

Some will say the kids don’t want to be with their parents. WRONG! 83% of the kids surveyed said they “loved” or “liked” when parents read to them, and 40% said they wished their parents had continued reading aloud to them. Given the high number of children who like the quality time with their parents, why do so many parents stop when the child turns six?

Schools have a huge influence on reading for pleasure but few schools really set aside time to do this. I remember being in school and getting reading assignments. Most of the books weren’t that interesting though there were some times when I was able to read in class. 52% of children surveyed said reading in school is one of their favorite parts of the day but only 33% of children have this option available.

For children from low-income homes, 61% said they read for fun mostly in school or equally at school and at home, while 32% of kids ages 6–17 from the highest-income homes say the same.

Problem 2: boys do not read as often as girls. Some of this is perceived to be genetics (girls and women are usually better at reading and writing and verbal language) but I will venture that many books just don’t appeal to boys as much as girls. Note the decline from 2010 to 2014 for both boys and girls, but especially boys:

Problem 3: More time on screens means less time reading. Screen time is increasing

 OK so what we conclude? There is a huge drop-off by parents both a) reading to kids past age 6 and b) parents themselves reading a lot. Now 5-7 nights a week might be tough for most people so I won’t go so far as to say that’s the gold standard. But let’s agree at least 2 nights a week, and at least 2 nights a week with kids, would probably help most children (especially those disinclined to read on their own).

It should not be a surprise that kids whose parents are more involved and who go to schools where literacy is encouraged are more likely to do better in school and in life. We know many children, particularly children in lower-income households, are unlikely to have one of those factors, let alone both, and thus reading for pleasure declines. One graph I did not feature shows a decline for children from wealthier backgrounds also don’t read as much, perhaps spending too much time on screens.

Here is a graph from the Annie E. Casey Foundation on reading proficiency for 4th graders. The Foundation has long-term data on their website showing the correlation between children who cannot read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade and those most likely to end up incarcerated.

Saturday is National Readathon Day #timetoread. With no football on I’ll make sure to read at least one chapter of something. I will have a special post for Saturday on this topic and the book I will read.

  • Last Call: Most children read books by print rather than e-books.

read the full survey here