An Observation Concerning… The Failure of Social Media, and why it’s Needed

“Talking is just masturbating, without the mess.”
-Our Lady Peace, “Happiness & The Fish

For authors, booking an event is a wonderful feeling. A store values you; people may value you. However, the difficult part of an event is marketing. Yes, there’s the crazy chance that people think you’re worthy of their honored presence, but you have to convince them to come first.

Back in February, I had an event for “Cursed: A Jack Swift Case” at a local bookstore. The owner had stocked both Jack Swift novels leading up to the reading, and they promoted the booking on social media as well as traditional advertising avenues. I was also responsible for promoting the event, and therefore believed that the best way to do so was through social media. Millennials and younger generations worship social media; they believe it’s how society should function, and frankly, advertising rules the world and social media is the best way to reach an enormous audience for not only product placement, but for the arts as well. Unfortunately, this reliance on the medium is unwarranted. Social media doesn’t work for all, and worse, it makes people feel like they’re providing an important and cherished contribution.

I tweeted, shared status updates, posted photos with tagged details and personally asked friends and colleagues to spread the word—through an in-person meeting with the use of my voice! Who would have thought a vocal face-to-face interaction could also be used as an effective source of communication. The responses were promising; thumbs pointing up, warm and bright red hearts and ecstatic yellow faces with wide mouths and tears of joy filled my notification box. I fell victim to my own vulnerability; I thought people cared, but the point of all the responses weren’t to help me, but rather promote other users’ sympathetic support. They did their part by clicking a button or smudging a phone screen, and assumed their work was done as they felt rewarded for their good deed. Let us celebrate their generosity!

From all the likes and loves and encouraging threads of text that others could recognize and praise each other’s care, four people showed up to the event. That’s right; four. That’s not the most shocking part, however.

The event was on a weeknight, and that gave people an excuse. On the other hand, the restaurant that shares the same foyer as the bookstore had a long wait as diners clanged their utensils against their plates and laughed over nursed drinks and loud gossip. I set up as the store emptied and my first fan entered. She was the aunt of one of my closest friends; I recognized her short blond strands before she opened the door, and gladly conversed with her as there appeared to be no rush to start my spiel. Next my friend, business partner and fellow local author, Jason DeGray, sauntered in as the staff placed way too many chairs in front of my podium. To my surprise, a random book browser plopped down and waited patiently as if she had nothing better to do with her time—my third attendee. I finished setting up a clever display: The book was stabilized upright, a replica Honus Wagner card ignited wonder behind its plastic armor, cheap chocolates wrapped in sport ball foil overflowed a homemade bowl, and a Bluetooth speaker softly played the playlist from “Cursed.”

I spoke about my background, credentials and style; I explained how Jack Swift came to be and transitioned from reference to excerpt flawlessly; and I interacted with the audience and listening staff members—especially the browser who was taking notes for whatever reason. The fourth fan, my dentist, strolled in during the presentation, but immediately became involved as she answered a question I had for the spectators. It was a good crowd; it was fun; I had a surge of confidence after practicing my presentation and completing the event. Almost everyone isn’t aware of that, however.

Not one of those four people came because of social media. DeGray knew through me, the browser stumbled upon the event because of first-hand in-store advertising, and my friend’s aunt and my dentist read about the reading in the newspaper. The newspaper of all places! That’s almost as extinct as in-person conversation. As a master of journalism, I appreciate that the newspaper is still relevant and proving to be more effective than the highly touted social platforms that run the world—in regards to this specific situation. That’s why I didn’t share the outcome of the reading right away; it wouldn’t have felt good; it would have been an emotional response; there was no sustenance; no one would care. They would have just pretended to care or completely avoid the recap because it’s easy to not see one post among the meaningless over-saturation of more important things like pictures of food, or fishers hoping to hook compliments about their good deeds, or snowflakes flurrying for empathy as they overcame a difficult situation like making it through a full eight-hour shift.

Social media is just masturbation; it’s purpose is to please the user in any way, shape and form. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a medium that has become essential in society and industry, but from my experiences, it deserves little praise. Authors shouldn’t rely on it because it doesn’t guarantee anything. They also must remember bad showings can happen to anyone.

One of my professors shared that she had an event where no one showed, but at least she had a good book to read to pass the time. Esteemed novelist Leslie Epstein, who is referenced in “Cursed,” told me that he held a reading where two people came: one old lady who fell asleep knitting, and the other seeking shelter from the rain.

Yet, we need social media which is bittersweet to embrace. It may fail most of the time, but if it can create just one success, that may be all an author requires, so don’t disregard the whole system.

We also still need newspapers—obviously—so don’t rely on just one form of marketing.

For authors booking their first event, don’t expect much and, most importantly, don’t base your future on how many people did or didn’t attend your reading. Practice your presentation and interact with anybody in attendance—even if that’s just the staff. Go through the motions before human interaction becomes artificial.

Talking to someone in the same room is still pleasurable, and less messy than social media.

An Observation Concerning… Getting Back

“It was lost long ago but it’s all coming back to me.”
-Celine Dion, “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”

This weekend meant something for the sports world. This weekend meant something for society as a whole.

We were supposed to be watching the final round of the PGA Championship, the NASCAR point totals were supposed to be higher and this was supposed to be the final match weekend of the German Bundesliga. It doesn’t matter what was supposed to happen anymore; it matters that the sports world has taken a step toward hope, and season sacrifices were vital to accomplishing a sense of optimism.

Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Matthew Wolff played a round of golf yesterday. Good for them; many cities have become more lenient on restrictions that targeted courses and country clubs. The difference is that this foursome (not the inappropriate kind; you’ve been spending too much free time on the computer) was televised live. Okay, the other difference is that they’re professionals and city players are amateurs, and no one would watch a group of four aging drunkards hacking up divots and struggling to maneuver a golf cart at sub-10 mph speeds.

Live sports. Wow. Stopping golf was interesting to begin with. Their season pause seemed more like an example to set or the association following suit because others jumped off a bridge. Frankly, if they had let the players play without any fans, it would probably be one of the more safer spots in the world. The only equipment you would use would be your own, there are acres upon acres of open outdoor space and the players would only be with three other people on any given hole: their opponent and their respective caddies—and you can easily walk six feet apart on a golf course.

That’s beside the point; even Johnson and McIlroy’s victory was overshadowed by progression. We got to witness something live. Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida hosted the TaylorMade Driving Relief tournament, and the event generated $5.5 million for charity, as well as plenty of viewers tuning into something refreshing. No more reruns, no more over-analyzed documentaries as we discussed last week and no more anxiously waiting with uncertainty.

Two states up the east coast, Kevin Harvick won the Real Heroes 400 in Darlington, South Carolina. He circled around the pit, screeching his tires and leaving his mark to celebrate his victory, but there were no sunburnt and raucous fans to absorb the celebration. For people who don’t follow NASCAR, Darlington Raceway has a capacity of 47,000. Racing is immensely popular—and even more so in Europe.

Soccer is also more popular in Europe, but it goes well beyond the continent’s borders. It’s the world’s sport, and the Bundesliga gave society a boost this weekend. Eight matches were played in front of empty stadium seats, concluding with the league-leading and UEFA powerhouse Bayern Munich finding form in a 2-0 victory over Union Berlin.

The game was eerily bittersweet. Players tried not to touch their face, but they did. They tried not to spit, but they did. Coaches tried to wear masks, but they didn’t. Players tried to offer a courteous hand to fallen opponents, but they couldn’t. You could hear the players communicating, you could hear the ball bouncing off their cleats in perfect precision as if the season had never stopped. There was this purity to the beautiful game that we haven’t seen in a while, but the loud chants and unifying song of supporters was absent and missed.

The Bundesliga is bigger than the PGA, it’s bigger than NASCAR; it was truly the first great league to return to the international stage. Yet, without fans, there was this sense of neglect looming over the pitch. Then Robert Lewandowski buried a penalty kick. That moment reminded us it was real; it was normal; all was right again. It’s amazing what star power can do; it’s amazing what sport means to the world—especially when people are in dire need of just a beacon of assurance.

So something meaningful happened this weekend even if you don’t follow sports. We’re coming back. We’re strengthening. Society is alive.

An Observation Concerning… Missing Things

“I spend my time, thinking about you, and it’s almost driving me wild”
-John Waite, “Missing You”

I miss things.

I was doing a local magazine feature on teddy bears, pastel mosaics and messages of hope etched in chalk, and spoke to a neighbor of mine whose home best exemplified optimism—a middle-aged woman with the spirit of a free college coed abroad. It was the first time we interacted in the near-decade being part of this community, and she said she missed being able to hug people the most, even strangers like myself.

I’m not sure if I miss hugs, but I miss life.

I’m a homebody by nature—well, now. Tastes change as you get older and phases drift into recollections. I sit at my computer, conjure up thoughts and create sentences to share with people I don’t know, but strangely this pandemic has connected us more. Well, maybe you and someone else, but we know each other because we’re going through the same situation.

We may not like and miss the same things, though.

I love three things that aren’t people (and that list isn’t much longer): Music, sports and writing. Yes, they are generic interests, but within the vagueness we all find our relative love which makes us commonly unique. That doesn’t make sense. Sure it does.

Music has been a good distraction. I’ve started a challenge that no one else has done or cares to attempt—even all those self-proclaimed music lovers who “can’t live” without melody. I’ve decided to make a playlist, on top of other ongoing playlists, that holds the best 100 songs I’ve ever heard. It’s a lot harder than it sounds (no pun intended). In fact, I have a spillover playlist now even though I guess that’s considered cheating. It’s not the best songs the world has ever heard; it’s the best songs that have had a personal impact from lyrical, musical, meaningful and grandiose perspectives from any or all genres and generations. Some, again if they did partake in the challenge, may feel the pressure to put a track on their list because it’s a hit or they’re supposed to like it because everyone else does. For example, I’m a 90s kid, and grunge and post-grunge rock are my favorite genres, but not one of the grunge powerhouses received a spot on my top 100. Charles & Eddie and Savage Garden did, however. It’s not a bad thing when you surprise yourself.

Okay, to avoid any misguided impressions, here’s this song for balance.

I’ve also been able to compose two more piano pieces during this time—and learn one of my top 100 songs: Phildel’s “Qi.” Music is an escape, one that I can’t fully appreciate when I work or study because I pay too much attention to the notes or lyrics or both of whatever track flows in the background. Dave Sheinin, a reporter for the Washington Post, said, “I’ve never been able to listen to music casually. No matter what else I’m doing, the music is where my ears and my mind drift.” His great perspective piece covered his time as a sportswriter trying to write game stories while the loud speakers offered stadium soundtracks. Ah, sports.

Sports have left a void, and the talking heads have resorted to over-analyzing a long-awaited documentary. Sports have been important to me my entire life as a fan and an athlete. This isn’t about being a jock (which is a term that has mislabeled many people, but that’s a separate post); it’s about what it means to a person. Children can’t watch their role models; fans can’t passionately talk about remember-whens, what-ifs and this-is-the-years; we can’t watch the only show that doesn’t have reruns—we have to rely on reruns now; we can’t witness the brilliance of strategy, the intellect that is required to perform at the highest of levels, and the athletic feats that defy physics or ordinariness; stadiums aren’t full of loud and raucous crowds, one of the only sanctuaries in the world where it doesn’t matter what race, sex, generation or political affiliation you are because you’re all there for the same reason; tears of joy and pain can’t be shared in the exact same moment; and significant bonds between cities and athletes, parents and children, friends and partners have been put on pause. Sports are entertaining, but they’re also emotionally important.

Then again, it is about being a jock. I miss that unmatchable form of exercise, the release of emotions and heightened senses, the strengthening of coordination and health, the progression of the mind, the adaptation to aging and performance, and the physicality. Yes, that’s right, I may not miss hugs, but I miss having an opponent pushing me around and I returning the favor. At least I can write about it I guess.

Writing has not come to a halt; it remains a constant, though motivation is scarce. For example, I wanted to post this weeks ago. I’m obsessed with news updates (as any Master of Journalism would be) and they have served as a distraction. However, it may be the looming uncertainty that sidetracks me more. Then again, writing as a career, especially fiction, questions certainty or stability on a daily basis. I’ve been able to complete a new short story, start two new fiction novels and begun researching and outlining the newest Jack Swift installment. Essentially, I’m creating more content that people don’t know exists. Motivation is scare, indeed.

This is a strange time. Hopefully future generations avoid dealing with such calamity and our new relative normal remains.

For now, we can go on missing things and hope they return—or lose our minds, whichever comes first.

An Observation Concerning… Incentivized Fraudulence (Eesh, That Sounds Serious)

“Don’t sell your soul for a pack of lies”
Eagle-Eye Cherry, “Rainbow Wings”

I realize that last post’s song, “She Works Hard For The Money” by Donna Summer, would have been a perfect fit for this article as well, but the lyric above still strikes the right chord (pun intended).

Solicitation. Whoa, whoa, whoa, settle down now, we’re not talking about the bad kind—or good kind, whichever way you want to view paying for services. The solicitation I’m talking about takes place in the writing community and the publishing industry. I’ve done it, you’ve done and future authors will do it.

Just to be clear, because I know some readers may be “groggy” from the turn of the year, I’m not talking about prostitution involving sexual acts. Sometimes, you just have to state the obvious.

Moving on. Let’s start by reading Amazon’s Customer Review Policy. I will give you a minute.

Don’t worry, that wasn’t the extended one. If you did read it, you may have noticed that some of the exclusions may seem outlandish, others valid and most create a double standard. Authors are in a difficult predicament when it comes to reviews because, whether we like it or not, they’re very important and have a direct impact on sales. There has been an ongoing argument in the writing community about who reviews are intended for. Some reviewers tend to believe that their posts are generally for readers, while publishers and authors view critiques useful for their own business or brand. The truth is: reviews are meant for everyone. Readers use reviews to see if the work is something that matches their interests or sounds intriguing enough to purchase, publishers examine how their product is performing through direct market analysis, and authors review criticism—hopefully constructive, but we know that’s not true all the time—to understand their demographics and better their writing. Though it seems that a review is as simple as writing something down and clicking the mouse, it’s far more complex than that. Here’s something a little startling: authors, the creators of the intellectual property, may actually make the least amount of money off their work out of the three mentioned parties.

Last post we discussed the amount of money that authors must put forth to publish a book, and that includes the time spent drafting and completing a written work. The author is now responsible for more tasks that have been primarily done by others in the past. This isn’t just limited to authors, but most writers. For example, in the journalism industry many job openings post duties that require the writer to not only write and report, but also take their own pictures and touch them up, design the layout of the article and fully edit the piece. As a journalist, that isn’t a big deal, however, they’re still only being compensated for one job, not three. I once saw an open position for a paper in Santa Fe, N.M., and the writer was responsible for all of the duties above and the salary was $30,000. The average salary in Santa Fe is $56,000 and the cost of living is very high for the region.

You may be thinking, “What the hell does this loser know?” Well, I know this type of stuff. I’m a writer in many forms, and this is why I returned to school to earn my graduate degree in journalism and creative media, and this is what my research involves. I’m here to help the writer—unlike other parties and platforms.

It takes authors longer to write a book than publishers to publish that work, and it takes authors longer to write a book than it takes for reviewers to read and critique that work. The time authors spend doing the actual work doesn’t guarantee any income. On the other hand, publishers take over during a stage that should lead to sales which betters their chances at turning a profit, and many reviewers are incentivized for their contributions—despite what Amazon believes, and what they do themselves for that matter.

Peter Riva, Publishers Weekly- Why most Amazon reader reviews are worthless

With incentive comes fraudulence. Ex literary agent Peter Riva said in his 2016 Publishers Weekly article, “My observation is that most Amazon and Barnes & Noble reader reviews are either fraudulent, or, at best, useless in assessing the true merit of any given title.” He continued, “It is trampling on First Amendment rights and playing into the hands of what is, after all, a nonliterary, mathematical rating system.”

Money drives the industry, but it doesn’t drive the authors. Many authors do this because they love writing and creating, however, their success and status is directly impacted on how other parties are incentivized. This is most apparent in reviewer credibility and retailer/media gatekeeping. Regarding the former, just like the publishing industry, the reviewer world is also competitive and over-saturated. In order to keep earning revenue through advertising and subscriptions, reviewers strategically provide scattered ratings; it’s almost like a quota to appear as a true critic rather than a paid blogger. An author may be receiving an average review just because a reviewer needs to mix up their rating average and not based on the quality of the content. The consequence of losing revenue isn’t the only factor in fraudulent reviews, however. There is also the relationship factor between blogger and author, whether that is a positive or negative connection.

In regards to the latter, giant online retailers like Amazon and major publications like The New York Times have a stranglehold on which titles are presented to potential readers. They decide what is relevant and what is trending, and most of it is based on what already sells. Just like in the news: we’re only aware of what we’re exposed to, and sometimes the relevance is for ratings. Amazon essentially tells authors they’re prohibited from soliciting their material for reviews, however, this creates a double standard. Amazon will solicit an author’s work via their advertising campaigns—and incentivize reviewers themselves—and the more the writer is willing to spend, the more their book will be visible across the massive retailer’s site. They don’t care about quality; they only care about quantity—available titles and revenue, that is. Who suffers in the end? The author.

Jay Green, The Washington Post- Amazon sellers say online retail giant is trying to help itself, not consumers

In his 2019 Washington Post report, Jay Greene explained that in 2018, Amazon generated $42.7 billion in revenue from seller services, fees and commissions, and they have the power to charge for communication with account managers, push their own brands, alter pricing and control product exposure through advertising services.

That is a lot of money if you couldn’t figure that out, and authors are considered sellers as well. However, they also produce intellectual property, but as we have discussed before with the music industry, that doesn’t seem to actually matter no matter the legal jargon and threats. If intellectual property is work or invention that is the result of creativity, then shouldn’t the rights always be with the creator? Of course, people sell rights and this and that, but the origin remains and the creator of that specific work or invention will always be the same. That is an argument for another time, however, and law definitions are written a certain way on purpose.

Anyway, we’re spiraling here. The truth of the matter is reviews and publishers and self-publishing platforms are needed, but authors also need more flexibility when it comes to how they go about promoting their work because they deserve to make money off their intellectual property; especially considering most still maintain those rights. Authors should be aware that if their work only receives five-star ratings, then the reviews probably are not credible. I received a one-star review for Cursed: A Jack Swift Case recently, and that’s okay, not everyone is going to like your content, but what is said in these types of critiques needs to be considered as well. Due to cases of fraudulence, it has left authors and readers in a annoyingly difficult spot because sometimes both parties really need to take the time to dissect the review (time they don’t have) to see why a critic was unhappy or overzealous about the work, and if the rating was valid. With said one-star review, the reviewer was upset at a few word choices I used in dialogue (though the linguistics were consistent with a character’s personality). Did that warrant a one-star rating? Did the other 80,000 words not matter? Are we now teetering on the line on unwarranted censorship? Honest constructive reviews help everyone, but unfortunately, we all have to work for them.

Who are we really in competition with, and when did books become less about writing and more about the politics of the industry? Two of the most important things to do within the writing community is to support your fellow authors, and keep writing.

If you’re really bored, I will be more than happy to share past relevant research by scholars, and my theory paper as well if interested. Who has time for that? You should be writing because someone needs to make money off that.

Happy New Year!

 

An Observation Concerning… Working for Free

“It’s a sacrifice working day to day, for little money, just tips for pay, but it’s worth it all, to hear them say that they care.”
-Donna Summer, “She Works Hard For The Money”

There is a major error in Cursed: A Jack Swift Case, and it’s embarrassing. It was pointed out by a reader, which I appreciate, and I quickly posted an apologetic statement regarding the issue here. I’m sure many others will bring up the mistake, and some may even base the entire novel on an innocent mishap.

There are two truths to think about: One, there are other proofreading errors than just the one, just like in every book, and two, some reviewers may deem the story to be completely unsuitable for publication.

Let’s cover the former first because I think authors need to be defended. Proofreading or editing your own work is nearly impossible; it will never be correct because the writer already knows what it’s supposed to say, so they tend to heavily rely on squiggly colored lines or will glance over some basic typos or grammatical errors. I know there are some authors who will say, “No way, my book is perfect and I do all the editing myself.” You may think that, but I would suggest reading it again. And then again. Sometimes I’ll go through close to ten drafts, and readers still point out errors. So why not just hire an editor? Ugh, this advice.

Proofreading and editing services cost money; it’s that simple, and they’re not cheap. Basic copy-editing can range from $25-$40 an hour, and an hour’s pace is five to ten pages. We’ll take the low-end of this calculation and use Cursed as an example. The book would have cost $1000 for the most simple of edits. So why not just have a friend or family member read through it for you? Ugh, this advice, too.

Fresh eyes are great, but you must be considerate of others’ time, and you also can’t push them to meet some unreasonable deadline—especially considering they’re doing this read-through for free. Many writers probably have someone who will help out, but money and time remain two major challenges for authors. Not only are proofreading costs high, there are other expenses that come with self-publishing—no matter how much Amazon says it’s free. If you want a professionally done cover, that will cost you a couple hundred dollars; then there are the printing costs if you decide to offer physical copies of your book (for authors just starting out, Amazon actually nets more money than you do on a print copy, so keep that in mind and push your eBooks); lastly, promotional costs can add up, and unfortunately, they don’t guarantee any positive impact on sales no matter how much the provider boasts about their service. In the end, authors can spend thousands of dollars to get their work to market, and never actually turn a profit, and some don’t even remotely come close. So why not just get an agent and get published by a traditional publisher—they have in-house editing, design and promotions, right? Ugh, this advice, too… again.

It’s not that easy. Agents only accept 5-10% of submissions, and due to the popularity of writing among amateurs, the over-saturated market and the volume of submissions, they don’t even look at every query they receive. We can leave that at that because it has been covered before.

I’m a perfect example of an author who has never turned a profit. I’ve now published work through self-publishing, boutique presses and the traditional process (not by a big house, however), and though I’ve sold copies and made money off my books, I’m in the red on each and every title because of the cost to get those stories into the market and exposed to readers.

My novel Forgotten Kids, which is set to be released early next year, almost had a huge bill attached to it because the use of song lyrics. I wrote about it here, but in the end (wait, can I say that because it’s a Linkin Park song?) I decided to re-word to avoid those costs because I, and the publisher, know that the book won’t ever come close to making that sort of money. In fact, in a 2017 Authors Guild survey, Calvin Reid and Jim Milliot reported that the median income received by published American authors for all writing-related activity in 2017 was $6,080, and 25% of the published authors surveyed earned no money at all—18% of them were full-time authors, which is no bueno for them.

People also tend to forget that writers spend hours, months and even years putting together their novels while receiving no wage to do so. They work for free and sacrifice a lot of their time just for the possibility of entertaining and moving readers, and then they use out-of-pocket expenses to issue free copies (that they had to pay for) to beta readers and reviewers, and sometimes all they receive back is nonconstructive criticism and judgment—and it comes from within their own networks as well.

One thing I will never forget is a situation that made me stop using Facebook for networking. I had completed my fourth draft of Forgotten Kids, but was thinking of changing the lead girl’s name from “Lizzy” to “Nikki.” I asked what people would prefer in a post, and one guy said, “Oh, so now we have to pick names for people? Give me a break. Do your own work, were not going to write the book for you.”

Really? That’s interesting. I was unaware that changing the first name of a character meant the same as writing and structuring a 115,000-word novel for me.

Over-exaggeration is a killer when it comes to properly reviewing an author’s work, and that brings us to the latter from earlier (geez, finally!). Reviewers need to be constructive and the criticism will be accepted. For example, in two recent reviews for Cursed, both readers mentioned there was a small amount of proofreading errors, but not enough to distract from the story. That is a great way of mentioning that the editor needs to do a better job when they are reviewing the work, letting the author know there are some mistakes they need to work on before the proofing process begins, and it also doesn’t intend to completely deter future readers from the story itself.

On the other hand, some reviews will blatantly defame the author and their writing ability. For Crooked Gold: A Jack Swift Case, one reviewer gave the book one-star and their summary simply said, “This didn’t interest me at all. None of the sentences even made sense.”

Really? NONE of the sentences in the entire book made sense? I’m surprised so many other people missed that. Amazon actually deleted that review because it appeared to be fraudulent. With that being said, I’m currently in graduate school, and my communications theory research targeted Amazon as a gatekeeper, and how incentivized reviewers directly impact the success of authors. The findings were actually fascinating, as were the studies that have been done beforehand, and from the feedback received by the faculty, my work may turn into my master’s project. We’ll have a nice recap of that if you have a little time next post to become bored.

Please don’t take this as a complaint of criticism because I value constructive reviews incredibly, and appreciate when people point out mistakes. However, when people blatantly and publicly offend an author based on a handful of typos and grammatical errors, then it’s a little uncalled for because they may not be fully aware of outside variables. Readers and reviewers need to keep in mind the financial restrictions authors have when crafting a story, and also that sometimes promotional expenses are more than book sales.

With that being said, authors just need to really buckle down during their line edits to avoid these poor reviews and nonconstructive criticism, as do indie publishers. Slow down and do more drafts, as many as it takes because the market isn’t going anywhere quite yet. Then, if necessary, do more editions after those inevitable typos are discovered by outside eyes (wait, ISBNs cost money, too, dammit!).

Here’s something to think about leading up to the next post: Amazon and incentivized reviewers can make more money off a book than an author.

Ah, the politics of the publishing industry.

An Observation Concerning… Your Consideration

“And hey maybe I’m a critic, a cynic, or am I crazy, do they all hate me?”
-Forever The Sickest Kids, “What Do You Want From Me”

Ah, the excitement of finding an agent or publisher is so exhilarating in the beginning. The author is fresh off their final edit and believes their story is going to be the next great novel. It’s then going to be adapted into an award-winning film, and they will become established in the lavish life of famous authors and entertainers.

Then reality sets in, and they’re rejected over and over as we discussed last week. I know this doesn’t sound appealing, but how do we get to the opportunity for rejection? We risk our whole story, no matter the genre and quality, on how well we can write marketing content, and structure each pitch specifically to the guidelines of agents and publishers. We’re going to structure your query letter in this post.

Um, that still doesn’t sound appealing. You’re right; it doesn’t. You know what else doesn’t? Research.

Unfortunately, research is a must when it comes to querying multiple agents and publishers. First, you need to find agents who are interested in your genre or publishers that focus on publishing your genre. If you’re starting out, one observation to be wary of is the length of an agent’s list of interests. If they enjoy almost every genre, it’s going to be more difficult to obtain representation.

After you’ve narrowed down your search, visit each agency’s or publisher’s website and learn more about everyone and everything. When it comes to literary agencies, simple online searches and blogs or articles directing you toward a certain agent won’t tell the whole story (was that kind of a pun?). There may be a better-suited agent to query for your book within the agency, and they usually have detailed bios and an informative company profile. Here are three important questions that will help while researching agents:

  • Who represented my favorite authors in my genre?
  • Who published my favorite books in my genre?
  • What is in the agency’s or publisher’s catalog like, and what are their most recent projects?

Hey! You slipped in a fourth question. Why do I have to do research AND take a test? Oh, don’t worry, you have to write a paper, too.

I recommend creating a spreadsheet (oh, come on!) with the agents/agency and publishers, each’s contact information, notes to make your query personal, how they prefer their submissions, when you submitted and, of course, a column to put all your “no’s” (don’t worry, only one of them has to be a “yes” and the spreadsheet is a success—or an utter reminder of failure that will never leave the cloud).

When you’re ready to submit, read the guidelines for each agent or publisher very carefully because they’re all just different enough to really make your life annoying. Everything from page or word count, to headers and page numbers, to contact information to query structure will force a change in your generic draft. And that’s the point: they don’t want a generic draft; they want you to show you’ve learned about their agency or press, can follow guidelines and aren’t wasting theirs or your time (spoiler alert: we’ll go back to time—no, not “back IN time,” “back TO time.” Stop wasting time!).

The one question you may come across is whether or not the agency or publisher accepts attachments. Most will state if they want all material in the body of the email or as an attachment, but if they don’t mention their preferences, give them a call or email before you submit. You will get either an answer and it will show them your diligence, or they won’t get back to you and you can cross them off your list. If agencies and publishers are going to hold a standard for authors, then they must show the same standard.  They can deal with their inefficient, impassive and probably a little pompous staff on their own time.

See, it comes back to time. Agents and publishers make it very clear how valuable their time is and how overloaded they are with submissions, and we respect that, but what about the authors? This is a problem not only in the entertainment industry, but everywhere. Take academia, for example: a student spends more time researching, formatting their references and making sure their citations are correct in a paper than writing the content. When a person applies for a job, their beautiful resume they spent hours, maybe days, creating doesn’t mean anything because they have to either fill all the information out again on online job sites or a company’s portal. What is the point of a resume if you just have to change it every time you apply? What is the point of a query letter if you have to cater it to a plethora of individual preferences? You’re doing everything for them to make sure their time isn’t wasted, but your time is—and you’re not even getting paid, and there’s a high chance you will never even make a living off writing! I will be honest; I think garnering all the different guidelines and obsessive particularities has taken more time than actually writing a novel.

The other side could argue that an author needs to work hard and pay their dues, but there comes a point when all authors have done so more than enough. It’s like an unpaid internship in the Twilight Zone that spans multiple decades. During employment searches, companies want candidates with experience, but how can someone gain experience if no one gives them an initial chance? The same goes with unestablished and established authors: how can an author become established if no one will give them a chance?

I once saw submission guidelines that explained how the house would only accept exclusive submissions and they would need three months to respond. Do people out there think others have nothing else to do with their life except wait around? It’s kind of like how every single article of clothing says on the tag to “wash separately.” Seriously, who has time to do that? This is why an author needs to submit to multiple agencies and publishers: they’ve dedicated so much time to their work with the intention to earn income off their intellectual and creative property, and then have to anxiously wait around for answers that sometimes don’t even come. As a courtesy, all agencies and publishers should at least send an email declining an author’s work. They’ve spent a majority of their free time, sometimes years of it, writing a novel for free, so why can’t someone send an email that takes a few minutes to draft? We value the time of agents and publishers, but sometimes the respect isn’t reciprocated.

Man, this is awful. First you imply I need to be a better marketer than writer, then you tell me I have to do homework, then I have to take a test, then I have to write a paper and you end by mentioning no one cares about my time! Querying sucks. It sure does, but let’s go ahead and structure your letter anyway.

  • Addressing: Make sure the agent’s name or publishing house is correct. Seriously.
  • Schmooze paragraph: Just a couple sentences explaining how you found the agent or publisher and why you chose to query them—make it personal between you and them.
  • Pitch paragraph: One or two sentences selling your story; it has to be short, informative and damn intriguing. Here is my most recent pitch:
    • The T206 baseball card set is one of the most famed collectibles in the world, and international criminal Jack Swift is after the full assortment for a hefty payday. As he finds the oddest cards scattered across the world, he unearths the ugly collusion between the mob, gambling, and a little voodoo.
  • Brief synopsis: “Brief” is important here; think of it as what you would read on the back of a published book. Here is my brief synopsis of the same book from above:
    • Swift baits his rival, Detective Jim Beckett, with his trademark hints during an international journey peppered with conspiracies, trophy heists, sports jinxes, and the occult. Witchdoctors, legends of legends, and fiery twin bosses of the Manzoni mob family stand in the way of each’s end game. Will Swift or Beckett end up victorious? Or will they even survive the wrath of the seductive and powerful Manzoni girls?
  • Additional information: Sometimes the guidelines will ask for a word count, genre or if the manuscript is part of a series. Here is my additional information paragraph (sentence):
    • “Curses!” is an 80,000-word crime novel and the second installment in the Jack Swift series.
  • Author bio: This should be pretty self-explanatory, but the important thing to know is only provide RELEVANT information. If you’re querying a crime novel, don’t talk about your children’s picture book you have in the works, or that you’re currently employed as a barista.
  • Gracious outro: Be appreciative of their consideration like any normal human should be about anything.
  • Signature: Spell your name right. Seriously. And provide your email address (I know that they should know it because you emailed them, but do it anyway) and your phone number.

Disclaimer: This query is currently being shopped and hasn’t been picked up (but has been rejected), so it may be a bad example… or just an uninteresting story.

And there you have it. That doesn’t seem so hard. Now, don’t forget your much-longer and more-specific synopsis.

Dammit!

An Observation Concerning… A “Subjective” Industry

“And everyone would know, they’d know it’s our world.”
-I Hate Kate, “Story I Can’t Write”

I watched Jane The Virgin.

First, I have a wife so that explains a little. Second, I didn’t watch the series finale, but I did hear what happened. Third, there’s a reason behind referencing the show: Jane was a romance writer vetting for discovery. By some miracle, she received a $500,000 deal on her debut novel, and obtained an agent after just three rejections.

Talk about fiction.

It’s hard to be envious of a character, but it’s easy to get annoyed. Jane’s whining after her third rejection from a top agent was extravagant, as was her claim to quit until that marvelous phone call happened at the most desperate of times. Okay, okay; the program was a modern telenovela, so it’s not that big of a deal and the writers had a story to tell.

Many authors know what rejection feels like; we hear the word “no” more than unattractive unpleasant men do from happy hour to last call. Here are some fun stats that will either be a brutal reminder for current authors or will ruin the day of aspiring writers:

  • Agents receive around 600 submissions a year.
  • Agents reject around 95 percent of submissions they receive.
  • Over a million books are self-published a year.

Here are some more unsettling stats:

  • Authors make a median average annual income of less that $7,000.
  • Around 20 percent of full-time published authors’ income was 100 percent book-related.
  • Around 25 percent of long-time authors can make $0 a year in book-related income.

This isn’t looking promising, except for Jane Villanueva. I’ve been rejected over 100 times. That sounds like a lot, and it is, trust me, I don’t know how my unstable mind has processed it—I think I’m just numb to the fact. However, brain-numbing is good for authors just like a short memory is for athletes.

Though, the latter doesn’t necessarily work for writers if you’re anything like me (I apologize if you are). I’ve saved every rejection I’ve ever received. It’s torture, but also motivation. You start to understand the process more as the denials filter in, but you also start seeing the same response agents will copy and paste into most of their replies. I’ll sum up a majority of the answers you will receive: “It’s not a good fit for me at this time, but the publishing agency is a very subjective business.”

They will keep your confidence high by saying the issue isn’t in your writing, but if you’re writing is so good then why no representation? Why have hundreds of people brushed you off like some amateur when you’re obviously up to professional standards? Subjectiveness? Not necessarily, because with that many negative responses, it seems everyone has the same tastes.

It may not be the agents who are subjective, but rather the market, which is unfortunate for everyone not writing in a trendy genre. When an agent takes on a project, they have to sell that project, and what’s trending is what sells to publishers because they then have to sell the book to bookstores and online outlets who then have to sell the book to the reader who’s obsessed with paranormal romance right now (maybe, who knows, I can’t keep up with all the hot sub-genres).

I once received a response that said, “I just wouldn’t know how to market this book, so I don’t think I can take it on.”

Reading books isn’t trendy, reading a genre is, and an agent’s livelihood depends on what’s popular at the moment, not necessarily what they love to read. Someone could be selling the next great young adult epic fantasy, and then going home and reading The Idiot in a red leather chair with a glass of brandy on their end table being warmed by a crackling fire; or cuddling up on an uncomfortable contemporary couch in their small apartment while reading The Help as their cat knocks over their glass of chardonnay. Personally, I would be reading My Struggle 6 with some whiskey and a game on in the background—no fire, no cat and probably no actual time to make that situation happen. Ah, life.

With that being said, of course agents love the books they’re pushing because they’re passionate about their preferences and the book industry as a whole, and that’s why a thorough search before you submit is vital. While you’re doing your research, also pay attention to what starts the agent’s list of interests and if there are genres that DON’T fit your book. They could want Sci-Fi, but also women’s fiction (which everyone wants right now), so if your main character is a womanizing hardboiled space bounty hunter gone rogue, maybe the agent isn’t going to find your book appealing based on their other interests. Also, just because they mention they like mystery and suspense, for example, it doesn’t mean that that’s what they’re looking for right away. Sometimes what they’re currently accepting is mentioned elsewhere in their profile, so make sure to read their whole bio and get to know them—or, at the very least, get to e-know them through a generic conversation in the form of an auto-response.

Here are some uncontrollable things to consider of why your story, the one you’ve been dedicating your time to with no pay, will be rejected:

  • It falls into the slush pile for an intern to read, and your whole life depends on the tastes of one arrogant 22-year-old.
  • The market is bad and all publishers are being cheap (unless you’re a celebrity or James Patterson).
  • It’s the summer (damn, that’s right now) and many agents have checked out, are working on their backlog, working for their current clients or attending more conferences than office meetings.
  • You’re a young straight white male because that’s so 20th century, and you just don’t get it.

Okay, that last one might not be true if taken literally. On the other hand, there are certain topics and certain writers that are more marketable for the industry to push. The key word there is “marketable.” I was speaking to a nice woman who I enjoy talking to when we cross paths, and she asked me about the next Jack Swift book. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “I’m currently shopping it at the moment.”
Her: “Why don’t you just hire an agent?”
Me: “I wish. It’s a little harder than that though.”
Her: “Well, [Daughter’s name] got an agent for her book. They edited it and published it and dealt with all the legal matters or whatever. She even has an assistant for all that stuff now because she just can’t deal with it, you know.”

Both offer light chuckles… and scene.

Her daughter is a very marketable person who writes in a hot genre with a trendy topic. With that being said, her book was featured in a friend’s book club and no member could finish the novel because it was too boring. She had a marketable trifecta, and though the book was “boring” to readers, it was still traditionally-published.

Don’t be upset if you’re not in the 5 percent who are accepted by an agent because 95 percent of authors are in the same sinking ship as you are. Don’t be upset at Jane Villanueva.

More importantly, don’t change your story to something you can’t write just because it’s hot in the market. Your time will come, you just have to keep submitting and learn from your rejections.

Next week we’ll get into writing that query that’s going to be rejected. Hooray.

An Observation Concerning… Equal Pay (Oh Girl, Here We Go)

“But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise that they’re, giving none away, away, away.”
-Pink Floyd, “Money”

Do players on the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) deserve equal pay? Yes.

I wish it was that simple of an answer and that a pay bump solves all problems, but it’s not and it doesn’t (fair warning: get ready for a long post). There’s something that needs to be addressed beforehand: international pull. Unfortunately, the rest of the world may not care as much as we do, and that’s a major speed bump on the road to equal compensation. What a lame attempt to be clever.

Graham Hays, ESPNW.com- USSF says USWNT has made more than men

Let’s start with Graham Hays’ July 29 article stating, well, you can read the headline above. U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordiero provided an independently-performed financial report that reviewed the salary difference between U.S. men and women soccer players over the last decade. Hays said, “Among the conclusions, which U.S. Soccer said were verified by an independent accounting firm, are that women’s players were paid $34.1 million by the [USSF] from 2010 to 2018 in salaries and bonuses,” later adding, “members of the men’s national team were paid $26.4 million by the [USSF] over the same period, the analysis concluded.” I’m not too keen on math, but I believe there’s a difference that may become detrimental toward an “equal pay” argument here.

However, numbers and reports from unnamed firms are somewhat on the same level as the assumptions of lobbyists and members of congress. Hays quoted USWNT players’ spokesperson Molly Levinson, “This is a sad attempt by the USSF to quell the overwhelming tide of support the USWNT has received,” later adding, “the numbers the USSF uses are utterly false.”

We’ll get to those pesky congress members later.

Those are some rash claims by Levinson, and she does cite some things said, but “things said” don’t necessarily compare to things analyzed. Both teams are separate businesses, and everything is revenue driven. I was happy to see that the NSWL got an ESPN contract for 14 games, and the first game after the USWNT’s World Cup title was a sellout. How many sellouts were there before the World Cup? There have been ratings studies in the past that show there’s a general interest in women’s soccer leading up to, during and after the World Cup, but each time the numbers tend to decline during the three years between the buzz quieting and then returning.

People are too caught up on the U.S. side of things though, and it’s the wrong federation to be targeting. If the claim is for the USWNT to make the same as the USMNT then you can complain to USSF all you want, but they can only do so much. It’s FIFA that creates the problem.

But is there an actual international problem, and is FIFA just viewing this as business practicality? With the exception of a handful of countries, how many women’s national teams can say, “Hey, we deserve this because we perform equally or better than the men”? Wait, I answered the question before I asked it: a handful.

Now, the argument itself needs to be revised as well. If the main point for equal pay is international success then that’s a tough way to approach the debate. Let’s go over World Cup winners and runner-ups, but only start in 1990 to make it fair. Here’s how it would play out:

  • Women’s teams more successful than men’s teams (5): United States, Japan, Norway, China and Sweden.
  • Women’s teams equally successful as men’s teams (1): Germany.
  • Women’s teams not as successful as men’s teams (6): Italy, Argentina, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Croatia.

Now, that’s pretty close (damn U.S. hogging all the glory from the rest of the women). Here’s the main difference between the women’s and men’s world cups: prize money. France received $38 million for winning the 2018 title and the USWNT received a measly $4 million for their 2019 championship. That’s quite unbalanced, but is it actually fair mathematically?

Prize funds are generated from World Cup revenue, and the men have had 21 world cups in comparison to the women’s 8. That’s about two-thirds more exposure and two-thirds more time to generate revenue and growth. In World Cup terms alone, the men have been building a brand for 88 years while the women have been at it for 28.

  • Revised Women’s teams more successful than men’s teams (4): United States, Japan, Norway and China.
  • Revised Women’s teams equally successful as men’s teams (1): Sweden.
  • Revised Women’s teams not as successful as men’s teams (11): Germany, Uruguay, England, Italy, Argentina, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Croatia, Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic and Slovakia, but it would unfair to count them both) and Hungary.

Things are starting to look a little different. Though, you could assume two-thirds more World Cups should only account for two-thirds more money. So if we’re being truly “even Steven” then the purse for winning the women’s World Cup should be around $13 million. It’s going to get there sooner rather than later. In 2014, Germany’s prize for winning the men’s World Cup was $35 million, and in 2015 the USWNT received $2 million. For the men’s side, 2018 was around an 8.6 percent increase, while on the women’s side, 2019 was a 100 percent increase. That is incredibly promising, and people need to look at positives like this.

Still not convinced? That’s fair; there’s still an argument. So let’s get to the real deciding factor: international star power.

In 2018, Croatian and Real Madrid star Luka Modrić won the Ballon d’Or, and Norwegian and Lyon star Ada Hegerberg won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or. Here’s how the kids measure popularity these days: Instagram.

  • Luka Modrić followers: 17.2 million.
  • Ada Hegerberg followers: 310,000.

Though the 2019 finalists have been announced on both the women’s side, how many of these women below were household names in the U.S. before the 2019 World Cup?

  • Lindsey Horan
  • Megan Rapinoe
  • Amandine Henry
  • Amel Majri
  • Wendi Renard
  • Marta
  • Sam Kerr
  • Pernille Harder
  • Lieke Martens
  • Dzsenifer Marozsan
  • Saki Kumagai
  • Christine Sinclair
  • Lucy Bronze
  • Fran Kirby

Megan Rapinoe, Marta and Christine Sinclair should all be a “yes” if you have followed women’s soccer for at least the last decade. Lindsey Horan, Sam Kerr and Lieke Martens are a “maybe” in addition to Hegerberg, but the rest are probably only well-known to people who are citizens of the countries they represent or are truly devout followers of international women’s soccer—which I don’t believe to be the case in the U.S. I think we know our own players, there’s no denying that, but what about the rest of the world? And vice versa. Does the rest of the world care about our players?

Have you heard of these nobodies?

  • Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Antoine Griezmann
  • Kylian Mbappe
  • Lionel Messi

If you haven’t heard of at least two of them, you’re lying. Here’s something to think about: The combined Instagram followers of the 15 2018 Women’s Ballon d’Or finalists (7.6 million) doesn’t come close to the individual total of any of those four male stars above (177.9 million, 26.9 million, 32.8 million and 127.2 million respectively). And to try to make it fairer, I will add USWNT stars Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Julie Ertz, Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle (11.6 million). That brings us closer to Griezmann’s 26.9 million followers.

To clarify, I’m not trying to demean or discriminate against women at all; I’m just trying to prove a point that has been overlooked. The USWNT deserves equal pay and they want it, but the rest of the world is hindering the cause in a sense, and some of the media is framing it in a way that feeds the chants.

Nike released a statement that boasted the fact the USWNT’s jersey was the No. 1-selling kit, men’s or women’s, ever sold on their website in one season. That’s an amazing feat, but how many of those sales came within the U.S. compared to other countries purchasing the jersey? Also, it’s just one season. Can this consistency keep up when the momentum of the World Cup declines once again?

Headlines that have been filtering around the internet claim that the 2019 women’s World Cup final was watched by millions more viewers than the 2018 men’s final. That’s true—in the U.S. FIFA reported that 3.5 billion people globally tuned into the men’s final. For all you non-population buffs, that’s half the world. We will see what the final global numbers for the women’s final was in October. If you’re going to use international success as a talking point, you need to talk international numbers.

The world: we get back to our true problem with the progression of women’s soccer. Women’s soccer is huge in the U.S., and our women are damn good at what they do; the proof is in the titles and there’s no question they are the world’s best—not just now, but of all-time. FIFA doesn’t just look at the U.S. market, however, they look at the global impact of the game.

Let’s finally get to those pesky congress members. Oh man, do we have to? Tell me if you think this is dumb: Hays’ reported, “Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virigina, introduced a bill earlier this month that would deny federal funds for the 2026 Men’s World Cup, to be hosted jointly by the United States, Canada and Mexico, until the American federation agrees to pay its men’s and women’s teams equally. Last week, Rep. Doris Matsui, D-California, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, introduced a similar bill in the house.”

That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, and the government does a lot of dumb things. First of all, you can’t make that decision for Canada and Mexico who are just kind of piggybacking off the U.S. as joint hosts. Second, that’s a childish, selfish and rash reaction to a report that didn’t provide the answer you wanted.

“I didn’t get my way so I’m going to ruin everything for everyone!”

How many people in the U.S., Canada and Mexico agree with this bill? How many people in the world agree with this bill? Like it or not, it would affect all countries that make the 2026 tournament, not to mention tourism revenue for all hosting states. You would be taking away a quality World Cup from billions of people who consider this “The World’s Game” and don’t give two shits about your petty agenda that only helps a small percentage of this country.

We don’t consider the other variables; we just consider what’s on the surface and what we assume.

Here’s another interesting statement to dissect: Hays’ quoted Levinson again, “Here is what [USSF] cannot deny: For every game a man plays on the MNT, he makes a higher base salary payment than a woman on the WNT. For every comparable win or time, his bonus is higher. That is the very definition of gender discrimination.”

Meg Kelly, Washington Post- Are U.S. women’s soccer players really earning less than men?

Now, hold on there a second. Washington Post contributor Meg Kelly reported, “A contract player on the women’s team makes a base salary and can earn performance-based bonuses. (Players without a contract have a different pay schedule.) On the men’s team, players earn only bonuses.” Kelly added a quote from Sports Illustrated writer and University of New Hampshire Law professor Michael McCann, “The male players are paid when they play, but not when they sit. USMNT players must thus be on the roster to be pay eligible, USWNT players, in contrast, are guaranteed pay.”

This is because both teams have separate collective bargaining agreements. Levinson may need to reword her statement, or either her or McCann are wrong. So who do we believe?

Back to the question at hand from around 1900 words ago: Do players on the USWNT deserve equal pay? Yes—in the U.S.

Maybe Japan, Norway, China and Sweden have arguments as well, but there are too many variables that prevent an easy solution: revenue and sponsorship obtainment and distribution, collective bargaining agreements, international comparisons and star power and FIFA.

The fans need to show their support consistently, ESPN and other networks need to offer more than 14 games to viewers and FIFA needs to do a better job promoting women’s soccer globally because smaller countries need more help gaining exposure, and don’t have the national structure to do so alone.

Don’t just blame the USSF; a lawsuit isn’t going to solve anything, and, just like in life, everything is a trade-off. A lawsuit just means someone else is going to lose. However, organic progression, as we have clearly seen over the last 28 years at a fast pace, is something incredible.

I’m ecstatic that revenue is increasing, popularity is rising and publicity is becoming more prominent, and I think the USWNT has a valid argument. I still play soccer, now in a co-ed league, and I know how great women are and how well they compete against men.

Fans, if you really want to support the USWNT, here is their upcoming victory tour schedule:

  • USWNT vs. Republic of Ireland- Aug 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. Portugal- Aug 29, 2019
  • USWNT vs. Portugal- Sep 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. South Korea- Oct 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. South Korea- Oct 6, 2019

Get a ticket or tune in, and keep the momentum for a team that has proven themselves.

What about U.S. Olympians and equal pay then? They always win, too!

No! I’m tired of writing. That’s a whole other thing.

An Observation Concerning… A Resurrection of a Revolution (Again)

“There’s something in the, something in the way you were.”
-The Union Underground, “Revolution Man”

I was in an airport restaurant waiting out a sizable layover, inhaling a giant burger which probably wasn’t the best meal choice before becoming scrunched in an uncomfortable middle seat for two-plus hours. A family of four dined at the table next to me, and I took notice to the preteen girl on her phone—not in that way, creep. With disinterest, she sported a Green Day “Dookie” shirt, a black bandanna with printed red roses, and some Chucks on full display resting on the seat and not the ground.

It’s no secret that the ’90s are back. Television and movie reboots, showy merchandising and horrible fashion have consumed the trendy public. The latter is something I’m having trouble grasping; ’90s fashion wasn’t necessarily a trend, but rather a statement of carelessness. Work boots were scuffed, but not from labor, jeans were baggy and ripped and not purchased as such, shirts were stretched and tattered, and flannel was considered all-season attire. Showering was optional, hair was mangy and long and being on time and tidy were mere suggestions. It was gross, yet people desperately attempt to recreate the look in the modern era.

Trends are trends so there will always be a validation of why a certain era repeats itself, but living in the ’90s, and being just old enough to process the aura of the time, I believe it’s not necessarily a decade that people should purposely emulate. Why do you want to look homeless and act depressed? Those are two real issues people deal with.

Queue the music scene. Grunge music had a certain influence on the minds of young adults, and though I still love the style today, it truly shaped a confused generation. The obsession with self-loathing created a flock of unmotivated troubled youths and it was fantastic in a bittersweet way, but also something that should have stayed in the decade. I was a preteen when Kurt Cobain died and I had a Nirvana poster; I wasn’t a preteen wearing a shirt of an album that was made years before I was even a thought or unplanned accident in my parents’ minds. It’s okay to expand your musical horizons, but don’t lay claim to a scene you weren’t even alive during, or too young to even process. I love the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, but the ’90s and ’00s are what I relate to and support like one of my disappointing sports franchises. Maybe I’m just bitter because I’m beginning to experience what past generations have.

Old person phrase in three, two, one: “Kids these days just don’t get it!”

This is how all generations act though: we grasp onto things from the past because they’re still relevant and always will be—especially music. I personally believe that attitude derived from music repeats itself every three decades. Let’s assess (keep in mind that all decades and generations had a little of everything so don’t get all fussy; it’s just that some styles were a little more dominant depending on the listener):

  • ’60s & ’90s: Rock music that preached peace and love through revolution and disrespect for authority during troubled times.
  • ’70s & ’00s: The rise of disco and dance from bell bottoms to boy bands to groovy funk and soul and pop stars, and from punk and glam rock to bubblegum beats and scremo.
  • ’80s & ’10s: Synthesizers, extreme catchiness, experimental pop sounds and ridiculous hair and colorful garb—just a whole lot of crazy and weird going on essentially, but it worked and still does.

So in a way, we’re due for another musical revolution in rock music. Has our current love for the ’90s predicted such a trend? I hope so from a musical standpoint. Much of my writing has subtle—and obvious—musical undertones. Many tracks have had an impact on my life and that will be apparent in my upcoming novel, “Forgotten Kids,” set to release in the fourth quarter of this year.

There are over 200 musical references in the work, and 44 of said references were direct lyrics to set the scene and tone of the narrator. However, and writers please note the following if you haven’t dealt with song permissions, I was forced to reword the lyrics.

Here’s why: My publisher suggested that I go about getting permissions for each lyric used. After talks with Universal and Sony—most songs are controlled by those two industry titans—I was directed to Hal Leonard, the world’s largest music publisher. They asked for $300 a song which was non-negotiable (even though I tried). For all you math fans, that would come out to $13,200 for lyric usage.

There are three issues I have with this, though I do understand why the charge is in place: First, the novel will not make that much money unless this post is shared a billion times along with marketing techniques going exactly right (which they never do). Second, the combined lyrics make up just 1.25% of the entire book, so who’s to say that the songs sell the book rather than the book selling the songs; and though I love all these tracks, because of the era when most were produced, I could find another song that holds the same meaning without altering the tone of the narration, the character’s personality or the overall plot. Third, the excuse of intellectual property.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa; intellectual property is important, you jerk!”

I agree. Why wouldn’t I agree? I have intellectual property (well, property at the least) out there as well, but it’s one thing to say it greatly matters and another to act upon the reasoning behind the claim. I spoke with an artist’s representative who informed me that the use of their lyrics was not approved; Hal Leonard said they were for $300 a pop. I respected the artist’s (the intellectual proprietor) request.  Also, I spoke to the lead singer of a band who gave me permission to use their lyrics at no charge because they were the primary songwriter; Hal Leonard said I still had to pay $300. After I updated the band (the intellectual proprietor) on the music publisher’s decision, they simple asked, “Who the hell is Hal Leonard?” It doesn’t seem like intellectual property is taken that seriously—the system is broken.

Music is not, however. There will always be more fantastic lyrics, rhythms and solos, but we need to evolve instead of regress. If you remember, I was irritated by slow covers that seem to still be infesting commercials and airwaves, and I’m getting worried that new artists are struggling for exposure, and it may be due to over-saturation, a dwindling attention span and a lack of generational uniqueness. An author friend of mine talked about this with his 21-year-old son recently; his son couldn’t depict something wonderful from his own time, and that’s why there’s a trend to delve deep into other generations’ gifts.

With that being said, there’s plenty of talent and greatness out there. We’re on the verge of a new decade; let’s see what it has to offer. Keep listening, for troubled times have a way of bringing the best out of music.

An Observation Concerning… Good Mainstream Storytelling

“Do you think that we could play another game, maybe I can win this time?”
-Disturbed, “The Game”

I’m not one to offer spoilers; I don’t need to prove to a near-18 million other people that I was able to watch a program at its scheduled time like the rest of them, and then boast about the fact while ruining all the procrastinators’ days. Yes, I’m talking about “Game of Thrones.”

John Koblin, The New York Times- ‘Game of Thrones’ breaks its own ratings record

With two episodes remaining and a plethora of theories that will most likely be crushed in the opening five minutes of “Game of Thrones 72” this upcoming Sunday (May 12, 2019, 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on HBO, or illegally streamed at your convenience), I’m done guessing and I’m ready for closure. However, I will offer this for a Mother’s Day prediction: a woman, multiple women at that, will play a key role in everything. I think it has come to the point in the show where I wouldn’t be surprised if they killed off all men.

Okay, that sounded like I was being a bitter person complaining about agenda and trends. It’s not as bad as say “Captain Marvel” or “The Incredibles 2” where the writers added some dialogue that can correlate to today’s issues. Ah, Hollywood. Yet, I will say this about “Game of Thrones”: The storytelling has been suburb, even after George R.R. Martin agreed to let HBO steer the story in whichever racy violent way they desired.

Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes- How will George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” books end?

We’ve fallen in love with the setting and life—perhaps that’s why so many men have beards today—and the characters have become memorable. Frankly, for the longest time I was hoping the White Walkers would just end all things because almost every character became insufferably annoying at least three times a season—good or evil. The dialogue is well scripted, there’s humor and drama and whole lot of conflict and tension. We can list all the elements we want, but the reason the storytelling has been so fantastic isn’t because “Game of Thrones” as a whole has become this trendy production and marketing giant, but because viewers love or hate it and obsessively share their thoughts and predictions. Simply put: it’s impactful in everyday life—even though it’s a fantasy! Think about when you’re meeting a new acquaintance; eventually they will ask, “Do you watch ‘Game of Thrones’?”

There’s also the people who take pride in not watching it. That’s about all I will say about that because no one cares.

Are there some holes in the story? Sure—especially the conception of commuting time and some coincidental aspects that are forced to be made sense by uber-fans. I can’t go into detail quite yet because I don’t want to give anything away to the procrastinators, but if someone has to look something up or have some detailed explanation that still doesn’t make sense presented to them, then perhaps something could have been done differently along the way. In other words: nothing is perfect. For example: I thought the end to “La La Land” was fantastic while someone else I know disliked the outcome. Eesh, that’s about as opposite as you can get from “Game of Thrones.”

Viewers have become obsessed with what will happen in the end, but the truth of the matter is that many people will be satisfied and many others will be disappointed. That, however, isn’t a bad thing because it embraces the full force of the plot, and portrays the talent of great storytelling, and, in this case, great acting.

I watched the “The Following” through its entirety, and for those who have seen the show, there was an antagonist, Emma Hill (Valorie Curry), that I grew to loathe tremendously. In fact (SPOLER ALERT!!!), when she died, I still didn’t think her death was good enough even though she was impaled through the heart with a sharp splintered wooden stake (and she wasn’t even a vampire). That’s a tribute to Curry’s acting skills; she made me dislike a character so much I wanted that person to die in such a horrible way that I still can’t decide on how.

Transition to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). If or when Cersei dies, will it be good enough? Kudos to Headey, and the rest of the cast.

So here we are, close to the end of “Game of Thrones” (queue the spinoffs). It has been a wild time-consuming ride in a magical world of sex and gore, and it will be missed. Thank you George R.R. Martin, HBO and the amazing writers, producers, cast and crew that have made this all possible.

Since more people watch the same movies/shows than read the same books, what is your favorite mainstream moving-picture story? What film or series was the closest to being perfect in your mind?

Answer if you must, and squeeze it into your “Game of Thrones” conversations this week so people have something planned to watch after May 19, 2019.