A couple ways individual people can be silenced online, and they sound a bit chilling to me

On Aug. 4, I wrote a piece here to the long-term threats to user-generated content on the Internet, and continued that on Aug. 7 with another post on recognizing citizen journalism.

Today, I’d like to perform an inside-out swing (Fenway Park style) and look at two (or maybe three) ways individual speakers could be “shut up” (or shut down, as you were).

The discussion seems motivated in part by the growing rash of incidents starting in maybe 2005 where a person gets fired for something he/she said on social media (using a personal account off the workplace) about a controversial workplace or media-reported situation. This has particularly happened to teachers (even public employees). As I’ve written here before, I had a major incident when working as a substitute teacher at the end of 2005, complicated by an improbable combination of coincidences. In fact, Heather Armstrong started her lucrative career as a mommy blogger after being “dooced” at the Utah software company where she was working on 2002 over something she had said about the company in her own blog.

At the same time, companies and individuals started realizing that their “online reputations” could be damaged by attacks from others, or (specifically for small companies), “bad reviews” on sites like Yelp. In numerous cases, businesses have sued consumers over bad reviews, saying that the transparency created by review sites can put them out of business with fake information. Some businesses (even physicians) have tried to force consumers to sign “gag clauses” (or non-disparagement contracts) before providing consumer service. Congress addressed this problem with a Consumer Review Fairness Ac t in January 2017 (story 1, story 2).

I have not had many big consumer problems, but I have made it my own practice not to use review sites (other than Amazon for books and films). I generally don’t mention my own providers online because I may need service again. When there is a problem, I try to settle it privately.

About the time Y2K had finished, the business world was starting to notice that blogging or personal websites of employees or customers had the capability of creating problems, through search engine discovery. Occasionally, one would see an article about “employee blogging policies.” Generally, model policies would say that employees, if they mentioned the company, must state that the opinions were their own and not made in official capacity, and that trade secrets or internal office disputes must not be mentioned.

By 2004, pundits were also noticing an incidental, unintended problem: personal blogs about political candidates could be construed as illegal campaign contribution, according to the 2002 campaign finance reform law. That issue coincidentally figured in to my own incident at the end of 2005. But in time, the concern “blew over”.

And about 2006, we started hearing about the term “online reputation”, which in the days before Facebook became public, had mainly to do with search engine results which could include material posted by others (and which could involved mistaken identity, easily). People with common names as opposed to unusual ethnic names were affected differently.

But, in sum, the main gag on ordinary speakers would tend to be subject specific, especially when dealing with specific employers, service companies, perhaps specific residential communities (apartment buildings or condos) or dealing especially with consumer information and PII. This did not normally necessarily with individual speech in a substantial way.

There’s another way this could have been approached, as I had noted in a white paper I had written back in March 2000.

That is to say, if you have a particular position in a company where you have direct reports or other discretionary authority (like underwriting) you don’t publish anything at all yourself without a third party gatekeeper. In social media, full privacy settings must always be used, restricting access to known “friends” or “followers”. I haven’t yet heard of a case where this requirement was demanded.

One reason for this concern is that subtle search results could show prejudice, which could affect a workplace situation. On my “doaskdotell.com” site I have hundreds of short movie reviews. Sometimes I have made wisecracks about various characters or actors that would suggest a certain personal belief in “body fascism”, which some readers could construe as indirect racism or sexism. That could contribute, for example, to a hostile workplace situation. When I had the 2005 fiasco as a substitute teacher, my site logs showed many search requests with search arguments suggesting that the reader was looking for this. Since that time, Google has stopped allowing search arguments to be logged partly for that reason.  Another danger could be that an employee, by his web presence, could show a proclivity to write about a company after leaving it.

But it’s interesting to recall how Facebook started – at first as a true social network on one campus, then on connected campuses. It didn’t become available to the entire public (over 13) until late 2006. Gradually it augmented itself from a pure social networking facility to a self-publishing platform, with the concept of pages and followers as well as “friends”. The algorithms by which it serves articles have become controversial since the “fake news” issue in the 2016 election.

Imagine, at least as a thought experiment, a world in which all social media accounts have to be whitelisted, that is, you have to approve everyone, and in which no user generated content on websites was allowed (say, if Section 230 went away).   You would only be able to network with people you had met first “in the real world”. That was pretty much how a lot things were, probably, until maybe 1996. A lot of people would say, no big loss; we need to learn to be together in the real world again anyway. Obviously, much of the Internet business sector would collapse, along with their stock prices, but the business models of UG and hosting companies may be more fragile than we realize.

A third area worth mentioning goes back to where my own self-publishing started: I had covered most of this ground on July 8, 2016. I wanted to reinforce the idea that some POD or “cooperative book publishing” companies are putting much more pressure on authors to actually sell books (not just Kindle) than previously. I’ve noticed this trend since about 2012. That may mean that an author will need to establish her own business identity , and deal with home-based business regulations in their locality (usually not much of a problem) but also residence, which may become particularly troubling for condos, partly because the physical home address usually must be listed with the state (for sales tax) or local government (for business license and equipment property taxes). I may be coming back to this topic later.

(Posted: Sunday, August 20, 2017 at 8:30 PM EDT)

Uber attracts controversy over people with disabilities; Airbnb wants hosts to provide hotel-like reliability

Here’s an interesting story. If a company’s services or products are based on the sharing, grass-roots economy, does it still have to bend over backwards to accommodate all possible customers, especially people with disabilities.

The Washington Post has a Metro section front page story in the Washington Post today by Faiz Siddiqui, “Groups sue Uber for excluding wheelchair users from its basic door-to-door service“.

The fact pattern may seem a little muddy. In Washington DC, Uber’s biggest offense seems to be that it would not allow a driver whose car allowed non-fold-up wheel chairs to be loaded – that means, a rather large vehicle. It is hard to understand why the company would do this, unless it doesn’t want the complications of dealing with special-needs customers. But the company does route such customers to a somewhat inconvenient and alternate taxi service. The company does not require drivers to be so equipped (the logical converse of what it actually did).

Now, I do have some reservations about using the sharing economy a lot. For one thing, I don’t personally want an “online reputation” as a consumer. I have to admit, Uber reliability has been very good. It saved me with a prepaid movie ticket one day when Metro broke down. I haven’t used Airbnb, and I’ve read about pressures from Airbnb on its hosts to behave more like “hotels” so that consumers know they have a clean and equipped room when they need it, with no questions asked. I’ve also read about issues of discrimination by hosts.

I understand that the sharing economy is controversial. It can encourage people to consumer less, which sounds good for sustainability. But it can also undermine the autonomy and privacy a lot of adults are used to. It can involve taking more personal risks than many providers (drivers or hosts) and possibly consumers could be accustomed to. For example, in previous posts I’ve covered (sometimes personal) risks associated with providing Internet router access.

And when people provide services as independent contractors with their own cars or homes, they may often expect more personal say in whom they serve or how they do it. That cuts across ideas we have in “public accommodations” law regarding discrimination against certain customers. In some specialized small businesses (like the wedding cake business), we see similar expectations by some small business owners, to be left alone, when dealing with consumers whom they perceive as presenting them with personal or religious challenges.

I sometimes have to ponder this in my own book authoring “business”, especially as I contemplate putting out a novel (finally) within the next year. I get pressure from my POD publishers to buy volumes of printed books at deep discounts and set up my own retailing (which I do have a formal shell for) rather than depend on the passive (but reasonably effective) system of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, search engines, and word of mouth (and social media really is effective on that point). Imagine if I was viewed as a public accommodation (albeit a small business) and had to provide braille, large print, and audio as well   I don’t have the commercial scale for that, even though I seem to have some political visibility in the policy areas (as I did with the DADT repeal), even today with (for better or worse) the Trump administration.   I may be getting beyond the scope of this post, but my mission is to encourage critical thinking and connect the dots, not to placate understandably needful consumers in various identity groups (who could possible provide volume sales for those writers who will sell to their specific needs) . I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford to do this, but I watch the political and legal climate carefully.

(Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 3 PM EDT)

Could “Trump” (or his “values” in Congress) stop citizen journalism?

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Three years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece maintaining that enjoying college football (and presumably pro football too) as a fan is “morally problematic” because the sport is inherently dangerous, exposing young men to a not completely controllable concussion risk.  (Is it OK for actor Richard Harmon to tweet about the Fighting irish?)  I’ll leave the link to my coverage of it on a legacy blog.  I’ll leave this particular point about conditional morality out in view for a while, as I return to my own situation.

My own situation is that I do get criticism and questions about the way I manage my web presence and books, particularly questions about the fact that I don’t seem to be trying hard to sell them to make money, as if I had to make a living from them.  I don’t.  I covered this matter pretty well here with a blog posting July 8.   Likewise, I get questions about the point of my blogs and websites.  The normal free market would say that it would be very difficult for most bloggers to make a living from advertising revenue from their sites, but some niche bloggers (like “dooce ”, the famous mommy blog by Heather Armstrong) have done well.  Australian blogging guru Ramsay Taplan  (Blogtyrant ) has written lots of tutorials on how to make niche blogging work, but you have to be very serious about the business aspects and become aggressive. Adsense support forums on Google indicate that a number of bloggers, especially overseas, do try to make ends meet even on Blogger.

It’s important, for the moment, to retrace how I got into what I would now call “citizen journalism” (or “citizen commentary” would be more apt)   It all started with my incentive to write my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book, which I first totally self-published with my own print run in 1997.  I was originally motivated by the debate over gays in the military.  My own life narrative, even up to that point, had displayed an unusual irony (much of that having to do with the Vietnam era military draft)    But my arguments moved into many “civilian” areas, including workplace discrimination, “family values”, public health, and law.  I proposed some constitutional amendments, which I thought fit the temper of the mid 1990s.  Some of what I proposed (I was very cautious on the marriage issue) has become outmoded by the progress of history since then.

It had become possible to publish text essays on Hometown AOL in the early fall of 1996.  I got my own domain (called “hppub.com” then, for “High Productivity Publishing”) in the summer of 1997 at the same time as the book publication.  Originally my intention was to maintain footnotes from the book as more events regarding the various issues unfolded.  By the summer of 1998, I decided to post the html text of the book online for viewing.  Copies of the book did sell fairly well the first two years, and by 1999, volume of hits on the site was quite significant (even from places like Saudi Arabia).

I would go on to accumulate a large amount of material about various issues regarding personal liberty, organized in a concentric fashion. Soon I would add movie-tv, book, and stage event (including music) reviews, with an emphasis on how major issues were addressed in books (including fiction) movies (both conventionally acted and documentary).  The tone of my material, in the personal liberty area, took a somewhat alarming turn after 9/11 in 2001, but that resulted in more attention to my coverage of some issues (for example, after 9/11 there was talk about renewing military conscription).  Eventually I would migrate to placing most of my new content on Blogger starting in 2006, and then gradually started a migration to hosted WordPress at the start of 2014 (as I published my third DADT book, POD).

During most of this time, I was a litigant (through Electronic Frontier Foundation) against COPA, the Child Online Protection Act of 1998, which would finally be overturned in 2007 (after a complicated history including two trips to the Supreme Court).

I think my “value” to the world  — and what gave me a sense of “identity” for the second half of my life (since the mid 1990s, and especially after my official “retirement” at the end of 2001) is that I keep all the arguments about a “network” of liberty-related issues on the floor, available at all times.  Even with a modest number of unique visitors (who don’t know me), there is an influence on policy way beyond my own numerosity of 1.  I could say I’m “keeping them honest”.  I’ve had very good up time reliability over all the years, and in the earlier years, the simple organization of my sites with simple html caused many articles to rank high in search engines (above those of established companies and organizations), with no optimization, even without attention to metatags.

So, you can imagine my annoyance at appeals for donations from sites that purport to speak for me as a member of one group or another.  And also my annoyance of the slogans and baby talk of most political campaign ads.  In fact, I don’t donate to candidates.  Here we get more into my head.  Ironically I perceive needing to have a “strongman” protect me from would be a sign of my own status as a “loser” (and how does that come across as “Trump-talk”?)

Likewise, I have some inner disdain for the idea of being a “marketeer” (something touted by some ads on my sties even).  I remember a job interview onetime in 2002 where the “sales” person (for a financial service) said “We give you the words.”  I don’t need anyone to do that for me.  That sounds like something to appeal to someone not “smart” enough to do anything other than hucksterizing.  I don’t like to manipulate others, and I don’t get manipulated (just like I don’t join mass movements as in Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer“).   But I know this sounds like posturing from a position of “unearned privilege”.  The tone of numerous solicitations I got after “retirement” seemed to be that I was mooching and should grovel for customers like everyone else (indeed, even if that meant manipulating people to get subprime mortgages), so that the selling playing field was fairer to “them”.  “Always be closing”, indeed!

OK, I can think back, and remember even Mark Cuban said the other day, he had a knack for selling door-to-door, as his first job selling sneakers at 12 (story).  Today, when I think of door-to-door I wonder about home invasions;  and with telemarketing, I wonder about robocalls and scams.  You can see how false pride and insularity, as it becomes more common,, only adds more divisions in our culture and makes it harder for a lot of people to earn a living at all.  Make America Great Again, indeed!

This biggest “objection” from some quarters seems to be that a presence like this that doesn’t pay its own way (in terms of the way a business other than a proprietorship would have to report) represents a possible public risk (getting back to the Gladwell reference on football that I started out with).  It requires a permissive legal culture for me to be able to post anything I want under my own “publicity right” with no gate keepers.  One of the mechanisms that makes this possible, as I have explained elsewhere on legacy blogs, is limits on downstream liability for service providers (Section 230 for defamation or privacy issues;  DMCA safe harbor for copyright).  Without these protections, user-generated content as we know it now (and “citizen journalism”) would not be possible.  Only content that made money on its own could get published (which was pretty much how things were until the 1990s), and “getting published” meant something.

The implicit security problems, of course, are abuse, particularly recruiting of young people for criminal or enemy activity (as by ISIS), and the issue of cyberbullying, as mentioned by Melania Trump recently. It’s all too easy for me to imagine Donald Trump saying in a speech shortly after winning (if he won) that there is no legitimate reason the country should tolerate these risks, given the peril.  Web sites, he could argue, should carry their own freight, and be able to pay employees and support families if they stay up. Remember how he measured teams simply by “money” on “The Apprentice”?  He could indeed become “The Accountant” in a very narrow sense.

That is to say, the permissiveness that benefits me, allows danger to others, especially less advantaged parents raising kids.  (Well-off kids with educated parents don’t usually have as many problems with this, and generally well-off kids learn to “make it” in the real world.  This is definitely related to economic class and even race.)

As for the national security and ISIS risk, one could probably counter that most of the recruiting material is actually accessed from the Dark Web anyway, off shore, in encrypted and untraceable fashion;  and most of this illicit activity involes P2P, BitTorrent,. TOR, and other “clandestine practices” like digital currency.  All of these things have morally legitimate uses (especially in other countries with authoritarian leadership) and their own followings and adherents. (A lot of people have invested their hearts into bitcoin just as I have done with my own versuon of “citizen journalism”.)

Still, Trump, late in 2015, made some vague proposals for “shutting down” much of the Internet, and some in Congress (like Joe Barton, Nov. 5 posting) have wanted to shut down much of social media (the companies already say they shut down accounts that facilitate terrorism, but it’s impossible to stop new ones from growing like mushrooms).  I can imagine the hit on Wall Street if Facebook and Twitter were forced to close.  One could imagine another model, however, where social networks on line mean exactly that: they are much smaller, and only accessed in white-listed, private mode.   I, for example, use Facebook and Twitter as publication adjuncts;  I really don’t use them to flirt or find “companionship”.  So I have little use for a service like Snapchat, because I don’t need a lot of day-to-day interaction with lots of people. I don’t announce where I am going or what events I will attend on Facebook – for security reasons.  So I don’t “play ball” with friends whose life model is to organize others.

Would the Supreme Court continue to protect speakers from this kind of development (as it seems to have done with COPA and the earlier CDA)?  One problem, it seems to me, is that conceptually, distribution of speech (which used to require gatekeepers, based on profitability) is somewhat a distinct potential “right” from the mere utterance itself.

I do wonder about the business models of many Internet service facilitators (and even POS companes), if they can sustain themselves indefinitely with content that consumers don’t pay for.

It seems that to “sell”, you have to offer something more focused that people want.  Citizen journalism and commentary is not something that you would normally expect to “sell”.  Of course, some socially “questionable” things (porn) do sell “easily”.  So do focused “special interests” (and that bemuses Trump’s message as he often delivers it). But one way to improve “popularity” (and actual sales potential) is meeting special needs.  For temperamental reasons (as I covered yesterday) that isn’t something that I want to identify me as something to be known for.  Meeting need is one thing, but “pimping” need is another.  As I said yesterday, this whole area of “indulgence” drags me down the rabbithole of being identified by other people’s causes, not the ones I chose.  But I can see how it fits the idea of “right-sizing”.

For me, the future of “citizen journalism” comes very much into question, especially if Trump wins.  I understand the questions about the legitimacy of the practice ( well laid out in Wikipedia ) but that journalism is often mixed with original analysis (sometimes from unusual life narrative perspectives, like mine, as well as from professional surveys and studies) and commentary.  The New York Times has an interesting perspective today, “Journalism’s next challenge: Overcoming the threat of fake news”, in the New York Times, by Jim Rutenberg.  Timothy B. Lee of Vox has a relevant piece Nov. 6 “Facebook is harming our democracy...“, with its user-mediated newsfeeds, which has the effect of diluting “real” journalism with amateurism (let alone “clickbaiting”).  On CNN, Ted Koppel (“Lights Out“) told Chris Cuomo  that the public doesn’t trust professional journalism any more.  (On Nov. 11, New York Magazine’s Max Read claimed “Donald Trump won because of Facebook“. My own role is not to replace traditional establishment media but to keep it honest by supplementing it with material that confounds reporting and organizing according to traditional identity politics — but some people just stop reading traditional media altogether and see only what they want to hear from amateurs, reinforcing their “UFO” beliefs.)

I’ve approached these problems before, from the viewpoint of “conflict of interest” (Aug. 7, or here ).  We saw this first back around 2001 (before 9/11) with talk of the need for “employer blogging policies”, especially for associates who have direct reports or make decisions about others.  (That’s what drove Heather Armstrong to go solo and then to invent the word “dooce”).

While Gladwell’s idea of unaccounted “moral hazard” subsumed by others (as well as authoritarian ideas about “right-sizing” individual speech as with Russia and China) ( could cause Trump and some in Congress to want to crimp user generated content, it’s indeed (fortunately) hard to see any straightforward way he could do it.  But (to make “A Modest Proposal”) one way would be to prevent  (“nuisance”) domains from being owned by (or even renewed) by entities that don’t offer full public accounting of their funding, even self-funded proprietorships like mine.  Accounts could have to “pay their own way” with their own revenues (that sounds like Trump’s style of thinking, valuing everything in terms of money).  But, then again, Trump has a lot of trouble disclosing his own good fortune in life very publicly.  But so does Hillary.  This kind of problem could intersect with the Network Neutrality debate, if Trump guts neutrality and allows ISP’s to charge businesses for access to their networks (which wasn’t a problem in practice before 2015, however — and some say that this could be a problem “only” for high-volume “porn” sites).

If my “accomplishment” were taken away from me, from public sight, what be left?   My own model is horizontal, using prior content to build more content (for example, for eventually getting my music performed), but that content must remain public, even if it doesn’t pull in short term revenue, to remain strategically effective. Pimping victimhood or group loyalty?  I’d love to get on with a real news outlet reporting critical things that the media just hasn’t covered well (like electric power grid security, as with Koppel’s book).  Or should I just “merge” with Wikipedia?  Actually, there’s no article on me there yet.

(Posted: Monday, Nov. 7, 2016 at 4 PM EST)

 

Self-publishing platforms can sometimes cover up plagiarism scams

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This is not particularly good news for the self-publishing world.  The New York Times had reported a year ago in a story by David Segal in a column, “The Haggler”, about the need for “Rousting the Book Pirates from Google”.

It seemed that some popular romance and science-fiction novels were being recycled as self-published books on the platform.  Generally, the “content review” process of self-publishing companies is supposed to screen out obvious fraud or copyright infringement, but that doesn’t seem to work so well on Google books.  Amazon doesn’t seem to have the same level of complaints.

What’s amazing to me is that people really buy these things.  But then they will buy pirated DVD’s for $3 a piece on NYC subways (right in front of me).

A recent post on “publishing advice” tries to blacklist some of the pirates.

I haven’t been so honored to see this happen to my books, but I have gotten told of a few plagiarism events (maybe from “turnitin”) from my old legacy essays on my “do ask do tell” site.  That’s flattering.

(Published: Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

Selling books, getting people to actually pay to hear you (it’s not always about “What in life is free?”)

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Although this history is covered on my “Do Ask Do Tell Footnotes” site , let me start by recapping my own self-publishing history.

I did my own print run (about 400 copies) of my first book and released it on July 11, 1997.  I did “sell out” the printing by 2000, and went to POD in August 2000.  The second book was published in December 2002, and the third, in February 2014.

The paperback (and for DADT III hardbound as well) do have high list prices, with small discounts on Amazon and BN, which I do not set.   A few copies of the original printing are available from a few resellers at “collector’s item” prices, which I find flattering.   The Kindle items are much less expensive. It would not be surprising that, in this environment, sales of physical books, especially non-fiction as it ages, would be slow.

I did not hear much about this for a number of years, but in 2012 the self-publishing companies became much more aggressive in calling me with schemes to increase actual physical book sales.

Now, I have attracted visitors, and contributed a lot to debate (especially on gays in the military back in the 1990s and thru the 2000’s) by simply posting the text of the books online where “it’s free, it’s free” and competing with myself (which Kindle does anyway).  That’s not quite as effective today as it was, say, from 1998 past 9/11 to about 2004 or so, because social media has changed the way people get their own personalized news and participate in debate.  Today, people are more likely to comment on major news sites’ Facebook pages (or on their articles) than on forums or amateur blogs, whereas ten years ago (maybe until after the financial crisis of 2008) comments on blogs (mine, at least) were fairly common.  (I started using Blogger in 2006, and I did fairly well with Adsense on Blogger right after the financial crisis; people did seem fascinated with “bad news” or an anti-gospel.)

Most authors, including non-fiction, however, tend to set up professional web pages under their own personal names (or pseudonyms sometimes), and offer nothing where “it’s free” (unless you let Reid Ewing escort you to “the library”).  I first offered additional footnotes online, and then made all the text available in mid 1998 (before getting involved in the COPA litigation). But I get a general reaction that an author should fix in one place what he or she has to say about something, and move on.

Also, I first named my site “hppub.com” after my business name “High Productivity Publishing” and then started using the “doaskdotell” domain name in 1999.  I did not use my own real name (“John W. Boushka”) or nickname (“Bill Boushka”) as a domain name until 2006.  This gets into an area (domain names and potentially into trademarks) that I’ve dealt with on Blogger and will discuss some issues here at some later time.

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Many authors have a sales site, with just one affiliated blog.  Self-publishing companies have recently tried to pressure authors into buying large quantities of books at a discount and “beat Amazon” by selling the books themselves and taking credit cards (even on new smartphone attachments) and paypal on their own, rather than depending on third parties (although larger ISP’s can set up well secured credit card operations for authors). When you’re already famous, a trade publisher promotes your work. If you’re new, you’re supposed to start a real business, even capable of putting other people to work. That’s the new cultural mentality.  “Print on demand” gets replaced by the idea of networking with other small-publishers to do mini-print runs and then offer “deals” to consumers, to compete with the big outsources (Amazon and BN).  But I want to spend my time on more content, not on running retail or quasi-franchising, even if that is “real life” (and might give some more people low-end jobs).

So, how to “sell” books?

It is very hard to make one’s own personal narrative “sell”, however compelling it seems to the author, and however unusual or ironic and didactic (in teaching unusual or layered “moral lessons”) it may seem to be.  That’s why trade publishers rarely publish personal accounts except by established celebrities.  But on a few occasions, younger adults have such unusual accomplishments that they do get published, such as Jack Andraka’s “Breakthrough”, or Taylor Wilson’s “The Boy Who Played with Fusion”, which was written by a third party hired author.  These books have sold well, because of the obvious importance of what these young people have already accomplished with technology.  And there are already some successful biographies and films about Mark Zuckerberg.

It isn’t hard to see, then, that if someone found absolute proof of alien life (on Mars or anywhere else), a well written book on the subject would sell big.  Some books purporting to prove “heaven” have sold fairly well.

In non-fiction today, one thing that sells fairly well is “lifting up” other people who in the past wouldn’t have been popular or been seen as needy.  I’m not comfortable with doing that got money, and this wasn’t something that was done when I was growing up, but social media (and the “gofundme” culture) have created an environment where some consumers seem to want this.

What about, in my case, getting out of my own narrative and writing someone else’s?  Had I played things differently, I might have cultivated an opportunity to do this maybe 10-15 years ago.  (Here’s one example )  But even these are hard to sell if they seem too “narrow” or somehow self-serving.

That brings me to fiction.  First, I’m very comfortable with the idea of fiction based on real mysteries, especially science fiction, where it’s not necessary to “pimp” political correctness or “diversity” in the choice of heroes (because most big-time sellers in the past didn’t really do that – plot and concept was everything). I’m aware of the popularity of genre fiction, and particularly in the self-published world, where I get enormous numbers of tweets about horror, science fiction or especially fantasy. It’s hard to believe that many of these really sell, but there are plenty of YouTube videos on how to sell on Amazon, especially by getting reviews first, and my researching what sub-genres really sell first.  That’s the “write what other people want” idea.

Here’s a tip on getting reviews.

Here’s one on how to manipulate genres.

As a consumer, I buy these books only infrequently, possibly because of some kind of contact with the author.   I tend to buy policy books, and often prefer a physical copy.

But is it OK jut to put a book “out there” because you want what you have to say to be noticed or to affect a debate?  The POD industry acts like is it starting to get nervous about this model from some authors (me) who don’t “need” the income right away. This could discredit the idea for other authors who do.

Further, there is some evidence that the independent bookstore business is returning.  Small towns, often in resort areas, have “used book” shops attached to antique stores.  I’ve visited a few of these over time. There are also literacy projects, providing books to underprivileged children.  Yet, I’ve never found – or made – the time to get into these explicitly.  I’ve tended to go along with the idea that it’s “easier” to get stuff online, and a lot of it is free.  Our curse, newspapers are rebuffing this idea somewhat now with paywalls,

I will provide a couple of links comparing Amazon Creative Space and Lightning Source (I don’t use them).  One on Huffington, one on Goodreads.

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(Published: Friday, July 8. 2016 at 2:20 PM EDT)

Update: July 17

Can self-published authors really make a minimum-wage at selling books? Here’s a perspective.  Same question could be asked about web ad revenue.  Here’s another perspective, on how to maintain a sales rank with Kindle or other e-books.