Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Green Eggs and Spam

Google Plus keeps bugging me,
"Use me, use me! I am free!"

I will not use you, Google Plus.

"Would you use me on a bus?
Would you use me on a train?
Would you use me on a plane?"

Not on a plane.
Not on a train.
Not on a bus.
I will not use you, Google Plus.

"You use my browser and my mail.
With Google Plus you could not fail!"

Gmail's fine, and Chrome is great
But Google Plus I kind of hate.

"Would you could you on a Nook?
Or instead of your Facebook?"

I would not could not on a Nook,
Nor instead of my Facebook.

I will not use you to find fun.
I will not use you to Plus One.
I will not use you on my Droid.
My Circles are all null and void.
I will not use you to share pics.
I will not use your other tricks.

Although I like Green Eggs and Ham,
I do not like you, cuz you're spam.

So please stop making such a fuss;
I will not use you, Google Plus!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dimes from Heaven?

I'm not sure where to share this, but I gotta talk.

I very emphatically did NOT believe in an afterlife...until yesterday.

As some of you readers know, my wife Sa and I lost our best friend about a year ago. I often argued with him about ghosts, afterlife, and the Beyond. He was a big believer; claimed he could see the dead, communicated with his dead aunt via a medium...all that. I really thought it was all hooey.

After he died, my wife, also a believer, started telling me she was finding mysterious coins everywhere. No big surprise, as I'm not good about removing spare change from my pockets. But I'd roll my eyes every time she said she thought they were from Kent.

Then, yesterday morning. Breakfast. Sa had been at the computer in our home office, commenting on Facebook about something Kent would have had strong opinions about; thinking about him. I set down my cereal and coffee on the dining room table. Sa went into the kitchen.  I went to the living room to fetch my tablet to read the news.

As I walked back into the dining room, I heard something small clatter to the floor. Sa was in the still in the kitchen. I said "What was that?"

I had heard where it landed, on the other side of the table. I walked around the table. Precisely in the middle of the floor, directly in front of a beautiful piece of furniture that we had taken as a memento from Kent's house, was a dime. My sense of the sound was that it had fallen from between four and eight feet, and landed without rolling or bouncing on the hardwood floor, like the Ring in Lord of the Rings. I looked around. It simply couldn't fallen from anywhere physical.  The nearest piece of clothing was several feet away. I had been re-entering the room from the far side. I was still in my sleepwear...no pockets. Sa hadn't left the kitchen. There had been no movement in the room.  I said, "It's a dime. It looks like a dime just fell from the ceiling."

Curious, I thought, as I picked it up and put it on the table. Sa told me it was Kent, and I laughed it off, finished my breakfast, moved on. But after a couple of hours, I became unsettled. I went back to the dining room to have another look at that dime. It was still sitting on the dining room table.

Next to a second dime that I swear wasn't there before.

My view of the universe has been rocked a bit. Still processing.

Do you have a "dimes from heaven" story?

UPDATE Sun. Oct. 6

I've spent a day thinking about whether to post this, because it's...well, it's intense, and personal. But I started this thread, and you've been kind enough to contribute, so you should know.

*deep breath*

Bear with my story.

Two nights ago after Sa's show, we got home about midnight and Di came in for a nightcap. I told Di I needed to show her exactly what happened with the dropped dimes last week. In order to do the demonstration, I needed two dimes. I thought maybe the original two dimes were still on our dining room table, but I didn't see them there. The table also had some stuff on it (you know how dining room tables can get), and I wanted to clear it off to approximate its state on the morning of the dropped dimes.

So, while Sa and Di chatted outside, I cleared off the table, especially the half where I had placed the first dime and where the second dime had appeared. I looked at the table, approved it for the demo. My clearing hadn't turned up the two dimes, so I went to a little Sa bitty bowl in our office. where there were three dimes…two of them probably the ones from the day of the dime drop, that Sa had bussed. I took two of them for the demo.

I called Sa and Di in from outside. They stood around the table. Holding the two dimes in my hand, I described the dropping sound I had heard, placed a dime on the floor to show Di where I had found it, and put it on the table, just as I had that morning. Then, without moving, I explained that I had gone about my business and come back two hours later to find a second dime next to the first. I put down the second dime to show where it had appeared.

As I took my hand away from the table, I saw…I shit you not…two MORE dimes eight inches to the left of the two I had just placed. I immediately shouted "Okay, where the FUCK did those dimes come from?!?"

Di and Sa had both been staring at the table the whole time. I had searched the table for dimes TWICE in the previous five minutes and found none. We all agreed. Those dimes were simply NOT THERE ten seconds before. And then they were.

See the attached pics. Don't tell me that none of the three of us would have noticed those other two dimes, set in precisely parallel orientations of Roosevelt's profile, in a flower in the tablecloth design. In the bad cellphone photo, the two "new" dimes at the top of frame are dark spots in the flower design that look more like pennies, but I'm posting the closeup, too.

Yes, that happened. Again, I shit you not. You can ask Diane Laskin or Sa Winfield.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Someone Isn't Paying Enough for e-Books

I have a sad announcement. July 1st is the last day you'll be able to buy my second novel, The Perfect Burrito, on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and the iTunes bookstore.


The decision is all mine. I'm yanking it from the virtual shelves, because I've come to the conclusion that my work isn't being valued enough by...well, read on and come to your own conclusion regarding the culprit(s).

After the success of my first novel, My Name Is Will (it sold a respectable 30,000 copies, despite being released in 24.99 hardcover mid-2008, at what we now know was the height of the Great Recession and the beginning of the decline of the print publishing industry), I spent three years, full time, researching and writing the The Perfect Burrito. I think it's the best work I've ever done. It's not just a jokey compendium of burrito reviews, you know, but an unabashedly literary tale that owes more to Don Quixote, Lolita, and Jitterbug Perfume than Anthony Bourdain. The publisher of My Name Is Will liked it, but not enough to make it one of the elite Twelve books a year they publish. Fair enough.

After a half dozen glowing declines from other big New York houses (I cheekily used some of their effusive praise as blurb quotes in the book's front matter), I decided to take what I thought was the innovative, forward thinking route of a self-published e-book that would capitalize on my collection of hats in the areas of performance, production, direction, and technology by creatin a multitude of illustrations, photos, video, audio, and other extras to accompany the text. The experience would be optimized for tablets and Kindles, but would be accessible to anyone with a computer. And all of the many extras would be freely available on the web, hosted on my own website. All readers would have to pay for would be the story itself, the e-book text, which could also be read on its own without relying on the extras. And the e-book would be inexpensive, $3.99. The price of a grande latte at Starbucks.

I thought this was a business model that would work. The web abounds with tales of authors making mints off of low-priced e-books. And mine would offer much more for the money. I spent days with a professional photographer, in costume as one of my protagonists, visiting the many locations up and down California's El Camino Real, shooting photo illustrations. I pulled in every favor imaginable to get George Takei—George freakin' Takei!—to star in a video version of a memorable scene from the story, and then "embedded" it in the e-book. (It's also out there for free on YouTube).  I rewrote sections of the book to ensure that the illustrations matched the text and vice versa. I did nationwide promotions, one through Kindle Nation Daily and one on my own to give away not one but two Kindle Fires. I contacted bloggers and online reviewers—the few who will read anything but vampire, thriller, and romance novels—to try to get them to feature my book. Because the website was so intricately linked with the text, I built the entire site, which seamlessly links the e-book to over 400 photos, videos, maps and readings, myself. All of this—the production and post-production of videos and photos, the website building, the unusually complex coding of the e-book—took another year of full-time work. In addition to the uncounted man-hours on my part, I paid photographer, cameraman, sound man, video editor, jacket designer, research assistant, proofreader, and copyeditor for their various services. Beyond my own time, when you add in travel expenses for me and my small crew, launch party expenses, postcards, promotions, software and the like, I spent somewhere around 10k to get the beast (which started out as a simple road story, much less complex than the dual-timeline My Name Is Will—or so I thought at first) launched.

I didn't expect to get rich on the thing, but I hoped to at least break even, while establishing myself as an innovator in a new, immersive medium for the presentation of long form fiction. Pricing the e-book at $2.99 (which is mid-range for e-books these days), about two bucks of every sale goes right into my pocket, with the other buck going to my agent and the online retailer. So, I figured, all I have to do is sell 5K copies—a small fraction of the sales of My Name Is Will—to break even.

I was hugely disappointed in the opening weeks' sales reports. Double digits? Seriously? But common e-book wisdom is that you must wait six months before beginning to assess sales numbers; e-books depend on word of mouth to a greater extent than traditional books. So I've waited.

Ready to hear the six-month figures? So far I've sold exactly 232 copies of the book, for a net of about $460. That pretty much covers the food tab at the launch party. I used to make that much in sweaty dollar bills in a couple of 20-minute, pass-the-hat Hamlet shows, back when I was 23. Hell, I could probably throw on an Aragorn costume right now and go make that much posing for pictures on Hollywood Blvd.

232...mind you, I have three times that many friends on Facebook.

232. And almost all of those sales were in 2012. The entire year-to-date figure for 2013: 42.

For the month of June so far...exactly 1.

The recommendation from my agent and other e-book pros is that I should try dropping the price to .99¢ and run another promotion. My agent tells me that one of her authors did this and sold 1200 books in a week. Okay, so that's another $600. Not bad, but keeping those numbers up beyond the one-week promotion seems unlikely to me. Sure, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I could make that 10 or even 20k by selling my book for a buck, although I'm sceptical.

But here's the thing. All marketing strategies and price-point-and-distribution-channel calculations aside, I'm laying down the freaking law.

You can't have my book for a buck.

I simply won't let you read it at that price. I don't care what the free market says, four years of my blood, sweat and tears is worth more. I've been a professional writer my entire adult life, so I think I have a pretty good handle on what my work should return, and a copy of The Perfect Burrito is worth more than a latte. I think it's worth more than a movie, even a pretty good movie. I think it's better than my first novel, which cost $24.99 in hardcover. True, you don't get the nice binding and jacket art, a jewel for your library shelf and something for your grandkids to donate to a library or toss out; but then George Takei doesn't magically appear on the page at his first mention in a paper edition.

So: I've decided you can own your own digital copy of my book for $13.99. That's a buck less than what the paperback of My Name Is Will cost, and I think The Perfect Burrito is a great entertainment value at that price.

Oh, and you can forget about Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com and the rest. They did nothin' for me. If you want to buy The Perfect Burrito after July 1, you can get it directly from me, the author, in PDF, ePub, or Mobi (Kindle) format. Just PayPal $13.99 to jesstifer@mac.com.

So who's to blame for the undervaluing of authors work? You may have reached your own conclusion, but I strongly believe that readers, and consumers of digital property in general, should re-calibrate their sense of worth. Think about it. That app on your phone—you know, the one NOT developed by a huge media giant—is probably worth more than $1.99. You can't have the full New York Times for free online. You should really shell out something for all that porn you're watching.

And you might be prepared to pay your friendly neighborhood author in advance for his next novel.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Who Dat at Tulane?

This is what I call a perfect mix of business and pleasure. Thanks to our friend Nancy Gunn, who's gone from Executive Producer of The Celebrity Apprentice to the owner and operator of The Auld Sweet Olive Bed and Breakfast in New Orleans, I'm headed way down yonder.

'Splaining: Nancy did her post-graduate work at Tulane (hence her longing, despite the siren song of The Donald's comb-over, to return to the Big Easy.) And when she heard that her alma mater theater department was mounting a production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), she, excellent showrunner that she is, saw a win/win/win opportunity. So: Tulane is footing the bill for me to come out and do a post-show talk and Q&A after the performances on June 25 and 26; and we'll be staying in the sumptuous, stately rooms of the Sweet Olive, where all the recent reviews suggest Nancy is kicking it as an innkeeper.

It also happens that Sa's rock hero Todd Rundgren is celebrating his 65th birthday with Toddstock 6.5, at a plantation house near Baton Rouge, so we'll be visiting there, too—and hanging out a bit with the purveyors of Toddstore.

Look for photos to make you jealous, or if you have friends in NOLA, send 'em our way.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Coming this Summer: The Perfect Burrito!

I just gave myself the best possible birthday present, announcing the upcoming publication of my second novel, The Perfect Burrito on Facebook and Twitter.

This will be the culmination of years of work on the project, much of it complete, much still to come.

I was halfway through writing the first draft of the novel when the first iPad was released. Because the story was about a food blogger, and I had always intended to create a real blog to complement the written story, I was immediately flooded with ideas about how the iPad could revolutionize the reading experience in general, and my book in particular. I immediately went back to the beginning of the book, and re-thought what it might be like to read it as a multimedia experience.

Unfortunately, my ideas were a little ahead of the New York publishing industry's readiness to accept and embrace e-books. But now the stars have aligned. My splendid book agency, Trident Media Group, recently launched a dedicated e-book division to focus, among other things, on original e-book content by its existing authors. I'll be one of the guinea pigs for the new program. It's a brave new world, but I hope that by being involved with the project from the outset, I'll be able to help guide the development of the marketing, distribution, and promotion of e-books within the existing industry framework -- development which, judging by my assessment of New York's reluctant attitude readjustment regarding e-books, it desperately needs.

More details about how content for the book will be accessible to you, as a reader, is still to come, but I'll be spending the next few months creating what I hope will be some fun features that will take you beyond black-and-white text.

Also, for the technophobes and wordophiles among you, fear not. The novel is written to be completely enjoyable and accessible as a stand-alone, text-based experience, and I'm immensely proud of it "as is." You will, however, need an e-reader (or a computer) to read it... there are currently no plans for ink and paper publication.

Stay tuned for more details, including release dates, final cover art, and sneak peeks! Follow me here, on Twitter at @jesswinfield and @perfect_burrito, or on Facebook for news as it breaks!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Regarding "Occupy Anonymous"

I've got nothing against movies about Shakespeare. I've also got nothing against Roland Emmerich movies; I loved Independence Day; thought 2012 was ridiculous fun; though Day After Tomorrow was just ridiculous, but still.

Yet I launched a little tongue-in-cheek Event on Facebook called "Occupy 'Anonymous,' to spread the word to impressionable movie-goers that contrary to the beliefs of the creators of Emmerich's new "Anonymous," the works of Shakespeare were, in fact, written by Shakespeare. Having spent a good portion of my life researching the Bard (for one hit play, one self-help book ("What Would Shakespeare Do?") and my novel MY NAME IS WILL - A NOVEL OF SEX, DRUGS, AND SHAKESPEARE, I reckon I know as much about the documentary evidence of Shakespeare's life as most amateur scholars. I've also, out of due diligence, read the most influential Oxfordian theory volumes: Ogburn's SHAKESPEARE IDENTIFIED and Anderson's THE MAN WHO WAS SHAKESPEARE. While there's some interesting and almost-convincing evidence - strictly circumstantial, mind you -- in both of these works, mostly about places Oxford visited that appear in Shakespeare's plays, they fall apart under the weight of the conspiracy theory that had would have to have been maintained to keep Oxford's authorship of the Works secret for decades past his lifetime. They also don't bother to answer questions like, "Well, mightn't Shakespeare have visited those places, too?" It should come as no surprise that there are precious few Shakespeare scholars who think anyone but Shakespeare wrote the Works.

And the worst argument for Oxford is, IMHO, his own poetry. Reasonable minds my disagree regarding the quality of the verse, but to my ear his poems are both unexceptional and unlike Shakespeare.

Anyway, my little open letter, a mashup of Occupy Wall Street and the Authorship "Debate," is approaching 1000 likes and 750 shares on Facebook, so I think I've done my bit for spreading some evidence.

By all means see Anonymous if you wish. It's a beautiful re-creation of Elizabethan London. The set decoration of Oxford's office is worth the price of admission. The confusing story and unmemorable dialogue are not as good as, say, most episodes of The Tudors, but there are some fine performances (notably Vanessa Redgrave's) and it has a worthy message about the power of the pen.

Just don't believe its main premise, that Oxford wrote Shakespeare. It simply ain't true. If you really want to dive into the whys and wherefores, the Shakespeare Authorship site's How We Know Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare has the best compendium of answers for you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

YouTube vs. Vimeo

I just posted a couple of new videos on YouTube, Vintage Reduced Shakespeare Company stuff. One is a bit of footage from 1986 featuring the rarely-performed Encores to Romeo and Juliet during the period that it was a standalone pass-the-hat act. The other is a 5 minute preview of the 90 minute Reduced Shakespeare Company 30th Anniversary Retrospective.

The Retrospective itself, though, is not on YouTube. Why? Simply put, because it's ninety minutes long. Increasingly, filmmakers are using other hosting services to showcase their long form videos, rather than breaking it into parts to accommodate YouTube's 15-minute limit on videos.  And Vimeo is awesome. Not only does it allow bigger files and longer videos, but it allows you to change your video after it's published -- without losing comments, likes and page views. And it seems to handle more formats and codecs than without the sync problems that often afflict YouTube.

Seems to me that YouTube is losing customers, and page views, by not offering an upgraded hosting plan to allow for long-form videos. Right?