Calling All Arizona Authors

books on smartphoneWe are just 11 days away from the opening of submissions to the 2015 OneBookAz contest. Submissions will be accepted from the first of October until the fourteenth. There are three categories, Adult, Teen and Kids. The contest is open to all Arizona authors. For more information please visit OneBookAz.org. This is a great opportunity to get your work in front of a broad audience.

Throttled By My Cable Company

cutting the cordAn alternate title for this post would also be, How the Cable Companies Punish You For Cutting the Cord. A few years ago my wife and I said goodbye to our DirectTv service and began relying on the internet services Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime for our TV habit. For the most part this has been a great success. We also purchased an unobtrusive indoor antenna, living as we do only 25 miles from Phoenix, over the air (OTA) is a viable option. Our Cox Communications provided internet was speedy enough to enable excellent streaming of our most watched TV shows and movies.

That was until our data cap reared its ugly head. The internet is full of arguments for and against data caps. As for myself, I have yet found an argument supported on a technical basis that data caps alleviate network congestion, their intended use. At best data caps are useful means to keep internet pirates from leaving their bit-torrent streams going 24/7 and at worst case just another revenue stream for the cable company. The latter came to fruition after the first couple of almost polite emails from Cox arrived telling us we had exceeded our plan’s data cap. We decided to move to a more expensive plan. We didn’t need the speed as much as the extra chunk of data.

My wife and I are not heavy bit-torrent users. We have used it to download an occasional movie or show not available via streaming, but most of our internet use comes from watching our favorite shows in Netflix. Our usage reflects that. Our upload use is very low compared to download, this was confirmed by a representative from Cox. A heavy bit-torrenter would have similar usage for both down and upload, while ours shows a heaver download usage indicating the use of streaming services. The curious part came when we asked some of our friends who were also heavy Netflix users if they get the same warnings. We found friends with similar habits but who kept Cox TV service never hit their data cap.

Things really became interesting when we contacted Cox. Before getting into that I should mention we subscribe to the second from the top service, Internet Premier, it features a 300 GB data limit and speed up to 100 mbps. Broadband speed is always a relative term and you are only promised a maximum possible speed that goes beyond what you typically will see. In this case our plan calls for downloads up to 100 mbs. After running some speed tests the best we could manage was 22 mbs. Many things effect broadband speed that are both out of the cable company’s and our control so speed figures should always be taken with a grain of salt. You can imagine our surprise when we spoke with a Cox sales rep who told us that something was wrong and they would be sending a technician out because their advertised rate is the rate we should be getting. We chuckled but said, “oh really.” Perhaps there was something wrong at the street or maybe even in our house. It was worth a shot. In addition they also gave us a discount for the next year on our service because we had not been receiving the posted speeds. It was a nice touch and gave us some hope.

The technician arrived at our home on time, and on Labor Day no less. It was a short visit. He began by telling us he looked at our history and noticed we had gone over our data cap a few times. Then in a tone that both my wife and I picked up on as accusatory told us to contact Cox because we obviously were being throttled. This was an unexpected revelation. The Cox website boldly states, “Cox does not throttle speeds.” We had asked about throttling over our previous two phone conversations with Cox representatives who both said that Cox does not throttle their customers yet in our living room was a Cox technician telling us that, you guessed it, we’ve been throttled. There was nothing that he could find wrong with our connections and our modem and routers were all current technology. So he left urging us to find out who we need to talk to at Cox to get throttled.

Will we? Probably not. The issue isn’t so much about going over an arbitrary line chosen by the cable company but it is about what happens when the same company offers two competing services, Internet and TV. They love bundling them together, as you can see from the ads. This starts out cheap but becomes very expensive. As you might expect the data used by Cox’s own services does not count against their data cap. Why would they crap where they eat, I guess?

We have since turned down our Netflix stream to a more conservative quality. The top Netflix stream will consume up to 7 GB of data an hour. At a data limit of 300 GB per month that stream will chew through that in just under 43 hours or about an hour and a half of TV a day in any given month. Now we were told by Cox representatives that if we had their TV service we would be watching more TV and not streaming as much so naturally the data cap would not be an issue, but we don’t want their TV service. Turning down the quality of Netflix results in a much smaller stream closer to .7 GB and hour. That 300 GB limit then allows for 429 hours of TV or just over 14 hours a day. That is a lot of TV watching but we still had to make the concession of accepting a lower quality picture. Such is life in this modern age I guess, instead of not being able to fight city hall the new adage should be you can’t fight corporate monopolies. 

10 Obsolete Myths

Here is something I found from Anne R. Allen’s wonderful blog,  10 Obsolete Beliefs That Can Block Self Publishing Success.

I file this under stuff writers need to hear. In this case they need to hear again just to make the point come across. Of all these beliefs the only one I might have issue with is number 3. Personal Appearances are very important for the self published writer. I agree, as the post says, care must be taken to explore the cost of the appearance against what you can hope to recoup. Some would argue that presence is everything, but unfortunately you can’t run a business on presence alone. You can sell more books in a month by making appearances just be sure to not spend more than you can hope to sell. While that $500 table sounds like a good idea at an event like Comicon remember your’s is just one small voice in that dealers’ room. It is very easy to fade into the buzz and noise of the place and that just leads to disappointment.

We are in new territory, and the way things have always been done is no longer the way to get things done. One constant remains though. If you have any hope of selling your writing you still have it in your power and must, I repeat, must ensure that what you are selling is the best writing you are capable of delivering, then get an editor and make it even better.

Monkeys Need Not Apply

monkey selfieI noticed this story on The Register that made me scratch my head. US Copyright Office rules that monkeys CAN’T claim copyright over their selfies I don’t personally know many monkeys but I guess some have tried to copyright their selfies. The skeptic in me sent me looking for some corroboration and I did find several news sources reporting the story. Actually the regulation states that the rights to such photos only reside with humans. I know animal discrimination at its worst.

Said is Dead, Or Is It?

While strolling across the blogosphere I came on Heather Squires’s website that had an interesting graphic. Said is dead. The graphic is a handy tool for alternatives to using , “said.” While I agree in principle that no reader wants to stare down a whole page of, “he said, she said, he said.” Equally taxing would be a page of, “he stated, she replied, he mumbled, she questioned.” There is no need to raid the thesaurus every time you want to write some dialog. Like anything else in life a little bit will do you.

The goal of writing good dialog is keeping the reader on track as to who is saying what. Throw in some thoughts and this can become quite a challenge for even the best writers. I find it most effective to blend in actions. To break up the dialog and cue the reader in to who is speaking without relying on a said or any other word. For example…

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
“No,” Kim replied.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be,” Dad mumbled angrily.

Let’s try that same exchange but with a little bit of action.

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
Kim looked up from her book, “No.” Then went right back to reading.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be.” Dad mumbled as he stormed out of the room.

Now this is just a simple example and in a longer bit of dialog the writer would mix up actions and expressions along with said, asked and so on. The goal is to keep the reader aware of who is speaking but at that same time giving them something interesting to read. So remember, “said,” may or may not be dead, but to keep your writing off of life support explore the alternatives and mix things up.

Great Time Had By All

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The first Summer Author Event was a success. I met new readers and had some interesting discussions. It was quite an experience being in a room with so many people who have such a passion for reading. It did my heart good when asking people, “so, what do you read?” The most common response I recieved was, “a little of everything.” The good news for those people is this is the best time to be a reader as the choices are so numerous. The event featured authors from multiple genres so there truly was a little of everything there. The next event is in the planning stages and I plan to be there. Possibly with a new book.

Is Amazon a Monopoly?

Amazon-iconDepending on who you speak with Amazon is either already a monopoly or working real hard at becoming one. Truth be told, I do a lot of shopping at Amazon.com, not just books, but electronics, household items, even clothes. The selection is unparalleled, prices are affordable, and delivery is quick, when using Prime. Do I wish them continued success? Sure. Do I want them to become a monopoly? No.

Much continues to be written about the ongoing spat between Amazon and Hachett Publishing. I’m on the side who wants the market to dictate eBook prices. Right now that appears to be Amazon. You can read their position here. Though many traditionally published authors remain on both sides of the argument, what Hachette is demanding is higher eBook prices, plain and simple. They want to set eBook prices and pay Amazon a share like they do in the iTunes Store. A practice, I might add, employed by Apple to lure publishers away from Amazon. Amazon wants to continue working like any other wholesaler, buying the books at one price and selling them for what they decide is a fair amount. Is that evidence of creating a monopoly?

Granted if Amazon can afford to sell eBooks cheaper than anyone else can they will be on their way to becoming a monopoly by attrition. That is where the Kindle in all its forms comes in. The pricing on the Kindle, however, suggests the opposite. Those devices are offered at an inexpensive price to drive eBook and media sales. So all this talk about monopoly is at best a cautionary warning and at worst pure fear mongering. My opinion is that right now and in this particular case Amazon is doing what is best for Amazon. If that means eBook prices stay “reasonable” then it is a benefit for consumers. If it gets to the point where a monopoly is looking like a real possibility then my opinion may change. Let me know what you think in the comments.

It’s At the Library

Something that I think independent writers overlook is the possibility of getting their books in their local library. Whether or not this results in future sales is open for discussion but at this point it simply comes under the topic of affirmation. I have my books available in the Avondale Public Library and at the Estrella Foothills High School Library and get a warm feeling when I see them on the shelf. The link below is an interesting article with some tips on getting your books on the shelf at your local library.

http://valleybookblog.com/libraries/how-to-get-your-books-into-a-library/