Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dragoncon Stalking Guide

In a couple of days I'll flap my wings and fly to ye olde Dragoncon, where I will be staying off-site for the first time and desperately hoping it is not a colossal error. I will be rooming with the marvelous Jay Smith of HG World fame, and with luck he will not turn out to be a serial killer.

I will have fewer costume changes than usual, due to the aforementioned off-site lodgings, so don't be expecting the ballgowns this year. Besides, I'm not sure Jay knows how to lace a corset. I'll be hanging out with my charming editor Sean Taylor, with the usual assortment of Atlantean miscreants, and probably will not meet Keith DeCandido for the seventeenth time.

Do try to find me at my autograph session or reading. For starters, I'll have books to sell. But even if you're not buying and I've signed everything you own up to and including your right arm, come see me! Free chocolate! And if you know me online, please introduce yourself! For that matter, if you've met me four times in person, still introduce yourself. Somehow my brain gets erased at con and I will just stand there saying "duh, hi" when I've probably known you for years.

For your stalking convenience, here's where you can find me this week in Atlanta:

4 p.m. - 2012: It's Here! (Westin/Vinings)

11:30 a.m. - Read All About It: Zombies in the Media (Westin/Vinings)
2:30 p.m. - Autograph Session (Marriott/M301)
7 p.m. - Stephen King's Hollywood (Hyatt/Embassy A-B)
8:30 p.m. - Heroines Among Us (Hyatt/Embassy D-F)

11:30 a.m. - Reading (Hyatt/Marietta)

10 p.m. - Castle Rock Confidential: Stephen King Update (Hyatt/Embassy A-B)

If you don't catch up with me at any of these, I may be ducking in and out of other panels to heckle my fellow authors. I might theoretically go to a party or three. If you want my books (and why wouldn't you?) you can find them at the Missing Volume, located in the Marquis Ballroom exhibition hall in the Marriott.

I have an early flight this year, departing Atlanta at oh-my-god-thirty on Monday morning. While I will not be at the show on the last day, my books will! If you miss me, you can still get my stuff from the Missing Volume.

See you at the show!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

10 Reasons I Hate My Printer

As seen on Twitter, in the original order. The reasons I hate my bloody printer, with which I have been locked in mortal combat for going on two years now, I think.

No. 1: It cannot find my wireless network, and NEVER HAS. This has persisted despite two different residences, a new modem and new router. I should rephrase: it can see the network, but it cannot complete a connection with it. Ever. No matter what my good friends on the Kodak helpline try.

No. 2: New ink cartridges allow color printing for about four sheets, then it all turns to hell. I installed new cartridges tonight so we could print the Boy's images for his new project. By the time we got to the third sheet, the Cardinal logo was yellow. It has completely lost the ability to calibrate its colors despite a recalibration this afternoon.

No. 3: It has the exact same problems as the original printer, which took months of hell before they replaced it. Some of you lived and suffered through my increasingly-hysterical Tweets while I wrestled with Kodak. After multiple attempts to fix it, they sent me a new one... which stopped working only a few months after arrival. Just like the first one.

No. 4: It now jams every other time I try to print a photo. This is a new one. It apparently doesn't like its own photo-print tray, because every other time I try, it jams up and that causes the printer to get all confused. The only solution is to cancel the print job and shut the whole printer down because apparently it can't figure out how to reset itself after this debacle.

No. 6: It requires the replacement of empty color cartridges when I want to print in black and white. This is a feature, not a bug, and one that all printer designers should just stop. We get that they want us to buy more ink. We're going to buy more ink. But in the meantime, let me print in black and white and don't make the whole printer shut itself down and refuse to play ball when I'm out of cyan. It's tacky. And it always happens at 11:30 p.m. when Office Depot is closed.

No. 5: The ink is actually so cheap that I cannot get generics, which means it ends up costing more. Oops. My previous printer was an Epson, and the cost of the ink was literally more than the printer. My primary criteria in my printer hunt was cheap ink, and I chose a Kodak ESP 9250 all-in-one that ostensibly did everything I wanted to and the ink was cheap as hell. Only I failed to consider generic and remanufactured ink, which can be significantly lower for Canon and HP printers. When I tried to find out about Kodak, they said the ink is so cheap that they can't undersell them... so they don't try.

No. 7: Kodak's tech people have never been able to solve any of its issues. I've chronicled this before. They walk me through their procedures, which I could recite by heart, and they can never resolve the problem. So they pass me up the food chain to someone else who can't solve it. Since the warranty expired, I no longer even try; the only useful thing they ever did was replace the stinking thing, and that only lasted a few months.

No. 8: It makes me so annoyed that I lose track of my numbers. Anyone have a sledgehammer?

No. 9: Sometimes it works just for a print or two, giving me a ray of hope before dashing me to the rocks. Today I got two black-and-white prints of the kids and one of the family printed, but the quality on that last one was pretty rough. I should have known. As soon as we got into Boy's project... a yellow Cardinal and a green-hued portrait, with yellow that should have been purple. Argh. For four or five minutes, I thought I had a working printer. Except for that whole wifi thing.

No. 10: I cannot afford to replace it, and it knows. It sits there on my desk and mocks me. Everyone seems to recommend HP printers, and I've picked out a couple models that do the things I want. Print, copy, scan, fax and photo, though I'd sacrifice fax or photo if I absolutely had to (and will just get separate machines on eBay for those things).

But a new printer isn't happening, not unless I sell, oh, ALL the books. Dragoncon's a-coming, but somehow I doubt that's in the works. In the meantime, I will continue the Battle of the Printer, as I send the rest of those prints to Shutterfly.

Aren't you all proud? I got through this without profanity.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Katniss defeats Harry Potter... or does she?

This just in: Hunger Games Trilogy Outsells Harry Potter! ABC, Washington Post, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News... everyone's excited for Katniss Everdeen.

Here's the catch: It's misleading as hell. And it's being repeated all over the 'net. Sure, the Hunger Games trilogy has outsold the Harry Potter books... on Amazon. Supposedly.

Contrary to popular belief, there are millions of books sold every year from booksellers other than Amazon. Yes, they exist. Online and off. Want proof?

As of June 2011, the most recent figures I could find, Harry Potter books had sold about 450 million copies. The numbers Scholastic released this month for The Hunger Games trilogy declare about 50 million copies, print and digital. In other words, about one-ninth what Harry Potter has sold.

That's nothing to sneeze at, and it's worth pointing out that Hunger Games is only three books published in four years with one movie, while the boy wizard has been flying his broomstick for 15 years through seven books with eight movies.

But I find the journalism very disappointing, with dozens of news outlets leaping in with the same misleading headlines. While the stories vary in their breathlessness, none of them point out this staggering Amazon-centric bias that insists the only bookseller we should consider is Amazon, and the only books that matter are the ones Amazon says we should read.

In fact, Jezebel (usually one of my favorite sites) comes right out and says Amazon is "the only bookseller that really matters anymore." Considering that Harry Potter managed to sell 400 million copies and more without Amazon, that's clearly bull.

As an author and a journalist, I am greatly concerned by this.

Dig a little deeper into the motivations, folks. Amazon declares Hunger Games the winner for all-time sales over Harry Potter just in time for the DVD release, while Amazon spokeswoman Sarah Gelman refuses to release the actual sales numbers. We're just supposed to take their word for it. And no one questions this timing?

Instead they simply parrot what Amazon editorial director Sara Nelson said, that it's amazing how Hunger Games overtook Harry Potter in just four years. Several times Nelson's comment is quoted as being from "Book World's Sara Nelson" as if she were a columnist for Book World, when her entire statement was a press release reprinted by Book World word for word.

The New York Times comes the closest to actual journalism by asking Scholastic – U.S. publisher for both series – and they state currently there are 150 million copies of Harry Potter in print in the U.S. and only 50 million for Hunger Games. That's still three-to-one in favor of Hogwarts, just in America.

I have no doubt that Hunger Games is well on its way to being a true literary phenomenon. But the lack of critical thinking in these press releases retyped as news is quite worrisome, particularly when an ulterior motive from the source is so obvious.

More to the point: It proves conclusively that there are many, many booksellers that matter just as much if not more than Amazon. Amazon is the biggest and the most convenient to be sure, and its colossal impact on publishing cannot be denied. But there are thousands of brick-and-mortar bookstores, online sellers and direct sales from publishers out in this brave new world, and the real numbers show that it would be foolish to ignore them.

As to whether Katniss's arrows will truly defeat the Boy Who Lived, I leave that for you to decide.

random morning conversation

Me: You've got this whole Javier Bardem look going on today, it's nice.
Him: Who?
Me: Javier Bardem. He's an actor. *finds picture on cell* This guy.
Him: I look nothing like him.
Me: You do too. *finds Jeffrey Dean Morgan* Actually you look even more like him.
Him: Okay, you've shown me that one before.
Me: Yeah. I'd cast him to play you in the inevitable TV-movie about us.
Him: ... no.
Me: What, don't you think we'd make a fun TV-movie? Maybe Lifetime?
Him: No.
Me: HBO? Skinimax! Bamp chicka bamp bamp.
Him: *facepalm*
Me: Sci-Fi channel?
Him: Now you're talking.

I spared him the follow-up question of who he'd cast to play me. Some things are just too cruel to do to a man.

Monday, August 06, 2012

I am woman, watch me spend

I was reading something wedding-related - of course, it's my new hobby - and came across an interesting quote. Of course now I cannot find it, but it was the editor of Bride magazine and he said in an interview that at no other time in her life is a woman as valuable to marketers than she is when she is planning her wedding.

Believe it or not, this column is not (entirely) going to be about weddings.

It has stuck with me for days, despite my inability to find the exact quote, because it doesn't make sense to me. Oh sure, I've noticed it. From the moment I wrote my name on some sheet identifying myself as "bride," I have been deluged with offers. They're in the mailbox and inbox, they are soooo friendly and happy to see me. The come-ons are constant. Photographers, videographers, florists, planners, hotels, restaurants, venues, caterers, dress shops, tea rooms, photo booth rentals, bakers, travel agents (yes, they still exist)... everyone wants the money we haven't saved yet.

I don't actually mind, to tell you the truth. Planning a wedding is a huge deal, and I want to find all the possible options. The ads save me hunting time. That's beside the point.

Sure, in the current depressed market, I get why they're glomping on to me. Weddings are a big deal. The industry projections show that 66,000 couples will marry in the next three years, spending a total of $2 billion-with-a-b dollars. That's just on the weddings, not the gifts and the rings and travel and other things that also hump a huge pile of cash into the economy.

It is expected that in New York state alone, the legalization of same-sex marriage will add $284 million a year into the economy and $27 million in state and local taxes. But those figures expect that the average wedding will cost $4,000. I'd like to know who they were interviewing, because the national average for a wedding is about $28,000 and the New York City average is $77,000, so chalk me up for NOT getting married in Noo Yawk.

(Note: We are not spending $28,000 either. Just in case anyone was wondering.)

It's a recession, so why are we still spending a fortune on getting hitched? Well, we're not. Again with the statistics I couldn't find because all the post-its fell out of my book, but the amount of money spent on a wedding as percentage of the average family income has actually declined in the last decade or two. But the magazine editor's comment stands: nearly everything in the wedding-industrial complex is geared toward women, knowing it is brides and mothers-in-law who will make 90 percent of the decisions and that at no other time will they be as willing to spend a fortune on colored napkins.

Seriously. One venue wants to charge a buck a napkin for blue instead of white.

But it doesn't make sense. I did find these statistics, from a TIME magazine look at the growing buying power of women and a number of industry articles:

• In 2009, 35 percent of women had a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 27 percent of men.
• Women hold half the nonfarm jobs in the U.S. and own one-third of the companies.
• 35 percent of women make more money than their husbands.

So they have money... do they spend it? TIME says so:

• Women make 58 percent of online retail decisions.
• They make 80 percent of health care decisions.
• Women purchased 47 percent of the consumer electronics in 2007.
• For general household spending, women make the decisions 72 percent of the time.
• Oh, and they're 44 percent of NFL fans.

That last one really catches my eye because of the growling I experience every time I watch the Super Bowl. The ads are always directed at men, and it makes no sense. A few years ago, I dug up the statistics because the 2010 Super Bowl was the most viciously misogynist I had seen in many years (witness columns titled, "Pathetic Men and the Women Who Berate Them.") Here's what I found, for the CultureGeek column I wrote:

Women are nearly half the viewers of the Super Bowl. They are the deciders in 65 percent of new car purchases, 60 percent of the money spent on men's clothing and 75 percent feel the auto industry ignores them. And yet, that year we were treated to the image of a man held up for his car tires, and giving his wife over to the robbers instead. Funny.

That's from only three years ago. Then look at what MediaPost found this year:

• Women control $7 trillion in consumer and business spending annually.
• Their purchasing decisions are now up to 85 percent.
• Traditionally "male" consumer decisions such as automobiles, home improvement and consumer electronics are now decided by women more than 50 percent of the time.
• 75 percent of women are the primary shoppers for their homes (and no, that's not just groceries).
• 90 percent of mothers are online, 76 percent of women in general. And we talk: brands are 25 percent more likely to be mentioned by women than men online, for good or ill, and 92 percent pass along deal information to other women.
• 58 percent of women would toss the television set if required to give up an electronic device. Only 11 percent would ditch the laptop.

And 91 percent of women say advertisers don't understand them.

Why? Because advertisers are still trying to sell us dish soap and wedding rings. Watch any given car ad, and it'll be all about image, a smooth ride, the horsepower... you hear very little about gas mileage, reliability, cargo space and adaptability. And do I even need to bring up the insulting and sophomoric GoDaddy ads, which perversely cater to adolescent males as if they're the only ones that would ever need a web site hosting service?

If all this is just too feminist-ranty for you, consider this: I own an online retail business. When I started my business, hardly anyone marketed to me. No one offered me services, no one tried to gain my business for the printing, advertising and supplies I need. Anything I need for my business, I have to seek out. There's the occasional exception - after I became a regular customer at a retail supply company, they started sending me a catalog. And there was that one letter from an insurance guy, addressed to "Mr. Donald."

I signed up as a bride and I'm swamped with postcards. I'm doing something traditionally female, and all the marketing is geared toward me.

I can hear the counter-debate now: Madison Avenue and its associated marketing megafirms know their numbers. They must see numbers we don't see and they skew their ads and marketing toward men for the serious stuff and leave the weddings and cereal brands to the ladies. I mean, nobody misses a buck on Madison Avenue. Their one and only True Belief is in the almighty dollar. Wherever there is a target demographic to exploit, they'll find it.

But I'm beginning to believe Madison Avenue stopped paying attention to the changing nature of this society around the time of Mad Men. We left the white gloves in the drawer, gentlemen. Might it be that you notice, sometime before the next Super Bowl?