Scarlet Letters

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Post-Christmas Sales... and an explanation of LitUnd

No, this isn't just ads, I swear. You can trust me!

First, the ads. *ducks* Seventh Star Press is putting my latest on sale for the post-Christmas season: Nocturne Infernum for 99c. Ninety-nine cents, people. That's three novels, an entire trilogy, for less than a dollar. I personally am pretty proud of this book, which is really three books. If you bought the original trilogy, know that this isn't the Lucas Edition with extra CGI and annoying plot changes. It's the Director's Cut, with the dreck cleared out. Buy it on Kindle, or better yet: gift it to a friend. (Yeah, you can do that with ebooks, and it's awesome.) The ebook is regularly $4.99 - still a bargain for three novels. The paperback is $21.95 if you buy it from Amazon, $20 if you buy it from Literary Underworld.

Which leads me to the real purpose of today's post. I think I've done a poor job in telling people what the hell LitUnd is, and that's ironic for someone in the communications business. Literary Underworld is not a publisher, not a traditional bookseller, not a clearinghouse or reseller. It is a cooperative of authors and publishers, trying to eliminate some of the waste in book sales by selling directly to the public online and at conventions.

The vast majority of Literary Underworld authors (we call them Underlords) are traditionally published or hybrid published (as in, they started in traditional press and have also self-published some of their work). They apply to be included and are selected by a committee of authors. The member small presses place their work with us on consignment, with a focus on science fiction, fantasy, horror, steampunk and similar speculative fiction with related nonfiction.

It started as most good ideas start, with authors bored in the dealer's room. I looked around the room one day and realized that there were five or six authors in the room, each with exactly one or two books in front of us. Running a table by yourself sucks. It's hard to draw in a customer when they've never heard of you and you only have one book to sell. You have to shut down whenever you need food or have to run to a panel, and it clogs the dealer's room with miserable, one-book authors when you could be far more efficient by sharing space and time. You have more fun and sell more books.

So three of us got together and started sharing a table. At first, Sara Harvey, Angelia Sparrow and I just split our costs three ways. Then others approached us: Do you mind if we join you? Soon the cost-sharing got to be awkward, especially when some authors had two or three books and others had ten. Thus the cooperative was born, and the web store soon followed.

Now we have more than 25 authors and a dozen small presses, plus comic publishers, game authors, artists, musicians and other specialities. We carry books that are out of print, whose publishers may have gone out of business, rare and unique books, first editions and the latest releases. We can do that because the books come from the authors' personal stock, and that's the real key: writers make more money that way.

Just as an example, if you really like a small press author's work, you might buy it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Let's say you paid $15 for that book. The author will receive about $1.05 on a standard 7-percent book contract. And that's assuming there aren't additional clauses for the big fat bite Amazon takes out of the book sales, or the distribution company that sends the book to Barnes and Noble.

Now take this into consideration: your average small press author you met at a convention paid $350 to $500 to be there. Sure, s/he gets a badge for free, and sometimes a table (though it can cost as much as $125 at mid-size cons or $600 at a big show like Dragoncon). But there's a hotel room, travel, food and other expenses, and for some reason you can't find a convention with room rates below $100 a night these days. Now figure how many $1.05 royalties it takes for that author to afford that convention... and multiply it by four or five cons a year.

But authors generally receive copies of their books at wholesale. That means you could pay the same $15 for the book, but by buying it directly from the author, your favorite wordsmith keeps $6. That's a big incentive for us to sell our books directly, and the reason most authors have to sell books in the dealer's room as much as possible. Oh, we still love seeing them in bookstores and hearing that people have purchased the book - $1.05 is still money in our pockets. But if you want to support an author, buy direct from them, and help feed their families.

Literary Underworld is authors and artists working together to support each other, so we can create the worlds you love to visit.

I operate LitUnd because I believe that together we can do better things than any of us can on our own. I believe that none of us are truly in competition with each other, because our voices are unique and our stories diverse. I believe that there is a richness and depth to the work in the small press, freed from marketing committees and focus groups, and it deserves to have a place of its own. I believe that my authors are some of the hardest-working, brilliant and creative minds in fiction, and I am proud to be in their company.

That's what Literary Underworld is about. Come visit us, and see what you might have missed.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Elizabeth fights insurance companies.... or, Day Ending in Y

In the last few weeks, I've had to do more than the usual amount of fighting with medical insurance, the clinics and companies that provide us with health care. And frankly, I am royally sick of it. This shit was supposed to end when we got the "good" insurance.

• My "winner" this round is the mail-order prescription service contracted with our insurance. They have reached new levels of incompetence. One of my medications was running low, so I put in an order in November. Two weeks went by and it hadn't arrived, so I called to find out my status.

I was informed the order was canceled. Why? There's a form my doctor is supposed to file with my insurance company verifying that I really need the medicine he has prescribed. Otherwise they won't cover it. First: If I were a doctor, I'd be goddamn insulted that form exists. "Yes, she needs the medicine. That's why I wrote the prescription. I didn't write it because I love the sight of my own signature or because she thinks the pills are M&Ms." Second: My doctor filled out that form when I first got the prescription a year and a half ago, and I'm pretty sure it's still on file. Third: Anybody consider making a damn PHONE CALL about this instead of just canceling my order?

Sure enough, they did. They called my husband's cell. Oh really? Why call my husband? Am I a child? Am I mentally defective or otherwise incapable of handling my own goddamn health care? (For the record, Jim recalls getting a call from "unknown number.")

So I called my doctor and got them to refile the stupid Yes I Really Meant It form. And I told the pharmacy to please update their records with my cell phone number.

Imagine my surprise when I still don't have the prescription ten days later and it's canceled again. They claimed the FSA charge didn't go through. They're not even pretending to call anymore, they just canceled the order. Turns out they were charging the wrong FSA; mine ran out of money months ago. I gave them the debit card, reminded them again that I have my own goddamn cell phone, and they promised the scrip was on its way.

Tonight I feel awful. Just terrible. Because I've been out of that med for weeks now, it's cumulative and any vestige of it is now gone from my system. So I check again.

You guessed it. Canceled again. So I called, while I was doing the car exchange with Jim, and he mimed strangling while I was listening to a customer service rep explain AGAIN that the FSA was declined, they don't seem to have my debit card information anymore, and the number they have is my husband's cell.

I didn't swear at her. I try to be a decent human being. Flipping the table was becoming a real possibility, however. In the end, I have given them my FSAs twice, my doctor's numbers twice, that Yes I Really Meant It Form twice, the debit card twice, and the number of requests to please call my cell instead of my husband's stands at FIVE. Will it finally be entered into the system this time? Taking bets.

For the record, she was very polite, and said she was going to have the prescription overnighted to me because I have waited so long. We'll see. In the meantime, I don't feel so good. And I have a paper copy of the Yes I Really Meant It form - good through 2018 - that I will scan and email to the next idiot who tries to deny me medication.

• We got a collection notice on a claim that was supposed to be covered at 100 percent as a diagnostic. The insurance company insisted that the claim was approved and paid. The lab company insisted they'd never been paid. I told each of them to talk to the other. In the meantime, it's on our record. How nice.

• Another claim was marked with a balance I know we don't owe. I called the lab, and they indicated payment had been made, but not for the full amount. I told them the EOB from the insurance company clearly shows the payment was reduced according to their network contract. They said, "Oh, sometimes they just send us a partial check without an explanation and so we assume that the remainder is the patient's responsibility." Nice try. You know very well what your contracted amount is, and you're hoping I'm a moron who looks at a scary bill and says, "Oh, I owe you more money! Here's a check."

• Another claim, this time from a lab company insisting they'd never been paid. Once again I pull the EOB, and it shows that the claim was approved at their network rate. Only... the system doesn't show the payment actually being made. Er, it was from March. Maybe my insurance company could get off their asses and write the check? So I have filed a claim inquiry with Insurance prodding them to pay the lab company. Problem: The lab company won't do any more tests until Insurance pays them. And Jim needs another round of blood tests. Argh.

• Finally, as most of you know, Jim recently had a delightful trip to the emergency room and subsequent hospital visits for fun CAT scans and MRIs. For the record, going to the ER with stroke symptoms and getting a CAT scan costs $3,898. For once I'll say thank God for insurance, because our copay is $250. Wait, did I just say thank God for a $250 bill?

Of course, every time you go to the hospital, the bill from the hospital is only part of the problem. There's also bills from the ER doctor, the radiologist, the lab tech, the specialist who evaluated your test... I'm pretty sure the guy who empties the trash also bills separately. All those are still pending, and if they are as competent as the blood lab or the mail-order pharmacy, I can expect a whole new slew of fights.

Then there's the ongoing saga of Babe Ruth, or whoever decided to swing a baseball bat at the back of my car a couple of weeks ago. The estimate is in, and it's nearly a grand. Again, insurance is a good thing, but our deductible is... wait for it... $250.

This comes on top of the FSAs running out of money at the end of the year, so our prescriptions and doctor visits have been on a cash basis since Halloween. And the saga of Jim's broken dentures, which will require their own insurance appeal because apparently they only cover dentures every five years and his snapped in half at 18 months. That's $1400 unless the insurance ponies up.

So in between fighting insurance companies and medical providers with questionable billing departments, I have to find at least $500 under the couch cushions before January comes and I have to find $160 for Boy's ACT prep class and his driver's ed fee of... wait for it... $250!

Merry Christmas?

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Snippets, Momfia Edition

Me: Would you pour me an iced tea?
Boy: Iced tea....
Me: Giant pitcher, in the fridge. Hard to mistake for the OJ.
Boy: Please?
Me: Would you please bring me an iced tea?
Boy: Thank you. I'm going to teach you manners.
Me: Oh shut up. 

Me: On Saturday, we have to take the car to the repair place to get the estimate on repairing the damage.*
Boy: Okay. Wait, Saturday?
Me: Yes, sadly we will have to reschedule our Star Wars tickets.
Boy: What.
Me: Then we are bringing you back here, since the Pezzas are picking you up for the Christmas pageant rehearsal -
Boy: WHAT.
Me: - because that's the night Jim and I are doing our annual Christmas shopping date -
Boy: When are we rescheduling Star Wars!
Me: 😈
Boy: When. are. we. rescheduling. Star Wars.
Me: We're not. I'm just messing with you.
Boy: 👺 Why?
Me: Have we met?
Boy: 😝
Me: I tried it on Jimmy. You would have thought I asked him for a divorce.

Boy: One of my New Year's resolutions is to get a job.
Me: That's a good one. What's your motivation?
Boy: So I can earn more money and pay back the debt I owe you so you will get off my back.
Me: I approve.
Boy: You're like the Mafia.
Me: *burst out laughing* I am not the Mafia!
Boy: Yes you are!
Me: I am teaching you responsibility. You can't just rack up $150 in debt and then smile and say, "I'm cute and nice so I don't have to pay back what I owe."
Boy: Yeah yeah. Mafia.

Boy: *unpacking Christmas box* Hey look, it's the "magic."
Me: Aha! The magic tin goes under the tree next to the Polar Express bell.
Boy: Where did you get the magic?
Me: I don't know.
Boy: Mom. I know. It's a tube full of glitter.
Me: If you say so.
Boy: So where did you get it?
Me: I honestly don't remember. **
Boy: ... How did you do the reindeer food?
Me: What do you mean?
Boy: Each year we filled up a bowl with oatmeal, and we added the "magic," and we put it outside for the reindeer. And every year it was eaten.
Me: Yup. Always made a mess.
Boy: So how did you do it?
Me: Do what?
Boy: Mom.
Me: You're going to have to be more specific.
Boy: ... Did you eat the Santa cookies?
Me: Why would I eat Santa's cookies?
Boy: *grumbles* You could just admit it...
Me: Not sure what you mean. Here, hand me that box.

A more eloquent response... really, I can add nothing.

* For those who don't read my Facebook: Yes, it looks like someone swung a baseball bat at the back of my car during last weekend's signing. I'm so glad this bill will arrive just in time for Christmas. 😡
** This is true. 

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