Friday, February 20, 2015

Spreading the Nets: Passive Discoverability

And now we sitz and waitz.

Louis Shalako

Here at Shalako Publishing, home of Long Cool One Books and Larga Fresca Uno Libros, our latest project is to get our books and stories uploaded in (or on) a few more online bookstores.

The basic premise is that the whole package has to be free, and the service provider must have their own bookstore. Additional distribution channels are a bonus if we can find ones we don’t have access to already. This all goes to extending the reach and the impact of passive discoverability.

The interface must be easy to use, accept our files, have provision for using our own book covers, and other considerations.

For this experimental addition to our digital publishing machine we will be looking for provision for Canadian and overseas authors to sell ebooks and PODs without withholding tax.

That being said, in some circumstances we may be willing to accept a penalty of thirty percent withholding tax, if we think the website will grow, succeed and eventually be able to provide this service. Any additional sales are significant. We will be looking for maximum flexibility from all platforms, free analytics, site appearance, ease and quickness of problem resolution, questions answered, etc. Assuming we made a hell of a lot of money, which doesn’t seem very likely, at some point in the future it would make sense to do U.S. income tax returns and get a refund.

Hell, if things go really well, I've always wanted to live in the southwestern U.S. anyway. 

I might even immigrate, ladies and gentlemen.

It might take a few days, in terms of the man-hours required to upload a hundred and thirteen titles to some new bookstores and aggregators. This is the sort of work that doesn’t pay off immediately. It pays off in the long run, which is why we say we are playing the long game.

If passive discoverability really does work, then being an early adopter of any platform might pay off at some time down the road. If it doesn’t work, then each and every site will need some degree of promotion.

This is the sort of experiment where a couple of initial sales might impress the author, however it is only over time that we can really get a good idea of which sites work for us and which sites don’t.

So we’ve gotten into Kbuuk, with three titles published so far. Here is Heaven Is Too Far Away, with a cover using a pro marketing image and designed in Microsoft Word.

Each site is of course a bit different in terms of operating details, and each site represents a new learning curve. For example the Kbuuk cover system looks a bit iffy unless I can fiddle around in there a bit and find some adjustment in the cover field. Designing a cover for each site for each book looks like a big job.

In terms of learning curve, Booktango wouldn’t accept Epub at first go, so I simply used a .doc and it went.

However, the Booktango system kept giving me error messages. I find it hard to believe that the original file had many, many hard returns in the middle of the line. The Smashwords system might introduce one hard return as it converts your original .doc file into what is presented as your original file. I say that because I check every book, page by page, using tools like the Amazon Kindle previewer, Nook for PC, Kindle for PC, etc. I also have Adobe Reader, the latest version. When I couldn’t find the original on my PC, I have used the SW original file and that’s when I started finding the odd hard return in the middle of a line.

There is no way that I’m going to spend hours fixing errors introduced by a system that obviously has different requirements. For example in the case of this document, the thing doesn’t seem to like three spaces or even two before the next chapter heading. That’s one reason I think it is an artifact of the systems involved. Also, at this exact moment in time, I’m not prepared to make a table of contents for a dozen novels. All of the short stories and novellas have them, but those books were written and formatted at a later date, when it was a requirement for iTunes distribution through Smashwords. A simple solution is to upload anything that already has a TOC and not worry too much about the novels for now.

Initially, I started off by searching ‘free ebook aggregators’ and similar searches. I began last night. 

What has been accomplished so far?

I’ve taken a few off of the list, including Booktango, Bookbaby, Fastpencil, Blurb, Indiebound, Lightning Source, (ebooks and PODs) as well as taking a look at Lulu, where simple .pdfs in their store might generate a bit of revenue over the course of time. It's either that or learn how to embed fonts! But we don't need their extended distribution anyways.

We couldn’t find a way to get into Versent, for example, so some of the other links we found were quickly written off.

Just one minor point might put us off. If someone charges $49 to set up each title, then that’s quickly going to run into a lot of money, with virtually no idea of the sales potential is.

If it ain't free, I move on rather quickly these days.

Other than that, I’ve got a handful of titles up on two or three platforms, all for free, and all using the simple tools provided.

As for the question of whether it sells books or not, we won’t know that for a year or two!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Skills to Escape.

Morningfrost, (Wiki.)

Louis Shalako

When I went back to school in 1992 to take the second year of the radio, television and Journalism Arts program at Lambton College of Arts and Technology, there were computers in the newsroom.

There were about a dozen computers for up to thirty students, although first year numbers dropped off quickly and there were only about eight or ten students taking the second year. Both classes used the same newsroom.

The journalism instructor and RTJ program head Geoff Lane had what was referred to as a ‘386’ computer on his desk. This was a source of great pride, and obviously the way of the future. Broadcasting instructor John Murray was justifiably proud of his Amiga Commodore, complete with something called the Video Toaster, a dedicated hardware and software program. We had a television studio and a radio booth in the bottom level of the college. This included the studio control room. We had a separate editing suite as well, with a bit of an annex and a bit of storage, stuff jammed under the cupboards and rolling shelf units with more old stuff tucked in here and there. We had professional Panasonic and Sony ENG cameras and battery-belts, lights and microphones and the class could expect to enter into a number of projects over the year. The studio used dolly mounted cameras bought from a defunct television station, or old equipment donated from corporate sources.

When I first attended the program in 1983, there were no computers in the building at all.

In 1992 I was a mature student, and I was the only one in the class who had his own computer. This was a cast-off IBM clone which had belonged to my mother, a financial planner for a few years in the eighties and early nineties.

Geoff brought us up, one at a time, during a work session—very much hands-on, with the occasional short briefing from the instructor, and showed us how it worked. We sat there at his knee.

The program was Aldus Pagemaker. He showed me how to select font, page size, how to lay out the page, insert photos and graphics, etc. He did all that in about twenty minutes. No one I know of got a crack at that computer. Budgets and institutions being what they are, if someone seriously damaged the thing, and that was pretty easy to do, there would have been some kind of hell to pay.

It was easy to see the potential.

The old Compugraphic 880 in the back room and the laying out of the paper on blue-ruled flats, then shooting it with a graphic arts camera onto photosensitive emulsion, was right there in the back rooms of the department. That camera was a big box. Mounted on rails, the camera pointed at the wall, where a perforated plate and a vacuum system held the paper in place while you took the shot.

The comparison was stark enough.

That little box on the teacher’s desk did away with all of that, just as the Video Toaster did away with razor blades and acetate tape and reels and reels and reels of celluloid film and iron oxide impregnated plastic tape.

One day I did a stupid thing, and took a story home on a floppy disk to work on it at home. Imagine my dismay to open up the document, start working on it, only to see a Pong virus, a little dot on the screen, going back and forth and up and down…knocking out pixels on something I had just written.

I wasn’t even on the internet and of course I had no clue whatsoever about viruses.

The point of all of this is fairly simple.

We have come a very long way.

I have all of that right here on my desk. My video camera fits in the palm of my's not pro quality, but you have to admit they are impressive compared to the old brick cameras of twenty years ago, still relying on tape cartridges.

Twenty or thirty years have passed since I entered a newsroom equipped with a couple of dozen ironclads, Olivetti, Underwood and Corona typewriters.

While it is true that everything they knew at the time is obsolete, and all they could do was to give us the basics, the fact is that none of that instruction was wasted.

The question is of course what you end up doing with it.

I saw an old friend downtown the other day. It might be more accurate to say that I avoided seeing an old friend that day.

That guy had spent four years in a good university studying Literature. He could quote Tolkien at length.

He never did a damned thing with it.

As far as I know, he’s still living in the homeless shelter.

He’ll be in an early grave—alcoholism will do that to you, to a point where it’s irreversible even if you quit, and some of them guys do know that.

Whereas I, on the other hand, am just getting started.

Where he was indulging his basest desires, (all of them), I was sublimating all of that dark and sexual energy (or a fair bit of it) into something hopefully a little greater than the sum of its parts.

So let’s say life’s not so good.

If you really want to escape that life, the first thing you have to escape is that environment, and that environment includes your friends.

I have escaped my friends, ladies and gentlemen.

The environment is the next thing to go.

Life is a series of choices, encompassing a million shades of grey, and even a little black and white once in a while.

More than anything, it is what you make of it.

And those losers weren’t going anywhere.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Apartment Hunting and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

I am an 800-lb. gorilla, and you ain't fooling me no more.

Louis Shalako

The other day I was speaking to a young man. He is thirty-three years old. He works full time for a prominent Canadian automotive retailer. He makes twelve bucks an hour give or take a few cents.

He was lining up in front of the food bank. He had broken up with his partner, who had a couple of daughters in school or working. They’re still sleeping in the same bed, as he is currently trying to save up first and last month’s rent to get his own place. I asked him about noise, one of my petty little interests these days.

He snorted.

“We can hear the next-door lady in the bedroom beside us, snoring, coughing, and basically, her pillow is a foot from our pillows….” And the walls are obviously very thin.

Twelve bucks an hour full-time is better than minimum wage. Some would say he is lucky, to be relatively intelligent, able-bodied, and to have a job at all. In some sense, they are of course right.

One of the reasons welfare (Ontario Works) and disability benefits (Ontario Disability Support program, Canada Pension Disability, etc.) are so low in this country is because everyone knows about them. Minimum-wage workers might become understandably upset if they figured out a disabled person in ‘otherwise similar circumstances,’ perhaps age, marital status and skill-set for example, is markedly better off than someone employed for minimal wages full-time. We get about the same things, food, shelter and clothing (of a kind) without having to put in forty hours under some scab employer to get it.*

The Province of Ontario recently did away with the Moving Benefit, which clients could only get once every two years; with a maximum benefit of $899.00.

I am presently looking for another place to live. The reason I want to leave the building I presently occupy is noise.

It’s not a bad apartment unit.

It’s not a bad neighbourhood. They’re not bad people. I just can’t take the noise. The walls are very thin.

I’m tired of fighting the guy that lives above me. He works until eleven o’clock p.m. When he comes home, he might have a friend over. He might be hungry and want some grub. The thumping from above can be bad sometimes and not so bad at others. It depends who is there, and if they are drinking, playing the stereo or whatever.

I’m tired of fighting with the lady in the next apartment over barking dogs, I’m tired of going across the hall and politely asking the nice young couple that live there if they would please turn the music down. I’m tired of the people, whom I have never met, on the other side of my bedroom wall, coming home at one a.m. and having a shower, opening and closing closet doors, slamming the bathroom door, etc.

The walls are very thin.

Being the man of action, I went on Kijiji and had a look at ads for one-bedroom apartments.

I went and looked at one—and it’s on the top floor, which is just what I said I was looking for. The building and the apartment look all right—about what one might expect in the price range.

The story gets deeper. They will of course ask about your source of income. The lady told me that they have a ‘one-third rule.’ According to her, the rent must not exceed one-third of your income or they don’t want to rent you a unit.

This is where it gets interesting. When I told her that I was on ODSP, she immediately told me that the rule might be ‘a little bit different’ for me. She asked me to provide ODSP benefit stubs for four months. She also told me, “A lot of ODSP people have their cheques sent to us from the Ministry.” 

(Not a direct quote but without attribution we will paraphrase. – ed.)

Interesting conclusion: neither this landlord, nor my present landlord, would have any kind of moral objections to a disabled person paying 65 % to 70 % of their income in rent. 

There’s more. What they want, is a certified cheque or money order for the last month’s rent. Before I can move in, I must pay the first month’s rent. Sounds simple enough, but I want (as a point of honour) to give sixty days of notice at the other building? (At a later date, I may need another place to live, and the present company owns a number of buildings in town.)

Still sounds simple, right?

My next disability cheque is spoken-for. I need to pay the February rent. If I put a stop on that payment, my present landlord would be a bit irate, even if I explained the circumstances, which would go something like this:

“I need a money order to give to the next landlord, but I have already paid last month’s rent here—is there some reason why I can’t do that, (skip a month and pay the next, even though I have not been officially accepted into the next building) and come back and pay next month’s rent, and then, a month after that, use my next disability cheque to pay the first month’s rent over there?”

I suspect the answer would be, “How do we know that you will come back next month, not stiff us, not force us to go for an eviction, and leave us with a month in arrears, you’re safely out of the building and we are now forced to make a decision…hire a skip tracer, and try and collect through the credit agency or small claims court? Or just let you screw us and forget about it?”

So I'm being profiled, right? Or punished for the crime of some other poor working or disabled slob...right? (We all look the same to you, right?)

Sometimes a simple ‘no’ would suffice, ladies and gentlemen, but there is still more.

While the rents are about the same, in the new building they have electrical meters for each unit. It’s an extra charge. They require tenant insurance for all tenants, that’s an extra charge. My income is low enough on ODSP and the income from my books is still in the small but developing stage—and you know all about how much fun that is (on ODSP) from a prior blog post on that subject.

There are one or two other considerations, but simply telling someone ‘if you don’t like it then why not just move’ doesn’t really take facts, circumstances, needs and capabilities into account.

Simple people give simple answers. One is well advised to think it through, get all the facts, (and I have no idea what tenant’s insurance would cost, nor the electricity) so essentially I am done for the time far as I know, or until we get more information, or something in the equation changes for the positive.

We’re still not done yet.

What, the average reader may ask, is the problem with the ODSP/Ministry sending the rent to the landlord? Even though my credit is good, and I am a responsible adult and not a spoiled brat?

Answer: "Since when did I develop a cognitive disorder...???!!!" 

"Oh, well, Mister Shalako...we're just trying to help you, but if you don't want our help..."

(Yeah, what then, and thanks for the implied threat, incidentally.)

Answer: at some point there may be a noise problem, a bedbug or cockroach problem, an abusive neighbour, and the ODSP social worker will ask certain questions.

“Have you spoken to the landlord, the police, the animal control people, the building superintendent, have you been feeling all right lately, are you sure there really is a problem and you’re not just blowing it all out of proportion, you only just moved in there, etc, etc, etc….ad infinitum, ad nauseam…have you been taking the meds, are you sure you don’t want to speak to nice Mr. doctor-man, etc, etc.”

Here is the truth, ladies and gentlemen: landlords love having disabled residents. They get their cheques every month, straight from the Ministry. The client gets what’s left.

The landlord doesn’t care if you have electricity, they don’t care if you have a phone, or the internet, (essential to my business), they don’t care if you starve or line up three and four times a month at the food bank.

The landlords, in collusion with their government cronies of all political shades and stripes, will do everything to ensure a profit for their shareholders. And they don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to you.

For some reason, the disabled are not well represented among their ranks, although they have a few pets that they trot out from time to time for the photo-opportunity that goes along with every fresh, glowingly-positive and completely bogus policy or program announcement this government makes.

And now you know all about it.

The young man with his twelve dollar an hour wage also faces certain challenges, and I think it’s fair to say that none of us at the lower end of the income scale has it exactly easy.

I would like to know whose interests are truly served when government and commerce, working hand in hand, knowing all the facts, seem determined to make life harder for all those unable to defend themselves and who are completely lacking in effective political representation.

But it must serve somebody somewhere…right?


*Conventional (bouorgeois) wisdom is that we should just be grateful; and keep our mouths shut.