Short Cuts

Following up on Tuesday’s post, it seems that Cyber Monday isn’t quite as obsolete as I thought. According to Associated Press reports, it’s been the single largest online shopping day for the past six years, with online spending topping $3.1 billion this year.

There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing going on here, of course. Retailers schedule big sales because they expect people to be shopping heavily that day, and people shop heavily because they get big sales–without sleeping in a parking lot–that day.

But my I stand behind my recommendation: let’s kill off Cyber Monday as a discrete entity. Fold that big sale into Black November: “The last sale of the Thanksgiving Season!” The income potential will be the same, and the rebranding will allow retailers to slide gracefully into Quiet Time. While we, the consumers, are catching our breaths and allowing our credit cards to cool off, you retailers can be fine-tuning your plans for the December sales and beefing up your server capacity to handle the expected onslaught. Win-win. Who’s with me?

Moving on.

On Thanksgiving, I suggested that Mariners’ GM Jerry Dipoto should take the day off. I’m pleased to see that he took my advice. Not even a hint of a trade on Turkey Day.

But you can’t keep a trader out of the market forever. Tuesday, the Mariners traded the Trumbone to Baltimore. Last June, I likened the usefulness of the Mariners’ acquisition of Mark Trumbo to repainting the Bay Bridge. I stand by that. The Ms needed base runners and relief pitchers, and what they got in Trumbone was a man who hits home runs and strikes out. And, unless your name is Nelson Cruz*, Safeco Field isn’t a good place to hit home runs.

* Mark Trumbo’s name isn’t Nelson Cruz.

That said, watching him bat was–once he got past the first month-plus of horrible performance–a lot of fun. Put him in a park more suited to his bat, don’t try to make him play the outfield, and he should do much better than the 0.8 WAR he put up for the Mariners last year.

Jackie, I know giving you guys the Trumbone doesn’t make up for grabbing Cruz last year, but I hope it helps a bit. Enjoy the show (now less than three months away, figuring to the first Spring Training games).

Moving on again.

For the past few days, I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about how horrible the news is lately–terrorism, flooding in Chennai, rampant insanity among political candidates, etc., etc., ad nauseum. At least one radio station here has been asking listeners to send in suggestions for music to brighten people’s spirits.

Let’s not get carried away. There’s a lot of sucky news, yes. But no more so than any other time in the past. I suspect an epidemic of Post-Thanksgiving Syndrome. We’ve been focused on our blessings for a week or so, and now that we’re starting to look outward again, the same problems we had in mid-November look worse now than they did then, simply by contrast.

Don’t get me wrong. The bad news is bad. People are dying. But complaining that there’s more bad news than ever doesn’t help, especially when it’s not true. You know what does help? Contributing some time. Contributing some money. Being there for someone who needs a shoulder to lean on.

Then do something good for yourself. Pat a cat. Watch the rain take a tiny bit off the edge of the drought. Heck, go buy yourself something nice in a Cyber Week sale. Whatever it takes. Hang in there.

Wrong Way

Hi! Happy December! Welcome to the quiet period between the Thanksgiving-time sales and the–wait… What? Ack! Get away, get away! (At this point, you should picture me flailing my arms wildly, batting at the swarming objects around my head. What objects? Allow me to explain.)

Two years ago, I took note of the impending disappearance of “Black Friday” and its imminent replacement by “Black November,” in which the post-Thanksgiving sales would stretch earlier and earlier until the took over the entire month of November stretching the event so thin that it disappeared into the background noise.

I’m pleased to say that events appear to be moving in accordance with my prediction. Several retailers began their Black Friday sales at least a week before Thanksgiving–I’ve got an e-mail here somewhere from Best Buy promoting a Black Friday deal on Friday the 20th, for example. At this rate, Black November will be a reality by 2020, and we can finally eat our turkey in peace.

Unfortunately, there’s another trend I completely missed, and it’s not nearly so positive. I speak of “Cyber Monday Inflation”.

For those of you fortunate enough to have missed it, “Cyber Monday” is the first Monday after Thanksgiving. Supposedly it’s the day that everyone does their online shopping because they’re back at work after the four day weekend and can use the high-speed network connection in the office instead of their slow dial-up connection at home.

Yeah, not so much the case these days. Digital divide notwithstanding, the odds are good that if you have an Internet connection at home, it’s at least as fast as your share of the office connection. Hell, if you’ve got a 4G cell signal, your phone is likely to pull up Target.com faster than your office computer–if you can get through at all. Target’s system was so overwhelmed this year they had to restrict access. In other words, they had to turn customers away! This is not the kind of shopping experience that promotes brand loyalty, y’know?

Bottom line, Cyber Monday is a legacy of an earlier, darker era. In an ideal world, it would go away.

This isn’t an ideal world, as a quick scan of my inbox shows. Calendars.com sent me a new “Cyber Monday” promotion. Uh, guys, today is Tuesday. Dell, God help us, has declared this “Cyber Week for business”. More than thirty different companies have sent me ads with the word “Cyber” in the subject today.

Knock it off!

Not only have we granted you the entire month of November for your pre-Christmas sales, but we’ve even grudgingly admitted that with Thanksgiving over, it’s acceptable to begin the Christmas advertisements. Cyber Monday is bad enough, but the Cyber Monday Inflation is simply unacceptable double-dipping.

Look, let me put it in simple terms. Nobody can run in high gear all the time. Give us a little down time to catch our breath and we’ll come back refreshed and ready to spend again. I’ll even calendar it for you:
– November 1-30: Black November. Hit us with your doorbusters.
– December 1-7: Quiet Time. Any business that advertises a sale during this period will be required to collect sales tax at 150% of list price.
– December 8-22: Christmas Sales. Go for it, repetitive songs and all.
– December 23-24: Last Minute Sales. Give us those specials deals along with free or discounted emergency shipping.
– December 25: Do whatever you want. I’m not going to turn on the TV, check my e-mail, or open the newspaper.
– December 26: Post-Christmas Sales. Deep discounts on whatever you couldn’t unload earlier.
– December 27-October 31: Regular advertising. Holiday-themed sales allowed within one week of the actual date of a holiday.

Stick to that schedule, and I promise to stop complaining. Deal?

State of the Fourth Estate: One Year On

Happy Birthday! Happy Belated Anniversary! (Relax, it’s not a baseball post. Well, not much, anyway.)

March 22, 2013 was my last day as a corporate employee. That was a Friday; I spent a chunk of the weekend figuring out the basics of WordPress, and on the 25th, Koi Scribblings: The Blog made its official debut. That means no matter how you figure it, I’ve been a professional writer for a year. “Professional”? Yeah, more on that in a moment.

I marked the six-month anniversary with a post covering the “state of the fourth estate”: summing up what I had accomplished and what I planned to do next. A full year is, IMNSHO, more than twice as impressive as half of one, so it’s time to update that status report.

First, there’s the blog. It’s over 250 posts and–aside from a minor bobble due to The Great Kidney Stone Fiasco–has stayed on schedule. That’s a nice portfolio of work I can point to. I’ve attracted a small but growing crew of followers (currently 106–I’ll refrain from speculating about how many are trying to get me to boost your SEO rankings by following you back); thank you all for hanging around. Seeing your likes helps me remember that there’s a larger world than what I can see from my office windows; seeing your comments lets me know I’ve written something that engaged you. I said when I started that the goal of my writing was to “educate and entertain”. If I write something that affects you enough to do more than just click a button, that’s a pretty good indication that I’ve met the goal.

Second, there’s that “source of income” I mentioned in the first Sof4E post. I took a swing at content creation*. It wasn’t a rousing success. The publishers are interested in quantity and speed; to encourage writers to produce multiple articles, the price per piece is low. To successfully game Google’s rankings, the article need to adhere tightly to a house style and format. To put it politely, that wasn’t a good match for my skills. I did sell a few pieces, but… Let me put it this way: to cover my share of the mortgage, I would need to sell three articles every single day. Since it took me about six hours to write one article and push it through the editorial process, that would leave me six hours a day to eat, sleep, and do something to cover the rest of my expenses. Doesn’t leave much room for the writing I want to do, that “educate and entertain” thing, does it?

* What’s “content creation”? Here’s a piece of news that may surprise you: many websites are commercial enterprises designed to make money by encouraging you to buy something–or at least look at an advertisement. Quite a shock, huh? So how do they accomplish their nefarious goal? They publish “content”. Note my careful word choice here. In many cases, it’s not information, but an incredible simulation: something that looks useful at first glance, but proves to be too superficial to really accomplish anything. Such content is carefully designed so that it will appear in response to some particular search on Google. Google, for their part, is constantly tweaking their algorithms to push content down in the rankings and pull useful information up. Thus, the content sites are focused on sculpting their content through formatting and the use of key words to game the system. If someone clicks through to their site, they win, even if the reader immediately closes the window and moves on to something more useful. It’s a step up from telemarketing, but not a very big one.

Still, the exercise in content creation did result in a (small) paycheck. By the most literal definition, that does make me a professional writer. Sweet, innit? OK, it’s not going to give me any street cred or professional respect, but it’s a small step forward.

Note, by the way, that there’s a slightly higher class of content creation. Instead of contracting with a content creation company, the writer chooses his own subjects and writes in his own style, then uses a distribution service to market the articles. It’s the modern version of writing “on spec”. I class this as “content creation” because to succeed at it, the writer needs to do the same Google targeting that the creation company would do, but because the writer is writing in his own style and voice, there’s an opportunity to do more than produce a string of article-sausages, all alike and all devoid of taste. And yes, I did take a shot at this type of content creation as well. Over the course of a month, I wrote several pieces in the style I’ve created here on the blog and posted them for sale. None of them sold–until today. As I was writing this post, I got notification that one has sold. It looks like someone bought a large group of cat-related articles, and mine was one of them. It’s still not going to give me a lot of street cred, but it’s worth more to me in terms of personal satisfaction than the earlier content creation sales.

Third, there’s that writing I want to do. I’m making progress there too. I’ve got two short stories and one poem making the rounds of potential publishers (as always, you can check the scorecard of submissions, rejections, and acceptances in the menu up at the top of the page). There’s a third short story in the final stages of review and rewrite; I expect to start submitting it this week.) The big news is the state of the infamous “novel in progress”.

ybHere you can see Yuki guarding beta reader* copies of the book. Those went out last month, and their comments have been trickling in. While I was waiting, I started a second novel; its first draft is about 20% done. Now that the comments are all in, I’m bringing the second novel to a point where I can set it aside for a couple of months and I’ve started the second rewrite of the first novel.

* Ask three novelists what their process is, and you’ll get at least five different answers. Here’s the high-level summary of my current approach. Write a draft (get the story down without worrying about consistency or felicity of language). Rewrite it (fix the consistency errors and the truly awful bits of writing). Give it to the beta readers (a carefully-selected group whose opinions you respect and who you can trust to tell you the truth about the bad pieces). Rewrite again (fix the bad stuff the beta readers pointed out and upgrade the merely adequate bits of writing to sparkle. Put it aside for a month, then rewrite it again with fresh eyes.

So, yeah, still months away from trying to sell the first novel, but getting it into the hands of the beta readers was a major milestone. The second novel is moving faster than the first one did, which is encouraging. I’m never going to be a fast writer, but speeding the creative process up improves the odds that I’ll be able to tell all of the stories lurking in my head.