Natural Talents and the Nightmare of Getting on Smashwords

Imagine a world in which, some two thousand years ago, every person was given a paintbrush and canvas, after which the result of their creation became the new standard for judging art quality and only those who matched this standard were allowed to paint. The work of people like Rembrandt and Van Gogh would have been repressed from childhood (today possibly with the help of Ritalin), since it was clearly not of equal quality as that of ‘most people’. Would humanity have enjoyed the cultural diversity that it knows now?

It is the same with every other talent; not just artistic talents, but talents like practical handicraft in trades, editing, accounting, technological skills, computer programming and writing. These talents come with a person’s inborn gifts and can be practised, but each of us has some talents and some weaknesses, which are part of our personality. That is necessarily so, because it is a result of how we process information and every personality type does that differently. If we all had the same talents, even potentially, we’d have a very boring world without progress.

In the writing world, writers used to be supported by publishers. A publishing house had some people with editing skills, others with marketing skills, others with illustration skills and printing or formatting skill and the writer could focus on their own natural talent, which usually had to do with the content of the topic they were writing on and not the technical aspects. Writers tend to initiate social change, prevent dogma and come up with novel ideas. Without those insights, the world would rapidly slip into dogma. Homosexuality, for example, started to get serious attention after writers (and filmmakers) started portraying it as normal. Until then the public opinion rejected it. The same applies to all other social issues, no differently than that hard science fiction writers often invent an idea for a technology before it gets developed. Writers, therefore, have a vital role in social progress.

But as a writer (in New Zealand), I am struggling to get onto the market. Not only can I not sell my hard copies outside of the country, because of the cost in postage, but local book shops and libraries go for what is popular, which tends to come from a foreign mass market. The local library will not accept my printed copies, but they have agreed to list my eBook titles. But, as they prefer to take them from Smashwords, I agreed to put my books there. It seemed simple enough.

But Smashwords is made for people who upload a word document (according to certain specifications) and then they make eBooks out of it, although they do have the option of uploading professionally made ePub files. But all my books were already professionally converted to eBook (both Mobi and ePub) by a converter who works to a high standard and there have never been complaints. Yet trying to get those books on Smashwords is an ongoing nightmare. With most of my books, I have to ask my converter to change something in the file, which tends to be explained in techno babble I cannot understand. Not only that, but the rejections seem inconsistent. For example, I have a five-part science fiction series, which all have a different title, but the same series title. Despite entering them with the exact same capitalization and punctuation, one was immediately accepted and the rest came back twice with requirements to change the title format. Now they have all been accepted, the reader might wonder why one of the titles does not match. If I try to change that, I risk it being rejected again. Additionally, the first book in the series, which was converted and created as ePub file, at the same time as all the others and according to the same format, keeps coming back as being faulty, so the readers can buy parts two to five, but not part one.

In short, Smashwords is nice if you have a word document and want to sell it as a book, but if you have already self-published, it is a lot of trouble. Sure, if you are skilled in electronic formatting, you have no problem, but that privilege is personality type dependent. That means that those personality types who prefer genres like hard science fiction and crime can upload their books easily, but not those who naturally lean towards the humanities (and social issues).

And Smashwords is one of the better ones. For one thing, it is trying very hard to make it accessible for all people, and the creators are most likely unaware of the personality types and therefore assume anybody can learn it as easily as they do. Yet it is exactly that understanding of personality types I am trying to promote with my books. So, we are stuck in a cycle: they don’t learn about psychology because those who write about it are less likely to be on the current market and therefore keep assuming that anybody can understand their technology.

In other words, not much has changed from before eBooks, when publishers rejected books for their content; if you expressed the already accepted opinion it was okay, because the objective of publishers was money, which also meant ignoring potential social issues. I have therefore no regret that the industry has changed to give independent writers more chance. But I am beginning to see problems if the new selection process ignores content and grammar altogether and only looks at the technical aspects.

But it gets worse. Contests are traditionally intended to find original and quality books and give the winners a chance to get their name out. Despite biases according to the chosen panel, the size of the contest and the entering requirements, there was the chance that a real-life reader recognized a book’s potential. But I recently saw an advert for a contest that selects their winner according to an algorithm that is created according reader behaviour – thus, no human judges involved – which is therefore outright selecting exactly that which is not original and puts us back at what the publishing houses used to do.

Bittersweet as this may sound, I am happy to give up trying to spend my time on pursuits like marketing, that are clearly not my expertise, so that, no matter how much time I spend on them, I will never stand out.

I am a writer by nature and I need people with other natural talents to support that. As long as our society is solely focused on money and promotes the misconception that everybody has the same potential psychology, it will continue to favour certain pursuits over others. All I can do is keep writing about it and know I have done everything in my ability.

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What is in a Title?

Picking the title of a book is almost as difficult as writing its blurb and it is at least as important. There is no real agreement what makes a good title. Do they have to be catchy, original, outlandish, common, full of key words or simple?

Of my fiction books, two have a title that is common. I get at least one Google alert a day for those titles and they are never about my books.

My science fiction series has titles nobody else has, because I made those words up. I get no alerts.

I have two fiction books with original titles, but no indication that those get more or less attention than the common titles.

My non-fiction series has as its series title The Music of Life. This has resulted in it being put in the music section of some book shops, although the title is a metaphor and the books are about psychological types. The last of that series is just released, but the title for it had been created (and announced in the other books) at least six years ago.

I am not sure whether I would have picked a different title if I had to choose again. Personally, I tend to feel attracted to that which is different and am more likely to pick up a book with an odd title, just to see what it is about. But the the first thing many people say is,

Homological Composition! What does that even mean?”

Indeed, what does it mean? Does it mean that people are going to turn away, scared off by the title, or attracted to it, exactly because it is different?

Since the book is about psychological types and the theory explains why people react so differently to everything concerning information, I am pretty sure that there will be both reactions to the title, depending on the type of the person reading it.

And that goes for any title.

The reason I chose it is because “homology” refers to our common evolutionary origin that is expressed in similar, yet diverse, psychological human types, and a composition is an artistic or intellectual creation. Not only is the book an intellectual creation, but humanity with all its diversity is the composition that makes intellect and artistic expression possible.

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Rethinking International Media, Trade and Social Platforms

Millions of people use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media providers.

The film industry is still strongly dependent on Hollywood.

International authors depend on Smashwords and Create Space.

Most IT technology still operates from Silicon Valley.

In other words, the headquarters of most of our international information exchange is based in the USA.

But it is likely that information exchange from the USA will be censored more and more, that many opinions and expressions of free speech will become punishable, that books and films that criticize will be forbidden, that foreign entities will not be allowed to access these platforms.

Smart CEOs will diversify and move their headquarters elsewhere before it is too late, but not all of them have the financial means to do so and many may simply disappear.

It is up to the rest of the world to do something. It is not enough to use these channels to criticize Trump; we need to set up alternative international networks for social media and information exchange to support the existing ones and allow their vision to continue elsewhere.

IT geeks, moderators and organizers are needed as are companies who will take this on. Those of us who are the writers, filmmakers and users and have no technological skills need to support them. International libraries must start looking for their eBook listings in other places as well. Governments must support such exchange by making it as easy as possible for international opinions to be printed, screened and exchanged.

Just as with every other product that was conceived in one country and is now reproduced all over, so these media channels need to be based around the world, so that the voice of the people will not be silenced everywhere.

Freedom of speech depends on it.

 

 

 

 

Censorship and Independent Writing

In an earlier post I discussed why I have chosen to adopt a penname and to become an independent writer.

My definition was that independent writers won’t choose their topics according to the financial considerations of the big publishing houses, won’t adjust their style to the latest fashion in writing techniques and won’t limit their stance to the visions of political, religious or cultural groups.

 In short, independent writers won’t let social censorship determine how and what they write.

What do you mean “censorship”?

Writers, of course, come in all sorts and write about all kinds of things. But that does not mean that every person is born to become a writer or can write about the same topics.

Each personality type has a preferred topic, so that some writers write about social issues, just like others are born to be science writers. This is not a simple choice people make, but driven by the way they deal with information, which determines their natural talents.

For example, most theoretical physicists (writing about cosmology and particle physics) have a natural gift for mathematics, a gift political and ethical writers do not usually possess.

These gifts apply to all human activities – not just those we think of as the arts – and they don’t only apply to what people are good at doing (like maths), but also to what they observe and experience – their perceptions.

And so there are people who are naturally good at seeing the immediate practicalities of a current event and there are those who are good at seeing the long term consequences of a social situation that prevails today.

But those different talents cannot exist in the same people, since excelling in something means putting all your focus on it, so the other abilities are less developed. This provides humanity as a whole with the variety it needs to build civilization. It is not a question of some people are smart and others dumb; every person is smart in his own preferred area.

Thus, we have natural proofreaders with an excellent eye for detail in the immediate practical now and natural innovators who design the products and ideas we need tomorrow; there are caregivers, inventors, race car drivers, business people, people with a gift for logistics, practical problem solvers like mechanics, theorists of physics and cosmology and theorists who deal with the human world.

All of them may become writers, but each writes only about the topics that they are naturally drawn to – so that the cosmologist may write a science fiction story but probably not a family romance, the race car driver may write an action packed thriller but not a work on politics, and personality types like me write fiction that is intended to address social problems with an emphasis on dialogue, human character and contemplation but very little action adventure.

Suffices to say that people cannot simply become a writer because it is fashionable and neither can people simply stop being a writer – they may stop doing it for a living, but the natural drive remains.

Today, people have the option of going to university and get a degree in creative writing, but what they learn are techniques – the passion for the topic cannot be learned and neither can someone learn the perceptions that don’t come natural to him.

Publishers use market research to select the books they wish to publish – because they have to make a profit – so that they select on the basis of “what people want”; the assumption being that readers want a repeat of old ideas and more of the same.

Book reviewers  consider themselves objective critics of what constitutes good writing and tend to express themselves in objective terms, such as “this is a good book” or “that writer ignores the facts”, which many readers (and publishers), believing that writing is something that anybody can learn at university, accept as true.

None of them considers the influence of their own personality type on this misconception and many people argue that it is right for the market to decide what is good writing – or rather, what is good for people to read – based on the idea that every person has an independent mind and makes his choices objectively without being influenced by others.

But  we know that the vast majority of people believe something to be good because  it is popular or because some critic has said it is – we see this everywhere: in advertising and fashion and with celebrities – and despite using words like “critical thinking” and “creative writing”, most publishers, critics , agents and teachers use comparison to famous names or best sellers to endorse their choices and so they reject what they believe to be unrealistic.

Apart from that, the publishing industry, which originated to assist writers in having their voices heard, is now also struggling to stay alive due to eBooks and the ease of self-publishing, so that it is even more determined to take only that which is already selling well – escapism stories about vampires and super heroes, similar to those that allowed the masses to carry on pretending that all was well and ignore the warnings in the 1920s and 1930s.

The irony is that with it getting more and more easy to self-publish, it has both become possible for those writers who used to be rejected to get published, as well as increasingly difficult to be acknowledged as writers,  because of the avalanche of information and books now flooding the market. And those writers who try to self-publish without the financial means to do so, end up producing manuscripts that lack in proper editing, because the writer is focused on content.

Thus, we live in a society where publishers – who have an inclination to accept the existing order – dictate what writers can write about (if they want to get published by them), while writers are forced to do the editing and marketing the publishers are naturally good at.

Therefore, and unintentionally, the media and publishing industry have become social censors, making it difficult for socially critical writers to get their voices heard. These institutions are looking back (at what exists now), while social writers naturally look forward (at the consequences and what could be possible).

The result of censorship, whether intentionally or not, is that the masses are being kept ignorant of social dangers and dogmatic views prevail.

And it is simply not true that living in an “information age” protects us from that dogma – on the contrary, due to the information avalanche, most people only read the headlines, the gossip and their social networks anymore.

Hypocrisy.

Currently there is a tendency in the western countries to berate others for imprisoning writers who express criticism about their government – writers who due to their inborn nature address social issues.

And although I share the sentiment of organizations like PEN – I do not believe that people should be imprisoned (or worse) for expressing their opinion – I do believe that such judgmental actions from outsiders can only make the situation worse; criticism should come from within a society, from its socially critical writers.

But more than that,  I object to the idea of berating the neighbours for the state of their garden, while ignoring one’s own weeds. Western weeds are hidden censorship that is covered with slogans about freedom of speech, democracy, and free market opportunity.

In conclusion, I do not criticize the social media or the ‘information age’ for the danger that dogmatic thinking is causing in today’s western society. I think that the information avalanche does give those willing to put in the effort a much better chance of getting uncensored information, due to the willingness of so many people to write for free – to step out of the money-motivated media market. I certainly don’t think that the social media have caused us to become more selfish – on the contrary, through blogs and newsletters there is more and more free advice available.

But nevertheless, we need to be aware that the masses remain uninformed about the global issues and about the natural personalities that cause different people to be able to see what others cannot, so that those in a position of power may once again dismiss the dangers until it is too late.