Wednesday, July 22, 2015

STRIKE THREE LAPTOPS, AND YOU'RE OUT

Well, this is depressing...

I've been making my daughter stick with a schedule for podcasting lately... after she convinced me to start a podcast, she saw how hard it was and seemed to lose interest. It's been a struggle the past ten weeks to keep her motivated.

Ten weeks? Yep, ten. We only have seven episodes up though. We've missed three recording sessions now. One because we had to completely re-record. One due to technical difficulties in editing a session, and now, one because our computers crapped out. Yes, computers--plural. 

Being the packrats we are, the Martins have a collection of computers on hand. One desktop in need of a new HDD, one desktop that's about ten years old, running XP, my formerly-trusty Toshiba Satellite laptop running Vista, and the kids each got a brand new Toshiba laptop last summer when I retired from my last job. 

The working desktop isn't so good for recording... it freezes up repeatedly and has very little disk space left. 

The kids' laptops run that idiotic Windows 8 Tablet-wannabe OS, and have a single port for microphone and headphones, like a smart phone. So, we've been recording onto my trusty Satellite, which is about 5 years old. A great, albeit heavy, laptop that I do all my book covers on, format my novels for print editions and of course edit the podcast.

Well, it's time to bury the old Satellite. It's gone the way of the Amiga (although I have two working Amigas boxed up in the basement...). I believe it's a motherboard issue, meaning it's far beyond my paltry repair skills. Add in the kids repeatedly defy my prohibition on "free" gaming sites, clogging their laptops with adware and spam, and there was nary a laptop to be used last night. 

So no episode of Weirdology this week. 

This is doubly-depressing in it was our last episode before I started recording interviews with authors I've met online over the past three years of my own self-publishing endeavors. I was rather looking forward to that. 

Throw in the start of a new school year, a dog with ongoing, expensive medical problems and needing to set the wife up a home office for her work-at-home sessions from her job, and a new laptop gets bumped pretty far down on the old family budget. If only Kindle hadn't hamstrung my book sales with their Unlimited program. Not that I blame readers, I'd choose free over cheap too. 

Time to drown my sorrows in some Xboxxing...  


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Weirdology 101, Episode 8

It's time to record another Weirdology101 episode... This week: "By the Numbers", where we'll talk about numbers and how they're all around us, inspiring fiction, folklore and superstitions.

Got a favorite number, number trivia, story or just interesting bit of numerical insight? Give us a comment below.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Podcasting Update: What we've learned so far...

So the eldest daughter really wanted to podcast--she was enjoying a lot of shows on Youtube. Alas, none of her buddies would help.

Meanwhile, dad was balking at the prices for advertising books on podcasts... A perfect podcasting storm.

Almost two months later and we're slowly putting out Weirdology101, our introduction to the strange and mysterious, the supernatural and the paranormal--with the occasional help of my nine year old daughter.

What have we learned in two months?

1. If you record, they will not necessarily come. Your 'cast of dreams is not enough to lure in listeners. Just like with self-publishing, you're one of thousands of free content producers out there. You've got to reach potential listeners. There are a number of sites you can send the equivalent of a pres release to, but even then, there's no guarantee of listeners.

We're going to try guests next. Guests not only provide fascinating, new content, they bring with them listeners. Listeners who will hopefully try other episodes and learn about other guests. It's like hosting a convention.

2. You need a plan. Yes, I could turn my teen loose and let her ramble on incoherently for hours, then break those up into episodes, but it would get pretty dull, fast. I've been listening to a lot of 'casts this year, having never really bothered with them before. The best shows follow a format and have segments. They don't just drone on and on. Just like good writing, you need an outline of what you're going to cover. Print it out and pass it out like a script--it alleviates lots of "uh"s and uncomfortable pauses.

3. You need to be able to hear. I'm amazed by all the 'casts that sound hollow and crappy. Adam Carolla's network of shows generally sound perfect, with studio-quality sound. Then there are independent shows like ours that sound boxy and hollow, like they were recorded in a garbage can with a first-gen smartphone. If you want people to keep reading, you write a good story. If you want people to keep listening, you need to record a better show--and quality of sound is a must. Eliminate echo, hums, background noises and the like, and make sure the volume is high enough to actually hear. Oh, and keep the volume level throughout. No high peaks or low dips. If I crank the volume all the way to hear a quiet person, I'll get a burst ear drum when someone else decides to scream into the microphone.

4. You don't need expensive equipment. I see a lot of articles online about the minimum equipment you need to record. I have to say, I don't think it's all correct. For Weirdology,  we use two Turtle Beach gaming headsets. I mean, they sound great when you're blasting Nazi Zombies in Call of Duty on Xbox Live with your friends, so why wouldn't they work for podcasting? They have a built in pop screen--a small windsock of foam, the boom is adjustable, and they fit snugly over your ears, controlling what you hear.

Next, you need a mixer. Not a DJ BigBucks Superboard, capable of accepting a bazillion different inputs. We got a simple 3 channel mixer on Amazon for under $30. Yes, it's pretty cheesy, but it works. It blends our gaming headsets and an external tablet with sound effects just fine. The output goes right into:

A recording device. Everyone shills Audacity, and I'm sure it's fine, but I've used Goldwave for almost 20 years. I bought the full version, loaded it on a laptop and then sent the output from the mixer right in. I can adjust volume, level out the recording, reduce noise... it does it all. Yes, we may sound a little soft, and recently I had the record volume WAY too high, forcing us to redo an episode, but it's really simple. And, with an editing program, we can chop out when we get tongue tied, wee say "um" too many times or we just don't like a comment or segment we recorded. It's not live, it's recorded, and we take full advantage of that fact.

Studio? We don't need no stinkin' studio. Simon Whistler, over at The Rocking Self Publishing Podcast has a nifty home closet-studio. with blankets hung for noise canceling. We record in the basement. At a desk. The only extraneous sounds we pick up are the occasional barks from the dog, or my wife walking through the living room above us. Again, I think those gaming headsets are totally the way to go...

5. Finally, regularity. It's not just for the bathroom. I've watched our paltry numbers, and both times we've missed putting out a new episode, it's hurt us. People expect regular content. If they don't get it, they might wander to another source and never come back. Keep it regular.


And that's pretty much what we've learned so far. As I force my daughter to finish what she started, making her commit to 6 months of episodes, we'll see what else we learn in this little fun, family experiment. Got any tips or lessons-learned you want to share? Put them in the comments below--we appreciate the knowledge.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

PODCASTING!

Of all the many methods of marketing my writing, one I haven't tried is podcasting... Until now.

Now, I've been on podcasts, chatting with some nice folks. But I've heard a lot of people remark that hosting a podcast was a way to get yourself out there. Normally, I'm contented to stay in--it's my books I want out there, not me. But after advertising around the internet, it dawned on me that if I hosted a podcast, I could give myself free advertising. Of course, I'd need to create a podcast people would listen to...

Enter my eldest daughter. At 15, Sam is a typical fangirl, interested in all things internetty. And she wanted to have her own podcast with her friends. When she couldn't recruit any to do that, it got me thinking...

Fast forward several months and this where we're at. A Father-daughter podcast: WEIRDOLOGY101.

Unlike a lot of authors, I won't be babbling on about my books, or writing, etc. etc.. Instead, I'm going back to the beginning: The weird.

There are so many websites today devoted to the strange and unusual. Fervant believers and skeptics verbally duke it out as they debate bigfoot, UFOS, ghosts and many more unusual, unproven subjects.  That's all fine and dandy if you're really into that stuff, but what about the casual reader? What about the person who watches an episode of Supernatural and wonders if the writers created the Wendigo, or if maybe there's some mythology involved.

That's where Sam and I come in. Every week, we're hoping to educate the average listener on the weird. We'll discuss a variety of subjects, maybe interview some folks, give brief news blurbs, and offer up our picks for the Fringe Fiction of the week.

In the meantime, the writing continues, and sponsors this little endeavor. Maybe folks will want to embark on a fictional journey on their ereaders, led by yours truly, or maybe they'll just be content listening to some free content on that daily commute. In either case, this is shaping up to be an interesting adventure and a fun, family project.

Check us out, won't you? Weirdology 101 launches Monday, May 18th, with Episode 1: Paranormal vs Supernatural.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Social Media Experiment

If you have luck like me, you've had to call in to a corporate "support" division and complain. You know, broken product, interrupted service, etc. etc.

In my many years, I have found that not only does this also lead to dangerous blood pressure levels, it seldom accomplishes anything. And if you weren't convinced the corporations don't give a shit, the fact many of them (AT&T, for example) have installed robot services. Apparently, it's become tooexpensive to emply semi-fluent Hindus to robotically answer complaint calls.

So here's my new experiment after blowing a half hour of my time. I'm going to prove social media shaming works for customer support. I mean, I know it works. I've used Facebook pages many times to get somewhere with uncaring corps.

See, when I call in and try and explain my plight to an uncaring Ghanesh worshipper, I get the run aroudn and no one but me and my cardiologist knows it. But when I owl at the moon online, say, Facebook, everyone knows it. And we can't have that. Oh, no, they have people who respond to these kind of public-image-damagign complaints. Often immediately.

I just need to convince the rest of my fellow interneters that THIS is the way to get customer support. Complain online and make a human take action. being put on idenfinite hold or talking to a robot service that mistakes the sound of creaking wood in the background as your answer just won't do.

Here's how the experiment will work.

Step 1, I post a pissed off comment on AT&T's Facebook page.

Seeing as how the people you talk to in person with Uverse are little asholes, and then when you call in, you get robotic, English-as-second-language liars, I'll try raising as much hell as possible here, until AT&T satisfactorily resolves my issue. What is my issue you ask? Well, at about 1:55 PM Eatserntoday, I noticed my Uverse service was out. I noticed this as I was trying to use the internet as I worked on my latest novel. It worked at about 1PM. Lo and behold, turns out that a Uverse installation tech, four foot tall, mustachioed "Justin" was next door installing new service. I walked over and interrupted his chit chat with the resident and informed him he killed my service. Oh, no, not he. Wise Napolean Bonaprick advised all he did was disconnect one wire, then reconnect a wire to give her service. (Her being my new neighbor he was tryign to flirt with). I told Justin that no, my service was down, wasn't down a half hour before, and he needed to walk over and fix it. Oh, no, he can't do that--not without a service ticket. I triedto see hisnametage but it had no name on it and Justin, if that's his real name gave me his name. Then as I told him I'd just call in, he short-manned and rattled off some number. Oh, he's so clever. 

AT&T, I want "JUSTIN" reprimanded. I dont' pay your ridiculously high prices so some little punk with an attitude, hopped up on viagra and hoping to renact the cable guy porno movie he watched last night can be a smart ass to try and impress some woman. I expect a "Sorry, about that. I'll check it out in just a few minutes, sir." 

I also don't expect tocall in to your robo call center, fight my way through to Ghanesh, then get "we'll write you up a ticket for that." 

Nor do I expect to be told that I can talk to a supervisor than get "forgotten" hold. 

I expect an apology. I expect a reprimand for "Justin". And I expect a free moivie or somethign for the hour I've wasted on this and the near-heart atack it's given me as my blood boils to Ultimate Fighting levels. 


You can expect to keep hearing from me until this is resolved. And your competitiors might expect a call a for new service.

Step 2, I await a satisfactory answer.

(Optional) Step 3, I begin posting daily, until that answer comes along. See, it costs money to respond, or erase posted complaints. Eventually, my squeaky wheel gets answered.

Step 4 (or is that 3) I post the results here, and come up with a clever trending tag, like #ForgetGhanesh or something.

We dont' have to play this game folks. There's a reason why HPSucks.com was a site and why HP took legal action to get it pulled. Customer service is a fairy tale. Public Relations isn't. One makes money, one costs money. To get the service they charge us so much for, we just have to know which one to use.

Because the customer is always right.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Reader Interview: Reader-Teacher Carolyn

Reader interviews are where readers share how and what they read...


Bio: I am a retired American, living in eastern Romania. I moved here in 2009 to be with my spiritually adopted family and I volunteer teach Conversational American English to children and adults. I haed a grown son and 2 grandchildren in America. My educational background is math, science, and anthropology, and I have a Bachelor of Science degree and I did quite a bit of graduate work. I am passionate about the English language and do some scifi and fantasy writing. I have written professionally for website content, and I edit books for publication. My hobbies are Science Fiction anything of course, Mensa, computers, B-Movies (the stinkier the better), 1930s movies, cooking, hard rock music, and I was a trained cellist. I never stop reading and studying, and my current challenge is learning Romanian.


How often do you read? 

I have been reading science fiction steadily for at least 62 years, and I never stop reading – I have been accused of being a compulsive reader. I started with comics when I could only look at the pictures. I recall lying on my bed at age 5, wilting on a hot Houston summer afternoon, devouring Uncle Scrooge, Superman, Plastic Man, Katie Keen, The Flash. I remember vividly my first adult level scifi, checked out of the library when I was 11 years old – “The Wheels of If” by L. Sprague de Camp. I didn't understand a bit of it, but it cracked my mind open to a whole new world, and I was hooked. 


How fast do you read? 

I am a speed reader. I usually have several books going at the same time. I can complete a fairly good-sized novel in a day.


Favorite authors? 

Number one forever is Ray Bradbury, whom I was blessed to meet, and I took that opportunity to tell him how he formed and changed my life. He was genuinely humble and gracious and we had a delightful conversation, which is a very precious memory. All the authors from the Golden Age of scifi are special loves: Asimov, Larry Niven, Michael Moorcock, Robert Sliverberg, Phillip Jose Farmer, Frederick Pohl, Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Clifford Simak, Harlan Ellison...I could go on extensively. Robert Forward and Greg Bear are favorite newer authors, for their pure hard scifi. 


What are your preferred genres to read for fun? 

I read about 90% science fiction and of that I prefer true hard scifi. I do read some fantasy around vampires. I love huge stories with the Universe as the setting.


What genres will you NOT read, or dislike reading? 

I just don't read non scifi: murder mysteries, political intrigue, politics, court drama, thieves, romance, “literature,” or anything depicting torture and real-life violence.  I was cured of what is termed “literature” in public school by being force fed Dickens, Dostoevsky, Faulkner. Hemingway, you know them...they may be the greats, but they are to me, dull and ponderous. I tried recently to take up Dickens again...all “grown up” as I am now, and I was not able to get past the first chapter of “A Tale of Two Cities.“


What influences your choice of book to read for fun?

Author and the hard scifi genre are where I go first. I will always read a favorite author, and I enjoy re-reading the classics, but I eagerly search for new authors. With Amazon's “Look Inside,” you can get a taste of new writers. I love paperbacks the best, but here in Romania, English language scifi has to be ordered and costs a premium. So I love my Kindle! But I always treasure a big, fat paperback because I know I will have a long time of reading adventure ahead, can scribble in it, and dogear the pages.  I listen to classic scifi audio at Loyal Books on my PC when I am working. 


What's the best book you've ever read?

That's a tough one, because several come to mind. But if I were forced to choose one,  I would say “The Wheels Of If,” not because it's “best,” which is really impossible to judge given the wealth of great novels, but because of the impact it had on the path I chose. 


What's the worst book you've ever read?

“Pet Cemetery” Apologies to Stephen King fans! I admire and bow to his talent and prolific production. But for me, he too often abused his characters, too disturbing after I had come to love them. Children and dogs are sacred and I couldn't abide what happened to those characters


What elements make a good story? 

Big settings populated with credible, rich characters, who have realistic, believable interactions and responses to each other and to events, all set against the huge backdrop of science fiction. 


What makes you roll your eyes or groan in a story? 

Unrealistic characterization, gore, and gratuitous sex.


Ever watch movies based on books, or read a book because it's already been made into a movie? 

Yes, I will always give a movie a chance, based on a book I enjoyed, and vice versa. A great example is the novel “Alien,” written after the movie came out, by Allen Dean Foster.


Where do you like to read the most? 

Curled up on the sofa, or late at night, snug in bed. 




If you'd like to share your reading preferences, email them to Troglodad AT gmail DOT com.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Self-Publishing 101: Fame, Fortune or Art?

Disclaimer: I am not a self-publishing expert, but I have been self-publishing since 2012, with over a dozen novels and short stories available in print, digital and audio formats. Self-publishing 101 is my effort to pass along what I've learned for anyone just starting out or considering self-publishing. Questions are welcome, in the comments below or at Trolodad AT Gmail dot com.

Before you embark on the epic journey of putting your work out there on the market, you really need to think about one thing: why?

Why do you want to self-publish? I don't mean why as in "because no publisher would touch it". I mean, what's your ultimate goal? To see your work in print? To have others see it? To become famous? To become rich?

If you just want to see your work in print, try vanity publishing. There are a variety of printers available online that will make you a copy of your work. Vanity publishers will offer you all sorts of services and charge you an arm and a leg. Printers like Snapfish or even Walmart offer simple print runs, without ridiculous add on fees.

If you want people to just see what you've written, save the trees and blog. The internet is the world's #1 source of information sharing. Nothing compares. It's what the damned thing was made for. Wordpress, Blogger and countless others offer anyone with access to computer and an internet connection. 

If you want to be rich... well, it can be done, but I'll talk more about that next time (It takes Money to Publish for Money). If you want to make a little money...

Here's the thing about self-publising: it's a business. Hard work might make you some money, the same as any entrepeneurial adbenture. Or it might fail miserably. 

Imagine you wanted to open a restaurant. Many factors determine whether you'll suceed. Doubtless you've seen many restaurants come and go in your hometown. They don't all make it. Self-publishing is the same, but that doesn't mean you sholdn't try it.

Yes, there's a lot of hard work involved, but you have no idea if you're going to be good or bad at it. If you want to, you should at least try. Thousands of other authors are. Amazon.com has nearly four million works for sale now. Statistics from last year say something like 34% of them are by independant, self-publishers. Some of them are best sellers, some are unheard of, but they all tried, and doing your best is the most important thing in any endeavor.

Next up... It takes Money to Publish for money?