Monday, May 18, 2020

The 5-star Fallacy

Why 'Five Stars' is not a buyer's Guarantee

I’m an author. I tell stories. So here’s a story for you.

Imagine that I’m at a Literary Convention or Crime Fiction Conference and someone comes up to me and says: “Oh, you’re Mike Scantlebury. You know, Mike, I’ve been aware of your books for many years, but I’ve never bought one. I’ve always noticed that you don’t have many 5-star reviews, so I’ve passed. Still, last week, I saw that you’d suddenly gained ten 5-stars on your new book, so I bought it. It’s great, I have to tell you.”

Okay, so what do I say, in this scenario? Do I say, ‘Well, I’m sorry you missed out for so many years. But hey, it’s good news that you’ve finally given me a try. Thanks.’ No, what I actually will say is: “You must be an awfully stupid person, to base your purchases simply on other people’s opinions, and to think that I’d actually be grateful that you’ve finally seen the error of your ways.”

Because that person - THAT person - is going to be the same person who goes to Korea for their holidays, (the South one, the free one) and goes into a restaurant with their family to look for something to eat. They find the menu a bit confusing, so look round, and see a family on another table having a good time, tucking into steaming stew and rice. ‘What are they eating?’ they ask the waiter. ‘It looks good. We’ll have what they’re having.’ “Oh, that,” the waiter says. “That’s curry. It’s very nice.” But the youngest member of the family, being suspicious, says: ‘What kind of curry is it? What’s the meat?’, and the waiter says: “Dog”.

Now, I don’t mean to criticise Korean culture, but the fact is that it’s different to most countries in the West, and here, here in the West, we tend to not eat dog for dinner. In fact, in Britain, you’re more likely to be lynched for killing a dog in a road accident than applying an axe to your Mother-in-law. It’s just our culture. Their’s is different. But on the subject of buying books, there seems to be a culture of precisely that, following others, no matter what. ‘I’ll have what he’s having’, is exactly what book buyers say, all the time. They see 5-star reviews and they assume, ‘That person likes it. Well, I’m bound to like it too’. Why? Why is that? What could possibly make you think that other people’s opinion would match your own? Are you still an impressionable teenager? Remember when your Mother said: ‘Why are you wearing that?’ and you said, “All my friends are wearing these things these days”, and your Mother said, ‘If your friends started jumping off a cliff, would you do that?’

Well, the answer is, if you’re a teenager, ‘Yes’. Yes, you would do what everyone else is doing. But listen, people, you grew up. You started making your own life. You got a job. So, what happened? Did you get the job everyone else was getting? Did you buy the car that everyone else is buying? Did you buy a house because everyone else is becoming a ‘Home Owner’? Did you start eating dog?

The point, of course, is that your Mother was right. There has to be a limit to copying. You can emulate the most popular kid in the class when you’re at school, but it’s a poor philosophy to take into the Adult world. Yet - and yet - most book buyers seem to have done just that. They scan the online book-stores and the only question they are asking themselves is: ‘What is everyone else buying, because THAT is what I want’. How sad. How pathetic. I always imagined that growing up would result in having a mind of my own, and having the freedom to make my own choices. That means that when I see someone walking down the street in a polka-dot dress, I have the maturity to say, ‘On them it looks nice, but I don’t think it’s the right thing for me’, and the same thing follows in the wonderful world of books. Let’s be specific. I was on a train a few years ago, going down to London. On my walk up to the Buffet car to get a coffee, I counted four people reading ’50 Shades of Grey’. Good for them, I thought. But it’s not for me. They’re choosing to read that unbelievable tosh, but it’s not a choice I’d make. I know my own mind.

If only. If only more people would wake up in the morning, brush their teeth, look in the mirror and say, ‘I am a Human Being, not a sheep, and I refuse to follow the flock’. Unfortunately, that’s a rare quality. Because the statistics speak for themselves. A book is awarded 5 stars and its sales go up. People buy what other people are buying. People like what other people like. Let’s face it: most people really are sheep.

Click HERE for Mike's new novel

Saturday, May 16, 2020

More about 'The Reviews Rebellion'

2020 - The Reviews Rebellion comes of age

You might have heard of SEO - but you probably heard wrong.
You may have been told that SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, and it’s something that all website owners and bloggers have to do in order to get found. They plant ‘keywords’ in headings and in meta-data, and there’s plenty of people out there who will accept your money and show you how to do it right. If you don’t know what meta-data is, think of a parking-meta, and imagine putting coins in it, over and over and over again.
However, there’s another definition of SEO, and that’s ‘Somebody Else’s Opinion’, and it’s the most poisonous thing on the internet.
You see, the World Wide Web is a wonderful thing and brings knowledge, information and goods into everyone’s living room. Whatever you want, it’s available. Whether it’s facts, cars, soap, books or songs, you can find it with a few clicks and buy it with a few more. Whatever you want, it’s there for you.
Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to know what they want, and have to be told.
They might know they want something to read, and are thinking about an Adventure or a bit of Romance, but which book? This is where SEO comes into its own. You don’t need an opinion when you can always use somebody else’s. All you have to do is browse the web and find out what everyone else is buying, then buy that. Find out what everyone else is talking about, and there’s your topic of conversation. Find out what everyone else is looking like, and there’s your choice of clothes, haircut, suntan and tattoo sorted. Use SEO and you’ll never have to think again.
It might seem outrageous to intrude on your democratic right to make a decision, but SEO rules in the online world. Why? Because it suits the big online shop owners. They need to know how many books, or CD’s, or bottles of perfume they need to produce this month, and there’s no better way of predicting the market than getting the so-called ‘Influencers’ to talk up the products, and Bingo, sales follow the graph. Otherwise, life would be wildly unpredictable. You’d never know what the public was going to like next - which fashion, which tune, dance or smell they were going to start to go for tomorrow. The ‘market’ couldn’t stand for that. So, the easy answer, is to tell people what to buy. It’s pure psychology. Those poor shoppers, dazed and confused, overwhelmed by choice, they’re suckers for an Authority, an authoritative voice, somebody who seems to know what they’re talking about, saying, ‘This book’, ‘That soap’, ‘That holiday’, ‘THAT is the one you want’. Yes, you do. You know you do. Take the advice and stop floundering. It makes the world more safe and predictable. You know you like it.
It might not matter so much in the madcap world of clothes, pop music and careers, but in the small universe of books, it’s completely disastrous. Especially as that arena is still home to a plethora of small producers - the individual writers - and small distributors, the Mom and Pop stores that are the small publishers. Here, SEO is killing diversity, originality and opportunity for new authors. Every new book, every new writer, has to be turned inside out, and examined in all areas by a self-appointed clique of Judges. Their verdicts are delivered in the same way as they do on TV Talent Shows - they award points, (and Points Mean Prizes). In the case of books, it’s Stars that get given, and it’s a matter of economic Life or Death whether you get a Five or a Two. Five means big houses, exotic holidays and a Guest Spot at the Literary Convention. A bunch of Twos means life continues at the school, Library or whatever Coffee Shop or Burger Bar that is willing to give you employment while you work on your new story.
It certainly wouldn’t matter so much if online book-stores like Amazon didn’t determine everything - placement, promotion, publicity and support - by a sliding scale dictated by the number of stars. It’s a ‘Tyranny of the Stars’. Your rating and ranking as an author isn’t decided by the Academy or the Nobel Prize committee in Norway, it’s solely a product of adding up all the little pointy things, looking around, and seeing who’s got most.
Some authors have known for years that this wasn’t helping them. The first ‘Reviews Rebellion’ started in the 1990s, when the internet was still a baby, or, at least, a loud-mouthed teenager. Now, in 2020, the era of the Reviews Refusers has really come of age. More and more writers are quietly declining the offer of a ‘free’ review, (on the understanding that the donation of a free book will result in a written review online). The promise of reviews is now seen as a poison chalice, which comes with too many unpleasant strings attached. Far better for the author to by-pass this deadly system and try and make contact with readers direct. After all, that’s why most people write books - to talk to an audience, NOT to a Jury of judgement makers and opinion formers. “Don’t take ‘Other’ people’s opinions” is a call to arms, a challenge to the existing iniquitous system. It’s time to let go of SEO, stand up and make up your own mind - while you’ve still got one that’s functional.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tips for Creative Writers: Writing Crime fiction, part 1

Mike is back in the hot seat, but this time it's a chair, not the settee.
He wants to be comfortable because he has some experience to share. Like with 'Expectations'. No, it's not Great Expectations, but the little expectations that readers have when they pick up a book with the label 'Crime Fiction' on it. They're looking for a Detective? Maybe. Like a cop or a policeman. Or maybe a Private Detective, not a Private Eye or a handsome hero. Whatever, you, the writer need to be thinking like a reader too, aware of what your little story might be looking like, before it even starts telling anyone anything.
Luckily we've got Mike here to explain it all. He can do it much better than me.

Part 1 of the story

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Tips for Creative Writers: "Shrink the Social Media"

Wow, it's the same sofa, Man. Yes, Mike hasn't got up off that chair since the last lesson.
He's so keen to share that he's skipped lunch, dinner and tea, and is living off plain water with a hint of lemon. If he doesn't get a Ginger biscuit in a few minutes, he's just going to keel over with exhaustion. Go, Mike. Go! Give your message and get on out. Raid the fridge

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Tips for Creative Writers: "The answer is Yes"

If you like your education like a slap in the face, then this little lesson is for you.

Of course, you'll need to stand back a little, yes back, that's about it. Don't forget we need to keep six feet apart in these troubled times (and try to dodge those flecks of spit - they might be the end of you).

Anyway, author Mike Scantlebury has obviously learned a little bit in the years it took him to amass the dozens of books he's dangling in front of a snoozing public, so would-be authors need to keep their hats on, their masks on their faces, their sunglasses ready and their notebooks open.

I mean, this video is marked 'Entertainment'. Who would possibly lie?

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Alternatives to being cut by Amazon

Amazon? It's 'Ama-zing!'  

What a great start to the day!

As you may know, I am a crime fiction writer. I construct chiller thrillers set around the metropolitan area of Greater Manchester in the North West of England. I’ve been doing it for years, but every day is different. Like today. Before I sat down and started on the latest chapter of my new novel, I just paused, and thought I would have a quick look at my books on Amazon. There’s a lot of them. Maybe over twenty. That’s quite an achievement, but hey, it’s not all down to me - I’ve had a lot of help over the years. Anyway, I was just scrolling down the list and noticed something odd: many Reviews had disappeared. They’d been cut.

Okay, it takes a while to notice that the train is going off the rails and careering down the side of the mountain, so I didn’t want to react straight away and panic. So I looked, and looked again. After a while, the picture became clear. Some books used to have lots of Reviews, but overnight they’d all disappeared. Other Reviews were still there. Why? Why were they saved? Ah, at last I began to see. The ones that were left were the Five Star reviews. All the others - the two stars, three stars, four stars reviews - had simply disappeared. It was like all the Avengers had vanished and only Robert Downey Junior was left. That was what had happened, I just couldn’t see any sign of Thanos. I didn’t know who the evil mastermind was behind the theft.

Now, don’t take this wrong: I’m not complaining. I mean, I could whine about Amazon and how they keep moving the goalposts, but then, it wouldn’t make sense. It’s not the boys and girls at the online shop that are causing problems - it’s the algorithms, right? Something buried deep in the computer has made a decision, and whoops - all over. These things happen. It’s like waking up one day and saying out loud: ‘Alexa, what’s the weather like today?’ and this voice says, ‘I’m not talking to you today’. But No, it’s no good arguing with Alexa, she’s just a robot. Who cut my Reviews? A robot!

However, after a moment’s thought, I realised one special thing: this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me! I mean, I still don’t know what caused it. Amazon, or the computer that runs the whole operation, had said to himself, ‘Hey, this Mike guy has got a jumble of two’s and three’s. Let’s just erase them, they’re getting in the way’. Zap, gone. Game over. Uh, No, actually. Because look at it. Look! The only things left are the 5-star Reviews. So, Mike Scantlebury, Crime Author, has got a shop-front with selves full of thriller novels. ‘Has Mike got any Reviews?’ you ask. Hell, yes. He’s got a bunch of them, and they’re nothing but Fives. High Five, Dudes!

However, it’s an illusion, of course. Sure, the 5-stars are left, but they’re only attached to a proportion of the books. Meanwhile, some of the books have got no Reviews at all! Lower star Reviews removed? Yes, some books lost all the reviews they ever had, and if they were lower down the scale, they simply disappeared. Uh, Mike, why is that a good thing for you? Because, my Friend, a lot of readers are not using a lot of focus when they scan through the books in the store, looking for something to read. They will catch sight of the 5-star Reviews, I guess, and skim over the books with no stars. Well, okay, I lost their attention for those other volumes, but that’s not a worry for me, because if said Reader likes the look of a ’5-star book’ and buys it, they might like it. If they do, they will get to the end and find one useful thing - a big list of all the other books in the series. They liked the one they’ve got? They’ll buy the next one, or the previous one, or the first in the series. Will they notice it hasn’t got any Reviews? Maybe, but not likely. After all, they’re on a mission - find the next one to buy. Why would they stop and examine Reviews? They know what they want!

So thanks, Amazon. You’ve created a pathway through the forest. We know that most readers are overwhelmed by the mass of trees in front of them, so they look for the ’5-stars’ and that’s like a signpost, an arrow pointing one way and it says, ‘Follow this track’. Once they’re on the track, they may become one of my readers. and then I love ‘em. They will get the chance to join my Mailing List and then they’ll find out about all the Special Offers I make available. They’ll find a link to my website and learn all about me and my world, (which isn’t the ‘Manchester’ you read about in the papers). Once they’re in there, in amongst the trees, they’re hardly likely to stray off the path. Amazon has done what it does best, coralled people into being repeat customers and making the bookshop money. Luckily, that’s also beneficial to writers. Well done, Alexa! It’s a great day.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Welcome to the New Pages

Let's talk!

Welcome to 'Publishing is Dead', a New Wave blogging web site devoted to the proposition that Traditional Publishing is in the process of being killed off by the Internet.

Whether you're an author, a reader, or an entrepreneur, our feeling is that you will benefit from New Technology.
The stuffy old duffers in dusty old offices are on their way out.
It's New Wave now.
It's Internet Publishing.
That's the way of the future.

Let's talk about it.

This web site is brought to you by magic.

After all, it's a published article.
Let's face it - most authors don't get published.
They languish, they faint, they suffer.
They send off their parcels, strong in hope, girded in faith.
Year after year.

We're here to tell you there is another way.
It's called Internet Publishing.
And it doesn't involve a slap in the face.

Think of this as a Forum, to contribute and discuss.
Let us know what you think.
But above all - move forward.
New Wave publishing is on the up.
It's the way of the future.

This web site is here to say -
Goodbye Traditional Publishing.

(It's dead. Did we mention that?)

Sure, some of the people joining the discussion are writers.
Some have been published (by Traditional Publishers).
Some are still hoping for that honour.
Some have given up, along the way.
Some have resolved to use Internet Publishing, only.
That's what the Forum is all about!

The guy with the face (above) is Mike Scantlebury,
(creator of 'Scanti-Noir').

Mike Scantlebury is an Internet Author.
You can go to and find his books available there.
Click here  for a direct link.

If you want real books, that's the place to go -
(Lulu prints books, for any author.
Highly recommended.)

Mike also has a Mailing List.
Join that and you will regularly get a few chapters free,
to read at your leisure.

For a chance to join,
go to Mike's website on

Comments, yeah, comments

If you want to say something about publishers, please think of this as your Forum page.

If you want to say something about this site,
use the form below.

We'll be happy to hear from you.

(If you want a reply, make sure you include your email.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Alternatives to Reviewing Books

Most authors who are trying to sell their books online have fallen victim to an obsession with Reviews. Above all, they dream and salivate over the prospect of that wonderful and longed-for ‘Five Star’ Review. Well, fine, you say. That’s the system, right? And it sells books. Doesn’t it? Aw, listen, guys, haven’t you ever heard of the phrase - ‘Think outside the Box’? Well, the Box is the Review system, and it’s a box with chains around it, and jaws. And spikes inside. And razor wire. It needs to change.

The current system of Reviews creates two problems. One for readers and one for writers. Let’s think about writers, first. If you’re new to getting published - cos maybe you’ve written a novel and you’ve put it up on line by yourself - then you will know that all the advice is to ‘get a few Reviews’. That’s the way you get noticed, they say. It will help you sell books. Sounds fine, but, as a new author, where are you going to get those ‘necessary’ Reviews from? Ah, I’ll ask people, you think. No, Chum. Online book-stores like Amazon are way ahead of you. They don’t allow that.

They have algorithms that will check. A Review appears and it’s by someone with the same name? Why, yes, you say. It was written by my sister. Not allowed! Amazon (and other bookshops are available) will delete it. It’s biased, they will say. Of course your family will think well of you. It’s not ‘genuine’, they say. Okay, so you ask your next door neighbour. That’s banned, too. How do they know? Because they know everything about everybody (of course) and the robots know that you, the author, and that person, the Reviewer, have the same Postcode. Right, banned, (because, after all, the woman next door is not going to insult you in print, are they? They won’t want you dumping on their doorstep. They’ll be biased, (the robots say - as only bots can). So you ask someone from your Writing Group. They know stuff about books, you think. They will give you a fair hearing. They won’t be biased. Anyway, who is going to find out? The bots! They check, and discover, that you the author and that other person, the Reviewer, are Friends on Facebook. No good, say the algorithms. Bias, again. Not allowed. Review posted? Review withdrawn, as only an online book-store can.

Baffling. I mean, you’ve been asked to come up with some Reviews but there seems to be some kind of ‘Rules’ operating here, something that’s hardly ever discussed and certainly not revealed by the website. Ever tried asking Amazon how they decide what’s a ‘good’ Review and what’s not? Good Luck with that! Likely, they won’t answer. More likely, they don’t know. After all, robots have their own rules, don’t they? Also, Big Publishers. Yes, the real killer is that all this discrimination only applies to small publishers and Solo Authors. It doesn’t apply to Traditional Publishers. After all, they’ve been around for hundreds of years, so you have to respect their way of doing things, even if it results in bias. Their favoured method is to cultivate a Mailing List of interested readers, who will agree to review the new titles as they come out. Imagine, a Trad Publisher sends out ‘review’ copies to their fifty ‘friends’ and get fifty five-star reviews. Not biased at all. No, and the online bookshops are quite happy with that. The favourable reviews have been bought with the offer of a free copy and the glow of being involved with a big name in the industry. You try that, as a small-time author, giving out a free book and expecting a review in return. Guess what? Amazon etc, (and all the others), have declared such practice illegal, immoral and harmful for small mammals (but only for small publishers etc, not for the Big Boys).

Still, that’s not the end of your unhappiness. You also have to cope with the behaviour of Readers, I mean real people, those who actually buy books (and pay for them). They’re unbelievable! Try it. Approach an interested reader and say to them, ‘Well, actually, I have been lucky and yes, I did get a Five Star review this week’. What do they say? ‘Oh, I never look at Reviews’, they say. Or, ‘Reviews are only one of the factors I rely on before deciding to buy a book’. Oh, really? The facts are different. As an internet author, I can check my sales regularly. Every day, if I want. So, I can see one of my books sold that many, that day. Then, the next day, so many. Then - Oooh, there’s a spike in sales. What caused that? I look at the online bookshop and see that a few favourable Reviews came in that day. Five Star Reviews? Sales go up, (just as the Gurus said they would). Problem is, you can never find the people who did that. Ask. Ask, ask, and ask again, and the readers you encounter will say, ‘No, not me’. Maybe those people don’t want to admit they’re so easily swayed. Maybe they don’t want to look shallow. But the fact is that I’ve confronted crowds and dared them to admit they buy a book simply because it has good reviews and guess what? Nobody holds their hands up. Those easily persuaded, sheep-like buyers, clearly don’t exist. They’re just imaginary. Real buyers are all really discriminating and make their decisions based on personal preference and their own tastes. They do. Or, at least, they say they do.

I call it ‘The Tyranny of the Stars’. Every writer, every reader, finds their future is in the stars. Sales come from stars. Five Stars, best of all. Well, that’s the way it’s working now, and don’t imagine things are going to get better. Recent experience shows that ‘The Rules’ are getting tighter every year - for small publishers and solo authors, at least. No, the Box won’t get more friendly or more open. Not until some enlightened person picks up an axe and smashes the whole sordid charade with a killer blow.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Alternatives to Self-Preservation

Alternatives to Self-preservation

If you’ve ever watched the TV series ‘Downtown Abbey’ you’ll know that the aristocracy were very kind, back then. Once a year Lord Grantham organised a massive FĂȘte in the extensive grounds and invites all those poor, poor people from the village to come and grab some free food and entertainment. Also, once a year, The Family allows the servants to sit at the big table and the toffs deliver the courses - Role Reversal for a night.
It’s a good idea. It means the lower orders are damn grateful for their lives, and harbour no resentments against those who are seemingly more important and higher up the social ladder than them. And if there’s even more - well, if the Lord gets off his fat backside and turns up at a hovel to deliver sustenance and support to the sick - that’s a bonus.
Actually, it’s a case of Self-Preservation. It’s the only way that British society has avoided a revolution for the last four hundred years. Strangely, the new breed of rich people, the so-called ‘One Per Cent’ seem to have no conception of this approach, which is why they are doomed.
The ‘Oncers’ may have made money, but they seem to lack basic Common Sense. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you’ve read a book by Nicholas Taleb, the author of ‘The Black Swan’, amongst others, you will be familiar with the fact that he moved to New York in the ’90s and was confronted by taxi drivers whose favourite phrase was, ‘If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ The assumption was that, since this was the Land of the Free, then everyone was able to start work and make themselves a fortune, if only they would apply themselves. Mr Taleb found the opposite to be true. He set up as a Trader, and worked in the Stock Exchange, the Futures Exchange, the Derivatives Exchange and the Commodities Exchange. He met plenty of successful traders. His question was, ‘If you’re so rich, why ain’t you smart?’ Because he discovered - much to his chagrin - that there was no relation between being clever and being rich. Some people made money in his business, some didn’t. It wasn’t the brightest who made the biggest fortunes. Far from it. In fact, it seemed totally random.
If you’ve read any books by Robert Kiyosaki you will know his Dad was a University lecturer, a very ‘smart’ man. But then he was made redundant at the age of 50. He enjoyed a comfortable but not poor life up to that age, and was struggling ever after. Robert called him his ‘Poor Dad’. But then the young man met the father of his pal, Mike. Mike’s Dad was a successful businessman, and owned shops, a transport firm, property, land and investments. He was the ‘Rich Dad’ who Robert was drawn to, and swiftly adopted his way of looking at things and working methods. Using Rich Dad’s methods in the world of business, Robert became rich - oh, after failing four times. Sorry, did you miss the bit about his bankruptcies? Yes, acolyte Robert didn’t have a smooth ride from ‘Poor’ to ‘Rich’. He tried, he failed. He tried again. Maybe he got lucky.
My point is this: people who start ‘with nothing’, might like you believe that they achieved wealth through their own undaunted efforts and sheer cleverness. The reality, as with most philosophies, is a little more mixed. As Tina Turner once said, ‘What’s luck got to do with it?’ Quite a lot, actually. If you’ve ever listened to a programme on BBC Radio 4 called ‘Desert Island Discs’ you may or may not have noticed that MOST actors, singers, artists - and even business people - will, when telling their stories, get to a point where they say, ‘Oh, and then I was really lucky. I met this person, (or, got this part, or was offered a commission), and everything grew from there’. Right, they are being honest, but few listeners ever hear that part. They are too in love with the idea that effort, brilliance and talent is what makes people famous, when the reality is more murky. My point is - if you’ve been lucky, how about helping others? If you’ve got a lot, how about sharing? Just like ‘Downton Abbey’ !
The alternative? Well, London has seen protesters camping out and throwing bricks through shop windows. New York has seen ‘Anti-Capitalists’ on Wall Street. Well, if I was a capitalist, I’d start giving to charity, right now. Quick. Before anything else bad happens. Unfortunately, the new rich lapse into ‘You’re just envious’, while forgetting there are other Deadly Sins apart from Envy. Would these success stories admit, ‘Me, I’m Greedy, Gluttonous, Dissolute, Vainglorious and Sexually Depraved’? No, I thought not. The list is just too long.
As I said, Britain hasn’t had a revolution since 1642, but France did, in 1789. At that point, the poor - and even the Middle Class - who had had enough of being vilified and deprived, rose up and overthrew the Monarchy, then started murdering the aristocracy, one by one, on the guillotine. That wasn’t very clever, was it? No, the rich need to be less distant, less self-absorbed, and more generous - not because it’s a Good Thing, (which it is), but because it’s a matter of Self-Preservation.

I know, Jonathan, I know. You're stumped.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Alternative ways to Success

I have a friend who is a Drugs Counsellor. Part of his job is to try and convince young people to give up drugs and live a drug-free life. He says it’s a difficult task. His biggest challenge, he told me, is not just convincing the kids that they can have a rewarding life without the constant thrill of exciting chemicals. It’s the sheer hard work of persuading them to stop doing something that’s become a habit and a regular part of their daily routine. Well, that’s a problem in every aspect of life.

Still, with his years of experience, he’s come up with what he calls his ‘Formula for Success’. I was impressed. It’s a procedure that will work with any change you want to make. Let’s go through it.

Number One is to ask yourself: ‘What am I doing - right now?’ AND ‘If I carry on down this road, where will it lead me?’ That last bit is problematical, of course. The sheer definition of a Drug Addict is that they are living for the moment, the next fix, and completely uncaring about tomorrow. The answer to the question for them, of course, is - ‘Probably, in ten years, dead’, and no one wants to admit to that.

Strangely, the first bit comes out as a problem, too, because, my friend says, darn few of us are ever capable of being completely honest. ‘What are we doing?’ Well, if we’ve got a chemical addiction, then the answer is that we’re killing ourselves, one way or another, some time, sooner or later. But, if we’re eating junk food and taking no exercise, then it’s the same answer, and who wants to face up to that. Being a couch potato doesn’t seem like committing suicide, but the outcome is the same. It just takes longer.

Stage Two goes like this: ‘Stop what you’re doing now. Do something else. Choose a different road’. Apparently, that first phrase is a real stopper, because, he says, sure, people want things to improve, but they don’t want them to change. People say things like, ‘I want to join a gym and get fit’. So, you might say, when are you going to start? Ah, they say, I go to the pub three nights a week now, so I’ll just have to fit in the gym on the other nights. The better thing, of course, would be to stop the pub visits - if you really want to get fit - and substitute the gym trips. Not easy to do. People come up with new ideas - like joining a gym - and imagine they can just add them on to an already busy schedule. It doesn’t work. If you want a new habit, the first question to ask yourself, apparently, is: ‘What am I going to give up?’ (It’s the same in my field - book writing. People say to me, constantly, ‘Oh, yes, I’d like to write a book too, but I just don’t have the time’. When I suggest to them that they might need to sacrifice a few pub nights to make the time to write, they just look resentful, as if drinking beer is as essential to them as breathing fresh air. News Flash: it isn’t.)

The second part is just as problematical, it seems. The idea of ‘doing something new’ sounds quite attractive at first, but when you tell a person who wants to lose weight that the new diet means not only having salad for lunch, but NOT having the cream buns in the afternoon, they find it hard to adjust. But it is a choice, pure and simple. You can’t just add the new on top of the old. It would be like some friends I once shared a house with. Their idea of ‘getting fit’ was to run twice around the park at the bottom of the road. Good idea. But then they came back, breathing heavy, slumped down in front of the TV and shared crisps and lemonade. They didn’t seem to think that the exercise was being cancelled out by the snacks. No, the only thing that would have worked for them: do the run, drop the crisps and sugar water. (They wouldn’t listen to me.)

The third part can be even harder to adopt, especially if, as my friend tells me about many of his clients, people like to pretend, ‘No, I’m not a drug addict. I just like to use illegal drugs, now and again.’ Oh, yeah? So, in their heads, all they have to do is cut it down a little more, and they’ll be fine. If you ask them to say, ‘I lead a drug-free life’, they get nervous and say, ‘What? I can never have them ever again?’ It seems like to them like they’re sacrificing a lot. It’s a whole road they have to quit. But, if the road they’re on is leading to an early death, then there’s no other way. Get off that path and head in another direction. Don’t imagine you’ll be safe by carrying on down that same old road - but thinking you will save yourself by trying really hard to move a little slower.

The Third stage sounds easy. ‘Reward yourself.’ The problem is, well, you already know what your favourite reward is. If you take drugs, a ‘reward’ is more drugs. If you need a diet, your regular emotional boost is more food. So, you’ve been really ‘good’ and cut down on eating? Right, you go out and buy a really big cake, (AND tube of ice-cream. You deserve it, right?) This instruction should say, ‘Find a way to reward yourself’, (which may have to be new and not be related to the problem you’re trying to solve). A reward for improving your eating habits might be a day out in the country, or a ticket to a concert of your favourite singer. But you’ll need two things: One, it has to make sense to you. If someone says, ‘My reward is a visit to my Grandma’, don’t knock it. That could be really important to them. Or they might say, ‘My reward is a download of Adele’s latest album’. Well, that’s their taste. Let them have their fun. And two, it’s better if there’s some immediate and obvious link. So, if a man comes round your office offering cakes at 11 o’clock and you’ve avoided stuffing yourself for a week, then think of all the money you’ve saved, and say something like, ‘Right, I deserve a trip to the hair stylist’, (or the Nail Bar or the Laser game room).

But there’s a Three too: don’t give up one bad habit and put another bad habit in its place. If you say, ‘I’m giving up illegal drugs and going to spend more time in the pub with my mates’, be aware that alcohol instead of cannabis is not a helpful swap. Giving up drugs and taking up marathon running is a much better idea. And note, that ‘giving up’ is still the biggest achievement. Creating a vacuum in your life by stopping some destructive habit is a good way to make room to create more productive pastimes. In fact, says my mate, if you’re not actually stopping something, then it’s highly unlikely the new plan will ever get established. You need elbow room. You need space to maneouvre. You need to create some space in your head for thinking about your new life, walking down that new road. Telling the old ways of thinking to move on and move out, is the best way - maybe the only way - to guarantee success.
So, here it is again, in summary:

Stage One: ask yourself - ‘What am I doing - right now? and ‘If I carry on down this road, where will I get?’

Stage Two: Stop what you’re doing. Start something new. Choose a new road.

Stage Three: Reward yourself

Friday, June 28, 2019

Alternatives to 'Cut-offs'

Internet Authors don't need Cut-offs

Here’s a story. When our children were younger, and still at High School, we moved house. The new place was further away from the school, and they told us that there might be financial help available for us towards the cost of our kids' bus fares. We were sent a letter. It said that money was paid to people who lived '8 miles away and further'. We measured the journey in the car and it certainly seemed about that distance. Weeks later we got another letter. Our application was denied. We 'didn't live 8 miles away'. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, according to their calculations, we lived 7.9 miles away. That's seven point nine. Not enough, they said. After all, they said, there has to be a cut-off point.

Would-be authors keep coming up against the same problem. They send their work to Traditional Publishers, and immediately encounter problems. Say they've written a novel in the Horror genre. Oh, the publisher says, we do operate in a range of popular genres and we publish Science Fiction and Fantasy, for instance. But no, not Horror. After all, they say, you have to have a cut-off somewhere. Or let's suppose you've written a Spy novel. We don't publish spy novels, they tell you. But, you say, consulting the publisher's current catalogue, you are publishing two spy novels this month and you actually published three last year. Ah, agrees the publisher, but we figured we've published enough spy novels for this year now and that's why we're stopping this month. After all, there has to be a cut-off somewhere.

A worse problem concerns money. You read in the newspaper that a certain publisher has just paid a fortune to a famous author for his new thriller. Ohhh, you think. This publisher likes thrillers and is willing to pay out large advances. Nothing so simple! When you send in your manuscript, you're given short shrift. After all, the publisher says, ‘We've spent our budget for this year’, (you know on who). ‘We've had to cut-off all advances until next April’, (the start of the new financial year). Sorry.

Internet Authors don't have this problem. They know that they can go to a website like Lulu and get their books published there – no matter how many, what genre you've chosen, and what time of year it is, (or day or night, come to that). They know the service is superb and you can order copies in small or large numbers, as you wish. In fact, there are no limitations at all. No cut-offs.

Because, as you probably know, human beings are not actually robots. We don't have to live in a world where good things are cut off at some arbitrarily chosen point. A few weeks ago I went into a self-service restaurant one evening, hoping for a quick meal. I patiently queued at the counter, but when I got to the head of the queue, the man behind the counter pointed to a sign and said, 'We stop serving at 9 o'clock'. It was one minute past the allotted time. He insisted he was right, but then another chap came out from the kitchen, tray in hand. 'Serve it', he said. 'I haven't started putting things away yet. All the food is still out'. It's true, it was. It was no trouble for me to be served, no extra effort. It just meant breaking that rule that said there was an absolute and unequivocal cut-off. The second bloke wasn't so fixed in his views, and was willing to be flexible. I got fed. That was important to me, (at that particular time, and I was grateful for it).

What's important to hide-bound and inflexible bureaucrats (like the employees at most Traditional Publishers houses) is that The Rules are stuck by, adhered to and never questioned, (even when made up and changed at random). Why? In the first example, why, 8 miles was the limit and that was that. Why? Why not 9 or 10? Had someone checked how many people lived outside this boundary and drawn the map accordingly? Nothing so sophisticated! Had anyone thought to check whether the bus fare for a 7.5 mile journey was any less expensive than an 8.5 mile journey? Not at all. The problem is that when people design these so-called 'rules' they like to make them seem so scientific – without actually doing any science – and usually simply base their demarcation lines on sheer prejudice and blind faith. The usual reason such 'rules' are important, is that, we are told, if they are broken – well then, oh dear, civilisation will collapse, (or something far, far worse). Would it? Had anyone checked how many applications had come from people who lived at 7.5 miles or 7.3 miles? After all, if they bent the rules and let us through – at 7.9 – well, they might get flooded with all those other people within a decimal point or two, mightn't they? Well No, only if such people existed, and nobody could tell me that. They had no record of how many people had been declined or how close they were to that magic figure 8.

The saddest fact from the school story is that the budget for assisted bus fares was under-spent at the end of the financial year, and the school had to send a leaflet round to all parents, inviting them to apply again. That's what you get for 'sticking to the rules' – you don't get the outcome you want! You don't get to helping the people you want to help and you don't get to spend the money you've got available. The alternative? To grow up and realise that the 'cut-off' is drawn up in an office by a balding man with glasses and a pencil. He's not divine; he's not a superhuman genius; and his decisions can be challenged or circumvented at will. That's not anarchy, it's simply Common Sense.