Publishing

Cart, meet horse

On the one hand, I’m definitely proud of myself for deciding to finally just put my stuff out there, and really make a go at this authoring thing.

On the other hand, maybe deciding to just put it out there was a little… shortsighted.

Who knew that running a publishing empire would be as much work as starting any other business? (Well, ok, so I knew it would be work, but I was maybe a little naive about how much work it would be.)

In the past few weeks, I’ve shifted gears… instead of trying a whole bunch of things in an unfocused way and seeing what works, I’ve settled down a bit to some of the foundational work that I skipped right past when I just threw my stuff out into the wild.

What’s that, you ask?

Well, the biggest thing has been building a mailing list, surprisingly.

I’ve been struggling with the issue of how to get reviews on the books, because people use reviews when deciding whether or not to buy. I’ve been spending a lot on ads, but there’s only so much ROI when there aren’t any reviews. All the traffic in the world is only moderately useful without what one author calls ‘social proof.’ But Amazon, at least, is very strict about reviews – in theory, they shouldn’t come from friends and family, and I could actually get suspended if friends and family review my books. (Which is bullshit – I get that they don’t want review manipulation, but for a new author starting out, the only people we have to ask for reviews is friends and family! We don’t have fans yet, silly retail beast.)

It turns out, conventional wisdom in this area is to build a mailing list to generate buzz around new releases, and have an advance reader team who can get ARCs and be prepared to leave reviews right away when a new release releases.

Oh, yeah, there’s also the pesky issue of having an actual launch strategy. Whazzat?

And the fact that ad costs go WAY down when your sales go up, because Amazon’s algorithms work in favor of things that people want to buy.

And I’m discovering that plain old book covers aren’t really effective for Facebook ads. You need separate art for those. So now I have to develop new creative assets for my Facebook ads. Which apparently should be mostly about list building, because the ROI on book sales through Facebook is generally too low to support advertising there for individual books. But when I have enough books to put together a box set, I can advertise that on FB, because the margin will be high enough to support the higher cost of customer acquisition there.

But with all this business stuff, I don’t actually have much time to write.

Oh, yeah, and to build my list, I’m having to offer a reader magnet, which is a free prequel novella. So I have to write that. But because it’s not written yet, I’m doing a free weekly giveaway of the book that is written in the meantime, as incentive for people to actually subscribe now even though the reader magnet isn’t ready yet.

Oh, and then there’s all the specialized tools I need to learn about. I had to learn MailChimp, and set up an automation sequence, and design an email, to start populating my mailing list. (And had to develop those creatives – but I’m actually pretty pleased with the creatives I came up with for that, they almost look professional. The Facebook ads are pretty slick.) I’ve spent way too many hours figuring out how to do 3-D book covers in Pixelmator. (I hate 3d book covers, personally – think they look so cheesy – but evidently they sell.)

And apparently I’m going to have to learn BookFunnel to distribute this novella once I’ve finished writing it, because that will relieve a lot of the technical headache associated with delivering the book file to people and helping them get it into their devices.

I also paid good cash monies on a course from this guy, who apparently made $450,000 via Amazon a couple of years ago, on self-publishing. This year’s course is focused on Facebook ads, but I actually bought it with the promise of an Amazon ads course that he’s adding in May. I’ve been spending a lot on Amazon ads, and they seem to be the only thing driving sales, but my ROI is crap – not a single ad is in the black.

But he touches on a lot of stuff in this course that sort of assumes I’ve done the underlying work and know what some of these concepts are. I do, in a vague sort of way, but I haven’t really done the work to develop these assets and resources for my pen name.

All this is in support of building up one pen name. The other pen name, which I’m currently 12k into a rewrite with, and frankly, am more excited about that content, hasn’t even been touched. I also haven’t touched that rewrite in weeks as I work on developing the infrastructure to support the first pen name, which already has books out. And common wisdom in the self-pub community is to get more books out ASAP, because new books can drive the sales of my backlist – especially when it’s a series – and people are now getting conditioned to ‘binge’ several books at once. I blame Netflix for this and their stupid, awesome original series stuff that gives you a billion episodes at once, freely supporting the binge.

(By the way, Trollhunters is our newest binge on Netflix – surprisingly awesome for a kids’ series. Guillermo del Toro is involved. If you like DreamWorks, take a look.)

So yeah. Tonight I have to edit this week’s podcast for the publishing imprint, because I’m still doing that, for some unknown reason. This weekend, I’d like to put together a video ad for the book – yes, video ads for books are apparently a thing – and work on the novella some. Plus I need to record next week’s podcast. And I still have a module and a half to go in the online course, plus two other bonus courses to consume. And at some point, I should work on building up a list of keywords for my Amazon ads, because those are supposedly the more effective ads (although I’m currently having more success with Product ads – presumably because I haven’t done the work to develop the keyword list).

So basically, I have a full-time job on top of the full-time contract gig. When am I supposed to write? Apparently authors don’t get to do that anymore.

Review

Beauty and the Beast: Why We Don’t Mess with a Classic

I went to see the Beauty and the Beast live action movie over the weekend.

I have opinions.

To give you a little backstory…

Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite stories of all time. It caught my imagination at a young and impressionable age, and it has stuck with me relentlessly into adulthood. I love all versions of it. I love the classic Disney cartoon. I love Robin McKinley’s Beauty. I love Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter. I even love Sheri Tepper’s darker, grittier Beauty. In fact, I’ve got a soft spot for fairy tale retellings of all sorts, but Beauty and the Beast remains one of my all-time favorites. I’ve read somewhere between a half dozen and a dozen different book-length versions of this story.

I say all this to lay a little groundwork. Yes, I have high expectations when you mess with a classic. But I also feel there’s plenty of room for interpretation, if it’s done well, as evidenced by all the various book versions of Beauty that I love. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly a purist, or a snob about having the story told a certain way. If anything, I think I’d call myself an aficionado of the tale.

Now with all that out of the way… I was disappointed by the film.

(I know, you’re shocked, right? With all those qualifiers, you must have thought I was going to say I loved it.)

Note: I did not hate it. I would not say: “Oh, if you go to see it, you’re going to wish you’d had your eyes ripped out and your memory erased.” But I also would not say: “Oh, if you loved the Disney cartoon, you’re going to love this, so go see it.” If anything, I’d say: “If you loved the Disney cartoon, you may find this mildly disappointing – so maybe don’t go see it.”

So why did I find it mildly disappointing, when I’m normally so prepared to love every version of this tale?

Let us take a foray into the way my mind works…

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. I WILL TALK ABOUT SPECIFIC SCENES IN THE MOVIE. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT SPECIFIC SCENES IN THE MOVIE, DON’T KEEP READING.]

Beef 1: The making of the beast

Alright, so it’s tradition to begin the story with the tale of how the Beast got cursed in the first place. If you know the story at all, you know how it went down. He was arrogant and entitled, in love with surrounding himself with beautiful things and beautiful people, and refused shelter to an old beggar woman because she was ‘hideously ugly.’ Or something.

Turns out, she was a beautiful enchantress, and she cursed him. The Beast gets what he deserves! Comeuppance!

In the live action movie, the director does a little too good of a job of setting up the spoiled prince. He’s ridiculously entitled, and the ball scene where he’s surrounded by beautiful women, who are all so focused on looking beautiful and catching his attention, while he cavalierly dances among them, swapping them out interchangeably, with an almost manic energy as he looks around himself – while still managing to be completely empty and soulless – that does too good of a job setting him up as a heartless beast.

Maybe it’s because I’m older and more cynical now. Maybe it’s because of the current political administration, the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and all the Bad Shit I see going down in the regular world these days. For whatever reason, seeing his obsession with all that empty splendor, and the utter frivolity of his life, made him extremely unsympathetic to me. The entire scene seemed a little tone deaf to me – a little too on the nose given the current state of the world – and all I felt was “good riddance” when the enchantress cursed him.

The thing about this story is; you’re supposed to want to root for the Beast. You’re supposed to be glad, and relieved, and encouraged, to see him changing. But as the story progressed, all I kept thinking was: “No! Don’t let him change back. That arrogant human male was ridiculously entitled and horrible. Let him stay the Beast forever, and learn humility, and lead a simple life, and be happy.” Because they did too good of a job setting up the horrible spoiled prince, I didn’t want to see him again.

In all the other versions of the story, the prince is portrayed as an arrogant little jackass who needs to learn a lesson. That’s OK. He’s not truly a bad person – there’s a good heart in there somewhere under the spoiled veneer – he just needs someone to help guide it out of him.

In this version, he’s completely unsympathetic right out of the gate. Irredeemable. He’s a cold-hearted snake… look into his eyes. Uh oh.

For reals, though, they went too far establishing his backstory.

Beef 2: Belle’s village

Belle has always been different. She’s smart, and bookish, and that sets her apart. She longs for adventure, while the rest of the villagers are content to live their small, petty, unchanging lives, day-in, day-out.

Fine. Well and good. That version of Belle is just blandly sympathetic enough that we can project our own version of ‘otherness’ onto her. The village people look a little askance at her – they recognize that she’s different – but for the most part, there’s no malice in it. They’re just simple people, and they can’t understand her.

In the live action version of the movie, the villagers cross the line from being understandable, simple, village people (hah!) to… horrible, illiterate, Republicans.

I mean no disrespect to Republicans.

Well, OK, only a little.

The villagers are downright pissy that Belle is so different. But I was chilled by how they reacted when they caught her trying to teach another girl to read. They were absolutely appalled by the idea of educating another girl – “One is bad enough!” – and they decide they have to ‘teach Belle a lesson.’ So they destroy her invention, literally breaking it into pieces and scattering it across the paving stones.

There was so much wrong with this scene for me.

As a woman, we already face this kind of bullshit on a regular basis. Education for women isn’t prioritized as much as education for men, and if you’re at all progressive, you’re aware of the lack of representation of women in STEM. This is exactly the kind of thing that keeps women down. Showing repression in such a stark way in a Disney film? I know we’re supposed to empathize with Belle, and think the villagers are horrible – but according to Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates art.” I can’t help but feel that some people are going to take the wrong message from this.

“Crap, that woman is educated, and she’s trying to improve the lot of other women, too! Let’s break her cool stuff and teach her a lesson so she shuts up and gets back in the kitchen and makes us a pie.”

There’s just too much of this type of thing that happens in real life for me to feel easy about watching it in a Disney movie. And it takes the villagers from being simple but harmless people who can’t understand the more complex Belle, to being horrible people who are actively repressing women.

Of course, it’s exacerbated by how Gaston then tries to mansplain to her how she should handle the headmaster. “Smile a little more and be more pleasant.” As a woman? ZOMG I am so sick of hearing how we need to be more pleasant to protect fragile masculinity, or live up to some stupid masculine ideal of what a woman should be. Just… no.

Yes, Emma Watson then gets to sing that iconic Belle reprise about how she wants much more than this provincial life… and it definitely has more teeth in this version, after that chilling series of exchanges. But there’s also a sort of stark hopelessness about it, when you think about how many other women are suffering similar fates in Belle’s world, and how she herself would have ultimately succumbed to ‘the provincial life’ if she hadn’t been kidnapped and locked up by some monster.

Which brings me to…

Beef 3: The Beast/Belle relationship

This wasn’t all bad, actually. In fact, I think I’d say this was probably the best part of the movie. Emma Watson was very convincing as a Belle who was capable of standing up to the hideous monster who held her captive. And you really felt she had more agency in helping to change and humanize the Beast than you did in the old Disney cartoon.

That being said… because they’d done such a good job of setting up the horrible spoiled prince in the beginning, and the beastly Beast before Belle started working her magic on him, the progression of their relationship seemed uneven. The progression seemed reasonable in the beginning – “Oh, he’s horrible, he’s horrible… ok, ok, she’s starting to change him a little, he’s becoming more likeable…” but then there was a big jump from that to the Something There moment. It didn’t feel earned in the same way it did in the Disney cartoon version. (Or at least, there wasn’t as far to go in the Disney cartoon, so the relatively short progression was a little more believable.)

There’s also the fact that as an adult, the Stockholm Syndrome aspect of it bothers me way more than it did when I was a kid who was too young to understand it.

Plus, with how unsympathetic the prince had been before he’d been transformed into the Beast, I really didn’t want him to turn human again. I wanted him and Belle to remain platonic buddies, and she could live in the castle, and educate herself in the library, and maybe start a school for all the poor girls in the village who the ridiculous headmaster wouldn’t educate.

Beef 4: Gay lefou

I have very mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand: Yay! Inclusive representation in a Disney film! An openly gay character!

On the other hand: seriously? You had to make him a ridiculous caricature who’s in love with a straight man and too blinded by his love to see how bad the straight man is? The gay man is a bumbling fool who plays second fiddle to an arrogant egomaniac, who is the one true ‘bad guy’ in the film? There are so many things that are bad about this portrayal, and the fact that it’s this character that’s gay, that it basically undoes all the goodwill toward Disney in including a gay character at all.

I have a lot more opinions about it, but as someone who is outside the community, I don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth – or ‘straightsplain’ something that isn’t really my issue. I’ll just leave it at: I feel really ambivalent about this.

Beef 5: the cross-dressing queen

Similar to the openly gay LeFou, there’s another moment in the film that I have very mixed feelings about. In the scene where the villagers are attacking the castle, the Wardrobe (who is Madame Garderobe in this version of the film) does some magic with ribbons and bolts of cloths, and when it’s all done, three men are standing there in dresses and wigs. Two of them look at each other and bolt, terrified to see that they’re cross-dressed… but the third turns toward the camera and ‘works it.’ He’s obviously happy with the transformation.

Now… yay? And… boo. Shame on you, Disney, for turning this into a cross-dressing queen joke. I want to give Disney the benefit of the doubt and say they’re shooting for inclusiveness, but the way they’ve done it here is absolutely tone-deaf. It’s a joke, another caricature like LeFou. And of course, in the end of the movie, this man ends up ballroom dancing with LeFou. Because the one gay man in the film, and the one cross-dresser, must end up together.

Just… no. Bad Disney. Do better. If you’re going to try to be more inclusive, and bring in marginalized cultures, do it right. Don’t make it a joke, or make the people portraying these lifestyles caricatures. Bad filmmakers.

Beef 6: gaston

Right, so in the Disney cartoon, Gaston was a bad guy. He’s probably one of the worse bad guys across Disney films, in fact – shooting the Beast in cold blood. That’s tough to outdo. But in this live action version, they’ve managed to outdo it.

Instead of being the arrogant asshat we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing, this version of Gaston is positively… evil. He doesn’t just pay off the asylum worker to lock up Maurice and get him out of the way so Gaston can woo Belle… he actually ties the poor old man up and leaves him for dead in the woods, where he (and a nervous LeFou) believe Maurice will get eaten by wolves. When the old man shows up later in town, Gaston lies about what happened, asks if the villagers are going to take a crazy old man’s word – and the woman who rescues him – against Gaston’s own, and spins it that “Maurice is a danger to himself and others,” getting the man locked up.

You know… I could keep unpacking how much more horrible and evil Gaston was in this version of the story versus the old Disney cartoon, because there’s a lot more… but I don’t want to waste more time on it. Bottom line: they went way farther with this character than they did with the old Gaston, and it didn’t add anything to the story. They were probably attempting to justify his ultimate demise, but I found it off-putting.

Beef 7: Unnecessary new music

Alright, so I know this director wants to put his own mark on the story, and Disney somehow wants to justify remaking the film… but just NO on the new music. Unnecessary. Didn’t add anything to the story. Just beat us over the head with stuff we already knew, to the form of music that wasn’t nearly as catchy as the original. Fell flat here.

Beef 8: unnecessary story/lines

There were other parts of the film where Disney added new story or new lines. Maybe to justify the way a character behaves – such as the motivation for the Beast becoming the horrible man he was as the prince – to the backstory on what happened to Belle’s mom. I didn’t feel that any of this really added to the story. And in some cases, the lines verbally explained things that we already knew from subtext. I hate when writers feel the need to do that. This is an old, beloved story – we already know what’s going on here. You don’t need to add two new lines of dialogue that state it aloud. You’re just beating a dead horse.

Bottom Line

It’s clear that Disney was attempting to update and modernize an old, beloved, classic story. But classics become classics for a reason – they’re timeless. By adding some of the things that Disney added, they’re either beating us over the head with story we already know, or didn’t need to know – or trying to force some more modern ideal on a film that didn’t need it.

Am I happy with this movie? Nah. It was disappointing.

Will I watch it again? I’ll probably rent it when it comes out, just to see whether or not my initial complaints hold up after a little distance from my first reaction.

But I won’t bother to buy it. I’ll reserve that for the original Disney classic cartoon, and all the book versions of the story that get things so right.

In the meantime, I’ll sit here and quietly muse on how a studio that can get things so right – like with Moana, or the original Beauty and the Beast, and some of the old classic Disney cartoons – can also do stuff like this, that comes off as tone-deaf and goes too far in ways that don’t add to the story, but do drive away loyal fans.

Oh, what a fickle business is publishing.

Publishing

Oh, what a fickle business is publishing.

Or at least, the selling books portion of it is.

(Well, who am I kidding? That’s really all there is to it, anyway.)

Starting from scratch with a publishing imprint and unknown pen names was always going to be an uphill battle. Building contacts from scratch, establishing a brand with the new pen names… that was going to be challenging. Is challenging. I knew it would be time and capital intensive.

I’ve got a raft of Amazon ads going right now, which is driving a steady and increasing number of book sales, but I’m still outspending the book revenue with the advertising – a LOT. Fortunately, my paying work right now can fund this growth stage, but it’s a little nerve-wracking to see the ad dollars flowing out in a steady stream and the revenue trickling in a few drips at a time.

I’ve been experimenting with different ad copy for different target audiences, and tweaking the book description copy on the page, and my conversions have steadily improved. But I’m still missing the very important Gold Stars. That’s right – Reviews, baby.

Without review data, it’s that much harder to get someone to click the “Buy” button. Even the best-written book descriptions in the world don’t mean much until we see “Oh, 109 people have rated this and it has decent reviews, so at least someone likes it.”

As a reader, I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. I’ll pass on books that don’t have many reviews, by unknown authors, even if the writing looks decent or seems like something I might enjoy. I can’t blame other readers for doing the same now.

I feel like if I can just get some reviews, the conversions will go up drastically. Some of the ads might even start paying for themselves. It will also jump-start Ye Olde Online Bookseller’s algorithms to market the book more effectively even when I’m not paying for ads – should boost the organic search results.

It’s just getting past this initial hurdle of getting the books into enough people’s hands to get reviews on them that’s the hard part.

In the meantime, book sales come in fits and starts. In the beginning, I wasn’t really marketing, so there were no book sales (while I was trying to clear up some problems with the listing pages). Since the beginning of March, though, sales have steadily increased – first one, then one every day, then a handful of days with none, then a few… currently, in the past seven out of eight days, I’ve gotten at least one sale every day… multiple sale days are becoming the norm, versus days with none or only one. But that makes the days like today, with no sales, worse.

“Why did I sell five the other day, then three, then one, then four, and now none? Why no sales today? Is there something wrong with the page? Have the ads stopped serving? Why? Why?

The changeable uncertain nature of this business is tough. Plowing ahead when I don’t necessarily understand all of the variables involved, or when my sheer stubborn will isn’t enough to just make it work, isn’t always easy. I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, spending the money to try to get over this hump, or whether I should go back to something ‘safer’ and put the money toward household goals, instead. It feels kind of selfish to just be pouring this money into a dream just to try to make it work.

On the other hand, I’ve gotten kind of accustomed to pushing at something long enough to make it give way and make it work. Pretty much everything in my life has been like that. “Hard, hard, hard – oh, wait, there we go, this is actually a thing that I can do.” Whether it’s starting my own business when I started freelancing a decade ago, or losing weight and exercising, or learning how to ride a motorcycle, or even just turning a wrench… there’s a point when you get the leverage just right and the thing becomes easy.

I guess being stubborn isn’t the worst personality trait. So for now, I’ll just keep trying different things and see what it takes to make this publishing thing work. It would really be nice to get to a point where it doesn’t take quite so much time, though, so I could get back to the thing I really love – writing.

Who would have guessed that starting a second business on top of my regular full-time business would leave me less time to do my hobby?

*laughs*

Personal

Welcome to my new home

If you’re here, it’s because you’re looking for Dachary Carey.

(Or maybe you’re here because you found me through one of my projects, or one of my old articles.)

Welcome!

This is a long-overdue overhaul of my old site. When I decided to stop focusing on client work and work on my own writing, I took down my old website. It was really focused on ‘selling’ me as a writer to potential clients. I used it in job proposals, email signatures, on business cards, etc.

I don’t wanna do that anymore. I want to focus more on my own writing, and on my burgeoning publishing empire. So this page is all about me – the person, the writer, the publisher, the traveler, the adventurer. It’s basically a glorified blog, with a little background on some of my various projects.

Well, ok, it wasn’t quite that much of a straight line from there to here… I was having some deep thoughts on Saturday about writing, and wanted to blog them somewhere. But I don’t have a blog anymore. There was one attached to my old site, but I took that site down when I stopped focusing on client work – and it was mostly focused on topics that clients would find relevant.

So I embarked on what turned out to be a lengthy relaunch of my personal site just so I could jot down a few notes about writing.

And of course, here it is the following Wednesday, and I’ve gotten the fancy new site, and written hundreds of words about various things… but that post on writing? Nowhere to be found. (Yet.)

Hah. So this is me. Someone who will set up and populate an entire friggin’ website on a whim because I want to blog something.

Welcome to my little corner of the Internet. I hope you’ll find it… entertaining? Amusing? Thought-provoking? Relatable? Many things.

I promise to start filling it with content soon.

But not too much, because I’m also busy writing, and running a publishing empire, and podcasting, and (hopefully someday again) traveling, and, and…