Tuesday, 16 December 2008

University results

I'm studying part-time at Massey towards a Certificate in Health Science. I'm now a quarter of the way there - just got my results for this year's classes. I got a B+ in Psychology and an A in Nutrition, which I'm happy with (especially since the psych assignments were marked really hard).

I'm studying two papers over the summer too - Applied Science for Health Professionals and Human Bioscience: Normal Body Function. Lots of anatomy and physiology. It's interesting.

Human bodies are amazingly complicated things. I'd hate to have to run one.

Oh, wait...

Monday, 24 November 2008

Preorders for Changing Health Behaviours

(Crossposted from my hypnotherapy blog)

Changing Health Behaviours cover

I'm very happy to announce that my book and CD Changing Health Behaviours (formerly entitled Life Leverage) is now available for preorder from the Hypno NZ shop at the special preorder price of $17.50 (NZD) plus postage and packing.

(As at when I'm posting this, that's about $9.50 USD, 7.5 Euro or 6.3 pounds, but currency conversions can change quickly.)

The files go out today for printing (of the book) and duplication (of the CD). The preorder period lasts until 31 December 2008, after which I will begin shipping, and the price will rise to $25.00 NZD plus P&P.

Preorder books will also be personally signed by me - please provide a note with your PayPal order if you want me to write anything in particular in them.

Changing Health Behaviours is based on several sources of material. One is this very blog, Living Skillfully, and you can check out a sample of what will be in the book by reading my series on Health Behaviours and Change Techniques. Naturally, I've reworked the material, expanded it, and incorporated more from the courses I run, Befriend Your Stress and Change Your Mind, but reading the blog will give you an idea of the topics I cover, what kind of things I say about them and the quality of my writing.

The book gives sound basic advice on what a healthy lifestyle consists of and, more importantly, personal change techniques that actually work to enable you to adopt a more healthy lifestyle. It includes a simple but practical introduction to using self-hypnosis and material on habit change, emotional management and change planning and execution.

The other main source is my hypnotherapy recordings. Again, you can listen to free samples of these in my podcast.

The CD which accompanies the book holds 20 MP3 tracks, all of my Healthy Lifestyle and Transformation Skills recordings, plus several extras. The total comes to over three hours. These are tracks that I give as bonuses to my clients, and the feedback I've had has been excellent.

At the end of each chapter of the book, I indicate which tracks to listen to in order to help you make the shifts of thinking, feeling and behaviour that I've been discussing in that chapter.

I normally sell these recordings on three audio CDs (Transformation Skills is a double CD set) for a total of $25, so $25 for all them (and a few extras) plus the book is a great deal, and $17.50, the preorder price, is an excellent deal.

So order now, and I'll ship you a personally signed book and CD to help you actually carry out those New Year's resolutions this time.

Friday, 21 November 2008


Apparently I'm a different person on my different blogs.

From fellow hypnotherapist Adrian Tannock I found out about Typealyzer, which analyzes a blog and gives you a Myers-Briggs type for the author.

Like Adrian, I'm an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs, at least I was last time I was tested, and this is indeed the result I get for Living Skillfully. Genderanalyzer says, 69% chance I'm male, as well.

But here at The Innocent Man, I'm apparently an ESTP (81% chance I'm male):

ESTP - The Doers

The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

When I'm writing Gu - which I've just finished doing, by the way - I'm an INTP (59% male, but "quite gender-neutral", which is encouraging because at least half the dialogue and most of the viewpoint is from female characters):

INTP - The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

City of Masks, by contrast, is ISTP (and 75% male):

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

So... which is the true Mike?

Perhaps we all are.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Magic Lost, Trouble Found

Magic Lost, Trouble Found Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A nice piece of work, with standard fantasy tropes (elves, goblins, magic, a sinister High Priestish guy, a magical McGuffin) used skillfully to create a story that goes well beyond the usual boring, repetitive genre fantasy.

I liked the main character (who's also the narrator), who's in the popular Kickass Heroine mold but definitely not a Mary Sue. She struggles and suffers but never abandons her friends or her principles for any reason.

The other characters could be told apart from each other easily (not always the case in fantasy), and the setting is evocative and interesting.

I'm looking forward to more.

View all my reviews.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Election results

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

Well, the US and NZ elections have both delivered the results I was expecting and, with reservations, hoping for. I'm reasonably confident that both Barack Obama and John Key will produce some notable screwups during their term of office, but in both cases I preferred them - again, with reservations - to the alternatives. I'll be interested to see what happens, in a "waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop" kind of way.

I was, as I think I said, hoping for an outcome where National needed the Maori Party to govern. They don't, strictly speaking, need them, but they're inviting them into the coalition anyway (presumably insurance to keep ACT in line in case they go over the top with their ideology), and that creates a much-needed balance and a direct connection to people who are likely to suffer from economic upheavals and the unintended consequences of government policy.

So here are my three main worries about each of the election results.

I worry that Barack Obama:
  1. Despite the smooth running of his campaign suggesting that he can pick good staff, will pick the wrong people for the jobs that need to be done, as George Bush did in some - though not all - cases, and that this will, as with Bush, lead to his intended changes either being hijacked or failing to be executed properly.
  2. Will splash money around without accountability on how it is spent or control of the consequences. We're seeing, potentially, the first example of this with the bailout for the auto industry.
  3. Will disperse the goodwill and popularity he has by enacting radical policies that the electorate generally doesn't support.
I worry that John Key's National-led government:
  1. Will pursue a hard-line economic ideology at the expense of real people and in the face of evidence that it isn't working.
  2. Will be a chameleon which tries to be everything to all people and ends up being nothing to anybody.
  3. Will turn around and be just as paternalistic and interfering as Labour was, though possibly about different issues.
It will be interesting to watch.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Minor Party Leaders' Debate

I watched the minor party leaders' debate the other night (only just getting round to blogging about it).

It was a lovely piece of meaningful randomness that, purely by the luck of the draw, Act's Rodney Hide was at the extreme right (from the viewpoint of the leaders) and the Greens' Jeanette Fitzsimons at the extreme left. Both of them showed themselves to be highly ideologically driven, which to me, even if I agreed with more of their policies than I do, casts doubt on their ability to implement sensible change. I'm all for having principles, but I believe that if you're too ideological about how your principles are to be implemented, it hinders your ability to adapt to the realities of the situation. I'm more pragmatic than idealistic, in other words, so parties that are more idealistic than pragmatic don't appeal to me.

United Future's Peter Dunne reminded me of a rather fussy manager who was originally an accountant (he wasn't; he used to be a senior bureaucrat, which explains his high-level, managerial, government-run, "let us make haste slowly" approach to the issues).

Jim Anderton of the Progressives, the party I was thinking of voting for because I agree with many of their policies, failed to impress me, and in fact I'm now less likely to vote Progressive than before the debate. He seemed uncomfortable and defensive.

Winston Peters of New Zealand First was his usual blustery self, and in his "vision statement" painted a picture of an ideal past which, as far as I'm aware, never existed outside his imagination, but which he wants us to return to in some unspecified way. He made, I think, the only really petty personal attack, on Rodney Hide, despite mentioning almost every time he spoke that now was not the time for petty bickering. He was in a good mood, though, which is unusual for him in a media context.

Tariana Turia from the Maori Party was impressive, I felt, and I'm going to give their policies another look, even though, because of vote-splitting, voting for them is throwing my party vote away. (I'm probably doing that anyway, to be realistic, so it should at least be for a party that I respect.) Of all the parties, the Maori Party is the most in touch with its constituents, and Turia advocated community-based initiatives rather than Government bureaucrats as the way forward, which I liked.

She also refused to be bulldozed into making commitments that she wasn't ready to make, such as which major party the Maori Party will support after the election. At the moment the Maori Party is the only one which is still prepared to go either way. Act and United Future have declared for National, who have unilaterally ruled out working with NZ First (should they by some miracle get back in). The Progressives have been in coalition with Labour all the way along and that's not going to change, and the Greens have analyzed the policies of the two main parties and said that National is going in the opposite direction from them on most things and Labour on only about half, so they are prepared to support Labour but not National.

There was actually a surprising amout of mutual respect being shown in the debate, reminding us that under the MMP system parties do have to work together. Winston Peters and Rodney Hide are daggers drawn, of course, but I was interested to hear Rodney Hide being supportive and respectful of the Maori Party and their wish to entrench the Maori seats constitutionally. Perhaps he's under instructions from National to play nice with the Maori Party because National may need them.

The poll trends are interesting. National's lead is reducing as the election approaches, but at the moment they are still ahead in the polls and, by the numbers in the last poll, could still govern alone (something I wouldn't like to see). Best outcome from my viewpoint would be that National/Act/United Future fell just short of a majority of seats but had more than Labour/Greens/Progressives, and the Maori Party supported National on confidence and supply in exchange for concessions but voted freely on everything else. Then we'd really see some interesting times, as everyone would have to talk to everyone else to get any legislation passed, and we might not see as much ham-handed and unpopular social engineering, if we're lucky.

What it would do to the economy is anyone's guess.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Publicity Officer

Well, I'm now the Publicity Officer for the NZ Association of Professional Hypnotherapists.

I've been thinking about offering to do that for a while, so I approached the secretary at the NZ Hypnotherapy Federation conference this weekend just gone. (Good conference, by the way.)

I said, "Would the NZAPH like a publicity officer?"

She shook my hand and said, "Welcome, publicity officer."

She then took me to the president, who literally embraced me. Apparently it's been difficult to get anyone to do anything lately, so he was delighted to get a volunteer.

My colleague just down the road, who has been the newsletter editor, also took the opportunity to offload that job onto me, which is fine.

I really want to improve the positive profile of hypnotherapy in public consciousness, so here's my opportunity.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Fiction review: Urban Shaman

Urban Shaman  (Book 1 of Walker Papers) Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've been sampling a bit of urban fantasy lately and this is the best I've found - or at least the one that matches my particular tastes best. There's an endorsement from Jim Butcher, one of my favourite authors, on the cover that says, among other things, that the main character is likeable, and she is (in contrast to some other urban fantasy main characters I've been reading recently, Marla Mason being the main one that comes to mind). She's strong, courageous and has a clear moral centre, but is also flawed and aware that she is going to have to deal with her flaws and that it will be painful.

The other thing I liked was that the story is redemptive. The main character sets out to heal the villain - not destroy him. We could do with more of that.

Well told, with a good touch of humour that isn't overdone. I recommend it.

View all my reviews.

Friday, 12 September 2008


So. Upcoming elections.

Not the US ones, no, let's not go there, they're becoming just another branch of the entertainment industry now like everything else in the US. The NZ ones, which have just been announced as taking place on Saturday 8 November. (The announcement was turned into the start of campaigning, too.)

By the way, there's been a real turnover in world leaders lately, hasn't there? First Helmut Kohl, then they started falling like flies: Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair, John Howard... people who'd been around for years. George Bush, one way or another, come January. Even the dictators who've ruled for decades - Fidel Castro's gone. Saddam Hussein, of course. Rumour is that Kim Il Sung isn't well. Mugabe's days are, hopefully, numbered.

And the way things are going, if the NZ PM counts as a world leader, she's going to be another casualty. The Labour Party failed to take the hint at the last election from their very reduced majority that people were sick of being overtaxed and overlegislated and having their opinions ignored, and barring a really major screw-up by National or some act of total heroism by Labour, they're going to be out and National will be in.

Last election, the National leader was Don Brash, whose economist's personality and inspired "Let's turn the clock back 30 years!" message just didn't resonate enough with the electorate to make National a viable alternative to what we, rather reluctantly, had. Now it's John Key, or "Mr Keys" as my mother always calls him. He's her local MP, and she can't stand him - reckons he's egotistical and self-serving, a hollow man. He's a politician, so she's probably right, but that's not how he comes across on TV, so he remains electable. In fact, he sounds reasonable, sensible, doesn't do the usual National-in-opposition thing of simply criticising the Government at every turn - has even agreed with a lot of their policies, which is a new tactic. Like I say, barring startling events he's almost certainly going to be our next PM.

Which lands me up against the vexed question of who to vote for, again. The question, as always, is, "Who represents my views least poorly?" Last time I voted Progressive, because of Jim Anderton's anti-drug policies (and much good it did - they lost their second MP and he got in on his electorate seat, like he has for donkeys' years, through three changes of party).

For the sake of any non-New Zealand readers, NZ has an MMP (mixed member proportional) electoral system, which means everyone gets two votes. You vote for someone who is standing in your local electorate, who also belongs to a party, and whoever gets the most votes in each electorate goes into parliament. But you also have a party vote, which is counted nationally, and the number of seats a party has in parliament is topped up so that it matches the proportion of votes that party got overall.

It's not quite that simple; if the party wins more electorate seats than they would get in proportion to their party vote, they don't get them taken away, and you have to get at least 5% of the total party vote or an electorate seat or else your party doesn't make it into Parliament. You pre-announce a list of candidates, and anyone who doesn't win an electorate seat but is high enough up the list to be included goes into Parliament as a list MP.

So I have two votes. One for MP for New Lynn, my electorate. Currently this is David Cunliffe, who I have to say for someone so apparently obsessed with his own smiling face has done a good job in his portfolios - especially health, which needed a proactive shakeup. I don't expect that he'll go out, it's a pretty solid Labour electorate (he's number 8 on the party list so he'll be in regardless, but he'll likely win the electorate), so a vote against him is just a throwaway anyhow. I probably will vote for someone else because it goes against the grain to vote for a Labour candidate even if it makes no difference. Don't know who, though.

Then there's the party vote. The trouble is, this time round I want to vote strategically, because I'm expecting a major swing to National and I don't think being able to govern alone would be good for them (or us). So I want to try to vote in someone who has some possibility of reigning them in and making them listen to other points of view, which is what MMP is really good for.

So, not Labour or National, obviously. I'm keeping up a proud family tradition, inherited from my parents, of never voting for the two major parties, even though both my grandfathers were very involved in the early years of the Labour Party (when it was working-class and proud of it, and so were they). Even in the First Past the Post years when a vote that wasn't for National or Labour was always wasted, my parents voted Social Credit, despite the fact that it was kind of a joke party with an economic policy nobody could understand. (Not a deliberate joke, like the McGillicuddy Serious Party, which one of my old friends from school stood for once. One of the other sort.)

I agree with the Greens on the importance of the environment, and I'd vote for them - if they didn't have such bizarre radical policies on everything else. Seriously, they're trying to save a planet they don't even live on.

New Zealand First is a spent force with the inquiry into Winston Peters, their leader, and whether he did or didn't accept dodgy donations. Wouldn't have voted for them anyway, I've never liked his bluster. Expect to see the back of them this time.

Progressives, it'll probably go the same way as last time, Jim Anderton will win his electorate and they won't get enough party vote to get a second MP. Since they probably wouldn't go into government with National they would otherwise be a good choice, especially as I agree with most of their policies. Pity.

United Future live up to their name - "We're so centrist!" "How centrist are you?" "We'll support whoever gets into Government!" So not much counterbalance there. To be fair, they have got Labour to give some concessions to them on some issues, but I don't think they would push National too hard on not screwing the electorate over, since they haven't done so with Labour to any detectable degree.

Act, no help there, they're natural allies of National if they even get back in.

Which, apart from some parties which aren't in Parliament yet and are unlikely to be at this election, leaves the Maori Party. I'm seriously considering voting for them this time. I respect Pita Sharples, their co-leader, I hear good things about him - he's an elder at the local marae - and I think they're genuinely working for the betterment of their people and doing so in a sensible way. I also like the way that they consult with their constituency before adopting policy, a marked contrast to the main parties. Problem is, last time they won most of the Maori electorates (which, since I'm not Maori, I can't enrol in) but got a low proportion of the party vote, since a lot of people split their vote - electorate vote for them, party vote for Labour. If that happens again, a party vote for them is probably a throwaway.

Maybe it needs to be Progressives after all.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Rode Podcaster USB microphone

I just spent rather more than I'd planned to on upgrading my microphone, from a $50 Audio Technica lapel mic (still a reasonable piece of gear, it's Audio Technica after all, but definitely low end) to a Rode Podcaster. It's the USB version of their Broadcaster product.

Damn, this thing is quiet. And by "quiet" I mean "lacking in background noise", not "low-gain". I'll be getting much cleaner audio out of this, I think, for my hypnotherapy recordings, podcasts and videos.

I just recorded a few words in Audacity and played them back through my laptop speakers, which aren't exactly top-of-the-line. When I'm not speaking, you hear... nothing. Just as it should be.

I haven't tried it through GoldWave yet - that's the application I use for recording, it's got a couple of nice features that Audacity lacks, though one of them that I used a lot with the other mic was noise reduction. I suspect I won't be doing that quite so much now.

I did consider a Snowball, which I hear good things about all over the Net and which is somewhat cheaper, but this review at Emusician mentioned that the Rode was specifically designed for spoken voice, and when I went on TradeMe a guy was selling one second-hand but basically unused for a much discounted price. Turned out he lived just up the road from me so I picked it up same day.

I just got a mic stand delivered (also bought through TradeMe) and set it up. You wouldn't want to use this mic without a stand. It's bigger than I expected, about 20cm long and a good 4cm in diameter (plus apparently it can pick up noise if it's hand-held). I'll be recording in a carpeted basement on a concrete slab, so I probably don't need the optional shockmount to eliminate noise.

I'm just glad I'm not a Freudian, given the shape of the Rode vs the Snowball.

Life Leverage: my new nonfiction project

Over at Hypno NZ I've just announced Life Leverage: Simple techniques to improve your health and wellbeing.

The project is a book-and-CD combo, with the hypnotherapy tracks on the CD supporting the changes that the book talks about making.

I've created a mailing list where you can sign up for updates on this and my other hypnotherapy-related projects, such as audio recordings and videos. The idea is to assess demand so that I can decide what kind of a print-and-distribution model to adopt.

If health is a topic that interests you, please take a look. I try to stay on the scientific end of the health advice spectrum and make sure that my recommendations are well supported, but at the same time treat human beings as human beings and not squishy machines.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

City of Masks storygame at Nerdly Beach Party

If you're in the neighborhood of San Simeon State Park on Friday 19 September, my storygame based in the same setting as the City of Masks novel is set to be playtested at Nerdly Beach Party.

Thanks to Nancy (Faerieloch) for facilitating this.

Review: Nightlife, by Rob Thurman

Nightlife Nightlife by Rob Thurman

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A good one for Jim Butcher fans. This is urban fantasy, a little darker and scarier than the Dresden Files perhaps, but comparably well-written and entertaining.

Cal (short for Caliban) is the son of a monster and a Gypsy fortune-teller. His half-brother Nico is a martial arts genius who protects him and tries to raise him right. With the help of the puck Robin Goodfellow (now a car salesman in New York) and a cute teenage psychic, they confront Cal's darkside family, who are very motivated to ensure that human history never happened.

Rob Thurman does a great job of the narrative voices and writes a thrilling, fast-moving and action-packed plot.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Pentasystem progress

I've been working a bit lately on version 0.6 of the Pentasystem, my roleplaying game system for creating novel-like or movie-like stories in which the heroes change and their lives get complicated as they involve themselves in fighting for what they care about.

It's actually coming together pretty well at last. I've solved a couple of significant issues with the system recently, and it should be in shape to playtest soonish, or at least soonesque.

Hopefully by the time it is, Matt Machell and I will have our browser-based online tabletop emulator up and running and I'll be able to find some people to do a playtest with, despite living in a story-games desert.

Some high points of the system:

  • The Coolmap. This is a diagram on which you put what you think will be cool to have in your game. Introducing things that people thought would be cool is rewarded in the game by giving you more resources.
  • Characters and situation are meshed together at the beginning, so not only are you driven to conflict by what you care about, what you care about is linked to what the other characters care about.
  • How many dice you roll is based on how important the attribute you're using is to your character's self-definition.
  • You're encouraged to play against type.
  • Pain now is rewarded later. Good luck now gets paid for later.
  • You can sometimes win in a hopeless situation by sacrificing part of who you are or putting something you care about at risk.
  • Your attributes can work against you as well as for you.
  • You can set up "paths", sequences of events which, when worked through, result in both a reward and a new challenge.
  • Changing your character is something you narrate, it's not just adjusting the numbers on a sheet.
  • Everyone can play all the time, because supporting characters and sets are run by whoever's standing around.
  • Locations are a bit like characters, and get more attributes if they link to more of the themes that everyone said were cool.
  • You can tinker with the system yourself using Special Effects, which are rule exceptions that you buy with player points and apply to characters or sets.
  • Modelling reality is not important, but modelling fictionality is.
Further bulletins as events warrant.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Poor customer service from Epson and Auckland Office Products

Advisory: Posting while angry.

Last week, my Epson Photo 230R inkjet, which I've been using to print CDs for my hypnotherapy clients, started getting horizontal banding from the black print head.

I bought it last October, so it was still under warranty. So I called the store I bought it from, and they directed me to Epson, who directed me to Auckland Office Products, their local repair agents.

I dropped it in on Wednesday and was told I should hear the next day. I didn't.

I didn't hear on Friday either.

I rang on Monday and was told I'd hear "tomorrow".

I rang on Tuesday, having not heard, and was told "tomorrow". I said, tomorrow never comes. You told me "tomorrow" on Wednesday, you told me "tomorrow" yesterday. It's been nearly a week, what's the holdup?

They were waiting to hear back from Epson about the warranty claim. You see, Epson, in its attempt at the Gillette business model (sell the tool cheap and the consumables dear), says not to use refilled cartridges or you void the warranty. This is total environmental nonsense and, I have been told, illegal in New Zealand, though they probably gamble on people not being bothered to fight it if they just refuse to honour their warranty. The printer service guy who I talked to before I contacted Epson suggested that I get non-refilled cartridges, even empty ones, from Cartridge World, where I get my refills done, and put them in before I put the printer in for a warranty claim to avoid trouble. I probably should have listened to him, but I didn't do that, both because it seemed like too much bother and because it seemed slightly dishonest.

Anyway, I asked the guy at Auckland Office Products to call Epson for me and chase them along, which he agreed to do. He displayed no reaction to my statement that I was very unhappy and it was impacting my business. (I have had to let my CD auctions on TradeMe lapse because I can't fulfill orders at the moment - I work on a "make to order" rather than "make to stock" model for the CDs.)

I don't know whether he kept his promise or not (though you can probably guess what I think), because when I rang back yesterday, Wednesday, he was on another call and the person I spoke to asked if he could ring me back. I said yes. He didn't ring me back.

Today he's up north all day. The other guy I talked to seemed equally unconcerned at how unhappy I was, even when I told him that I would now need to buy a new printer and it wouldn't be an Epson, even when I told him that I had had only promises from them and no delivery, and even when I told him, when he said that they sold printers, that given the lack of service I'd had from them that buying from them wasn't even an option.

I mean, these people have my phone number and my email address, but they haven't contacted me once, even when they've promised to do so.

So just now I have bought an HP Photosmart C5280 online, which is a multifunction (printer/copier) and also prints on CDs. It looks like a better piece of gear, is cheaper (especially since HP are doing a cashback promotion at the moment), and hopefully will be couriered here in time for me to print a CD for my client tomorrow evening or at least for the one on Sunday.

I feel better for having ranted about that. Hopefully I'll be able to get store credit or something for the printer cartridges in the old printer (I've given up hope of it being fixed), since some of them were nearly new and they aren't all that cheap, even refilled.

So, learning experience. Don't buy Epson; if you're going to use refilled cartridges (which you should), don't let on when making a warranty claim; and definitely don't rely on Auckland Office Products to do anything.

UPDATE: Auckland Office Products finally called me on Friday to say that Epson had refused the warranty claim on the grounds that the refilled cartridges had caused damage to the print head. They promised to send me an estimate for the repairs.

This finally arrived on Monday, with some boilerplate on it that said if I decided not to proceed I owed them $65, which I instantly emailed them about saying that I didn't accept it - it was the first I'd heard about it. (No reply to this yet.)

I talked to Cartridge World, who were very helpful and said that if AOP would state in writing that the cartridges had caused the issue, they would meet their guarantee on their product. Apparently this often calls Epson's bluff and they honour their warranty after all. I emailed AOP asking for this. No reply as yet.

It's two weeks tomorrow, and in the meantime I have bought another printer, a Hewlett Packard. I'll be going back to Cartridge World for the cartridges for it, because they stand by their product whereas Epson, apparently, doesn't.

UPDATED UPDATE: AOP have just sent me a revised version of the quote, still with the $65 charge mentioned, but now they say "This printhead is unable to be covered under warranty as non-original/refilled ink cartridges have been used". Which is weaselly, because they're not actually saying that's the cause of the fault.

UPDATED UPDATED UPDATE: I talked to Cartridge World again, they said sorry, they have to say that the refilled cartridges were the cause of the fault. So I emailed back to AOP asking for that. They have never replied, and it's now several weeks later. I suppose I should chase them up but there doesn't seem to be much point.

Suckful, suckful customer service.

HOPEFULLY FINAL UPDATE, 30 September: AOP finally called me last week. According to them, they had sent a revised email, but I never received it, so they were waiting for me and I was waiting for them. Once we got that sorted out, I passed it on to Cartridge World. They are buying me a new printer, a Canon IP4500, since that's cheaper than getting the Epson fixed, that Epson model is no longer made, and I now wouldn't touch Epson with a long pole anyway.

Their opinion (and mine) is that Epson are hiding behind the refilled-cartridge issue as a way of getting out of a legitimate warranty claim that has nothing to do with refilled cartridges. But anyway, I'll now get a replacement printer, two months after my Epson broke down.

I think I'll keep the HP since it works as a photocopier as well and it's a backup in case the Canon ever breaks down, but unlike the Canon it has one cartridge for black and one for colour - expensive to run, in other words, compared with one cartridge for each colour, since if one colour runs out you have to replace the whole colour cartridge. (I should have researched it more carefully before buying.)

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Collaborators wanted

I'm looking for one or more artist collaborators for a couple of graphic novel projects. I see them as following the free webcomic/POD print version model.

Project 1: Guardian of the Gates. A young thief-girl is sent to steal an elaborate watch from a mysterious man, and discovers that he is the guardian of gates to other dimensions. The wizard who commissioned her wants to take over his power, but as she grows to know the Guardian, and accompanies him on his rounds, she realizes where her destiny lies.

I see this one as being illustrated in a very beautiful painterly style.

Project 2: Four orphan teenagers come together and discover that they have some unusual abilities, and that a mysterious man in a brown coat is after them. They try to piece together the story of their past and defend themselves, while confronting the personal issues which their powers reflect and intensify.

This one would suit a more manga style.

So, tell your artist friends! Send them here, or send me to their portfolios via the comments.

And artists, check the links to my fiction projects in the sidebar to get an idea of how my imagination works.

[crossposting to City of Masks]

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Eating elephants

It's said that if you want to eat an elephant, the correct way to proceed is to take a spoonful at a time.

That's an approach that works really well for writing. The blogging that I'm doing over at Hypno NZ is gradually getting me the elements of a nonfiction book. I've already assembled one series into an ebook on personal change techniques, and another series, on Health Behaviors, is just about to wrap up. Together, and with a bit of expansion and incorporation of other blog posts that weren't in the two series, they should make a decent book.

The other good thing about the blog format is that it encourages you to write new stuff instead of procrastinate by revising what you've written so far.

I'm also writing Gu on another blog. Again, it's a good way to write. I've never been very good at short fiction, because my ideas want to expand. This way, I get to do a long-form work that consists of short-story-like vignettes of about 1500 words each. The short story on which Gu is based was 5500 words, but I've reached - I'm estimating here, because Blogger doesn't have word count - about 24,000 now simply by expanding the embedded stories in that story. (That's based on 16 posts so far at about 1500 words. The early ones are probably a bit shorter, the later ones a bit longer.)

Unfortunately, at the moment I can only see about another six posts or so in what I still have to cover. (I have a sort of hit list of ideas.) That would take me to about 33,000, which is short of the 40,000 words that the SFWA counts as a novel, and the 50,000 that most other definitions use.

Still, 7,000 words short is definitely spitting distance. Even 17,000 is probably achievable, though I don't want to just pad it out for the sake of it. I'm especially wary because it's told as a documentary - it doesn't have a plot as such, in the sense of characters doing things - and I don't know how much of that people can put up with. I have kind of a sense of how I might incorporate story into it, by following the documentary maker, Susan Halwaz, as she lives out her everyday life using Gu. Silent, mostly, with no dialogue. And then after each such sequence (or before?), an interview with some expert about what she's just experienced.

I'm not sure why I feel the need to make things harder for myself by doing experimental stuff like this. I mean, a novel which is puportedly a blow-by-blow description of an immersive documentary, told in the second person, in which large sections have no dialogue and most of the rest is talking heads? But the fact is, because this is a completely noncommercial project - nobody has bought it, I have no publisher who cares if I can sell 5000 or 10,000 copies and wants me to write a series of three books - I can do what interests me and what occurs to me at the time. Artistic freedom, huzzah!

It also makes it more difficult to actually sell it, of course. City of Masks suffered from not being in any recognizable genre, so it's hard to identify a market for it. A wide variety of people who have read it have all responded favourably, despite its odd language and journal format, which encourages me that it is actually good and would do well if only anyone knew about it. And I'd tell them, if I knew where they were.

Gu has a more identifiable market: Science fiction readers who like Charles Stross or Neal Stephenson. (One person who's reading it has also compared it to Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, mainly for structural reasons.) And such people are open to new ways of doing things. So maybe I will be able to sell it after all, who knows?

Who cares? I enjoy doing it. Even though this blog post is an attempt to procrastinate working on it, because I have minor writer's block about what I'm going to write next. So I should just start writing and see what comes out. That's basically what I'm doing anyway.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

New novel has started

(Crossposted with City of Masks).

I've started my new novel, Gu, over on http://gu-novel.blogspot.com. Make sure you put in the "-novel" bit if you're typing it in, or you'll get someone else's blog in what looks to my inexpert eye like Tagalog, or possibly Malay.

I'm using the comments to do a kind of director's commentary track as I write. You can use them too, to ask me questions, point things out or whatever. I'd like to hear from you.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Rumi on Podiobooks

I just found this on Podiobooks, where City of Masks is also hosted.

Rumi's Masnavi (or Mathnawi).

Podiobooks are podcast audiobooks - so this is a free audiobook of the translator reading an acclaimed translation of this mystical medieval Sufi poem.

Brand tags

Just came across this interesting experiment.

It's a website where people are asked to type in the one thing they most associate with particular brands.

A lot of major brands have a real perception issue. Try searching for the brands that are "evil", for example.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Occasional update

Hello, Faithful Readers. (By switching my RSS feed to Feedburner I've managed to discover how many of you there are, and it's more than I thought. Though still not many. No, I'm not telling you.)

As you may well have realized, the reason I've not been blogging much over here is largely because I've been blogging a lot over at Living Skillfully and podcasting at City of Masks. The latter will be coming to an end in the next couple of months, all going well, and I'll be moving on to a new fiction project. If you want to be involved in the next-project-deciding process, hop over to City of Masks and leave a comment.

It's interesting how writing contributes to personal shifts. In the course of blogging about various topics and finding which ones attract me, I've discovered that what really interests me in hypnotherapy is actually the stuff that I thought I would find boring, bread-and-butter: smoking cessation and weight loss (or rather, positive eating, which isn't by any means just about weight loss). In fact, health promotion and helping people to engage in healthy behaviours has become quite fascinating.

There's a discipline of psychology called Health Psychology which deals with this, and there are several courses on it at Massey at masters' level, so providing my interest endures (always a question with me), a health psychologist is what I'm aiming to become. I've been thinking for a while that "hypnotherapy" is not an ideal label from a marketing perspective - not only because of the perception issues it has, but also because it is marketing a feature - hypnosis - rather than a benefit - such as getting healthier or gaining confidence.

So until I can legitimately call myself a health psychologist, I'm contemplating using the term "health coach" - also still mentioning that I do hypnotherapy, but emphasizing what I use it for.

In other news, thanks to Andrew and the new Monastics group (the Desert Mothers), I've had a small breakthrough in my understanding of the "spirituality of everyday life" thing. There's no magic to it. There's no technique. You just have to do it - be aware of what you're doing, be present, pay attention.

It's simple and hard.

Soon, I hope to post more garden photos, since it's a year since my big planting and everything is growing well. Until then, keep paying attention in everyday life.

Friday, 11 April 2008

My Harry Potter alter ego (found via Jim Butcher's Livejournal)

Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Remus Lupin

You are a wise and caring wizard and a good, loyal friend to boot. However sometimes in an effort to be liked by others you can let things slide by, which ordinarily you would protest about.

Remus Lupin


Hermione Granger


Ron Weasley


Albus Dumbledore


Severus Snape


Ginny Weasley


Harry Potter


Lord Voldemort


Sirius Black


Draco Malfoy


Monday, 31 March 2008

Amazon acts like a corporation

As a follow-up to my Print On Demand Publishers Compared post, there are three things that are starting to make me rethink my conclusion of "Next time, I'd forget about Lulu and just go with CreateSpace".

First is further unresponsiveness from CreateSpace's support. They put my book into Amazon's Search Inside the Book program, eventually. I had submitted it myself in the meantime because I wasn't sure if they were going to do it or if I had to, but it got knocked back because something was illegible (I don't know what, Amazon didn't tell me).

The version they submitted, and the version currently on Amazon at time of posting, has the same error that I had to get them to correct twice on the printed proof - all the ligatures and apostrophes have dropped out. (Click the Excerpt link on the left to see the issue.) I logged it with their support, they took what was apparently a cursory look and told me that it looked to them like the issue was fixed. I clicked the "No, this didn't resolve my problem" link and gave fuller instructions. The last I heard from them was over a week ago saying they'd sent the issue to a support specialist.

The second thing is that I have sold no copies from CreateSpace or Amazon, but I have sold some from Lulu.

And the third thing, the most disturbing, is that Amazon appears to be using its market dominance as a retailer to strongarm small publishers and self-publishers into using its print-on-demand service BookSurge, and no other print-on-demand (POD) publisher. I'm pretty unhappy about that; I'll be watching the situation and if they continue to do this (and especially if they continue not to be upfront about discussing it), I will be joining the growing boycott and pulling my listings, plus removing my Amazon Associates links here and on my other blog. Not that my tiny action will hurt Amazon, especially since they're not getting any sales of my book, but it's the principle of the thing.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Free press releases

I spent quite a bit of Friday submitting press releases to a number of sites, a process which is often more fiddly than it needs to be. A couple of the sites I simply couldn't get to work at all; their CAPTCHA tech was faulty or the forms wouldn't post.

The easiest to submit to is NZ's own Scoop; you just email the editor, rather than having to register and fill out an online form which asks for the same information as all the other websites, but in a different order.

Here's Scoop's version of my press release about City of Masks. They changed the headline from "Book Promotion, New Style: Novelist Makes Maximum Use of Internet Technology" to the more clickbaiting, if slightly deceptive, "Renaissance Hits the Internet".

Anyway, for your reference and mine here is my collection of sites tagged "freepressreleases" at Del.icio.us.

Incidentally, I also found a nice site which you can use to submit a web page to multiple social bookmarking sites: Haliboo.

You can put a button like this on your site:

(That's functional, by the way - when you click it it will submit this site. It'll submit whatever the URL showing in the browser is, so if you want to bookmark this particular post rather than my whole blog, click the post's permalink first. That's the title of the post, for those unfamiliar with how Blogger does things.)

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Print-on-demand suppliers compared: Lulu, CreateSpace, Zenith

I've just written my promised article comparing and contrasting print-on-demand suppliers (pdf). I included the local printer I used, Zenith, for a third point of comparison with Lulu and CreateSpace. Quick summary:
  • CreateSpace is overall the best for my purposes: simple but functional website, free access to Amazon, price per unit comparable to Lulu. However, the only printing fault I had was from them, and their customer service isn't as good as the other two, mainly because it's so indirect.
  • Zenith gave excellent customer service and were cost-effective for bulk orders for me, because they're local. Their website needs serious work, though.
  • Lulu, for my purposes, weren't worthwhile because the high cost of shipping to New Zealand negated the advantage of their excellent bulk discounts. If they print locally to you, though, it would be worth using them as well as CreateSpace.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Rachel Caine: Another good author for Jim Butcher fans

I've been reading the Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine recently, having discovered her through the short story collection My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding (which is worth reading, and not only for the Jim Butcher story).

They're good. They're the kind of story I like. They have an endorsement from Jim Butcher on the cover. The protagonist is the kind of person (like Harry Dresden) who will die doing the right thing, and in her case actually does, several times. I thought for a little while it was going to happen in every book, actually, but the author may have decided that was too South Park.

The first book is Ill Wind (I had trouble remembering that; the titles are all unmemorable cliches which, unlike Jim Butcher's titles, don't bear any particularly clear relationship to the specific book).

They are, apparently, chick lit, though I wouldn't know, having come in through the door marked "urban fantasy". This is an original take on urban fantasy, too, with no vampires or werewolves this time; the mysterious shadowy organization is the Wardens, who battle natural disasters supernaturally, with the help of the Djinn (yes, the slave-in-the-bottle kind, which is a major plot point). Joanne Baldwin, the protagonist, is one of the strongest Wardens and also has a conscience; despite her obsessions with shoes, clothes and fast cars, she's not bribable, especially when the safety of other people (or the world in general) is at stake. Which it generally is; they're fast-paced, high-octane thrillrides with lots of damage to scenery, vehicles, buildings, bystanders, Jo, and - eventually - anyone who pisses Jo off.

Are they as good as Jim Butcher? I would say not quite, but if I identified more with someone who's into fast cars and designer clothes and shoes and less with someone who lives in a basement with a collection of comic books* my answer might change. They're well-written, pacy, funny and have a strong moral thread and a tough-but-vulnerable protagonist. I recommend them.

* I don't live in a basement or have a collection of comic books. But I am a geek, and so is Harry Dresden.

Phone Spam

I got phone spammed for the first time this morning.

Some guy claiming to be a stockbroker rang from New York chasing business. Things on Wall Street are clearly worse than I thought if they're resorting to randomly calling people halfway round the world. Of course, it could just have been a scam, which is only one of the reasons I wouldn't have even considered doing business with him.

As soon as I'd figured out what he was about (after his cheesy attempts at geniality had fizzled), I told him that if I wanted goods or services I went looking for them and that I didn't appreciate being called. The smart thing for him to do would have been to apologise, get of the phone and leave me merely irritated rather than actually angry, but he started arguing back, wasting more of my time. Eventually I had to talk over him, saying "Thank you, sorry, goodbye" (the first two of which I didn't mean) and hang up.

Stupid, stupid rat creatures!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

City of Masks - NZ Printing

I just received my printing - hopefully the first of several - of 50 copies of City of Masks from Zenith.

It's been a drawn-out process, made two weeks longer by the fact that my email with the cover art never reached them and I didn't realize until I eventually asked why I hadn't heard back from them. They have much, much less functionality on their website than Lulu or CreateSpace - practically none at all, actually, it's just a brochure, and not even a particularly informative one. It doesn't even give their prices or any templates or sizes. This makes everything a lot more manual than dealing with Lulu or CreateSpace. On the other hand, you get personal service - their sales guy, Ocean Reeve, has been very helpful through the proofing process and gave me a second proof for free when the first one had an issue with the page numbers being cut off at the bottom. He also put the ISBN barcode on at no extra charge. In gratitude, I plan to write a layout guide for authors that they can put on their website, and which may help others to avoid some of the issues I had.

This is one of two events that I've been waiting for before launching Phase 2 of Operation Promote Novel. The other, which is entirely dependent on me and I should have done by now, is getting five episodes of my podcast of City of Masks together so that I can launch it on Podiobooks. I'll then put out press releases, send out review copies, and generally toot my own horn.

Speaking of which, I'm now on goodreads, which is a kind of social networking site for readers and authors. I'm thinking of putting one of their widgets in the sidebar here to show what I'm currently reading, once I get the time.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Three Books on Business Blogging

I recently read three books on business blogging, two of which I recommend highly. They are Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, and Blogging for Business: Everything You Need to Know and Why You Should Care by Shel Holtz and Ted Demopoulos.

The third, which doesn't offer anything the other two don't and which I found a bit lightweight, was Blogwild!: A Guide for Small Business Blogging by Andy Wibbels. (Clearly, his mistake was in not getting a bearded coauthor named Shel.) His book might work for you if you want a real once-over-lightly introduction to blogging, including detailed (and probably, by now, outdated) instructions on using TypePad. I skipped those, since I already know how to use the blogging platforms I have (none of which is TypePad), and finished it in an evening. (I do read fast - but it's a short book, is my point, with not much in it.)

The other two books, although of course they cover a lot of the same ground, give you a kind of stereoscopic view of business blogging, and it's worth reading both of them. To draw on the subtitle of the Holtz/Demopoulos book, it focuses more on "everything you need to know", while Scoble/Israel are more interested in "why you should care". Both cover both aspects very well, though.

Things move fast online, and Scoble/Israel (published 2005) is describing a somewhat different business blogging landscape even than Holtz/Demopoulos (published 2006), one in which there is considerable doubt in some quarters that blogs are even important or will last. I think that's well established now, though doubtless there are people still in business who are out of touch with that reality. Of course, some of the websites that the books refer to (notably Feedster) have either changed or disappeared in the interim, too. But because they talk about principles of blogging, this doesn't render them much less useful.

Going in, I knew how to blog - I've been blogging here and elsewhere for a while now, and reading other people's blogs for several years. What I didn't know, and what these books taught me, were how to optimize my posts, how to promote my blogs, and how to measure the effectiveness of doing so. Also, they taught me that just by being myself - an honest, straightforward guy who can write - I can promote my business more effectively than by trying to be an extroverted, annoying pushy sales guy full of marketing nonsense. And, not incidentally, I can do so for little or no money.

It's fairly early days of promoting my blogs. I don't really promote this one; it's my "cat blog", my personal ramblings about whatever interests me, and it's too diverse to gain much of a following in any case. But I've taken on the lessons of these two books in promoting the blog for my novel City of Masks, and I'm seeing subscriptions gradually rising.

I've also, as a direct result of reading these books, started a third blog (which is scary), Living Skillfully: Hypnotherapy and Health Science, in large part to give my hypnotherapy practice more "Google juice". It's not just a cynical marketing exercise, though; in finding material to post about, I'm learning a lot and becoming a better-informed therapist. (The books taught me how to find more material on my interests and subscribe to it in easily digested form, too.)

It's very early days there, as it's been up just over a month, so I've yet to see a big boost in traffic - but I am starting to appear on Google blog searches for "hypnotherapy", and I'm seeing people arrive at my site via my blog. Perhaps the important thing is that, while I may not get a lot more traffic - at least initially - the traffic I get will be more likely to be the traffic I want.

A closing anecdote. I got the Holtz/Demopoulos book out of the library when I already had the other two books out. I almost didn't get it, since I had two books already, but... Ted Demopoulos left a comment on my blog within 8 hours of my post about his other book, What No One Ever Tells You About Blogging and Podcasting: Real-Life Advice from 101 People Who Successfully Leverage the Power of the Blogosphere. I knew his books were good, from having read the earlier one, but that probably wouldn't have been enough for me to get a third book if I hadn't felt a sense of personal connection through that comment, which took him maybe a minute. (Of course, since I'm a cheap Scottish-descended person he didn't actually make any money out of me because I got his book from the library, but here I am giving him a glowing review.)

All of which goes to show that what these guys are saying is true: People who feel like they have a connection with you will be more likely to do business with you, and one of the best ways to create that sense of connection is by blogging.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Karamatura Track bush walk

It was beautiful weather for Auckland Anniversary Weekend, and Duncan, Mark, Julianne and I went for a walk on the Karamatura Loop Track near Huia.

A little way off the Karamatura Track, which joins the loop, we found this pool and waterfall:

That's Mark wringing out his T-shirt and Duncan's profile in the hat. Julianne, I think, was off getting changed at the time.

I was going to swim, but the water was freezing, as I discovered when I waded in. Dialogue ensued:

Julianne: Come on, Mike, you can't go that far and then back out.
Mike: Yes, I can. Just watch me.

Nice to cool my feet down, though.

Monday, 21 January 2008

City of Masks for sale on CreateSpace

You can now buy City of Masks on CreateSpace as well as on Lulu. The corrected proof just arrived.

It'll be interesting to see how long it takes to get into Amazon's catalogue. I'll then be able to do a comparison of total timing as well as all the other factors.

I should have Zenith Print as a third point of comparison fairly soon too.

MadScam - full review

Last week I included Madscam by George Parker in my list of marketing and advertising books that I was reading.

I've now finished it, so here's a fuller review.

Firstly, George Parker is a stereotypical advertising person in some ways. He's loud, over-the-top, obnoxious, knows less than he thinks he does about the world in general, is sometimes "clever" at the expense of making his point clearly and simply, and his sentence structure and punctuation are a bit ropey at times (especially towards the end of the book). But he has some good, sensible advice to offer about advertising for small to medium businesses, both things to do and things to avoid. Top on his list of things to avoid is employing a big advertising agency; second is producing advertising that's just like everyone else's that says that your businesses is just like everyone else's. (The second would be a consequence of the first, he strongly suggests.)

Here are some notes I took of things that were specifically relevant to me, as someone with a small hypnotherapy practice that I want to grow larger. There's a lot more to his book than this, though, and it's well worth your while to get a copy and read it.

Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP): In 20 words or less, what unquestionable benefit do you provide at a fair price to satisfied customers? Can you claim to be first, best, to have a wider range of inexpensive products, a smaller range of high-quality products, to be easier to transact with, more effective, more flexible than your competition? On the other hand, is there something that everyone in your industry does but nobody else mentions? That can be your USP, even though it's not unique.

The Communications Plan: Write down what (the market situation), who (your target groups - research through the Department of Statistics, blogs etc.), why (your USP), and how (your creative strategy and design).

Research why people go to your competitors, and why they stop going or are dissatisfied.

In your advertising, talk about benefits to the customer, not features.

Then put a twist on the concept.

Promote the business, not just the product.

Follow Winston Churchill's advice: Begin strongly, have one theme, use simple language, leave a picture in the reader's mind, and end dramatically.

Good advertising requires, in order of importance, information, time and money.

George Parker claims, of course, that you don't need to read any other book on advertising apart from his, but then he would. Any suggestions for other good books out there?

Friday, 18 January 2008

Why will nobody tell me their price?

One thing that New Zealand websites in particular are very bad at is telling you basic stuff like hours and prices.

I've just been trying to find out what it costs to advertise on radio in New Zealand. I still don't really know; the only radio station that will tell me on their website is a Chinese station, which isn't my target market.

I did find Mediaworks, who have ratecards for advertising on radio stations' websites. But their page on actually advertising on radio is all about why it's a good idea - not how to do it or, crucially, how much it costs. Their Contact Us page doesn't even have an email link or any names; just a physical address and phone and fax numbers. (Yes, people still use faxes for business in New Zealand. Hello? Twenty-first century?)

I should not have to phone a possibly pushy salesperson in order to find out I can't afford something. It's a waste of their time and mine.

(Yes, I know. Lately I'm more the Irritable Man than the Innocent Man. I blame too little centering prayer. Seriously.)

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Printing, shipping, and hoarded information

Unsatisfactory Lulu customer support experience this morning.

Not a problem with Lulu alone, of course; most "customer support" is like this. I contacted them to ask about their freight charges. Here's the chat transcript, with the identity of the agent obscured because it probably isn't her fault, and my email obscured because I get enough spam already. I don't have a transcript of the exact question I asked, but it was along these lines: "I've looked at the shipping charge for a bulk order to New Zealand and it seems very high. Can you please tell me the weight and dimensions of a parcel of 50 books, 6x9 of 128 pages, so that I can investigate other freight forwarding options for myself?"

Chat InformationWelcome to Lulu.com! An online representative will be with you shortly. Your wait time will be approximately 0 minute(s) and 8 seconds. Thank you for waiting.

Chat InformationYou are now chatting with '[Lulu agent]'

[Lulu agent]: Welcome to Lulu. Please hold while I review your question.

[Lulu agent]: We have not heard from you. Do you wish to continue the chat?

[me]: Yes, I was holding as you asked.

[Lulu agent]: Sorry the message is automated

[me]: OK


[me]: So do you have an answer to my question?

[Lulu agent]: Lulu charges actual shipping costs based on the size, type and weight of the item you are purchasing. The simplest way to see how much shipping would cost would be to add the item to your cart. You do not need to complete the order, but this will allow you to see the various shipping options.

[Lulu agent]: The best way to determine the cost of your book is to use the book cost calculator. You can obtain pricing for different trim sizes as well as see quantity discounts.

[Lulu agent]: http://www.lulu.com/includes/calc_book_inc.php

[me]: Yes, I've done that, that's how I know how much it is and it seems way too much. Sending it to California would cost $17.30; sending it to NZ costs $245. That's almost $5 a book. That's why I'd like the opportunity to see if I can find an alternative shipping method for myself.

[Lulu agent]: Here is a list of all the methods of shipping that we offer and how long they take.

[Lulu agent]: http://www.lulu.com/help/index.php?fSymbol=shipping_options_intl

[me]: I've seen that too. Are you going to answer the question I am asking, please?

[Lulu agent]: You have to follow the options that lulu offers

[me]: So you have no way of giving me the dimensions and weight of the package, even though that must be known in order to calculate the shipping at your end?

[Lulu agent]: Sorry, the only way is to add the item to your cart. You do not need to complete the order, but this will allow you to see the various shipping options

[me]: OK, clearly you aren't going to answer my question. Thanks anyway.

Since that conversation I've been poking around online and trying to find out how much the shipping would be with various providers - as best I could given that Lulu wouldn't tell me the size of the parcel, which is what the various online freight calculators ask you, of course, hence my call. As best I can determine that is actually what it costs to ship a parcel that size across the Pacific - it's $17.30 from Raleigh, North Carolina to Bakersfield, California, but it's about another $230 or so from there to New Zealand. No wonder everything's so expensive here (leaving aside the 12.5% goods and services tax the government puts on everything - yes, including books).
This would mean that either I have to sell the books for about $20 each or I'll hardly make anything from each one.

My sister-in-law, brother-in-law and niece are flying over in June, but it seems a bit much to ask them to bring a parcel which probably weighs between 25lb and 45lb - I don't know exactly, because Lulu won't tell me - plus I don't want to wait until June to get them.

Geography still matters in the modern world, when you're shipping atoms rather than bits.

It may be worth my while to check out that local short-run printer and see what they can do for me - even if their per-unit price is higher the shipping may balance it out. They don't have a rate card or a cost calculator online, which is one of my pet peeves - they must have a rate card somewhere, so why not share it with their customers? Saves everyone a lot of messing about.

Information age, people. Information age. Don't lock up the information, it wants to be free.

EDIT: the local New Zealand printer (Zenith Print) quotes me $568.13 (including GST and shipping, with a free proof) for 50 copies. It means setting up the files slightly differently again and means I will have books at three different sizes from three different printers, but it saves me about $140 over the 50 copies, or almost $3 a unit, when you take exchange rates into account (and exchange rates USD/NZD are the most in our favour that they've been since about the 1980s at the moment; if they drop again the difference is bigger). I'm also dealing with one, real person in my own timezone, who answers emails quickly.

I did tell her that I probably would have enquired earlier if they had their rates up on their website - she had said in response to my initial inquiry:

"The reason we don't have a rate card is because there is no SET pricing we offer. The quote request allows us to communicate with the customer, ensure we are getting the best product for them. I'll do the maths and have a quote back within 15 minutes."

Which she couldn't do unless she had a rate card. Could she?

How good will their service be? Watch this space.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

City of Masks for sale on Lulu

You can now buy City of Masks on Lulu. I had just finished recording the next podcast episode and was about to start editing when there was a pounding on the door, and there was the courier with a very large and well-packed package, containing my proof. As far as I can see there are no printing errors, so - the book is officially available.


The CreateSpace corrected version is on its way to me now and should arrive this week (based on past performance). Based on the emails I got from their support people, they went through exactly the same steps this time as last time, suggesting that they need to improve their ability as a "learning organization" so that they only have to fix problems once.

Once that proof arrives, I'll do a major post comparing Lulu and CreateSpace step-by-step, feature-by-feature. At the moment I have to say I wouldn't be using CreateSpace except for the access they give to Amazon (and their audiobook and multi-disk CD capabilities), but their site is somewhat less cluttered and, for me, slightly easier to use.

I had fewer (in fact, no) printing hassles with Lulu, whose pricing is slightly better for single books and much better for bulk.

(Their freight prices to NZ are just ridiculous, though. If I get 50 books shipped to NZ, it's $245.16 (USD) for shipping and it'll cost me $14 (NZD) per unit in total, for printing, postage and packaging. Shipped to US: $31.60 (USD) for shipping, $8.58 (NZD) per unit. Actually, if I select USPS Media Mail instead of UPS as my shipping option, it's only $17.30 (USD) for shipping and $8.21 (NZD) per unit. So I'll be asking my parents-in-law if I can trans-ship through their address in California. There's no way it'll be over $200 for them to send the package on here.)

I know that others' experiences may well differ; anyone want to share Lulu or CreateSpace stories, good or bad?

Monday, 14 January 2008

Marketing and Advertising Books

Marketing and advertising are topics on my mind recently. I have a small hypnotherapy practice that I'd like to turn into a larger one, and a self-published book about to come out.

This involves a bit of a mental shift for me, since for years I've despised marketing and advertising. What I'm discovering is that marketing and advertising people are not all empty-headed, annoying liars after all; it's just 99% of them giving the rest a bad name.

I've got some books from the library to help me, and here are some brief reviews.

Promoting Your Podcast: The Ultimate Guide to Building an Audience of Raving Fans by Jason Van Orden is one of those rare "how-to" books that is almost pure gold from beginning to end - the over-the-top claim in the subtitle is not entirely unjustified. It's packed with useful tips and knowledge, step-by-step instructions and ideas. Of course, because it's a printed book and podcasting is an online medium, even though it was published in 2006 it's already becoming a little out of date - a few of the sites he mentions have changed or disappeared, and I'm sure more will do so as time goes on. But apart from the specific guidance for how to use particular sites, there is also a lot of good advice on podcasting per se, which will remain relevant for a long time. I'm podcasting my novel City of Masks as a promotional tool, and wouldn't be doing so anything like as effectively if I hadn't read this book.

Pair that up with What No One Ever Tells You About Blogging and Podcasting: Real-Life Advice from 101 People Who Successfully Leverage the Power of the Blogosphere by Ted Demopoulos. Again, packed with good stuff - Demopoulos interviewed over a hundred people who are using blogs for business, and there's some excellent advice here (along with a little bit that you can probably take with grains of salt). It's led me to start yet another blog, Living Skillfully, on my hypnotherapy website, with the aim of increasing traffic and connecting more directly with my potential clients (as well as sharing useful tips, ideas and news about mind-body work, health and self-improvement, naturally). He covers business uses for blogs and podcasts, planning, making money and promoting and tracking your stats.

One tip I picked up from both these books: use Feedburner. It's a free service that provides all kinds of tracking and additional promotion resources for your blog or podcast feed.

I dipped into The Design of Things to Come: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products, but it's written by marketing academics - which is to say, a lot of it is empty of actual meaning when translated into English, and much of the rest is unsupported guesswork.

Simultaneously confirming my prejudices about the advertising industry and helping me with practical ways to get people to know about my products and services is Madscam by George Parker, an advertising creative who has no time for the "big dumb agencies" which hang out on Madison Avenue, wasting the money of large corporates. His blogs Adscam and AdHurl, at a casual glance, are just vulgar abuse being heaped on advertising agencies, but his book is a lot more useful. Not only does it (amusingly) give examples of what big corporates and their ad agencies do wrong, but it tells you how to do it right, how to plan and implement an advertising strategy that will be cost-effective and will help you build your business. I'm looking forward to putting the advice into practice.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary, 1919-2008

The big story on last night's news was that Sir Ed has died, aged 88. I watched the documentary they screened afterwards and discovered that this self-effacing man had had self-confidence problems when young; he'd been a small, skinny child, and even immediately after he climbed Everest, was knighted, and was the hero of the moment throughout the British Commonwealth and the world, he didn't have enough confidence to propose to his girlfriend - he had to get her mother to ring her up and ask for him.

He really was the archetypal New Zealander - unselfconfident when young, hesitant in expressing emotion, rugged and outdoorsy, adventurous, down-to-earth (the leader of the Everest expedition was hoping for some words of "spiritual significance" when he came down off the summit, but what he got was Ed's remark to his fellow New Zealander: "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.") Instead of cashing in on fame for his own benefit he spent decades helping to build schools, medical clinics and hospitals for the people of Nepal. He struggled deeply for a time with depression and self-doubt.

My own Sir Ed story is slight but indicative. When I was editing New Zealand Who's Who, in order to increase sales to entrants the publisher included a lot of people who weren't really who at all; small-town people who'd been on volunteer committees for years on end and got some sort of minor recognition for it. This is the other side of the NZ character, the side that forms a committee and spends the next 20 years waging tiny, inefficient vendettas on it over matters of staggering unimportance. When I got draft entries back from these people they were often covered in poorly punctuated amendments, adding copious unimportant detail or pointlessly changing the order of information (which was set by house style). Some even included CVs.

Sir Edmund was, undoubtedly, at the time the most famous living New Zealander, the only one whose image appeared on the currency, known, respected and admired all over the world for his genuinely impressive achievements both adventurous and charitable. If anyone could have justifiably added detail to his entry, it was him.

He just signed it and sent it back.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

I'm in iTunes, and other book news

The first episode of the City of Masks podcast is up, and can be found in iTunes. That's pretty exciting.

I'm having some problems recording the second episode - getting clipping of the sound for some reason.

Once I have five episodes, I can load them up to podiobooks.com (they've already approved my first episode as meeting their quite high standards).

On the race between Lulu and CreateSpace, so far we have:

Submitted: Thursday 3 January (both)
Ordered: Thursday 3 January (Lulu), Saturday 5 January (CreateSpace) - because CreateSpace has a manual checking process before you can order.
Shipped: Saturday 5 January (CreateSpace), Tuesday 8 January (Lulu). So CreateSpace achieved same-day shipping, while Lulu took 5 days.

Judging by previous experience, the CreateSpace one could be here today or tomorrow, at which point (all being well) the book will go on sale via CreateSpace and Amazon. Which is thrilling.

EDIT 10 January: Well, CreateSpace wins the race, except that they have sent me a proof with the same issue as the first proof I got - all the ligatures and apostrophes have dropped out. This is a mark against them, getting the same thing wrong twice on the same title - they need to tighten up their procedures. So no book for sale just yet.

Hopefully the Lulu proof won't have the same problem (or any others). It should arrive about Monday or Tuesday judging by the CreateSpace one's transit time.

EDIT 16 January: It was actually Wednesday, i.e. today, and I have another post comparing my experience with Lulu and CreateSpace so far.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Dual-wielding Lulu and CreateSpace

Erin finished reading my CreateSpace proof copy of City of Masks yesterday (the replacement one that they sent after they sorted out why the ligatures were disappearing), so today I made the edits, re-uploaded the files, and also uploaded the Lulu versions. I made the mistake of setting the size for the CreateSpace edition, completely arbitrarily, to 8.5 x 5.5 inches, and that's a size that Lulu doesn't offer. Next time it'll be 9 x 6 for both and I'll be able to use the same interior file (though I'll still have to make a small change to the cover, as CreateSpace has more trim on their cover spec than Lulu).

I'm using both services because CreateSpace gets me into Amazon for free, but Lulu gives me much better discounts for bulk orders - they cut in earlier (at 26 copies instead of 50) and are more generous, so it's worth my while to put the book through them as well so that I can order bulk copies to sell directly off my website, to give to people who helped me by offering critique, to send out for review, give to my family and all the rest of the things one does.

There weren't very many changes. One was to the blurb, which was originally written before I finished the book. Blurbs are traditionally written last of all (I know, because when I worked as a book editor I was several times called on at the last moment to do so). So I souped it up following her suggestions. It now uses the keywords "adventure" and "Shakespeare".

Another was slightly embarrassing. Erin didn't know what "barratry" was (in a short list of crimes), and when she asked me, I had to confess that I wasn't sure either, but I thought it was some sort of violent crime, like assault. "You really shouldn't use words that you don't know the meaning of," she said, and as is so often* the case, she was right. I looked it up today. The connection with assault was all in my head (probably because it sounds like "battery"). It's the crime of, among other things, sinking a ship in order to claim the insurance. So I changed it to "assault".

I want to write in depth on the differences between the two print-on-demand houses, but a couple of them I found today: Lulu have automatic, immediate checking that your uploaded cover file is the right size (because of an error I'd made - confusing points and pixels - mine wasn't). CreateSpace's checking is apparently manual, or at least batched overnight.

The other difference is that CreateSpace insists that you receive and sign off a proof before you can release the book; Lulu suggests that it's a really good idea to get one before selling, but you don't have to.

So now the two are racing, since I uploaded the files immediately after one another. Who will win?

*But not always. Sorry, Chook.