Guest Blog on Digital Book Today: Reading Novels is Good for You

I have a guest post on Digital Book Today on how reading novels is good for you. Novels teach essential skills, such as concentration, careful reading (not skimming web pages) and the ability to frame and express a story. Novels are more than just entertainment. Immersing yourself in words on a regular basis will improve your writing ability, something that is vital for business success. You’d be surprised at the number of college grads I’ve met that can’t write a sentence. Being able to craft blog posts, articles, reports and other kinds of communication is a way to differentiate yourself from your ADD-afflicted peers.

Digital Book Today was founded by a book industry veteran. Its mission is to help readers find new authors in the digital world. It focuses on e-books and provides a great list of free new e-books every week.

Always Right: Margaret Thatcher and 1979

Britain in 1979 was the sick man of Europe. Militant trade unions controlled the country, overthrowing successive governments. General strikes made life miserable. Britons suffered through a “winter of discontent” with power cuts, transport strikes and trash piled up in the streets. Inflation as high as 21% wiped out the savings of people who had scrimped and saved their entire lives.

This is the context that’s been missing in discussions of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, and one that’s provided by Always Right by Niall Ferguson. In this Kindle single, he shows how the benefit of hindsight has diminished our view of Thatcher’s achievements.

As Thatcher stated before taking the job of Prime Minister in 1979, “My job is to keep Britain from going red.”

This was a real danger. I did a study-abroad program in London in the mid-80s. As part of the class, we visited a Labour MP in Parliament. After he got done insulting us as spoiled rich kids, he shared his aim of imposing socialism across the country. Real socialism, not the Obama kind, but a political system where the government controls where you live, what you do and how much you make. The Soviet Union was held up as a model to emulate.

It’s hard to believe but millions of people shared this belief.

Thatcher was right, of course, and they were wrong. And the elite classes of England hate her for it, to this day. Despite being the most famous graduate of Oxford, the university never gave her an honorary degree. The middle-class grocer’s daughter is not one of us…

We’re fortunate to live in a better time. As bad as things are, it’s not 1979. Always Right is a look back, without the benefit of hindsight, at the parlous era and the Iron Lady who changed it.

My Instagram Book Cover

Joe Konrath had a really important post on how to sell ebooks. This successful indie author made the point (among many other great ones) that it was important to experiment. In his words:

There isn’t a single thing I’m saying here that you should automatically believe. Don’t trust me, or any other so-called expert. Instead, try things out for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

Or to quote screenwriter William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.”

That’s the case with art and marketing – you can’t predict what’s going to work. At best, you can try and try again.

I love my book Don’t Mess Up My Block. It’s a funny, cynical look at the way we work now. The people who have read it have liked it, especially if they have experience in the bureaucracies of Washington.

Yet, this novel is hidden far down the long tail of Amazon, unlikely to emerge from obscurity.

For my first novel, Murder in Ocean Hall, I had this great cover by Dave Newman. It’s a classic.

cover of Murder in Ocean Hall

But this time, I’m experimenting. I was inspired by Seth Godin and the Domino Project, which has set out to revolutionize publishing. He’s rethinking everything the book world does, including covers. Why do you need a title and a name on a cover for an ebook? For example, here’s his book Poke the Box:

Poke the Box

My second novel Don’t Mess Up My Block is a journey through the dysfunctional American workplace, from companies obsessed with the latest management fads to federal agencies unable to get anything done. What would make a good cover?

Fortunately, I had exactly the right picture, taken while I was at work one day. I was amused by the cheap stapler they had given me in my new job and just how beige and early 90s everything in the office was. I snapped this Instagram picture, thinking it perfectly captured the banality of the white-collar workplace.

Don't Mess Up My BlockSo, that’s it. That’s the new cover of Don’t Mess Up My Block. It’s a funny and absurd cover for a funny and absurd book.

Don't Mess Up My Block – First Amazon Review

My novel Don’t Mess Up My Block has its first Amazon review! And it’s a good one:

As someone who spent many years dealing with consultants, federal contractors, and federal employees …. this book rings all too true. The people, places, and situations are much too familiar … for me, it was a non-fiction “day in the life” – or “you won’t believe the day I had”. Well done Joe! The author has captured life on the Beltway merry-go-round.

I know the reviewer and if anyone is an expert on the Beltway merry-go-round, it is he. Glad that my book rang so true with someone so attuned to the absurdities of life in Washington.

So, what are you waiting for? Don’t Mess Up My Block is just 99 cents on Kindle.

Don't Mess Up My Block – Free for CyberMonday

Don't Mess Up My Block book coverGet my biz book satire Don’t Mess Up My Block for free this CyberMonday! My funny novel follows Laurent Christ, self-annointed business guru, as he travels the country dispensing bad advice to clients large and small. The book skewers social media consultants, big government, corporate-speak and other evils of contemporary America.

Don't Mess Up My Block – Free Thru Memorial Day!

Don’t Mess Up My Block is free through Memorial Day! Normally $2.99, I’ve marked the price of the Kindle edition of my funny novel down to zero. Download it today!

Even if you don’t have an Amazon e-reader, you can still read the book through the Kindle app on your Mac, PC, iPhone or iPad.

Don't Mess Up My Block book coverDon’t Mess Up My Block

The secret to success is to not let other people “mess up your block.”

Or at least that’s what Laurent Christ thinks, in this satiric novel disguised as a self-help book.

Laurent comes from North Dakota, like Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. He thinks his teachers got it all wrong – Gatsby is a hero.

And like a modern-day Gatsby, he reinvents himself with a new name and history. Laurent drops a hundred pounds, shaves his head and goes on the road as a management consultant, providing advice to corporations around the county. Everywhere he goes, comic disaster follows as companies follow his glib counsel.

But failure is not going to stop him. One man and a story – that’s all you need to make it in America.

As a management expert, he’s inevitably drawn to Washington, DC. But even he is appalled by the intransigent bureaucracy he finds in the city. Maybe he’s been wrong about everything. Maybe you need more than a catchphrase to find success in this country.

Laurent tells the sprawling story of his life in Don’t Mess Up My Block, a novel that examines the American faith in gurus and easy solutions. It’s a satire that takes aim at the times we live in, skewering incompetent bureaucrats, greedy consultants, social media experts and Baby Boomers everywhere.

Don’t Mess Up My Block is a fast, funny read and one that’s perfect for your weekend beach trip. And it’s free!

Borrow My Books and Keep Me in Beer Money

DC Brau

There’s a reason why Amazon is such a titan in the e-book world – it delivers income to writers. It does so seamlessly, easily and without authors having to do anything. You don’t have to hound publishers for checks or wait for the results of some sort of mysterious accounting process.

Amazon posts sales results weekly. For me, it’s just beer money, as I watch my two novels sell in dribs and drabs. Still, it’s something. My work is getting out there and I’m making some cash, even if it’s not going to get me more than a six-pack or two.

And the company constantly innovates, like with their Amazon Prime program. Among other benefits, you can borrow select e-books for free. And authors get a share of a pool of money set aside for the program. In March, it was $600,000!

Each time one of my Kindle titles got borrowed last month, I received $2.18, according to the Amazon press release. That’s a nice royalty, considering one of my novels is 99 cents and the other is $2.99.

So if you’re an Amazon Prime member, borrow my books please! You don’t need a Kindle either. There are Kindle apps for the iPad, iPhone, Mac and PC.

Murder in Ocean Hall is a great read if you like mysteries set in DC. A reviewer wrote that it will take you behind the scenes of the city and show you how things work – or don’t work. It’s a mystery novel written by someone who actually lives in Washington and knows the neighborhoods beyond the monuments.

Looking for something fast and fun? Then check out Don’t Mess Up My Block, a satire of the self-help biz. Follow the adventures of Laurent Christ as he pursues success across an American landscape littered with greedy consultants, social media frauds and incompetent bureaucrats.

Check them out! And remember, borrowing my books will keep me in beer, an essential element of my creative process 😉

Adapt to Customers or Perish

It doesn’t matter what your business model is as a photographer. It matters what the customer’s buying model is.

The above bit of wisdom is by Guy Kawasaki, who is quoted in an interesting article on rethinking photography business models.

These days, just about the only way photographers can make a living is by shooting weddings. But brides are creatures of our modern age too and are balking at some of the more old-fashioned elements of the business. Scott Bourne writes:

Gone are the days when we can just send some negatives to the lab, order some cheap 8×10 prints, put them in a black folder, mark them up 400 percent and call it a day.

Instead, brides want everything done digitally. They want all the pictures taken during the ceremony burned onto a CD. They even want the unprocessed files so that they can Photoshop them on their own.

Photographers must adapt to what customers want in order to survive.

I see the same thing in the book publishing business. Customers have e-readers, wonderful devices that allow them to buy books instantly. They don’t believe that e-books should be as expensive as print. While publishers may resist, customers believe that e-books should be priced somewhere between free and $9.99. Continue reading “Adapt to Customers or Perish”

What It Was by George Pelecanos

what it wasI live a block off 14th Street, the setting for much of George Pelecanos’s gritty crime novel, What It Was. Set in 1972, it’s a fascinating read for anyone who likes books set in the Washington “beyond the monuments.” Watergate is briefly touched on, but this book contains no Senators, no wacky Masonic conspiracy theories and hardly any politics at all.

What It Was concerns the lives of real people, mostly cops and criminals, in a city scarred by riots. The popular conception of 14th Street is that it was a wasteland, from the disturbances of 1968 to the start of gentrification in the 1980s. But life went on. Pimps, drug dealers and hustlers of all kinds moved in. And for a lot of them, and the cops that pursued them, it was a hell of a time, even a good one. Continue reading “What It Was by George Pelecanos”

"The City of the Dead" Published in Digital Americana

Digital Americana july coverIn the age of the e-book, how will readers discover new authors? One possible way might be through journals like Digital Americana, the world’s first literary magazine for tablets. It’s like Esquire or The New Yorker but on an iPad.

And they just published my short story, “The City of the Dead.” My story is about a former Senator’s efforts to right a wrong in sunny Florida, as seen from the perspective of his imperious Egyptian wife.

Digital Americana is a gorgeous multimedia reading experience, featuring over 80 pages of fiction, poetry, interviews, book reviews, music videos and beautiful photos all in a format that you can scroll through on an iPad or iPhone. I’m biased, of course, but it’s one of the prettiest magazines I’ve ever seen.

To read “The City of the Dead”, buy the Digital Americana app for your iPad or iPhone. It costs all of 99 cents and includes the July Freedom issue. My story is on page 44.