How to get AI’s attention

“This approach of Visibility Marketing is not a new way of reaching readers per se, but a way of positioning yourself and your books for maximum impact.”
David Gaughran, Amazon Decoded: A Marketing Guide to the Kindle Store

Theoretically, anyone who writes a book can publish it on Amazon. Practically, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to send a copy to those who want to read the book than to go through the process of publishing it. Even if one doesn’t intend to make any money off of it (e.g. by offering it for free), when an author makes their book available for the public, they probably want to it be read. Amazon’s Kindle store, with its millions of readers, sounds like the ideal venue. But with millions of books available, the odds that strangers will find a book by an unknown writer (indie or not) are dishearteningly small.

The book Amazon Decoded tackles this problem and provides indie authors with tools which increase the odds that their books will be discovered by readers. A hint – getting the “giant recommendation engine powering the Kindle Store” (the AI, for short) to put one’s book in front of potential readers is neither simple nor cheap. Nevertheless, David Gaughran argues that this is possible, and shows the pieces of puzzle involved in the process. Continue reading

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Perseverance and stamina – a lesson 40 years after The Empire Strikes Back

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
-Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

One of the things that distinguishes a classic from a random highly successful book or movie is that one can return to a classic decades after it was created and still find it engaging and relevant. The Empire Strikes Back (TESB) was a huge success when it was released in May 1980. According to Wikipedia, “The Empire Strikes Back had a significant impact on filmmaking and popular culture, being regarded as a rare example of a sequel that transcends the original. The climax, in which Vader reveals to Luke that he is his father, is often cited as one of the greatest plot twists in cinematic history.”
In retrospect, TESB turned out to be a classic. Continue reading

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Moving the needle – 200 years since Ørsted experiment

The first connection between electricity and magnetism was found by Ørsted on 21 April 1820. Hans Christian Ørsted (14 August 1777 – 9 March 1851) was a Danish scientist. He became a professor at the University of Copenhagen in 1806. His famous discovery, known as Ørsted’s law, states that an electric current creates a magnetic field.

An illustrated demonstration of the experiment:

Opinions vary on whether the discovery was accidental or not. Continue reading

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Becoming Superman

Style was the clothes; voice was the body.
The instant I hit that realization I felt a circuit close inside me, switching on an engine in my brain. Suddenly all the little unrelated things I knew about writing (or brashly thought I knew) arranged themselves into a pattern so clear and precise that it knocked the breath out of me.”
J. Michael Straczynski, Becoming Superman

Becoming Superman is an autobiography of a science fiction and comics writer, J. Michael Straczynski. It is also a page turner, a powerful story that amazingly enough, is real. As Neil Gaiman concluded in his introduction: “We follow him through several careers, and in each career he learns how to do it, how to set out and make something happen that ought, by any stretch of imagination, to have been impossible. It’s his willingness to learn, his quiet persistence, and his willingness to do the work that are his superpowers. He has become a diamond.”

Reading the book during a weekend, I found there another “superpower”: hate. Hatred for a father he describes as a monster formed the author’s worldview, sustained him physically at times he might otherwise crumble, and shaped his character when the closest he had to a “role-model” were comic book heroes like Superman. This is not, however, a hateful book. The author’s hate does not drip from every page. It is used like lampposts placed to illuminate bends on a road, so a passerby would see what he had experienced as a boy and while growing up, what he overcame, and what he still has to cope with. Continue reading

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Jane Austen and the institution of Marriage

“…I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”
Charlotte Lucas to Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice.


A book cover using Thomas Lawrence’s
The Children of Sir Samuel Fludyer (1806).

One day a “lost” Jane Austen novel might be “rediscovered” in some attic. The news will spread across the world long before experts will have a chance to study the manuscript, and the few known facts will soon be drowned by speculations about its authenticity. Would it be deemed a forgery, even if the handwriting, the style and word usage are comparable with these found in Austen’s letters and previous works, but the story as a whole lacks the qualities that endeared Jane Austen’s novels to so many readers for such a long period?

One thing we can be sure about this hypothetical manuscript is that it will involve romantic relations and treat the institution of Marriage. Expectations from this institution have evolved considerably in the last couple of hundreds of years, and yet Austen’s treatment of the subject still appeals to modern readers. Or or at least so I thought until I read a recent article in The Atlantic that challenges this assumption. In a piece titled “What Jane Austen Thought Marriage Couldn’t Do”, S. Chamberlain makes claims based on evidence from Austen’s novels. In the following I will address some of those points.

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William Blake in the twenty first century

Reader! lover of books! lover of heaven,
And of that God from whom all books are given,
Who in mysterious Sinai’s awful cave
To Man the wondrous art of writing gave,
Again he speaks in thunder and in fire!
Thunder of Thought, & flames of fierce desire:
Even from the depths of Hell his voice I hear,
Within the unfathomed caverns of my Ear.
Therefore I print; nor vain my types shall be:
Heaven, Earth & Hell, henceforth shall live in harmony.

from the preface to Chapter I, Jerusalem, by William Blake

Twenty one decades separate between William Blake’s only solo exhibition and the retrospective exhibition, titled “William Blake”, that has recently opened at Tate Britain.
The first exhibition was at Blake’s brother’s hosiery shop in Soho. Sixteen pictures were displayed for show and sale, including “The Ancient Britons”, the largest picture Blake ever made. The price for admission was one shilling, the same as the much larger and more prestigious exhibitions at the Royal Academy and at the British Institution. Blake’s exhibition was attended by few, and the only review it received was from The Examiner. It was published anonymously in the issue for 17 September 1809:

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The Stranger from Paradise, A Biography of William Blake


Portrait of William Blake by Thomas Philips (1807).

G. E. Bentley Jr’s biography of William Blake, The Stranger from Paradise, follows the creative life of a promising young artist, whose genius and unconventional mindset, both fueled his art and hindered his career. It recounts the growing rift between Blake and the art world, the emergence of his unique style and his unsuccessful attempt to reach the public directly. The last section (before notes and bibliography) is less extensive, as if the biographer was in a hurry to conclude the progressively unhappy story. It skirts around Blake’s poverty and declining health, focusing on the artist finding contentment and on the emerging interest both in Blake’s visions and in his paintings. When the book ended, I wanted to read more.
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Sophomore novel: to publish or not to publish

“Whether I’ll publish the story depends on whether others like it.”
Myself, January 2019.

I ended my last post prophesying that the decision about publishing the nearly complete manuscript would be based on my readers’ reaction to the story. This was not what happened. Instead, I collated more information about the current state of self-publishing, and then reevaluated my options. Here is what I’ve learned.
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January is this time of the year…

It has been four years since I (self-)published my novel, Initial Conditions, in January 2015. I began writing a second, unrelated story, in the spring of that year. It progressed very little until NaNoWriMo in November. In January 2016, I read my 75K-words manuscript and could not understand what it was about. Several half-hearted attempts to salvage it resulted in six chapters, which I sent in January 2018 to a beta reader. The reader liked the premise, but gently made it clear that the execution did not deliver; the story was not engaging. A year later, I have nineteen chapters – an almost completed novel, except the last act. I don’t know yet if the story works for anyone beside myself, but, looking back, I can see the roadblocks that I wish I was warned about.
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Farewell to 2018

Visiting New York on one of last days of the year seemed like a good idea. An extravaganza of lights, food we like but don’t have anywhere near home, the hustle and bustle of a city known for its showmanship and endless variety. From a distance, Manhattan shone with promise – an amalgam of Greek Revivals and skyscrapers, an epicenter of creativity and magic – just being there was bound to cheer one up, to elevate the gloomy mood that clouded most of the year.

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I recalled these expectations several hours later, after half a day spent in the city. So far, New York did not disappoint. Everyone in our family found something they liked to eat at the Chelsea Market; my sons enjoyed browsing dead-tree books in a brick-and-mortar bookstore; I window-shopped, eyeing the lush, festive displays that one day would probably appear in an unfinished draft of my novel.

It felt good to imagine that we landed in a modern fairy-tale, but then, vacant spaces between the fanciest stores on 5th Avenue shouted that retail reality was not as glamorous as the dressed mannequins, and the prices of the gelato and the French-sounding pastries brought to mind how many home-cooked meals (or school lunches) each bite-size serving could buy.

My personal bubble burst while jostling for a space on a sidewalk on our way to see THE Christmas Tree (at the Rockefeller Center). I don’t know if there were hundreds or thousands of people there, but I felt that they all came to New York for the same purpose, to catch a piece of magic, a glimpse of something bright and shinny, and yet untarnished by revelations and scandals. And so we inched forward, crowded but determined to pass by the famous tree. There were too many people to come close and see the details, but it sparkled from afar, a symbol of continuity, of stability, and maybe a glimmer of hope for a better year.

Happy 2019 !

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