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How much does being “out-of-stock” on Amazon affect book sales?

I’ve been using LightningSource since I self-published my first book in early 2012. In the first year, my book sold well and it was consistently listed as ‘available’ on Amazon. Because it was print-on-demand and drop-shipped directly from Ingram/LightningSource when Amazon customers ordered it, it makes sense that it would be listed continuously as Available. Sometimes it would say ‘2 left’ or something, but this seemed like a sales tactic on Amazon’s part because as soon as that number went down to 0 it would say it was Available again.

That changed at some point about 2 years ago. I (and other small publishers) noticed that books were being regularly shown as ‘temporarily out-of-stock’. It’s assumed that this is a tactic by Amazon to essentially “punish” small print-on-demand publishers who are not using Amazon’s CreateSpace. Because being out-of-stock hurts sales, it’s assumed this is a way to strong-arm small publishers to use CreateSpace.

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Learning about self-publishing non-fiction, instructional books  

Since publishing my book, Reading Poker Tells, in April of 2012, I’ve learned a lot about self-publishing. When I first started out researching this stuff, in 2011, I had no idea about publishing; I didn’t know how books got made, I didn’t know how the relatively new process of print-on-demand worked, I didn’t know what a reseller discount was. I learned as I went. All I knew was that I wanted to self-publish my book and I figured I’d eventually learn everything I needed to know.

My main motivation for self-publishing was that I wanted to make the most money possible. I have no doubt that I could have found a publisher if I’d tried, but I thought the type of book I was writing—a non-fiction, how-to book with a built-in niche audience that could easily find the book online—was the perfect book to self-publish. (This is compared to fiction, which obviously is a bigger challenge to find an audience for.) I had faith in my book and thought, through word of mouth and online search results, it would sell well with little marketing expenditures on my part. Instead of a publisher keeping the large majority of the profit, I’d keep it. Typical publishing deals give anywhere from 10% to 20% of gross book sales to an author; by self-publishing, focused on online sales, I keep around 60%.

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5 Explanations for Human Consciousness

I was thinking about human consciousness, and the forces behind it. The age-old question of how a human (or any organism) can have a sense of self-awareness. What prevents us from being just complex organisms with no inner thought?

It seems to me there are only five options to explain consciousness and self-awareness.

1)   There is a certain theshold of interactivity that a data-processing system must reach to become self-conscious. Self-consciousness is based on just achieving a certain amount of complexity in a system. (This implies that computers will be able to achieve consciousness.)

2)   There is some process at an unknown level that creates consciousness, like maybe on another dimensional level, or at a quantum level. (In other words, no amount of computer-power will necessarily lead to a system becoming self-conscious; something must happen at another level of interaction that we don’t know about.)

3)   All physical matter has consciousness. We are conscious just like animals are conscious, just like a tree is conscious, just like a rock is conscious, just like an atom is conscious. Complex systems (like the human mind) could be broken down into a number of separate consciousnesses, each unaware of the other.

4)   We are given consciousness by an outside all-powerful force, like God. 

5)   Consciousness doesn’t exist and is some kind of illusion.  

These aren’t original ideas, of course. And the second option leaves a lot of possibilities open. But I haven’t seen a thorough list of all the possible options in one place before. And it seems to me these are the only options available. Anyone see any flaws in this thinking?


Language-Based Narrative Structure in Dreams

I’ve long been interested in dreams, specifically Freudian dream theory. I’ve read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams three times, and several related texts. I used to keep a daily dream journal and over the years I’ve done some amateur Freudian dream interpretation for friends and family.

I believe in Freud’s fundamental theory of dreams: that all dreams are a wish fulfillment in one form or another. I also believe in his ideas about the large role language plays in dreams. While the jury is out (potentially forever) on the concept of dreams as wish fulfillments, I think most modern psychologists recognize the central role that language and words play in dreams (and in psychological disturbances, which have a lot in common with dreams).

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The Hidden Meaning of Ishiguro's 'Never Let Me Go'

I was moved to write my thoughts on Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005) after seeing that a movie version was just released. I read David Denby’s movie review in The New Yorker, and I've read several book reviews in the past, and none have talked about what I understood to be Ishiguro's central message.

First, a quick spoiler: Never Let Me Go takes place in an alternate world where the main characters are clones raised solely for their organs. Called Carers, they live a truncated life, dying in middle age as they are called upon to give up one organ at a time. The bulk of the story takes place in the past, when they were children living in a small, strange boarding school, sequestered from the world.

Reviewers of the book (and now movie) have focused on the sci-fi/thriller elements of the story – the cloning, the raising of people for organs, what Ishiguro might be saying about the future of our society and our medical industry. But this book has nothing to do with science, or the medical establishment, or problems of the future. This is a story that uses these pop-ish elements as a mere backdrop to examine human nature.

As Ishiguro did so expertly with The Remains of the Day (still one of my favorite books of all time - also a good movie but the movie is not even in the same ballpark as the book), he paints a portrait of characters seemingly lacking in “normal” affect. The most noticeable feeling you have as you read Never Let Me Go is a feeling of frustration. As the characters grow into adolescence and then into young adulthood, slowing realizing (as we realize) what is in store for them, you want to scream at their complacency. “Fight back!” you want to say. “Do something! This isn’t fair!”

But the characters accept their lot. As their destiny is slowly revealed to them over years, they spend their days embedded in rituals, in gossip, in small dramas, in petty arguments and jealous rivalry. Ishiguro weaves a realistic and placid account of their lives, so hypnotically tedious that it’s maddening when you snap to and remember what has been done to these people. This leads the reader to think, “What idiots. If it were me I’d fight back, do something. I wouldn’t just take this injustice lying down.”

Or would you?

Ishiguro is a psychological genius. Do you see what he’s done? His subtle framing of this story in such terms leads you to question the complacency with which we all (some more than others) live our lives. Aren’t all of us embedded in rituals and past-times we have never examined? How many of us are surrounded by injustice and madness that we accept as par-for-the-course on a daily basis?

I felt a similar existential claustrophobia when I finished Remains of the Day for the first time – that sense of how trapped we humans can be – by our past, by our mind, by our roles assigned, by what is expected of us. And as with that book, I felt a strong aversion to that claustrophobia – to living a life that is too defined.

Ishiguro’s mastery of language and the human mind cannot be overstated. With the unreliable narrator, which he uses in all of his books that I've read, he seems to have found the perfect narrative device for sneaking inside the mind of a reader and setting up shop there, twisting screws and loosening sockets all while the reader might be unaware of what is going on. I have read that Ishiguro is well-versed in Freudian psychology and I believe his books show this.

I am of the opinion that many people who read his books, even when they don’t see the intricate crafting that has been done, still finish the book with Ishiguro’s messages lodged in their unconscious.