Sep 26, 2012

Famous for an Hour

A curious thing happened this month. Out of nowhere one of my books, Bill The Vampire, started selling.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s done OK in the past...a (semi) solid mid-lister on good days.  However, it’s never done anything like this.  I uploaded a new version earlier this month for a very minor fix (I noticed I had spelled Febreze wrong) and suddenly it started climbing the charts. 

Finally this week, the coup de grace: Bill’s rank climbed to the high four-thousands and it entered the top 100 selling list for one of Amazon’s major categories (fiction & literature / Humor).  It didn’t stay there long.  An hour or so later it dropped a bit in rank and that was the end of that.  But you know what, that’s OK.  I saw it (and sorta made sure others did as well).  I know it’s real.  For one brief moment I had a best seller.

I felt like a minor leaguer who had been given one shot at bat during a major league game. It didn’t matter if I struck out or hit a homerun.  What mattered was that for a few moments, I - a schlub from NJ with a hard to pronounce name - was able to stand alongside some of the titans of the industry. Now some might bemoan this; that it peeked its head up for barely a moment before ducking down again.  For me, though, this is awesome beyond words because of what it represents: potential

Thanks to Amazon, which allows us the privilege of self-publishing to a mass audience, we - the unknowns who simply have a story to tell - have that fighting chance. Truth be told, I’ve at least partially believed this for a while now. As I put out more books and improve my craft, I’ve seen a modest increase in my rankings. Heck, even a handful of sales are more than I would have dared hope for just a few years ago.  However, this month proves to me once and for all that while the ladder is steep, it isn’t impossible to climb.

For you other authors, take heart. The deck is not stacked against you.  Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep doing your best. Good things can happen when you least expect it. Will it last?  Who knows?  All I know is if I can climb the mountain once, it tells me I can quite possibly do it again. At least I hope I can.  The view is pretty darn spectacular. (I won’t lie, the sales aren’t bad either.  Let’s just say that I have my family’s Christmas fund now).

Of course, none of that would be possible if not for the awesome people who are willing to take a risk on new authors.  Thank you for giving me and others like me a chance to entertain you.

As for myself: two things.  First off, I’ll be getting back to work.  I have plenty more stories in me and they all need to be told.  Second will be ending the one little indulgence I’ve been giving myself this past week.  Let’s just say that my family is starting to get annoyed that I’ve been arriving home in the evenings and saying, “Greetings wife and children of best selling author, Rick Gualtieri!” Pity that, but it’s for the best.  Humility is a good thing...and getting the crap kicked out of me by them would just be embarrassing (if deserved ;-).

Onward and upward!

Sep 16, 2012

The Poptart Manifesto

I normally don't give a lot of marketing love for my first book, The Poptart Manifesto. No real reason, other than I usually focus more on my full length stories. The Manifesto (after which this blog is named) is unique amongst my writings. For starters, it's a collection of short stories. Secondly, it's the closest I've come to non-fiction. With a few exceptions, most of the stories within The Poptart Manifesto, have a solid basis in reality. Sure, I've changed names and some facts to fit the story (and to keep myself from getting the beating I probably deserve :), but a good chunk of it actually happened to me. It's not a bad way to discover some of the (dorky) skeletons buried in the closet of my college-aged self.

Amongst those tales is this little narrative, the story for which the book itself is named. I figured I'd give it the spotlight this well as put something up lest people forget I'm alive. Enjoy!


I love Saturday mornings. They make me feel like a kid again. Coming downstairs on a weekend is like reliving those moments from when I was ten and had no school, no commitments, hell no purpose at all waiting for me. I make it a point to celebrate those feelings by indulging in a few kidlike activities, not the least of which is to plop down in front of the TV for a few hours of mind-numbing cartoons...or at least some DVDs of cartoons as the TV networks seem to have come to the conclusion that the news is of far greater importance to the world than Super Friends and Bugs Bunny.

This particular Saturday, I came downstairs with my girlfriend of about a month, Rachel (after a night of non-kidlike activities), and proceeded, as I normally do, straight to the kitchen for my typical weekend breakfast. She followed and immediately began digging through the refrigerator for eggs, juice and other standard fare. Finding what she was after, she turned to see me pulling from the cabinets my weekend staple: a box of strawberry Pop-Tarts.

“That’s what you’re eating?” she asked.

“Yep. Strawberry Pop-Tarts and a glass of chocolate milk...mankind’s greatest achievement in the breakfast arts!”

“Are you seven?” was her reply.

“If I was, then that would make you a pedophile,” I quipped back giving her my best smirk.

She gave me a slight look of disgust and went back about her business. A pretty good response to my feast of choice, all things considered.

My last girlfriend had never stopped needling me about this little weekend fetish of mine. It was an annoyance, albeit a manageable one, and definitely a battle she wasn’t going to win. I had hoped she would finally come to an acceptance of sorts about it. Whether or not that would have come to pass, I don’t know. It never got that far.

What I do know is that, at some point she had apparently read one too many sensationalist news stories and developed this mad-on against all things containing high fructose corn syrup. One day we were happily sitting around drinking our Pepsi’s and eating whatever junk we pleased, and the next it was the devil’s sweetener and god forbid we eat one more bite lest we begin growing tumors out of our eyes. Never one to over-indulge in anything, I could have cared less. She could fool herself into thinking she’d live forever if she only stuffed herself with cane sugar, and I’d just go about my days as before. All was fine.

Unfortunately it wasn’t fine with her. Curse whoever invented the spare key! I came home one day to find she had tossed out all of my food containing the verboten HFCS and replaced it with, no-doubt, foul tasting all natural alternatives. In a panic, I threw open my cupboards and discovered that even my beloved strawberry tarts had not been spared her wrath. They had been cast away and in their place was a box labeled Organic Toaster Pastries.

“What the hell is this!?” I demanded of her.

“They’re all-natural. If you insist on eating crap, it might as well be healthy crap.”

“Healthy? What on earth could possibly make these things healthy? Are they genetically engineered in a secret lab? Do hippies lovingly bake them in ancient stone cairns? Are they free-range Pop-tarts?”

“Stop being a baby! Just try them. They taste just as good.”

So I did.

My response to eating one was to compose this lovely Haiku to her:

Organic Pop-Tarts
I drink a gallon of bleach
Your taste is still here.

We broke up a short time later. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Anyway, I was jostled from of my reverie just as I was about to take my first bite. It was Rachel and she sounded in a panic...well maybe panic is a bit strong of a word, but as near to panic as one can get from a strawberry filled breakfast pastry.

“Wait!” she said. “What are you doing? Aren’t you supposed to toast those first?”

“I have to do nothing of the sort!” I countered. “I like them cold.”

“Eww, they're no good cold. Why do you think that they're called POP-tarts? Because they're supposed to POP up out of the toaster nice and warm. Christ, even a three year old knows this.”

*sigh* Perhaps this wasn’t going to go as well as I had hoped.

“Don’t get me started,” I said, hoping that was the end of it.

“No seriously! You’re supposed to toast them”

“Listen,” I said, knowing that there was likely no stopping the rant that I could feel bursting up from within. “I know that Kellogg’s spends millions of dollars per year on an advertising campaign to make us think that we have to eat them hot. They’ve also tried to convince us that we should try them frozen, but I don’t see you bringing that up? Why? Because deep down you know it to be a blasphemy!”

“I didn’t...”

“Blasphemy, I said! And if one of their campaigns is just a lie, doesn’t that make all of their others suspect too?”

“I hadn’t really thought of it.”, she answered, nonplussed.

“Of course not! Because THEY don’t want you to. But not I! I am a free thinker. I have long since wondered: if we were truly meant to eat our pop-tarts hot then wouldn't it just be simpler to make them toxic to eat cold? There are several foods out there that are downright lethal if not prepared properly. Try eating improperly prepared Fugu and see where it gets you.”

“Did you just compare eating pop-tarts to blowfish?”

“I’m trying to make a point here. A few random cold pop-tart related deaths and the world would surely abandon all thought of eating them right out of the package. Yet this is not the case. Upon much inner reflection regarding this conundrum, I think I have finally seen meaning to all of this.”

“Please, do tell. I can’t wait to hear this,” she added as she began to go about making her own breakfast.

Not even remotely fazed by her insolence, I continued, “What it essentially comes down to is the classic struggle between the haves and the have-nots. In this case, the conspiracy goes even further then the sad divide between those who have toasters and can afford the time to use them and those who cannot.”


“You don’t get it do you? What you see as just a cute commercial with cartoon pop-tarts frolicking about is, in fact, nothing of the sort. Kellogg’s is calling out to the Bourgeois society and telling them to show their superiority to the filthy huddled masses by eating their pop-tarts warm and laughing at us while they do so. They can do this because they know the working class is forced to endure the humiliation and scorn of eating their toaster pastries cold. They mock the lower classes by pretending to sell the same pop-tarts to both the rich and the poor. At the same time, however, they are creating further class segregation by knowing that your average nine-to-five Joe Sixpack doesn't have the time to plug in his toaster and enjoy the rapture of warm, semi melted, fruit filling.”

“There is a point you’re getting at here, right?” she interrupted, buttering some toast.

“The point is that you need to open your eyes to the bigger picture. This is but one more way that the wealthy scoff at the workers of the world. They sit there in their high rises, eating their toasted pop-tarts, which have no-doubt been cooked for them by their servants, knowing that they and they alone have the idle time to unlock and enjoy the hidden heat-sealed magic within. This they do whilst knowing the closest the working man shall ever come to knowing that magic is if his house catches fire and burns down in the morning. This is the hidden message which Kellogg’s seeks to deliver upon us.”

“I’m going to take my food into the other room. Let me know when you’re fin...”

“BUT THEY HAVE FAILED!!” I triumphantly yelled, jumping in front of her. “And why? Because we, the proletariat, have taken the poor, cold, untoasted pop-tart and made it into one of our symbols of strength. Indeed, some of us revel in the cool crunch of the frosting and take pride in the cold, damp chewiness of our fruit fillings.”

At that, I turned to the kitchen window and raise my arms high in triumph.

“So rejoice with me, my brothers and sisters!” I shouted as I once again turned to face her. “Hold aloft your Pop-tarts! Hold them high and heat them in the warm glow of FREEDOM!!!”

I was met with a polite golf clap and her response of, “And the point of all of this was again?”

“I like my pop-tarts cold. Except for the organic kind, that is. The wealthy can keep those too.”

“I didn’t say anything about organic Pop Tarts.”

“Perhaps not, but you would have. Trust me on this one.”

I hope you found some amusement from that, I know I did (especially at the time). Twelve other humorous stories like it await you in The Poptart Manifesto.

Sep 3, 2012

Are Writers Their Own Worst Enemy?

This had originally started life as a discussion primarily around self-published authors.  However, I realized it probably applies to any and all writers: big or small; self, indie, or traditionally published.  Today, writers have more power than ever before because they have more choice than ever before.  There's a downside to this, though.  The old saying "give a man enough rope and he'll hang himself" comes to mind.

It wasn't too long ago that the death knell was sounded for the big six traditional publishers.  People cited them on their seemingly archaic business models, their attempts at stifling new technologies, and their unfair treatment of authors. With the Department of Justice's price fixing lawsuit, blogs like JA Konrath's declared (and continue to) that the writing was on the wall for their obituaries.  With the rise of Amazon's Kindle Program, Pubit for Barnes and Nobles, and others, there was a new economy on the rise.  Aspiring writers could bypass the gatekeepers and reach a massive audience, all while reaping unheard of royalty rates. 

However, it may be that the big six aren't going anywhere.  It may be that their best strategy against this upstart new business model is to sit back and do nothing save make a bowl of popcorn and watch all the writers who seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot.  Indeed this has not been a kind summer for self-publishers or the writing world in general.  If the self-publishing world were to be condensed into a person, they'd definitely still be scrappy, but would certainly now be sporting a pair of black eyes thanks to the actions of a few.

I'll cite just a few examples:
  • Many major media outlets have been running with a story regarding paid reviews on Amazon.  John Locke, the poster boy for self-publishing success, had admitted to doing this.  This has polarized the writing community between those who say it's wrong and those who shrug their shoulders and claim that it's necessary to succeed.  The end result, though, seems to be pointing toward a general suspicion for all reviews now.
  • Author Carroll Bryant posted a list of blogs he felt had cheated him out of reviews.  The entire situation then quickly spiraled out of control into a tale of outright stalking.
  • UK writer, RJ Ellory, was recently exposed for writing self-reviews as well as panning his competition, leading to what some are calling a questionable apology.
  • At the top of the infamous list has been the Stop the Goodreads Bullies website (no link, sorry.  I have no interest in sending them traffic), which went so far as to list personal information for previously anonymous reviewers.
Indeed this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Entire discussion threads, across countless websites, cite the bad behavior of writers.  I’ve read about everything from authors creating numerous sock puppet accounts so as to bolster their own rankings to reading comments where writers have outright attacked those who dare give their "baby" anything less than a glowing review - as if they were three-year olds on the playground

There are those who step back and call this business as usual, that what's going on has always gone on.  They say that every industry is like this and that there will always be those who game the system to get ahead.  I can't disagree with this.  However, I do have to ask those people some questions:

- Why should we have to accept this?

- Why should we tolerate bad behavior just because previous generations did?

- Why can't we try to be better than that?

Everyone wants to succeed.  That's not a new thing.  Ultimately, though, only a few of us are going to be able to scale that mountain and even less will be able to remain atop it.

Consider this, though:  If you're a new writer what will such behavior gain you?  Maybe a few sales, maybe even a little ego gratification. But how long will it last?  If you're just here to make a quick buck, you probably don't care (and you're probably not reading this anyway).  However, if you're truly looking to make a name for yourself, how long do you think it'll be before your behavior is uncovered?  The internet has a long memory and it's like a bulldog if it suspects wrong doing.  Is it really worth tarnishing yourself from the start, jeopardizing what you hope to be a career, all because you didn't have the patience to aim for the long term?

If you're an established writer with a large fan base, that's a wonderful thing.  However, if you've used questionable tactics to get there, how will that reflect upon you?  Sure you might be laughing all the way to the bank, but whatever legacy you hope to have could suffer for it.  Do you want to be remembered 50 years from now for your works or because you were part of a scandal?

I can't help but think that all of these events happening in such a compressed time frame will have / are having a cumulative effect on the entire industry...which should be a concern for all of us (writers). Already I've seen several blogs either shuttering their windows or becoming a lot more selective about who they review. It's one thing if a person wants to commit career suicide, but I'd wager that their actions harm us all.

I'm not saying everyone has to be squeaky clean or saint-like at all times.  I'm not that naive.  We're all human.  That being said, it would behoove us all to think things through before we act and consider the try and act with a little integrity and professionalism.  If enough of us take a stand and try to take the high road against this behavior, we can steer this industry back on the right track and help ensure that when the day comes that the news decides to run a story on one of us, they'll put the focus on what we all want them to: our books.