45 Banal Minutes with Steve Harrison

Steve HarrisonOne of my editors is a bully. Really. She’s also very business savvy. So she bullied me into listening to a conference call with Steve Harrison called “How to Achieve a Lot More Success as an Author by Discovering the 7 Things Rich Authors Know That Poor Authors Don’t.” It was a conference call in the sense that you have to call in. Clearly, the discussion was prerecorded. It had all the authenticity of a sales pitch on QVC. Of course, I didn’t want to listen to it. I don’t go in for this kind of stuff. I’ve read a fair amount about the publishing business and marketing. What’s more, I’ve been in the business a long time and I know that there is no secret recipe for success.

Boy was I wrong!

Just kidding! It was entirely what I expected. It reminded me of an article Thomas Frank wrote two years ago, TED Talks Are Lying to You. It was about how business books about “creativity” are all the same: they give the same examples, the same vague advice, and are generally useless. It is his contention that these books tell the professional-managerial class that they are members of the “creative class.” But of course, they aren’t; they’re just middle-managers.

This talk wasn’t exactly that. You could sum up everything that Harrison said in one sentence: “Writing is a business.” So for people just starting out, it is probably a useful introduction to the business of writing. Even writers who have quite popular books usually have some kind of day job that relates to it. For example, Ian Millhiser, writer of one of my favor recent books, Injustices, and quite a successful magazine writer, is at base, “a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice.”

Seven Things Rich Authors Know

So let’s go through these “7 things.” The first one is, “Poor authors think you just need a good book; rich authors know they need a good marketing plan.” Well, I kind of think you need both, but if you had to pick one, the marketing plan is the choice. And that is one of the big changes in the publishing industry over the last several decades: publishers used to provide marketing plans. Now, you really are on your own. But is this a difference between rich and poor authors? Most poor authors are well of aware of this — certainly the ones who have actually published a book do.

The second “thing” is, “Poor authors expect most money to come from the book; rich authors know their money will come from additional offerings.” What he’s saying is true in a way. As I discussed above, books open up possibilities for other jobs. I have offers to write books. I’m just not that interested, because I know they will not open up the kind of possibilities that I’m interested in — or really any possibilities at all. The main reason I would publish a nonfiction book is so I could get better freelance work.

But Steve Harrison’s discussion of this destroys what he is supposedly talking about. He talked about how the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad uses it to sell his board game Cashflow. So this really isn’t about writing, is it? It’s about people making money. And here’s a trick for all you people who want to make a lot of money: don’t go into writing! It isn’t a terribly good field. Go into business. If you happen to do some writing along the way to make tons of cash, great! If you happen to kill some people along the way to make tons of cash, great! Whatever. The point is money, not writing.

The third “thing” is that poor authors think their copyrights are worth something and rich authors most value their list of customers. Networking! Woo! Who are these writers who think their copyrights are so very valuable? In my experience: unpublished writers.

Fourth, “Poor writers market to everyone; rich writers market to people who say, ‘That’s me!'” And then he points out that books about tennis should be marketed to tennis players. This is something that literally everyone knows. I cannot image someone writing a how to book about tennis and thinking that it ought to be marketed to people in hospice. But this “thing” is just setting up the next one.

Fifth, “Poor authors sell books one at a time; rich authors sell books by the truckload.” First, this is question begging. If you are selling books by the truckload, you are obviously doing well. But what he’s getting at is bulk sales. You could sell to the “conservative book club.” Or to a vitamin company as a promotion. Or to tennis coaches who will sell them to you. This is pretty obvious. But it is also true that books are generally sold through a distributor. On this one, I think he shows that his market is mostly people who self-publish — which means he is mostly going after the fool market. (Note: I think people can self-publish really well; I just think that most don’t; and it generally requires that you already understand publishing, which means experience.)

On number six, we learn that poor authors depend upon publicity whereas rich authors depend upon a “predictable system for making money from their message.” So get those email lists! That’s something that Harrison should know about because that’s all he’s doing here is collecting email addresses. He’s already sent me four email messages and I’m sure they will continue. Of course, I created an email address especially for the event: richauthor@franklycurious.com, which I will delete as soon as I finish this article.

You would think that the seventh “thing” would be a doozy: something really great. But it is — What is that word? — pathetic: poor authors do everything themselves, and rich authors have a support team. More question begging? Not at all! You can get an unpaid intern. What college graduate wouldn’t want to work for free helping out an unsuccessful self-published writer?! Really, it was that bad. One of the biggest problems unsuccessful writers have is listening to people tell them to stop this writing nonsense. There aren’t people begging to help.

At this point (it took 45 minutes to get this far), Steve Harrison brought on some woman who had apparently made so much money with his Quantum Leap program (or another of his hugely expensive programs), that she spends her time hocking for him. I hung up.

My editor said that if you gain just one thing from these things, they are helpful. Well, I did: I gained this blog post. And that’s it. As I expected, it was your typical business for dummies nonsense: buy low, sell high; increase your volume; network. But if you really want to make a lot of money in the “writing” business, I suggest you do what Steve Harrison does: convince writers to give you tons of money for banal and questionable advice.

The Paradox of the American Dream

Cedric de LeonThis book argues that the current generation of workers and trade unionists, like other generations before it has come face-to-face with a long-standing inheritance: a democracy — born in the epic fire of civil war — that safeguards the individual worker’s right to access the American Dream while simultaneously denying a collective route to its fulfillment.

—Cedric de Leon
The Origins of Right to Work

H/T: Erik Loomis

We’ve Abandoned the Poor in This Country

Jared BernsteinJared Bernstein wrote a very good article over at The Atlantic, America’s Poorest Are Getting Virtually No Assistance. It’s not a new story to me — or many of my readers — but it is one that we as society have not reckoned with. In 1996, Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it.” Most people are still confused about this. When I talk to people of all political stripes — but especially conservatives — they mostly think that people get on welfare out of high school and die on it. At the very least, they think single mothers without jobs get it. That just isn’t true.

With “welfare reform” came this idea that people should work if they want to get off welfare and climb the economic ladder. That’s actually true. But as Bernstein noted, there was a major problem: “the new welfare law assumed the jobs would be there.” No one really thought about that side of the equation. They seemed to be trapped in the Say’s Law fallacy: supply creates its own demand. So by this way of thinking, if these people went out looking for jobs, the jobs would suddenly appear. It sounds ridiculous when it is put so bluntly, but that is exactly what they were assuming.

But they — Bill Clinton most of all — lucked out. Welfare reform came along at exactly the same time as a huge economic boom — and stock market bubble. So there really were jobs available. Massive numbers of people who had been stuck on welfare suddenly found themselves with jobs. Hooray! Welfare reform worked! But of course it didn’t. Without welfare reform, it is certain that a comparable number of people who had been on welfare would have gotten jobs. As Bernstein noted of the poorest of the poor, “They want decent, steady jobs, and not just because they recognize work as an economic necessity but because of the dignity they believe it will bring to their lives as people and as parents.” Trust me on this: “dignity” is the key word there.

But now we are stuck with this narrative: we forced people on welfare to get jobs and it worked! Tough love rules the day! I don’t think that liberals are quite so sanguine about this anymore. But conservatives are convinced because it is what they want to believe anyway. And this is what gives us people like Paul Ryan saying that the safety net is a “hammock that lulls able-bodied people into complacency and dependence.” Poor people don’t have it great in America — regardless of whether or not they are on welfare. The very notion is silly.

I have an even more fundamental problem with this kind of thinking. I don’t understand why it is that we think mothers should have to work outside the home. Certainly it wasn’t traditionally like that. And every time some rich woman decides to stay home and raise the kids, we as a nation stand and applaud her noble act. But poor women need the “dignity of work,” because raising children isn’t a dignified occupation — when you are poor. So I think we as a society need to give this some thought. And we also need to think about the effect an insecure, nomadic lifestyle has on the life prospects of children.

As a society, we should be ashamed of how we treat the poor. They need a helping hand — and very often a hand out. I don’t know when they ever need a kick in the pants.

Energy Markets So Easily Gamed They’re Useless

David Cay JohnstonDavid Cay Johnston wrote a really interesting and disturbing article at Al Jazeera last week, New York’s Electricity Market Is a Scam. Rather than have an old fashioned public utility, New York has an electricity market that just so happens to have been set up by Enron. The promises are always the same: a market will make prices cheaper. And the results are always the same: they aren’t. In fact, “Adjusted for inflation, electricity in New York costs almost 17% more than a decade ago.”

Let’s get something straight: businesses are not designed to keep prices low; they are designed to keep prices high. This confusing is what is behind one of my favorite brainless arguments against raising worker salaries, “If you raise wages, the companies will just raise their prices!” No they won’t! If the companies could have charged more before, they would have. Businesses charge as much as they possibly can. The only thing that stops them from gouging is that there are other companies that compete with them. And in a properly regulated market, this is exactly what happens. But businesses do everything they can to avoid competition.

Actual collusion is illegal, of course. In an oligopoly, businesses don’t generally need to collude. They can avoid competition because it is to everyone’s benefit and they know how much it costs their “competitors” to bring their products and services to market. As a result, the regulators of the New York electricity market keep data secret to stop collusion. Or supposedly they do. It seems more like they are trying to keep the data away from the people and their representatives so that the power companies can continue their scam. Because it really is remarkable. New York energy prices have gone up despite the fact that energy supply is always greater than demand. And by a lot, “Its surplus is huge, as much as 63 percent in May, and never less than 4.6 percent, New England Power Coordinating Council reliability reports show.”

What’s more this supposed private data isn’t private. New York Assemblyman James Brennan thought he smelled a rat, so he hired utility economist Robert McCullough to look into it. And McCullough found that by using the disparate data that is released, it is a simple matter to derive all the data. And if he can do it, the companies that are supposedly competing can do it. And they most certainly are, because energy prices in New York should be down not up, by the laws of microeconomics.

Johnston is no liberal. His conclusion is:

My case against electricity markets is not an argument for traditional utility regulation. Monopoly utilities also pose serious economic problems that I have been writing about for more than four decades. But the ease with which the so-called markets are gamed, making them shams in my view, suggests that they are no better and arguably worse.

I know that my libertarian enemies will claim that this just shows that the government should be out of the market altogether. There are two words such people should keep in mind: Silk Road. But this is all just conservative nonsense: the idea markets exist naturally without government. They don’t, and indeed, can’t. And this is not a theoretical issue. The question is how we are going to distribute energy to consumers. We can start with a little transparency.

Morning Music: John Martyn Live in Dublin

John MartynIt’s Saturday, right? (Really: it’s Thursday where I am.) Anyway, it being Saturday means that we are at the end of our Morning Music cycle and that it is the weekend. And how do you cap a whole week of the brilliance of John Martyn? You go for a whole hour! I don’t know much about this except that it is a performance in Dublin in 1987. He’s performing with Danny Thompson on bass — who is just fantastic.

There isn’t much to add. I’m a bit surprised that no one has commented on Martyn this week. Am I alone in considering him so awesome? Is everyone working too much? Whatever it is, I forgive you. But now is your last chance to gush. But you can always enjoy:

Anniversary Post: Battle of Marathon

Plain of MarathonAlthough it is open to debate, on this day in 490 BCE, the Battle of Marathon took place. It was a battle between the Persian Empire and the city state of Athens. It was a huge battle pitting roughly 10,000 Athenians (plus a thousand or so Plataeans) against 25,000 Persians. It resulted in a decisive victor for the greatly outnumbered Greeks. It marked an important point toward the beginning of the Greco-Persian Wars — which ran on for fifty years. And more specifically, it was part of the first Persian invasion of Greece.

Now if you are like me, you are probably wondering, “Why did the Persians want to invade Greece?” Well, it was personal. Ionia was under Persian rule, but the people weren’t totally happy with that so they started the Ionian Revolt, which lasted from 499 BCE to 493 BCE. The Persians prevailed in it. But the Persian King Darius I never got over the fact that the Greeks had supported the Ionians. So rather than just let it go, he pushed it into another four and half decades of war. Of course, it wasn’t all under him. He died in 486 BCE, and the conflict didn’t end until 449 BCE. Once these things get started, they have a will of their own.

If this all sounds kind of familiar, it should. We humans haven’t learned a damned thing. Remember all that business of how we couldn’t “cut and run” in Iraq? That’s called the sunk costs fallacy. It’s easy to fall into. It’s hard to admit that you’ve wasted resources. So you waste more resources trying to make things right. It’s really all about saving face — to yourself most of all. But clearly, Darius took the Greek involvement in the Ionian Revolt personally. No realpolitik for him! He got Ionia back; so what if the Greeks weren’t his biggest fans?

So let’s lay this out for our modern political leaders. Darius has to deal with a revolt, and he succeeds. But it makes him angry at the Greeks — especially the Athenians. So he starts the first Persian invasion of Greece. He does very well for the most part. But the one thing he most wanted to do — make Athens pay — he fails at. Not only that, but he fails spectacularly. He embarrasses himself. So he and his successors carry on and on and on — for a total of 50 years. At which point they just gave up.

I suppose Dick Cheney would say that they gave up to soon. If only they had kept it up until the reign of Nepherites I (398 – 393 BCE), then they would have succeeded! It’s just silly — or rather stupid. The thing is that Darius had an excuse: he lived literally millennia before Niccolò Machiavelli and realpolitik. I’m not sure what to make of Cheney. He clearly isn’t stupid. But his anger — or whatever — makes him stupid when dealing with subjects like this. At least King Darius knew he was taking these actions because of his desire for vengeance. Cheney — and most of the Republican Party — seem to think their actions make sense.