Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Why Reading Other Novelists Helps Improve One's Own Writing

A Conspiracy of Paper (Benjamin Weaver, #1)A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As someone who has written an in-depth novel with lots of characters and intrigue, I can see my own shortcomings as a writer as they mirror my criticisms of the shortcomings of A Conspiracy of Paper.

Years ago, I had decided to read it while I was reading novels to learn how to tell my own story of complexity. This novel is recommended on its jacket as a novel similar to An Instance of the Fingerpost, the latter which I consider to be one of the most brilliant contemporary historical fiction novels ever written. Mind you, An Instance might be the first historical fiction that I had ever read, to my memory, so that could have been part of its mystique. But that book is brilliant.

I love brilliant writing. This author does a commendable job of writing in an English prose of perfection for the time period, although certain phrases are used ad nausea ("for the nonce..."). Nevertheless, Liss has a way of using witty, sophisticated dialogue, in a Jane Austen manner that makes you want to hear what the characters are saying. He also catches the time period brilliantly, and transports you to 18th Century England. You can almost smell the putrid smells of London, and the visuals of the time-period are like a movie. The clothing, the hackneys, the beggars, the streets, the filth, are conjured up admirably. He literally places you there.

The problem with the novel is the problem with my own: there are way too many characters. In his case, however, because they are all in the same field of employment (relating to business and stock-jobbing, in things of a financial nature) they all blend into one another. There are so many names, but the faces all look the same to me. So, I did not care for them. Luckily, my readers have told me differently about my own characters, thankfully.

The characters that did interest me were better defined and quite memorable, usually persons in whom the protagonist had an actual friendly relationship: Miriam and Elias, in particular, whose friendships with the protagonist Weaver were human and relevant to the story. As long as one of them was in the scene, I could be guaranteed to pay attention.

The theme of the book does come across, albeit in a muddled way, but just when you're about to give up, the author inserts a paragraph that sums up where we are in the book, and that guided me along. I wish, however, that I could have gleaned what was going on without his paraphrasing. I also didn't like that I could read the mind of the author as he was writing, not knowing exactly where he was going in telling the story. You could tell where he was stuck, where he had to pivot, and when he was lost in his own story-telling. His character spoke too much about this, which was part of the mystery, but which I could not help but hear the desperation of the writer. I could be wrong, however. But those musings jumped out at me.

Writing about fraud is very difficult. I know that as an attorney who takes on complex cases. He's done a commendable job, however, of explaining where financial fraud's beginnings lay: in England in the creation of the stock markets. Overall, the book is a cautionary tale for how we find ourselves where we do now, as a civilization, creating value in worthless paper that is manipulated by central banks, employed by persons of questionable repute.

I doubt I'll read this book again, whereas I will read An Instance of the Fingerpost again. I'm not sure I recommend the novel except for the complimentary aspects I mentioned above.

I will say though, that David Liss, as an American, has done a good job of copying the brogue and the feeling of the English, through the eyes of an outsider, a Jewish Englishman. There was no trace of his American background in his writing, except for his location for some of the major meetings in the novel, in a restaurant called "The Laughing Negro." Unless there is an actual place in English history, I would say his need to insert American pejorative parlance in a novel about England was totally out of place, and an indicator of why he may aspire to be English, but cannot think like a Brit, in the long run.

I should give this 3.5 stars, and maybe a 4.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

For Black Diaspora Reading Aficionados, There's No Place Like Home: Sister's Uptown Bookstore.

Proud to be feted by the only Black-owned bookstore in Manhattan
I still fancy myself as international, although I haven't travelled overseas in over 15 years. I traded in my passport for being my mother's caregiver. I miss the sights and smells of traveling overseas. Moreover, I miss the freedom of More free than in my own native country. I have lived in the Philippines and Thailand, traveled to Brazil, Jamaica, and Nigeria, and can say that I felt more secure and at home in all of those places than in my own USA.

Pitiful, but true.

Now, I know there's some falsity in my assertions because, when I traveled, I was perceived as a regular American. Here, not so much. Also, I had money to spend, and the color green seemed to overwhelm any trepidation people may have had about my brown-colored skin. So, in many ways, although I didn't look like a white Tammy-tourist, I was still "the other". But no one seemed to make a big deal about it.

I felt comfortable even in England, where I lived for a year as an Atlantic Fellow in Public Policy, although I didn't escape from being noticed by one drunkard at a formal dinner who slurred loudly enough for me to hear him say to a man next to him,"What is that?" referring to me. I guess my neatly twisted hair made me seem other-worldly to his jaundiced, inebriated eyes.

That question should have been my retort about him, however, as he looked like a W.C. Field's caricature, with his pregnant belly and his toupee askew. He was quite comical. I pretended not to hear because I didn't want to embarrass the man who received the remark, and who, shocked, immediately made an overt gesture to speak with me as a social balm to deflect the perceived wound his uncouth colleague had attempted to inflict upon me.

But I heard him. We hear it all the time.  Black people don't need supersonic ears to hear the insults lobbied about us over our heads. We catch them so quickly because we must be alert wherever we are...because we are hated, pilloried, envied, and shunned for being Black, enslaved, then freed (kinda sorta).

But I digress.

What I really want to talk about is where Black people can go to find their own safe places. One of them is Sister's Uptown Bookstore and Cultural Center, in Manhattan, New York.

Book-lovers at Black-owned Sister's Uptown Bookstore
Ironically, it was a White book buyer and writer Kurt Thometz (who was introduced to me via word-of-mouth - "call him and he'll tell you who is who, etc.") who told me about them, as I am generally a stranger to everyplace in New York except Times Square, where my sister lives. I only know Harlem to walk down the street and to visit Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.  Blvd., searching for the Juice Bar when it was there. It was a place where you could get vegetarian soul food. I'm no vegan, but I loved going there (it moved to a different location, but wasn't the same, but I hope it's still doing business). After living for 15 years in New Hampshire, feeling almost a foreigner to Black environments, I just liked hanging out on the street, talking to the vendors to get my dose of Blackness. A recharge of sorts.

A family for our Family of book lovers
Have you ever slipped into a warm, heated towel after a shower or bath, and wanted to stay in it, forever?

Or, have you ever felt like Cinderella when she actually fits the magic slipper to wed the prince?

That's Sister's Uptown Books.

It is an oasis.

It is heaven on earth.

It is your grandmother's sofa and hot corn bread that never gets cold.

It is mother Africa hugging you to her bosom.

It will put you in a place where you feel safe and secure. Without prickly safety pins.

It's just...home.  It touts as much, as it's not only a bookstore. It's a community center. A cultural home.  And the fact that it embraces not just Blackness but Black literature makes it one of the most important places on the planet for me.

The owner and manager are a mother and daughter team, Janifer and Kori, who receive you with open arms, something we are not always open to doing as a people, as we have been taught to guard each other with suspicion, like the slave masters taught our slave ancestors, and as some of us still unconsciously do.

My book, "Severed, a novel" had been named as a finalist in first-fiction for the Phyllis Wheatley BookAward at the Harlem Book Fair, and I traveled during the award-ceremony weekend with copies of my novel, which Janifer and Kori accepted without reservation. The few independent stores I've approached locally have loved the cover, as it is quite professional (thank you, Ingram Spark), if just a tad difficult to place by genre. It is a mystery that I hope is part-literary, so it's difficult to typecast, and to sell for that, matter.

But Sister's accepted 7 paperbacks on the spot. When they called a couple of months later and said they needed more copies, I was ecstatic, of course. And when I was invited to speak about my novel over Thanksgiving weekend to their book club members, I was even more overjoyed.

The book club members are extremely well-read critical-thinkers: my favorite audience. They were rapt at attention, ingested my story, and gave me their own insights into the novel. They were the audience I have waited for my whole life: intelligent, they love and support their race. My novel is not an easy read. There's a lot of information to digest. That these readers embraced it so gleefully was worth the fifteen years it took to write it.

Kori - committed to the cause of Sister's
Sister's is the only Black-owned bookstore in Manhattan and is only one out of 54 in the country, down from 400. Our bookstores are dying out, as Black Americans become consumers without a conscience. Like most Americans, they "want-it-now" and "want it easy," which supersedes the thoughtfulness of helping another Black business. We seem to owe allegiance only to our desires. The problem is that we don't realize how we are destroying our history and legacy, which, according to Janifer, fits easily into America's system. We will become obsolete, by design, as our history and contributions to the country diminish.

Sister's Uptown Books is trying to take things to the next level, for people to understand that supporting Black businesses, and writers, in particular, is as necessary as keeping our race alive.

We Blacks must find our own safe places; we need not look for well-meaning Whites to provide them for us. We must create them ourselves. Sister's Uptown Bookstore and Cultural Center is one such place. Never forget that during slavery, slaves could be killed for learning to read. And American history is continually being doctored, with current textbook efforts to dilute history by saying that enslaved Africans were "migrant workers" to the U.S. (SMH) But shaking our heads isn't enough.

Sister's Preparing for Future Readers
Janifer explains our current mindset: "Why is it that it's left out of our equation to support our own? We don't care who we purchase from... it doesn't matter if it's a Black owned business."  Her store is determined to change that behavior: "It's not just consuming.... we need to think, too... or we will become extinct. We don't get it. It started so long back. We think if we emulate what others have, we've arrived. When that's gone, you have nothing." She mentioned the climate change misfortunes that have created mudslides, Katrina, and other catastrophic incidents. "What do you have if [those possessions] are gone?" She talks about our forbears, when they die and "go to the other side" without time to tell us that our legacy must be kept alive, after our purchases, that we covet so much, are gone.

Janifer and Kori's goal is to "take the chains off our brains, the same ones that used to be on our (ancestors') wrists and ankles." She continues: "My premise is to find a way to work with our minds." It isn't her goal to just sell a book. "It's not just have someone buy from me, but to help each of us get out of survival mode to free our spirits up... that's what we came here to do."
"I was looking at Hidden Figures (about the Black female), mathematicians helping the U.S.)  get to the moon. There's nothing we haven't done. But if we don't read., (we'll) never
know." And most of our stories are not made into movies. When Janifer decided to open her business, people murmured that she wouldn't make it, because Black people don't read.  Seventeen years later, "Sister's" is still around.  Janifer is also grateful for Troy Johnson of African American Literature Book Club, who suggested that Sister's Uptown Bookstore sponsor the Medgar Evers National Black Writer's Conference.

The colors of Sister's are vibrant like its patrons
The Cultural side of Sister's Uptown Books
Janifer says Black Americans have survived everything. "Ain't no way... we're no weak people." But she aims to inculcate in everyone who visits her store that we need to take it to the next dimension: to reverse our thought processes. "I'm in observation mode. I ask the creator to open the way and reveal to me how to help. Send more people who are awake. We're going to get it. This is our time. I believe that if I just continue to hold on and hold out... it will be revealed".

We must find our places.  We must find an underground railroad for Blacks, by Blacks; not to fight the power, but to rest.  To rejuvenate.  The diaspora needs a divan.

As the nation continues to gentrify and Blacks get pushed into the margins of the cities in which we live, we must go out of our way to support Black institutions like Sister's Uptown Books.

"More brothers are coming now. They're hungry for the information." Citing the books they're leafing through and buying: the Black Marxist, the story of Assata: Assata Shakur's biography, and books like A Taste of Power, Blacks Against Empire...these enlightened brothers want to support the store. Even ones who haven't opened a book in 5 to 10 years are asking for help in being re-introduced to reading. These new avid readers are Janifer's "consolation." "Those folk. More and more sisters are coming with book clubs.  Janifer became even more excited as she talked about the new clientele making themselves known.

"So that's it. That's my freedom, to see people hungry for knowledge." Sometimes she can't even sleep she's so excited. She puts books out in front of her store for free. Just to get people reading again. When they open her store's door to confirm the price, she tells them, "Sure it's free. But come back to me when you're done reading the book and let's talk about what you read."

Make your pilgrimage to Blackness in all of its greatness when you go to Sister's Uptown Bookstore and Cultural Center in Harlem. And buy a book (or two, or three, or four....), or even arts and crafts (there's lovely hand-crafted artwork there, too).

I'm so glad that Sister's was revealed to me.  I'm grateful for Sister's Uptown Books for embracing my novel, but, more importantly, for embracing our people. In all of our diversity. Blacks in the diaspora have traveled the world, but few places in America truly feel like home.  Count Sister's as one of them.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

My Review of Kindred, by Octavia Butler

KindredKindred by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(If you have not read the book, you might not want to read this review, although I'm cautious about what I reveal).


This book is extremely well-written (should be 4.5 stars) and thought-provoking on so many levels, but I hope that any reader of this review can reserve my criticisms of this unique story as navel-gazing theorizing, and not an indictment of Ms. Butler.

As Black Americans, we tend to guard each other such that every work of Black authorship must be lifted up, as lifting up the rest of us, to the degree that we fail to allow criticism that we would certainly entertain after reading non-Black authors.

So, before I am deemed a hater who is jealous of Ms. Butler I will say I am nothing of the sort. Her writing is peerless in her narrative. It's engaging to a fault. But I do find some "kindred" in our backgrounds that makes me understand her unique voice (my use of the term "kindred" is not to be mistaken for how it is used in the novel, which is for you to decipher).

I grew up in Carson, California, a neighbor to Pasadena, where Ms. Butler also grew up. As a newly-minted fan of hers, I would like to think that our families' lives intersected somewhere in our ancient histories. My mother was born there, and my grandparents were scions of the local AME Zion Church in Los Angeles. Ms. Butler and I could have passed each other on the streets or highways of Los Angeles County.

I hear Ms. Butler's voice and it sounds somewhat like my own (although I freely admit that my editors, including my voracious reader mother, helped liberate my writing voice for my own novel). Lower and middle-class, even upper-class families in Pasadena and Carson speak the Kings English as perfectly as any Boston Brahmin, and our accents are indecipherable from that of our Southern California white neighbors in many ways. That's how we sound. I say this because Dana "sounded White" to me. But as I've been accused of the same, I mention it only to say that I found her voice to be familiar, but strange, at the same time. But maybe that was intentional, on her part. Again, this book is deep on so many different levels. I don't grade my accent as a sign of my having arrived. Rather, I see myself as a microcosm of the American dream. As children of the 60s (and 1970s in my case), we went to integrated schools, our friends were of many different races, and we were, overall, Southern Californians. So, I definitely vibe with Ms. Butler and her voice, in general.

So, on some levels, I really get her. I would even go so far as to guesstimate that her plot might have unconsciously been influenced from the same cartoons I used to watch growing up: Fractured Fables--one in particular in which, whenever an adventurous turtle got in trouble, he would yell for "Mr. Wizard" to come save him. However, Ms. Butler's story is far from cartoonish. In Kindred, we're transported to the slave-holding South, where a family of slave-holders resides, and where our protagonist, Dana, finds herself. She is bonded to a young boy to whom she shares a genetic history, one which makes their lives cross over and over again.

This revelation is not really newsworthy. The story is not about the fact of Dana's time-travel. The story is about what she sees and experiences as a freed-woman turned "worker" on the white boy's family's land. It is the realness of the slave experience that is so riveting. The slaves had names. They had families. They had relationships. And they had no freedom.


They were chattel to be worked, beaten, raped, and desired in a way that should make anyone feel the anguish, anger, and repulsion at not being able to control your own sex.

This country is still steeped in the taboos of Black sexual prowess and mystery--currently lionized by a blonde-tinted gyrating, hip-shaking multi-millionaire named Beyonce who flaunts her sex for all to covet and/or admire. But you can't touch, now, where you could in Kindred's time. How terrible was that institution that has its mark on so many of us--in our skin color, our eyes, our hair, our expressions, borne of white men who had their way with so many of us. Our popular television shows depict the same. We are still the mistresses of white men of power. But I digress. "critique" of the book has to do with some of the relationship choices Ms. Butler made. For an author who decried Gone with the Wind and the "Happy Negro" phenomenon (I admit to being an apologist for the actual film because I'm a big Clark Gable fan and because Hattie McDaniel stole the show), I'm not sure that Ms. Butler deviated from that plot in her choices of relationships. Did she dare go where Margaret Mitchell didn't--showing how the emotional bonds and perverted bondage of sexual slavery likely entered too many of America's families' bedrooms, too?

Or were her choices because she's a product of the 60s, where everyone explored interracial relationships and it was okay to do so? Was she showing that Black women are always chattel in some sense, and if so, why would she continue that mantra in her choice of romantic relationships? Can a Black woman not be in a loving relationship with a Black man or is our "freedom" our choice of with whom to partner (I believe many a Black man feels that in his choice of mate, which too often neglects women of his own race)? What does it say about the impotence of the Black man in the book, and the message it sends to this day about the plight of the Black man? Or am I being too protective? Or condescending, even?

I am not a fan of science fiction, but if this is science fiction, then I need to explore it more. Overall, I am so glad that I finally read it. I feel richer because of it. And I am, indeed, I am proud of Ms. Butler. I remember when she passed away recently, gone too soon. I knew we were losing an icon, but I finally know why. I look forward to reading interviews and scholarly works about her. Her one book could be a full semester course.

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Global Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary WorldGlobal Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary World by Carolyn Nordstrom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is not an easy read, although it reads well. It's not "easy" because no matter how intelligent you think you may be about contemporary world affairs, you will be humbled. What you think is going on in the world, meaning: everything in newspapers and on television for twenty-four hours a day, literally—What you think is important?—well, you will learn that it is not. What you are watching on television is a mask. A subterfuge to keep us all occupied and busy, while the real theft happens right under our collective noses. And that theft is what keeps the global economy running. And it always has, for millennia.

Anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom has travelled the world in a search of the end of a trail that begins when she sees a small Angolan boy in an Angolan street selling individual cigarettes. Mesmerized by his struggling enterprise, she explores how he got his job. And therein lies her understanding of the world none of us knows about. Africa is not as impoverished as we think.

Over two decades ago, I had travelled to Nigeria on several occasions, myself, as an attorney—not as an anthropologist. I learned myself that they do not have welfare (or they didn't years ago when I was there). Everyone works in Africa, if you begrudge me this generalization, please. I say this because there is a system, above-ground, and under-ground that employs everyone. Is everyone gainfully employed? Most likely not. But they have the dignity of earning a living. And that dignity of earning a living supports the food that you eat on your plate, the price of food in Wal-Mart or wherever you shop - yes, even Whole Foods. And it's the enterprise that even Congress knows very little about.

Even Presidents can do little even to intimate how the world truly works. It has always worked this way. But it is Ms. Nordstrom's explanation of "how" it works that is worth the read. I won't spoil it for you, because I want you to savor the "ah-hah" moment that I had in realizing how truly ignorant I was, even about the things that I "thought" I understood, both as a graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, and as a lawyer who has practiced some form of international law for most of my career.

As for my review of the book, I learned that this type of writing that Ms. Nordstrom does is called, "creative academic nonfiction." We need more of it. The reason I kept reading the book (although it took me 10 months) because there was so much in it that I wanted to digest. Due to the fluidity of her writing style it read more like a novel than a nonfiction book. But the research was definitely scholarly.

My caveat is that the book repeats the same information over and over again to a degree that the mantra becomes a bit stale. But I think lawyers do the same, so I can't really complain. Perhaps she really wants us to understand, so she beats you over the head, almost as if to convince. The thing is that you don't need to be "convinced" because so much of the book is from first-hand information that she experiences. Ms. Nordstrom travels the trade routes, talks to the lorry-drivers, the merchant marines, the warehousemen, the people who make the goods on our table arrive to the stores on time. And at each stage she explains how they are involved in the unseen matrix.

There is no illuminati. There's business. And for those of us who bemoan the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the Presidency? Well, read the book. He's replaced the faceless bureaucrat with the knowledge of who truly runs the world—the people with whom he does business—and instead of being unseen engines of the world's economy, they have a new megaphone called "political power" now.

I think the book is pretty dated now as it was copyrighted in 2007. Almost a decade has passed, so I don't know if Ms. Nordstrom's paradigm still works the same way. I had heard someone on C-Span state that one area of unaccountability [that the book exposed as riddled with issues] has been "cleaned up". I'm not so sure. So, I might need to read a more contemporary read.

So, you think you know how the world works? Well, this may confirm your knowledge, as some of it did, in my case. But in other areas, I was actually taught something. If I can't learn something new when I read, it's a waste for me. So, I'm very glad to say that I read the book.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Why Ingram Spark is Very Much Worth the Hassle.

I spent over one year deciding whether to use Create Space or Ingram Spark for print on demand.  I finally opted for Ingram Spark. 

I am so glad that I did. 

Mind you, there are better, more in-depth reviews about which publisher-on-demand is the better to use, but I'm only giving you my perspective about Ingram Spark as a "newbie" who will likely only publish 5 or 6 books in what remains of my lifetime. 

For those who wonder why I'm not trying to be published by a traditional publisher, here's why.

What do I like about Ingram Spark?

Ingram Spark expects you to rise to the occasion and act like a professional publisher. It keeps the bar extremely high. But the hassle of living up to their standards, though frustrating, is worth the superb payoff. I hired a great book designer, and Ingram Spark did a brilliant job publishing her work.  You will definitely need someone who can navigate through their upload questions, however, as there are many technical questions that only a professional book designer or graphic artist will understand.

If you want to be a successful publisher, then you should put as much time in the production end of your novel as you did in the writing of it.  If you want an easy upload of your book, you might go with another company. Ingram Spark asks lots of questions. And the company expects you to follow directions.  To the letter. Ingram's software is very sensitive, and my novel cover is very layered, with designs and colors, so the template had lots of red lines all over it. Not to worry. It's just sensitive to every nuance of the cover details.

The end result of my book cover upload was astounding, and went without a hiccup. It printed beautifully. My local bookstore owner immediately accepted my request to place my books in his store, because he was so impressed with the quality of the book design. Honestly, it looks as good as any book on any bookshelf anywhere in the world.

What makes Ingram so great? I'm not sure. The book feels weighty, like a book should. The cover is solid, not flimsy, and the cardboard stock feels weighty. The paper (I used off-white) is not thin and cheap-looking. The quality of the paper feels great.

Another reason to use Ingram is that you can order your own books like a wholesaler and make a bigger profit, or at least, not give away as much profit. This is a good thing. I have given many books away, entering competitions, giving books to people who have supported my writing, and I didn't have to pay the full price of the book to do so. I try to keep track of each book given away, sold, or entered in competitions so that I know how my money is being used.

I can buy my own books wholesale and make more selling on my own. I have ordered 100 books as a publisher and it didn't cost me an arm and a leg. It cost me about $6.00+ per book and $85.00 for shipping (I received the books within 5 days, if not less).  Of course, should I ever find the right distributor, then I will be able to order hundreds and still make a decent profit.

What do I not like about Ingram Spark (but will still put up with because the quality of my print book is so good?)

Think of Ingram Spark like a large dinosaur or a ship that can only move in one direction.
That's Ingram. There is no room for error, which makes it very stressful dealing with them. When I was conflicted about my book price and wanted to change the price over the holidays, I couldn't do so immediately. It would take one month to take effect!  I'm not sure how that makes sense, considering that the price isn't listed anywhere on my novel. So changing the price requires major planning on your part.

Considering the standards they use to produce your book, I think they should be as transparent on the back-end with record-keeping. I think they could be more detailed about where your money goes and how you earned it. 

Spark has some 'splainin' to do.

For my ebooks on Amazon, they tell you exactly how many sales I made and on which dates.  I made four sales over a 5-day period. Nice.
Amazon ebook sales can be tracked by the day!

Not so with Ingram:  You're on your own. You'd have to guess when the books were sold, therefore, it's difficult to see how the advertising campaign, if any, is working. You have to fill out a form with so much detail that you never get a coherent picture of what is working.  I filled out the form looking at sales and this is all I got.

Flatlined Print sales - not! But no details on Ingram Spark!

The actual total show 31 sales. But I have no idea of the date that I sold each book.  So, I have to take their word for it. Further confusing matters is that I can get a snapshot of how many books I've sold in the last 30 days, information that's not really useful. Because if I look tomorrow it will still include the 29 days prior.  I would have to look every day to see any changes in POD sales. Of what use to me is that?

Ingram is working on its Customer Service.

Ingram has had a rough start in recognizing that resting on one's laurels does not build a devoted following.  Many of us new publishers are unpolished and ignorant, and our fears were seldom allayed by the company in its infancy.  To its credit, Ingram has ramped up its customer support. I have called at least three times over several months, and each time the person on the other end seemed more kind and gentle.  I can't blame their frustrations in dealing with people like me who ask stupid questions, but that could be avoided by making things idiot-proof, which is needed for most things in this country. 

One of my biggest peeves is that they use their website on the back end in such a non-friendly way that I have made mistakes that have cost me, big time. Honestly, do not push a button unless you really know its purpose 100% because you might do like I did and keep ordering proofs (they cost $20 a pop!). They don't have any cancel order buttons, so you're stuck.  I don't think that's the most ethical thing to do, and question their morality in not allowing people to reverse their mistakes, but, that goes with the territory. In effect, you can't be a dilettante if you're going to work with them.

I believe the crux of the problem is that Ingram Spark is very much geared toward bona fide publishers who have more than one book to sell. Perhaps their format is for tried and tested companies that have a lot of inventory. I have one novel. And I will not have another one for another year or two, or three.

I won't be publishing a book a year, because I have my own standards, too. But I should not be made to suffer from mistakes that their website makes easy to commit. They claim to have changed their website, but that's just the window-dressing landing page. Everything else is very much the same.  

There you have it. I am not the definitive answer on the ins and outs of Ingram Spark. But I can't deny that I am extremely proud of my work as a writer. Moreover, I'm proud of the work that Ingram Spark has done to make this writer's dreams come true. 

You must be patient with them.  Amazon is a well-greased machine that understands that the customer is king. At Ingram, you might feel like a vassal, but once you see what they can do for you, you'll like your status. You're a vassal in really nice clothing.

I have no connection to Ingram Spark other than as a customer.  I tweeted that I might eventually blog about them, but warned them that I would be honest and objective. I hope I have accomplished this endeavor.


Update. A very late update (as in, I should have written this months ago!). 

Soon after publishing this post, I received a Facebook post from a staff member at Ingram Spark who was grateful for the content of the article, stating, in his opinion, that it was the best and most fair review that he had ever read of the print-on-demand company (cool, huh!?). Not only was he impressed by my review, but he arranged a conference call with the Director of Ingram Spark, Robin Cutler. We spoke for at least a half-hour as she explained that the company was in the process already of addressing some of the issues raised in my post. It will probably take a long time, because, as I said, they are a monolithic dinosaur. But I do believe it will be worth the hassle dealing with them as they make the changes. My sequel will take a good two or three years to write, so I'm sure they'll be sitting perfectly pretty by then! Enjoy!

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