The Magic Book Cover

Link to Amazon Book

Never Judge a Book by its Cover

An Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Community forum was held on the subject of Traffic Counts in August of 2021. A few respected authors and Kimberly Hitchens, a KDP certified e-book contractor, offered their respective opinions on why Amazon KDP refuses to provide authors with information on the number of impressions or clicks on the free book-cover advertisements that appear on the Amazon platform unless they subscribe to its paid advertising schemes.

It was denied but then admitted that the data even existed. An anonymous professor felt that traffic counts on the free ads might be a useful but not crucial tool. All that really counts, some participants felt, is money. It suffices, most participants felt, that a “self-publisher” can buy the KDP ads and get data on the responses and does not really matter if the author does not know how many people reached out and touched their books and read the free introductory information.

The value of the free advertising gimmicks, such as giving away your books, letting them be lent out for nothing, and discounting them as far down as a dollar, was felt to be minimal. More than one participant felt that even the paid ads are of little value, and that a self-publisher on the Amazon platform must use other promotional devices. Kimberly Hitchens felt that KDP makes very little on paid ads, anyway, so I asked Amazon’s Investor Relations department for revenue and expense data for its KDP division, and I received no response.

I concluded that the provision of traffic counts to authors on Amazon book advertisements, whether or not KDP ads were purchased, would be beneficial to both Amazon authors and Amazon. If that number were known and compared to the number of books sold, the conversion to sales ratio might say something about the effectiveness of the free book cover advertisements and their supplemental information displayed on the Amazon platform.

Anyone can sign up and participate in the forums using aliases, so one does not know if they have ever written a book. The KDP Community forums are notorious for abuse, so many participants do prefer to remain anonymous even though anonymity serves to compound the abuse. Using my own name, and stating that I had sold only one of the dozens of books I had quickly posted, and that sale was quite by accident, I ventured to say that the incentive to express oneself in writing is not money for the overwhelming majority of writers. A person who calls himself Ding Ling chimed in to say that I am just “a failed writer.”

However that may be, the main motive for writing is not the “filthy lucre” defamed by many famous writers even though every author might appreciate a few soiled dollars now and then. Many of the world’s greatest authors lived in dire poverty; the works of some of them were considered incoherent, plotless ramblings and were unpopular during their lifetimes. Furthermore, money was never the incentive for authors who had ample means and wanted to join literate conversation. Every writer who has read the masterpieces and studied the biographies of the authors knows that very well.

Most open publishing companies provide content providers with traffic counts free of charge. An online book publisher was even discovered inflating those numbers to encourage content providers. After all, the attention to providers’ posts as indicated by the number of clicks is an incentive for them to keep posting and to take steps to increase the traffic in hopes of free reads or sales. It stands to reason that the provision of that data by Amazon to authors, whether or not they but into KDP’s advertising scheme, would increase Amazon’s income if the content providers were pulling together against each other as competitors.

In fact, it might prove the nagging feeling true that, unless authors do something to promote their own books, the Amazon platform is worthless to them, and that KDP is merely a scheme for a publisher to do the least amount of work, even nothing if that were possible, for the most income, by encouraging authors to be “self publishers” and do all the work publishers normally do. The authors believe the operation is not a “vanity press” because they do not pay Amazon to participate; however, they must game the algorithmic system and pay in time and money if they are to succeed in dollars and cents—besides, honestly, what is not done in this world out of vanity? In any event, if only the number or impressions on the free advertisements were known by everyone, and compared to the number of books sold, the conversion to sales ratio might say something the effectiveness of the book-cover descriptions, rather than the book covers already “touched” or clicked on because readers were somehow attracted to them instead of millions of other covers. What value does a book cover alone have, anyway?

So, having concluded that the provision of Traffic Counts would be beneficial to the KDP enterprise, I organized another “focus group” by posing this question to the Community on the subject of Book Covers:

“Does anyone have any scientific evidence that a particular kind of book cover will result in better sales of the same book than other covers? For instance, has a test been run of several identical books other than different covers and different author names, marketed in the same way, to see if what is considered in advance to be a superior cover has more traffic and conversions to sales?”

It stands to reason that a beautiful woman, for example, as beauty might be defined at the time, or a man handsome according to the handsome model, would get a lot more attention. But would that be converted into a firm relationship? Would the right kind of book cover result in more sales? I get ads all the time from people selling cover designs, $500 to $1,000 and more, all said, of course, to be far better than the free templates offered to reel writers into the schemes. Is there is really any science involved? Millions of e-books are out there. Who sits day and night scrolling through the thumbnail pictures of covers to find the most attractive ones?

“Spinner” replied with, “Didn’t you learn from your other thread that everything doesn’t have a definitive ‘scientific’ solution? That’s especially true in publishing.”

That “other thread” was, of course, entitled Traffic Counts. In the absence of numerical measurement, how can there be any science based on measurable experience instead of nebulous feelings and wishful thinking? The principles of what makes book covers attractive are supposedly well known by designers, so why not test them on the huge Amazon audience?

I soon discovered that, yes, indeed, scientific studies do exist; that is, if A/B testing is recognized as scientific, a potential subject of debate among positivists or objectivists and anti-positivists or subjectivists; the question might be raised as to whether statistics is mathematics or science. A/B testing is a statistical tool, a random experimental process where two versions of something are shown to an audience at the same time to see which version has the greatest impact. Publishers resort to such testing, but their reports are proprietary. 

One participant felt that no such study of books could be conducted on the Amazon platform because the company does not allow duplicate books to be published, even though the results might be informative. Nevertheless, I supposed Amazon could permit itself to do a artificial intelligence study, posting say, a dozen books with the same content, and report on the results to its “self-publishing” authors, who are, after all, its partners, because book income is split with them. Perhaps that had already been done. Is there such a report?

“What I do for my covers,” said another anonymous Community member, who calls himself KDPMember:TZSSA1a7b258fle, “and this is scientific, is use the focus-group approach. You get one or more avid readers, show them some examples of what you are considering for a cover, and ask them which covers would prompt them to shell out the coin, It works every time. Most products are focus group tested.”

“Focus Group studies,” I responded, “are claimed to be ‘scientific,’ but that notion is considered passé and has been discredited by numerous students of marketing.”

Although upwards of $3 billion is spent on focus groups in a year, they are definitely unscientific although their proponents may speak of accumulating quantitative or objective as well as qualitative data or subjective feelings from a few people, many of whom are pros or regulars whose selection is based on deception; they know how to lie in order to be chosen to participate in a group, and cannot wait until the hour or so is over so they can collect the $100 fee for participating.

The value of focus groups is not in innovation, which is generally nonexistent in groupthink. The only advantage is in creating hypotheses for testing. That is what I was seeking, reports on the testing of the assumptions made about book covers. Almost everyone seems to be a writer nowadays. Just type “book” or “writer” or “author” in social media and you will be besieged by book cover designers eager to create the perfect cover for you. Some will give you free templates to initiate you into the need for their services. Of course legitimate publishers pay thousands of dollars on a single book cover, so do you want to sell books or not?

‘Beach Garden’ felt a “scientific” study would be a waste of time.

“Logic and personal preference come into play, both on the part of the author/publisher and the reading public. Logic tells me that a cover that will primarily be seen in thumbnail size should be uncluttered and the colors bright and attractive (subjective). Short of the need to catch the eye of a prospective reader long enough for them to read the adjoining blurb, in my opinion, a cover is really only a big deal in the eyes of the author who is imagining it on display in a brick and mortar store or being shown, full screen, on TV as a best seller or Oprah pick. It is not the cover that makes a book a best seller but the content.”

I tend to agree, given my own experience of reading myself nearly blind over the years in my effort to avoid a miserable reality by transcending it. I have read many of the world’s greatest authors, most of them long dead, in old books with well-worn hard covers. I found them by their call numbers since the names of the authors and titles were barely distinguishable. I eventually lost interest in fiction and turned to non-fiction, especially histories, where I learned from the philosophy of historiography that the facts accounted for were not things but events about which many people had different perspectives, so the interpretations of those events were according to the imaginations of the authors in their time or reconstructions well after the fact based on previous histories, hence all were unintentionally fictitious to some extent.

Who cares about book covers? I could have cared less. I was too poor to afford the fine books with embossed covers. Content was what I was interested in, and I proceeded with my studies seemingly at random. I would eventually realize from my introduction into interdisciplinary social sciences that everything humans think is related somehow, and that led to my interest in plotless works, the sort of book one can dip into anywhere and learn something, as if we were reading the minds of passersby. A friend of mine in the publishing profession claims that he has not read a book since he left college. Nor have I, really, not an entire book. The written world is one continuous page for me. I dip into books and magazines here and there at random and always find something to enjoy, something to learn, even in dozen pages of carefully plotted novels.

Perhaps Beach Garden will erect a giant billboard of one of her book covers on Main Street. Otherwise how would I know it existed in the millions of books on Amazon? Regardless of her covers, I would examine one of Beach Garden’s chapters if only I knew who she is, but she keeps her identity undercover, it is said, for fear of abuse from her colleagues in the KDP Community. If she is a Camus or a Sartre or Beauvoir, I would not like her novel, but I would love what the critics said about the philosophy behind it. If it were a philosophical work, I would prefer to read her Beauvoir version for sure.

“Can one apply statistics to book design or even writing?” she asked. “There is indeed a formula for Romance novels. Beyond Romance novels I’m skeptical.”

I tend to agree with her again, in the sense that formula writing is conventional, yet the formulas are supposedly based on human nature, on subjective phenomena, the logic for which is found in all stories, logic itself being a story.

“Wander too far afield from the norm in any genre and the readers may reject you,” she continued. “Stick too close to the typical plot plans and be passed up for lack or originality. It was an ancient Greek, I never remember which one, who said there were only six possible plots for a story—it is the variations on the theme that makes all the difference. “

Aristotle identified six major elements for tragic and epic stories. Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Song, and Spectacle. He claimed there are only two types of plots: Simple and Complex. A simple plot has necessarily related moments laid out along a continuous line along which are changes of fortune. Conflict naturally produces those changes. A complex plot includes reversals of fortune involving a crucial action of a character, which he later recognizes as key to the outcome.

Since then, critical thinkers have identified all sorts of variations and more than 31 structures to stories. More await discovery. Indeed, the more elements one starts out with, the more the possible variations. The number of possible combinations of the elements on the periodic table are enormous, and much of the technical advances of civilization can be attributed to the useful combinations discovered so far. Kurt Vonnegut, resorting to an amusing Keep It Simple Stupid explanation, chalked out a line curving up and down from left to right on a black board, the horizontal axis representing time, the vertical axis representing good and bad experiences. His presentation is presently available on YouTube as ‘Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories.’

“Who can say if it was the perfect cover or the fantastic telling of a tale that made a book sell?” Beach Garden asked. “Who can say if a perfect cover can save a badly written book? I will admit a great marketing effort has managed to make a best seller out of a disappointing tale or two. Would the time and effort it might take to try and scientifically prove either possibility be worth the time, or even provide a useful bit of information except as applied to the book in question?”

Beach Garden certainly provides food for thought for social scientists who would discover just what the norm might be that leads to best selling books, and how that norm changes over time. Some professionals seem to know it intuitively, their intuition hopefully being based on experience or direct access to noumena, and they may collect handsome fees by attributing the upward swings to their acumen or insight. There is certainly something to said for intuition when it succeeds.

Several writers did say they had anecdotal evidence. One Hannah Banana stated, “All I do know is that, when I changed my covers from my naïve newbie offerings to professional looking, on genre, and eye-catching ones, I sold way, way, way, way more books. Common sense tells me that those additional sales were mostly down to the change in covers. Scientific? Well, as far as evidence goes, I can demonstrate it, it is documented, and I can testify to it.”

Still, we do not know for sure if book cover design is responsible for the frequently reported swings in sales. I myself pay little attention to book covers. I do have a friend, an interior designer, who buys expensive books with fine covers to display in her home. She informed me that interior designers buy remainders from warehouses to display in homes or in stores to make a good impression on prospective buyers or customers. But who would buy an e-book for its cover? Well, someone has paid over a million dollars for a PDF of a tweet, so why not? But the point here is that there may be something about the cover that compels the reader, once he gets to the book, to buy it. My local librarian says book covers should have “big-ass titles and author names, the rest is superfluous.”

No doubt having a nice cover on a book could add to the enjoyment of possession after the purchase, but what is it about the cover that would close a sale? Many of the Top Ten Covers of the Year are pretty, including pretty ridiculous in my opinion.

Kimberly “Hitch” Hitchens, owner of Booknook.biz, an e-book formatting and production boutique based in Arizona that has two full time crews and produces 1,500 books annually for indie and best-selling authors, weighed in to say she had “anecdotal” evidence from several clients of the value of good book covers:

“One of my customers is a Macavity- and Edgar-nominated mystery/suspense author. When he first came to us, he had an older backlist of 6 books. They were all put into eBook format and published. He used the same cover designer for all of them. One, the third book, was a rather dim, dark cover, but the rest were quite heavily contrasted, all the usual rules around “good cover design” if you listen to the marketers. So, the series which was popular when trade-published, still sells today. Except for, you guessed it, Book 3. Now, mind you, even though these are standalone, there are two overarching story arcs, that go through all six books. Nobody can explain to me why Book 2 sells in a good number and so too does Book 4, but not Book 3. Other than what? What’s the one difference? The covers.

“I have another customer, who wrote what she freely admits is a middling, mediocre romance/mystery, but it has a BANGIN’ cover. And it sells like crazy, far outselling all her other work. FAR outselling it. The rest of her work has workmanlike, ‘good’ covers, but this one has a great cover.

“I fail to see how any “study” could answer the question. A study without money on the line would be meaningless. Commercial publishers do A/B cover tests all the time, in adverts, and they get cold hard data in clicks, but again, what matters is the coin of the realm. And the anecdotal studies related here are just that: cold hard cash. Not hypotheses that if 20% more people “love” cover 2 that that will translate into sales.

“I can say, I’ve seen enough that were I a publisher of books, were I a would-be self-published author, even if I had to go without lunch for 6 months or a year, or whatever, I’d go, to the trouble and expense of a commercial cover design. Using the KDP “templates” or unexciting covers is simply the KOD (Kiss of Death).”

I would submit my works to legitimate publishers and stuff my mattress with rejection slips before forsaking my lifelong effort to understand the world and share what I know in order to learn more. I recall that an author who managed to game the Amazon money machine to become a best selling author wished she had not gone through the grinder.

Hitch said she no longer does book covers. She referred participants to an article by Derek Murphy, ‘8 Cover Design Secrets Publishers Use To Manipulate Readers Into Buying Books.’

Well, they are not secrets—the word “secret” is used to manipulate readers into reading the article. I had several “secret” reasons for selecting a free KDP templates as my temporary brand or soup can label for all my books. KDP Community experts have denounced it as the ugliest one. I am tinkering with the text. I am not selling covers. Never judge a book by its cover.

My Currently Favorite Novel

RELEASE: ‘Our World Brain’

OUR WORLD BRAIN

What we call the Internet is “Our World Brain” nowadays. The hardware and software with its advancing artificial intelligence is technologically novel. The concept, however, is hardly new. Its accelerated realization with improved means of communication and advancing artificial intelligence may rapidly be bringing us to the end of history. What, then, would the future be, a dystopia or utopia, depending on one’s mental attitude, or on whether we are by nature originally good or evil regardless of perspectives and circumstances?  Would the violence end in universal peace if the computer serves us so well that we knew all we needed to know and do to survive, or would the human race be its afterthought?

H.G. Wells chose peace as the outcome. He is well known for his science fiction novels, but few people are aware of his enthusiasm for a Permanent World Encyclopedia, which he saw as the salvation of the evolving human race. Evolution would make a god of man as he gradually took charge of his destiny with his encyclopedic knowledge of the universe.

Wells would not be surprised to see us today with our heads in the clouds and encyclopedic devices in our hands. So it is fitting that my first essay in this book is ‘Our World Brain,’ and I am posting the book in the great Amazon cloud so people can see it on their devices.

The reader shall find thereafter some musings on various subjects that old bookworms think about as they eat their way through the old world brains, the library shelves, at random. Am I what I ate? A rabbi once told me that we do not know who we are unless we know where we came from. Wherefore honor the dead for we are the dead alive.

Solomon remarked there is nothing new under the Sun. No matter how much we know about the universe, there is something unpredictable about man, He is advised to know himself, yet he can only really know what he is not, and the rest is freedom from THAT.

Titles in this amusing and thought-provoking volume include Aurora My Love, Metamorphosis Of A Bookworm. I Met Arthur Schopenhauer, A Prophetic New ISM, Screaming Under the Viaduct Again, Reflections On Transcendental Moon Day, Notes On The Call For An Intellectual Rebellion, Cloning Dolly Letter from U.S. Senate Candidate, On Socratic Death, Notes on Protagorian Fragments, Environmental Linguistics of George Perkins Marsh, Reflections on Burckhardt’s Religious Reflections, On the Liberal Theory of History, My Descent To The Realm Of Hades, Leading A Simple Life, The Delphian Know Thyself Injunction, The Lost Prophecy Of Rudolf Eucken, Self-Certainty and Self-Doubt, The Self-Conscious Fact, Fact as Event, Sensation, Perception, Conception, Trinity, Gravity is a Tyrant, God Plays Solitaire, MA-MA, Lost in Dreams, Condemned to Freedom, Kant’s Transcendental Appearance (Illusion), My Original Problem, The Presiding Spirit Has No Reason To Think, The Absolutely Good Unity,  A Unique Coincidence of Universal Qualities, The Subject is not an Object, Know Thyself, It’s Daddy’s Fault.  

Does Traffic Count at KDP Community?

TRAFFIC COUNTS! 

The Elusive Truth at Amazon KDP

16 August 2021

By David Arthur Walters

Open publishing entities on the Internet have provided the means for anyone to publish content on various platforms. First of all, independent authors want to attract attention to their work, and that is benefit enough for the overwhelming number of writers today despite dreams of becoming rich and famous with bestselling stories. So it is not surprising that, with the curious exception of Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, open publishing companies are glad to tell independent writers, free of charge, how much traffic their posts have had, because those “hits” or clicks are non-monetary benefits that encourage producers to provide content. After all, who would say anything at all if there were no indication of being heard by anyone at all? One might as well be talking to a cactus in Arizona! So traffic counts whether authors are selling their work or giving it away.

Authorsden is my favorite open publish site for authors for several reasons, one reason being the helpful and innovative attitude of Matthew Miller, the owner, not to mention the presence of fine writers with genuine concern for their peers. Another is the fact that traffic counts: I have received 1,743,546 hits on my work as of this writing, and that without doing anything at all except posting articles. My most popular post, with 37,963 hits is ‘Get Your Free Doctorate In Political Science!” I see that “The Goddess Trivia” has 11,371 hits. And there is ‘Compassion Zone Putas’ with 16,397, and ‘Hola Cabron’ with 10,368. ‘Mary McElroy, City Manager’s Daughter’ has 20,793, and my ‘Equinox Fitness Consumer Review has ‘37,252. The amazing thing is that the numbers continue to build over time. Elsewhere, such as the free WordPress program, there is very little traffic to begin with unless you spend half the day “trading clicks” and otherwise interacting with other posters, and the traffic drops to almost zero when you walk away.

Now Amazon has made posting a book on its publishing site as easy as posting an article in a e-zine. If a writer does not understand how to create a book in Word, he can download a formatting program, Kindle Create, onto his computer, upload his Word document, follow a few easy steps, and, Wallah, he will have a book to upload to KDP. Amazon’s KDP provides a pyramidal bookshelf infinite in size upon which self-publishers can place their books and market them to the best of their abilities. Millions of books have already been shelved and millions are to come, but just how many each month was a trade secret the last time I checked; now that almost everyone is a writer, they might be discouraged if they knew how much competition they have.

I used Kindle Create to quickly put up 40 of my books, mostly anthologies, on KDP, using a book cover provided by KDP. I figured that my books would be safe on Amazon and that its KDP facility would last decades, so my heirs could do whatever they wanted to with my books; ed it them, get different covers, promote them, etc. Writing for me is a way of learning. I have never been interested in selling my work let alone make a living as an author, and that allows me to speak freely within civilized norms. Besides, there are a lot more certain ways of making a living than writing for the market.

Since I had nearly 100 books almost ready to publish, I decided to number the volumes and use the same free KDP cover template on almost all of them. For that I selected the simple book cover with an image of a bolt of lightning descending upon a city scene at night. My KDP colleagues, however, have criticized me for using a free template and said I should learn how to design covers or pay for attractive different covers for each volume at a cost of hundreds or even thousands of dollars. I am told the lightning bolt cover is the ugliest free template of all. Well, then, I thought, it is a distinctive brand.

Each Amazon KDP author has a free dashboard reporting activity on his account. When I looked at the KDP Dashboard, I noticed there were no statistics reported for how many clicks I was getting on the free advertisements on the Amazon search engine. I began to wonder if the platform had any value at all in itself in terms of traffic unless the author bought into the schemes offered by its advertising department; therefore I presented KDP with this simple question:

“I do not see, under REPORTS, an accounting of the number of ‘hits’ or ‘clicks’ my book advertisements receive. Please advise me. Thanks.” 

Amazon KDP Customer Service referred me to its Amazon Advertising Team, where I was told the traffic count I was interested in was not provided by Advertising unless advertisements were paid for. I was referred back to KDP, and KDP referred right back to Advertising, so I clarified my question: I wanted to know where to find traffic counts on the free advertisements KDP provides its authors on the Amazon website. KDP referred me to its “Community” forum for an answer. The Amazon KDP Community blog, I noticed when I briefly audited it, provides a forum for writers to help each other, especially with technical matters, and much of the conversation I audited did appear to be helpful.

I soon discovered that the KDP Community uses Social Credit algorithms to rank the “reputation” of participants. Social Credit systems are fundamentally brownie-point systems initially conceived in Asia and once employed in the Legalist period of Imperial China and now in Communist China to control the vast population. The ratings are subject to manipulation by the ruling authorities who devise and propagate the moral standards they desire. Persons who cooperate for credits are benefited; those who receive few credits or accrue too many offsetting demerits suffer. So the Social Credit systems are reward and punishment systems that blacklist and whitelist community members, infringing on their right to reputation, privacy, and dignity, while, of course, suppressing dissent. The KDP Community Social Credit system is meaningful to authors who have ample time to hang out in the forum and earn reputation points, and to sales persons with book-related businesses who hope to pick up some bookmaking business. Amazon publishes its Community forum on the World Wide Web. I was warned by one Ding Ling, a participant in my Traffic Counts forum, that I would be embarrassed on the Web after I disagreed with his opinion. Indeed, defamatory and false information is published there instead of keeping the discussions among the participants.

Since KDP authors share revenue with Amazon and other participants in the forum derive income from Amazon operations, they are virtual albeit not legal partners in the business, The Community platform appears to be owned and operated by Amazon on behalf of all concerned, and its anonymous moderators are probably Amazon employees. My inquiries to KDP in that regard were not responded to by press time.

The impertinent and libelous responses of Ding Ling (7,986 reputation points) an anonymous Community respondent who commented on my question about missing statistics for authors who do not pay Amazon for advertisements, and the fact that Amazon publishes its forums on the worldwide Web and did not answer my information about his libels, caused me to reasonably suspect that he is a KDP troll operating as such with the consent of KDP management. He dismissed my question about statistics on the free Amazon ads as “premature,” and characterized me as “loony, ignorant, juvenile and pathetic,” my books as mispriced, incoherent, “self-indulgent ramblings” with “amateurish” covers, and noted that I failed to buy my own books in order to get ranked by Amazon.

“We used to get these crazies coming in here every two or three months before the pandemic, and then during the height of the pandemic, a new one would show up almost every two weeks. One wrote in broken English believing he had written the next best thing to the bible and believing his English was perfect. Another who thought he was the next messiah -seriously-, and yet another who priced his poorly written e-books at $249.99 and was demanding the royalties owed to him. There are so many that memories of them mix together. But I do remember one who would tried to respond to his thread’s replies with poetry. Oh, oh and then there was the sumo wrestler with bogus credentials who claimed to have wrestled a shadow figure.. and won. Yup, a shadow figure. For some reason and maybe it’s the same with all forums, we occasionally get the crazies coming in here looking for some needed attention. They tend to stay for a week or so before wondering off to who knows where.”

Ding Ling’s commentary was irrelevant to my question, which he preferred to avoid in order to exercise his usual critical presidency of forums, over which he seems to constant hover in order to teach people lessons. Remaining anonymous, however, detracts from his authority because his own failure or success as a writer remains unexamined. Still, since he seems to know how that Amazon machine works, it might behoove him to write a bestselling book about that under his real name and sell it to the “newbies” in the forum instead of arrogantly despising them.

I seldom criticize the work of my fellow writers unless invited to do so, and then I prefer constructive criticism, a technique that does not attack the author as “pathetic” and “ignorant” and so on. Instead, I hold up for comparison an example of better or more ethical thinking and therefore writing. And that allows me to hawk my own wares, so to speak. That being said, I will, when personally attacked, respond to the occasion with what intelligent critics have called my dangerous intelligence. Even so, I would not hold my negative opinion of the person against his work. Quite frankly, some fine writers have been and are foul characters and even criminals—I am thinking of a bank robber, now, who wrote a great book while on the run.

Ding Ling and other Community members were apparently incensed by my humorous reference, in response to his arrogance, to myself as the “Greatest Author The World Will Ever Or Never Know,” and my reference to my “brilliant” and “superior” writings. The title is one I coined twenty years ago to encourage myself and colleagues who are really writers to be true to their kind and “write themselves to death” despite the attacks of harpies and magpies and poltroons hiding behind false names, as did a character in one of my short stories, which was praised as “brilliant” by reputable critics. To be a brilliant writer, one must study the best authors and transcend and ignore vicious conduct such as that offered by Ding Ling; the only writing he reveals are his or her self-portraits in the Amazon forum. This transcendental or superior approach may offend those who falsely affect humility, which is really demonstrative of their false pride because they would love to be called “brilliant” and “superior” writers.

Ding Ling, out of his obsession with material success, not understanding that writers who write for money alone are writing for the Machine and are not really worth reading, proudly calls me, without having a clue to my identity, a “failed writer,” which is obviously disproved by my every word unto my dying breath. He speaks of writers who blame the Machine for their “failure” because he loves the Machine that affords him with a Community to compete for domination, so the Machine owns Ding Ling. He apparently conceals his identify with an alias because he has an inferiority complex that motivates unethical criticism, even defamation per se by negative reference to the “mental health” and presumed professional incompetence of his colleagues, behavior that reflects very badly on Amazon itself because the enterprise sanctions the derogation by allowing it to proceed apace, eventually blaming the victim for the abuse. And it is behavior that exposes Amazon itself to lawsuits, and Ding as well, for his identity is discoverable by legal process.

I asked Beach Garden, who had 5,689 reputation points at the time, why so many participants in the Community forum, like Ding Ling, were hiding behind pen names. Hitch of Book Nook answered for him or her.

“For the same reason that the majority of profiles are not; because Beach Garden values his or her privacy. There have been extremely unfortunate incidents here, with unstable authors going bonkers and then running around posting bad reviews on the books of anyone that dares say something that they don’t want to hear, about their own books. For example, Author A posts a thread: ‘Why isn’t my book selling?’ And if told that the cover is godawful, or that the writing could be better, lashes out, becomes infuriated and then starts review-bombing anyone they can find in the forums. It’s happened here for years. That’s why there are actually exceedingly FEW identifiable authors here with linked books.”

What is missing is the other side of the story. Aliases allow irresponsible persons with dubious knowledge to attack others with impunity. And that is encouraged when Amazon moderators condone the attack by locking down the conversation, accusing the victim of abuse for responding moderately in person, and then publishing the accusation on the World Wide Web, thus habitually enforcing bad conduct. The problem is, as Eugene ‘Luigi’ Faccuito liked to say to his jazz dancers, “If you do wrong long enough, wrong seems right.”

Ding Ling was moved to anonymously down-rate my book, Open Publishing, after I mentioned it constituted my research into the open publishing industry.

“Top reviews from the United States. 1 out of 5 stars. Reviewed in the United States on August 2, 2021. “Incoherent ramblings. The author’s writing is disconnected and nonsensical. I’ve heard more sensical stories from a 2 year old.”

On the other hand, Prof Dave (1,072 points) commenting anonymously on my question, said, “It would be quite nice if Amazon provided information on a dashboard about how many impressions our book covers had, and how many page visits. It would help us gauge how well specific books were performing, or whether some books were failing to convert from page visits to sales. It may even be to Amazon’s interest because it would give people useful baseline figures so they can see just how much more visible their book was if they make use of Amazon Marketing. I suspect the reason Amazon does not give this information is the vast majority of independently published books, in the absence of any form of marketing, there are zero impressions and zero page visits. And then Amazon would have to deal with authors complaining that no one was finding their book.”

Spinner, with 7,685 reputation points, thought I was looking for what he called “some elusive truth,” that being the truth from Amazon about the activity on the book covers and pages in its free ads for all authors. His only concern was sales numbers. He said his “sales are totally unpredictable” from month to month at Amazon and Apple, and Amazon “advertising doesn’t even come into it” because he does not use Amazon advertising.

Prof Dave said he was “not sure the truth is particularly elusive. There are literally millions of books of books published independently published on Amazon, and literally millions of them never sell more than a half dozen copies. It stands to reason that in general, Amazon does not put those books at the top of people’s searches. However, if you produce something good, and market it well, either external to Amazon or on Amazon, you can do remarkably well… A bit more data on page impressions would be nice, but, equally, it is not going to be a major factor in turning books into a runaway success!”

He had the “elusive truth.” I had found it impossible to get a straight answer to what really is a simple question from Amazon unless you pay for service from the Amazon advertising team. If you pay, you play. The platform is virtually worthless in the financial sense unless you supply content and market it. It is what it is, and that is its privilege, but it would be better for everyone concerned if the truth were told and traffic were transparent. Why not? Amazon is the ultimate development of open publishing; perhaps we would fain to deny that it is a money-making machine that thrives on vanity?

Kimberly “Hitch” Hitchens (11,995 reputation points—referred to as Book Nook above) the owner of Booknook.biz, an “Amazon listed” e-book formatting and production boutique based in Arizona that has two full time crews and produces 1,500 books annually for indie and best-selling authors, addressed the meaning of “elusive” and “illusive.”

“‘Elusive’ means, hard to pin down. ‘Illusive’ means hallucinatory, deceptive, or from a deluded mind. They are two very different words, despite being homonyms and frequently and erroneously confused. Nobody here told you that the advertising program, clicks, etc. were illusive or illusory. Elusive–hard to pin down, for the reasons I mentioned–yes. Illusory? No. The only person here who said that was you and frankly, you’re mistaken.”

I respond semantically here, at risk of seeming ludicrous, because Amazon KDP locked down the Traffic Counts forum and a related forum because its secret Amazon moderator deemed my question and reasoning on the importance of traffic counts disruptive and offensive. In fact one participant ridiculed me for being reasonable by definition.

A search of the forum thread for “illusive,” which is rooted in ludere (‘to play’), as is “elusive,” indicates that Hitch is the only commentator who first used “illusive,” and that Spinner, as demonstrated above, first used “elusive.” That is not to say that I believe she was deluded, or that I would mind if I had been the first person to use either term. Grammarians allude to the changing common meanings of words over time, and the two words have at times been confused. We speak metaphorically when we say truth eludes us, as truth is not an entity with legs of its own. Someone might, however, be hiding the truth about, for example, unnamed Amazon executives; perhaps Jeffrey Bezos himself, so I shall ask him about it.

Speaking figuratively, we ask, “Do the traffic counts elude us because they do not exist? Are the traffic counts provided by other open publishing companies’ illusions, like the oases thirsty people see in deserts?”

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Some who have lain flat on the ice for a long time, looking down through the illusive medium…have seen…the undoubted source of the Styx.” I have likened my books to coffins I have set afloat on the river named after Styx, mother of Power, Emulation, Victory and Might. At least my souls would be rendered invulnerable to attacks from the likes of Ding Ling in the Stream of Woe if I swore upon the goddess protected by Zeus and placed my name as my token on each coffin to pay the ferryman.

Hitch raised doubt in my mind as to whether the data I asked for was even available, so I persisted with my question.

“I’m still a bit boggled by the idea,” she said, “that you thought that Amazon, or ANY company, could tell you how many hits or clicks you would get, in advance of you advertising your own books.”

“There should be a conversion rate of clicks to sales on the basic Amazon ads,” I said, “so you seem to insist that that data, how many clicks on a particular book ad, is unknown by Amazon period. So that I, for example, will never know what traffic I got on my book, The Amazonian Community, so I could ascertain the effectiveness of my presentation.”

I persisted with my notion that Amazon does have the data and could report it without its authors paying for its pay-for-click program. I informed her that KDP finally had responded to me, saying it would consider my inquiry as a suggestion and refer it upstairs.

Hitch said we were talking about “Apples and Oranges,” and said that, yes, the data was there.

“Amazon has been harangued for the page hits, etc. since 2009 and they haven’t released it yet and I don’t see any advantage to them to do so.”

Maybe not if the KDP platform was worthless as a mere bookshelf, I thought. Yet I believe it would be, first of all, an incentive to writers to have their books on the shelf virtually touched, something they are not aware of in a brick and mortar library. That would encourage them to provide more content, some of which might be fine works that wind up being sold instead of buried at the bottom of the Amazon pyramid. And it would be to Amazon’s advantage to provide information that would improve the ability of the authors, the partners with whom it splits book income, to market their books.

“I’ve dealt with Amazon, very closely, since 2009 now,” she said. “I know what sort of changes or adjustments they are willing to make, and which they are not. They’re NOT going to release page views—in fact, they took steps to eliminate the tracking dot strategies that people used from 2010 to2012, as that’s their business. They’ve made sure that publishers cannot include images that track hits, dots, any of that, since around 2012. If they were going to embrace the idea of telling you “we get 200 million hits/day, they would [have done so already.]

Hitch is obviously a far better Amazon representative than Ding Ling. She insists she does not work for Amazon. Of course she and the authors are not Amazon partners in a legal sense. She uses her real name hence is personally liable for what she says and does. She is a credentialed or “listed” Amazon vendor although Amazon is careful to say it lists specialists for informational purposes only and “Amazon does not endorse or sponsor any service provider, nor recommend one over another.”

I have examined Hitch’s publicized credentials and discovered she ran project management teams for nine years, building 5-star hotels like the Scottsdale Princess, the Four Seasons at Troon, and 3-4-star hotels such as the Amara Resort, as well as the renovation of many older classic properties Although she has done nothing for me, I highly recommend her services on that basis as well as the fact that she resides where I was born and is under similar astronomical influences. I am an author, not a professional publisher and bookmaker. As such, I only wish that she, and editor and a publisher found enough value in my work to invest their resources in production and publication for the lion’s share of any profits. That sort of arrangement would return me to the good old days of rejection slips and compliments with advice from editors with mainstream publishers. Alas, that writers have always been on the bottom of the publishing totem pole. Even after copyright was created, it was the publishing monopoly and not the writers that had the right.

Beach Gardener, who has 5,689 reputation points, commented, that “The vast majority of author/publishers will not find the info you are seeking the least bit useful even if it is passing fair interesting. Amazon advertising does provide a wide range of—in my opinion—basically useless stats of interest only to number crunchers, but you do have to be running ads to get them.”

C. Dale Brittain, with 26,173 reputation points, a professor of medieval history and notable American author of fantasy novels and My Guide To Knowing Your Self Publishing, commented on the illusion that traffic counts on the free Amazon book-cover ads would be important, and she provided important information about free promotional devices such as discounts and giveaways.

“Amazon does not tell us how many people clicked on a link to our book or viewed the book’s sales page without buying. They prefer to keep that info to themselves. If you are signed up for Amazon advertising, you get a dashboard that will tell you how many people clicked on an ad for your book to go to the sales page. But you obviously don’t get an advertising dashboard if you aren’t signed up for advertising…. If you aren’t advertising, knowing how many people viewed your book’s page but didn’t buy isn’t all that useful anyway. All that really counts are sales. Dropping the price to 99c may increase your sales somewhat but not a lot unless you’re promoting the price drop. Giving the book away for free is pretty pointless….”

That raises the unanswered question as to whether there exists any scientific statistical proof that, not only Amazon’s free promotional gimmicks, but its paid advertising program, really has much value to authors. Amazon considers the KDP authors as publishers. The publishers produce and put books on its virtual shelf. It has the advantage of being able to tell authors which books are touched and how many times, but it withholds that information from the self-publishers. It is up to them to promote and sell their books whether they are part of the KDP internal program or not. Millions of books are already on the shelf, and authors compete for traffic and sales from which Amazon gets a big cut. The winners are presumably determined by the market, the crowd, but its behavior is manipulated because the content providers game the system of proprietary computer algorithms or automatic procedures that rank the books according to popularity, best sellers, and so on, with results that entice the crowd to follow the leaders regardless of the critical quality of the product. What we have here is a huge moneymaking machine that does little of the work, and does most of that robotically for most of the money. I could not find an accounting of that money in Amazon’s latest annual report, and its Public Relations firm did not respond to my request for it by press time. The KDP authors work for the Machine, not vice versa.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with that if you want to be not only an author but a publisher as well with the set of skills publishers need to succeed in a highly competitive market. You might name your enterprise Three Stooges Company and serve it as writer, editor, and publisher. Today, almost everyone who has read a bestseller seems to be a frustrated author. Thousands of entrepreneurs stand ready to help you, for a fee, to design an attractive book in a world where books and people are judged by their covers. Yes, trash may sell very well. A few good books do make it to the top. What’s new?

The question is, “What is good?” The history of best sellers informs us that most of them are forgotten, and the classical works that have persisted have done so largely because they have been curated by persons who allegedly have superior taste.

I recall an author who gained the Amazon system with his photo book comprising a photograph of his foot. A good title for the second edition of that book would have been My Bestselling Foot. Amazon booted him, but, lo and behold, a legit publisher got him to create a real best seller, a photo album of several images of his feet. He donated the proceeds to charity. You see, he had discovered a weakness in the algorithm that allowed him to have a best-selling book with sales of $3.

Mind you that you may be practically illiterate to succeed as an Amazon KDP book publisher. You can invest some capital in hiring ghost writers for so much a word. That would hardly be novel. Recall that Alexandre Dumas had a book-writing factory. He would go to the office and dictate a plot to his scribblers. Today the independent publisher can hire writers and all the experts needed to produce and market books.

The Amazon Machine is capitalizing on the desire of almost everyone to be a writer. Only a few of them are commercial writers whose incentive is money. Why, many authors of the world’s most enduring books did not make their living writing. Their works were not popular in their own time. Wealth, or patrons, or modest jobs, and even poverty provided them with enough leisure time to write. Authors ancient and modern survived the best they could. We may recall again that copyright is a rather new intangible right. Publishing monopolies with power of the printing presses held the first copyright. The financial benefit to their chosen authors was minimal. Technological and political progress eventually provided writers with the right have their works copied by various means and to be paid for it. Scribblers gained some income, but the main incentive for communicating one’s ideas publicly is hardly money.

No, money in itself has never been the main motive of authors although quite a few of them have hoped for fortune with fame. In fact, writers have paid to get their works published and have been called vain by persons obsessed with money for doing so. Just getting published may be benefit enough, as a publisher pointed out in the famous copyright case, Williams and Wilkins versus the United States, the trial for which began on September 9th, 1970, regarding the mass copying of medical journals without payments to the authors. At the hearing before the commissioner, it was asserted that the authors were not being paid. “We published their material,” was the response, Wasn’t that payment enough for the authors of the medical research papers? They even paid for their articles to be published in the medical journal 

In an aside, the Supreme Court Justice on appeal noted, “In particular, the trial judge has, I think, clearly demonstrated that the claimed ‘single-copy-per-request’ limitation is both illusory and unrealistic. He has found, and it is not disputed, that the libraries will duplicate the same article over and over again, even for the same user, within a short space of time.” (Williams Wilkins Company v. United States, 487 F.2d 1345).

The allusion to “illusion” might be better said: The imagined limitation was an illusion, something generally perceived as real but factually unreal. But, then, “and unrealistic” should be “or unrealistic.” Why not just say “unrealistic”? And it might also be said that the ability to enforce the limitation eluded the librarians. Never mind, though, we know what the judge meant.

Expert or not, and whether relevant to income or not, I maintain that traffic counts on books posted would certainly be helpful. A library can tell you how many times your book has been check out. Now Amazon can tell you how many times someone has touched your book on its virtual bookshelf, and even more than that could be told. Traffic statistics would indicate to authors the real value of the free promotional programs offered by Amazon KDP: loaning out books, giving away books, reducing their price to as low as .99. One might think that Amazon would report those counts because the Machine would make even more money since it gets a substantial cut of sales, and authors would be more pleased to post their books. Why is the truth eluding us? Is Amazon hiding it because its free promotional programs and even the paid ones, are gimmickry to get free content?

Yes, indeed, traffic counts, whether or not you are in it for the money.

# #

:

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Random Ramblings


Amazon authors have a public forum they call “Community,” wherein a tribe of harpies pretending to be intelligent magpies are inclined to smother with guano anyone who questions their wisdom in regards to Amazonian policies. The excremental effusions are ranked and made accessible on the Web so that the foulest criticism, often in the form of red herrings completely off subject, get the highest ranking on the search engine, wherefore the victim who dared to ask the question is defamed on the Worldwide Web by Community participants ranked most reliable by their ilk. If the victim responds in kind and proceeds to make a good point, an “Amazon Kindle” moderator shuts the conversation down.

I asked Amazon personnel a simple question appertaining to the advertising of books, and was referred to this very Community after being run in a circle and ping-ponged between Amazon departments. I asked why Amazon does not provide click counts for the free book ads it provides authors who post books on its “bookshelf” so they can see how much traffic is being drawn by the free promotion programs Amazon provides, as opposed to the paid programs where such information is provided?

I am rather naive in my third childhood, so I expected to be greeted warmly by colleagues smoking cigars over a glasses of port while engaged in dignified discussion of their intellectual pursuits. That was far from the case, although two such gentle persons did respond courteously and intelligently; one of them answered under her own name; the other replied under a “nickname,” because, as I was duly informed, the participants in Community affairs have often engaged in the nastiest conduct, going so far as to flock to authors’ Amazon advertisements and give their books crappy reviews. “You’re welcome,” I replied. “Bad reviews are better than none.”

Then the highly respected harpies had at me. A magpie kindly warned me that I would be made a public fool of and my reputation ruined because the proceedings were publicized by Amazon—I did not know that at the time. Instead of directly answering my simple question, the existence of the existing data was denied. The Amazon cover I used for my books was impugned; that was irrelevant to my question, as was the sneering comment made by one “Ding Ling,” an anonymous Amazon troll whose “reputation” is very highly ranked according to the Socialist Credit System of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Community, that my books are incoherent ramblings, a remark made in support of his flock’s view that I am insane and just another one of the idiots who appear in the Community from time to time. So I have entitled this book ‘Random Ramblings’ to honor the harpies who disparaged me in their Amazon Authors Community for asking a simple question about an n advertising policy. It may not be so random, however, even though the little book is just a few pieces I picked up and slapped together haphazardly. If everything were known, it might be the case that the book was curated by the holy ghost to cleanse off the guano that my colleagues heaped on me.

Some readers will like ‘Bawling Babies at the Bowling Alley,’ while others will appreciate the truth in my advice to ‘Lie On Resumes.’ The automatic spellchecker at Amazon will be wrecked by ‘Min God Spelynge.’ Retired hippies will like ‘Horrors of Acid.’ Potheads will chuckle over how I met ‘Retardo Culo.’ Folks will get high on ‘Slime Cake.’ The religious will be amused or horrified by ‘The Real Kingdom of God on Earth.’ Up front is a little poem for Hitch at Book Nook, whose website and profile picture in Community I loved.

As for my question, Amazon finally responded with great courtesy. I was informed that it is being discussed as a “suggestion.” Hitch at Book Nook advised that Amazonians had harangued Amazon since 2009 on that subject without effect. I would probably be told, she said, that the writers are the publishers and it is up to them to advertise. Of course that service is provided by Amazon for a fee.

The link to my book is below. This is not a solicitation. And if you cannot afford .0001 per word for my work yet still want to read it, please let me know, because my objective is obviously not money. 













Helene’s Other-Other Gaslighting Episode

A strange case of Gaslight Racketeering from David Arthur Walters’ luminous book HELENE, The Flame of My Life
 
Helene was in a tizzy when Paul arrived at her apartment, with her face flushed, bright red splotches of a nervous rash manifest on her arms, and on her décolletage, too, offsetting a string of sizeable white pearls about her neck. No doubt her blood pressure was way up, he thought, which was a bad thing, but he loved her all the more when she was losing control and he could stop behaving submissively to humor her.

“Paul, you must help me!” she moaned desperately as he took his shoes off inside the door. “I don’t know what to do. They’ve charged me with an Other-Other!”

“You look great in that pink dress. It must have cost a thousand dollars. And I love the red pumps,” Paul said, endeavoring to distract her from her condition lest she work herself up into another fainting spell.

“Four thousand: it’s an inexpensive Dior. The shoes are Ferragamo,” she added, in a casual yet haughty tone.

“How much were the shoes?”

“Five hundred or so, but, Paul, will you listen to me, I want to tell you….”

“You sure dress up when you have me for dinner. Excuse my appearance. I’ve been at the gym….”

Helene would have normally remarked that it was only proper to dress well for dinner, withholding any expression of disgust except for a pert nose turned up at Paul’s slovenly appearance, which she deemed an insult to society. Not that she respected society herself, at least not its vast lower class. She confessed to Paul, on the condition that he would tell no one, that people would hate her if they only knew what she could not help thinking about them half the time. But at least she showed respect outwardly, which is only the appropriate thing to do.

Paul confided, in turn, on condition that it be a secret kept between friends, that there were times when he loathed people in general, and recently had had hallucinations while walking along Washington Avenue, to the effect that it was a human sewer, which caused him to worry that he was one of the turds. He said he was afraid to consult his doctor about it, but might do so, on the chance that the doctor would prescribe a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, disinhibiting him so he could master the world instead of write books.

Helene replied that the avenue is indeed so depressing that it brings everyone down, so he should walk another route, thus skirting the whores, drug dealers, derelicts, and other human flotsam, not to mention the shootings. She privately thought, and sometimes said, when she got mad enough, that Paul himself was just a street person and loser, and he had begun to believe it, even occasionally considering a visit to the gun shop across from the theatre for the appropriate means, having watched yet another violent movie, to justify her low opinion of him. Or he wondered what she would say to the concierge if he threw himself off her twentieth-floor balcony to become a street person below. He wanted to leave town, yet he was somehow drawn to Washington Avenue, somehow trapped in its degrading vicinity. He resolved to mount a campaign to shut down the sleazy clubs, bulldoze most of the structures on the avenue, and remake it as a sort of Rodeo Drive, which would undoubtedly entitle him to the mayor’s job, real estate activism and condo board presidency being the main avenues to high office on the beach.

“Paul, you were not listening to me! You have to support me. They have charged me with an Other-Other. I am so worried, unable to sleep, and I thought I was going to faint again yesterday.”

“I heard what you said, Helene, that you are charged with an Other-Other,” Paul calmly assured her as if accepting the reality of an Other-Other, whatever that was, while assuming that it was an imaginative concoction, a paranoid projection. “You know, lawyers used to call condominiums or horizontal properties castles in the air, or air lots with rights to support. I believe a woman of your distinction should have real real estate, a nice house.”

Helene’s face assented to the flattery. She had an artistic temperament: oversensitive and histrionic by nature, her Northern European looks and dramatic flair reminded Paul of Ingrid Bergman. She should have taken up dramatic arts in her youth, he believed. While other players cruised through much of life habitually, Helene had to consciously will her way through it on a daily basis or fly to pieces. Her will was strengthened by long exercise, yet she feared having a nervous breakdown under the strain. She could be as stubborn as a Missouri mule, inviting ornery people to abuse her when putting her to work, much to their profit since she was already compelled to work or fall into chaos. Unfortunately, she had been out of work, lately, having left a job with a Palestinian purveyor, known as “the Monster,” to work a brief spell for a madwoman, known to dozens of former employees as “the Witch” for her ability to abuse employees and customers yet win the Better Business Woman of the Year award.

A previous employer, a private shelter for abused wives of the world’s power elite, had offered to take her back since she got along especially well with high-class women, being one herself, but she declined because she could not stand being sexually harassed by its director, who happened to be a bull dike. And she rejected Paul’s suggestion, that she use her knowledge about the powerful husbands of abused wives to gain employment, as unethical.

Adding to Helene’s stress was the disappearance from her storage space at Oceanview Estates of three paintings of obese female nudes she had painted as a young, anorexic artist, treasures that she intended to leave to her children. There was no sign of forcible entry, or any evidence at all other than her word that any such paintings ever existed—the police report noted that “the alleged victim was hysterical, unable to describe the property allegedly stolen.”

She had previously complained to the property manager that jewelry had gone missing from her apartment, thinking workmen had lifted the jewelry; no work had been done on those days. Paul found the items outside of her jewelry box, in the freezer, apparently mislaid. She also complained about electrical surges, and of coming home to find her A/C system turned off, insisting she had left it on, having checked it exactly four times, as usual, before leaving. Paul advised her to install secret video cameras, a suggestion she vehemently rejected on the grounds that the system could be hacked, the recordings stolen and published on YouTube.

She enlisted Paul to remove a panel on the ceiling of her utility closet to peer into the space between floors, insisting that loud thumping sounds were waking her up at night, but he found no signs in the dust that anyone had been in the crawl space. He did find that a utility door into the public hallway from the kitchen had no door knob or lock, although it was blocked by a heavy refrigerator, tended to swing open slightly with changes of air pressure in the hallway, and surmised that might be causing the thumps. That very evening, over pork chops, she accused him of misusing her three remote devices; it took her an hour to get her television to work properly, causing her to fear she was going out of her mind until she blamed him. From that day forward, she would not let him touch the remotes or allow him to watch any programs he was interested in, including The Good Wife, fearing his involvement in any way would put a hex on her equipment. He tried to explain, to no avail, that many people were having issues with increasingly complicated electronics, so much so that even Alicia, the Good Wife, was shown frustrated by her television system on one episode.

“I don’t care what happens on that show!” she cut him off. “How can a wife be called ‘good’ because she stays with a cheating husband? Men are trying to brainwash their wives into forgiving them for running around with whores when they get caught!”

Paul was in fact worried about his friend’s state of mind.

“Did you ask your doctor about Paxil?” Paul asked. “As I said, it helps reduce high blood pressure and fibromyalgia and insomnia.”

Helene, he knew, suffered all three of the above. The muscular pain, psycho-somatic vestiges of brutal beatings, was bad enough, but the blood pressure, along with her dizzy spells and numb tongue, could be fatal indicators. He had joked around with her, that blue-eyed blonds tend to be dumb and dizzy, and to have numb tongues, so not to worry, yet he was worried indeed for his own sake, that he would lose his best friend to a heart attack.

“I do not have a psychiatric issue, so I am out of luck, my insurance will not cover it. Anyway, I have to say that I have had the best doctors and the best drugs in the past, and I still suffered. I want to tell you about the Other-Other. If you are not going to support me, you can leave.”

“Whoa, please hold your horses. Let’s talk about it over drinks. I brought you a present, a fine, Texas vodka: Tito’s Vodka. It’s handmade.”

“Texas vodka? I never heard of Texas vodka.” Helene had taken switched from wine to vodka earlier in the year to improve her diet.

“Well, it is good straight up or any other way you might like it. That standard Russian vodka you drink is rotgut by comparison. The Russian whores and modelles you despise drink Russian vodka, so here is the perfect alternative for a patriotic German American blonde who used to run around with powerful Texas Republicans. Try it. By the way, did you know Oceanview used to house dozens of Russian models back in the South Beach glory days, when it was being renovated by the godfather of the Jewish Mafia?”

“Stop! Helene commanded as she poured herself a martini. “I don’t want to hear it. You are evading my concern. I invited you over for dinner to tell you about the accusation they made against me.”

“All right,” Paul said, after taking a swig out of his bottle of Boston Lager—normally Helene would insist he use a glass or leave, but her pressing concern caused her to overlook his little rebellion. “Tell me, who are they?”

“They are Oceanview Estates’ condo board, especially Peggy Schmidt.”

“The city commissioner?”

“None other. She signed the indictment.”

“What indictment?”

“Yes, here it is,” she said, producing the following letter:
 
_______________________________________________________

Oceanview Estates Condominium Association, Inc.
1000 Oceanview Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139

HELENE FULSOME
1000 Oceanview Drive 2001

RE: Notice of Violation – First Notice
Account #: 1896-0000-BU2001-04-763-95782/44-2001

Dear Helene Fulsome:

In an effort to ensure community aesthetics, The Oceanview Estates Condominium Association, Inc. performs periodic inspections. During a recent inspection of the community, the following violation was observed. Noticed the following violation:

Violation Type: Other-Other
Inspection Date: February 2, 2014
Mandatory Compliance Date: February 10, 2014

Comments:

Ms. Fulsome approved Ted Michaels as visitor on 02/2/2014 . 12:05 p.m. Mr. Michaels did not go to unit 2001, but did go to unit # 707

. Please be assured that the inspections and this letter are intended to be constructive in nature and are being issued pursuant to the guidelines set forth in accordance with legal statutes and the Association’s governing documents. The Oceanview Estates Condominium Association is asking you to please correct the above issue immediately.

If you would like to dispute this violation or require additional time, then please submit a response in writing with any supporting documents to Oceanview Estates Condominium Association, Inc., at the above address. Extensions of time for addressing this matter shall only be considered upon receipt of a written request. Should you have any questions regarding the above, please contact your Property Manager, who is available to assist you Monday through Friday between the hours of 09:00 AM and 05:00 PM.

Sincerely,
Oceanview Estates Board of Directors
Peggy Schmidt
President
________________________________________________________

“Incredible!” said Paul after scrutinizing the letter with an amazed expression. “Ted Michaels is that hunchbacked paparazzi?”

“Yes.”

“He’s the one who got a shot of Mayor Flores with her hand down the pants of a male stripper?”

“Yes.”

“So why did they let him downstairs if he does not suit their aesthetic profile for the building?”

“That’s not the reason. Ted lived in 707. He opposed Peggy when she was running for the board. When he renewed his lease, the owner neglected to alert the front desk in time, and he was automatically denied access to his apartment. I was not aware of it at the time, but when he was let in to visit me, he went to 707 to get his camera, and never made it to my place. He gave me this copy of a letter from Legal Services explaining his predicament.”
_______________________________________________________

Oceanview Estates Condominium Board
Attn: Peggy Schmidt, President

The purpose of this letter is to demand you allow Ted Michaels’ access to Unit 707. Ted Michaels has been prohibited from entering Oceanview since January 15th, 2014. He was told by the staff at Oceanview that the computer system does not have his lease agreement, and therefore does not recognize him as a resident of Oceanview. Mr. Michaels has resided at Oceanview for 5 years. Unit 707 is owned by Hernando Lopez. Both Mr. Lopez and Mr. Michaels have persistently attempted to rectify this clear oversight. Mr. Lopez submitted an Owner Approval of Lease which authorizes Mr. Michaels to live in Unit 707 from November 1st, 2013 to October 31st, 2014.As a result of the Board’s refusal to acknowledge Mr. Lopez’s consent to Mr. Michaels’ residency, Mr. Michaels has become homeless. In addition, his photography business has been interrupted since his equipment is in the unit. Consequently, your immediate attention to this matter is imperative. A condominium association has no authority to refuse access to a tenant who is authorized to reside in the condominium. I have attached a copy of Oceanview Estate’s Owner Approval of Lease form that was filled out by Mr. Lopez. Upon receipt of this letter, I demand you permit Mr. Michaels to enter onto the premises and occupy his unit.

Betty Vincent
Attorney-At-Law
Florida Legal Services
________________________________________________________

“Where is Ted now?” Paul asked. “I saw him just a few days ago at an event on the beach. He was trying to get shots of Beyonce.”

“I saw him sleeping in a doorway. It was so sad that I kept walking. The fact is, he went to his own apartment that day instead of coming to look at my shelves, so I was charged with an Other-Other.”

“Look at your shelves?”

“That is what I said, so don’t go there. He has a spinal issue yet is still a handsome gentleman, and I can tell that he has a good upbringing.”

“Well, going to another apartment is on him, not on you, no reason to cite you when he tries to visit.”

“I talked to him about it when he visited later. He said Peggy is a real bitch, a tyrant who conducted a massive harassment of tenants, as if this were a prison, getting them to break their leases or get kicked out by the owners, and then her significant other, Sandy Clarke of Clarke Realty, the leasing agent, would lease the units out again. The idea was to get what she called the ‘riffraff’ out, raise rental income to the owner-investors, and thus increase appraised value. Ted said Peggy had the manager call the police so many times on tenants that the cops told the manager he would be arrested for criminal harassment if he called again. One lonely old man who could not speak English hung himself in his apartment with an electric cord after being harassed several times for not wearing the mandated exercise attire in the gym.”

“Sounds like quite a racket. Anyway, this is nothing but a notice of the board’s stupidity. How can you ‘correct the above issue immediately’? Have him come up to your apartment? You said he came over later. You don’t have to respond.”

“No, what they do if you don’t respond is to assess a fine. I sent them this letter.”
___________________________________________________________________________________

Oceanview Estates Board of Directors:

Upon my return to Miami, I was surprised to receive your notices with respect to an alleged violation. Please forgive me for not responding immediately as I have been out of town. Mr. Michaels and I have a professional working relationship and it is not unusual for Mr. Michaels to meet with me in my apartment for work related reasons. After receiving a phone call from the front desk, I authorized Mr. Michaels’ visit for such a purpose. I am aware that Mr. Michaels is a long time resident of the Oceanview, and when he did not arrive in a timely fashion, I assumed he had been sidetracked with other more immediate business. I, in fact, did receive a call within 3 hours to reschedule the missed appointment resolving the issue in my mind. I hope this adequately addresses your and Oceanview Estates Condominium Associations concerns. I want to again thank you for your consideration with the delayed response.

Helene Fulsome, Unit 2001
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“It is none of their business why someone visits your apartment, whether in a professional or personal capacity,” Paul remarked upon reading the response, feeling a little jealous. “So, what happened then?”

“I received a notice of hearing three days later, saying I had not corrected the issue, so a fine might be imposed unless I complied by the hearing date. I asked the manager, and he said the fine for Other-Other violations is $1,000 plus $100 a day until the issue is corrected.”

“Exactly what is an Other-Other violation?”

“The Rules and Regulations list specific violations, then other violations are specified, and then there is the Other-Other, with no particular violations listed.”

“Damn, how Kafkaesque. But the fine would be on the owner, not you.”

“The owner could evict me and lease my apartment out to someone else, or when it comes time to renew, increase the rent.”

“You are paying $2,000 a month. It’s not worth that.”

“Apartments like this one in the building are now going for $3,500 now.”

“Amazing, and to think that you could get one for $900 during the recession.”

“Many owners live out of state. I was looking at the tax rolls online. The owner-investors take homestead exemptions to reduce Florida real estate taxes. Someone should turn them in.”

“So what are you going to do?” Paul asked. He felt rather ashamed of himself for having believed his friend had been going out of her mind. She was probably being gaslighted by racketeers.

“What would you do?”

“I would publish an exposé in the Internet, write several damning letters, and go over the whole thing with detectives. I remember the story about the old fellow they found hanging. Maybe he was murdered.”

“No, I do not want the exposure. My family is discreet. I’m afraid this thing will drive me crazy. Maybe I should just move, but I do not have time to move right now. What should I do?”

“You told me you have prepaid legal insurance with that big shot law firm. So use it.”

“All they do for free is a couple of things a year, like review something, or write two letters, and then you must pay them if it goes beyond that.”

“Believe me: a strong lawyer letter here would get this board off your back pronto. If it goes further than that, have your family back you up. Gee, your ex is practically an Onassis of real estate. His lawyers would turn their gaslighting off for good.”

“Yes he would, but I hate to bother him. Thank you so much, Paul, for your support,” Helene said as Paul was leaving after partaking of pork chops half-heartedly because his father was Jewish. “I was afraid nobody else would believe me if I told them what is going on here.”

“Oh, they will believe you. This is Florida.”

Paul was right. The Oceanview Estates Condominium Association, Inc. dropped its action against Helene Fulsome, or rather dismissed it with a “Warning” after receiving the following letter from Helene’s law firm:
___________________________________________________________________________________

Ms. Peggy Schmidt, Director
Oceanview Estates Condominium Association, Inc.
2001 Oceanview Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Dear Ms. Sheridan:

The Law Offices of Grant and Grant, P.A. is writing on behalf of our client, Helene Fulsome. Ms. Fulsome has asked this office to respond to two notices of violation, wherein you demand that our client correct violation of the rules and regulations of the association. You asked that our client immediately correct the violation. The violation cited is “other-other”.

In your comments, you advise that our client authorized a visit to her home. Demand is hereby made that you cite by chapter and verse which rule and regulation of the Oceanview Estates Condominium Association, Inc. this action violates. You go on to impart the information that our client’s visitor did not visit, but instead went to another unit. Again, demand is hereby made that you cite by chapter and verse the rule or regulation of Oceanview Estates Condominium Association, Inc. that our client has violated.

Despite the clear misuse of the rules and regulations of the Oceanview Estates Condominium Association, Inc. that appears to be propounded here by your Board of Directors, your decision to write our client and actually threaten her with the imposition of a fine for violations that do not exist, has exposed your management company, as well as the Board of Directors of the condominium association, to liability for possibly significant damages.

Although your Notice of Violation gives our client no notice whatsoever of what rule she has transgressed, she graciously responded not only once, but twice to your letters, as well as had the owner of the property who is quite embarrassed that her tenant is being disturbed in this way, to explain to you her reasons and her right to have a professional colleague visit. You have not accepted these explanations but instead have demanded that our client appear at a hearing on this matter.

Your failure to respond as demanded herein shall be considered as an intention on your part to refuse to amicably resolve this dispute. Please be aware that as such, we feel it will be incumbent upon us to advise our client to pursue her legal remedies.

It appears that the actions you have taken are the result of some other agenda, unknown to our client, and of which she is not involved. Instruct your Board of Directors to comply with the rules and regulations and the limitations of their offices or our next letter will be a claim against your association’s Errors and Omissions policy.

Very Truly Yours,

LAW OFFICES OF GRANT AND GRANT PA

By Linda Owen Rice, Esquire
_______________________________________________________

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