Post Election

I’ve put off commentating on the UK General Election for a few weeks. Firstly, because I was on holiday when the results were being counted and secondly, because I wanted time to collect my thoughts. I have written before, about the Scottish Referendum, and my thoughts on how this impacted democracy and now we have another set of results to ponder.

Let’s skip over the compete inability of the professional commentators and pollsters failure to predict results. There is a collective ignorance across much of mainstream media about how voters interact with pollsters and focus groups. You get this in all sorts of surveys and its hidden in the small print (not in this blog) when they say 8 out of 10 WHO RESPONDED, liked so and so. Political pollsters use their already collected results to distribute the don’t know and go away responses across the existing results i.e. if 35% is the rating for party x then they assume that 35% of the don’t knows or won’t tells will vote that way. In other words the extrapolate the results based on current and past numbers and therefore confirm their own prediction. Me I bet money on the result, for non-Conservative supporters, sorry yes I did bet on a Conservative win. Even I did not expect an overall majority via the first past the post system. Of course what the pollsters wanted was 650 surveys featuring a high number of respondents. They had to wait for the actual election to get an accurate forecast. Even the exit polls were incorrect. Now it is believed that the split in the don’t knows and won’t tells was actually heavily in favour (in England anyway) of the Conservatives. Who knows? The don’t knows and won’t tells will get another chance in five years for the general election. By which time we will have had another referendum, euro-elections, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections and numerous local elections. All of which will give the pollsters something to discuss.

Meanwhile I can turn my attention to the major democratic deficiencies highlighted by the election. Lets start with facts. I’ll use the BBC’s results page for ease of look up, I’m not dismissing NI and Wales but concentrating on England and Scotland and I’ll gloss over the fact that only 66% bothered to vote at all

  • Con 331 seats from 36.9% of the vote
  • Lab 232 from 30.4%
  • SNP 56 from 4.7%
  • LibDem 8 from 7.9%
  • Green 1 from 3.8%
  • UKIP 1 from 12.6%

So democracy in action meant that with 37% of the people who voted for UKIP, the SNP ended up with 56 times the number of MPs. The Labour comparison is also interesting 6.5 times the number of votes for only 4.1 times the number of seats. The Conservatives won an outright majority with 36.9% of 66.1% or 24% of the possible voting public. Before the other parties get on their high horses only 20% voted for Labour and 3% for the SNP. We can then argue about combinations voting against i.e. which is a nice way of saying no outright majority voted for anybody. Yes I know SNP had 50% of the vote but that is actually 50% of the 71.1% that voted i.e. 35.5% of the eligible voters.

Aren’t numbers great! percentages are even better allowing all sorts of conclusions to be drawn or statistics manipulated depending on what headline the writer wants to create.

What is clear is that two parties are massively underrepresented in the UK Parliament UKIP and the Greens on shares of the vote they should have 81.9 and 24.7 MPs respectively. The Lib Dems should have 51 and the SNP 30.55. If we limited SNP to Scotland they should only have 50% of 59 i.e. 24.5.

Various proportional representation systems would have produced various different results. If single transferable votes were used then who knows where it would end up. Lists (like the Euro elections) would get a different outcome again.

What does this mean? If you don’t vote you can’t complain. If you do vote you can complain all you want but we had a referendum on changing the system from first past the post and barely anybody (OK 41%) bothered to vote and 67.9% voted to keep the current system. Can’t complain about that either.

Of course in this dirge I haven’t tried to answer why the vote went the way it did. To quote the Bill Clinton 1992 US Presidential campaign “The economy stupid”

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Using Scheduled Post

Aside

I’m supposed to be something of a techie so I have just surprised myself by using a feature here on WordPress for the first time. I’m referring to scheduled Post – why I had not used this before is beyond me. I should have used this before to link a post which is automatically tweeted, repeated and posted around other social media.

In this case I have used it to coincide with a book promotion starting – all done whilst I was safely tucked up in bed snoring away. I then awoke this morning to find re-tweets, new followers and so on. – Now what else can I do on WordPress that I’ve not used until now?

Writing to Reading

One of my work colleagues is a process improvement expert. He is a Six Sigma Lean Black Belt which surely as a title should be leaned as a process improvement itself. He can frequently be found drawing diagrams of processes and extracting critical details from our business colleagues. These details, decision points and sub-processes demonstrate where efficiencies can be made. I was contemplating him taking a look at the whole self publishing process, which strikes me as being in desperate need of improvement.

Let’s start with the basic problem. Too many books chasing too few readers who are willing to pay for the book. Economists would focus on the over supply or the under-demand aspect of the problem. To increase demand many writers have resorted to the price tactic of reduced cost to the reader, including free, to generate that demand.  Many marketing strategies emphasise the use of free to generate interest for other books by the same author. Traditional publishers have resorted to inflated pricing of e-books to protect the hard copy versions, much like the music and movie industry kept digital downloads more expensive than CD/DVD and Blue-ray packages.

The pricing and marketing elements and the social media excursions are all about launching or promoting the book after it has been produced. The lean methodology came out of Toyota’s factories i.e. it focused on the method of production.  Although the techniques have spread into post-production and anywhere else efficiencies need to be made. These techniques have led directly or indirectly to just-in-time supply, significant automation and other changes to the production workplace. Many American commentators often critique lean and claim Henry Ford should be credited with the methodology. It is not an argument I would wish to get into as I am not an expert on the history. For the purposes of this article it is irrelevant.

So what would a lean book production look like. Starting with the authorship. Clearly a writer drives a fictional story but let’s face it. We all suffer from foibles. Some writers are very good at scary scenes, others romance. Some are excellent with descriptive passages whilst others can create fabulous dialogue.  Clearly despite the inefficiency caused by increasing the number of writers involved, a lean book should focus on the allocated expertise of multiple individuals to create the book. The justification for the perceived inefficiency would be that more books of a higher qualitative standard would be produced in a shorter time frame. Not something that most authors would contemplate. Yet this type of authorship is common in the workplace – collaborative documents anyone?

Judging by the rumour mill several name authors already produce books in this way for traditional publishing houses.  Who knows if this is true but remember mainstream publishers are businesses not art houses. They want regular product to sell. They do not want to wait till the artist is ready, they have a production schedule to keep and a line of employees from copy-editors to marketeers to keep busy.

The next stage of the production involves the various forms of editing and proof reading. Starting with the authors own efforts (see above where each author could complete this stage). This process varies greatly from a qualitative point of view depending greatly on the skill level of the editors involved. There is a significant variable cost to this process in terms of production costs. An area that under lean should be ripe for automation. Of course if all the authors were experts in grammar, structure and spelling, then editing would be greatly reduced. This would require a major expansion of the processes to be studied extending our lean approach to childhood of the authors from learning to read and write all the way through the education system. Probably outside the scope of this article.

There have been major efforts in the software industry to automate much of the editing process. I think like most operating systems there is still a good way to go.

The next stage of production is formatting and then printing. (I will skip over the cover artwork elements) The new creation of e-books has been a very lean process, prompted by technological change. E-book production in whatever format and through whichever seller is remarkably cheap and efficient. What was once a huge barrier to entry (typeset, review, print review copy, review, print for distribution, distribute, book sellers sell) has been reduced to a few clicks of buttons. Even hardback versions can be produced very quickly.

With a finished manuscript and cover (if not using available default ones) the new publishing process can be completed in under an hour (excluding the seller’s review process) Yes there are foibles of the systems to be overcome regarding pricing, copyright and for Amazon the KDP Select or not decision. Then with the click of a menu item, the new book or a revision is launched on its way. Now here is where us authors need some real process improvement. That newly minted tome is just one of several thousand published each month. It is not only competing with thousands of other new self-published authors but also all of the output of the traditional publishers. That is of course just for books. In the entertainment industry it is competing with similar amounts of music and and hundreds of movies and TV shows for the attention of the buying public.

One of the elements of the lean process is the value chain. The value chain of any published book is long from the hours and hours of writing to the endless revisions and edits. Then we get to the sale. Prices in $ for comparison sake and because that is how Amazon requires prices to be set. Free, 99 cents, $2.99, $4.99 for an ebook. or higher. A new Blu-ray with two and a half hours of movie is approximately $20. Yes there may be extras, but how often are they watched and how often is the film re-watched. Like re-reading a classic book sometimes, but not often. Like most books are read, a movie is watched once.A full novel which should last a minimum of six hours is 99c or Free! We must be mad as self published authors to value our work so little. Even if the book is short, poorly edited and a rubbish story, it will still have some value.

So as a final reference to lean this should not refer to price but to process. The technology process has meant that we have a very efficient production and selling process. The pressure of over-production has created over supply which has been used to drive price down in an attempt to increase demand. I believe this process has failed as the buyer now perceives no value in the product. As the self-pub writer gets no return on their investment they cannot invest in the quality of their product i.e. editing or a better cover. Now the rant…

Amazon as the largest player you have created this monster by allowing books to be given away to support hardware sales of Kindles and other tablets. Yet Amazon has to provide the infrastructure (storage, network, billing) to support a zero price. A zero price provides no covering income for anyone. So Amazon and the others please ditch the free sale and its distortion of the market. It’s not free and puts no value on anything. It also massively distracts readers and reduces the quality of the overall product. I seriously doubt whether it actually increases reading.

For my fellow self-pub authors is your product really worthless, if not why do you price it as such! Being top of a best seller list cannot mean free as nothing has been sold.

For my fellow readers – how many free books have you actually read – was it worth your time. The reading process is not lean – it consumes time. Yes libraries have provided free books but of course they are not free – they are paid for in taxes. The books provided have a value – so should ebooks.

 

Keeping Up Appearances

All the marketing advice in the self-published space states, that building a following and regular posting is essential. This creates an audience that might, just might read a book. To achieve such a following the marketeer (the author role has disappeared for now) has to use the various social media outlets and/or advertising paths to raise awareness.

Now alongside being a writer, the skills of social commentary have to be added. In addition, the writer has to become technically familiar with all the different outlets. These vary from a simple blog like this on WordPress to Twitter, PinIntrest, YouTube, Facebook, Google+Instagram, etc,etc. Then there are the sites like Amazon’s forums, Linkedin or Goodreads. I’m sure there are lots of how to books and site FAQs that can explain the best way of using a particular platform but who has time to read them!

If you are like me you will stumble through and try to figure out the best way to make use of the different functionality. You may link sites to each other as I do so that this blog appears on Linkedin and Goodreads whilst a link appears on Twitter.

Now that I have created a wonderful commentary even if limited to Twitters’ few words, which will enthral the world, people will flock to my site. As my latest offering goes viral the sales will naturally follow and soon I will have to hire a publicist, web-master etc. just to keep up. One tiny, tiny problem with this plan. The cat or dog or baby video, celebrity trending tweet, scandal or my own problem.

I simply do not have enough time in the day to read or watch all this stuff. At work I now have email, Intranet, extra-net, Instant Messaging, conferencing and a Facebook replacement called Yammer, occasionally I get some work done but normally only after responding to the email, and IM message asking why I haven’t responded to the Yammer comment.

At home when I should be writing the next chapter of my book I am reading Goodreads, occasional other blogs and trying to follow some Twitter and of course updating linked in writing and professional forums all in an attempt to get me noticed. To keep up the appearance of activity and interest in the hope that this will be reflected back. Then comes the killer blow. Nearly everyone I am in contact with is another author trying to do the same thing. Yes we are all readers too so we try and read and review and offer helpful comments.

Somewhere out there is a true reader that might write a glowing review. What? They write a review, but now they are a writer too. There are hundreds if not thousands of review blogs, all this writing and communicating all this social commentary and interaction is overwhelming. Yet this week I had one of the most pleasing and odd experiences a personal appearance at a book club. I talked to my readers! Whatever next direct social interaction the next thing you know people may use there electronic devices to phone someone. Now I need to get this published and word spread, it will go viral if I add sex or a picture of a kitten won’t it!

Kitten-prays

From http://catsinflats.com.au/adopting-kitten-cat/

 

Controversy for Controversy’s Sake

I recently commented on the GoodReads forum http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1471999 discussing the subject “Would You Write About Controversy

I said I might blog so here it is starting with my own comment, I haven’t reproduced others’ comments as I haven’t asked the writer’s permission.

One of my favourite discussion subjects along with censorship.  Freedom of speech in the UK is not as formally protected as it is in the USA, but it is protected.  There are always controversial subjects although the USA arguments of religion and politics are not as ribald, neither is abortion.

One of the most interesting controversies, over the years, has been Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.  Irrespective of political viewpoint it is a work of fiction, but look what it led to and that was mostly in a pre-Internet Social Media age.  Did this book sell more copies because its opponents were so vociferous in denouncing it and the author?  Has Salmon Rushdie sold more of his other books as a result or has he changed writing subjects to avoid further death threats?

In my own work, controversial decisions and some politics are backdrops to my stories.  In my first attempt, it was the creation of the dossiers to support the war in Iraq.  With Syria going on, the recent UK decision to not support military action can be traced to the Iraq dossier debacle.  In my second, I deal with several controversial subjects like rape and summary execution, hidden in a story about survivors.  My third has insider trading to generate huge wealth and the misbehaviour of big business.  Who knows what I might write next as news stories often provide a creative spark.

At the front of all of my books is a disclaimer.  This is a work of Fiction, in other words I made it up, it’s just a story, I don’t necessarily share my characters opinions, although I like to have a basis of fact behind all my stories.”

That said, is controversy useful?  In an age of trolls, flame wars, email barrages, and 24/7 media sound and video bites, should a writer of a blog, article or book deliberately try to be controversial.  Another quote attributed to Brendan Behan

There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”

In the UK we have had threats of rape caused by promotion of the image on a bank note followed by more threats to female writers and journalists who had the temerity to comment on the threats.  Opinion piece writers in newspapers and other media are supposed to be controversial, that’s why they are employed.  A newspaper editorial and front page headline are designed to support the political leanings of the newspaper and act as an advertisement for sales.

Let’s be controversial then – Martin Luther King, Jr said

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

A nice uncontroversial quote, so lets dissect it.

The ultimate – really this is the ultimate meaning the peak, the top? Are we sure it’s really the ultimate.

Measure – by what metric is this a measurement and to what standard and against what comparitor?

Of a Man – Many commentators would regard this as sexist, but of course at the time of the quote man in this sense meant humankind or to use the terminology mankind still shouldn’t the same measure be used for women?

I’ll stop there I have no wish to denigrate Mr King who was a fantastic orator on the speeches I have seen, I don’t know if he was a good man or not I didn’t know him personally or professionally.

So, if I write about abortion in a novel, will I face controversy and criticism regardless of the viewpoint the character, or characters, propose.  Under-age sex or any sex often causes controversy.  I’m not sure why, it has always happened and despite sex education, moralistic pronouncements, campaigns and so on it always will.  Should I avoid that subject to avoid controversy?  Because a character has under-age (a subjective legalistic viewpoint with different morals, laws and conventions around the world) sex in a story should that automatically rate a book as adult only content?  If I write about it does that make me a paedophile (another nice controversy there).  If I look at a naked woman in a Rueben’s picture in an art gallery that is cultural, if I look at a naked woman on a porn site it’s bad or degenerates women.  For women is a Michael Angelo sculpture porn?  It’s a naked man!  My word we cannot show that on prime time TV and if the man had an erection it would be porn and not suitable for any regular TV viewers.  In case nobody noticed the human race has survived and expanded thanks to sex including erect penises.  If you don’t want them described in a book or film don’t read or watch, but why would you avoid human nature.  I don’t particularly like watching people chew gum, maybe we could censor that, but of course I might just be trying to be controversial so you will read my blog, if I tag it correctly for Internet searches.

If I argue for against creationism, Islam, Christianity, Scientology, Buddhism, etc., etc., will I attract more interest, more blog followers, more complaints, will that sell more of my books.  Who knows?  There are millions of blogs, tweets, and emails.  Thousands of newspaper articles around the world and nearly seven billion people on the planet each with their own opinions and beliefs.  Just because a politician, media outlet, or journalist says something in Iran, the UK or the USA does not make it so or true.  In general I think there is too much opinion dressed up as facts.  If you hear the words common sense, the people believe, it is God’s wish, step back, ask if that is really true is it a fact or an opinion?

If you don’t discuss controversial subjects then you are simply avoiding facts which is often the advice given for polite conversation – no religion, sex, or politics.  Whichever side of an opinion you may take, remember it’s an opinion not a fact.  I like to argue, I like controversy, I think I’m right and so do you.

Now back to writing my next story about a homosexual atheist who rapes a disabled veteran on his nation’s flag whilst looking at kiddie porn having forced his 14 year old sister to have an abortion only because the father was a black Islamic preacher– or maybe not.  Still it’s an idea…  now for the tags, light blue touch paper stand back and….