The Secret To World Domination Is… A Hairy Irishman

They’re Irish. They’re hairy. And they’re taking over the world.

It’s all very well perfecting your craft – whatever that might be – and seeking fame and fortune on the strength of it. But the fact is that unless you grow the hair to go with it, you’re wasting your time. I lay the cases of the following indomitable Irish men in front of you in order to irrefutably prove my point. And I’m warning you: there is literally no point in arguing with my hypothesis, because it is perfect.

1. Hozier

Hairy Irishmen: The Secret To World DominationI was watching Glastonbury highlights the other day from the safety of my couch. And there he was, throwing his hair around like he hadn’t a care in the world: Andrew Hozier-Byrne. And indeed, why wouldn’t he? He’s only after writing one of the best songs of the last decade (Take Me To Church), finally persuaded to take his hair out of that awkward ponytail and let it flap round his face like the uncaged animal it is. About a year ago, his hair seemed shy and reserved, as though intimidated by its own violent popularity. But now the hair flies free, and it’s – sorry, I mean he’s – taking over the world.

2. Aidan Turner

Hairy Irishmen: The Secret To World DominationFollowing his turn on the latest incarnation of BBC’s Poldark, this gentleman’s hair got so popular that the Internet exploded and he was forced to keep it indoors, out of sight, for reasons of personal safety. Mind you, this also necessitated the keeping of himself indoors too, attached as he was to his hair, with the result that he hasn’t been seen in public since that kerfuffle when 600 early-to-late middle-aged women threatened to throw themselves over a cliff in Cornwall in protest at the prospect of a whole year’s wait for the next series.

3. Graham Norton

Hairy Irishmen: The Secret To World DominationAs if that wasn’t enough, there’s the darling of celebrity passport control: the man whose show A-Listers scramble to get on for a bit of actual real fun when in the UK on interminable promotional tours. Graham already had half a bumcheek in the throne when his hair hauled the rest of him over the finish line. Now, Graham bucked the trend by growing it on the front rather than the back of his head, but I think we’re agreed that this sudden beardiness was the final jewel in that weighty and witty crown. You just can’t argue with that much hirsute gravitas being issued with his contrasting boyish grin.

4. Daniel-Day Lewis: The Grandaddy Of Irish Hairiness

I know he’s retired about six times now, but we need to watch the hair. I don’t know how many films this guy’s made – and let’s face it, I couldn’t be arsed researching it – but his career has followed a strict hair matrix, and if he didn’t realise it, he’s not the man I’m saying he is for the purposes of this post. Each and every time the Day-Lewis has been nominated for an Oscar or BAFTA, let alone won one, it’s been with extreme hair. His short-haired, clean-shaven movies have been relative flops. All I’m saying is, if you see the Day-Lewis wandering about Wicklow with any noticeable hair growth, place your bets now. The evidence is simply overwhelming:

Hairy Irishmen: The Secret To World Domination

1. My Left Foot – serious beardiness at the end of the movie. Very effective. And did you see the hair (bottom right) with which he picked up his first Oscar?

2. Last Of The Mohicans – I get choked up when I think of his long flowing locks in this one. Simply magnificent.

2. In The Name Of The Father – Aidan Turner learned much from this tortured Day-Lewis incarnation. Much.

3. Gangs Of New York – That moustache! Those side locks! The plastered-down fringe! Extraordinary.

4. There Will Be Blood – More ‘tache. Some beard. Long tousled top action. A keratin symphony.

5. Lincoln – This beard, sideburn and standy-up cow’s lick fringe combination had its own agent. You can see why.

But take heed, Irish men. Just like Samson, your strength lies in your hair. If you cut it or, heaven forbid, shave it, your reign will be over.

And if you love your country, and wish to do your duty by furthering her place on the world’s stage, for God’s sake, to paraphrase a recent Disney movie which conquered the world: Let It Grow.

The Secret To World Domination Is A Hairy Irishman

The Laziest Holiday In The World (With Mind-Blowing Photographs)

The Laziest Holiday In The World (With Mind-Blowing Photographs)

My office this week. I am not joking. Well, okay, I might have been joking about the mind-blowing photographs, but not about my office.

I took a holiday this week. At home. In Dublin. It was almost entirely unplanned, in that I only decided to have a holiday last Friday, and I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do any of the stuff you’re supposed to do on holidays in order to call it a holiday.

Here is a list of the stuff people do on holidays, which I did not do this week.

1. Go somewhere

2. Eat out

3. Buy souvenirs

4. Have a fight with someone dear to me

5. Clock up any experiences which would warrant a mention even if you were only mentioning them on the phone to the sort of mother who would happily listen to a rundown of your last toilet break

Here is what I did this week instead.

1. Lie down.

I did this a lot. I did it mostly indoors, on my bed, but sometimes I did it in the garden when the sun was shining. I cannot describe how nice this was. All of the lying down was fairly fantastic, if I’m honest.

2. Get better.

I had been ill, then I went back to work, and I was iller, which was so unkind. That’s the reason I took this week off. And my cunning plan worked. I cannot even describe how smug I feel right now.

3. Walk along the same route I walk into work, only when not walking to work, making it bloody lovely.

And I took this photograph of the kind of Irish graffiti which makes life worth living.

The Laziest Holiday In The World (With Mind-Blowing Photographs)

Is it ‘Feck. I can’t get down from here’? Or is it ‘Egad: my existentialist suffering should be proclaimed high enough for all the world to see’?

4. Get abducted by aliens.

One minute I was taking a photograph, and then…

The Laziest Holiday In The World (With Mind-Blowing Photographs)

I did wonder for a moment was this Twitter, arriving for a visit, in person

5. Go back in time.

There is a rather splendid rose garden beside where I live. I mean beside. Right beside me. You go out my front door, then around one corner, then around another, and there it is. And I only visit it about twice a year. I know. I’m a disgrace. But I wandered in this week and lo and behold, there they little prickly blighters were, in all the 5-minute wonder of a thoroughly full bloom. I am reliably informed that they are very late this year because of the spufincular malatemporal flux [meteorological white noise], or whatever the hell it was that happened in June.

But I was standing there, looking at the roses, and I suddenly realised that I was standing in a 1960s jigsaw. Or a 1970s postcard. All jigsaws and postcards in the 1960s and 1970s had rose gardens in them. They were bloody obsessed. As soon as they got mass colour photography they lost the run of themselves with the shagging roses. But anyway, there I was. Back in time.

The Laziest Holiday In The World (With Mind-Blowing Photographs)

This is every photograph ever taken in the 1960s. Poorly lit roses. Somewhat unreal looking. Like it smells ever-so-slightly of old cardboard.

And so we have it. The laziest holiday in the world. Not bad for someone who didn’t go anywhere.

Authors! Your Free Book Is Worthless

Authors! Your Free Book Is Worthless (To People Over 30)

You know you want it! Er… hang on. Do you…?

I’ve been wondering about book pricing for a long time. Specifically, whether making your book free makes me bothered about reading it or not.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not. Bothered, that is.

But before you start weeping and wailing (yes – you in the back, there) this has to be taken in the context of the market demographic to which I belong. And the fact that a clunky, unsophisticated and downright annoying scatter-gun approach to book marketing, which I keep ranting and raving about even though nobody is bloody listening, is yet again way off target.

I said before that books were decreasing in value – and they are, on two levels: both in sales and production.

Firstly, it stands to reason that if you charge me 99c for your book, or make it free, it’s not as valuable to me as something which cost me more.

Secondly, there isn’t as much investment in books at the production end, which makes them feel like lighter, less prized possessions. Indie publishers usually don’t spend as much on editing, packaging, and marketing as traditional publishers, and the end product can very often look cheap. (Actually, even traditional publishers don’t spend half as much on these elements as they once did. For instance, many traditionally-published authors are having to do all their own marketing if they want to sell any books at all. But anyhoo.)

Authors! Your Free Book Is Worthless (To People Over 30)

I know this is what you think you’re doing…

A decrease in value means we don’t respect these books as much. We may not finish them. We may not even start them. They become wordy flotsam: we wade through them to get to what we hope is the good stuff.

So what is this doing to your readership? Your potential future sales? And your writing career? I’ve been forming some not at all hasty and tenuous conclusions, based on my own reading and buying habits.

What’s Wrong With Free Books?
1.   If you make your book free, I am more likely to download it, but less likely to read it.
2.   If your book is temporarily on sale at a heavily discounted rate, and I download it, there is an increased likelihood that I’ll forget I have it because I put off reading it indefinitely in favour of something I prize more.
3.   If I download one of your books and end up a) not reading it or b) not finishing it, it’s a safe bet to assume I will never download anything of yours again.

What Price Should A Book Be, Then?

Some research has been done on the so-called “sweet spot” for e-book pricing. A couple of years ago, it was suggested that the pricing floor, beneath which a book was considered to be of poorer quality and thus rendered less attractive (to an adult market), was 2.99 (dollars, euros or pounds, apparently). I would say that floor is around 2.50 for me, and odd prices also work (i.e. if your book is 2.67 it looks better to me than a flat 2.50, for reasons not entirely clear to me, but probably something to do with coming across more like a sale percentage discount to a more conventional RRP).

But free? No. In 95% of cases, for me, it’s a turn-off.

Ask Yourself – Is There Really A Strategic Benefit To Discounting Your Novel?

STRATEGY A.  It’s the first title in a series.

I’m less likely to dismiss your free book if it’s the first in a series and you’re charging for subsequent titles, because then I can see a good reason for what you’re doing: you’re trying to hook me with a freebie, only to charge me for the sequel. But making single or standalone titles free just makes me think that they’re lame ducks that nobody wants.

STRATEGY B.  Your target market pretty much only responds to free or discounted stuff.

You must know your audience. A professional marketer would segment their target market and tailor their promotions accordingly. Why aren’t authors doing this?

Lookit: I am over 30. What I pay for things has a significant psychological effect upon my valuation of them. Young adults, on the other hand, may feel differently. An entire generation is now used to getting things for free (just ask the music industry). So, whilst making your book free to me does you no favours whatsoever, making your book free to an 18-year-old may conversely prove the secret to your success and fame (leading ultimately to a legendary and gloriously blind abuse of power).

So if you think your target market is more 18-year-old, and less Irish cynic of an unpublished quantum over 30, for Blog’s sake, don’t treat us as the same market with a One-Size-Fits-All strategy.

STRATEGY C.   Your discount comes at a cost. Sort of.

Perhaps those of us more likely to judge a book by its price should be made jump through a few more hoops in order for us to value your free or discounted book more highly. Give us a special promotional code. A clue in another book. A question which must be answered. A special discount to fans or previous readers. Special offer bundles. Make us make some sort of effort. Because otherwise, why would we bother?

Authors! Your Free Book Is Worthless (To People Over 30)

This is categorically not an author of fiction

What’s your view on free books? Do you have a cut-off price for discounted books (outside of sales promotions in actual bookshops), beyond which you think the book’s going to be a bit pants? Or is anyone out there a massive fan of the free e-book, and willing to fight me til tea-time about it?

Why Your Attention Span Is A Great Excuse For Someone Else’s Failure

 

I wasn’t well last week, and ended up feeling dreadfully sorry for myself. Now, there’s nothing on earth can feel quite as sorry for itself as an Irish woman, so it can get quite dark. Anyhoo, as I lay prostrate, bemoaning the state of both my health and my immediate prospects, my lamentations eventually began to transfer themselves to the world outside as well.

And it’s a dark world, lads and lassies. Society is broken. Rent asunder by social media, reality television, celebrity gossip and cat memes. As a race, we have developed the attention span of a hungover goldfish. We can’t concentrate on anything longer than a Buzzfeed article called 21 Things Only People Who Wore Purple Underpants In 1991 Will Understand. And nobody reads full novels anymore.

My last post on e-book reading statistics – the fact that we now have access to better statistics not only on what books people are buying, but also whether they finish them or not – raised a few questions, namely: Are people not finishing books these days because their attention span is shot? Or are they not finishing books because the books just aren’t good enough?

The “Can’t Even” Era

We can say that we’re busier, or that we have more distractions. But there are other things afoot, such as more competition to entertain us. Once, we might have paid attention to stuff we didn’t find particularly interesting, because there was nothing else more immediately attractive. Now we don’t have to. Social, geographical and economical barriers to media have disappeared. So much information is available to us on so many different channels that we can now choose whether or not to consume it.

And it doesn’t always follow that short attention-span stuff always wins. Look at the rise and rise of complex, slow or long-form TV like The Wire, Breaking Bad or Mad Men; see how binge-watching TV or binge-buying books in the same series has become a ‘thing’. If people really like something, they don’t hang about, waiting for the next instalment. They make time for it right now and they become wholly – almost fanatically – focused upon it.

In the olden days, we read what we had and thought that was it. Now we’re conscious that there might always be something better out there – or at least, something more attractive. Gone are the days when we all watched the same TV or read the same books because it was all we had.

But that still doesn’t necessarily explain how, having chosen a book, we don’t finish it. So why is that?

1. Books aren’t as valuable as they were. 

When books were more expensive, we had no choice but to read what we bought or borrowed. But now, we can download 10 free books during a toilet break. We may not read them. But we can still download them. (Whether or not making a book free devalues it to the extent we never read it is a whole different post.)

2. There are more books out there.

More authors are releasing books independently, meaning more books are being published. And much as we might hate to admit it, a substantial quantity of this might be badly edited, badly marketed, or just bad. We might get two chapters into a book, realise it hasn’t been edited properly, and run for the hills. I know I have.

3. Power has shifted.

We’re no longer solely dependent on big publishing houses with big budgets and connections with book critics to tell us what to read. And we don’t feel as beholden to sticking with a book the critics said we should read because we wanted to look intelligent.

4. Not All People Are Some.

So some people don’t finish some books. More do. Some people love big literary prize-winners. More don’t. I’ve given books to people with gushing recommendations and seen them all squirmy-eyebrowed when asked for their verdict. Not everybody who consumes the stuff is going to like the stuff, dammit. Stop being all bothered about it.

5. Because The Internet.

Here’s the one point which might actually have to do with attention span – we are less willing to invest time into something which may not suit us. There’s such a barrage of information thrown at us these days, we’ve got used to making rapid judgements about articles and books based on a synopsis or first paragraph. And we’re less willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt if we suspect they might bore us.

Why Blaming Your Attention Span Is A Great Excuse For Failure

I don’t see what’s wrong with any of this. We’ve developed new and necessary survival skills in the Information Age, and it suits some authors brilliantly as much as it makes others cry into their gruel. There are winners and losers in every cultural shift and not always for reasons immediately apparent to mere mortals. The only thing that is certain is that the way we consume entertainment is changing. And there’s no point at all in sitting around moaning about it. Even if we have good reason to feel sorry for ourselves.

It Ain’t What You Write, It’s The Way That They Read It

It Ain't What You Write, It’s The Way That They Read ItHey, guys! Remember when you wrote a book and it was nominated for lots of prizes and everyone said how great you were? No? Well, read on then.

If, on the other hand, you’re somebody who does remember getting loads of accolades and serious prizes for your work, I’d suggest you get back under the duvet now.

This article in the Guardian caught my eye.  And then brought a tear to it. Before you say anything, I’m not going to go into the merits or otherwise of gender-specific prizes such as the Bailey’s women’s prize for fiction. You can if you like. But this isn’t about that.

The article is ostensibly written about the 6 contenders for the 2015 Bailey’s prize. But in a stunning feat of journalism, in one short article about those fortunate and talented enough to be shortlisted, it also somehow manages to slag off all 6 shortlisted works by talking about how poorly they were read. Specifically, the fact that lots of readers apparently didn’t finish the books at all.

It seems that e-books now allow us to judge a book not by its cover, but by its reader. Kobo ebooks can tell us how much of a book readers actually read.

In the article, it says “The ebook retailer is able to track and analyse how far readers get in the books it sells, with [Sarah Waters’] The Paying Guests completed by 63% of those who downloaded.” However, on the other end of the scale, only 34% of Kobo readers finished Ali Smith’s already award-winning How to Be Both.

Think about it. You’ve written a book. It’s been published. It’s won prizes. It’s been nominated for one of the biggest international literary prizes for fiction in the English language.  It’s sold a very respectable multiple thousands of copies with potential for even greater sales due to the praise thrown at it. It could be considered, by any measure, to be pretty damn good.

And then the Guardian goes and tells people that only 34% of Kobo ebook readers finished your book. And not only that: the forerunner – the one who’s doing best – still only had 63% finishing her book. Ouch.

I’d be gutted! I’d be so gutted I would be arming myself to the teeth with literary missiles and searching desperately for a half-decent target at which to fire them.

Up to now, I thought that statistics on people abandoning books without finishing them were a good thing. Even a great thing. As a reader, I thought it might be really helpful to know if the self-published books I bought in particular were being read in full, because the reviews I depended on to guide me have become even more toxic and unreliable than when I spent half of last year giving out about them.

I particularly liked the fact that they can report on average reading times and the number of sessions engaged in to read a book – the inference being that the longer you read a book for in each session, the more gripping it is. The Unputdownability Factor. (Don’t steal that. I’m copyrighting that as soon as I’m let out again.)

I still like the idea of these things. But this article has made me see things in a whole new light. Not least that I realised I really couldn’t be arsed about whether Kobo ebook readers finished a book I’m interested in. It tells me nothing other than one tiny portion of readers of a widely-read book didn’t manage to read something they either spent good money on, or were given for free.

It’s a world of ups and downs, this is true. But imagine the bone-shattering reality of having to realise that being shortlisted for a major prize exposes you to a new type of criticism you didn’t even know existed. Pity the poor Shortlistees of the Bailey’s Prize. There’s nothing like your thunder being stolen before it’s even rumbled.

Over to you. Do you think the implications from these sorts of statistics becoming more widely available are good or bad? Do you want to know? Do you care? And will it ever stop raining in Ireland this summer or should I just emigrate now?

It Ain't What You Write, It's The Way That They Read It

Inappropriate Stock Photo Of The Week: The Doctor

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to this much-esteemed award, contenders for which include any publication whose lazy and ham-handed use of irrelevant, terrible or inappropriate stock photos for illustration purposes deserves both recognition, and a good kick up the arse.

Check this guy out. Hmmm. He’s a manager? Sure. And I’m a shy and retiring swimwear model.

Inappropriate Stock Photo Of The Week: The Doctor

Picture the scene.

Late evening. Irish Times Pictures Desk.

Photo Intern: Hey, look at this. Does this guy look professional to you?

His Mate: Yeah, I suppose so. If I’d just been diagnosed with something.

Photo Intern: Diagnosed?

Mate: Yeah. I mean he looks like a serious MD. A consultant, like. Who only gives people bad news.

Picture Intern: But he’s supposed to be a manager. In an office.

Mate: No. He looks like a doctor. Why don’t you use this here picture of a woman in a boring grey suit?

Picture Intern: Because we already licensed this one last week for an article in the Health section on haemorrhoids, but it got pulled at the last minute.

Mate: Well, use the doctor then. But you’re looking at piles of trouble if you keep abusing stock photos like that.

 

Congratulations again, Irish Times. You’re on a real winning streak.

You ****! You Just Can’t Say That On The Internet

You ****! You Just Can't Say That On The Internet

I read your Tweet. You really shouldn’t have said that.

It’s the ILF Dublin this week (International Literature Festival Dublin – formerly known as the Dublin Writers’ Festival – related attempt at satire here) and the city is swimming in a lovely pool of gorgeous writerly types putting themselves out there for our ogling and listening pleasure.

On Tuesday I went to hear Jon Ronson, author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Interviewed by the Presentatron 2000™ himself, Anton Savage, Ronson spoke about some of the more high-profile public shamings on social media in recent years, most notably Justine Sacco, who you can read about here.

I spent most of the gig laughing at Ronson’s witty delivery of serious sentiment. For about 20% of it, however, my face was contorted into shock and disgust at what utterly daft human beings are doing to each other these days.

One point that Ronson made stuck in my head: that the people who are doing this sort of extremist public shaming are not trolls. They are fine upstanding members of the community such as you (think you are) or I (think I am). And you can’t legislate against people going apeshit on the internet over one perceived offence, or taking something literally which was meant to be either ironic, sarcastic, satirical, or a plain old bad joke.

You ****! You Just Can't Say That On The Internet

Excuse me, sir. I just saw you passing by, and thought to tell you how offensive you were.

Without going too heavily into relevant cases (although I also suggest you do read Sam Biddle’s reflections on his contribution to the Justine Sacco dissection) Ronson says that it’s all really about privilege. Public shaming is only for people who are perceived to be misusing privilege, whether it’s about being white, in Sacco’s case, or rich, or middle-class, or able-bodied, or educated, or beautiful, or western, or able to taste cucumber.

Hearing Ronson speak, it occurred to me that if I ever publish a book, I will be throwing myself out in the public domain for judgement in a way which doesn’t occur today.

Right now, I am an obscure Irish blogger who gets stumbled upon every now and then by the odd person wholly unconnected and unknown to me. I’m generally careful about what I say, despite appearances to the contrary. I only have one rule, and that is that I try not to say anything online that I wouldn’t say to somebody’s face. I don’t feel the need to make pronouncements about specific individuals or their behaviour on Twitter, which is probably just as well, as it would appear that nobody is allowed to be satirical, let alone sarcastic, in 140 characters.

Admittedly, I do have a few fail-safe punching bags: such as big, powerful people like James Patterson, who I often lampoon for lapsing into ghost-written laziness and thereby publishing 382 books a year. I think I’m safe there, you see, because he’s so famous and rich and successful that he’ll never take notice of a twerp like me.

Regular readers of this blog know that I generally write with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. Irregular readers, or people on Twitter – where being taken literally is a full-time occupation – haven’t a clue who I am, and neither do they care. And why should they? But I would care, if somebody somewhere decided I was Public Enemy #1 for however many hours it takes to get through the Online Anger Cycle.

You ****! You Just Can't Say That On The Internet

I had a small taste of this once, when I used a deliberately provocative and click-baity headline on a post about book reviews. I wanted hits, you see. I’d only been blogging for a few months. But also I meant what I said in the body of the post. I make book-buying decisions based on online reviews. I wanted them to be more helpful.

A couple of months after I published the post, somebody somewhere across the water decided I was  a terribly offensive person altogether. I got site referrals from links that looked like they were unpleasant, so I ignored them. But I also got some comments directly which dealt variously with the audacity of someone like me telling book reviewers what to do, and my general cluelessness about anything to do with anything. My suggestion that anonymity was in itself an abuse of privilege, with the result that reviewers say unecessarily nasty and damaging things, was like a red rag to a bull. How dare I! they cried. Anonymity is the only protection for book reviewers who live in fear of their lives from dangerous authors! Was I trying to get them killed??

Regardless of the validity of either side of argument, I had unwittingly stumbled upon an all-out turf war which had been waging online for quite some time. Nasty tactics had already been employed on both sides. It was like I’d walked around a corner and found myself in the middle of a food fight, holding three bananas and a sponge cake, and with no idea what I was supposed to have thrown in the first place. I replied and tried to explain things for a while, and then I thought: well, that was interesting, but I’ve had enough. I wondered what angry internetters were like: now I know, and now I’m off.

But I have a big question. If I am ever to publish a book myself – do I delete that post (or indeed my entire blog, seeing as I spend most of my time giving out)? In this bonkers environment where one tweet can ruin a person’s life, how much damage could I be courting from angry internet people who are dying to take me literally?

I don’t know the answer. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Jon Ronson had the answer, either. But it is fighting food for thought.