HALL MONITOR, PART I, By M. Scott Douglass

Sometimes being an publisher and editor is like being a hall monitor in a middle school. I’d say it was like herding cats, cliché aside, I’ve learned that you CAN herd a cat if you offer the right incentives. Our cat, for instance, is an indoor cat. She loves going outside, but knows she doesn’t get to go there unescorted and WE decide when it’s time to go back in. Simple rules.

But this isn’t about my cat. It’s about trying to keep order in the hallways among groups of individuals who are easily distracted by the publishing process.

Oh my, did I just paint with a broad brush (yet another cliché)? Maybe, but think about the hall monitor metaphor. You have stragglers, scufflers, pranksters, princes and princesses who need to be prodded to class, and all you, as hall monitor, are trying to do is preserve order.

Recently, an author received the first copies of her chapbook. Less than a week after they arrived, she emailed to ask whether including poems used in her chapbook in a full length later this same year would violate her contract.

The truth is, the average Main Street Rag chapbook sells about 250-300 total copies in the first 6 months to a year—the primary selling time. When you take into account time investment and materials, our break-even point ranges between 150 and 200 sales—depending on how and where copies are sold. But we don’t want to just break even and 50 sales is not a very wide profit margin. So, as a publisher, I try to ensure our share by asking authors to wait at least 9 months before releasing another book.

But this author’s request was slightly different and it was the fifth time in the past year that I’ve had a similar request: An author wanted to know if it was okay to include a large portion of a book I had just published in another book. I even had one well-known local author take more than half of a full length book and combine it in a Best Of collection with another publisher. Neither asked if there was a contractual conflict and although I had legal grounds to go after him and the other publisher, I did not.

There have been multiple cases of this kind of activity over the years and I have never gone after anyone or prevented authors from re-using their own work, but as hall monitor, let me tell readers what I’ve told a few of my authors when they asked for permission to reprint the same material in a new format.

I tell them they are welcome to do so. If their MSR book did not meet costs, I may ask for a small buyout ($2/book). I also ask them this question:  If you bought a book of poetry from an author whose work you liked enough to buy his or her second book, but discovered that more than half of the poems included in the NEW book were also in the first book, what would you do? You might tell others so they didn’t spend twice the money on a product that was much of the same thing. You might also be wary of the next book this author tried to promote to you and not buy it.

If we are writers, creators of literature, don’t you think we owe it to potential readers to offer something fresh when we are asking them to spend money? Sure, we can keep re-packaging and selling old stuff in a new wrapper—musicians did it all the time (when they could get away with it)—but if we want to expand our readership, it might not be a bad idea to expand and grow as authors as well.

That’s this week’s tip from your friendly neighborhood literary hall monitor.

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My Wife’s Fashion Consultant, By M. Scott Douglass

We have a wedding in California in two weeks and I’m not sure what to wear. Goodwill and The Salvation Army love my diet. To date, it’s cost me (at least) 20 pairs of pants, 20 pairs of shorts and a garbage bagful of shirts from which they have benefited. Among the things that no longer fit are all four of my suits. My newest suit would still fall off with a pillow stuffed in front. My oldest one fits best, but the pants are too big, have cuffs, and aren’t worth adjusting since it’s more than 20 years out of style.

We’ve been putting off buying a new suit because it would be expensive and we would be buying it while still in the middle of a diet. I’ve lost 36 pounds, but have another 14 to go to meet my goal. Being as close as possible to that goal was important from an economic perspective. After all, who wants to buy something that expensive and not be able to wear it three months later?

June 15 was shopping day. We went to ALL the local stores, then the mall before visiting Men’s Warehouse, where I expected to get the best deal. You know: “Buy one, get the second free,” and “You’re going to like the way you look.”

I’ll come back to that part of the story, but first, a little side-tracking.

I am my wife’s fashion consultant. That will surprise those who know I wore a peach-colored pimp suit to my high school prom, I shop with her and for her. We both believe in frugal and practical, but the truth is, everyone who shops for clothing sees it on them filtered through catalog model lenses. I help my wife see what works best for her body shape, not the person in the catalog. This seems to work well.

I was an original mall rat as a teenager. I avoid malls now because the current crop of mall rats make me laugh. I see too many things that make me ask, “Really, did you look in the mirror before you left home?” Such was the case at South Park Mall on June 15. As a result of my experience, I offer some free fashion advice to lady friends everywhere in the blogosphere.

First, spandex is great for yoga and exercising, but if a woman isn’t a fitness guru, she should pair them with a skirt or long t-shirt covering her behind. After a few years, spandex loses ALL shape and density and tends to grip best to cellulite.

This also applies to men whose primary workout is lifting beers while watching their favorite sporting event and believe Under Armour fits them as well as their favorite pro athlete.

Second, if you have to shave to prevent a skirt or shorts from revealing natural hair color, your underwear, or a quarter slot, it might be hanging a bit too low.

Third, wearing sheer bottoms or tops with contrasting undergarments is not sexy, it’s trashy. Speaking strictly from a male perspective: Trashy works best for spontaneous, one-time events, but seldom racks up frequent flyer miles.

Finally, for the young lady seen carrying a pair of Daisy Dukes to check out as we left: If they’re shorter than they are wide when held in front of you on a hanger—by a wide margin—they may not be designed for your body type.

On to Men’s Warehouse. George has a good gig here. You hear, buy one, get one free, that prices are better than department stores, but the mark up is so high ($100 for jeans), it ends up being comparable after cost-averaging with a free second suit; you just buy twice as much.

What Mr. Zimmerman doesn’t tell you in his ads is that there is a charge for everything in regard to alterations. It’s $20 for coat length, $30 for pant tapering. By the time we were done with alterations on two suits, we spent almost as much on alterations as we did for one suit.

But this piece is about fashion consulting. For the first time, I let someone pick out matching shirts and ties—since none of those fit me anymore, either. I did it because the young lady who waited on me was Asheville funky and I wanted to see what she thought was me and it was interesting. One suit was solid earth-tone, the other gray with a quiet blue stripe.

What were her choices?

I really like periwinkle and orange together, but I’m not sure they fit the occasion or the subtlety of my personality. A paisley silver/gray/black tie on white—yeah, man, that’s me. Dark brown and blue pattern tie with a solid blue shirt—right again. Ecru shirt with a black, gray, brown plaid tie… yep. A checked shirt in white and blue-gray paired with a tie in shades of purple stripes and polka dots of silver/gray garnered the most attention.

I don’t yet know which I’ll wear. Purple has never been a color of choice, but it’s tugging at my sleeve (so to speak). I guess we’ll see come July 6.

As for you, readers… I’ll catch you on the runway.

A Hermit in Social Media Land, By M. Scott Douglass

I have friends. I go to breakfast or lunch with them sometimes. Visit with them—at our home or theirs. I talk with them on the phone and exchange cards and emails. So, I’ve always found the concept of Friending on Facebook or other social media a little amusing. Social media is about networking and making contacts. You can call your contacts friends if you like, but let’s face it, most of the folks we meet and exchange messages with through social media are acquaintances at best. In most cases they are marks: business cards we pick up at a conference to solicit later to sell them something.

Sorry if that tidbit of truth is off-putting or crass to some, but it is what it is. If you are out there in cyberspace posting the things you like, pictures of your family, places you’ve gone, in short, throwing your life online for all to see, what you are really doing is filling out a survey for solicitors and telling what items you may be a potential buyer of.

Google, Yahoo, Bing—all search engines—make money by selling where you’ve been to someone so they, too, can solicit their services or products to you. Go to an online store to buy something specialized like car parts and see how the flavor of the pop-ups you see when you go to that search engine changes.

I’m not trying to denigrate the internet or social media. I think the internet is the greatest invention in the history of civilization and social media is the best and least expensive way to network with like-minded people, but I also think that we must be mindful of how they work. Everyone from marketers to psychologists have been consulted along the way to figure out how to tap this resource of information they have about me and all of us to generate commerce. That’s what makes the internet work and the world go ‘round.

Being a private kind of guy, there are certain things about me I’d like to keep to myself. Given the transparency of how the internet works, I’ve always limited my exposure to social media, but as a business person, I recognize the importance of it. So, I pay someone to be my company rep on Facebook and Twitter. Sorry, but there are only so many hours in a day and frankly, I’d rather be windsurfing on two wheels than sitting for hours in front of a computer or handheld device. I do enough of that already as a graphic designer.

Anyway, as is my habit (ask Google), I’ve taken the long way around what I really want to say. Last week a story broke about our government monitoring phone calls and emails. There are so many things to say about this story, I doubt there’s enough space to cover it all, but let me try.

First, I thought everyone knew that phone calls and emails were subject to monitoring in the post-9/11 era. If you’re using these mediums to share things that might embarrass you (or get you arrested), perhaps these things are not meant to be shared this way (Mr. Weiner).

Second, between the crap some people are willing to put on social media and data mining by search engines, our whole concept of privacy is a perverse joke.

Third, am I the only one who feels inundated with other peoples’ lives at the grocery store, restaurants, even the Post Office? Rarely am I not privy to a personal conversation in an outdoor voice by someone I don’t know. And I suppose these folks are among those outraged by the fact that the government might be listening in. Given where they talk and how loud they talk, how could anyone NOT listen in. This is where I say, Thank God for texting.

And then there are the members of Congress who are offended by this story. Please!!! As if they didn’t know. As if they don’t read those bills they vote on. I’m offended that these yoyos live off the public dole in one of the most expensive and inefficient cities in the world with the express goal of doing nothing.

The bottom line is: If you’re really concerned about privacy and the government listening to your calls or reading your emails, you need to become a techno-hermit. That is: you need to throw away your cell phone and get off the internet altogether. Which is what I intend to do as soon as I’m done posting this blog.

Until the next time I post this blog.

Or read my emails.

Or text my son.

Sometimes it’s Good to Get Lost in the Boonies by M. Scott Douglass

My friend Jan offered us her cottage in the woods for the Memorial Day weekend. This was somewhere we’d never been, a chance for discovery, adventure, get away. Okay, so it’s only an hour and a half from Charlotte, but it was Race Week in Charlotte and that usually includes a special breed of crazy I’d rather not be on the road beside. Get away for a couple days during Race Week…  you betcha.

We arrived at the cottage before noon Saturday. It’s a beautiful house in a nice setting with the Mitchell River gurgling past about 100 feet away; great space for a writer’s retreat. We checked out available supplies, then went into Dobson to shop and spent the rest of the day taking photos and scouting roads we could ride our bicycles on (without getting killed). The Blue Ridge Parkway and Stone Mountain were nearby, so we investigated them and also stopped at McRitchie Winery to help them celebrate their 6th anniversary. We fit a lot into that first half day.

Sunday morning we realized that there was one supply we had overlooked:  coffee. There was a bag in the refrigerator when we arrived, but didn’t realize until we went to make a pot that it was decaf. We are addicts. Not the kind of people you want to fool with when our supply is cut off. There are only two ways we drink coffee: caffeinated or with Bailey’s. At 8am on a Sunday morning in God’s mountains, the latter seemed unlikely. Since we had never visited lovely downtown Elkin, NC and were sure there must be some place to get real coffee there, off we went. Of course, we had to take the back roads.

This is one of those things people don’t learn about me until it’s too late: I like to feel my way around. I’ll take a gazetteer with me, but I’m not into GPS. It takes the fun out of finding your way around. Often I just get in the car and go, counting on an uncanny ability to find my way around to get me there. Hopefully, while I’m stumbling (or ripping) through the countryside, I find something unique or surprising. On this morning, I went right out of the driveway to get to somewhere that was about 20 miles left.

How’d I do?

Well, we got there with a little zigging and zagging. Found a back way to a Waffle House we’d eaten at several times before and could have gotten to in half the time if we’d taken the highway. On the way back, we stumbled over an Antique Shop in Downtown Elkin. Turned out the owners had been sitting in the booth beside us at the Waffle House. Anyway, the four-foot GULF sign is what caught my attention, but inside they had bunches of signs for my shop.

After that stop, it was back to the cottage and a bicycle ride. We decided the road that went by the cottage, though narrow, was fairly safe because it had little traffic and the hills were not too challenging (first time riding for us this year).

We were about a mile and a half into our ride when a couple pulled up in a truck and ask for directions. He asked me—who had been in this neck of the woods less than 24 hours—if I knew how to get to Poplar Springs Road. Boy did he ask the right guy. Poplar Springs Road was the road I was zigging and zagging on earlier on the way to Elkin. I knew exactly how to put him on that same path.