Book Review: Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang


My Goodreads review of Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang:

I’ve never seen her show, but after reading this book I think I understand why it’s on E!

Last weekend I got my Champaign Public Library card and promptly installed the app for checking out e-books. Eager to get started and see how things worked, I borrowed my first library e-book, Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang.

Now, before you lay into me about how stupid that decision was, a few lame excuses:

  1. I did not recognize Chelsea Handler’s name
  2. Although I’d heard of the show Chelsea Lately somehow, somewhere before, I’d never seen it and was therefore unable to make the connection between Handler and E! until after she mentioned it in her book
  3. I’m a sucker for the words “irreverent humor” in a book review or description
  4. Many first-choice titles already had holds placed on them, and I wanted to devour a book, dammit

Just how much of Handler’s memoir is shtick and how much is factual is hard for me to determine. She seems at times to be genuinely atrocious (for example, joking—or maybe not—about euthanizing her father) until she dedicates an entire self-admiring chapter to the ridiculous lies she gets people to believe.

I suppose as readers we’re supposed to have some philosophical, internal debate about whether or not the whole book is a lie. Or about whether Chelsea Handler, the person, is a lie. But that doesn’t work for me. I know people like this in real life—people who get off on making others wonder if they’re genuine or if they’re not—and they’re tedious, off-putting jerkwads.

Ugh. This is why I don’t watch the programming on E! It turns me into Judgy McJudgerson.

Anyway, the book’s saving grace? It’s short, conversational, and well-edited. So if you’re like me and you get some sense of satisfaction from merely finishing a book, you can mark this sucker “read” in a couple of hours.

What I recommend instead of this book: Here Comes Trouble
What I’m reading now: In the Garden of Beasts

 

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What You Should Know (in Less Than 400 Words)

photoIn the last couple of months, I’ve received emails from a few readers feigning harassment over my lack of posts here at Suess’s Pieces. So maybe an explanation is in order. I mean, it’s certainly not my intention that this blog lie stagnant for much longer.

You see, since the end of July a lot’s happened here. I quit one job, started another, put my home up for sale, and moved out of state. (Still waiting on that house to sell, so mortgage and rent right now. Hooray!) And all of that came at me just a couple of weeks after my top-secret Vegas wedding and vacation were canceled due to the death of a dear family member and the hospitalization and death of my 13-year-old dog.

I say that not to get your sympathy—we’re doing okay now—but to remind everyone out there that a real person dedicated all that free time to yanking chains at Author Solutions. And since that was a time-sucking, money-burning endeavor, continuing with regular updates about a company I despised didn’t even rank on my list of priorities.

Besides, with the announcement of the lawsuit against Author Solutions, it seemed like a good time to leave the rest of the investigating and exposing to the pros. The work to warn writers about predatory self-publishing companies continues on sites like Writer Beware and Let’s Get Digital, and the archive of anti-Author Solutions posts remains for anyone with an itch to do consumer research before they hand over their credit card info.

I’ll certainly continue to post juicy updates here and link you to relevant industry info, but it will no longer be the sole focus of this blog.

So, here’s what’s up. I am going to get back to discussing more enjoyable things on Suess’s Pieces. Things like books and writing and libraries and reading and education. I’ll also be welcoming content from others. And I don’t mean guest posts, per se. I mean adding contributors (though those contributors may write for Suess’s Pieces once or a hundred times, depending).

Submission details will be coming soon, but I can say this right now: there’s no money to be had writing here…for you or me! Ha!

The Dangerous Allure of Self-Publishing: 5 Real Lessons from a Fictional Character

by Philip J Reed, of Noiseless Chatter:  television, film, literature, music, and everything else you shouldn’t be wasting your time with

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I’m a huge fan of Peep Show.  It’s a British comedy that’s been running for eight seasons (so far), and a huge part of its appeal is just how painfully awkward it is.  Its two main characters — Mark and Jeremy — aren’t sympathetic at all…and yet they still manage to be extraordinarily relatable.  Watching the show is often a deliberately uncomfortable experience, but it’s never cheap; it’s always married to razor-sharp writing and two brilliant performances.

The most recent batch of episodes, however, managed to make me uncomfortable in a way that the others hadn’t.  That’s because in an installment entitled “Business Secrets of the Pharaohs,” Mark, the put-upon introvert of the show, gets swindled by a self-publishing house.  And while the details are pretty different from what I went through (I’ve been interviewed about it by this very site, if you’re interested) the way the episode explores Mark’s mindset, and the way it makes clear to the viewer what Mark himself is too hopeful to acknowledge, reminded me, uncomfortably, of my own foray into the world of self-publishing.

So I reached out to Emily and asked if I could put this together, in the hopes that an episode like this (which is on Youtube in its entirety, should you decide to look for it…) might help somebody, at least one person, somewhere, keep a level head in the face of the seductive promises of self-publishing.  Hopefully Mark’s embarrassment — and mine — can spare you at least a little of your own.

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1)  Don’t Fall for a Glitzy Image

While the episode is about Mark self-publishing his book, Business Secrets of the Pharaohs, his roommate Jeremy has a thematically-similar plot:  he’s enrolling in a fly-by-night training program to become a life coach.  Interestingly enough, each of the two friends sees exactly what’s wrong with the other’s situation…but neither will admit it about their own.

When confronted, Jeremy shows Mark the same pamphlet that won him over, and explains that “It’s proper.  They’ve got a website.”

Mark’s response to him is one that he — and anyone interested in self-publishing — would be wise to keep in mind:  ”Oh, well, I’m sorry.  If they’ve got a website then the people running it definitely have fingers.  And a computer!  Or at least the address of an internet café.”

Anyone can produce a nice pamphlet, or a flashy website.  Anyone can slap up some customer testimonials.  (When’s the last time you’ve checked one to make sure it was genuine?  Where would you even begin if you wanted to?)  What you have to remember is that pamphlets, business cards and websites are just things.  Anyone can appear successful and can entice you to want to work with them, but ultimately that means nothing.  Or, rather, that means that the person took the time to mock something up.  Genuine or not, that isn’t where your research about the company should end.

Look online.  Find actual reviews from actual past clients.  Ask for copies of books that they’ve published in the past.  Any reputable publisher should be happy to show off their work; if they treat your request like it’s ridiculous, take a moment to wonder why that might be.

It’s great if the services listed on their website line up very well with what you were hoping to see, but bear in mind that their site exists only to sell to you.  It’s no gauge of quality, reliability, or ethics.  Dig deeper.  You might not like what you see, but that’s better than seeing it too late.

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2)  Be Realistic About Your Work

The screengrab above shows the faces of two people who’ve just heard what Mark’s book is about.  Do people look like that when you start describing your own work?  Then you may have to face a difficult fact:  it might not have an audience.

It’s easy for a writer to develop an inflated sense of the value of his or her own material.  I know, because I am a writer, and everything I produce is fantastic.

But you have to be realistic.  Mark, by this point, has spent eight seasons trying to interest a publisher in Business Secrets of the Pharaohs.  And while it’s always possible that a struggling author just hasn’t found the right match for his material, it’s also possible that it’s the material that’s the problem.

Would anyone want to read about your interpretation of the presumed negotiating tactics of a long-dead civilization?  Nobody wants to read Mark’s…but he doesn’t want to admit that to himself.  At one point he even describes it as “an important work of world literature.”  Spoiler:  it’s not.  And it’s important that you can view your own work through a realistic lens as well.

If you can’t find an agent or a publisher for your manuscript, it may be worth looking at the manuscript.  It may be worth looking at your query letters, your sample chapters, and anything else you’ve been sending out.  The answer isn’t to pay somebody to publish your work…it’s to refine your work so that somebody wants to publish it.

Believe me, I know this can be a difficult lesson to learn.  I spent years shopping around a manuscript that went nowhere.  I tried a few approaches, but ultimately came to accept that even if it was a great book, it wasn’t something that many agents or publishers would take a risk on.  I could pay to publish it (there’s always somebody that will be happy to take your money), but instead I decided to work on another project, one that would be more marketable, and serve as less of a risk.  If that gets published, I may be able to find some interest in my earlier manuscript.  But even if it doesn’t, I feel good about taking a constructive approach to the solution.

And you will, too.

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3)  You Need to Do the Work Yourself

At one point in the episode, Jeremy finds Mark at his computer, typing furiously away, unaware that he’s had caps lock on the entire time.  But it’s okay, the friends figure…a publisher would surely correct something like that before going to press.

Obviously this is funny for one very obvious reason, which is that your manuscript needs to be in absolutely perfect shape before you start soliciting.  There aren’t second chances, and you’d be foolish to assume that a publisher who saw a caps-locked screed land on his desk would give you a chance to fix it up later, after you’ve signed a three-book, twenty-million dollar deal.

Then again, Jeremy does have a small point:  if they wanted Mark’s book, truly wanted it, wouldn’t they be willing to make at least a few editorial corrections?

The answer is yes.  Of course they would.

Unless they’re a self-publishing company, in which case that’s an add-on service, and you’ll pay for that.

Whether it’s editing, formatting, promotion, or even a simple spell-check, self-publishers will charge you for everything they do.  And while that may sound like a nice idea for folks who can afford it, it bears repeating that paying for a service isn’t necessarily paying for quality.

My experience working with a self-publisher to fix errors in my book was a nightmare.  It actually ended up making things worse in the final product.  Money well spent, right?

If you’re going to self-publish, you need to make sure that you can handle all aspects of the process on your own.  Don’t count on them to get things right, because there’s no self-publishing agreement in the world that will force them to make good on unsatisfactory work.  The contracts are drawn up to reflect their interests, not yours, and they have nothing to lose if your book fails; they’ve already been paid.  When nobody buys your book, you’re the one who will feel foolish; not them.

You need to do everything on your own.  It’s not enough to be a great writer, or even to be an impeccably careful writer.  You’ll also need to promote the book (assuming its final form is even something you’d want to promote).  Can you do that?  Because if you can’t, self-publishing might not be for you.  You can always pay an exorbitant price for a Promotion Plan…which is usually a pack of simple fliers and a listing in a proprietary magazine no human being will ever read…but unless you’re keen on doing any and all legwork for the life of your book, you’d be better served by a traditional publishing house, which does have an interest in your success.

And that’s where you should be looking.  It won’t be an easy road…but it’s the only road.

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4)  Treat Red Flags As Red Flags

It’s very easy to get swept away by the allure of being a published author.  It’s what we all want, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Unfortunately that’s exactly what self-publishers prey upon.  Poor Mark lacks confidence, he can’t get a publisher interested, and he feels as though he’s a failure.  So when British London accepts his book, he’s ecstatic.  Why wouldn’t he be?  His dream is coming true.

Or, at least, he wants to believe that his dream is coming true.  And so did I.  And so would you.  But we can’t be blind to reality.  It’s important to stay grounded, because if we don’t, we’ll get swept away.  Remember that self-publishing houses are not staffed by agents and editors…they’re staffed by sales people.  They will find out what you want, convince you that self-publishing is the way to get those things, and do anything they can in order to obtain a sum of money.  That is their job.

Throughout the episode Mark fails to notice red flags.  Not because he’s a fool — and you wouldn’t be a fool for being taken in, either; these are very good sales people — but because he doesn’t want to admit that this might be anything less than he wants it to be.

When the representative from British London asks to meet him at a food truck on the side of a highway, it doesn’t even register with Mark.  He even looks at the table of condiments and thinks, “This must be the greatest quantity of squeezable mustard ever present at a literary lunch.”  He’s thinking it in awe…but he should be thinking it in fear!  He sees a red flag, but interprets it as a good sign.

As Mark discusses his book with his representative, it’s clear that the man hasn’t read Business Secrets of the Pharaohs.  It’s equally clear that he doesn’t care about its quality…though Mark interprets this, again, as a compliment, since he has “no notes at all” on the material.

If a publisher has “no notes” on your material…forgive me for saying this…that’s not a reflection on how miraculously brilliant and utterly perfect your first-draft was; that’s a reflection of how little they care about the quality of the pieces they publish.

Does that sound like a compliment to you?

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5)  Admit to Yourself You’ve Been Taken

It happens.  You were seduced.  Part of you knew better, but you were able to keep that part quiet long enough to complete the PayPal transaction.  And now you hold a copy of your book.  Your book!

Only your book is full of errors.  The text disappears into the binding.  Your name is spelled incorrectly on the cover.  You’re heart-broken.  It’s too late to go back.  You’ve humiliated yourself in front of everybody you’ve been bragging to about the publication…and you’re not getting your money back.

This is what happens to Mark, and it’s not any kind of exaggeration at all.  Self-published material is often shoddy.  Somebody makes you big promises, but what you hold in your hands is a physical manifestation of artistic disappointment.

Here’s what I want to tell you about that:  it’s okay.

Really, it is.

You’re not an idiot.  You were taken.  And that’s okay.

Why do I say it’s okay?  Because if you don’t believe it’s okay, you’ll try to convince yourself otherwise.  You’ll convince yourself that next time it will go better.  In short, you’ll do it all over again.  This is why you need admit you have made a mistake.

Mark gets so swept up in the excitement of his impending publication that he spends more time deciding what kind of nuts to serve at his self-financed launch party than he does thinking about whether or not he’s working with a reputable publishing house.  But when the book arrives, with that misspelt name on the cover and the text printed in an unreadable format, he owns his mistake.  He lets everybody at his own launch party know that the book is a disaster, a tragedy, and proof of a broken promise.

His money isn’t coming back, and neither is his pride, but at least he won’t lose more money and pride by trying again.

You’re a human being.  You have desires, needs, and goals.  If you’ve lived long enough to consider yourself a writer, then you’ve lived long enough to know that there are those who will exploit your ambitions for their own personal gain.  In fact, there’s an entire industry out there designed to do exactly that.

Watching “Business Secrets of the Pharaohs” was something I had to do through laced fingers.  Mark’s an intelligent guy who just wants to believe that the universe has offered him a break.  I remember that feeling well.  It’s a nice thought…but it’s no substitute for reality.

Be careful.  Be honest with yourself.  And, for heaven’s sake, keep your wallet in your pocket. You’ll thank me later.

How Google+ is Changing Search Results & How Writers Can Profit

Google plus logoEvery writer longs for the coveted top spot in Google search results—the one that everyone will see and, most importantly, the choice that will receive the most “clicks.”  You’ve composed stellar content, tried to figure out the rules of search engine optimization, but your articles still inhabit pages 8 through 10—the veritable internet no man’s land.  Well, stop banging your head on that wall.  No, really, it’s quite distracting.  There is good news for writers, thanks to Google+.

Here are some ways that Google+ is making life a whole lot easier for writers and bloggers.

  1. Pictures = Clicks

By linking your blog posts to your Google+ account, you will create a search engine result that sets you apart from the rest.  It will have your profile image, and everyone knows that the inclusion of a visual prompt makes it more eye appealing.  And if your eyes are drawn to it, your mouse will likely follow.  Simply put, a professional headshot and a link to your Google+ account will increase your blog’s traffic and readership.

  1. Bios = Clicks

Thanks to Google+, people now have the chance to click on your name, exposing them to a portfolio of your works.  It’s like having your own Google search engine.  And all of the results lead back to you!

Now, potential followers will be re-directed to other posts that tickle their fancy—making them much more likely to join your readership.  If you install a “Google+” recommendation button on your blog, it will also increase your Google+ rankings, which will push your blog further up the search engine results.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

  1. Good Writing = Rewards

Illiterate hacks will not be rewarded by Google+, but literary masters and rapier-witted humorists will.  If someone clicks on a page, but only stays there for a blink of an eye, nothing happens.  After all, the visitor moved on, unimpressed with what they found.

If, however, said visitor stays for a few minutes, captivated by a blogger’s clever prose and sharp intellect, this blogger will reap the rewards for a post well done.  When the visitor presses the “back” button, they will see that your search result has changed.  Beneath the original text, they will see a line that says “more by [insert your name here]” with the links to more of your works.  Yes, your reward is more “clicks” and increased traffic—and that is exactly what every writer hopes for.

  1. Original Works = Rewards

Google+ enables Google’s search engine to verify authorship.  This means that a post by the original author will be much higher in search engine rankings than a copycat’s hack job.  After all, it is your creative property, so you alone should receive the applause.

  1. Separating the Smiths

If you were blessed, or in this case cursed, with a very common moniker, you are likely tired of having your works confused with those of other “Jim Smiths” or “Jennifer Joneses.”  Thanks to Google+ authorship, you can now mark your masterpieces as your own—and set yourself apart from those who only wish they had your talent.  Google’s search engine will finally be able to recognize you as the unique individual that you are—and so will potential followers.

So stop punishing your cranium and create a Google+ profile, instead.  Your writing career and online reputation as a master wordsmith will thank you.  And your landlord will greatly appreciate less holes in his walls.

What tips do you have for maximizing a Google+ following?  How has Google+ helped your career?

Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer and avid blogger. A relative newcomer to the land of “plussers,” she is thoroughly enjoying building up her following. Her Facebook account, however, is feeling rather neglected. She clamors for attention at http://theembiggensproject.wordpress.com/.