Amazon v Hachette: Don’t Believe The Spin

D.A. Adams:

Three sides to every story:

Originally posted on David Gaughran:

amazonhachetteThe internet is seething over Amazon’s reported hardball tactics in negotiations with Hachette.

Newspapers and blogs are filled with heated opinion pieces, decrying Amazon’s domination of the book business.

Actual facts are thinner on the ground, however, and if history is any guide, we haven’t heard the full story. Here’s how it started.

In a historical quirk of the trade, publishers and booksellers negotiate co-op deals at the same time as the general agreement to carry titles. (For those who don’t know, co-op is the industry term for preferred in-store placement, such as face-out instead of spine-out, position on end-caps, front tables, window displays, and so on.)

At publishers’ insistence, the same practice has continued in the online and e-book world, namely that negotiations regarding virtual co-op (e.g. high visibility spots on retailer sites) take place at the same time as discussions over general terms and publisher-retailer discounts.

There is a lot…

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Late Night Nonsense

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My career in education is over. I’ve waited a week and a half to write this entry because I wanted to sift through my emotions first, but now, sitting here alone after midnight and sorting through nearly two decades worth of stuff, I’m still not sure what my emotions are. I know I feel as if I’ve wasted my life and my talents. I feel undervalued, under-appreciated, and under-rewarded for sixteen years of service. I feel trapped by poverty, by a broken body, by a crushed spirit. I feel like my society tricked me into believing one set of values — that hard work, education, and dedication mattered — only to bury me in student loan debt without any means of repaying it because those values in this country today are nothing more than empty platitudes. Right or wrong, that’s how I feel.

I want to write a lot more, but I don’t want to say anything else. I’m going to finish the final book in the Brotherhood series, and from there, I have no idea where my life will go. Somehow, someway I have to find a way to earn enough money to do more than simply survive. My body is too tired, too fragile, and too damaged for survival. On a side note, to the jackasses out there who pirate copies of my books, you’re stealing from a man who can barely keep his lights on month to month. Thanks. I truly hope there is a special room in hell for people like you.

I’m sorry to whine, but there’s little left in my tank. I feel completely and utterly spent in every conceivable way. Hopefully, now that the stress and grind of education are behind me, I will begin to recover somewhat, but right now at this moment, I feel physically and emotionally broken. In the past, I’ve always been able to push through every sort of physical discomfort life has thrown at me, but for some reason, this is different. I don’t know if the neurological stuff has worsened and weakened me or if I’m simply getting older and softer or if I’m just exhausted, but right now, I can’t push through whatever this is.

That’s all for now. Sorry to be such a downer.

The Ramblings of D.A. Adams

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I’ve got a new release out, The Ramblings of D.A. Adams. Some of you will recognize that as the former name of my blog. This release is a collection of some of my favorite entries over the years, along with a few articles I’ve put together, and is available exclusively in ebook format. Please, go grab a copy so I can afford to get some work done to my awful teeth…

Pause, Stop, or Half-Stop

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For several years now, I’ve seen multiple authors who compose writing “advice” pieces share something that disturbs me. The first time I saw it, which was about fifteen years ago, I shrugged it off as the musings of an incompetent hack, but now, as I’ve seen it several times in several places, I’m concerned that it’s indicative of a deeper erosion in the fundamentals of our language. This advice has to do with the use of the semicolon. Actually, to be more accurate, the writers advise not to use it, ever, because it’s a meaningless symbol. The writer and teacher in me bristle at the notion that a piece of punctuation is useless just because they themselves don’t know how to use it.

I don’t want to spend this whole entry on the proper uses of the semicolon because that would be pretty boring, but I feel like a basic explanation is necessary. The period represents a full stop. I’ve ended this thought and am moving on to another one. The comma represents a pause during the course of a thought, perhaps to distinguish between a group of three or more, to set off an appositive, or to illustrate a transitional clause. The semicolon is used when the writer doesn’t quite want a full stop; the two thoughts are somehow connected. It can also be used to separate a complex series such as when the writer needs to describe a place and a character; show deep, intricate emotions; or illustrate multiple actions occurring simultaneously. These uses of the semicolon are relatively simple but are important for conveying subtlety or precision of thought.

It baffles me that anyone would advise not using a tool in the chest, especially one that can offer so much flexibility in the expression of thought. I can’t imagine a master carpenter telling an apprentice not to learn how to use a reciprocating saw because they already know how to use a skill saw. Both tools are important for achieving different kinds of cuts, and knowing how to use each one allows the carpenter to do more on the job site. The semicolon is just a punctuation tool and a relatively simple one at that, so to me, the lack of understanding of how to use it points to a larger issue in our culture: a decline in subtlety of thought and nuance.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. It could just be that the particular people who’ve offered this advice are crappy writers with delusions of grandeur. I don’t know. What I do know is that the semicolon isn’t that difficult a piece of punctuation to master, so to any young writers who stumble across this entry, please, learn how to use the tools of your trade, as many of them as you can. Otherwise, you’re just a jackleg carpenter who can’t properly build a house.

The Personal Tolls of Teaching

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My teaching career is nearly finished. I’m limping along the last few days (nine more working, fifteen calendar, but who’s counting?) with some mixed emotions yet an inner resolve that I’ve made the right choice. I entered this profession because I felt a calling to give something back to my community, and while I never expected to become wealthy as an educator, I certainly didn’t expect to feel like a second-class citizen unable to participate fully in my society because of poverty either. To me, it’s disgraceful that the wealthiest nation on this planet has such disregard for its future that it has abandoned its teachers in such a callous manner. I’m not writing this post because I want pity or sympathy; rather, I simply want to catalog what I see as the overbearing tolls the current system places on educators.

My student loan debt from graduate school is now officially in default, and I will probably never crawl out from under that burden. Those loans ruined my credit early and never allowed me to establish myself financially. In order to work in this profession, I had to return to graduate school for the degree, and there was a plethora of propaganda encouraging me to take on the debt with the promise that in the long-run I would earn back more than I borrowed. However, never in my career has my salary even come close to allowing me to pay back that money. Financially, I would have been infinitely better off not attending graduate school and never teaching. There is absolutely no way this current system of over-inflated tuition and undervalued salary can sustain itself much longer. When that bubble bursts, it will do immeasurable damage to the economy.

Because of my gluten issue, I have bad teeth. A common side-effect of the disorder is that enamel doesn’t form properly, so my teeth have always been soft and susceptible to decay. For at least ten years, I’ve needed major dental work. For at the last three, I’ve needed dentures, but because of the combination of my salary, child support, and damaged credit, I can’t even afford to get my teeth pulled. If someone had told me when I first began college that I could work for sixteen years as an educator, twelve of that full-time, and still not be able to afford basic dental care, I would’ve told them they were crazy, but that’s my simple reality. I cannot continue to work as hard as I have for the majority of my career yet not be able to take care of a basic necessity like my teeth.

Speaking of how hard I’ve worked, for the majority of my career, I’ve averaged at least fifty hours a week to earn my paltry salary. At various times, I’ve also had to take on a second job and put in even more hours. Since I’ve been at WSCC, during the fall semester, I’ve averaged well over sixty hours because of dual enrollment. From mid-August until mid-December, I’ve rarely gotten more than a handful of days off through that stretch. I’ve barely had time to talk to my sons; visiting them or having them here has been impossible. For that four month stretch, my entire life has consisted of driving to work, driving back and forth to the high school, teaching, and grading. By the end of fall semester each of the last five years, I’ve been utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally. When I finally expressed last semester that I could not continue in that roll, instead of finding a workable solution to the horrendous system, my superiors chose to reprimand me. I refuse to remain in a system that puts the bottom line before humanity.

I respect all of you who have expressed reservations about me leaving a profession for which I once had such passion and aptitude, but I’ve sacrificed all I am going to sacrifice for an educational system that has taken much more than it has given back. I understand that our country needs teachers now more than ever, but until this nation makes a real move to treat us as professionals, I’m certain I won’t be the last to abandon ship. At this point in my life and with the direction the system continues to slide, absolutely nothing could make me stay. With whatever time I have left on this earth, I will write, farm, work odd jobs, and do absolutely anything other than teach English to a generation that doesn’t want to learn for an administration that doesn’t care one iota for my health and well-being.

Book Five Underway

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Book five, the final installment of The Brotherhood of Dwarves series, has begun. My current goal is to complete the manuscript by the end of summer and release it near Thanksgiving. Please, stay tuned as I’ll try to post regular updates on here regarding the status of the manuscript. Some of you have been waiting for nine years for the culmination of this story, and hopefully, you’ll find the resolution satisfactory. Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement over the years. I’m blessed and grateful to have you behind me as I close out this series.

While you wait, if you haven’t done so already, please take a minute to leave reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. Book one is only 11 reviews away from hitting 100 on Amazon, and the others still need more reviews, as well. As always, please leave honest critiques that you think will help other readers make an informed decision whether or not my series is for them. I can’t stress enough just how helpful customer reviews can be for books and authors, so please, when you have the time, take a moment and leave your feedback.

One last note, I’m down to two and a half weeks in my education career, so be on the lookout for a couple of posts as I close that chapter of my life and move forward into the next. Again, thank you all for your support. I’m blessed beyond what I deserve.

Is Your Brain a Time Bomb?

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In 1989, when I was a junior in high school, I was struck in the head by an eight pound ball of iron. I suffered a Grade III concussion, a brain contusion, and brain swelling. I survived the incident but to this day suffer symptoms. This post is intended to raise awareness of the long-term effects of brain trauma and Post-Concussion Syndrome for the millions of people who endure living with a wounded brain.

Sensitivity to Light

If you’ve ever had a migraine, you understand how sensitive you are to bright lights. Imagine that times forever, and you’ll get an idea of what photophobia is like. Prolonged exposure to bright light gives me a skull-splitting headache, and it’s a relatively common symptom of severe concussions.  I can’t spend more than five minutes outside without sunglasses, and sometimes, even indoor lighting can be an issue, especially fluorescents. You know, the kind used in virtually every public building ever. So sometimes, I have to wear my sunglasses indoors, as well. No, I’m not trying to emulate the Blues Brothers. I just want to pick up some chips and salsa without feeling like a marching band is practicing inside my skull.

Years ago, some friends took me to an outdoor art exhibit. Naturally, I wore my prescription sunglasses so I could enjoy the day and not end up curled in a corner whimpering. We got invited to an after-party, and because my regular glasses were at home, I was stuck in shades long after dark. Some hipster quipped about the Terminator terrorizing the party, and it drew quite a laugh from the crowd. There’s no explaining photophobia in that moment. There’s only skulking away alienated and humiliated, having just been owned by a hipster.

Headaches Become a Fact of Life

You know those people who refer to every little headache as a migraine? Not the people who suffer from real migraines; a real one will put the strongest person in bed. I’m referring to the people who call the slightest tension headache a migraine. Yeah, I dislike those people. For a full year after the accident, I lived with a constant headache. Some days, it was a dull ache, others a sharp, piercing ice- pick. On bad days, it pounded my skull so violently I questioned benevolence in the universe. After that first year, the headaches became less and less frequent, but I came to know them the way an aficionado knows cigars. To this day, I also get occasional sharp, blinding pains near my scar.

After that first year, once the constant one faded, I learned to ignore most headaches and accept them as my reality. Today, I still rarely acknowledge anything less than a skull-pounder and even those barely slow me down, so whenever a co-worker rubs their temples and whines, “I have such a migraine” I have to squelch the desire to laugh at them. A real headache debilitates you. A real headache puts you in bed and makes every sound and light a test of your will. People who have suffered brain trauma know that any headache that doesn’t land you in bed is merely a nuisance, hardly worth announcing to the world.

Swiss Cheese Memory

Amnesia is a common Hollywood trope for head injuries, but what they never show is the inconsistency of cognitive dysfunction. Since the accident, some days, my memory works flawlessly and I’ll remember the stat line of the punter for the 85 Bucs. Other days, I’ll forget your name as I’m telling you mine. Others, I lose my car keys twelve times. On really bad days, I stare at my keys trying to remember which one goes to what.

Once, I met John Rhys-Davies at a Sci-Fi convention and got to have a real conversation with him. We talked LOTR and Sliders and the back injury he suffered on the set of La Femme Musketeer. The encounter was nearly perfect until, as we were about say farewell, he quoted a line of Shakespeare. As an English major, I scoured the splotchy patches of my memory for the play’s title and noticed the flicker of disappointment on his face. I wanted to explain about my injury, wanted him to know I wasn’t just a dumb bumpkin, but once more the moment was lost.

Sleep Disruption

Insomnia is a frequent condition after a brain injury. Some nights, I merely have difficulty falling asleep, but once I do, I rest through the night. Some nights I sleep for twelve hours. Some nights, nothing works. On those nights, especially when a few string together, I crave rest so badly, I contemplate hitting myself in the head to see if that will allow me to sleep. Of all the side effects I endure, I feel this one has the most stigma. Go-getters are early risers, but my internal clock has shifted so obtusely noon is now the crack of dawn. None of my friends or family understand why I don’t just sleep like a normal person, and no matter how many times I try to explain that I can’t because of the injury, I still feel like they’re judging me. I look fine. That injury happened years ago. Surely I’m over it by now.

When I got my assistantship teaching assignment in grad school, the department had assigned classes alphabetically, so guess who got two 8:00 AM classes?  Guess how many of my “friends” jumped at the opportunity to trade with me?  For my final year of grad school, I ran on three hours sleep a night, at most. If there can be any positive spin, at least I had time to grade all those papers.

 Nobody Can See the Mark

One of the most difficult aspects of head trauma is that no one can “see” what’s wrong. Even standard imaging techniques like MRIs and CT scans can only detect the subtle changes to the brain while it’s in a resting state. If neurologists can’t detect it, how can the average person? If I come to work on an hour’s sleep because my insomnia kicked in, I sometimes hear whispers through the grapevine that I stayed out all night drinking. If only. When I wear my shades in my office with the lights off, those whispers escalate. If I turn down 8:00 AM assignments, I’m simply lazy. After explaining the accident for the zillionth time, I watch their eyes travel up and down my body, searching for some physical sign of impairment, and even after I show them my scar or let them touch the dent in my skull, the doubts still linger in their eyes.

A few years ago, a colleague slipped and fell on a patch of ice in the parking lot. She had no visible injuries but suffered a concussion from the whiplash of the abrupt fall. Because she “looked” fine, our superiors couldn’t grasp why she couldn’t handle her usual workload. But I understood. All those tiny blood vessels and axons and synapses, as fragile as snowflakes, were violently shaken in a way nature never intended. I reassured her that in time she would find herself again and adjust to her new reality because I had managed to do so, and I spoke up for her with our superiors. Still, because we show few if any external signs of damage, they have a hard time grasping that our impairments are just as real as someone who has lopped off a finger. 

It Forces You to Change Your Life

When you’re in a crowd, your brain is able to process almost all the information subconsciously while you consciously focus on whatever you’re doing. For me, however, crowds are a nightmare. When too many people are moving in too many directions and having too many conversations, my brain becomes overloaded and within a few minutes, I can become completely disoriented. You can try to avoid crowds, but just like light, you’ll soon realize crowds are everywhere. So I take back roads with less traffic, shop during off hours, and work jobs that offer solitude. I don’t often go to live sporting events or concerts or even restaurants because the cacophony of noise and motion still completely overwhelms my brain a quarter of a century removed from the accident.

The worst example of this sensory overload occurred at another convention where I was attending as a guest author. I arrived a night early to get my badge, find my panel rooms, and have a plan, hoping to avoid the crowds as much as possible. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same plan because as the escalator deposited me into the lobby, I found myself in the middle of at least two thousand people, elbow to elbow. Within seconds, my senses were overwhelmed, and I struggled through the throng to find an exit sign.  The disorientation was so bad I had to withdraw from the convention and spent three days at home to recover. Isn’t there a line somewhere about the best laid plans?

It Also Changes Your Personality

Many people know about Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who underwent a major personality change after suffering a brain injury. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t take a tamping iron fired through the skull to make a difference. After the injury, I became much more introverted and quiet. Like many who’ve suffer severe concussions, I’ve battled depression. Mood swings are common as well.

Not long after the accident (I think I still had my stitches – all 36 of them) my pickup truck stalled and wouldn’t refire. I tried and tried and tried to start it, and with each unsuccessful attempt, my frustration escalated. In a fit of rage, I hopped out of the truck, grabbed a shovel from the bed, and proceeded to beat on the hood until I couldn’t lift the shovel again. Before the accident, I rarely lost my cool, but in that first year after, I was a walking rage machine. Today, it takes quite a bit to push me to that point because I’ve learned to check the cauldron of emotions as they course through me, but if I do reach it, something will probably get broken.

Also before the accident, I was highly analytical and serious-minded with a nearly photographic memory. Afterwards, while much of my analytical ability remained intact, in addition to the memory issues, I became much more creative and free-spirited. While neuroscience still can’t fully explain why this happens, one plausible theory is that it’s akin to Frontotemporal Dementia. Because of the rewiring that occurs, the interactivity within different regions of the brain changes, resulting in a fundamental shift in cognition. More than likely some mechanism that inhibited creativity was damaged by the accident, which “turned on” my latent creative skills. In extreme situations, this can lead to Acquired Savant Syndrome, such as the case of Alonzo Clemons, who suffered a brain injury at three and developed a profound mastery of sculpting despite not being able to tie his own shoes.

Your Brain Becomes a Time Bomb

The weird thing about concussions is once you’ve had one, you’re more likely to get one again; after your first concussion, your chances of getting a second go up 400 freaking percent. And subsequent concussions can be catastrophically bad, even if you don’t have apparent permanent damage from the first. This is because if you only damage a small number of neurons, your brain figures out a way to work around it. The damage is still there, but you don’t notice it, which may falsely lead you to believe that your brain is as healthy as it ever was. Since those connections never heal, another concussion can destroy enough of them your brain can’t work around it any more, leading to more serious problems. Another complication that can arise is called Second Impact Syndrome, where after a concussion, even the slightest bump on the head before the brain has sufficiently healed causes it to rapidly swell inside the skull. Though rare, the mortality rate for SIS is about 50%, and the permanent disability rate from it is nearly 100%.

I cannot stress this point enough. People who have suffered severe brain trauma have to accept that their brain should not be exposed to additional risks. I struggled with this fact for years because I had been a competitive athlete, and after the accident, I felt compelled to continue to prove my toughness. Today, a quarter of a century removed, I recognize the folly of that thinking. Just surviving the incident is tough enough. Your body may still be strong and virile. Your muscles and bones may not have suffered permanent damage from the head trauma, so you sometimes may believe yourself still capable of competing in the sports you love. But your brain is permanently injured. You have to accept that fact and not expose yourself to further damage.

In college, I drove a delivery truck on the weekends. It was a refurbished moving truck with one of the rear doors that slides up like a garage door. One night, the door didn’t open fully, and in the darkness I couldn’t see it as I stepped up into the cargo bay. My forehead slammed into the aluminum guard full force. As I crumpled to the wooden bed (luckily falling into the truck and not three feet down to the concrete parking lot) my final thought before I lost consciousness was that I had just killed myself. Later that night, when I finally made it home, I couldn’t figure out how to make a tub hold water. Fortunately, I recovered with no further permanent damage, but from that moment forward I became much more protective of my head.

Your Health Becomes an Uncertainty Forever

Since brain damage can manifest symptoms in countless ways (or not at all), I constantly find myself wondering every time my eyelid twitches if it’s just normal body behavior, or if it’s my nervous system starting to break down. Having a concussion puts you at much higher risk for diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The Mayo Clinic found that even a mild concussion made you four times more likely to develop Parkinson’s, and another study found that three or more concussions made you five times more likely to suffer early-onset Alzheimer’s. Additionally, multiple concussions can cause Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is the degenerative brain disorder that has prompted the NFL to address the concussion issue. And until neuroscience progresses further, there’s no real way to predict if you’ll get it until you start exhibiting symptoms.

Ever since the accident, if I hold my arm a certain way, my left index finger pulses involuntarily. For twenty-two years, I thought little of it, other than slight embarrassment when it occurred while I taught. Three years ago, my left hand began trembling more frequently and would occasionally cramp in a way that drew my fingers together in a twisted knot. I began experiencing other symptoms that mirrored MS and Parkinson’s. For six or seven months, while doctors ran test after test with no answers, I lived in absolute terror that the accident had slowly degenerated my brain to a lethal point. It turned out to be an unrelated issue concerning gluten sensitivity, and today, I won’t say I’m back to normal, but as long as I completely avoid gluten, I do fairly well with it. But the lingering effects of that scare are that I can no longer tell if I’m aging normally or degenerating more rapidly than my peers. I now fear every sharp pain near my scar, pains I ignored for twenty-two years because they were simply my reality. And where I once shrugged off the memory lapses, I now question if my recall is worsening or if I’m just imagining it. Those fears are real, as real as any of the other side effects, and living with those constant concerns for my brain’s health can become rather tedious.

You Slowly Gain Acceptance and Adapt

Despite all these limitations and discomforts, over time, I’ve learned to accept my reality. The process wasn’t easy, and for the first five or six years after the accident, I wallowed in self-pity over everything it had taken from me. Then, one day, the epiphany struck me that I was lucky just to be alive. I’ve since learned, through years of trial and error, to find pleasure in the things I can still do and let go of the things I can’t. I’ve learned to appreciate the little things because I know firsthand the fragility of life.

I’ve learned to stop trying to conform to society’s expectations of who it thinks I should be and embrace the reality of who I am.  I’m one who has survived a trauma that should have killed me, and that fact alone is pretty special. I’ve carved out my niche based on the skills the accident unlocked, and I’ve learned to be grateful for each and every day regardless of how many times I lose my keys or misplace my sunglasses because I’m simply still here.

If you’re living with the effects of Post-Concussion Syndrome, please know you’re not alone. Please know that you can carve out a fulfilling life if you learn to work within and around your limitations. You’ll never again be the person you were before your trauma, but in time, you can find the new you, one who is a survivor, one who discovers new talents you never knew you had, and one who finds pleasure in the little things. In time, you too can learn to operate within the boundaries of your wounded brain.

D.A. Adams is bestselling author of The Brotherhood of Dwarves series and a survivor of severe brain trauma. You can follow him on Twitter @authordaadams

A special thank you to Chris Radomile, who assisted with the development of this article. You can follow him on Twitter @raddystuition

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