It’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Writer – Kindle Part Two

It has taken me a while to get back to writing the second part of this, because I’ve already been taking my own advice. It really is a great time to be a writer, and I wanted to capitalize on the changes I’ll be telling you about here in this post. In fact, I wrote a whole book between September 15th and October 15th. Actually, I finished around the 12th of October if I remember correctly, and since then I’ve been editing and revising as madly as I wrote it. Yes. That was me. I did that! 120,000 words worth at the time, though it’s since crept up to 125,000 with the addition of some new scenes I felt were necessary. (I’ll be announcing a release date soon, and sharing the cover design around that time.)

In this day and age anyone can be a published author. I really do mean anyone. Even me. You don’t have to go through stacks of envelopes, a zillion e-mails, or receive a hundred rejection letters. No, you can let your readers decide whether or not they like your books, not some executive sitting in the ivory tower of traditional publishing. Let’s face it. Readers know what they want far better than some stranger.

Traditional publishers try to convince authors that they can’t go it alone. Well, here’s where my true-false meter flashes a big, red light. They’re lying to you on three counts. One, it’s entirely possible to go it alone. Two, you really don’t have to be alone out there. Three, the majority of writers who go through a traditional publisher often end up going it alone anyway. There is very little support for a writer when it comes to promotion. You have to hire your own people for that.

The best you can expect from your traditional publisher is to be included in the information they send out to book stores. You don’t usually get any bookmarks to hand out, they don’t book radio and television appearances, and they don’t take out ads promoting your book. You have to do all that yourself. And for all that nothingness that you get from them, what’s the bottom line? About ten or fifteen cents per book sold.

In other words, to receive about $40,000 per year you would have to sell up to 400,000 copies of your book. That year and every year thereafter. Pretty tough to make a living as a writer under those circumstances. Sure, the idea is that you’re going to write more books, and then the effect would be cumulative, but why would you want to give all that money to a traditional publisher anyway? What have they done for you lately?

So, here’s the deal. Self-publishing used to be a great way for printing companies to gouge desperate authors. The industry has cleaned up a great deal, however, and now it’s at the point where publishing a book can be completely free, or so ridiculously cheap that it might as well be. It all depends on what you need the self-publishing company to do. If you publish through Kindle, the formatting costs absolutely nothing. Same with CreateSpace, which is the print-on-demand side of Amazon, as opposed to the e-book only side. CreateSpace will try to up-sell you on stuff, but if you have any competence with a computer this should be a non-issue. Or you can go to websites like Fiverr and pay someone $5 to do the work for you.

The same holds true for cover design. If you’re no good at graphics, and you don’t know anyone who is (and who would be willing to do it for free), there are a lot of cover designers on Fiverr, as well as a number of very reasonably-priced graphic artists out there who specialize in cover design. Believe me, you want someone good. I did a mock-up of the cover I want done, but it totally sucks as it is. That’s why I’m having my daughter deal with the heavy-lifting there. Your cover is what will sell your book, far more so than the blurb that accompanies it. As a reader, I know very well that I tend to skim the back-cover paragraph. If I see certain keywords I’m happy, but the cover has to get me to pick up the book in the first place. If my daughter can’t come up with something really grabby, then I’m going to talk to some of the wonderful folks on Fiverr.

My book’s cover art is a bit of a challenge, however. It’s hard to define it in an image. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but can you encapsulate 125,000 words in a single image? Well, I guess we’ll see what we can come up with there.

As for the rest of it, the resources that are out there if you do a simple Google search are amazing. Truly amazing. So many blogs and articles about how to take on different aspects of writing and self-publishing. Everything from the nuts and bolts of forcing yourself to sit down and write, to the hundreds of ways you can market the finished product (including how to time your promotions for the best results). There are some really great ways to promote your books that are completely free. Things like joining pages and groups on Facebook that include people with an interest in the topics your book centres around. For example, my book deals with preparedness and survival, along with an oncoming end-of-the-world scenario. So, any page that talks about those things has the potential to help me market my book (I should say ‘books,’ since this is the beginning of a trilogy).

A great way to market your book is through those e-mail lists I mentioned in my last post for Kindle readers. BookBub and Sweet Free Books are two of them. There’s also FreeBooksy, which I just discovered recently. You can hire people from Fiverr to promote your books for $5, through banner ads, radio shows, or podcasts. I mean, seriously, what’s $5 when it comes to advertising and promotions. BookBub, Sweet Free Books and FreeBooksy cost way more than $5, usually, unless they’re running a special. Currently Sweet Free Books is actually $5, but that could change at any time, so always look at their pricing. Last time I looked, I think it was 99-cents. Some e-mail sites require your books to have a certain number of reviews on Amazon, or a rating of a certain amount. BookBub can go out to as many as a million (or more) people, however, and their rates of return are really quite good. Well worth the hundreds of dollars they charge (and the amount depends on the genre and listing type – whether you’re offering your book free or for discounted rates).

Amazon has a built-in tool for marketing that I’d suggest you use if you publish through Kindle. It’s Kindle Select (check out this article for tips to leverage it). It means agreeing to a 90-day exclusivity contract, so you cannot publish through any other e-publisher, no matter what format it is, and you can’t give your e-books away to anyone unless it’s through the 5 free days they give you as an optional promotional tool. This does not apply to any print versions of your books. The reason I suggest you use it is two-fold. First, because your book automatically gets marketed through Amazon – are you really going to get any better advertising than that? Second, your book goes into their Kindle lending library, from which you make a percentage of the royalties. People can read your book for free by subscribing to the service, but you still get paid. If you’re looking for exposure, this is one great way to get it.

Seriously, when it comes to marketing, the options are myriad to the point of being limitless. I’m the kind of person who despises selling. Marketing is just not something I want to spend any time on at all. I’m going to have to, of course, but I’ll be very picky about what I’m doing. Mostly that means paying someone else to do it, but I’m also a cheapskate, so that means I’ll be paying as little as possible at the very beginning. I’ll funnel book profits back into marketing on a sliding scale. If I can afford it, I’ll do it, because the only way to sell your books is to let people know you’ve written them. Bestseller Labs has some really great advice on its site that you should check out, too.

So, what’s the bottom line on profit? Okay, most writers write because they have a compulsion to do so. They really do it for love, if they’re any kind of writer. (I’ve been doing it since I was twelve. Not that I was any good at that age, but I was still writing. I’m 44 now, so I’ve had writing in my head for 32 years. I wasn’t writing the whole time in a physical sense, but my head was always telling stories to me.) However, people still need to eat, so we all have to make money at doing things if we don’t want to starve. Kindle offers you up to 70% royalties, and CreateSpace offers up to 60%. I’m focusing on those for two reasons. One, their royalties really are the highest I’ve found. Two, this article has Kindle in the title. I will be using them both, because I want print version of my books. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but it’s also a vanity thing. I want them in my house. I want to be able to give them out. When I read I tend to read e-books these days, but it’s pretty damn hard to sign and hand out e-books.

What do those royalties come down to? Well, let’s do the math. If you have a trade paperback selling for ten bucks (which is extremely cheap these days) through a traditional publisher, and you only get ten or fifteen cents per copy sold, you have to sell up to $4 million in books every year to your readers to get $40,000 per year. If you’re getting seventy cents on the dollar, however, in order to get that much in annual income you only have to sell a little over $57,142 worth of books per year. You can easily charge $2.99 a book and still make out like a bandit, only having to sell about 19,048 copies each year. In other words, your readers have to shell out seventy times more money, just so you can earn a semi-decent income, if you choose to publish the old way.

If you’re writing a series, the options are amazing when it comes to promotion and sales. You absolutely must take advantage of this stuff if you’re writing a trilogy, or a giant series. For one thing, every single book in that series will work to promote all the other books. Your sales will increase exponentially, if people like what they’re reading.

This blog is a good example of that, if you think about it. When I first started writing it my readers were pretty thin on the ground. As time went on, even though I don’t have a serious theme going here, I got a lot more readers. That’s because they’ve clicked on something they found on Google, and ended up getting sucked into the black hole of my brain. I’ve been writing a lot fewer posts, and getting a lot more activity on each post, yet without much in the way of promoting them. Half of what I write on here is just to chat with the people who have become loyal readers. Okay, maybe more than half – I’m not really sure, since I just write what I feel like writing. When I do have a post that has some seriousness to it, I’ll usually promote it a little bit through HootSuite, which shoots it out to all my social media platforms.

At the end of a Kindle book (at least it works this way for the Android app), Amazon automatically asks for a rating of the book. If the book is part of a series, Amazon knows this (assuming the author entered that information correctly when they published their books), and it will direct the reader to other books in the series, as well as other books written by the same author. I’ve bought a lot of my books this way. I start out with a free book, but then the rest of the series I willingly pay for if I’m hooked. It’s perfect for readers and authors. Readers find new authors they love, and writers can promote a series of books.

Offering books for free can be a very good idea for other reasons, too. You see, Amazon has a ranking system for all books, and your rank is based on how well your book is doing within its genre. Picking your category is extremely important (see this article for an explanation on categories and what they can mean for authors), because the fewer books there are in a genre, to more likely you are to rank high. The higher you rank, the more likely Amazon will help to promote you. Your book may end up going out to millions of potential buyers, without you having to do the heavy-lifting. I know, if your book is always free then it’s not possible to make money from it. However, the idea is to space out your free promo days (Kindle Select will give you five of them that you can schedule based on your own needs, if that’s the promo type you choose), so that you spike your readership enough to increase your ranking. And if you’ve already got another book published that’s part of the same series, then you’re getting massive promo for it.

Honestly, I cannot begin to cover everything I’ve learned about self-publishing in a single blog post. People dedicate entire blogs to just the marketing end of it. All I can do is tell you that I’m convinced it’s the best option for me when it comes to publishing my own novels. A traditional publisher would have a long way to go to convince me that it was worth signing a contract with them. What they do offer is massive editing and proofreading, plus professional cover design. All of those are available through freelancers, however, and just for the record, the top five things of importance when it comes selling a book are these: Good writing, a good story, a top-notch cover, pristine editing, and marketing. If you want your book to succeed it really should have all five of those elements. Not every successful book does, but if you want to guarantee you sell oodles of books, you should do everything you can to have every one of them in place. And you don’t need a traditional publisher to do that.

It’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Reader – Kindle Part One

First let me start out by saying that I’m an absolutely voracious reader. I consume books at a very rapid rate, and I’m addicted to them. If I don’t have at least one more book lined up for when I finish the one I’m currently reading, I feel very anxious. I need my fix. So, believe me when I tell you that if there are more free books out there than even I can keep up with (and they’re in my favourite genres), I’m not blowing smoke. In fact, my phone is now completely overloaded with books waiting to be read. The vast majority of those books were completely free, and I downloaded them legally from Amazon.

So let me tell you how it works. No, it’s not a gimmick of any kind where you have to jump through any hoops other than technological ones in the form of downloading the Kindle app and the books themselves. There are two websites out there that I will recommend that sends you daily e-mails about free or nearly-free books. They don’t send you anything else. No spam at all. One is called Sweet Free Books, and the other is BookBub. The other thing you’ll need is an Amazon account. Just do their free sign-up thing if you don’t already have an account.

Both mailing lists ask you for your genre preferences, and that’s what they send you for recommendations, which include the Amazon link for getting the books you choose at that price. Now sometimes these deals go fast, but usually I can try the next day and they’re still there – some last much longer.

This works whether you have a physical Kindle or not. If you have a smartphone or a computer, you can read Kindle books. They have a downloadable app for iOS, Android and BlackBerry. They even have it for Windows phones. They also have the app for your Windows PC, and possibly others. Just go to this link for the various apps. They can send it direct to your phone or e-mail you a link.

Personally, I didn’t like reading on my laptop. Reading on my phone, however, is a totally different story. You can change the font size, type and colour, it’s convenient, and you can carry dozens of books around with it – potentially thousands, depending on your phone’s memory capacity. You can also move the Kindle app to your replaceable memory card, so you have a lot of storage capability for books. It is so much more convenient (and lighter) than carting your current books around, and then your next one just in case you finish the one you’re already reading.

The other thing people need to know about, is that you can look at books by genre and sort by price on Amazon, and you’re going to find hundreds of free books available to you at any given moment. This is where I’ve managed to increase my collection so quickly. One or two books a day is great, and probably more than I’m going to be able to read, but I’m a total hoarder when it comes to reading material.

One more area to scavenge for free reading material are places that store out-of-copyright, or public domain books. After a certain number of years books lose their copyright status. It’s usually somewhere between fifty and a hundred years after the death of the author, depending on which country you live in (and I believe it’s the reader’s country of origin, not the author’s, but I could be wrong). So, if you’ve been looking to catch up on the classics, those are great places to start. Project Gutenberg has a huge collection. Google Books is doing some sort of online indexing now, too, but I haven’t ventured into that except when researching specific topics and I haven’t downloaded anything. Keep in mind that the major databases have books in multiple formats, so if you have a Kindle app you’re looking for the mobi format. Sony has a reader, as does Nook, and Kobo, etc., so make sure you pick the right file format.

However, if you’re looking for a book on one of those sites and it’s not available in mobi, you can download what they do have and convert it very easily using Online-Convert.com. I use this site for so many different things, and I have for years. The conversion works perfectly as far as I can tell. The link I’ve provided is for converting everything from Word documents to PDFs to LIT into mobi files. They also have audio and video converters on there, so it’s a really helpful website for pretty much anyone. I used to use the Microsoft reader, so I’ve got tons of books I’ve had to convert from LIT to mobi.

Let me reassure you once again that everything I’ve told you here is legal. These are books that are either out of copyright, or the authors have chosen to give the Kindle versions of their books away. Now this is the only part of the whole thing that you might be able to call a ploy. The reason authors give away their books is because they’re hoping you’ll love their work and want to buy the rest of them. Now for those of us who love books, paying for a book isn’t a hardship if we can afford it. We want to support the authors, because we want them to keep writing, and a good book is well worth its price. This works especially well when an author has written a series, and at the end of the first book, which they’ve given away free, there’s a link not only to rate the book, but also to purchase the next book(s) in the series.

I’m perfectly okay with that. In fact, it makes things really convenient for me if I love what I’m reading. In most cases the subsequent books are also very reasonably priced. Indie authors are doing this all the time, and they can afford to when they publish with Kindle. Amazon gives authors great royalty percentages on their books, unlike traditional publishers where authors will often make only a dime or so per book sold. Kindle authors can sell a book for under a dollar, and still make five times as much on it as they would have with a traditional publisher. They’re cutting out the biggest middle man. Amazon would be there anyway at the end of the retail chain, but suddenly the reader is no longer paying the bloated salaries of publishers that don’t really do much to help their authors anyway.

“Yeah, but are the books any good?” I can hear that question a thousand miles away. There is an absolute plethora of amazing authors out there, publishing independently. I have friends who have written great books, like the Time Change series written by +Alex Myers. They’re great books, fast-paced, fascinating, and with a ton of research put into them. No, I’m not saying those are free. I got copies of them so I could review the first one, and he was kind enough to send me a couple more of his books because I was so thrilled with the first one I read. I’ll be re-reading the first two Time Change books shortly, because I plan to buy the third one.

That’s the magic of being a reader (or a writer, which I’ll get into in the second part of this blog when I write it), in this ‘day and age’ as they say. There’s a connection between reader and author unlike anything that’s come before. Indie authors are approachable usually. Often they’re looking for feedback on their work. I read a book recently that was a really great story, but badly needed editing, so I e-mailed the author. I explained that I’d given him four stars on Amazon, and my reasons for not giving him five. Seriously, though, if you do that please be kind. Authors can be very sensitive. A story or book can be like one of our offspring, and we want everyone else to love it, too. Make any criticism constructive. I try to be very careful about what I say, and how I say it, because if I like someone’s work enough to want to go to the effort of critiquing it like that, I really want them to continue writing.

Thankfully the author I wrote to seemed to agree with what I’d said, and told me that I had given him new encouragement to finish the sequel. As I said, magic. He knows that there’s a fan out there who likes his brainchild enough to help it grow up a little bit. And he’ll be letting me know as soon as it’s available so I can read it right away.

Of course, it’s not just unknown or indie authors that are giving deals. I get quite a few that are New York Times Bestselling authors. Alice Hoffman, who wrote Practical Magic (yes, the one that became the movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman), recently released a book that ended up on my e-mail list of deals. It’s a great marketing tool. A few people get the book and start raving about it, and soon others are buying it at full price, or at least buying other books by the same author.

I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian, apocalyptic fiction lately. A fair bit of zombie stuff, along with a few aliens, and a disease or two wiping out most of the population. It’s a pretty specific interest area, but as I said there’s an absolute plethora of free books on Amazon. Barnes & Noble does the same thing, but at a smaller volume, so I haven’t bothered with a membership with them. I don’t need it.

One series I read recently (that started with a free book), was just wonderful. I don’t know the author personally, though I might e-mail her just to beg her to write another book. Her name is Sarah Lyons Fleming, and the first book in the series is, “Until the End of the World.” There are three novels in the series, and one novella. At first glance the title made me think it was going to be a romance. Sure, there are relationships in it, but the main theme in the books revolves around a zombie apocalypse caused by a virus developed by the army. The main character’s parents were what are called ‘preppers’ who were of the homesteading type. They had backpacks ready to go at all times, a cabin with solar capabilities, canned food to last for years, you name it. Since I’m already personally interested in the topic, the stories were great from that perspective alone. On top of that, I fell in love with the characters. Important people die, and you actually care that they’re gone.

As you can imagine, I posted a great review for all of the books, other than the novella which I just haven’t gotten around to posting yet, except for giving it the five stars through my phone app.

The abundance of book is like a utopia for me, as I (ironically perhaps) read about dystopias. Those e-mails from BookBub and Sweet Free Books are ones that I eagerly anticipate each day, wondering what new literary treasure awaits me. Don’t get me wrong. I have hundreds of actual books on my shelves. I prefer hardcover when it comes to reference material I keep for my research, or even oversize softcover. I need to be able to glance over at the page continuously sometimes, and my phone shutting off automatically would get annoying for that. However, it’s just easier to relax with my phone for recreational reading, and outright reading of non-fiction.

If you’re a reader (and I assume you are if you’re even bothering to read this particular post), you’ll be ecstatic if you delve into these waters. They’re filled with wonderful stories, and every story that you read makes you a better person. Fiction teaches understanding and empathy in people, so if your kids have smartphones encourage them to read on them instead of spending hours on social media. There’s nothing more important to the development of human beings than reading, and the freedom to read as we like. From the time I got so angry reading Fahrenheit 451 that I threw the book across the room when they started burning books in the story, I’ve fervently believed that reading was vital. I was a young kid doing a book report – fifth grade I believe, because I remember who my teacher was – yet, books were so important to me even then.

I never finished reading Bradbury’s book, though I will someday, but my teacher didn’t punish me or give me a bad grade. In fact, I wrote the report based on what I’d read so far, if I remember correctly, and then explained what happened to my teacher. She was actually rather impressed by my ferocious love of books, and I got a really good mark.

Escapism is necessary to a healthy psyche. It helps us cope when things are difficult, allowing us a release valve. Some forms of escapism are harmful, though, whereas reading is not. The more we read, the more we open our minds and hearts. The more people in this world who do that, the more likely humanity is to move forward, rather than petering out.

Now, turn on that device and get downloading! Happy reading everyone!!

Brushing Up Against Rental Fraud

The phrase, “Too good to be true,” was invented for a reason. Seriously. With my daughter and I looking for a new apartment, and not having a lot of time left to do it in unless we talk our current landlord into letting us stay another month, we’re looking at every advertisement online and culling out anything that seems decent. I’m even going into strange rental sections on Kijiji, like “Others,” just for the hell of it.

It was there we found the apartment of our dreams. Or so one might think. However, it could easily have turned into a nightmare if I were of a less suspicious bent. Believe me when I tell you there are con-artists everywhere, and it’s our disbelief that anything so unusual could happen to us that aids them in their victimization.

Imagine this, if you will:

2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, all appliances, all furniture, all utilities included. [Insert stunning description here along with 5 equally stunning photographs.] $819.00 per month.

Contact is made via e-mail, and more photos are sent. They’re not looking to make a profit, or turn it into a business, etc. They just want the apartment rented out to someone responsible so it’s not sitting there empty. They will buy a plane ticket to come show you the place, but they need you to do them a favour and place an ad for their spouse’s old apartment – apparently they are unable to do so because they are currently overseas and the classified ad website will not allow people overseas to place ads on the Canadian site. They dangle the carrot of removing the ad so that you’ll be the only prospective tenant.

Being of a suspicious and cynical nature, I took a good look at the ad before I even contacted them the first time. I decided I might as well check it out. If it was a scam, no harm done. Being of that suspicious and cynical nature, I did not send them anything other than our names and phone number, and I wasn’t about to send anyone any money, so I wasn’t concerned.

The first response was a long e-mail, and asked us to let them know if we’re interested. I said I was, and we wanted to view the place. I asked them to send the application, because I figured we could fill it out and give it to them when we saw the apartment. (I wasn’t sending them anything with personal details by e-mail.) The ‘application’ was a few questions in their reply e-mail, along with a request for a picture (that was not mandatory). I replied vaguely, saying my daughter has a full-time job in a factory and I’m on disability. When I came to the question about references I said I would provide references when we viewed the place. With my name and references they would be able to obtain my current address, and it’s more information than I want a stranger to have through these means.

No, I didn’t send a picture. I couldn’t see any valid reason why a prospective landlord would need a picture, and believe me when I say that sent up big red flags with sirens blaring and strobes flashing. My first thought was that the place might be real, but have hidden cameras for underground porn videos of the peeping Tom variety. So I figured if we viewed the place I’d be looking very carefully at mirror placement, and behind anything mounted on the walls.

The next e-mail was when they said they’re more than happy to book a flight back here to show us the apartment, but they needed our help in placing an ad for his wife’s old place so they can take care of that at the same time. Yeah…right. Just like the people who have fifteen million dollars waiting to be taken out of a bank account, but they need you to do it for them, and it doesn’t look like they’re asking much – and certainly nothing that will cost you anything – but it generally results in a person being stripped of their life savings.

My response was polite, because it’s just barely possible the apartment is real. However, I made it clear that it was their responsibility to be available for viewings, and if they found it inconvenient to do so, they could hire a property management firm. They have the added benefit of being licensed, and can run credit checks for prospective tenants as well. Or they could book a whole bunch of viewings all at once. This person said in the last e-mail that ‘he’ had come up here once before and the person hadn’t shown up – gee, people who break promises? Who’da thunkit? This is an old trick used by scammers who are trying to reassure someone by showing they know how that feels, and implies that they, themselves, would never do such a thing.

I also made it clear that, whatever they wrote in an e-mail, we did not know them. We were not going to place an ad for them which might result either in us being victimized or being accused of collaboration in a scheme meant to defraud others. I apologized, just in case they were on the level, but I very much doubt that they were.

After sending that last e-mail I started to do some research. I found an article in the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper from 2009. It details how a woman lost $1200 in almost identical circumstances. In her case the gentleman had relocated from Winnipeg to New Jersey, but was currently in London. She sent $800 for a month’s rent, and $400 for a damage deposit. When she requested keys he demanded another $1200 before he was apparently willing to send them. Once the situation was investigated it was discovered that there was no one in the building by that name, and it was managed by a property management firm with no ties to this person. The police could do nothing. After all, she had sent her money out of the country.

Kijiji warns on every page that a person should never give money to someone they haven’t met in person. Their classified ads are meant for person-to-person sales, whether it’s an apartment or a bicycle. Near-identical ads for ‘dream’ apartments have appeared in major cities all over Canada, and I don’t doubt that they appear in most other countries as well.

People want to believe they’ve found a place to live. It hits in a vulnerable area, especially during a time when it’s difficult to find an apartment. In the last two and a half years since we moved into this apartment, rent prices have gone up considerably, and apartments are taken almost as soon as the ads appear. Then if you find yourself in a situation where you might not have a place to live in a couple of weeks, you really want to believe that this wonderful place is sitting there just for you. An answer to a prayer, basically. The thought of being homeless scares the crap out of pretty much anyone, and who can blame them?

Still, there are a few hard and fast rules out there if you don’t want to be a victim. The biggest one is that you should never trust anyone without reason. I mean, geez people! Why would you send money to someone outside the country for a place you’ve never even been in? An apartment has to be viewed in person. I’m sorry, but that’s the reality. Even real ads will often show an apartment that isn’t the one that’s available. Management companies have show suites. Even when you go to view an apartment, they often show one that has the same floor plan, but isn’t the one you’ll be renting. That’s pretty standard for big buildings, so then you have to do a walk-through of your actual apartment to list any damage that’s already there.

Trust is earned. It takes time to develop. Not everyone is trustworthy. In fact, a very large portion of the population cannot be trusted. I personally believe no one can be trusted for everything. Every human has flaws, and there are certain things each person can’t be trusted with. It all depends on their personality type. Some can’t be trusted to pay their bills exactly on time, even if they do eventually pay them. Some people don’t do things they’re supposed to do by the time they say they’ll do them. Some people show up late. Everyone has flaws, and those are the things that can’t be trusted in that person, but they may be completely trustworthy in every other way. Some people you could loan a million dollars to, and they would pay back every penny with interest, but you know they’re always going to blab secrets.

It takes time to know the flaws of a person, and thereby know which things can be trusted about them, and which things can’t. Trusting anyone without knowing them is ridiculous. The woman in the above-mentioned article said she trusted the person she sent money to because he claimed to be a Christian. Really? Wow. I can claim to be Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t make it true. In fact, I would be less likely to trust someone because they’re religious, than I would if they said they were atheists. I do not like organized religions, so I have a huge bias there.

Though I might vaguely feel sorry for anyone who has been ripped off, there’s a larger part of me that thinks, “What the hell were you thinking?” Then my sympathy tends to dry up. When it’s someone of diminished capacity who is scammed, I feel terrible for them, but with the general population I feel mostly disgusted that they’re not using their critical thinking skills. Of course, lack of critical thinking is something that drives me crazy to begin with. It’s the reason the vast majority of people believe what’s reported on the news. In the US they’re not obligated to tell the truth, yet people still believe what they’re saying. In Canada that’s against the CRTC regulations, and results in fines and other penalties, but that does not mean they don’t unknowingly report a falsehood – because it’s quite possible those who wrote the stories in the first place weren’t using their critical thinking skills and didn’t thoroughly investigate their sources. They might report the truth as they know it, but it’s quite likely not the whole story.

My basic point is exactly what I said in my very first sentence. Too good to be true is always too good to be true. Follow your instincts, use your brain, question everything, and don’t give people money for anything they’re not handing to you right then and there. Even when you’re doing business with people you know (perhaps especially when you know them), you don’t pay them until they’ve given you what you’re paying for – whether it’s a service or an item. I offer website design and maintenance as a service, but I certainly don’t expect anyone to pay me for something I haven’t done yet. Some companies may require a deposit, but it’s not necessary. Not when you can build the site and not post it, but still show your client what it will look like once it’s published, and there are other ways web designers can protect themselves if their clients don’t pay.

In all business dealings (and renting an apartment is a contract just like any other) both parties should be able to provide proof that they’re on the level. An apartment is visible proof. If you don’t see the place with your own eyes, there’s a good possibility it doesn’t exist. On the landlord’s end of things, they’re well within their rights to take a look at your identification and do a credit and reference check. Don’t be afraid to offend someone. Honest people will understand and respect skepticism if you’re polite about it. It’s only the dishonest ones who will react defensively and get angry – most likely because they see their scam falling apart and realize the money they foresaw is slipping through their fingers.

In our case I would expect that this supposed landlord would respect the fact that I’m mature and responsible enough to be careful with regard to my personal information and my money. If I just gave out money to everyone, it would show an obvious lack or responsibility and maturity. Sadly, there will be people desperate enough and gullible enough, who so badly want to believe their dreams have come true, that they will fork over most of their savings to secure a non-existent apartment. I’m not immune to those feelings myself, and I hoped we weren’t being scammed. I was polite in my last e-mail because a tiny part of me still hoped it was real. This was before I started researching rental scams and saw the various articles about the different ways people got fleeced. Then I started to see the similarities.

What’s funny is that I’m a huge believer in doing things online. I buy groceries that way sometimes, and have them delivered. I shop online for other things, paying for my items electronically. I honestly do not have to leave the house if I don’t want to, though you pay a little more sometimes for that privilege. Maybe it’s being experienced in the ways of online retail that helps me weed out the scams. The worst thing that ever happened to me was that a ring I ordered from eBay was never delivered, and since I only paid about $10 for it I wasn’t all that concerned, particularly since I’d ordered a bunch of other stuff at the same time and sort of forgot I was expecting it.

In fact we just ordered dinner online, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to deliver it since we haven’t given them any money yet.

Stop Paying for Cable When You Can Get it Free – Legally

The cable broadcasting industry has always been less than stellar when it comes to value for your money, and in their business practices. It always starts out with that infamous introductory package where you can get basic cable for a low monthly rate for the first three months or so, but then the price goes up. Sure, they’re usually legally required to list in the fine print what your rates will go up to after that introductory period is over, and they have to tell you how long you need to use their services in order to get that temporary low price, but so much of our society is based on instant gratification and add-ons (otherwise known as up-selling) that it really isn’t hard for them to rip people off.

Almost everyone who subscribes to cable or satellite gets hooked into taking so-called specialty channels. Usually the one channel you actually want is grouped with several other channels, so you have to pay for the package rather than a la carte services. Even when they allow you to pay for a single channel’s subscription, the group price seems like it would be a much better deal. So, in addition to ‘basic cable’ which doesn’t seem to give anyone any of the channels they like, you go for the enhanced services.

Now, of course, we have high definition TVs, and even Ultra HD and 3D. Let me explain to you how high definition works. It’s exactly like the analogy about chains being only as strong as their weakest link. You will most likely never have true HDTV, because there is always a weak link in the signal chain. Somewhere along that chain there is a flaw where in one tiny little place (and often in many places) there is a wire or piece of equipment that is not HD-capable. Maybe it’s your neighbourhood wires, and chances are good you’re not among the 1% who live in fancy neighbourhoods with the best of everything. Most local cable outfitters do not have the money to replace the old, out-of-date equipment with HD. Small towns, people who live out in the country, poor neighbourhoods in every city, etc. You’re also going to have general signal loss, and if you’re paying for HD I bet you’ve noticed that it didn’t live up to your expactation. You were probably hoping it would be like watching a movie on Blu-ray. It should be, but it’s not.

It’s not uncommon for people to be paying up to $200 every month for their cable subscriptions. How much value are you getting for your money, do you think? Are you even aware that there’s a better way? Don’t forget all those additional fees and service charges they tack onto your bill that make absolutely no sense to you – and there’s a good reason they make no sense, since they’re total BS. If you watch 10 hours of television every month, you’re paying $20 an hour for your entertainment. Granted, most people watch a fair bit more than that. 5 hours per week is almost bare minimum for the average person, so you’re paying $10 even at that. I won’t bother calculating average number of family members. Most people at this point would say this is a reasonable price to pay for entertainment. Is television as good as a movie? That’s a highly subjective thing, so I can’t answer that. I just know that I have zero interest in watching TV, but I love movies, so I wouldn’t pay that much for TV since it isn’t worth it to me.

For those who love television programming, however, they’re still getting ripped off in a big way. Many of the shows broadcast on cable networks are available online. If you do not have a computer or internet access, then by all means do what you like regarding TV programming. If you’re paying for both cable/satellite TV and internet, however, they’re double-dipping into your wallet. A lot of networks stream their shows right on their own websites. Yes, there are commercials, because that’s how they pay their actors the big bucks, but it’s completely legal and you can watch it whenever you press the play button for the video to stream. All you’re doing is cutting out the middle man.

So, what about those who don’t like watching TV on their computers? Well, almost every computer now has an HDMI output that goes directly into your TV. Think of your mouse as your remote, and you’re all set. HDMI was a huge step forward in connectivity, because the wire acts as 2-way communication between devices, and a lot more than one signal is being sent at a time. All audio and video can be transmitted this way, and your computer will know it’s connected to a TV, and your TV will know if a signal is being transmitted. Like the old fax machines that almost no one has a need for these days (yes, there are free fax services available online, too), there is a handshake signal between devices. Kind of a, “Hi! How ya doin’?” in machine-speak. Except now you don’t need to hear those annoying squealing sounds as it sends frequencies across the line.

One big benefit to this is that any show you watch online, streaming from the original network, the resolution is usually very good. Like YouTube, there’s a lot of stuff shown in 1080p (which is literally 1,080 lines of resolution broadcast all at once – the little ‘p’ stands for progressive scan, as opposed to a little ‘i’ which means interlaced, where only half the lines are showing at a time). You’re really only limited by your own computer, and the cable that you use. Both are things you have control over, rather than some crappy cable line that might be a thousand miles away. The video is sent as a data packet, rather than a broadcast signal, and so it behaves more like a DVD or something similar.

If you really, really do not like connecting your laptop or PC to your TV, there are other alternatives to standard cable companies. Things like Hulu and Netflix. If you’re interested, I would suggest further reading here. Or simply do a Google search for ‘cable tv alternatives’ and lots of stuff will come up. In my case our major phone company does an internet TV service, in addition to the satellite service they already offer, but it’s Bell Canada, and I’ll never recommend them to anyone. They’re one of the worst price-gouging companies in my country. (They still haven’t realized that I can get cell service for about half the price they charge for a landline, and at least one cell provider is unlimited in both Canada and the US for everything including data.)

What it boils down to is this: Are you sick of paying for things you can get for free, or for reasonable amounts like $100 per year? That cable bill adds up, especially when you’re paying rental charges on receivers for every room in which you have a TV – and they charge more for the ones that have on-demand capability, like PVR/DVR boxes. When I had cable so I could watch the basketball games, it cost me a fortune – that sports package had an insane price attached to it. Now those games are broadcast online, and I’ve been watching them that way for years. It’s not just NBA games either. They have pretty much everything, including European football. The games are live, and they broadcast the ones that you can’t get on cable, too – you know, those ones they black out in your area to encourage people to go to the local games in person.

I don’t know about you, but I got really tired of them charging me almost $10 for licensing fees, $20 for equipment rental, $15 for the sports networks and enhanced cable, $5 for each additional channel pack, taxes, distribution, basic cable rates, etc. Never mind the sudden jump in price after the three months were over, or the pre-billing most cable companies do. That’s the reason your first bill is so high. They prorate what you’ve already used that month, and bill in advance for the next month. Not to mention the service fee for ‘installing’ your cable – ahem – that’s calling typing a command into their computers, usually, since it often doesn’t require a visit from a technician unless you’re technically inept enough that you can’t screw a cable line onto the threaded peg of your wall outlet. When you move, of course, you’re usually charged a service fee for ‘installation’ again. They have to shut off service at your old house, and turn it on in the new one. Woopee. I’m sure you can sense my sarcasm.

The fact is, cable and satellite TV are luxuries. They’re not necessary for us to survive. However, we live in a consumer society and we can’t stand being bored. We will go to any lengths not to have to entertain ourselves, apparently, and that means TV for most people. So, if you’re broke, or just interested in keeping the money you’ve worked so hard for, this is one way of lightening the monthly load on your wallet.

Most people need internet service (in North America at least), for one reason or another. In my case I make part of my livelihood online. Even for those who do not work online, there’s the simple fact that it’s impossible to even find a job now, if you don’t have internet. Most employers want resumes e-mailed, most job-finding can only be done online, and even the government (in Canada anyway) uses the internet as its main source for helping people find work (they have a Job Bank online), as well as for people using government services such as employment insurance (similar to UI in the states). Here we file reports every two weeks, and they encourage you to go online to do it. Even changing the address on your driver’s licence, or renewing it, is done online here. Same with our health cards. We can file our taxes online, and Revenue Canada prefers it that way since they’re stored more easily as data. Plus you get your refund a lot faster if you file online.

The internet is now an intrinsic part of our lives. TV might have been at one time, but so many of us get our entertainment in different ways these days that it seems pointless to be paying those ridiculous fees. If you’re anything like me, and any of what I’ve said here has sunk in, you’re probably pretty annoyed right now about how much money your cable company is getting from you. So, don’t just stand there – do something about it once your contract is up, and tell them why you’re leaving. Maybe they’ll pay attention if enough people get fed up. Probably not, but it’s always worth it to be honest.