The Perils of Print-on-Demand

9 Aug

I’ve always loved reading, be it comics or novels and from a young age I could often be found lying in the corner of the lounge, head in the pages of a book. My mum was an English teacher, so Enid Blyton was strictly verboten – as in her work was not allowed in the house.  Everything on the home bookshelf was game, including my dad’s many volumes of very rude Rugby Songs, some of which my brother and I learned and then recited in public, causing much parental embarrassment. My early leaning was always towards science fiction, thanks mainly to Gerry Anderson; as a teen, I moved into fantasy, powered by the discovery of Michael Moorcock, Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons. Sometime in the mid 70s, I bought the Lord of the Rings as a three volume set, having begun reading it around a friend’s house. It was the first printed book I’d ever held in my hand that totally blew me away. If you search Google for ‘LOTR book cover’ there are hundreds of images to choose from, covering many reprints in many languages. The set that I had was similar to the illustration here – simple, understated, yet profound in its symbology. When I held the book in my hand, moving my finger around the one ring and the Dark Lord’s incantation, it felt as though the novel was possessed by an arcane power.

The second novel I encountered that had a presence was Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Colour of Magic‘ and shortly afterwards ‘The Light Fantastic‘. In both cases, it was Josh Kirby’s artwork that initially hooked me. Pratchett’s writing was fresh and funny, it blew away the cobwebs of traditional fantasy, which had become trapped within its own framework of stale plots and staid characters. As I read both books, I felt as though I was holding a complete package that oozed magical charm. [As an aside, Harry Potter has never done it for me, but I have a couple of friends who had a similar experience with some of the hardback editions to the point where they couldn’t put the books down!]

When I set out to present The Ferret Files, I did so as an independent author with full control over the internal artwork, the contents and the cover. I was intent on creating something that spoke to the reader before the pages were ever turned. Why then, as a massive consumer of paperback and hardback books for most of my life, with a vision to create something truly awesome, did I opt to publish Ferret as an e-book only? That’s a question that’s not only haunted me for the early part of 2017, but it was also the most asked question by my readers. One of the primary drivers for going digital was a fear that the original artwork wouldn’t scale down for print. Richard’s full page drawings are A3, and they’re very detailed. Astonishing, in fact. Hence I shied away from producing a physical print version because I didn’t want to create an inferior product. What I didn’t know when I set out on my journey is that one of the limitations of digital is that images cannot be embedded in with the text. As a result, the e-book didn’t fully realise my dream.

Print-on-Demand

Having worked in IT for most of my life, keeping up with trends as they emerge, I decided it was time to dip my toe in the water and remedy the situation with a Print-on-Demand (PoD) version of Ferret. I mean, how difficult could it possibly be? The question was posed on a Friday afternoon three weeks ago. I now have the answer…

PoD is exactly what the title suggests. An electronic copy of your work is uploaded to a central location and when a customer presses the button to buy, a copy is printed off within the country of purchase and despatched within a few days. I figured this was likely to be expensive, but as it happens I was wrong. As a printing methodology PoD is cost effective up to around 50 copies of a book. After that, traditional print wins the day. I had a quick look around Amazon to see what other authors are doing, and two options became immediately obvious. There’s Amazon’s own offering called CreateSpace and there’s Lulu. As an Amazon subsidiary, I decided that CreateSpace must be pretty good so they made the cut. Lulu, as an independent author platform also ticked all my boxes. A comparison of the two sites suggests that Lulu is the more expensive of the two in terms of the cost to produce a book. The Lulu site has a lot of help to offer, as well as some very useful and active forums. Most importantly of all, I found and downloaded a free A5 template with instructions (go here: http://www.lulu.com/create/books and click ‘Download Template’). Once you have this piece of the jigsaw puzzle, everything else becomes so much easier. I wish I’d found this link at the beginning, rather than two weeks in.

Lulu allows you to format the book and cover, do some basic checks and then you’re off to the races. It’s very much down to you, with no human checks performed. I’m still waiting on CreateSpace to come back to me with a price for Ferret, as there is a degree of human interaction in the creative process. This prevents mistakes around the formatting of the interior and the cover, which believe me are easy to make.

I’m not going to go into massive detail about everything PoD related, but here are the basics.

The Interior

  • The cost of a printed book is determined by the number of pages it contains. If it’s in colour, then it costs more than black and white. The addition of b/w images takes up page space but doesn’t affect the overall cost.
  • A page must have margins top & bottom and left & right. There’s also a gutter margin, which is where the spine is located. The Lulu template shows pages side by side, with mirror margin set. This is very useful when determining what a book will look like. The minimum margins all around are 0.25″ (6.33mm), but it’s usual to use 0.5″ (12.66mm). This is what I settled on. The size of the gutter margin is determined by the total number of pages in the book – the more pages, the thicker the spine overall, the larger the gutter.
  • It appears that different countries have different standards for retail book sizes, so your template will be determined by where you live in the world. CreateSpace likes a 6″ by 9″ template, which is standard for the USA but also applies to the UK and Europe. Lulu also operates in these countries but wants me to print using an A5 template (5.9″ by 8.51″). Fortunately, the Lulu template allows the page size to be changed with ease, and the book insides adjust accordingly.
  • As a tip, always use a page break to break between pages, and not hard returns – otherwise changing the page size may catch you out. Page Break Odd / Page Break Even proved very useful with the large illustrations.
  • The choice of font is down to you. Times New Roman is a favourite, but anything that’s San Serif will do (Lulu lists the standard options). Ideally, the text should be set to 11 or 12 point. The smaller the text, the less pages you’ll have and the cheaper your book will be to produce. However, going down to 10 point will make the finished article very difficult for seniors to read. As an example, A5 format Ferret with 12 point Times New Roman clocks in at 420 pages. Cutting the text size down to 11 point results in a novel that’s 356 pages. The difference in Lulu production costs between the two is £1, or £6.79 vs £7.80 to me. CreateSpace uses a 6″ by 9″ template, which is slightly larger than A5. Here, 12 point Times New Roman produces a book with 356 pages.
  • Images can be added onto a page and embedded in the text, but they must be 300dpi. For Ferret I embedded the 9 x vignettes in with the text and then set each of the 4 x large illustration on a page on their own, with a blank side on the rear. The large illustrations have the margins set to 0.25″, which allowed me to scale them as large as possible.
  • Both Lulu and CreateSpace require the interior to be in PDF format. Both sites accept Microsoft Word and will happily do the conversion for you. However, as I soon discovered, not all PDF convertors are created equal. I messed about for a couple of days experimenting with Lulu and finally concluded that the optimum results with embedded images are obtained by using the Word ‘Save As’ function, and selecting PDF. The fonts must be embedded in the document, which is an ISO save option. Allowing Lulu to do the conversion results in the large single page illustrations being rendered unviewable.
  • Finally, as part of the distribution data you’ll need an ISBN number. You can obtain one yourself which costs $$$, or allow Lulu / CreateSpace to allocate one for you. Either way it needs to appear on the inside cover, on the copyright page. The ISBN number is format dependent, which means you’ll need a separate one for print and digital.

The Cover

  • Both CreateSpace and Lulu have the capability to create covers for you. As I already have some rather nifty artwork for the front cover, I opted to upload it. I messed about for a couple of days trying various settings – initially I tried to upload just the front cover and use Lulu’s inbuilt templates for the back cover and spine, but matching the colours proved to be impossible. In the end I had to download an evaluation copy of Adobe PhotoShop and edit together a full wraparound cover. The end result is very pleasing, but if maths makes your brain hurt I suggest you either: a) get someone else to do it for you; or b) use the auto-build templates as provided. The CreateSpace editor looks very snazzy, but I didn’t go there on the grounds that I’d already taken the decision to make a full A5 jacket.
  • If you’re using your own artwork for the cover, it needs to be slightly larger than the printed page by 3.3mm per side (this is called the bleed and will be cut off in the manufacturing process). The full wraparound cover for Lulu’s A5 (148mm wide by 210mm high) version of Ferret is (151.3mm + spine + 151.3mm) by 216.6mm. The width of the spine is based on the number of pages the completed work contains, so cannot be accurately calculated until the page count is known. For Ferret this works out at 20.4mm.
  • The spine is intended to bend where the covers meet, so has an area each side of the fold that should not be printed on. A gap of 0.0625″ (0.15875mm) either side of the spine must be left blank. This caught me out with CreateSpace, who flagged up the Ferret logo as being too large. As I was unaware of this potential issue until it was brought up, I’m pretty sure that the proof copy I ordered from Lulu is going to be wrong (update – it’s out by about 0.5mm, which I can live with – yippee!).
  • If you intend your work to be available to resellers, then it requires a barcode on the back cover, which contains the ISBN number. CreateSpace will helpfully add this for you when you upload the artwork or use their cover creator. With Lulu and a full wraparound cover, you have to follow the links to create a barcode which must then be cut & pasted onto the back cover.

Once the uploads are completed, all that remains is to order a proof copy of your work and wait for it to arrive. Mine turned up yesterday and there are a couple of small amendments that need to be made (my name is ever-so-slightly wonky on the spine and I discovered a missing ‘‘ in one of the later chapters), but otherwise we’re good to go. All in all, my experience of PoD has been really good if somewhat drawn out, but then I enjoy learning new things so it’s not a hardship. Plus I have a genuine enthusiasm for creating printed works, so the roadblocks thrown up in front of me were only ever going to be driven over. I’m really pleased with the results and unless an earthquake strikes Ferret will be out as a POD novel by the middle of August.

If you have a project that’s underway and you need any encouragement I’m happy to hear from you…

 

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Exciting Times…

28 Jul

One of many items on my agenda for this year is to produce a print-on-demand copy of Ferret. I used a third party company to assemble the e-book, mainly because my head was full of other things at the time and I didn’t have the space to learn yet another way to format text. With hindsight, I wish I’d explored all of the options available and done it myself, because one of the things I’ve always found exciting is holding a finished, quality document in my hand, even if it is virtual. We are where we are, as the saying goes.

For the record, I have no issues with the quality of the e-book; I do, however, have a few issues with the format, the biggest of which is the (non) placement of graphics inline with the text.  I’ll cover the whole print-on-demand experience in a follow-up article, as I learned a lot of tricks that I’d like to pass on.

For now, here’s a preview of the finished cover:

I have a proof copy winging its way through the ether. Hopefully everything will be just fine and I’ll be able to make Ferret available in printed form within the next few weeks. I’m really excited to see the finished article as the e-book didn’t do justice to the artwork. Fingers crossed that those big pictures aren’t one messy splodge!

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10 Gold Hoards You Need to Know About

15 Feb

inca-image-1Most modern economists have little good to say about gold, naming it as a ‘barbarous relic’ [1]. Funnily enough, although the economist John Maynard Keynes is credited with this observation, his criticism was leveled at the gold standard of the day and not the metal itself [47]. Whilst gold is shunned as a modern investment in the West (President Nixon cancelled the convertibility of dollars into gold aka ‘the gold standard’ in 1971), the yellow metal is still preferred by much of the rest of the world for international trade settlements and as a store of wealth, mostly thanks to local currencies that don’t keep their value. Despite all the negative connotations that surround gold in the mainstream media, the thought of finding a cache of the yellow metal makes my blood race and my heart beat like billy-o. I don’t know about you, but personally I can’t get enough of reality shows like Gold Rush, which feature big boys’ toys and hardy prospectors eking out a living from the land. The piles of gold they produce each week tap into the animal spirit in a way that paper money can’t. Gold has this ability to send people crazy with yellow fever and once they get that look in their eyes, there is simply no coming back.

It is no surprise that our nations’ nuclear secrets are highly classified, but it may come as a shock to discover that everything surrounding official gold holdings is highly classified too. Although figures for gold holdings in metric tonnes are relatively easy to obtain for every country in the world [3], once we start digging into what is really going on behind the scenes, we find that things become deliberately opaque. For instance, a nation may lease or swap its gold with another entity [4], without any official announcement, which means it is not possible to truly know who owns what. As to where our gold is stored and the numbers and types of bars held – funnily enough, this is a state secret too. What this means is that while most of the figures in 10 Gold Hoards are verifiable, others are guesstimates. When I began my research, I foolishly thought that all the quantities of gold under scrutiny would be stated in imperial tons (gold is weighed in troy ounces). No such luck. Some values are in $$$, correct at the date of publication, while other weights are in kilos, ounces or metric tonnes. I’ve converted all of the hoards into metric tonnes, as this is the figure which is used when stating international gold reserves. If a hoard is valued in $$$ and it contains silver, then the silver is discounted from the total.

For the record, the internationally recognized standard for gold bars is the 400oz good delivery bar. A tonne of such bars easily fits into a single drawer of a filing cabinet. As an infograph paints a thousand words, follow this link [40] for a representation of how much space various tonnages of gold take up.

Aztec Gold (<1 tonne)

hernan-cortesI’d always assumed that the Spanish conquistadors under the command of Hernán Cortés plundered massive quantities of gold from the Aztecs before killing most of them in a series of pitched battles. A quick dig and we soon find out that this is not the case. Although Mexico is home to some of the world’s largest silver mines, compared to Columbia, Ecuador and Peru it has very little gold. The hoard that King Montezuma II had accrued filled only a single room and this was gifted to the Spanish by Montezuma’s envoys in 1519 without the slightest hint of violence. For ease of transportation, the golden objects were melted down into 1kg ingots. The largest single treasure was a golden sun, the size of a cartwheel, valued at 10,000 pesos [8]. Today this artifact would be priceless. Here, we run into trouble with our calculations, as Cortés valued the same piece at only 3,800 pesos. As 20%, or a Royal Fifth, of the 200 odd items that the conquistadors acquired were gifted to King Charles V of Spain, it wasn’t in Cortés’ interest to be accurate with his accounting.

tenochtitlanIn 1520, Cortés mounted a raid on Montezuma’s treasure stores within the city of Tenochtitlan, figuring that the Aztec king was lying about the true size of his hoard. Unfortunately there are no surviving records regarding what was taken, as soon afterwards the Spanish pushed the Aztecs too far and had to flee the city under cover of dark, losing most of their plunder in the process. The escape during La Noche Triste (the Night of Sorrows) was made all the more tricky by Cortés’ prior destruction of all the rope bridges into and out of the city.

As a good stack of Spanish gold was plundered by the English pirate Sir Francis Drake before it reached Spain, and yet more was lost in a series of shipwrecks, it is almost impossible for us to know how much gold the Spanish looted from the Aztecs. On paper, it appears to be less than a ton – but as with all things gold related, we’ll never know for sure.

Inca Gold (11+ tonnes)

pizarroIn sharp contrast to the Aztecs, the Incas had bags and bags of gold. They’d been mining and refining for centuries when Francisco Pizarro and his band of around 160 seasoned warriors rocked up in northwest Peru in 1532, hell-bent on conquest. The Spaniards were mistaken for the god Viracocha and his entourage, which goes someway towards explaining why they weren’t immediately disemboweled. Pizarro had visited Peru on two previous occasions, but what he found this time was a country in turmoil from a combination of European smallpox and a civil war of succession. By the time the Inca emperor Atahualpa realized that the Spanish were evil thieves, it was too late. Two thousand of his unarmed Incas were massacred by Spanish gunfire and cavalry charges, and he found himself taken prisoner. In bargaining for his release, Atahualpa offered to fill a large room (22ft by 17ft by 8ft) with gold and twice over with silver.

cuzcosacPizarro netted 13,000 pounds or 5.9 tonnes of 22 carat gold and 12 tons of silver, delivered as statues, cups, plates and jewellery. The entire hoard was melted down into ingots, destroying many priceless artifacts. Later, after Pizarro reneged on the deal and sentenced the emperor to death for treason, he headed off to the Inca city of Cuzco, where he was warmly welcomed by Atahualpa’s brother – the loser in the war of succession. The Spanish immediately set about sacking the city, accruing at least the same amount of gold and silver as the emperor’s ransom haul, the most prestigious item being a throne of gold. Most of the cultural relics were smelted into ingots [9].

News of Pizarro’s wealth spread far and wide and over the next 120 years many European explorers set sail for Peru, determined to seize their own slice of Inca gold. A rumor circulated that the Inca had escaped into the Amazon basin, making off with far more gold than Pizarro had accrued. Thus began the search for Eldorado, the fabled city of gold – a search that continues to this day.

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple (380+ tonnes)

sri-padThe citizens of India love their gold! While it is estimated that some 18,000 tonnes of the yellow metal is held in private hands across the whole Indian subcontinent [48], the largest hoards are to be found in the Hindu temples of southern India, where, over the centuries, rich devotees and royalty have deposited large amounts of precious metals and jewels. The Tirumala temple in eastern Andhra Pradesh state, for instance, is reported to have 4.5 tonnes of gold [33]. This pales into insignificance when compared to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, which is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as being the richest in the world.

Any donation which is made to a temple becomes the property of the deity who resides within – in the case of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple this is Vishnu, the supreme Lord. The story of how the temple came to be audited under the instruction of the Supreme Court of India is rather convoluted [20]; suffice to say it began with a complete denial that any kallaras or treasure vaults existed underneath the temple, and ended on 30th June 2011 with the opening of Vault A and the discovery of approximately $22 billion in precious metals and gems. This valuation is by weight alone [15], and allowing for a gold price of $1,800 at the time of valuation, this gives us approx 380 tonnes of the yellow metal. It took 15 men 12 days to empty and inventory the vault, which many devotees said should not have been opened due to a curse [19]. The items of interest, in summary are: 800Kg of gold coins dating to 200BC; 100,000+ gold coins from ancient Rome; a gold sheaf weighing 500Kg and 1 ton of rice trinkets. Some of the gold was sent to be melted down and purified, ending in a scandal when 266Kg went missing [16]. Rumor has it upwards of another ton has been stolen, possibly through a secret passage [18].

sree-pad-cobrasOf the 8 vaults so far discovered, 3 have yet to be opened. When the assessors tried to open Vault B, they found one of the locks was jammed. A locksmith was called, but the attempt was abandoned when it was claimed in court that the spiritual integrity of the temple would be damaged [20]. Later, a ritual was performed to ascertain the will of the Lord, which revealed that any attempts to open Vault B would cause divine displeasure. To this day, no further attempts have been made to enter. The entire wealth of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is recorded on a set of 10,000,000 leaves, which are yet to be audited [20], but based on what has been discovered so far, the contents of Vault B are estimated at $40 billion (approx 690 tonnes gold). This assumes that no further sub-vaults are discovered. Legend has it that beyond Vault B lies a chamber with walls made of solid gold, which contains the largest treasure vault in the history of the world [18].

King Solomon (500+ tonnes)

kstKing Solomon was the third king of Israel and a key figure in the Old Testament, ruling between roughly 970 and 931 BCE. Under his leadership, the kingdom of Israel grew from little more than a city state to an empire that dominated the Middle East. Aside from being a wise and powerful ruler, Solomon also had a love of gold in all its forms. According to legend, he had drinking cups, candlesticks and tables made from pure gold, along with 300 shields of beaten gold, a gold and ivory throne and last but not least, the Ark of the Covenant. Technically speaking, gold is quite a soft metal, so it is likely that this was 22 carat gold (91.6% pure – the standard for jewellery and coins in circulation). Solomon had the First Temple in Jerusalem decorated with precious metals, copper and gems; it is estimated that by the end of his reign he’d accumulated over 500 tonnes of the yellow metal [10]. In one year alone, he is alleged to have collected 666 talents of gold in tribute (1 talent = 67 pounds, so around 20 tonnes). When Solomon died, his kingdom split in two. The First Temple was later sacked and the riches stolen. Much of the gold most likely found its way to Egypt, taken away by King Shishak [11], although there are some who say it remained hidden until it was discovered by the Knights Templar.

kingsolomonsminesOne question which has perplexed archaeologists and historians for the last 4,000 years is where all this gold came from. Records tell us that one of King Solomon’s besties was King Hiram of Tyre, which is located in present day Lebanon. The pair dispatched expeditions of Phoenician sailors (the marine corps of their day) to the mysterious land of Ophir to gather all the gold they could find. No records survive regarding Ophir’s location, which is hardly surprising given the secretive nature of the gold industry. Nevertheless, treasure hunters have spent the last twenty-five centuries hunting down the legendary mine. The Victorian imagination was fired by the adventures of Allan Quatermain in Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel King Solomon’s Mines, which placed Ophir in central Africa. For a while, no self-respecting dinner party was complete without a new well-thought-out mine theory. As we now know, the Phoenicians were expert deep water sailors who navigated their way around the Cape of Africa. Modern day speculation places Ophir in West Africa, East Africa, Arabia, Asia and even South America! All we can say for certain is that if the location of Solomon’s mine has been discovered, those that found it remain very tight-lipped.

Nazi Gold (740+ tonnes)

nazi-goldWhen the Third Reich came to power in 1933, gold was still the means by which a nation’s financial clout was determined. It is pretty certain that Hitler had spent nearly all of the German gold (23 tonnes) by 1939, buying raw materials from abroad as part of his rearmament campaign. Handily, neither Austria nor Czechoslovakia complained when their gold reserves were annexed between 1938 and 1939, thus replenishing the coffers. During their march across Europe, the Nazis stole gold from the central banks of every country they occupied. Later they confiscated coins, jewellery and even teeth from hapless civilians. The requisitioned gold was estimated at $772 million [34] (gold was $36.20 a troy oz in 1940, therefore 740 tonnes). It was shipped off to Berlin, where it was smelted down into bars to help bolster Reichsmarshall Goering’s expense account.

By 1943, things had gone seriously wrong for Hitler, forcing the Berlin Reichsbank to ship its gold to branches throughout Germany. An estimated 91 tonnes was secretly moved to Switzerland, to be squirreled away by the Gnomes of Zurich. Only 3.6 tonnes of this was ever recovered. According to some sources, the Vatican got their mits on a fair chunk, although this is still denied with much wailing and shaking of heads. Neutral Portugal was a supplier of armaments to the Nazi regime and they demanded payment in gold, having previously been ripped off with forged currency. Generously, the Allies allowed them to keep it after the war. During the summer of 1945, the US Army began a serious hunt for what remained of Hitler’s gold. Approximately 230 tonnes was recovered from various Reichsbank vaults. The largest single hidden haul was discovered in Merkers Mine [5], 200 miles south of Berlin. merkers_mineIt included: 8,198 one kilo bars; 55 boxes of crated gold bullion; hundreds of bags of gold items; over 1,300 bags of gold Reichsmarks, British gold pounds and French gold francs. After WWII, the Tripartite Gold Commission set up a gold pool to repatriate 10 million ounces (347 tonnes) to its rightful owners [7]. Estimates of the total quantity of looted gold vary, with experts divided. It is generally agreed that over 700 tonnes was stolen, centralized and later dispersed [34], which is why Nazi gold hunters continue to comb continental Europe to this day in search of missing Nazi treasure [6].

The Roman Empire (1,650+ tonnes)

britain_gold_roman_coinsThe Empire of Rome has a special place in the history of gold, for it was the Romans who first introduced the widespread use of a struck gold coin with a standard size, purity and weight. Although gold coins had been in use previously in Greece and Turkey, there was never enough gold to support an economy and hence silver was the monetary metal of choice throughout the region. As the Roman Empire expanded into Egypt, Spain and Romania, its access to gold increased. Indeed, the conquest of Syracuse alone yielded 2,700 pounds or 1.22 tonnes of gold. Once the Romans got up to speed, it is estimated that between the years 100 and 300 AD they mined around 10 tonnes a year [12], using mechanized production methods that remained unrivaled until the Industrial Revolution. Unlike other civilizations, rather than turn all that gold into jewellery, the Romans minted coins.

roman_coin_02aThe standard Roman gold coin was the aureus, which was 22 carat and weighed 0.23 troy ounces. It was the standard pay for a legionnaire for a month, and in Britain would buy 29 gallons of cheap wine or 200 pounds of flour [12] – which is more than enough alcohol and pies until the next pay day. The gold hoards we’ve examined so far were static, as in gathered in one place. This is great if you’re a greedy monarch, but gold in storage is useless for an empire built on conquest and trade. Hence the Roman gold hoard was distributed around the empire, except for what remained on deposit at the central bank of Rome, which held around $30 million at 1927 valuations [13]. Gold was roughly $30 a troy oz back then, so this equates to a million ounces, or 35 tonnes, which was a fraction of the estimated 1,650 plus tonnes that the Romans mined.

After the Roman Empire divided into the Eastern and Western Empires around 285 AD, gold supplies began to dwindle. This was accompanied by a debasement of the currency driven by rising costs, which saw both the gold aureus and the silver denarius became mostly cheap filler metal. We’ve seen a similar situation with the British money supply during the 20th century, as silver coins were gradually taken out of circulation and replaced with nickel and zinc discs with no intrinsic value, in order to finance wars (WWI & WWII). A lot of Roman gold found its way East, to India and China, as payment for luxury goods [20], a situation which is echoed today, as the gold vaults of the west are being systematically emptied by the Chinese and their insatiable appetite for gold [46].

The Persian Empire (2,500+ tonnes)

lydian-lion-head-solonAt its height, the Persian Empire extended from the Balkans to the Indus valley and included Egypt and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The Persian rulers had a liking for gold and silver, which they accrued in their ceremonial capital, Persepolis, which was founded in approx 518 BCE. Some thirty years earlier, the Persians overran the kingdom of Lydia, which lies in modern Greece, adopting the country’s coinage without changing the style or technology used in production. The Lydian Lion is recognized as the world’s earliest coin – it is cast from electrum, an alloy of silver and gold. Although the Persians used some of their silver and gold in coins, the majority of their gold was hoarded by the rulers.

How much gold did they have? Well, this is a tricky question to answer. They certainly took a large amount of the yellow metal from Egypt as a yearly tribute, which as we’ve already seen, originally came from King Solomon. During peak looting, the Persians took around 40,000 pounds (16.5 tonnes) a year, which was stashed away in the vaults. The biggest clue we have to the size of the Persian hoard comes from a combination of Plutarch (46-120 CE) and Diodorus Siculus (90-21 BCE), who both claim that during the sacking of Persepolis by Alexander the Great in 330 BCE, 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels were needed to carry off the loot, which included upwards of 2,500 tonnes of gold [14]. Records indicate that 1,120 tonnes of gold was deposited in Susa, now in modern day Iran. Once fully sacked, Persepolis was raised to the ground as revenge for the destruction of Athens in 480 BCE.

atg-gold-2Alexander turned the majority of the 12,200 tonnes of silver he stole into coinage, which he then used to pay his troops, persuading them to follow him all the way to India. Although Alexander introduced some gold into circulation, it doesn’t account for the 1,380 tonnes of gold which didn’t make it to Susa, which is presumably why the hills of Asia Minor are full of adventurers looking for buried treasure.

 

We’re now seven hoards down and ready to tackle the big three. One of the issues with researching modern gold stashes is that we have to verge outside of mainstream news sources to discover what’s happening. With a little basic maths the historical stuff was relatively easy to wrap our heads around. For what’s coming next we need to prep our tinfoil hats and remember to take everything we read with a pinch of salt and a dose of good old fashioned humor.

Fort Knox (4,582 tonnes)

fort_knoxThe USA has the largest stated gold reserves of any modern country, weighing in at a hefty 8,133 tonnes [3]. Of this, 4,582 tonnes are stored in Fort Knox, which is arguably the most famous bullion depository in the world. Given that it is located on a US Army base, it is also one of the most secure. According to mainstream sources [30], the bullion inside Fort Knox is a mix of ‘good delivery’ bars (400oz – as defined by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA)) and also coin-melt bars, which were created from bullion coins handed in by the public after President Roosevelt banned the public ownership of gold in 1933. As a result of Executive Order 6102, the Federal Reserve’s stash of gold increased from $4 billion to $12 billion, necessitating the construction of a secure depository in which to store the country’s gold reserves. Construction of the thirteen vaults was completed in 1936 and the gold was transported to its new home in 1937 using over 500 train cars. At the outbreak of WWII, many European nations shipped their gold reserves to the US for safekeeping; at its peak in December 1941, Fort Knox held 649 million ounces (22,200 tonnes) of gold [29].

fort-knox-vaultBut is the gold still there? Apart from a visit by Roosevelt in 1943 and a press visit in 1974 to allay fears that all the gold had vanished after Nixon took the US off the gold standard in 1971 [27], no member of the public has ever been inside the vaults. The gold was last physically audited in 1953 (only 5% of the gold was assayed by a non-independent source), with all modern audits only checking the vault seals and not their contents [28]. Naturally, conspiracy enthusiasts have concluded that something is indeed awry with the nation’s gold. In true Doublespeak fashion, the claim that America’s gold is ‘held in deep storage’ is reinterpreted by some to mean that Fort Knox is empty and America’s gold is underground, waiting to be mined [39]. According to one source, the vault seals were all replaced in 2010 [28], which coincides rather neatly with a story that began doing the rounds a year earlier concerning the discovery of 60 tonnes of good delivery gold bars in Hong Kong that were salted with tungsten [31]. Tungsten is cheap and happens to be approximately the same density as gold, meaning that it can’t be detected by weight or x-rays. The only way to ascertain whether a gold bar is 99.99% pure is to either melt it down or drill it out.

tungsten-gold-barChinese officials later played detective and allegedly discovered that 1.5 million 400oz tungsten inserts were produced and plated with gold during the Clinton administration; 640,000 (8,900 tonnes) of which were shipped to Fort Knox and New York to replace the nation’s gold which various administrations had illegally stolen. The balance of the bars found their way onto the international market [31]. As with all things that involve a tinfoil wrapper, it is impossible to know for sure how much of the story is true. Suffice to say that the Chinese amended their gold purchase strategy shortly afterwards so that gold bound for the Shanghai exchange is now melted down and recast before being added to the inventory.

Romanov Gold (4,600+ tonnes)

nikolai-alexandrovich-romanovFollowing the death of Tsar Nicholas II In 1918, the New York Times reported that the Romanov family had been the wealthiest in the world, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion. Prior to the Russian Revolution, they governed an empire that covered over one sixth of the Earth’s surface and according to journals of the time had the largest strategic gold reserve in the world. Getting to the bottom of how much gold the Romanov’s had, where it was stored and where it went is a rather tricky business and it takes us a long way away from the traditional safe-spaces of the internet. What is certain is that everything they had was plundered by the Bolsheviks, who were assisted by the Western banks, and had vacated Russia by 1921.

I once heard an interview with Dr Jim Willie, in which he claimed that Baron Rothschild had approached Tsar Nicholas II with a deal to lease 12,000 – 15,000 tons of gold and, once Rothschild had the hoard, rather than repay the loan the Romanovs were murdered [36]. If the entire $9 billion fortune of Russia’s Imperial family was held in gold, at 1918 prices ($20.67) this gives us around 15,168 tonnes, which fits the profile. However, according to the World Gold Council, the total quantity of gold that had been mined worldwide by 1920 was 30,000 tonnes, with only 11,000 tonnes held in reserve by central banks [44]. As the $9 billion wealth fund likely included estates and land, we should be suspicious of the 15,000 tonne claim. We must, therefore piece together the size of the Romanov hoard from other disparate sources.

gold-in-national-bank-in-kazanOne figure which we can lock onto is the 1,600 tonnes of gold that were sent east under the guardianship of Admiral Kolchak prior to the Bolsheviks kicking off the Revolution. This was apparently 73% of the total gold reserves held in St Petersburg [42]. This gives us 2,192 tonnes of gold held in the capital, with perhaps 100 tonnes held elsewhere. Kolchak’s gold later went missing, which has prompted many treasure hunters to search for it ever since, with the most likely site for its final resting place being the bottom of Lake Baikal [32] [42]. According to other sources, once the Revolution started, the Tsar ordered $1 billion worth of gold to be shipped to Remington in the US to finance the purchase of weapons to quell the upstarts. At 1917 prices, this equates to 1,685 tonnes. Given that America lies to the east of Russia, I’m inclined to believe that this is the same gold shipment that Kolchak was entrusted to guard.

Another source [37] claims that Rothschild liberated $700 million in gold from Russia (1,180 tonnes), with US banks holding onto $900 million (1,492 tonnes) and European banks keeping safe a further $427 million (750 tonnes). As gold was the only real money in the early 20th century, it is likely that these bank deposits were initially made in gold, which may then have been used to purchase paper (stocks, shares & dollars/pounds/francs). This is backed up by a chart of US gold reserves, which shows a jump of 1,500 tonnes on deposit between 1900 and 1918 [21]. This leads us to conclude that 2,300 tonnes of Romanov gold was held abroad. Baron Rothschild’s haul consisted of what remained in the St Petersburg vaults, along with an extra 600 tonnes pillaged from private citizens [35], probably taken out of the country on four ships stacked with bullion [38]. romanov-gold-coinIn his book History’s Greatest Heist, historian Sean McMeekin outlines how the Bolsheviks went crazy for anything of value that wasn’t nailed down and sold it off to help pay for the revolution [43]. Although the governments of the world initially refused to recognize Lenin and disallowed the sale of Russian gold on the open market, the Swedes were not so circumspect. Covertly, the Swedish mint smelted down revolutionary gold and stamped the bars with the Swedish hallmark [43], thus facilitating its sale on the global market.

A gold hoard of 4,600+ tonnes is certainly feasible. A quick flick through the history of Russian mining [41] reveals that at a conservative estimate 2,100 tonnes were mined in the pre-Soviet era, with an average of 200 tonnes a year produced today [45]. Throw in Alexander the Great’s gold which went missing in Russian territory, along with gold captured in various military campaigns over 300 years of Romanov rule and it soon adds up.

Yamashita’s Gold (5,450+ tonnes)

yamashita-goldThe Yamashita of the title is Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita, who was nicknamed The Tiger of Malaya. During the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia in late 1941 / early 1942, his job as commander of the Twenty-Fifth Army was to loot as much gold as possible from the captured territories and stash it all in Singapore, with a view to transferring the hoard to the Japanese mainland. The story goes that General Yamashita was assisted in his endeavor at the highest level by a secret task force assembled by Emperor Hirohito, which included in its ranks yakuza gangsters. The operation was codenamed Golden Lily and it was certainly a clandestine affair which is only paid lip service in serious history books. Those that do pick up the trail usually dismiss the story as a hoax. At best they’ll concede that General Yamashita had away perhaps a few tons of gold. However, Sterling and Penny Seagrave, who have authored a pair of books on the subject [23] [24] argue differently.

What we can say for certain is that much like India, Southeast Asia has a lot of Hindu temples and those temples were loaded with gold before the Japanese invaded. By the end of the Second World War they were empty. The Emperor’s task force allegedly captured around 5,450 tonnes of gold from Nanjing during their assault on the Chinese mainland in 1937. Later on, once Southeast Asia fell, they plundered with abandon. Gold was assayed, melted down into ingots and sent to the Philippines on hospital ships. This came to an end in 1943, thanks to an outbreak of American submarines. According to the Seagraves, it was at this point that Golden Lily began stashing their loot in hidden underground locations such as bunkers and caves. In all, 175 imperial treasure sites were created and those who assisted with burying the loot were entombed with it. After WWII ended, a crack team of US investigators located 15 of the hoards by torturing Yamashita’s driver. They found piles of gold ingots higher than their heads [22]. General MacArthur was informed of the finds and President Truman hushed everything up, intent on using the loot to fund off-the-books CIA activity. imelda2Ferdinand Marcos, later the ruler of the Philippines, got in on the act and recovered gold worth $6 billion from a sunken Japanese cruiser and $8 billion from a tunnel [25]. Allegedly, Marcos discovered the whereabouts of five more sites and appropriated their contents. Like Goering before her, his wife Imelda spent the loot with abandon on a luxury lifestyle that included thousands of pairs of designer shoes. Later, a lawsuit was filed against Marcos by a treasure hunter who accused him of stealing $22 billion in gold at gunpoint. This was reduced to $13 million on appeal, with newspapers declaring that Yamashita’s gold had finally been found and this was an end to the matter.

Except of course it isn’t. If we spend a bit of time searching the internet for Yamashita’s gold, we soon discover a rabbit hole of immense proportions. Some sources claim that the Marcos’ fortune was nearer to $1 trillion and they had in their possession over 60,000 tonnes of gold from the Golden Lily hoard, which actually totaled a million tonnes [17]. Given that the World Gold Council estimate that around 165,000 tonnes of gold have been mined in the whole of human history, of which the central banks store 33,000 tonnes [2], something is clearly not right. Is the World Gold Council mistaken? Has the US really got a secret stash of 170,000 tonnes of ‘recovered’ gold in Hawaii as a whistle-blower claims [26], or is this controlled misinformation to cover up the fact that Fort Knox is empty? I’ll leave that for you to decide. Meanwhile, let us raise a glass to the thousands of treasure hunters who descend on the Philippines every year in search of Yamashita’s gold. The best of luck to you all.

Two gold wedding ringsWhat have we learned from this waltz through the great gold hoards of history? If you stash all your gold in one place, someone will eventually come along and plunder it. Then, once the perpetrator thinks the hoard is safe, someone bigger still comes along and takes it again. Gold is the ultimate store of wealth and the ultimate recyclable. Every year hundreds of tons of jewellery and gold bars are melted down and recast. That gold coin your granddad left you, or perhaps your gold wedding ring might just contain a small part of an Inca hoard purloined by the Spanish conquistadors, or perhaps some of Alexander the Great’s loot stolen from Persia, which in turn came from ancient Egypt as a tribute, but originated in King Solomon’s mines, wherever they may be.

If you enjoyed this article why not try out Phillip’s latest novel ‘The Ferret Files’ – available now on Amazon

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Bibliography

[1] http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/10/who-first-called-gold-a-barbarous-relic.html

[2] https://gold.to/how-much-gold-in-the-world/

[3] https://www.gold.org/research/latest-world-official-gold-reserves

[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/markets/7884272/Secret-gold-swap-has-spooked-the-market.html

[5] https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1999/spring/nazi-gold-merkers-mine-treasure.html

[6] http://hitlernews.cloudworth.com/nazi-gold-lake-toplitz.php

[7] http://therealasset.co.uk/nazi-gold-bullion/

[8] http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/ask-us/how-much-gold-did-the-conquistadores-get

[9] http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/theconquestofperu/p/The-Treasure-Of-The-Inca.htm

[10] http://www.miningweekly.com/article/the-gold-mining-legend-of-king-solomons-mines-2012-06-22

[11] http://www.creationmoments.com/content/accounting-king-solomon%E2%80%99s-gold

[12] http://info.goldavenue.com/Info_site/in_arts/in_civ/in_civ_romans.html

[13] Tenny Frank “An economic history of Rome” sec. edition 1927.

[14] https://www.ancient.eu/article/214/

[15] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2011/07/06/137627235/some-22-billion-in-gold-diamonds-jewels-found-in-indian-temple

[16] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/266-kg-of-gold-lost-from-temple/article6893987.ece

[17] http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/es1/p_sociopol_fed05e.htm

[18] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimdobson/2015/11/13/a-one-trillion-dollar-hidden-treasure-chamber-is-discovered-at-indias-sree-padmanabhaswam-temple/#6746c68621eb

[19] http://www.messagetoeagle.com/incredible-padmanabhaswamy-temple-and-its-ancient-treasures-hidden-in-vaults-guarded-by-serpents/

[20] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/04/30/the-secret-of-the-temple

[21] http://www.24hgold.com/english/contributor.aspx?article=4249489564G10020&contributor=Tim+Iacono

[22] https://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n22/chalmers-johnson/the-looting-of-asia

[23] The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan’s Imperial Family (2000).

[24] Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold (2003).

[25] https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1243&dat=19920203&id=LVYPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=j4YDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4782,3870408

[26] http://www.silverdoctors.com/gold/gold-news/dollar-valueless-about-to-crash-170000-tons-of-gold-held-in-secret-hawaii-vault-world-bank-whistleblower/

[27] http://www.numismaticnews.net/article/Gold_all_there_when_Ft_Knox_opened_doors

[28] http://www.thenewamerican.com/economy/economics/item/21212-has-the-federal-reserve-sold-the-gold-at-fort-knox

[29] http://www.newsmax.com/finance/Ed-Moy/Fort-Knox-gold-bar-audit/2014/06/06/id/575519/

[30] https://www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/fort-knox.aspx

[31] http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article14996.html

[32] http://www.angelfire.com/pa/ImperialRussian/news/179news.html

[33] http://zeenews.india.com/news/india/tirumala-temple-has-4-5-tonnes-gold-report_1643780.html

[34] http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=99928

[35] http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/06/books/they-couldn-t-take-it-with-them.html

[36] https://socioecohistory.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/jim-willie-death-of-petrodollar-and-return-to-gold-standard/

[37] http://mindbodypolitic.com/2015/04/23/how-rothschild-looted-tsar-nicholas-romanov/

[38] http://www.renegadetribune.com/tsars-gold/

[39] http://disc.yourwebapps.com/discussion.cgi?disc=234999;article=2369;

[40] http://demonocracy.info/infographics/world/gold/gold.html

[41] http://goldminershq.com/vlad.htm

[42] http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/features/where-in-siberia-is-the-last-tsar-of-russias-missing-gold/

[43] http://www.readingthisbook.com/2012/05/sean-mcmeekin-historys-greatest-heist.html

[44] https://www.goldbroker.com/news/above-ground-gold-stock-how-much-is-there-why-does-matter-546

[45] http://www.mining.com/from-russia-with-gold-54907/

[46] https://www.bullionstar.com/blogs/koos-jansen/how-much-gold-is-china-importing-and-does-it-still-correlates-to-sge-withdrawals/

[47] http://barbarousrelic.net/

[48] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Households-hold-950bn-gold-in-India/articleshow/10987660.cms

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How to Launch a Successful e-book in 10 Easy Steps (parody)

13 Jan

dollar-signsI’ve recently been engaged in launching an e-book and despite reading many useful tips and techniques, I’ve still managed to write the manual on how not to do it properly. In order to assist those who wish to follow in my footsteps, I present how to launch a successful e-book in 10 easy steps.

  1. The starting point for our e-book is an accumulation of text we’ve written. The objective is to make $$$, so under no circumstances will we employ a proof-reader or an editor. Our time is the most precious commodity we have, so we’re not going to edit the text ourselves, we’ll simply go with what we’ve got. If in doubt about the readability of our manuscript, we’ll sprinkle it with random, additional commas. It’s impossible to have too many. There’s no need to bother with character arcs, a killer first chapter or a killer ending, as around 20% of downloaded e-books are never even opened. Of those that are opened, around 70% are abandoned before the end. Our e-book must be priced enticingly, so we’ll set the price at $0.49. We’re in the quantity box-shifting game, but at the same time we have no interest in people actually reading the book. In my experience this price break nets us some $$$ whilst asking for minimal commitment from the easily distracted reader. If writer’s block is an issue, we’ll have to think about plagiarizing someone else’s work. We’ll borrow from the bowels of the Interweb as we don’t want to make the same mistake that The Verve made with their hit single Bitter Suite Symphony. They leased the melody from a little-known instrumental track by The Rolling Stones and they thought no-one would notice. Bands like the Stones have armies of lawyers and they’ll pursue you to the ends of the earth for fifty cents.
  2. We need a title that’s short, snappy and attention grabbing. We can’t use Short and Snappy, that’s been done. For this exercise we’ll use Jizz! Books by well-known authors feature their names in huge letters on the cover, with the book title in slightly smaller script. In our case, as an unknown author, the title will be huge and our name relatively small. One of the reasons why the title needs to be short and sweet is that it must fit on a single line. In the world of reduced attention spans, calling our e-book My Viral e-book that will Take-over the World is a no-no. Most people will get bored before they even reach the third word. One additional piece of advice: we don’t want our book title to contain a word which is spelt differently in the US and the UK. This will simply wind up the Grammar Nazis, and they’re harder to shake off than Rolling Stones’ lawyers.
  3. Next, we require a pseudonym. This is our fake name, or if you want to get all author-y, it’s our pen-name. This is important, because should the crap hit the rotating device big time, we’ll need to vanish sharpish. We’re not going to use our real name, even if it’s Steve Smith. Instead, we’ll choose a name that sounds female, implausible and slightly offensive. Lady Bigflaps and Titty McMammogram are both taken, but Victoria BJ is free. As the ultimate objective of the campaign is to turn our e-book into a viral sensation, we’re not going to use the name of our worst enemy (even if they’re called Foxy Cox). Sure, they’ll get their 15 seconds of infamy, but they’ll also boast about it for the rest of their life and that’s intolerable.
  4. Our e-book needs a cover. We could spend hours fretting about look and feel, but honestly who cares? What’s your favorite jizzcolor? Sorted. There’s over 6 billion people on the planet and a good proportion of them will like our choice. Next, fire up Google, type in ‘free book cover’ and we’re off. We won’t waste too much time choosing the background as the title will take up most of the cover space. The title font is our most important sales tool. It has to lodge in the brain of the casual browser and give them a screaming headache. Once it’s jammed in the grey matter, they’ll be compelled to buy our book just to stop the pain.
  5. A blog is a must. We can set one up for free at WordPress.com. It doesn’t really matter whether we blog using our author name or our book title. All of the functionality we’ll need is built-in for free and it’s easy to configure a good looking website. Don’t buy a funky custom template or a custom domain name. Both cost money. It might look professional, but the only people who pay attention to such trivia are other authors and techies. We want to make sure it’s possible for other bloggers to follow us. Also, we need the subscribe button enabled, to allow non-Wordpress users to receive email updates. Our customer list is our most important sales tool – it’s our funnel to our followers and we need to collect as many as possible. This way we can annoy them remotely with incessant posts and emails until they eventually give in and buy the damn book. Remember: it’s only $0.49 and it’s a life-changer.
  6. We need an Amazon account. Once we’ve created one, we can upload our manuscript and Amazon will convert it for free. We’re not going to bother checking the formatting, because if we find a mistake we might fret about getting it right, and that costs time. See how I’m saving us money. Every expense is spared. Once we’ve uploaded the cover art, we’re nearly ready to go – all that’s missing is a description of the book. They say that sex sells, so let’s make sure that the description is liberally peppered with the word sex. Let’s settle on: Sex on a bus. Sex on a plane. Sex… sex… sex… Want some? Read Jizz! now! Get all the sex… sex… sex you deserve! Blimey. I want to read it already.
  7. We now need a pair of Twitter accounts – one configured as the title of the book and one that matches our author name. In the book account profile, we’ll use the c

    [Rude sofa]

    over picture with a description: Sex… sex… sex… For the author account we require an out-of-focus picture that’s vaguely rude. This will make our punters curious. We must embed the Amazon URL in both profiles. Next, we’ll spend 24 hours a day following everyone under the sun from both accounts. We’ll need a big jar of coffee and a packet of strong caffeine tablets. From the book account, we’ll like random posts and retweet random tweets often, until we have 10,000 followers. At this point, we’ll switch into promote-the-book mode. We must be ruthless and dedicated to the cause. We’ll use a service such as buffer.com to schedule our tweets for free. Ten an hour is about right. Every tweet should claim our book is a 5 star read and contain the hashtags #ebook and #sex. We’re looking to wear the b’stards down through repetition. We don’t tweet a thing from the author account. This gives the appearance that we’re one of those ladies of ill repute who want to get down and funky before formal introductions. This is our secret stealth sales tactic. Guys will follow back under the assumption that we have a webcam loaded with extreme filth, ready to be streamed straight into their porn parlor. When guys follow, we’re going to send a Direct Message (DM) plus URL to promote Jizz! They’ll immediately think we’re a cunning little vixen and download the book, anticipating tons of sexy pictures. Job done. In the worst case scenario, they’ll complain loudly and often via Twitter. That’s what the BLOCK function is for – we don’t need that kind of negativity in our lives. We must avoid any protracted conversations once we’ve got a sale, as we don’t want to end up on the TV show Catfish.
  8. Facebook is invaluable, which is why we’re going to create a pair of Facebook pages that are managed from our regular Facebook account. It’s important to use a page as this gives us more functionality and management capabilities than a standard account (such as promoting posts and paid advertising, which BTW we’re never going to use). We’ll call our first page Jizz! the book.  For the sake of legitimacy, we’ll call the second page: Victoria BJ Author. This stops anyone else pretending to be us, which is important for the scheme to work. We don’t want to accidentally appear on any TV shows before we’re ready, especially if the manuscript is plagiarized. We’ll link each of the Facebook pages to the respective Twitter account, so that anything we write of Facebook is auto-tweeted. Now we’re ready to start boasting about how successful our book sales are. We’re going to make stuff up. We’ll tell the world how many copies we’ve sold in the last hour. It’s important that everyone thinks we’re doing great. More importantly, we need to convince ourselves we’re doing great, as this is the key to being a successful author. How we feel about ourselves is far more important than actual sales.
  9. While we’re getting up to speed on Twitter and Facebook, we’ll take some time to get reviewed on Amazon. If we’re going to spend any $$$ on the campaign, then paid for reviews are the way to go. five-starGoogle is our best friend here. With a bit of effort, we should be able to get 100 x 5 star reviews for $25. Amazon is trying to clamp down on this kind of activity, so we may need to make our book free for a day and then get our friends to download it. Once they’ve registered as a customer they can add a 5 star review. It’s worth making sure there’s at least one 4 star review, so as not to raise suspicions. The 4 star review can say: cracking read, but a bit too much sex for me. See how we’ve turned a negative into a positive. If we manage to get Amazon on our case for posting fake reviews, we’ll resist loudly and tweet our indignation and disgust, as well as letting Amazon have both barrels on Facebook. We’re after total attention, because attention equals sales and sales = $$$.
  10. The final piece of the puzzle is to accumulate Facebook likes. This is where our friends come in again. We’re going to like both of our pages as ourselves and then encourage our trustworthy friends to like those pages too.  The objective is to legitimize our activity. We have to impose on our trustworthy friends and ask them to share our Facebook page with messages of support – we must make that sucker move. Without paid advertising, it can be slow to gain traction on Facebook, so what we’re going to do is to borrow some tasty cat videos from around the web. We’ll post them on our Facebook e-book page with the comment: Want some pu$$y? Read Jizz! and provide a handy link to Amazon. Let’s not be shy and stop at one cat video. People love cats, so we’ll spread that cat love far and wide.  To ice our cake we’ll follow some ‘C’ class celebs and bombard them until they give us repeat tweets. Remember: persistence always pays off eventually.

If we implement each of these steps with panache and a sense of humor, the $$$ will roll in.  Experienced authors might complain that we need to get registered on sites like goodreads.com, but that’s the last thing we want to do, as someone might actually read the damn book. The ultimate objective of the game is to push the boundaries as far as possible until something snaps and we get found out. This is where fame and fortune lie. In the process of following the 10 steps, whether we like it or not, we’ve become expert bloggers and social media whizzes. Once we’re outed, we can either fess up (play the hero) or be fudick_dll of spite and indignation (play the villain). Whichever role we choose, we’re going to make a lot of noise and that means exploiting our new found social media skills to the full, and with the help of local news channels and podcasts we’ll become the great author we already know we are. With enough badgering, someone somewhere will give us a nice little paycheck to tell our story, and that’s when we get to publish our real best seller: Jizz! The Fairytale, which is all about how we tricked the world into buying a $0.49 book that no-one actually read. Naturally, we’re going to employ a ghost writer as we’re going to be far too busy with the partying and fast cars to do it ourselves.

Disclaimer: this article is obviously tongue-in-cheek and there is no way that I as a professional author condone plagiarizing the work of others. May you burn in the bad place stipulated by your religion of choice if you do so…

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Human Engineering

4 Jan

male-and-female-relationship-signThis is a little off topic based on what I usually blog about, but as it falls under one of my areas of interest, here goes:

We each have three main senses with which we engage the world: our eyes, our ears and our physical touch/feeling. In psychology terms, these senses are referred to as: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.  Most of us don’t rely too much on our sense of taste or smell, although there are exceptions, such as those who taste wine or cook for a living. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m lumping taste and smell in with physical feeling. The majority of us use one of the three main senses as their primary sense and one of the other two senses as their backup sense. The third sense is not commonly used. In the world in which I grew up (1960s/70s), most men were physical/visual and most women were auditory/visual. Notice that most men didn’t use their ears. Equally, most women didn’t engage with the world physically, at least not in the sporty way that men did.

ruck-1-smallClearly this is a generalisation, as we’re all capable of using all of our senses. It’s just that when we’re not paying 100% attention, we tend to habituate on a single, favourite sense. There are a few remarkable people who you’ll meet once in a while, who use all three senses the whole of the time. You don’t meet a lot of them, but when you do you’ll know about it because they’ll run rings around you! The differing use of senses I’ve described led to the following oft-cited comparison: men are from Mars, women are from Venus. This isn’t too surprising, as the primary sense that each sex uses to engage with the world is different. In my formative years men were always fighting each other, while women were always bashing each other with words. The one thing that both sexes could agree on was what looks right – i.e. they both had a shared secondary sense.

bill-sargent-photo-webHaving generalised, let’s examine the oddballs. Musicians tend to be auditory/physical or physical/auditory, which makes sense. The ears give appreciation of sounds, the physical awareness provides the timing. Evey once in a while (to borrow a slang term from back home) one runs into a ‘geezer-bird’ – a lady who is physical/visual, and hence more at home drinking and watching sports with a gang of guys. For my part, I’m auditory/visual, so I tend to get on better with women than men.

You get the idea.

Over the last 40 years something strange has happened, observable in the Millennials and the end of Gen-Y. Men & women and boys & girls have become sort of androgynous, as in they get on far better together than my generation ever did. I’m convinced that the reason for this is the massive upsurge in visual entertainment. All that TV and film has reengineered humans so that both sexes now use their visual sense as their primary sense, causing an entire generation to experience the world in the same way. When I was growing up we had a black and white TV, four channels only and no video recorder. My dad would use a reel to reel tape recorder to record Capt Scarlet or Thunderbirds which my brother and I would then listen to later, filling in the pictures in our heads. I’m sure this the reason that my senses work the way they do. That and a horrible accident when I was about 6, which caused me to switch off my feelings, to avoid getting physically hurt again.

goggle_twitter_picIf I was one of those conspiracy chaps, I’d now claim that Hollywood, run by the CIA, has been involved in a clandestine operation for the last 50 years to change the way that humans are wired, forcing both sexes to use their eyes as their primary sense, and forgetting about their ears and their feelings.  As I’m not that way inclined, I think it was an accident, although the result is the same: people get on far better than they used to. The downside is that now everyone uses their eyes first and foremost, the world has become a very uniform place.

Or perhaps I’m just getting old.

What say you?

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Shovels for Sale

21 Dec

snow-woveI’m busy learning how to market e-books, having done very little research into the subject prior to publishing my first novel. I have a very curious nature, so reading and learning new things is not something I run away from – rather I run towards the opportunity. Having spent around ten days investigating how the e-book / online publishing business works, I’m reminded of something that Mark Twain once said:

During the gold rush it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.

Although the odd person struck it rich during the California gold rush of the 1840s & 50s, those who made a ton of money were the people selling the tools with which to locate, extract and refine gold. I’m guessing approx 1:10,000 struck it rich, whereas all 10,000 required a shovel.

The prospecting business model can be applied to many areas of life. Back in the early days of the Internet, there was a rush for dot.com domain names. Everyone was busy registering everything in sight, in the hope of striking it lucky and selling their domain name on to a big company that was slow off the mark, thus pocketing $million$. There were one or two notable sales made before the rules were changed to make domain squatting an offense, but when the dust cleared the folks that made a mint out of the domain name gold rush were the registrars not the squatters.

What I’ve discovered in my foray into online publishing is that there are a heck of a lot of peeps out there in internet land flogging shovels of every shape and size. Naturally, they’re not called shovels, but that’s definitely what they are. For instance:

  • A WordPress blog is free. However, if I want a snazzy domain name rather than domain.wordpress, that’s $20 a year please.
  • If I want to make any mods to the standard WordPress code, I have to move to a dedicated server (for security reasons). That’s about $5 a month. I’m thinking of doing this anyway, as WordPress won’t allow me to host a shop.
  • The mods in question are PHP code extensions such as email address sign-up. WordPress does the sign-up basics for free, but it’s not possible to push the option at the casual reader. Whilst I can get a basic slab of pop-up code for free, I can’t install it. If I move the website, then the pop-up will contain ads from the creator. In order to get rid of these and have full control over page placement that’s more $$$ please. The full service from a reputable email list provider BTW is $10+ a month, depending on numbers, so the free option is attractive cost wise, it just looks a bit cheap.
  • salesfunnelWhy do I want to create an email list? Well… according to research, most people visit a website once and don’t go back. Getting their email address is a means to continually poke them remotely with super offers until they cave in. Get my other novel for free. Get the first book in the trilogy for free. Blah, blah. An email list is your list of valued customers, and as an author it’s your most valuable asset next to your published works(s). I’ve visited the blogs of other authors to see what they’re doing, and indeed the successful ones are prompting visitors to sign-on to the mailing list. In sales terms, this is known as the ‘Sales Funnel’ and it’s the modern equivalent of making sure you get a prospective customer’s phone number before they leave the shop. After that, it’s simply a case of hassling them in the nicest possible way until they eventually surrender to your charms.
  • Next we get onto likes and reviews.  Just like with Twitter followers, I can go to a dodgy site and buy tranches of likes for a Facebook page. Personally, I think that’s cheating. The Ferret Files Facebook page has quite a few likes, which were accrued via Facebook paid advertising. It’s working out at $15 per 1,000 likes, but the likes are real not made up. Reviews are more tricky. I can buy 100+ 5***** reviews on Amazon fairly cheaply. Or, I can go for free reviews which take an age to get back and in truth could be only ** or ***. Again, I think that buying reviews is cheating, although it’s very tempting. Certainly better than no reviews. As you probably realise by now, it’s impossible to trust Twitter followers, Facebook likes and Amazon reviews, but customers do (including me).
  • There are a multitude of self-help books that detail what I’ve described above and how to do it. Everything I’ve written about can be discovered for free, but that takes time and time is $$$. Buying someone else’s experiences is yet more $$$ please.

nice-shovelI haven’t even covered  the shovels that are for sale prior to writing a novel. You can buy advice on: better writing, better structure, how to develop characters, killer beginnings, killer endings, pace, etc. In fact, it looks to me like there are vastly more people out there selling shovels for writing and publishing than there are authors successfully selling golden novels. Perhaps that what I should do next: create another shovel.  It’ll have to be a very pretty shovel that no one else has yet made, full of fantastic new ideas on how to do all of the above at very little expense.

What do you think? Does the world of online publishing need more shovels, or is there not enough gold out there to warrant it?

 

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A strange few weeks

16 Dec

davinci_ferretIt’s been a strange few weeks.  Due to a series of cock-ups, The Ferret Files was launched on Amazon and then on Apple way before the press campaign was ready. In fact, the people who are organising the release still haven’t got their act together after five weeks worth of messing about. Given it’s Christmas, this is kind of understandable but at the same time unacceptable. Hence I had to just get on with it.

I’ve discovered that this requires two different hats: the writer’s cap and the author’s fedora. I wore the writer’s cap for months on end, staring out the window when plotting story lines, and using it to scoop cold water onto my keyboard when the keys were sizzling from an obsessive dump of ideas. I’m done with the cap for now. It’s onto the fedora, which means I get to talking about the novel and the characters in it, rather than the process of writing.

What I’ve found is that I have the weirdest feelings when it comes to Ferret and friends. Now they’re in the public domain, they’re no longer exclusively my characters: suddenly, they belong to the readers as well. Everyone who meets Ferret will have a slightly different take on who he is. The same applies to Cyrano, Marcus and Tristan, Damien and Eric, Flamen and Sir Edward, and Marianne and Juliet. In a way it’s liberating to set the cast free, but it also places a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. Their stories are not yet finished: we’ve still got a way to go to find out what happens to them all. I’ve plotted a trilogy of books with the same core cast. I know roughly where we’re headed, but not the fine detail. There are also three short stories which take place between books two and three. Bob will play a greater part in these tales. The characters whose arcs I’m really looking forwardxmas-ferret to developing are the hard-done-to juniors: Eric, Rajesh and Xara. And of course the centurion. Boy, are we all in for a surprise with him.

It took me a long time to get Ferret to a degree of polished that I can live with. I’ve downloaded quite a few cheap e-books and the level of finish is not something I’d be happy with.  But then I have a history of producing quality output. If I lend my name to something, it will be good. Anyone who buys into The Ferret Files is buying into a world full of crazy people and cracked ideas. Once you read it, you’ll get that. For a long time I wondered about writing under a pseudonym. Outside of my life as a writer and author, I have an IT consultancy to run. In the end I felt that writing under a different name was the wrong thing to do. I wrote Ferret. I’m proud of my achievement. And it’s too late to back out now. It’s a done deal.

If there’s anything you’d like to know about Ferret and friends, drop me an email at: Phillip@detectingconsultant.com. I’ll answer the best questions in a future blog post.

Meanwhile, have a great Christmas y’all…

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