Another Quick Groupon Story

Another real-life story about Groupon users.

A friend of mine in Washington owns a small winery. It’s open two days a week for tastings. He charges $6/person and waives the fee with the purchase of two bottles of wine. For the $6, you get a 1-ounce taste of every wine he makes that hasn’t sold out. He had eight varieties; two were sold out as of mid August.

A while back, a hotel in nearby Wenatchee called him. They wanted to do a Groupon wine-tasting deal. Would he allow the people who bought their Groupon to have a free tasting? Other local wineries had signed on.

My friend didn’t know much about Groupon. But he’s a nice guy who wanted to help the hotel folks and he liked the idea of having more people come to his winery. He figured he’d reach new people and sell some wine. This was before three of his wines won awards at a blind tasting of area wines; before his wines started selling out.

They started coming without warning on a Saturday afternoon. Dozens of them. They soon took up all the seating in his tasting area. He called me for help. I put on some clean clothes and rushed over to help him pour.

We poured, they drank. They didn’t seem to have much interest in the wine. The seemed more interested in the list of wineries included in their Groupon. The more wineries they visited, the more free wine they’d drink. My friend sold one bottle for every three or four people who tasted.

One table of eight young women were there for more than two hours. I guess they figured that their Groupon had entitled them to a shady place to spend their entire afternoon. Collectively, they bought two bottles of wine. They left chewing gum stuck to the table.

Some people without Groupons didn’t stick around. There wasn’t enough seating for them. They didn’t feel like waiting.

This was repeated on the following two weekends. My friend had to pay someone to help him pour to keep up with the crowd. He lost money on every Groupon tasting. And he doubts the Groupon users will be back.

My friend learned a valuable lesson. As you might guess, he won’t be offering his own Groupon deal anytime soon.

New Social Networking Scam

Another story from my inbox.

Yesterday, the following e-mail message from “Ben” arrived in my e-mail inbox. It had been sent using the contact form on this blog. Here’s the text with the identifying information redacted.

Hi,

My name is Ben and I’m working with the [dedacted TV channel] to help spread the word about their new outdoor photography show, “[redacted name of show].” The second episode airs [redacted date/time] and follows [redacted host name] as he photographs the red rock canyons of the American Southwest.

I came across your wonderful blog and I thought you might be interested in doing a post to let your readers know about the show and help spread the awareness. Any posts that you put up will go up on [dedacted TV channel]‘s Facebook Page and/or their twitter page- so it is a good way to get some publicity for your own site. I also have a copy of [redacted host's name] ‘[redacted host's book]‘ which I could offer out to you for your time.

I’ve put some info about the show, pics, and videos below just to give you some background. If you have any questions or need more information please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Thanks for your time and let me know if you are interested as it would be so great to have your help.

Best,

Ben

What followed was a bunch of links to content in various places that evidently showed off the show. (I admit that I didn’t follow any of them.)

Bryce Canyon DawnI received the message on my iPhone while I was stuck waiting for a tow truck (long story) and, because of that, didn’t really read it carefully. At first, I was flattered. This well-known TV channel had found my blog, liked it, and wanted to work with me on some publicity for their show. This made me feel really good because, as regular visitors here know, I do a lot of photography in red rock country in Arizona and in Utah. It looked as if I were getting a bit of recognition.

But when I got back to my office and re-read the message on my computer screen, I realized that the message was obviously boilerplate. Nowhere did it mention my name, the name of my blog, or any other identifying piece of information that might make me think it was written specifically to me. “Your wonderful blog” could be a nice way to refer to anyone’s online drivel — provided you wanted to make them feel warm and fuzzy about your project.

I’d been duped.

Or almost duped.

I then took a closer look at the domain name on “Ben’s” e-mail address. It wasn’t from that TV channel. I popped the URL into my browser and found myself looking at a Web site for a company claiming to be “social media marketing & publicity specials” that “develop strategies and execute initiatives, which generate conversations & cultivate relationships between brands and publishers.” In other words, they con active members of the social networking community to tweet and blog about their clients.

For free.

Well, the client doesn’t get their services for free. It’s Ben and his company who get the services of the social networking folks for free. Free authoring, free placement of the ads, free “buzz.” Ben and his cohorts just send out boilerplate messages to lure in unsuspecting bloggers who apparently have little else to write about. Along the way, they get these bloggers to look at the content on their clients’ sites, bumping up the hit counter to show immediate results.

I’m wondering how many bloggers fall for this strategy and how many thousands of dollars Ben & Co. rake in weekly by copying and pasting boilerplate messages on the Web.

I composed my response:

Ben,

I’m interested in this, but admit that I’m a bit put off by being ask to write what’s essentially an advertisement and place it on my own blog without compensation. Not quite sure how this would benefit me. A few additional hits to my blog would be nice, but since my blog does not generate any income for me, getting more hits is not really that important to me.

I also wonder how many dozens (or hundreds) of other bloggers you’ve contacted. Your message was very generic and could have been sent to anyone with a “wonderful blog.”

Now if I were offered compensation via exposure for my helicopter charter company (http://www.flyingmair.com/), which specializes in aerial photography over red rock areas such as Sedona and Lake Powell — well that might interest me a bit more.

Or is your message just another bit of spam to get ME to check out this site? So far, it’s a FAIL.

Any interest in making this more appealing to me?

Maria

I’m waiting for a response that likely won’t come. Why should he respond to me when he probably has dozens or hundreds of other bloggers taking the bait?

In the meantime, Ben has indeed given me something to blog about.

MagCloud Offers Free Magazines for iPad Users

Print on demand goes digital for free.

MagCloud Logo

I’ve been using MagCloud for some time now to create marketing material and, for a while, a monthly newsletter about flying around Arizona in a helicopter. It was suggested to me by a reader of my blog and once I saw what it was all about, I ran with it. I’m not the only one. Hundreds of people are releasing monthly or quarterly magazines using MagCloud’s print-on-demand features. Of those, a bunch are also taking advantage of a new feature that makes it possible to automatically publish magazines in an iPad-compatible digital format.

This is a great thing for iPad owners looking for interesting new reading material. There are dozens of beautiful, full-color magazines that you can download for free onto your iPad. All you need is the MagCloud iPad app, which is also free from the iPad App Store.

MagCloud Magazine StoreHere’s how it works.

  1. Download the app and install it on your iPad.
  2. Open the app and use it to visit MacCloud’s Magazine Store.
  3. Browse by topic or search for a specific title.
  4. Tap a magazine you want. It’s downloaded to your iPad.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as desired to download multiple magazines. They’ll appear in the My Magazines screen.
  6. Landscape ViewTap a downloaded magazine to read it. In portrait mode, it appears as a single page. In landscape mode, it appears as a spread. You can pinch and drag to magnify and scroll.

MagCloud is an excellent print-on-demand publisher for magazine-style publications. I highly recommend it. And if you’re an iPad user, I hope you’ll check out MagCloud’s app and the free magazines you can download.

Be sure to do a search for “helicopter” and take a look at some of mine.

Just Because It’s Free Doesn’t Mean You Should Waste It

I’ve become the power police.

My Neighbor's TrailerThis photo shows the trailer parked in the spot next to mine. It’s been here longer than me and I suspect it isn’t going anywhere soon.

For a while, a family of four and dog lived in it. They kept weird hours. They’d come home between 9 PM and 11 PM, make a bunch of noise, and then go inside and (I assume) sleep. Occasionally, before turning in, one of them would do something in the car with the key in the ignition and the door open so it would beep-beep-beep for 20 minutes at a time. In the morning, around 10 AM to 11 AM, the door would open and they’d begin spilling out in their pajamas. After screwing around at the trailer for a while, they’d leave. The whole process would start again that night.

About a month ago, they started leaving the “porch” light on. This makes sense when you know you’re going to get in late, but what bugged me is that they never turned it off. And while this isn’t a huge deal if they’re parked all by themselves, their porch light is about 10 feet from one of my bedroom windows. It’s so bright outside at night that I actually woke up in the middle of the night last week and thought it was morning.

It was morning. One o’clock in the morning.

I considered asking them to turn if off at night when they got in, but I was too embarrassed. They were a family of four in a 20-year-old 22-foot travel trailer with a dog. I was a family of one in a brand new 36-foot fifth wheel trailer with a parrot. I had no right to whine.

About two weeks ago, they started leaving the air conditioning on all day long, even when they — and their little dog — were out. They also left the two top vents and one of the windows open. Air conditioning on, windows closed isn’t bad. Air conditioning off, windows open is good. But air conditioning on, windows open is wasteful — especially when no one is home.

The campground we’re in is dirt cheap: $200 per month for a full hookup! There’s no electric meter, so you can suck as much power as you want. But that doesn’t mean you should suck power when you don’t need to. Or blatantly waste it.

About a week ago, they stopped coming home. I don’t know where the hell they are. For all I know, they’ve been deported.

So now there’s a vacant trailer next door with its porch light on, shining into my bedroom window, and the air conditioning blowing cold air out the open vents and windows. 24/7.

It gets cool here at night — in the 60s most nights. The kind of night you want to leave your windows open to feel the fresh breeze and hear the wind in the trees.

Of course, with windows and blinds open, I get to hear the air conditioning from next door and have that damn light shining on me.

I mentioned the light to some folks I had dinner with last night. They all told me to pull the bulb out.

But last night, I did something better. I snuck around to their electrical box and turned off their circuit breaker. Instant silence, instant dark.

I slept very well last night.

They didn’t come home. Although I was tempted to leave everything turned off, I know they have an electric refrigerator — the kind you buy for a dorm room; I saw them bring it in the day I moved in — and I was worried that the food inside it (if there was any) would spoil. So before taking my walk this morning, I flicked everything back on.

Tonight, I’ll flick it off again.

I figure that if they show up, they’ll just assume the circuit breaker popped. Maybe they’ll even get the idea that they shouldn’t leave the air conditioning on when they’re not around.

Copy Editing – Part I: What Is Copy Editing?

Copy editing — an important part of the publishing process.

Prepare yourself for the usual author rant — but with a difference. This one is coming from an author who just completed her 69th book. An author who has worked with about eight different publishers and dozens of copy editors over the course of 15 years.

So no, this isn’t a newbie writer griping about a heavy-handed editor on her first or second book. It’s coming from someone who has been doing this for a long time and feels as if she’s “seen it all.”

I’ve taken this topic and split it into three parts. In this part, I’ll start off with an introduction to the topic of copy editing and tell you what I believe it should be.

Stet!What is Copy Editing?

The purpose of copy editing should be to ensure that the original text is:

  • Free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Note the use of the word “error” here; that’ll be important later in this discussion.
  • Consistent with a publisher style guide. A style guide, in the world of publishing, is a document that sets forth usage in those gray areas. I’m talking about capitalization issues such as web vs. Web, hyphenation issues such as email vs. e-mail, and design issues such as boldfacing figure references.
  • Clear and easy to understand. This usually involves breaking up long or complex sentences or possibly rearranging sentence components.
  • Unlikely to be misinterpreted. For example, when you say the “Color in pop-up menu,” do you mean a pop-up menu named “Color in” or are you talking about color in a pop-up menu?
  • Consistent with the writing style of the established book or series. This only comes into play when you’re writing for a series that has a predefined format and style. For example, Visual QuickStart Guides (VQSes) tend to be short and to the point, so I don’t have room for personal stories, as I do in other books. VQSes also have level 2 headings that begin with the word “To” and are followed by numbered steps, each of which presents a single task. (I could list about a dozen style issues specific to a VQS, but you get the idea.)

Flowers for AlgernonOf course, what you’re writing should determine how much of the above is required. If you’re writing a novel much of this may not apply at all. Consider the book, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The book’s first person narrator is a retarded man. The book is in journal format and the first few chapters are so full of spelling and punctuation errors (or omissions) that the book is difficult to read. But that’s because of the author’s choices and the method he uses to communicate. Would you expect a retarded man to have perfect spelling, grammar, and punctuation? Of course not. The author is using the character’s shortcomings as a writer to make his character more real — as well a to drive home the changes in the character as the story progresses. This technique was used again more recently in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which featured an autistic first-person narrator. If a copy editor had done a thorough job on the grammar or punctuation in either of these two books, he would have altered the characters. The same can be said for dialog in most novels, since few people speak using perfect grammar.

So copy editing of fiction is a different subject — one I’m not addressing here. I’m discussing copy editing of non-fiction, primarily technical or how-to books, since that’s where my experience is.

More to Come…

This is the first part of my discussion of copy editing. There are at least two more parts to go. In the next part, I’ll rant a bit about my experiences with one particular book over the ten-year course of its life (so far). You’d think that after 10 years, the process would be trouble-free…

Why not take a moment to tell us what you think copy editing should be. How do you expect it to change or improve your writing? Use the comments link or form to share your thoughts.