“The only winning move is not to play.”

[I’m guessing you’ve already seen WarGames–the 1983 film with Matthew Broderick and a computer called Joshua. If you haven’t, this post will spoil the ending for you. If you don’t want that, you shouldn’t read this. Sorry.]

In an ideal world, this post wouldn’t be necessary. But hey, this is reality, so let’s get to it.

So there’s a battle going on in the comment sections of nearly every web site that has a comment section.

It’s a battle between three armies:

  1. Regular Commenters
  2. Social Justice Warriors
  3. Trolls

It can be difficult to tell them apart, at times, and there is often overflow from one army to another. Regular Commenters might actually be Social Justice Warriors; they just don’t realise it until something triggers them. You could read a post and assume it’s a troll, when in reality it’s a Social Justice Warrior with stronger-than-expected levels of aggression. (We’re going to ignore the unmentioned fourth category, the genuinely naive commenters. Genuinely naive people can often be reasoned with, be taught, and actually, it’s quite rewarding when you can have a positive impact on them.)

I’m going to assume that you’re category one. (If I’m wrong in my assumptions, you’re probably not going to enjoy the rest of this post. Just saying.)

You don’t have an agenda behind your comment, when you leave it. You just want to have a healthy debate about an article/video. But then you leave your innocent little comment, and a someone from category two or three replies to it with either aggressive vitriol or provocation, and you find yourself–normally a considerate, rational human being–overflowing with rage.

Some people thrive on conflict. They want to argue. They have their (possibly unpopular) opinion, and damn it, you’re going to read about it. You can’t stop them from putting their opinions online, whether on their own Tumblrs or blogs or whatevers, or in comment sections of any and every article they can find. You don’t have to follow them online, but you do have to read their comments, if they’re on an article you’re interested in reading.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

“The only winning move is not to play.”

At the end of WarGames, Broderick’s character–along with the guy who designed the computer’s AI–tries to stop Joshua from launching nuclear missiles (he thinks it’s a retaliation, there’s a whole story behind it, don’t worry about that now). Through a game of noughts & crosses (or tic-tac-toe), Joshua learns about an un-winnable game (and “Mutually Assured Destruction”), and relinquishes control of the missiles.

[after playing out all possible outcomes for Global Thermonuclear War]
Joshua: Greetings, Professor Falken.
Stephen Falken: Hello, Joshua.
Joshua: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

I realise that comparing online commenting to nuclear war is probably a bit of a stretch, but the lesson is the same.

Difference between WarGames’ lesson and the lesson here is, the game is winnable, but it’s never won by you.

XKCD: Duty CallsYou try to convince a Social Justice Warrior that their opinion is wrong/flawed. They will ignore you.You get frustrated/angry. You lose.

You reply to someone, arguing your case. They (and anyone else who latches onto the fact that you’re affected by the things that are being said) either laugh at you or ignore you. You get frustrated/angry. You lose.

You call a troll out on being a troll. They ask you if you’re mad (bro). You get frustrated/angry. You lose.

Someone jumps to your defense. Whoever’s attention was on you is now on both of you (and they probably bring some anonymous friends to the party). Now there’s two of you entangled in the web. You both lose.

The only way you can win an argument online is not to get involved in one.

And the best way not to get involved in an argument? Don’t be aware of it.

So I was driving to work this morning, when it hit me: someone should really build a browser extension that stops a site visitor from viewing any comment sections.

Of course, within around thirty seconds of Googling, I’d already trialed 3 different extensions that did that very thing.

Late to the party, as usual.

The Software

The extension I settled on is a neat little thing called, quite aptly, “Shut Up“.

I haven’t tested it thoroughly yet, but so far I can confirm the following:

  1. It works with BBC News.
  2. It works with the Daily Mail.
  3. It works with YouTube(!)
  4. It works with any site that has a Disqus installation.
  5. It works with some (not all) site-embedded Facebook comments, but it doesn’t work with comments on Facebook’s own site.
  6. It also works with Reddit, which is a site based entirely on comments, so that’s kind of counter-intuitive…but anyway.

If you want to read comments on a particular site, you can click the icon in the browser, and all the comments come flooding back.

You also have the option (the only option) for the extension to remember which sites you’ve allowed comments on.

first!
Shut Up’s Option (Singular)

“Shut Up” is a browser extension available for Chrome, Firefox (using the “Stylish” plugin), and Safari, and can be added manually added to any browser.

Details and download links for the extensions and files can be found here.

The extension isn’t without flaws, and it doesn’t catch 100% of comment areas on web sites. If you want to take it a step further, you can add the Stylebot extension and add extra CSS to hide more comment areas as you find them.

The Conclusion

“Shut Up” obviously doesn’t stop people from posting hurtful, sexist, racist, or just generally hate-filled comments on web sites that haven’t deleted their comment sections entirely.

What it does is stop you–the visitor–from ever seeing those comments, so you can’t be affected by them.

Yes, it means the trolls are winning, for now, but bear with me here.

They can say whatever they want on any platform that allows them access, but you don’t have to inadvertently read their comments. You don’t see the comments, therefore you’re not automatically annoyed by them.

If everyone took this route, all the decent human beings will eventually be ignoring comment systems entirely and interacting on a more personal level, meanwhile the trolls will be left to argue with themselves.

Bonus

Here’s Fingathing’s Criminal Robots (great song; great band), which contains audio clips from WarGames. Please to enjoy.

Thoughts on Self-Publishing, eBooks and Kindle

Eww, self-publishing.

Don’t touch it! Don’t even look at it. Kill it. Kill it with fire!

Writers are reluctant about the whole idea behind self-publishing from the offset, usually spurned by the stigma that’s followed the idea since “Ye Olde Days” of Vanity Publishing, whereby the author shelled out massive amounts of their own pennies for…well, essentially nothing.

This isn’t so much the case these days, what with services like POD printing and Kindle, and provided you know what you want out of your self-publishing adventures, you won’t be so unpleasantly surprised as you may have been a handful of years ago.

Before your dreams can run off to frolic in a meadow with you, you need to ground yourself and understand why you are considering self-publishing in the first place.

Don’t Self-Publish Out of Desperation

If you are choosing to self-publish because you’ve received twenty million rejections and you’ve decided self-publishing the only option, take a minute and think about that.  If you’re not being accepted by a publishing house or literary agent, is it because they don’t know a good thing when it’s slapped across their faces with all the force of a wet cod, or after the one hundredth rejection, do you think your work might be something you still could improve on?

I’m not being callous here, and let’s not forget that even George Orwell’s Animal Farm was initially rejected by publishers, with their argument being: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” So yes, it may well not be you, it might be them.  But by the same token, if your only reason for publishing independently is because you’ve been unlucky in your publishing forays, you may want to reconsider before you jump in.

Self-publishing is significantly more difficult to turn a profit from, unless you are very lucky, or unless you already have a strong fan following.  And here’s why:

  • In traditional publishing, you pitch your book to a publisher, who then makes you an offer on it, on which you receive an advance payment and go on to receive royalties on any book sales that surpass the advance.  If your books don’t sell beyond your advance offer, the publisher loses out, but you keep your money and can only assume that you won’t be selling any more books to that publisher in the near future. (I’m talking in mega simple terms here. In practise, you wouldn’t generally consider approaching a publisher without the representation of a literary agent, but anyway I’m digressing…)
  • With self-publishing, you essentially become a publishing house in your own right.  You are the company’s owner, the marketing and sales department, the after-sales and public relations department (and each department is overworked and underpaid), right down to the weird old lady who probably should’ve retired a few years ago but lingers around shoved in the corner desk, who smells funny and mumbles profanities into her cup of tea. It is solely down to you to drive the sales, deal with the marketing, and not to forget actually physically publish the thing in the first place!

So if, on the other hand, you are self-publishing because you would like the creative freedom and financial control over your own work (along with the stresses that comes along with it), then you’re free to carry on.

Your Self-Publishing Choices

The first thing that hits most newcomers to self-publishing is the misconception that there should be underlying cost involved in the pre-publishing services.  This is not necessarily the case.  If you have a fully polished novel, you’re ready to skip to the publishing route without spending a penny.

If you are touted by vanity publisher types, they will be straight in there like sharks, telling you outright that your story is truly and utterly amazing, a stroke of literary genius, if only you used their editorial services to finish it up, only $200 for basic edit:

In many circumstances, these services turn out to be useless, or even worse, scams. For a fairly comprehensive list of suspect agencies working in this way, look here, but as a general rule of thumb, bear in mind that anyone who comes to you offering you services isn’t doing it for your benefit.

Preparing for Publication

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t spend money on making sure your work is of the highest quality before you subject it to the public’s attention.

If you want, and have the funds to do it, consider independent editorial advice.  I can’t really suggest names here; all I can recommend is that you research the people you want to work with thoroughly, read testimonials and engage the editors in one-on-one e-mail conversations, before you enter into any kind of agreement.

If you don’t want the financial outlay of professional services at this point, at the very least invest yourself in beta readers of some capacity, even if these readers are people you know. A very important note on this: if you’re going to go down the route of beta readers, be sure they’re people who you can trust to give you honest opinions.  If your beta readers do nothing but massage your ego and tell you how amazing everything you spew out is, they’re not doing their job properly.

Publishing to Print

So you’ve decided you want to publish by yourself. Good on you, power to the people, etc!

What you will want to find is a Print on Demand (POD) printing solution. (Since I publish through Lulu, I can only offer information on this option. There are others, such as Create Space, but I have found Lulu to be the most all-encompassing solution, so I’m just rolling with that.)

There are 2 things you need to have at this point:

  • A finished, polished, correctly formatted manuscript*.
  • A book cover**.

* Lulu does employ more third party services to assist in the formatting and layout of your manuscript, but to be honest, if you have a copy of Microsoft Word or even Open Office, you should be able to match the format required for your chosen layout, with some editing.

** Again, Lulu provides more third party services to help you design a ‘perfect’ cover for your book, and while this may be a viable option for you, if you have any form of experience (or better yet – as in my case – know someone else who has experience) with graphic design, you should be able to do this yourself, or if not, find someone who will be able to do it for you.  Again, don’t take the word of the supplier – in this case, Lulu – to be gospel.  Shop around.  You can usually find cover commissions for decent prices on sites such as DeviantArt.

Publishing through Lulu is as simple as creating an account, clicking on New Project, and following the instructions, so I don’t think you need anything else on that. Just give it a try!

Publishing to Kindle

So you want to publish your eBook to Kindle. What is it, anyway?  Have we reached a universal decision yet? e-Book? E-Book? eBook? iBook?  No wait, that’s something else entirely. I’m just going to ahead and call them eBooks, because I like CamelCase more than hyphens.

Publishing to Kindle provides very easy-access for your reader base to get into your stuff. Yes, Kindles (as in the physical machine) are slightly expensive, but you can download software for Kindle to work on iPhone, Android, PC and Mac, all for free.

OK, first thing you want to do is set yourself up as a publisher for Amazon: Kindle KDP Login.

In some ways, publishing to Kindle is easier than producing to print. Easier, at least, in some senses.

Formatting isn’t quite as big an issue here, thanks to MobiPocket. A bit of reading should outline for you how to convert your Word document or likewise into a .mobi format. Now, the reason I personally recommend the .mobi format above HTML alternatives is because MobiPocket is totally free, super easy to understand and use, and the .mobi format is entirely compatible with Kindle.

Again, you’d still need a cover, and again that’s down to you to source, if indeed you want to get something snazzy put up there. You can, by all means, put up nothing but a blank page with your book’s title in Times New Roman. There’s nothing against it, but just bear this in mind: if you see a book cover that doesn’t pop out at you, would you be compelled to buy it?

The actual publishing process is very straight forward. Once you’ve signed into your Kindle KDP Account, click on ‘Add a New Title’, and follow the massive two steps to get it setup. I know, sounds terrifying, right? After you have uploaded your file and filled in the relevant information relating to your title, Kindle takes approximately 24 hours to clear review and have it become available on the Amazon store.

A Note About ISBN Numbers (International Standard Book Number Numbers?)

If you want your book to be listed in book databases, you will want to get yourself some ISBN’s to assign to the books. Again, this will cost money, but it’s still optional, at the end of the day, so I’m not saying you need one, it will just help — if nothing else — add a level of professionalism to your work.

Every edition of a book you release should have its own ISBN (So a hardback/paperback/eBook will need 3 ISBN’s across your range). You can get further information on ISBN’s here, and you can buy them here.


And in a nutshell, that’s all there is to it!


Do you have any tales of adventure into the word of self-publishing, good or bad?  Do share!