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‘Tis The Season (An Open Letter To Online Shoppers Of Indie & Small Shops)

December 7, 2013

I have a little Etsy shop. (No; due to the nature of what I rant about here and post at Tumblr, I won’t be sharing a link with you.) And the holiday season means more sales — yay! But what’s not cool is that the general increase in shopping means an increase in everything that goes with it — as in more people contacting to ask for your “very best price” and “lower shipping costs”.

Yes, we all want deals; but it’s time to be real.

My father always says that selling online is just like retail; customers, online or off, are crazy-weird, and that’s just that. For the most part I agree. However, after decades of working retail, I’ve yet to meet a customer at the wrap desk who asked me to lower the price on merchandise or reduce shipping charges “just because”.

Here’s what I want to write back to the bargain-seeking potential customers, but won’t — because sometimes educating the customer is not good customer service. (It should be; but customers often don’t like to be informed about how inappropriate they are being.)

Dear Shopper Of My Online Store,

First, I want to thank you for shopping in my little store. It means the world to me!

Before I respond to your specific concerns, I’d like to say that I am most appreciative of you taking the time to contact me rather than just clicking away. And I hope that you will do the same again and read my reply in full, in the spirit it is written — to help you understand my position as an online seller or merchant.

In response to your request for my very best price, I must tell you I feel offended. The very question itself states that I do not have fair prices, and implies even less flattering things… I work very hard to provide my unique items and to price them in such a way that both meets the needs of a competitive marketplace and generates a little profit. And I do mean a little profit. I’m a little seller — and, despite this blunt note, generally a quite personable seller too. But I’m so little I don’t even qualify as a “small business”. Furthermore, I don’t have any illusions about my little business becoming an actual small business, nor fantasies about joining the ranks of the big brands and retail outlets that really compete for shopping dollar any time of year. But I still do want to make a profit off of what I sell.

However, sellers like myself understand that there are times at which you may wonder if a bit of a discount isn’t possible… Perhaps you’ve made multiple and/or frequent purchases from the shop, or noticed that there was a sale before or some-such. Maybe it’s as simple as your budget just not being able to stretch that extra dollar or so… We kind of understand; we’re shoppers too, after all. So, even when we do not encourage such things with “make me an offer” invitations (or operate at websites which have “best offer” options), most of us will politely engage in such negotiations.

[On the other hand, I am not sure why we accept this sort of bargain-dealing; this behavior certainly isn’t an option at most retail stores or shopping outlets. …Maybe it happens to us because our shops are so personal. We make, “pick” or otherwise select the offering in our shops personally; and we personally interact with you, the buyers. So you think we’re buddies and you can ask us. But because the online shops of little sellers such as myself are so personal, this “gimme” behavior is far more insulting.]

Whether or not an online seller politely invites you to make offers or not, we expect you to be polite about it if/when you do it. In fact, before you even consider tendering an offer, think about how you would react if someone was coming to your place of work and asking you to work for less. Is what you are asking for really acceptable? If so, proceed politely. That means more than saying, “Please,” or telling us why you want a deal. (We all want deals.)

* Make a realistic, non-insulting, monetary offer. (As a general rule, asking for anything more than a 25% discount, even when buying multiple items, is insulting.)

* Understand that we not only have pride in what we do, in what we sell, but we have actual money invested in it too. (Sometimes there is simply no room for any discount of any sort to anyone under any conditions.)

* Don’t be rude or otherwise try to bully us; that never works. (This includes statements such as, “I can get it cheaper at XYZ”; if it really is the same thing, just go buy it there.)

Since you made no offer, and since my price really is my best, I will simply state that the price the item listed for is the best I can do.

In response to your request for lower shipping costs, I regret to inform you that I don’t set the shipping prices. Shipping costs what it costs. If you don’t like how much it costs to ship something, contact the shipping companies (who, in turn, will likely direct you to gas companies, etc.). As for boxes and packaging, I usually only figure a dollar for that. Yup, one whole US dollar for a box, bubble wrap, printing the invoice, packing tape and whatever else is needed to make sure an order is sent safely. As it is, even with the recycling I do of packing materials, I am more likely lose money on the shipping cost in my efforts to keep the cost low and consistent than have any “profit” in it. (According to my data, I break even 78% of the time. On the rare, less than 1%, of the times I’ve “made money on shipping”, I’ve made an average of 2 cents per transaction. The remaining time, which rounds to 22% of sales transactions, I lose an average of 50 cents on the shipping of each of those sales. So, no; I cannot lower the shipping costs. And, no, I won’t “save you” the 90 cents it costs for using tracking; that’s the only way my ass is covered in a dispute in which a buyer claims I never sent the item. The bottom line is that my shipping charges are at or below the bottom line of what it costs.

I hope this explains things satisfactorily. And that you will go ahead and purchase the item you asked about. If not now, perhaps later.

Again, I thank you for your interest in my store and items.

Then again, perhaps short and sweet says it best:

I have a little charming business because it charms me; and when it charms you, I am delighted. But I am not so charmed or delighted that I will send you things for free or otherwise sell things for below what they cost me. I am allowed to make a small profit; if you don’t agree, then don’t spend your money with me.

Heads Up!

November 16, 2012
tags: , ,

A practical and thought provoking conversation about gender disparity in erotica & fetish literature in publishing. (I bet my post title is more titillating now!)

You Know What Assume Means

April 4, 2012

In Freelance Online Writing: Not As Fab and Glam, WhiteSockGirl addresses two specific issues in writing that I have not yet mentioned (even though I’ve mentioned quite a few), to wit: A) the problems with “writing” for SEO purposes, with pay so low it’s exploitative, and B) racist assumptions about those who take such jobs.  The follow snippet illustrates what happens when one assumes.

The ignorant so called freelance writer wrote about how good writers, specifically native English writers, were-oh-so-not appreciated. She ranted on about how she and her fellow native English writers have to compete for freelance jobs with ‘people in poverty-stricken countries who will write in chopped-up, half-assed English for less than $1/hour.’

Hey, Rick Santorum…

February 10, 2012

If homosexuality is equal to man on dog, does that mean 50% of men are dogs?

I asked my dog and he said you, Rick Santorum, are not good enough to be a dog.

Oh, Mairzy Doats…

March 1, 2011

Oh mares eat oat and does eat oats and little lambs eat pagans

PS If you don’t get the post or its title: Mairzy Doats.

Abuse: The Speculum Of Blogging

February 18, 2011

Remember when I told you about those plans to collaborate with some friends about the under-exposed societal disease of domestic violence which threatens the lives of women and children? Well, I finally got around to making my first posts — which proved more difficult than originally surmised.

You can find my on-going posts, and the posts of the other survivors, at both blogs:

More Than Surviving, Thriving: A self-help blog for survivors of abuse, those suffering from anxiety &/or depression, etc.

Penile Code Avenger: Exposing the dark ugly underbelly of abuse.

Readin’, ‘Riting, & Retardation

January 27, 2011

I’ve been working with a person online for years — and today I realized that maybe they are retarded. Like seriously cognitively impaired.

I once thought their writing style possessed that eloquence of brevity that my writing (and, frankly, my thinking) lack; it’s why I admired this person. But today, I read something they wrote and thought, “If I didn’t know this person, I would think they had some sort of diminished mental capacity.”

I’m not sure if their writing style has changed, or if my perception has.

I’m not sure that it even matters whether it’s an actual deficit on this person’s part or not.

No matter what, there’s an issue with my perceptivity (if that’s a word; spellcheck says it’s not — but it doesn’t recognize itself either, so…). Either I missed something all those years ago, or I’m imagining things that aren’t there.

And in any case, I’m still in awe of a simplicity — a blunt easy to understand concise style — that I cannot master.

Is this the “childlike” quality we admire in those with mental handicaps? Is this the reason — not the “short attention span” thing we are told about — why short tight blog posts are so popular? Is this style of thinking and communicating currently consciously cultivated by our educational system? How much of all this can be attributed to the over-simplification and even fear of addressing complicated issues that we face in politics and social issues?

Do we need more or less retardation in our reading and writing?

Betting On The Write Stuff?

January 21, 2011

One of fellow writing cohorts, Shawnee Rivers, has started her own girlie gambling bog and in her ode to a specific internet marketing services (the services of which I’ve used*), she mentions one simple line that made me nod my head — loudly — in agreement: “Getting paid to write, online or off, is another form of gambling, really.”

Since I’m hidden here, behind the mask of a user name, I feel compelled to expound.

Writing — and getting paid to do so — is a clusterfuck of ethics. You’ve got the push and pull between needing to eat and your artistic or, if you write non-fiction, educational integrity. It was a difficult enough line in print publishing, but the technological advancements of the digital age have stretched and tested them even more.

If you self-publish on the web, you know that writing, producing the content itself, isn’t all you have to do. The written content may be enough for all your SEO needs, but there are all the other management tasks involved in running your own website.

Sure, technology has made much of work easier (especially WordPress and the plugin makers), but there’s no effective way to allocate the tasks of human interaction (responding to emails and comments, evaluating widgets and technologies, handling rates, negotiating requests, and other communication and decision issues) solely to technology.

Just look at what’s involved in one aspect… Say, advertising. Should I have ads? Which ones should I use? Where should I place them? What program or software will make it all easier? How much should I charge? Should I post my rates — and if so, where?

Mind-numbingly maddening when you’re burning with the passion to write. It’s horrific when you’ve got writers block too. At best, it’s just part of the ever-expanding, ever-exhausting to-do list, that is the joy of the self-employed, self-publishing “blogger.”

This is why many professional writers prefer to remove some of this work from their shoulders, keeping their arms more free to “just write,” by getting paid to write for another site. The thought here is that you can do more than eliminate the financial overhead of your own blog or website, you can preclude yourself from most of the decision making — and the implementation of those decisions.

Keeping your pretty and thoughtful head free from all of this is supposed to keep you free to focus on your writing. But this freedom, like all others, has its price.

Now you’ve just replaced the freedom from running your own site and doing what you want to do/say, when you want to do/say it, how you want to do/say it, with an editor or some sort of manager…

This person isn’t just the goofy red pen holding variety looking for typos. (Those have most been replaced by spellcheckers now, you know.) Oh no, now you have to please someone else with your writing. Not merely the grammar; not only in terms of subject matter; not only in terms of tone, voice and style — but everything. Every. Freakin’. Thing.

You see, every decision you relegated to some Paycheck In The Sky has been delegated to a person (or persons) who now evaluate everything you do, your column, your writing, in terms of that site’s success. And while that all may sound like it’s in your best interest, let me assure you, it isn’t always.

First there are the “tweaks” to your writing, your beat, your column…

You were hired to write a column on frank sexuality; now it’s too frank, too sexual. Avoid naming grown-up body parts, please. Or you won’t be paid.

You were hired to be the intellectual satirist; now you’ve got a minimum number of pull-my-finger jokes to make — and a minimum of three fart joke site links to dole out too. If you don’t do it, someone else will…

You were hired to fairly examine the deep rooted issues of our troubled American educational system; but… Could you limit your posts to no more than 300 words please? And lighten it up a bit too while you’re at it. The facts make the sponsors unhappy. They lower site/column traffic stats too. We think if you made it funnier, more urban and hip, we’d increase traffic — and we’d all be much more happy.

If you can roll with those changes (and live with yourself for selling-out your art, your message, even your soul), there’s more to do to earn that paycheck.

There’s additional things on your To Do list. Many sites now require as part of your writing duties that you achieve a minimum number of page views, unique users, links in to your site/column/profile, and other marketing metrics in order to qualify for payment.

These things that you thought you were freeing yourself from are usually part of your writing or blogger agreement. Not only are they a time-suck (and you should factor that time in when you consider your rate of pay), but these policies are always in flux and could be added at anytime (and if you don’t agree, you lose the gig).

There’s also a list of things you are Not To Do. Some of the things I’ve personally experienced are no reporting on actual news stories which could be construed as negative towards the industry the site is seen as serving (and therefore receiving ad fees for) and no links to sites considered to be in competition with the site you are published at or in competition with one of the company’s other sites or projects. Some of these things may not seem unethical to you; they may even seem like “no brainers.” But many of these things are neither documented no-nos from the get-go, nor communicated changes in policy.

Like any unknown hoops you are expected to jump through, you’ll only discover them the hard way, finding out only after you’ve made some egregious error. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an email explaining what you did wrong, any changes they had to make or want you to make, and why. But too often you’ll find out some more painful way, such as when you contact the powers that be, reporting some sort of tech issue that must have occurred resulting in the loss of your piece, you’ll find out it’s no error; your work had been yanked due to something-or-other. (Always best to keep back-up copies of your own writings or they may be gone forever.) And then you won’t be paid as you missed your deadline.

That’s a big price to pay for linking to a site on an invisible list.

If you manage to survive any/all of that, you now have to worry about the paycheck itself.

I don’t mean the first one that may never come because you’re to be paid on a percentage of the profits — when they eventually come in. I mean even when those payments have been coming regularly.

Not counting the lost pay for the writing work you performed which did not meet the standards (be it not maintaining stated metrics or pulled pieces with improper links, etc.), getting any payment at all is an issue. So many websites and companies cannot maintain paying authors for their work. Oh, they’ll continue to pay the techies, the editor/managers, etc. But content? Oh, they figure they can get that for free, so writers are last on the list to be paid. I don’t know whether it’s worse to be informed of such things, or if it’s more insulting for them to deny it; but in all cases, you’re out of money — even if you are asked to stand-by for eventual payment, continuing to write too.

And here’s the kicker — even if you have a contract you could legally pursue, look at that fine print… Look for the line that says something about the contract is filed in, or pursuant to the laws or courts of, X location. That’s where you’ll need to file (sometimes required to be in person) and/or appear. I’ve yet to sign one based in my own state, let alone near my home., so legal action is, if not near-impossible, more money-out to invest in trying to get what’s yours.

Suddenly this whole world wide web thing, doing business across governing bodies, doesn’t seem so sweet now, does it.

Why do we authors continue to put ourselves through this?

I suppose, as Shawnee says, it’s part of our gambling nature; we bet on ourselves to beat the odds, confident that we are skilled enough to do so.

* I have used the consulting and services of Big Mouth Promotions several times in the past six years; but, as I have done so under my real name and will expose neither my name nor my site names, I feel an official testimonial may sound hollow… However, because I took what Deanna taught me and found it profitable (in terms of its direct application and the ability to generate my own consulting fees from it), I do feel obligated to highly recommend the services. Both Big Mouth Promotions, and the new team of U.P. to the D.L.

If…

January 20, 2011

If the soul is in your heart, integrity must be in the lungs, I think.

Sex, Lies & Online Profiles (Or Posing For Fun & Profit)

December 17, 2010

Creating profiles seems to be the bane of my existence as a writer and “online personality,” so while working on a profile for that new project I was looking for something I’d previously used that I could cut, paste and tweak a bit.

When I found my old LiveJournal (don’t bother to click; there’s only the one post and I’m sharing it below), I had a good giggle. The sole entry (because I lost all password recovery options) is dated from January 10th, 2005, and reads:

I am moody, enjoy being moody for the most part. And I like things that elicit moods, such as books, weird finds at thrift shops, strange items & photographs, and the thoughts of other people. I enjoy weird writings, even if I must make them myself.

Dark, dark is good, but I do not like the disgusting shock-value or wannabe-goth dark. Dark is a place. A mood. Not a place constructed by mere crass comments, incredible images, or the grotesque-on-display.

I enjoy intelligent discourse. As long as it’s not too brainy. (I don’t like to read web articles or posts that require footnotes.)

Humor is good. Humor is subjective. I heartily enjoy good subjective laughter.

I believe creativity is the spawn of Dark & Humor. Somewhere in the incompatibility, the wry sparks intelligence that seeks a life of it’s own.

I enjoy chocolate before, during & after sex.

In don’t enjoy long walks on the beach holding hands, unless we are holding hands to hold one another up, laughing so hard are we at some hideous find, some inappropriate humor.

I dislike intensely cutesy animated gifs & websites with insipid ‘music.’

I am curious as to how this works, both from the tech side & the culture/social aspect. A tad uncomfortable even.

I’m not really quite sure what that last line was all about… I’d been writing online for roughly five years already by that point. Was the “blogging” software that new to me? (I do recall finding the display of mood by text and emoticon as insipid as embeded music.) I’d have to use the Wayback Machine to verify the publishing mechanism of the old columns and websites back then– and I’m not in the mood.

Or maybe I was posing as a newbie so that no one would be able to connect that LJ user to the professional me. That’s what that whole “I enjoy intelligent discourse. As long as it’s not too brainy. (I don’t like to read web articles or posts that require footnotes.)” thing was about. How funny!

Funny that my self-described identification as a writer was so tied to intelligence and even footnotes that I thought my best disguise was “not too brainy.” What, do I own both the attribute and the ability to properly attribute documents? lol

Funny that my level of paranoia at being “found out.” Just avoid your legal name and other specific information guaranteed to be found via a search engine, and you can’t be found — at least not with any degree of certainty by even the most smugly sure of themselves. Omission is the key, not little lies.

Funnier still that it reads rather like a dating site profile or something.

Ah, but what really prompts me to post all this is the thought that your profiles are like mini-memoirs…

Memoirs, as a genre, are not like biographies or autobiographies. Our limited sense of self combined with our abundant egos creates both the space and need for fiction; fiction to fill in the spots left by the fallible fragility of human memory, inspired by the need for the delicate deceptions we tell ourselves. In fact, memoirs are rather more like narrative non-fiction or, if we are so deluded that we present ourselves in the correct time and place yet doing and saying things through the filter of wishes, they even become historical fiction.

In fact, it has me wondering if autobiographies can really be so distinct from memoirs at all.

Reading our profiles — even the current ones, is not only to laugh, cringe &/or be puzzled by that moment’s snapshot of our own psyche, but to wonder, if at some future time someone should feel it’s warranted, how our own words would color the research and writing done by our biographers…

Why would we even need to fear the filter of the biographer? Our own recollections and presentations get in the way!

When it does come to the filter or agenda of the biographer, perhaps their bias is far more important, even necessary, than typically thought. For certainly their own human reaction to our own (sad, amusing, trite, etc.) constructs is one way to get past the posing and self-fiction to a more real truth about ourselves.

And it is for this reason — certainly not my personal discomfort and loathing! — that I wish for someone else to write all my own bio boxes and profiles.

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