General Weirdness

The New Me, Better than the Real Me

Kim KavinI have a new dog book coming out at the end of this year, and I’m getting ready to start the advance marketing—which means I had to endure every author’s worst nightmare of sitting for a new book-jacket photo. (There’s a reason we journalists choose a life behind the cameras and notebooks!)

The result of last week’s photo session is at right. I like it well enough, but it also leaves me uneasy. That is, indeed, my 42-year-old face almost completely airbrushed of freckles, wrinkles and sunspots. Apparently, this is the new normal in the taking of author photographs. I feel like a character in an augmented-reality experience.

I’m pretty sure my skin didn’t even look that good back when I was 3 years old. Also note the brightened whites of my eyes and the sparkling choppers between my lips, all of which now appear never to have encountered a single glass of iced tea or a few too many glasses of red wine. Apparently, a woman of my vintage with a full-time job, a house to take care of and a face that shows hints of hard-earned wisdom needs some Photoshop-style help simply to look perky enough for prime time.

It’s amazing what these photo software programs can do nowadays. It all makes me wonder whether anything at all in photographs is real anymore. Maybe by the time my next book comes out in two or three more years, they’ll have me looking like Brazilian fashion model Gisele Bundchen. Hey, an author can dream…

A Book I Wrote that You’ll Never Read

Well. This is a serious bummer.

I just learned that Adams Media, which has published five Everything Guides under my byline, has decided not to publish the sixth Everything Guide that the company commissioned me to write more than a year ago. It’s the second edition of the company’s Everything Travel Guide to Las Vegas. It’s written, it’s proofread, and they paid me in full for what my editor called a job well done. They just completely shut down the travel-book division of the Everything Guide series in the wake of the recession, before my book hit the printing press, figuring that the whole world has simply stopped traveling for leisure to places like Las Vegas.

Since the publisher owns all rights to the content, I can’t do anything with my work, even if they choose to shelve it forever. My only hope of daylight is apparently an eBook, should they become profitable for the company in the future.

What an odd feeling. I’m experiencing a mix of sadness and amazement. It just never occurred to me that a publisher would hire me to write a book, compliment me on the final draft, send me a check for full payment, and then not bother to print the words. I’m a bit stunned.

And here I thought I was about to hit the jackpot with another successful title. I guess this goes to show that the publishing business these days is a lot more like Las Vegas than I realized. There’s nothing at all like a sure bet.


$18.95 vs. $58.02

I just received a notice that two first-edition copies of my book Dream Cruises: The Insider’s Guide to Private Yacht Charter Vacations, have been posted for sale at The asking prices are $39.26 and $58.02.

This is fascinating, seeing as how the current edition is easy enough to find on its Amazon home page for the list price of $18.95 (which Amazon actually discounts to $14.21, and then offers to ship for free).

Apparently, at least two people out there in the world believe the first edition is a collector’s item worthy of a 200- to 300-percent up-charge. Maybe I should offer the $9.99 Kindle edition at a Christie’s auction!

World Gone Mad: Content Farm Trumps Leading Magazine

My daily blog post today on CharterWave is a scathing review of an article in the current issue of SmartMoney, the magazine of The Wall Street Journal. This magazine from one of the most prestigious brands in journalism has published an article about yacht charter (my primary area of expertise) that is incomplete, misleading, and downright irresponsible. Basic standards of journalism, it seems, no longer apply to titles that win National Magazine Awards.

As I was tossing my hard copy of that article into the garbage, I scanned my e-mail in-box. It contained a Google News Alert directing me to a new article about yacht charter from Associated Content.

“Great,” I thought. “Now I’m going to have an aneurysm.”

Associated Content is a “content farm” that uses search algorithms to determine what online readers are seeking, and then pays freelance writers paltry sums to churn out SEO-friendly articles. What I might have earned, say, $750 to write for a reputable magazine based on my years of experience and expertise, a content farm like Associated Content or Demand Media will pay a random freelancer as little as $15 to produce. These companies make it impossible for expert writers to earn a living, and instead turn content into a commodity produced by the lowest bidder.

So I clicked over to the Associated Content article about yacht charter with serious trepidation, read through it, and determined that it is—accurate, informative, and excellent. I even linked to it for my CharterWave readers. It was exactly the opposite of the SmartMoney article from the prestigious publisher that had probably paid its writer a very good wage, even though she produced four pages of junk.

My 20-year understanding of the world of journalism seems upside-down. Today, at least, the content farm trumped The Wall Street Journal organization in terms of accuracy, competence, and usefulness to readers.

I think I’ll go eat a brownie, drink a barrel of red wine, and pass out on the couch. Maybe the standard rules of the universe have flip-flopped, and debauchery is the new path to becoming thin, healthy, and successful. I might as well take advantage while I still earn enough as a writer to buy decent pinot noir…

Apparently, the Flame Still Burns

About two years ago, Adams Media published my book “The Everything Guide to Magazine Writing.” Something new must be swirling in the wind about this title, because in the past couple of days I’ve received back-to-back compliments about it.

The first came from a woman who was my intern at a newspaper where we both worked more than a decade ago. She’s now in her 30s and considering a move from full-time to freelance journalism, and she spotted my tome in her local bookstore. I hadn’t heard from her in 10 years when I received her e-mail stating how much the book has helped her.

That alone was enough to put a smile on my face, but it grew wider when I read this newly posted book review by a writer who says, “I’ve read countless books on freelance writing, and none has lit so strong a fire under my a** to try breaking into the industry as this one.”

Here I am thinking this book is smoldering on a backlist, and it’s out there lighting fires under a**es.


Big Thoughts

At first, I thought, “big trouble.”

I went to Lake Nockamixon State Park in Pennsylvania on Saturday to check out the course for this season’s first triathlon. (I survived Season One and have signed on for three triathlons between June and October this year.) Note to self: When the bicycle leg is only 10 miles long, it’s most likely because there are hills. Do not believe the course description of “mostly flat with some rolling.” Read that as, “You’ll have to downshift in a Jeep, let alone pedal really fast on a bike, to get up these bad boys.”

I’ll admit, I stopped at the top of the penultimate monster to decide whether I even wanted to attempt the final climb. It was that daunting. I took a picture of it with my Blackberry, just in case my husband needed evidence for the life insurance company.

But I went for it, and I’m sure I looked to passing drivers like a drunken moron just trying to stay upright and steer straight as my bike slowed to somewhere in the vicinity of 4 mph. I thought I might pass out trying to catch my breath at the summit. Then came the downhill, at nearly 25 mph. All I could think was, “Don’t hit a bump. You’ll fly into traffic and die.”

Back at the parking lot, as I switched from biking shoes to running shoes, I thought, “Not big trouble. Big new challenge.” I made it on the first try, after all, and I still have two months to train.

Then I set off to jog the two-mile run course. I was a half-mile in, purple in the face and panting, when I came upon a couple of little old ladies walking the path ahead. I thought I was really sucking wind and once again near death because I didn’t seem able to pass them.

It took me a good 30 seconds to realize they’d been trying to pace me. They were planning a sneak attack. One of them turned to me, tried to hand me a pamphlet, and asked me if she could talk to me for a moment about going to heaven.

A “Big Kahuna” moment. I guess it’s better than biting the big one!


My husband and I just spent two and a half hours trying to dig out from beneath our thick, heavy, wet mess of a front yard. That’s the tippy-top of our mailbox in the circle (before the town snowplow completely buried it under).

I think “shoveling” is a misnomer. The drifts were over my head. I was tunneling to freedom.

Must notify Merriam-Webster.