Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How I Gave Away Over 2,000 Books on Kindle in 3 Days Without Any Prep Work

As many of you know, I co-edited an anthology of sci-fi and fantasy short stories this year with my good friend and fellow author J.M. Ney-Grimm.

The result is Quantum Zoo, a book near and dear to our hearts, and the hearts of the ten other writers who contributed excellent stories to the collection.

If you want to read more about how J.M. and I put it together and released it (including some harrowing moments in Logan Airport trying desperately to get my phone to talk to my computer), you can take a look at the "nuts and bolts" of the launch over on esteemed fantasy author Lindsay Buroker's blog.

We were able to craft an excellent launch using our collective promotional talents--we made it to #1 "Hot New Release" in Science Fiction in all of Amazon, as well as charting in "top 5" territory on several other Amazon bestseller lists.

All of us involved with QZ were thrilled--we never dreamed that the launch would be quite so successful.

But that was only half the battle.

You see, part of the impetus for releasing Quantum Zoo was that we wanted to get it in the hands of as many people as possible using a variety of promotional methods to see what works to promote fiction these days, and what doesn't.

To those ends, we put the book in Kindle Select for its initial 90-day term, and figured we'd get around to setting up a free promo at some point.

Of course, life got in the way, and before I knew it, we found ourselves scrambling in September with only three potential promo days left!

J.M. and I worked tirelessly to brainstorm some ways to give more books away--after all, we didn't want to do QZ or our fellow authors a disservice by watching a piddly 30 or 40 people download it for absolutely free!

So we came up with a gameplan that was part foresight, part improv, and a good amount of luck.

And we gave away over 2,000 books on KDP Select over the course of those three days!

The good news is, the "luck" portion of our formula is pretty easily to replicate if you have the foresight to implement it several weeks before your free promo...but more on that later.

So what kinds of strategies did we use to give away so many books in such a short amount of time?

1) Get a Killer Cover

The days of "not judging a book by its cover" are long gone. For a lot of readers, a professional-looking cover is the first indication of quality in a publishing world filled with increasing amounts of people who don't take the business terribly seriously.

It doesn't have to be "flashy" or "garish," but a professional-looking cover will set your books apart from the "mountain of crap" out there that so many people complain about.

What this means is that you need to do one of two things:

-Take the time and effort to learn how to put a truly professional-looking cover together. Invest in the right tools (like inDesign) and skills (like Dean Wesley Smith's excellent cover class) to gain the ability to pique readers' interest and draw them in with the cover alone.


-Hire someone to do it for you. This might run you anywhere from $100 to $1,000, depending on the artist.

Fortunately, for Quantum Zoo, J.M. is a talented graphic artist and cover designer. The finished product, seen here, is pretty amazing, if I do say so myself. We've received a lot of compliments on it--J.M. really outdid herself on this one. And while it's great for her to be able to know she's done great work and receive those compliments, it's the kind of dynamic cover that looks professional and piques readers' curiosity enough to click through to its Amazon page.

2) Choose THE RIGHT Keywords

Amazon only allows KDP authors to use 7 keywords (in addition to the keywords in the title) to promote your book in their vast search engine. 

 At first, it can be a daunting task--which 7 words do you choose as a new author? I remember using plot-related keywords with JWATT at first, things like "dinosaur hunt," "Isaac Newton," etc.

Over time, that sense of enormity has shrunken down to something more akin to "frustration." For the longest time, it seemed like no matter which keywords I chose, there was little or no effect on sales.

In promoting Quantum Zoo, J.M. and I had a bit of an epiphany, probably spurred on in one of our brains by David Gaughran's excellent book, Let's Get Visible:

Make the keywords Amazon subcategories, or at least related to those subcategories.

You see, Amazon puts fiction books into a vast web of categories and subcategories. I want to say that about a year ago, they vastly increased the size of this web, with a whole bunch of new subcategories. For a while, it seemed like there was no rhyme or reason to where a given book ended up--Jesus Was a Time Traveler (JWATT) was in Time Travel, Technothrillers, and a few others for a while. Rogue ended up in "hard sci fi."

I think it was Gaughran who advocated making these new desired subcategories keywords themselves, to ensure that your book got in the subcategories you wanted. Essentially, you get the 7 keywords, plus the 2 categories you can select in KDP, plus whatever Amazon's algos glean from your title.

The reasoning? This is the key part of the strategy! The more categories and subcategories the book is in, the better the chance it has to appear in a given top 100 list for that category or subcategory. The more top 100 lists the book appears in, the more visible it is to people who browse those top 100 lists for their next reads.

We actually followed this strategy with Quantum Zoo--since we have a lot of different takes on sci-fi and fantasy, we have a lot of potential genres we could be in. So we listed a bunch of them out: "first contact," "technothrillers," etc. in addition to picking the obvious "sci-fi anthologies" as one of our Amazon genre selections.

And this is also where the "luck" portion of the strategy came in. While we recognized the utility of being in as many different genres as possible for keyword searching purposes, we didn't understand just how important being on those top 100 lists for both paid and free purposes was until we saw the results of our promo.

The strategy definitely helped us come out guns blazing--we noticed that the higher we got on those genre top 100 lists, the more books we sold, to a point, at least.

But it's exponentially more important to be on the top 100 lists when giving away your book for free! That's because as a "crap filter," even the free book hoarders will scour the top 100 lists, using them as a form of "social proof" for which books are decent, and thus "worthy" (of a free download, no less!). The more lists you're on, the more you can put the algos to work for you, and the better the chance you have of getting downloads.

The more downloads you get, the more potential reviews you get on both Amazon and Goodreads, and the more word of mouth you might start to generate.

About a month after publication, though, when reading up on the topic a bit more, I came across the following helpful page:

Amazon Categories with Keyword Requirements

In a rare look "inside the algorithms," Amazon essentially has given us the tools to craft titles and use keywords to drill down into some previously esoteric sub-subcategories. I've since tried using some of these terms in my books, and while it can take a few weeks for Amazon to index them with your book, it works.

Now that you know just how important those keywords can be, have fun looking through the list for some ideas on what words you can use to get your next book in as many different categories as possible.

3) Plan a Weekend Giveaway

Just by dumb luck, our giveaway was slated to begin on a Friday and end on a Sunday. After putting the tricks in this post to good use, I can unequivocally say that weekend days (meaning Friday-Sunday) are more popular for free giveaways than weekday days, absent any sort of outside promotion such as Bookbub. Friday and Saturday alone we gave away nearly 2,000 books, and ended up close to the top 200 free Kindle books list. In my experience on other days of the week, the totals are far less impressive--maybe a hundred or two hundred copies. While that's great (I've had some books register a lowly "6." As in "6 copies given away...for a whole weekend!"), it's not quite as wonderful as giving away hundreds or thousands of copies in a single day.

4) Start Making Connections With Interested Social Media

There are a ton of essentially free promotional outlets across your preferred social media outlet of choice. I tend to be partial to twitter, so I started announcing my free book giveaways on twitter using some tried-and-true hashtags, namely #kindle, #free, #ebook, #kindledeal, etc.

Before I knew it, I started to get a number of promotional outlets following me on twitter, and came to find that they had promoted my books to their audiences without even telling me!

A few takeaways: first, I have some books with great covers, and some with "not so great covers." I have books with a lot of (good) reviews, and some without many reviews at all.

I've found that the better the cover, the more good reviews the book has, and, in turn, the more frequently it'll get picked up by these free book promo sites and twitter accounts.

It may not be fair, it may not be right, but that's just the way it is. That's not to say that getting "sock puppet" reviews is the way to go, either--I've never done so, and that's despite even my most successful (albeit modestly-so) books languishing with only a handful of reviews for months, if not years before I started giving more books away, and getting some more traction.

Also, I'm not sure how sustained the bump is that you get from some of these promo sites and accounts. But there is a bump, and you can use that bump to get on the free lists, which gets you in the algos and more visible to the list-browsers.

See a pattern here?

5) Forge Alliances With Fellow Authors

Part of the beauty of having a group of talented authors like we do with Quantum Zoo is that each person can promote giveaways in whatever way they feel most comfortable. Some of us prefer twitter. Others like facebook. Others still like talking to people face-to-face.

The point is, it's a lot easier to spread the word with twelve voices working in tandem than with just one person shouting "buy my book!" a thousand times into the void, praying that the equivalent of "reader SETI" will pick up a signal and run with it.

Much like the social media "boost" I wrote about above, if possible, you should try to time things so that each author gives the book a "mini boost" that can lead to incremental hops up the top 100 lists, all the way to becoming #1 in several categories.

So what if you don't have these kinds of built-in alliances? As a twitter guy, I have to say I've met numerous fantastic indie authors and reviewers by monitoring hashtags on twitter (#amwriting is a good way to encourage your fellow authors with a built-in conversation starter) and by putting myself out there in related discussions.

If I see an indie cover I like, I'll tell the author and the artist. I'll tweet and retweet interesting articles that people share. Before QZ, I was a part of an online writer's group that sadly eventually disintegrated, but was, for a while, an excellent source of discussion and ideas. You can get active on a forum like KBoards' Writer's Cafe, and meet like-minded folks that way.

There are tons of ways to connect with other indie authors, but they all involve one thing that a lot of semi-introverted writer-types (like me) sometimes have a problem with:

You have to be willing to put yourself out there in a friendly, "non-spammy" manner, engage folks with similar interests, and actually forge a genuine emotional connection with them.

That's probably a topic for its own post, but for now, try reaching out to 3-5 new people a day, and see what happens.

6) Price Appropriately

Up until the giveaway, we priced Quantum Zoo at $0.99 for a number of reasons. We wanted to reward our various fanbases and early adopters who were actually waiting for the book with a lower price. We also wanted to move copies more than anything else at the start, so we figured $0.99 was the best way to do so.

Right before the promotion, though, we upped the price to $4.99.

I think this helped for a couple reasons. First, raising the price provides more value to the reader. If someone sees that they can get something worth $5 for free, it's more attractive than getting something valued $0.99 (already almost essentially a giveaway) for free.

It's especially true of the "free book hunters," who tend to be (how can I put this gently?) somewhat more "frugal" and "value-sensitive."

Second, a higher price will drive more revenue once the giveaway is over, and will bump your book's Amazon ranking more, should you time it properly (see "The Kicker: How to Make Money Off of Free Kindle Giveaways" below).

A Successful Giveaway

Despite going into our giveaway without having done any prep-work, we managed to give away over 2,000 copies of Quantum Zoo in a three day period. I'm convinced that it was because:

-J.M.'s great cover gets peoples' attention, and gets them to click on any social media posts we make, or draws them into our Amazon page.

-We had the foresight to maximize the number of categories we were in via keywords, which meant that we had the potential to (and actually did) make the top 100 lists in a half-dozen categories or more.

-We promoted quickly and efficiently to various social media outlets. The right kind of paid advertisement can work wonders on a free giveaway (more on paid vs. unpaid book ads in an upcoming post), but until you want to put the proper resources into a proven route like BookBub, the biggest "bang for your buck" will be engaging your existing social media followers.

-We leveraged our group into using a variety of promotional tactics, using each group member's strength. We had people promoting the giveaway on sites ranging from Facebook, to twitter, to Kboards, to Reddit. No one really tried anything new--we all just stuck with what we already knew.

-We let the algorithms take over, do their job, and let us climb the top 100 free charts, all the way to the top of several of them.

While it sounds fairly simple, I can't stress how fun it is to watch your "Amazon free" rank shrink over the course of a few days as you keep giving away books, without much promotion, each copy a chance to connect with a potential new fan.

The results?
Friday: 709 copies given away
Saturday: 1,117 copies given away
Sunday: 396 copies given away (without much of a change in rankings...)

Total: 2,222 copies given away!

The Kicker: How to Make Money Off of Free Kindle Giveaways

Giving away thousands of books is quite the accomplishment in its own right--after all, especially with a project like Quantum Zoo, where visibility of the authors is the most important goal, simply getting copies out there was important to us. We got a number of reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads, and continue to get people adding the book on GR.

But what if I told you that you could use your free giveaway to boost sales of your book, too?

The simple fact of the matter is, you absolutely can! This is despite countless people complaining that you no longer get "a boost" after letting your promotion run its course.

The fact of the matter is, they're right! If you simply let your promo run its course, no matter how many books you give away, the "sales bump" you see will be small to non-existent.

The key words are "let it run its course." Did you know that you can cancel a free book promo at any time? And that if you cancel a giveaway in the middle of the day, you'll still get the algo boost as if you're still on the free list?!

It may sound crazy, but it's true. I figured this out doing a similar giveaway for JWATT earlier this year. I gave away close to 800 copies over two days. This was no small feat--before the promotion, JWATT was absolutely dead in the water--I was lucky to get a download a month.

I had read about the "cut the free promo short" strategy in another book, and come mid-Sunday, after a few football-watching beers, I decided, "What the hell? Let's see what happens...", and cut the JWATT promo short.

For those of you who don't know, I write a weekly NFL column over at insideSTL, so I went back to finishing it up, and didn't think much about the promo until later that night.

When I checked the dashboard, I was shocked:

26 sales!

This is for a book that had been absolutely dead in the water the week before! And guess what? Ever since, it's been steadily building up reviews from that giveaway, and selling into the low double-digits per month.


So there you go--how to engineer a successful Kindle giveaway AND make a little cash doing so. While you may not have the same immediate success we enjoyed with Quantum Zoo, try sticking to these principles for a while, and see if they help you out.

One other thing to remember: we figured all of this out by researching and experimenting. Amazon is constantly changing their algorithms and services that authors can use. For example, before Kindle Unlimited, I had my books across a variety of ebook platforms. Now, since I get paid more for KU borrows and get increased exposure through it, pretty much all of my books are in KU.

Some of these steps may not work for you--it's really up to you to figure out how to best leverage 1) Your own talents, 2) Your specific book, and 3) Amazon's algo structure into giving away as many copies as possible.

Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

Shameless Plug

One more thing...Quantum Zoo is free once again! From December 8-12 (Monday-Friday), you can pick it up for free on Kindle over at Amazon. Feel free to spread the word, and thanks for reading!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Quantum Zoo" Has Launched!

I'm thrilled to announce that the anthology that I've been co-editing, Quantum Zoo, is now available for Kindle!

This project has been a labor of love for me and my good friend and fantastic co-editor, J.M. Ney-Grimm, not to mention all of the wonderful authors who contributed gripping, fascinating, edge-of-your-seat sci-fi and fantasy stories to the collection.

Plus, it's the only place you'll find my new story, "Echoes of Earth."

"What's 'Echoes of Earth' about?" In short, it's about a guy named Bill who gets abducted by aliens while out jogging, put on display in an alien zoo, and tormented mercilessly by all of the disgusting, "hoosier-ish" aliens that come through to see him.

It's a laugh riot.

Also, did I mention dinosaurs? We have dinosaurs. We have disgusting, evil aliens. We have demons. We have Egyptian gods. We have more disgusting, evil aliens that control people through orgasmic pleasure (?!?).

We even have Jack the Ripper himself.

Best of all, for being loyal fans, followers, or obsessive internet stalkers/haters, I have a very special offer for you:

You ready?

You sure?

It's a BIG one...

Here goes:

Because you've cared enough to click on this link...

Because that means you're at least a little bit curious about this anthology...


I'm thrilled to announce that Quantum Zoo will be available for the low, low introductory price of $0.99 for a limited time ONLY!

$0.99? That's less than a deck of cards! Less than the cheapest thing you can find at Starbucks! LESS THAN A DOLLAR for twelve awesome, fantastic stories that will have you wincing with fear one minute, and crying your eyes out the next?

Are we on crazy pills here?

I guess we are! So grab your copy for Kindle today.

More of a fan of paper books? That version's coming soon...

But for now, I do want to sincerely thank you for reading, and please, do check out Quantum Zoo over at Amazon.

Happy reading, everyone...


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Announcing "Quantum Zoo"

A lot of folks have been wondering what I've been up to lately.

The answer might surprise some of you.

Actually, it might surprise a lot of you.

A good friend of mine, J.M. Ney-Grimm, and I have been editing a science fiction and fantasy anthology for the past several months!

It's called Quantum Zoo. Why Quantum Zoo? Because all of the stories spring from a common prompt:


(What? Were you expecting "Quantum Theory?")

Out of a bunch of submissions, we selected ten of the best stories submitted, in addition to one each of our own, and have been working with the authors on refining them, providing feedback, and otherwise...err...."editing" them.

The result is an anthology that we're both very proud of, one that will whisk you away to a starship, humanity's last gasp on its way to another star system one minute, then have you confront an amicable-enough-seeming demon the next. You'll encounter foul-smelling, disgusting aliens manipulating peoples' minds and Egyptian gods and goddesses. Jack the Ripper even makes an appearance.

Did I mention the dinosaur terrorizing the countryside in Jolly Ol' England?

(If you haven't been able to tell yet, I have an irrational love of dinosaurs running around terrorizing humans).

Each story is designed to send you on a fantastic journey away from the mundane day-to-day, an invitation to explore twelve very talented authors' worlds, an excuse to exercise your imagination and ponder strange, wonderful new possibilities.

Plus, like I said, it's the only place you'll find my newest work, "Echoes of Earth."

We'll be releasing Quantum Zoo in the next couple of weeks. For now, if you want to be reminded when it comes out, simply leave your email address in the box below. Who knows? Maybe you'll even get it for nothing...

J.M. and I are both extremely proud of this anthology, amazed at the quality of submissions we received, and almost bursting with anticipation at its release.

Thanks--I sincerely hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed facilitating its creation!


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lyft in St. Louis, or "Our Messed-Up Holy Roman Empire of a Cow Town"

I'm sick and tired of all of the shit that the city is putting Lyft through.

For those who don't know, Lyft is like Uber--a crowdsourced ride-share service coordinated by a very sophisticated smartphone app. Anyone with a decent-enough car can sign up to be a driver and make some extra cash, but riders and drivers rate one another on a five-star scale, presumably to keep any would-be axe murderers/ Deliverance wannabes at bay. The rides cost a lot less than taxis do (60% of taxi fares in most cases), and show up a lot more quickly than the "might show up if I feel like it" licensed cabs sent out by rude/idiotic dispatchers on any given weekend.

Unfortunately, Lyft didn't realize how backward and corrupt St. Louis is. The company didn't understand the complexity of the provincialism that consistently holds this town back from moving into the 21st-century. No, in this town, beaks MUST get wet, and there are a WHOLE lot of thirsty birdies out there.

For example, the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC)--these jokers obviously feel threatened. After all, if they lose their monopoly on for-hire car transportation in this town, how can they keep up the exorbitant fares that we're usually forced to pay? Why would anyone put up with being shit on and laughed at by a dispatcher when a smartphone app can get you from point-A to point-B in a lot less time, for a lot less cash?

Of course, Lyft didn't register with these folks, so they got all pissy. The MTC and St. Louis cops started pulling Lyft cars over and citing their drivers almost immediately. Never mind that these people are just trying to make a little extra cash. Never mind that they're probably shuttling around folks who had some booze, and might otherwise try to drive themselves and hope for the best, putting peoples' lives at risk.

No, the cops don't care about that, because they're in on the hustle. DWIs mean more revenue for the cities that catch the offenders. They mean more attorneys fees defending these citations and hefty settlements. All of this is subsumed under the catch-all reason of "safety"--THAT's why Lyft and Uber are no good--we need the MTC and the cops to protect us from those devilishly unsafe drivers and vehicles...so that we can ride around in the "officially-sanctioned"1995 Crown Vics that smell like cheap aftershave and B.O.

Don't get me wrong--I understand why something like the MTC once served a purpose. Even ten years ago, I would've felt a lot more comfortable with a MTC-vetted and licensed driver than some stranger in a Prius.

But times change. The feedback system is absolutely crucial--it helps riders avoid poorly-rated drivers, and vice-versa. Because the app takes care of this, it's incredibly unlikely that someone who's built up a sterling reputation on either side would one day go nuts and decide to veer into oncoming traffic, or indulge in said Deliverance fantasy.

The worst part about it? These backward institutions don't even know what they're regulating. 

You see, they may think they're regulating "taxicabs." Some of the more enlightened individuals with these agencies may think they have a hand in controlling "car transportation." But what they're really overseeing (and in this instance, limiting) is the movement of people around the city.

And that has real consequences.

For example, if I'm going somewhere where I know I'll have a few cocktails, I'll try my damnedest to either get a ride there, or take public transportation. Unfortunately, I've been burned too many times by the awful, MTC-sanctioned cab companies out there in the past to rely on them to get me or pick me up from anywhere in this city, especially when my personal well-being may be at stake late at night.

Either of these options limit where I can go and spend my money. For example, I don't tend to go to Soulard very often. Not because I don't like the area--I actually think it's pretty cool and have several friends who live around there. But rather because there's no good option for getting there from Clayton. Even if you or a DD ends up driving, the parking is horrendous. A traditional cab simply isn't cost-effective or reliable enough to even consider going that kind of distance.

But with a robust ride-share infrastructure in place? Suddenly, I'm more willing to go to different parts of the city. I might decide to go out and spend money on a night where I'd normally stay in and watch Netflix because the hassle and cost have both been lessened. With a lot of Lyft or Uber cars around, I would have greater peace of mind that I wouldn't end up stranded wherever I went at 1 am (Talk about safety issues! What if I was a young lady? Think about that, MTC...).

In short, these services are breaking down barriers between neighborhoods, and facilitating the free flow of people around town. More area businesses could make A LOT more income from the larger pool of people who would be willing to access their establishments. The city gets a cut of all of that sweet, sweet cash in the form of sales tax.

I guess that's just too forward-thinking for this cow town, though...

It speaks to a larger point--all of the graft, all of the corruption, all of the "we need to examine this" and "there need to be studies done" that--it's all hot, steaming, grade-A quality bullshit. A quick-and-easy shorthand for "we need to figure out how we can keep getting our taste."

I'm sick of it. I'm tired of all of the efforts to modernize this city getting swept to the side in the name of keeping things "the way they've always been." Governments at all levels having to stick their nose in everything to make sure that their self-sustaining inflow of cash, over or under-the-table, keeps pouring in.

Where are all of the good people in local politics these days? Where are the decent people willing to stand up and call these idiots on their idiocy? My guess is we could iron out this Lyft thing by next weekend if it was as simple as writing a new ordinance and letting sane people vote on it.

But which sane people? Aldermen and women who may or may not be on the take? Take it to the citizens, who would likely be buffeted by a P.R. campaign on both sides?

The sad thing is, I can't even do anything like that if I wanted to, since I live in Clayton, and I'm pretty sure you have to be a city resident to propose those kind of changes. Dumb rules made in one of the little fiefdoms of our Holy Roman Empire of a city impact me as a resident of another. No recourse for this citizen.

So I pick up this tiniest of bullhorns to try to rally the few troops I can--YOU, dear readers. This blatant cash-grab by the MTC is another idiotic relic of a bygone era choking this city and its surrounding little kingdoms to death. We need some well-intentioned folks in the city to say "enough is enough!", to make a stand here and get the government out of our lives. To wake these people up to the fact that they lament the boarded-up storefronts downtown in one breath, then take steps to prevent paying customers from making it downtown in the next.

Are you ready to help save St. Louis from itself? Are you ready to stand up and proclaim "enough is enough?"

If so, I'd love to hear from you in the comments, or email me directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading...


Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Rams Could Leave St. Louis...and It'd Be Easier Than You Think...

Note: I left this reply on a post referencing Shane Gray's column on STLtoday's Rams Talk message board. Shane does fantastic work, but his post finally got me to lay out, clearly, why the Rams could easily leave St. Louis after next season. Because I'm a toddler and NO ONE PAID ATTENTION TO ME, I decided to syndicate my reply here. Sorry--sometimes the truth hurts...

Shane, love you man, you do great work, but I think you're a bit off on this one.

Everyone says that it doesn't matter where an NFL team is located due to revenue sharing. On the most shallow level, that's absolutely true.

Howevah, what a lot of people don't seem to realize is that teams get to keep luxury box and club seat revenue for themselves. Otherwise, why would Jerry Jones build his palace in the desert? It wasn't so that he could feel like "more of a man," but rather so that he could double-deck those boxes, charge them insane amounts for pizzas and sixers, and keep all of it for himself per NFL rules.

Ever taken a look at the club level or boxes at a Rams game? Depressingly empty. You know what the worst part about it is? We, as the common folk, can't do anything to change it. We know deep in our guts that the 1%s in this town don't give a flying care about the Rams, and we can't buy spots in their boxes and club seats.

In L.A., there would be a waiting list for these seats, starting with the movie studios and moving on to trans-Pacific ventures. We can complain all we want about how "great the lease is for Stan!" and how "he's from here, so how can he betray us?", but all Stan cares about (sadly for him) is cold, hard, cash.

Not to mention that an L.A. stadium could host a variety of music headliners year-round outside of football games. These would pump millions into Stan's pocket with little-to-no risk.

Think Sam has a sweetheart deal here? Try squaring that away with a stadium on which he owes NOTHING once it's built, combined with a development outside of it from which he takes a fraction of every dollar spent.

"Oh, but what about a relocation fee?" $700 million to triple your franchise value from $750 mill to $2.2 billion--this is a problem because...? If nothing else, the increase in franchise value would cover the stadium, to boot!

"But he can't move the team without the approval of the league!" Actually, yes he can. Al Davis (of all people!) laid the groundwork in the 90s with his antitrust suit against the NFL. He won. I don't care what the owners have contracted with one another for with regard to the LA market, if Stan moved the team, it would end up as an antitrust suit, because of the horizontal allocation of territories. The LAST thing the NFL wants is an antitrust suit--antitrust suits allow the prevailing party to recover triple (3x) damages, in addition to wearing down various legal protections that the NFL has enjoyed to this point, including its "non-profit" status.

That doesn't mean that such a move will be a lock--there are permits to obtain, EISs to get, etc. This is more of a procedural speed bump than anything else, though--any team of halfway-decent lawyers should be able to hammer those out. The only one that could REALLY hold up a stadium is the FAA approval for a stadium so close to LAX, but Al Davis apparently got that approval years ago.

My guess? Stan is looking out for himself. If he can persuade Missouri taxpayers to foot the bill for a new stadium, he'll (perhaps reluctantly) take it. If not, he'll have those Mayflower trucks backing up to Rams Park before you can say "2nd overall pick in the draft."

I don't write these things to scare people, but rather to educate them. I think Stan's counting on the Missouri legislature to rebuff any stadium proposal put forward, leaving him free to move wherever.

What you can do is start to contact your state representatives--let them know that you WILL NOT vote for them if the Rams leave town. You become a single-issue voter on the Rams stadium issue. They may not "want" to move, but if a vote in the legislature fails, they'll be "left with little choice."

If not, don't blame me when they move out to L.A....


Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Visit to the 2014 St. Louis Auto Show

My car turns 10 this year. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem; I love my car. It's served me well for (counts on fingers...) 6 1/2 years now.

The only problem is that the old gal is getting a little long in the tooth. She's already needed $3000 put into her to replace transmission fluid lines and other needed repairs about a year ago, and the last time I took her in I was told she needed another $2500 in repairs in the next year or so.

So I've decided to get a new one once all of the snow and salt is gone.

Naturally, this meant a trip to this year's auto show.

For those of you outside of St. Louis, the Auto Show is probably the most action the Edward Jones Dome sees all year. For months ahead of time, there's a huge media blitz, as area TV and radio stations take some of that sweet, sweet, "yes-blood-for-oil" cash of the car companies in exchange for hundreds of outsized promo spots ("Brett Hull will be there! Come watch some stunt driver show his stuff! Free climbing wall and play area for the kids!")

As a result, thousands of people from around the area pay $10 a pop to check out new cars from probably a dozen different manufacturers.

I decided to go on Thursday because my schedule as a freelancer gives me some flexibility, and I was going to be damned if I fought through hordes of MethCo types on Sunday just to sit in a few cars to "whittle down" my potential choices.

Little did I know the adventure that awaited me! I was so blown away that I decided to write up a little travelogue about the experience, so that others attending this weekend might better plan their time down there. Without further delay, please enjoy:

-My first dilemma: where to park? Unfortunately, since I didn't know how long I'd be at the show, I couldn't park at a meter. I had a choice: either use the garage at the U.S. Bank building, which was $2/hr (greedy bastards!) or the dilapidated convention center/Embassy Suites garage next to the circular entrance to the Dome for $1/hr. Despite the general skeeviness of the latter, it was a whole $1/hr less than the U.S. Bank garage, so I decided to go with that one.

-Is this the most depressing set of elevator buttons you've ever seen?

I don't know what kind of area sports fan came up with this scheme, but it defies any kind of logic. How are the Cards in the middle? Blues at the top, Rams at the bottom, just an all-around mess.

-I rode the elevator down with an elderly couple and another 30-ish guy. We disembarked, and the older gentleman's face scrunched up. "Excuse me, do either of you know what 'pay at the pay station' means? Is there some kind of machine we have to use to prepay?"

I look at the other guy. He shrugs his shoulders, "I dunno."

Really? Seriously? I hope my snort conveyed the proper level of disdain. "Yeah, you put your ticket in afterward and pay before you get back in the car, since the machine doesn't know how long you've parked until you're done." The old man got a kick out of that one and thanked me.

Honestly, though, was it such an imposition for the other guy to explain this? Or did he actually not know? Either way, I question his value to our society...

-The first thing I noticed when I got inside: the beer cart was open and ready for business! At 12:30...on a Thursday.

I nodded at the woman manning it, "Bet you only get the die-hards at this hour..." I asked.

As if on cue from the guy behind me: "One Bud Light, please!"

The woman smiled and shook her head, and dutifully filled up the $8.50, 32-once beer for the guy.

-At this point, it would probably be helpful to tell you what I was looking for in terms of a car. As a freelancer, it's tough to know exactly what my budget is, since good months can bring in quite a lot, and not-so-good months are...well...not-so-good for a reason.

Regardless, I was looking for something midsize, with a big enough trunk to fit both my softball stuff and golf clubs at the same time. Leather seats would be a plus, but not necessary. I'd like a good amount of tech (synching up my phone to play music and podcasts would be great), and stuff like a back-up camera would help me scare the shit out of avoid mowing down neighbors and children.

I went into the show targeting the Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, and Ford Fusion as potentially good fits, though I was very open to being convinced otherwise and determined to hit up pretty much all manufacturers that had cars that fit the bill. If there was one "favorite" that I had identified, it was the Nissan Altima; I don't think it's any secret that I enjoy a good sit while driving, and apparently Nissan had NASA engineers design the seats in the Altima. I just hoped that meant that it didn't break into a million fiery pieces. NASA engineering something? What could possibly go wrong?!

-My first victim? The kindly folks at Dodge. I looked at the Challenger and the Charger, but neither really fit what I had in mind. I've driven enough of those weird-looking Chargers with the station wagon back as rental cars to be okay with never setting ass in that driver's seat again. The Challenger, though easy on the eyes, gets garbage gas mileage and is kind of pricey with all of the features I'm looking for.

Not wanting a Jeep (sorry, J. Adams) or Chrysler (yikes...), I shifted my focus to...

-Honda on the other side of the room. Both the Accord and Civic were fine automobiles, though I (obviously) liked the price tag on the Civic better. The only problem? To get leather seats in the Civic, you have to get the super-premium model. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if the standard fabric seats didn't look like they came directly out of Walter White's Aztek, blood stains, blue meth and all. Seriously, they have some kind of weird tribal weave pattern on them that will have people facepalming three years from now--mark my words!

(It's okay--I know you won't. Very few people mark other peoples' words nowadays, unless they're running for office and/or drunk and cross the line. It's part of the reason why I was semi-successful in the sportswriting biz!)

-Acura was next up. I have a couple of buddies that have Acuras, and they seem to like them well enough. Since Acura is the luxury arm of Honda, I figured their cars would be way out of my price range.

Not true--the ILX actually was a pleasant surprise, clocking in at under $30k. If I stretch a bit (or get a big gig here in the next couple of months), I could maybe even get into the TSX, which has a lot more cool bells and whistles in it. I don't know what it was about the Acuras that I liked so much, other than the "feel" of the cockpit--seemingly innocuous details to other people like "how my right elbow rests on the center console/armrest" and "how the steering wheel lines up with the speedometer" are crucial to me, since I know if I get them wrong they'd drive me absolutely nuts.

I think both Acuras fit the bill--I'll have to test drive them to be sure.

-Fiat? Uh...pass! Despite what Catrina Menghia would have you believe, I don't think driving a Fiat will have supermodels throwing themselves at me, unless it's in a "aw, poor baby, probably doesn't even know how to fix a burned out headlight!"-before-she-toussles-my-hair sort of way. Which simply isn't true--I now know how to change a headlight, thanks to a very nice lady at an auto parts store in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, thank you very much!

-Scion? No thanks. I hear they're getting better, but as long as these:

are still on the road, I just can't trust them.

-I bolted right past the Subaru booth (sorry, Paul Hogan) to the Nissan exhibit. Finally, I could see the heavenly seats Altima in action.

But first, I got sidetracked by the Sentra. I have to admit: it pleasantly surprised me. Granted, for some reason, they employed the same pseudo-tribal pattern on the fabric as Honda, but other than that, it's a comfortable car for a compact.

A good-looking gal with high cheekbones came over and asked if I wanted more info on the Sentra. I said "Sure!" (perhaps too-enthusiastically)...and waited. I answered every question about myself short of "what's your shoe size?" "what brand of condoms do you use?", and "what's your bank password so that we can skip all of this 'sell you a car' business and just funnel your cash directly into our pockets?"

Finally, I got a chance to sit in an Altima. I have to admit, it was great--I did kind of feel like I was in Gravity, though that may have had more to do with the sports bra and tights I was wearing than anything else. Still a strong contender...

-Next up: Toyota. I didn't care for the Corolla too much, even though it's light years ahead of anything built even five years ago, save for the same awful pattern on the seats. I swear to God, these car companies are trying to make it so that if you spill coffee on the seat, it's an improvement.

I liked the Camry, and found myself inexplicably drawn to the Prius. I think it was the gas mileage: after seeing a bunch of big numbers on the stickers between 26-32, that "50" really stands out.

A very nice salesman with a 4-letter name ("Greg?" "Tony?" "Mark?"), likely sensing a mark, came over and struck up a conversation about the Prius with me.

Now, I don't know if I'm quite ready to be a "Prius guy." San Fran is a cool enough town, I guess, but the smug is just TOO MUCH for me. At the same time...that sweet, sweet gas mileage...3 times better than my current car! Oh, the places I could go, oh the people I could see...

And yet...the only people I know who own Priuses are ladies. Which is cool--I applaud their responsible stewardship of the environment. But when the car sounds like something out of "The Jetsons" and has all of the pickup of a pimply high schooler with a cracking voice (or so I've heard...), I just don't know if it's for me.

Still, I signed up for the mailing list, in spite of the numerous red flags that the Target credit card scandal should've raised, and moved on to the next booth.

-As a complete aside, I tend to turn on Frasier on the Hallmark Channel for background noise as I write these things, and (no shit) a commercial for Jerusalem just came on! The voice over? "Come breath the same fresh air Jesus breathed..."

...Uh, yeah, just don't take the bus! Seriously, is that the best sales pitch you have, Jerusalem? Can't you do a little better than that? My buddy Jamie went there with his now wife and called the experience "transformational" and "life-changing." The best you can do is "breathe the same air Jesus breathed!" Do you need a new copywriter? If so, I think I know where I could dig one up...

-Lexus was (unsurprisingly) next; I figured I'd check 'em out for the hell of it. To my surprise, they had a couple of cars in the $35-40k range, which might work...if I win the lottery tomorrow...

I visited the booth and got a brochure from the shapely lady manning it. She informed me that the brochure that I got was "kind of a bullshit one" (not her words, but it was the same general gist--not sure why I put it in quotes in the first place, but fuck it...). To get the REAL brochure, I'd have to (you guessed it) reveal the secret location of the Lost City of El Dorado and the various powers that conspired to commit the Kennedy Assassination in another goddamned iPad app to be put on a mailing list.

-There are three types of people trying to sell these cars:

1) Short, spunky guy who's read every sales book ever written. Some of them are young and personable, others are older and slick. Still others are even older and getting close to "Gil in the Simpsons" territory.

2) Attractive ladies. Not all are knockouts, but they all have obviously mastered the art of flirting, at least to the point of getting you to give them your name, address, phone number, and type of car you're going to buy shortly. Amazingly, for most single guys, the same series of events at a bar is considered "a successful night!"

3) Big, tall sons-a-bitches. These days, I'm running a fairly trim 6'0" 200 lbs., and a lot of these guys dwarfed me. They roll up with a toothpick in their mouth, tryin' to intimidate the "city slickers" into buying. Well, joke's on them: no city slickers here! Welcome to St. Louis, fellas!

-Hyundai was underwhelming. I just can't pull the trigger on an Elantra because my buddy Alex already has one. Of course, this is the same buddy who told me, "I don't know why you're going to the auto show. You could just narrow it down online, then go to multiple of those dealerships in the area, test drive the cars, and try to figure out the best deal."

Uh...yeah...or I could spend $10, actually sit in the cars all in one spot, and save trips to about a dozen dealerships that way. Either way...I dunno...fuck it...

-Kia...PASS! I once rented a Kia in South Carolina--the thing felt like it was made completely out of plastic. I've driven power wheels at friends' houses that felt sturdier, though, to be fair, the Kias did have more leg room.

-Next up? Big, bad GM. I wasn't too psyched on them to begin with, and they quickly proved my initial suspicions with few examples of their various models, little employee support, and underwhelming specs on a lot of their cars.

The one interesting booth in the lot was Buick. Buick is apparently huge in China--guess all of those "all the communists want is a Buick in every garage" quips from 1950-1990 paid off. Interestingly enough, in this country, the only people who want Buicks are middle-aged...and older. They're made well, but needless to say, no usb port, big numbers on the spedometer, etc. It's like a near-luxury car crossed with a Jitterbug!

-Ford also wasn't quite what I expected. They had cool displays with broken-down engines all around the cars, but the cars themselves didn't really "wow" me. My mom has a Focus, so there's no way I'm getting that, but even the Fusion disappointed me.

-That was the end of the "traditional" set of booths. Then there were a bunch of small booths with a variety of services ranging from the cool (cars with wheelchair ramps) to ancillary services (detailing, customization) to the ridiculous (why would i want new windows for my house...at a car show?).

One of the highlights of this section? The minibus! Apparently, for only $55,000, without a commercial driver's license, you can buy one of those shuttle buses that they use to take you from the Parking Spot to the airport terminal. If only I had that kind of cash laying around! I'd...certainly not blow it on a party bus...

-Then there was the promo area, located in the south end of the football field. Just by visiting it, I made it in the end zone more easily than the Rams did all season! (Gratuitous shot at the Rams? Check!) "Drive a segway for $5!" (Believe me, I was tempted...). Unbelievably expensive luxury cars! (Look but don't touch!). I found this to be especially intriguing:

I mean, I knew the Blues were hard up for money, but...

-The children's area was in this section, too. Let's just say that if I was a kid, and I was promised "a play area!" and "a climbing wall," I'd be sorely disappointed. The "play area" was one small playground set, with the "climbing wall" (about 4 feet tall) attached to it. Granted, as a kid, I wouldn't have cared--if my parents had left me alone on that thing, I would've been occupied for hours.

Of course, those sad parents counting on being able to dump their kids on the "play area" for a few hours while they looked at cars would've been sorely disappointed. I think the guy I saw in the Honda area on my way out had the right idea; his wife was talking to the saleswoman a ways away, and he had the kids climbing around the display car, saying things like "See? Isn't this car AWESOME?!?" in a high-pitched voice. At least invest the kids in selling the car to your wife!

-I'll close with this: I got back to the garage, paid the parking machine...and proceeded to wait in line for 15 minutes. As I sat there, I thought about one thing, and one thing only: I parked in the garage for 2 hours. Would I pay $2 to avoid a delay leaving the garage? Clearly, the answer is "yes." It's led to a whole new way of thinking about parking downtown! Next time I'm snarled in one of the Stadium lots after a Cards game, or the muni lot...also after a Cards game, I guess...maybe I'll consider parking in a different lot, with easier egress, the next time around.

As for what car I'll be in...well...that remains to be seen...

Thanks for reading...

Aside from being a hopeless shill for his own books, D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, radio personality, and attorney in St. Louis, MO. E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.

Get FREE Chapters