Why Bestselling Authors may just be Lucky

Creative people know any field where Intellectual Property is the primary value of something is going to be treated subjectively like the customer. It’s one thing to have a plumber who can either fix a leaky pipe properly and on time or who can’t. But writing a book, making a movie or music video, or a card game are totally subjective. These tend to have the very top 1% making a lot of money from their IP, maybe another 3% earning solid money from their IP, and everyone else is just doing it for the passion.

For years people have wondered though, why do some people make so much more money than others? How come one idea takes off, while 20 similar ideas don’t? Two researchers tried to  crack that code this week with their new book, The Bestsellers Code. I’ve added my reactions to help explain what they mean:


Back in the spring of 2010, Stieg Larsson’s agent was having a good day. On June 13, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest—third in the series from a previously unknown author—debuted at number one in hardback in the New York Times

The following month Amazon would announce Larsson was the first author ever to sell a million copies on the Kindle, and over the next two years sales in all editions would top seventy-five million. Not bad for an unknown political activist—turned-novelist from a little Scandinavian country, especially one who had chosen a rather uncharming title in Swedish and had written some brutal scenes of rape and torture.Men Who Hate Women—or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as it was renamed in English—was the sensation book of the year in more than thirty countries.

The press didn’t understand the success. Major newspapers commissioned opinion pieces on what on earth was going on in the book world. Why this book? Why the frenzy? What was the secret? Who could have known?

Answers were lackluster. Reviewers scratched their heads about it. They found fault with the novel’s structure, style, plotting, and character. They groaned over the translations. They complained about the stupidity of the reading public. But still copies sold as fast as they were printed—whether you were in the UK, the U.S., in Japan, or in Germany; whether you were male, female, old, young, black, white, straight, or gay. Whoever you were, practically anywhere, you knew people who were reading those books.

That doesn’t happen very often in the book world…The level of sales his trilogy achieved without even the backing of its author was supposedly just unfathomable. Freakish. Unpredictable.

Let’s consider some numbers. A company in Delaware called Bowker is the global leader in bibliographic information and the exclusive provider for unique identification numbers (ISBN) for books in the U.S. Their annual report states that approximately fifty to fifty-five thousand new works of fiction are published every year. Given the increasing number of self-published ebooks that carry no ISBN, this is a conservative number. In the U.S., about 200-220 novels make the New York Times bestseller lists every year. Of that…even fewer hit the bestseller lists and stay there week after week to become what the industry calls a “double-digit” book. Only handfuls of authors manage those ten or more weeks on the list, and of those maybe just three or four will sell a million copies of a single title in the U.S. in one year. Why those books?

Traditionally, it is believed that there are certain skills a novelist needs to master in order to win readers: a sense of plot, compelling characters, more than basic competence with grammar. Writers with big fan bases have mastered more: an eye for the human condition, the twists and turns of plausibility, that rare but appropriate use of the semicolon…But when it comes to the kind of success involved in hundreds of thousands of people reading the same book at the same time—well, unless Oprah is involved, that signals the presence of a fine stardust that’s apparently just too difficult to detect. The sudden and seemingly blessed success of books like the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Help, Gone Girl, and The Da Vinci Code is considered very lucky, but as random as winning the lottery.


So these guys are essentially admitting that publishers have no idea how to identify a bestseller, right? And that there’s a lot of random chance in why one book is “it” and 5,000 other books similar to “it” just don’t have “it.”


White Swans

The bold claim of this book is that the novels that hit the New York Times bestseller lists are not random, and the market is not in fact as unknowable as others suggest. Regardless of genre, bestsellers share an uncanny number of latent features that give us new insights into what we read and why. What’s more, algorithms allow us to discover new and even as yet unpublished books with similar hallmarks of bestselling DNA.

There is a commonly repeated “truth” in publishing that success is all about an established name, marketing dollars, or expensive publicity campaigns. Sure, these things have an impact, but our research challenges the idea it’s all about hype in a way that should appeal to those writers who toil over their craft. Five years of study suggests that bestselling is largely dependent upon having just the right words in just the right order, and the most interesting story about the NYT list is about nothing more or less than the author’s manuscript, black ink on white paper, unadorned.

Using a computer model that can read, recognize, and sift through thousands of features in thousands of books, we discovered that there are fascinating patterns inherent to the books that are most likely to succeed in the market, and they have their own story to tell about readers and reading. In this book we will describe how and why we built such a model and how it discovered that eighty to ninety percent of the time the bestsellers in our research corpus were easy to spot. Eighty percent of New York Times bestsellers of the past thirty years were identified by our machines as likely to chart. What’s more, every book was treated as if it were a fresh, unseen manuscript and then marked not just with a binary classification of “likely to chart” or “likely not to,” but also with a score indicating its likelihood of being a bestseller. These scores are fascinating in their own right, but as we show how they are made we will also share our explanation for why that book on your bedside table is so hard to put down.

Consider some of these percentages. The computer model’s certainty about the success of Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno, was 95.7 percent. For Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer it was 99.2 percent. Both were number one in hardback on the NYT list, which for a long time has been one of the most prestigious positions to occupy in the book world. These are veteran authors, of course, already established. But the model is unaware of an author’s name and reputation and can just as confidently score an unknown writer. The score for The Friday Night Knitting Club, the first novel by Kate Jacobs, was 98.9 percent. The Luckiest Girl Alive, a very different debut novel by Jessica Knoll, had a bestselling success score of 99.9 percent based purely on the text of the manuscript. Both Jacobs and Knoll stayed on the list for many weeks. The Martian (before Matt Damon’s interest in playing the protagonist) got 93.4 percent. There are examples from all genres: The First Phone Call from Heaven, a spiritual tale by Mitch Albom, 99.2 percent; The Art of Fielding, a literary debut by Chad Harbach, 93.3 percent; and Bared to You, an erotic romance by Sylvia Day, 91.2 percent.

These figures, which provide a measure of bestselling potential, have made some people excited, others angry, and more than a few suspicious. In some ways that is fair enough: the scores are disruptive, mind-bending. To some industry veterans, they are absurd. But they also could just change publishing, and they will most certainly change the way that you think about what’s inside the next bestseller you read.

We should make it clear that none of the books we reference were acquired based on our model’s figures, and figures, beyond the ones you’ll read about here, have never been formally shared with any agent or publishing house. We should also be clear that these figures are specific to the closed world of our research corpus, a corpus we designed to look like what you’d see if you walked into a Barnes & Noble with a wide selection to choose from. Agents and editors do a good job of putting books in front of consumers—it’s not as though we are short of things to read. And some individuals in publishing have a particular reputation for the Midas touch. But remember that the bestseller rate in the industry as it stands is less than one-half of one percent. That’s a lot of gambling before a big win. Note, too, that year after year, the lists comprise the names of the same long-standing mega-authors. Stephen King is sixty-eight. James Patterson is sixty-eight. Danielle Steel is sixty-eight. As much as fans are still thrilled by another new novel from one of these veteran writers, it is telling that the publishing world has not discovered the next generation of authors who will similarly enjoy thirty to forty years of constant bestselling. Nor did the industry find, despite the thousands of manuscripts both rejected and published annually, a runaway bestseller for 2014 (Dragon Tattoo, Fifty Shades, and Gone Girl had been the standout hits of previous years), and neither did it publish a manuscript to impress the Pulitzer Prize committee in 2012. Why?

Well, it is a universal wisdom that bestsellers are freaks. They are the happy outliers. The anomalies of the market. Black swans. If that is the truth, then once you find a bestselling writer, why put your money anywhere else? Why put your millions on a new twenty-year-old writer instead of Stephen King? How could you possibly know if a new literary author is worth the sort of investment worthy of a future big-prize winner?

If you review their computing model, you find they only review bestselling books against each other. They don’t compare the bestsellers to every book ever published, or even a random collection of 10,000 indie  books or 10,000 traditionally-published books NOT on the bestsellers’ list so it’s unclear why bestsellers do better than non-bestsellers, according to their algorithm.


The conventional wisdom has always been that it’s random chance, and so publishers and agents take total guesses as to what book will become a bestseller in the future. Because of this, they look for authors who fit the ‘profile’ they’ve built up: someone between the ages of 25-39 with a killer manuscript and either a) a big following already (celebrities) or b) the chance to gain one super fast. The MS fits the common themes assigned for that particular genre but also has a twist on it so it seems fresh and exciting and can be promoted in 18-24 months when the book comes out (assuming it does). The public at large, who may prefer different novels, will love it as much as librarians.

I personally have an theory it’s the AUTHORS, not the books, that drive sales. You get an author willing to take risks and to become a lightning rod for attention (and controversy) and I think sales will increase over authors who just have good stories. I would love to prove the conventional wisdom wrong- quit look at the Manuscripts, agents! But then again, I’m a lowly writer with 43k Wattpad views and no fiction sales ever, so what do I know, according to them?

Well, at least we can agree on something- no one knows exactly how to build a bestseller. The difference is, I’m willing to bet that I can create them without needs for silly algorithms or guesswork.


It’s all over :,( for #kickstarter

After 20 days with the Kickstarter I realized I am nowhere close to my goal so I decided to pull the plug and cancel the campaign.

I could go on about the problems with Kickstarter and crowdfunding but I won’t. Instead, I’ll focus on what I think went wrong:

  1. Too many campaigns in one year. I had a successful campaign in Feb/March but I think a lot of my backers were supporting me to be polite. Maybe in a couple of years I can get them to back again but there was less enthusiasm and it came off as asking for too much money. At least one of my previous backers thinks so.
  2. Not a big enough audience. Crowdfunding is not exactly an “even playing field” when it comes to raising. Sure, a frigging cube or potato salad prank could go viral and earn you hundreds of thousands of backers. Or, you could get a great PR campaign and get some quality publicity. That might work. But if you lack that type of press or virability, then you better have a big group of people prepared to back you. And if you don’t, then you’re likely not to make much money.
  3. Video didn’t feature me. The video is really good and great thanks to Benji Seyler and his friend for their help in putting it together. But some people prefer videos with the creator in it, and this one is very professional but did not feature me.
  4. Demand? I always wonder how demand works. The problem with business (and yes, if you make and publish your own game you are a business!) is that it’s not always easy to know when your products and services are in demand. The marketplace is made up of too many moving parts so you can spend a lot of time on something you’re proud of, only to find out the market really doesn’t care what you made or how you provide service. I think this is the number one reason 80-90% of new businesses fail!

The Ten Hard Kickstarter Lesson’s I’m learning

So we’re close to halfway through my Kickstarter campaign  and I am still well short of my goal. I’m not quitting in the hopes of getting more  backing and who knows, maybe I can still pull off a surprising comeback.

So far here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Crowdfunding really is all about you. Platforms do nothing for you besides make it easy for you to organize your idea, and then take your money.
  2. Treat crowdfunding like market testing Crowdfunding is basically a combination of product testing, marketing, pre-ordering, and the online version of people who used to have community fundraisers for causes like “Help Bill with his medical bills” or “raise $10,000 to pay for school building renovations”. This means people who come to your page will determine whether or not to support you based on your project’s offering, not on your company’s value to society or your mission statement. It’s NOT a real investment platform! To some extent Indiegogo and GoFundMe are more like social mission driven, but not much more.
  3.  BUILD YOUR LIST! If you can’t rely on getting at or close to 50% within your first week, your campaign is pretty much screwed. The only exception is getting a major celebrity to endorse your product or someone just happening in the middle or late campaign. I don’t have a huge list, and I think this has hurt me. If you’re not sure you have
  4. DO NOT do 2 Kickstarters in one year. The first time, I had reasonable support from people wishing me well. I suspect a lot of them backed me to help out, not for any desire to have my game, so they are not as enthused the second time around. Once I get Iron Phalanx vs. Dragonboat Raiders published, I am taking off at least one year, if not longer, from crowdfunding, so I can build support and get my old backers back.
  5. Presentation counts- mostly. You must have a solid, professional look with video, clear goals, stretch goals, game rules (games only of course) third-party reviews (for games at least- some products don’t require this), backer’s promise to fulfill your campaign promises if you’re funded, and some info about your product. However, product is still #1.
  6. Hustle for money– if you’re lucky, people might comment on your page or share it and you can go viral overnight and not worry about cash. However, your chances of going viral are not much higher than getting bitten by a shark in Colorado so expect to cyberbeg everyone you know for cash, particularly if you’re short of your goal. So far I’ve tried multiple strategies and few of them seem to be working. This includes e-mail everyone I know, speaking to everyone I know, and doing trade shows and demos of the new set and handing out postcards asking people to check out the page. I’ve even ran ads. All for maybe minor gain.
  7. Speaking of postcards, PROMOTE THE DATE WAY IN ADVANCE! I started telling people 4 months out about Greeks vs. Norse and I set the date 6 weeks in advance and began telling people. Appears not to be enough! I’d say I should have picked the date 12 weeks in advance and while I don’t think that would have helped much more, it would have helped somewhat. Still 15 days so there’s time. One of my friends promoted his a year in advance and it worked for him; he finally beat his goal.
  8. I haven’t seen any proof yet that the time left matters, but boy I wonder where I would be if I had say 40 days left, instead of 15.
  9. Goals should match what you need, but I’m wondering if I should have lowered my goal as to not frighten people off. 10k is a lot more than say 7k.
  10. Finally (for now), accept that it’s unlikely your campaign is going to be a big hit. Realistically, your campaign is unlikely to net you $100,000 or more. Only 36% of Kickstarters in 2015 succeeded, and 70% of those raised less than 10k (source: Kickstarter). Statistically speaking, it’s very difficult to raise lots of money crowdfunding without a big name, built-in base, massive PR campaign, an outstanding idea, and/or some insane luck in discovery and timing.

Lastly, I want to add that you don’t need to crowdfund your project. I’ll talk about why I don’t believe you need it when I do the post-mortem, whether or not I get funded.

What do you think? What has been your crowdfunding experience?

Children Starve while a Cube makes Millions

Have you ever tried your hand at crowdfunding? You build a network of supporters and ask them to support you in whatever campaign you’re trying to raise money for. Sometimes your ideas will get funding, sometimes they won’t. If you don’t get funding, then you figure out what went wrong and either try again or shelve your project.


What you cannot count on is how the internet is changing commerce. Since people behave differently online than in real life, you don’t know what will work and what won’t.

Enter Fidget Cube, a minorly useful toy for people like me who are restless and can’t sit still. The toy is being sold on Kickstarter for $19 and will retail for $25. For the record, Heroes of History is $20 plus shipping for $25. So for $25 you can learn something about history and world cultures, or you can buy a cube that, as a heavy fidgeter, isn’t something that would seriously add value to my life.

The reason I bring this up is that I don’t think even the creators expected their joke to go viral. yet this is largely how a lot of crowdfunding works, for the same reason someone’s potato salad prank netted more than $50,000. To quote the genius behind the potato salad prank:

“What began as a joke between Zack Brown and his friends blew up into an international story, became the fourth most-viewed Kickstarter page ever and, ultimately, led to Brown ending the campaign $55,492 richer. “The potato salad Kickstarter being more popular than ‘Reading Rainbow’ and Oculus Rift, to me, makes no sense,” Brown says. “How did potato salad get more page views than ‘Reading Rainbow’? I have no idea.”

Well, since people don’t really read anymore, that’s not hard to surmise.

The better question is: How does a cube, while certainly a funny idea, actually get people who are allegedly poor to put down $20 for what amounts to worry dice with a switch and a glider?

One of comments on the blog gave a reasonable answer:

People just love to jump on bandwagons… it’s not about helping at all but doing what everyone else is doing, so they appear to be part of the popular crowd. It’s simple psychology, really.

To be fair, the video itself is funny and well done, and I know the creators were doing this as a joke. I don’t blame them, and in fact I admire their ability to come up with a half-hazard idea and still walk away with a lot of money. Interestingly enough, this is the brothers’ fifth Kickstarter, and easily their most successful one.

The point here is more about what gets funding on Kickstarter, or which goes viral: The problem with trying to build a brand is how stories like this impact us:

a. People see a fidget cube or potato salad campaign go viral, then get the idea that they can go viral too if only they’re just as funny or clever. They cut out the hard work part and immediately try to come up with something funny.

b. People see a fidget cube or potato salad campaign go viral, then get the idea they are idiots for building their fanbases slowly while some guys just throw something up and it happens to go viral. They try to emulate the successful creators but end up disappointed they cannot duplicate the randomness of these creators, and waste time chasing the gold instead of building their brand.

c. people see a fidget cube or potato salad go viral and look at their ideas, some of which might be legitimately innovative or helpful to people, and wonder why they didn’t just do that instead. This causes distraction away from the main goal in order to try to capture some of the viral magic.

d. People see a fidget cube or potato salad campaign go viral,  and simply give up on society because they  can’t figure out why people won’t donate $5 to education or helping people with cancer, but will spend $25 on a joke.


Idiocracy GIF 2.gif

“Next  innovation for Kickstarter: A stick that goes in a hole! We gonna call it Stikole! Helps you fidget and feel better about yourself.”

The problem I have with campaigns like these is they expose three beliefs of free enterprise capitalism that are not true on the internet:

a. people with great ideas can make lots of money if their ideas are sound and executed. This is otherwise known as the “cream rises to the top theory”. The potato salad should have show this up! I suspect a lot of what becomes popular on the internet is by total random chance.

b. The marketplace is in your control- that is, your products or services are totally dictated by needs of the marketplace, rather than random events or fortunate circumstances.

c. There is no such thing as luck- wealthy people make their own luck.

Again, give the Fidget brothers their due- the video is well-made and entertaining and I get that this was supposed to be a funny joke. Yet how more than 105,000 people can decide THIS is the “innovative” product this world needs, when there are inventions that are more useful to your lives but which maybe don’t entertain you get little to no attention or money. And yes, 46 million Americans are using food stamps just to make ends meet.

The truth is, there are things you can do to increase your chances of a successful crowdfunding campaign. Trying to go viral is not one of them. You just have no idea what will work and what won’t on the internet. That’s why no one is entirely sure why some social media accounts become famous and others, doing the same thing, don’t. All I can recommend is, try not to bank on going viral and yes, it’s okay to focus on growing your base slowly!


My 3 Biggest Crowdfunding Mistakes you can avoid

KS project photo

support our Kickstarter, set to go live this Wednesday the 7th!

Crowdfund is a $60 billion industry  and isn’t showing signs of slowing down, especially if our government continues to make getting access to capital that much more difficult.

Of course, the definition has evolved from theoretically “micro investing” into what it really is, crowd donating. You take the old concept of a community getting together to raise money to say refurbish a church or school, or a dinner to raise funds to help someone who was sick pay medical bills. These “revolutionary” platforms are exactly the internet version of things we used to do in communities, except now your community is a) the whole world and b) mostly people you’ve never met.

For people who cannot bear the expense of taking on an expensive project like game design (or big companies just using a pre-order platform), we can go to one of more than 400 platforms, each with its own niche. Except for Kickstarter and Indigogo, the two biggest on the planet, which have campaigns which encompass pretty much everything.

Kickstarter is THE platform to go to for gaming plans, whether tabletop or video gaming. Slides in my presentation show Games are generally more likely to be funded than other projects, but you are still likely to fail. By the way, if you’re trying to raise money for your novel, there is a company called Pubslush that was sold a while ago. I spoke to their former owners about the platform but I was not a fan, which I can address for anyone who wants to know more about crowdfunding novels.

Why do campaigns fail? First off, Kickstarter, like most crowdfunding platforms, does NOTHING to help you. Unless they like your campaign and promote it on their platform, they literally do zilch. YOU are the one who must direct traffic to their site. Now people with large followings can get people to the site, or if they have celebrity friends or backers, which is how Exploding Kittens took off so much. Occasionally, something random like potato salad can go viral and get you the bump. But unless you are a celebrity or get lucky, prepare to draw traffic or struggle to raise $.

Second, I didn’t know that if you make a game, you need to get reviews. Period. Even if it’s just 2, get a third-party to vet your game. It’s possible but much less likely to raise funds if you have a game, no community interaction, no plan, and no third-parties to vouch for you.

Third, the pledge levels need to make sense. Remember, CROWDBACKERS ARE NOT INVESTORS. They are literally campaign donors, no different than sending a $10 pledge to a politician’s election campaign and getting stuff in the mail. A real investor would review your business plan, meet your team and visit your  facilities (if applicable), and review your financial projects before deciding whether or not to invest, and then you get into the details of what percentage they will take, who sits on your advisory board or board of directors, etc. In Crowdfunding, I like your project so I give you $10 in return for a t-shirt if you meet your goal. That’s not investing, that’s donating.

So when you set those pledge levels, think about what your ideal backer wants. My first campaign, I set a weak $3 pledge and then had too many prize levels that didn’t offer enough value. I started offering t-shirts and hats which I had done research on the cost of, but which I don’t think offered enough value.

So what am I doing  the second time?


For problem 1, I made connections, met people, shared their campaigns, played their games, chatted with gamers on forums and on Board Game Geek, and introduced myself to the local tabletop community. I visited stores, sat down at weekly game nights, and directly appealed to past backers or people on my e-mail list. I made postcards and left them with store owners, and sent out reminders to all my previous backers. It’s still not a huge community, but it’s a start.

For problem 2, I got reviews and posted an interview I had with Board Game Geek, made a couple of funny memes, and put them together. The result is a page that shows higher quality than just “hey guys, I’m some dude, back me.”

For problem 3, I only posted 6 goals, was more clear with potential international backers about my pricing strategy, and kept them limited to the game. My bonuses are things like exclusive KS-only cards. This should keep people from being distracted by merchandise. By the way, all these tips are credible for any crowdfunding platform, since the biggest ones all have the same problem.

There are more things I did wrong I’ll share later, as well as my problems with crowdfunding platforms that I want to address. Feel free to share your experience crowdfunding on any platform.

Question of the day: Does crowdfunding work for you? What has your experience been like?


News and notes:

I will be at the Boston Festival of Indie games in Cambridge, MA to show off Heroes of History and maybe win a FIGGIE.

I will be in Newington, CT for the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games

I will be in Washington, NJ at Arcana Toys and Games to do a demo for kids.

I at BW will also make an appearance in Stroudsburg, PA to do a demo of the next set.



ERA OF BRADAN is now closing in on 37k reads, and with 3 weeksto go before Wattpad stops featuring the novel, it did a little worse than I expected, but better than I feared. Part of the reason I don’t get more reads is because I don’t go on a lot.

ECHOES OF THE OTHERWORLD is almost at 2k, which is good for a novel that’s 1/3 done.

Still no plan as of today to publish either, since I keep getting rejections.




It’s confirmed: Our Kids are Being Turned into Heroin Junkies

One of the advantages of tabletop gaming is that you are a) required to interact with other humans in person when playing a multi-player game and b) looking at something that is not a screen, does not change upon command, and does not have a universe’s worth of information on it. As someone who has played at least 10,000 hours of video gaming, I know just how fun-and addicting-games can be. Even now, as I try to work to a schedule and get a lot done with my internet access (blog posts, social media, writing books, answering e-mail, working on some game concepts) it’s FREAKING HARD not to want to get the answer to a question or to want to know what’s going on in the outside world.

The fact is, nearly all of us are now carry symptoms of ADHD (which includes those of us to either have ADD or ADHD or suffer from recognized neurological disorders that go along with ADHD and OCD), especially around electronic devises. We are now obsessed with what the internet has given us. This weekend, I spoke to some incredible people at TempleCon and I’m going to share their thoughts with you, because it made me stop to think. My one regret was not being able to record these talks, because we should all be thinking about the issues discussed. Specifically, we talked about technology and its benefits/ negatives.

Anyways, as I’ve said before, there is going to be a serious problem in this country if people are turning away from reading and social activities and instead become slaves to their smartphones, eagerly awaiting the next social media like or approval from strangers. Yes, kids prefer print to e-books, and yes, the tabletop industry has grown 7 consecutive years and was worth about $850 as of 2015. But the total video game market is $100 BILLION and that’s mostly electronic games.

So here to confirm what Captain Friedman has been saying, is the mainstream media. Normally I’d clip the article, but this is so good that I’m reposting the entire thing, including the original link:



It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies

Susan* bought her 6-year-old son John an iPad when he was in first grade. “I thought ‘why not let him get a jump on things?’ ” she told me during a therapy session. John’s school had begun using the devices with younger and younger grades—and his technology teacher had raved about their educational benefits—so Susan wanted to do what was best for her sandy-haired boy who loved reading and playing baseball.

She started letting John play different educational games on his iPad. Eventually, he discovered Minecraft, which the technology teacher assured her was “just like electronic Lego.” Remembering how much fun she had as a child building and playing with the interlocking plastic blocks, Susan let her son Minecraft his afternoons away.

Still, Susan couldn’t deny she was seeing changes in John. He started getting more and more focused on his game and losing interest in baseball and reading while refusing to do his chores. Some mornings he would wake up and tell her that he could see the cube shapes in his dreams.At first, Susan was quite pleased. John seemed engaged in creative play as he explored the cube-world of the game. She did notice that the game wasn’t quite like the Legos that she remembered—after all, she didn’t have to kill animals and find rare minerals to survive and get to the next level with her beloved old game. But John did seem to really like playing and the school even had a Minecraft club, so how bad could it be?

Although that concerned her, she thought her son might just be exhibiting an active imagination. As his behavior continued to deteriorate, she tried to take the game away but John threw temper tantrums. His outbursts were so severe that she gave in, still rationalizing to herself over and over again that “it’s educational.”

Then, one night, she realized that something was seriously wrong.

“I walked into his room to check on him. He was supposed to be sleeping—and I was just so frightened…”

We now know that those iPads, smart phones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug.

She found him sitting up in his bed staring wide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing iPad lay next to him. He seemed to be in a trance. Beside herself with panic, Susan had to shake the boy repeatedly to snap him out of it. Distraught, she could not understand how her once-healthy and happy little boy had become so addicted to the game that he wound up in a catatonic stupor.

There’s a reason that the most tech-cautious parents are tech designers and engineers. Steve Jobs was a notoriously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Waldorf Schools. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see the aggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wandering attention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by their hyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children that become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.

But it’s even worse than we think.

We now know that those iPads, smart phones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex—which controls executive functioning, including impulse control—in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels—the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic—as much as sex.

This addictive effect is why Dr. Peter Whybrow, Director of Neuroscience at UCLA calls screens “electronic cocaine” and Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin.” In fact, Dr. Andrew Doan, the Head of Addiction Research for the Pentagon and the U.S. Navy—who has been researching video game addiction—calls video games and screen technologies “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for drug).

That’s right—your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs. No wonder we have a hard time peeling kids from their screens and find our little ones agitated when their screen time is interrupted. In addition, hundreds of clinical studies show that screens increase depression, anxiety, and aggression and can even lead to psychotic-like features where the video gamer loses touch with reality.

In my clinical work with over a 1,000 teens over the past 15 years, I have found the old axiom of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” to be especially true when it comes to tech addiction. Once a kid has crossed the line into true tech addiction, treatment can be very difficult. Indeed, I have found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts.

That’s right—your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs.

According to a 2013 Policy Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 8- to 10 year-olds spend 8 hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. One in three kids are using tablets or smartphones before they can talk. Meanwhile, the handbook of “Internet Addiction” by Dr. Kimberly Young states that 18 percent of college-age internet users in the U.S. suffer from tech addiction.

Once a person crosses over the line into full-blown addiction — drug, digital or otherwise — they need to detox before any other kind of therapy can have any chance of being effective. With tech, that means a full digital detox—no computers, no smartphones, no tablets. The extreme digital detox even eliminates television. The prescribed amount of time is four to six weeks; that’s the amount of time that is usually required for a hyper-aroused nervous system to reset itself. But that’s no easy task in our current tech-filled society where screens are ubiquitous. A person can live without drugs or alcohol; with tech addiction, digital temptations are everywhere.

So how do we keep our children from crossing this line? It’s not easy.

The key is to prevent your 4, 5 or 8-year-old from getting hooked on screens to begin with. That means Lego instead of Minecraft; books instead of iPads; nature and sports instead of TV. If you have to, demand that your child’s school not give them a tablet or Chromebook until they are at least 10 years old (others recommend 12).

Have honest discussions with your child about why you are limiting their screen access. Eat dinner with your children without any electronic devices at the table—just as Steve Jobs used to have tech-free dinners with his kids. Don’t fall victim to “Distracted Parent Syndrome” —as we know from Social Learning Theory, “monkey see, monkey do.”

When I speak to my 9-year-old twin boys, I have honest conversations with them about why we don’t want them having tablets or playing video games. I explain to them that some kids like playing with their devices so much, that they have a hard time stopping or controlling how much they play. I’ve helped them to understand that if they get caught up with screens and Minecraft like some of their friends have, that other parts of their lives may suffer: they may not want to play baseball as much; not read books as often; be less interested in science and nature projects; become more disconnected from their real-world friends. Amazingly, they don’t need much convincing as they’ve seen first-hand the changes that some of their little friends have undergone as a result of their excessive screen time.

Modal Trigger

Developmental psychologists understand that children’s healthy development involves social interaction, creative imaginative play and an engagement with the real, natural world. Unfortunately, the immersive and addictive world of screens dampens and stunts those developmental processes.

We also know that kids are more prone to addictive escape if they feel alone, alienated, purposeless and bored. Thus the solution is often to help kids to connect to meaningful real life experiences and flesh and blood relationships. The engaged child tethered to creative activities and connected to his or her family is less likely to escape into the digital fantasy world. Yet even if a child has the best and most loving support, he or she could fall into the Matrix once they engage with hypnotic screens and experience their addicting effect. After all, about one in 10 people are predisposed towards addictive tendencies.

In the end, my client Susan removed John’s tablet, but recovery was an uphill battle with many bumps and setbacks along the way.

Four years later, after much support and reinforcement, John is doing much better today. He has learned to use a desktop computer in a healthier way, and has gotten some sense of balance back in his life: he’s playing on a baseball team and has several close friends in his middle school. But his mother is still vigilant and remains a positive and proactive force with his tech usage because, as with any addiction, relapse can sneak up in moments of weakness. Making sure that he has healthy outlets, no computer in his bedroom and a nightly tech-free dinner at the dinner table are all part of the solution.

I’ve seen this everywhere: Parents, particularly both single-parent homes and where both parents work, provide the child with an electronic device to keep him/her busy while Mommy and Daddy work. The problem is, the device provides the unsuspecting child with all kinds of stimuli that trigger strong feelings of attachment to the device. Soon the child is obsessed with getting stimulated by the games, and the parents begin to wonder why their child loses interest in sports and playtime. The obvious thing is, if you cannot take time off to be with your child, is to routinely replace the electronics with books, puzzles, board games (or card games) or some other simply, non-electronic hobby. Yet this kind of common-sense is lacking in our society, among other things that are seriously wrong. We need to get away from the obsessive nature of the internet and return to our roots- recognizing that while our ancestors did live short and rather horrible lives, they did at least not have to worry about what someone in the next village over said about them on Facebook.


Don’t Quit: 3 Tips I’ve to Overcome Creative Fatigue

Heroes of History has been so time consuming that I have been unable to write, and that has been frustrating. Whereas writing a book is a pain because I am never satisfied with the final product, the same is true of Heroes: I am always looking for ways to make the game even better.

As a creative person, I work best at night, and trying to adjust to an early rise schedule isn’t always easy. As such, I’ve felt tired at times, and I just want to put off doing any real work. This is something non creative people  don’t get: They don’t know what it’s like to never be truly satisfied with your work, and always wondering how you can tinker with your work to make it better. Most people do something and they think that’s the end of things. We know, as creative persons, we always have doubts about whether our work is the best it could ever be!

So if you feel like you want to quit and take a long break, you will be advised to do so by other bloggers. I don’t agree, among other things that irritate me about some other bloggers (sadly, many give bad advice). Here’s what you can do instead:

  1. Instead of telling yourself, ‘self, I will write 2k words today’, and then not doing it, set a smaller goal of 500 words and then try to exceed it. If you don’t, 500 words is not that much.
  2. If you’re designing a tabletop game, ask a fellow professional game developer to check your rulebook and make sure s/he gives you the satisfaction that your rules are clear and good to go. At some point you do have to stop modifying the rules. This is the problem I had with Heroes: I put in a rulebook, and then decided it wasn’t perfect, so the next set will have a few rule modifications. I know the temptation to keep tinkering with your game, but please. Just. Stop.
  3. Take short breaks, like a few days, but try to work during daylight hours. The biggest mistake I’ve made is working late at night, and that means I sleep less than most people for when i have to get up in the morning.

This is hardly a complete list, but I’d rather get you, dear reader, to offer your thoughts. What do you do when you need a break from your work?

Note: My list is my personal opinion, not what you should be doing. Some people are obnoxious about how superior they are to you and while they are very insightful people, also love to dole out advice as if it’s always the truth and not merely their own opinions.



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Source Me: Wattpad Changing their Featured List Algoritm


I got this from Wattpad. Basically, I should expect my book’s ranking to drop after the six month period is over and if you’re Featured or looking to be Featured on Wattpad, be aware:

 We’re reaching out to you because one of your stories is currently Featured in 
one of our genre categories. We're making a few changes to the process in the
coming weeks and wanted to keep you in the loop!
The Featured List has been around since Wattpad’s inception, and since then we’ve
 had the pleasure of highlighting many remarkable stories through this carefully
 curated and coveted list. 

As you can imagine, after ten years there are now thousands of stories on
our Featured Lists all vying for placement. Unfortunately some are from 
writers who are no longer active on Wattpad or stories that have been removed. 
The more stories we add to the list, the less effective the list becomes and we 
want to make sure that all featured stories have a fair shot at being seen and 
discovered by our amazing community.
We’ve discovered that the Featured List is the most impactful in the first 
six months, therefore featured stories will now have a limited time of 6 months 
on the list. After that, they may be removed to make room for newer ones to keep 
things fresh and diverse. *Please note that some categories will be more 
affected than others as popularity varies by genre.
We want to thank you so much for sharing your story with the Wattpad community.
 It is writers like you that keep us all entertained and inspired!

Source: Wattpad May Pay You…(Call Me) Maybe

Apparently Wattpad has rolled out a new feature for top authors: Get paid with ads in your story.

I received a tip from a fellow Wattpader with a story that has over 200k reads who announced that she is getting involved with a new program to place ads in her featured story as a means of seeing if Wattpad can  ever turn into YouTube and entice people to post, just like YouTube.

Now obviously you are almost impossibly unlikely to get rich making YouTube videos , even if some guy named Shaytard (more like Fucktard to be honest, proof that America is truly becoming an Idiocracy) made tens of millions “working” as a “video producers” (I don’t even want to link back to that) but if you are able to earn a few bucks or even a few hundred, it’s a nice night out gift. Here’s another article about your odds.

Now Wattpad is much smaller than YouTube: whereas YouTube has over 1 billion monthly users, Wattpad is just over 50 million. So Assuming a YouTuber with 1 million monthly views earns say twenty grand a year from her videowork, divide that by 20 and you can see that even the top Wattpadders will likely only take home pocket change.

However, this program could be a boon to authors who cannot get traditionally published or who are not good at selfpublishing, so even 2k is better than none.