BookReview: I Guarantee It by George Zimmer

Love > Fear. Growing up in the trailer parks of the 80’s, moving out of them in the 90s, and becoming the first person in my immediate family (and only the second person in my triple-digit-numbering extended family) to go to college at the turn of the Millenium, I was one of those kids that saw George Zimmer’s famous “You’re going to love the way you look. I guarantee it.” commercials all over Atlanta TV. (And I *think* they even ran on radio? Though Zimmer never mentions those campaigns in this text. So maybe I’m wrong there. 20+ yr old memories at this point. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) But *being* that (even former) trailer park kid… Mens’ Wearhouse prices of $250 and up were a bit too rich for my blood, so I actually shopped at some of the competitors Zimmer mentions late in the text about buying out. ๐Ÿ™‚

With this background, I found this memoir from a man I recognized from TV in my childhood to be quite fascinating. In many ways quite honest – even at times brutally so – and astute, Zimmer openly admits to his luck, sometimes brilliance, and several of the key mistakes he made along the way. He also makes quite clear that he is still hurt by his 2013 ouster from the company he created – and its continual efforts to keep him from becoming a competitor. But in the end, this is a story about a truly remarkable “fortunate son”. A hippie who grew to become one of the titans of industry in America. (And who used his money to get the first Medical Marijuana legalization passed.) A progressive who is absolutely dedicated to capitalism. And a man who firmly believes that a paradigm shift from fear to love is what is needed in both industry and society as a whole.

An utterly fascinating read, and a shortish one to boot – I finished it in about 4 hours or so. Very much recommended.

This review of I Guarantee It by George Zimmer was originally written on August 12, 2021.

#BookReview: No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

Interesting Look At Business Practices Less Common Than Many Claim. Let me be clear here: I am a 14+ year professional software developer in my “day job”. I’ve worked for very small companies with barely 100 people and owned by a single person all the way to one of the largest companies on the planet (Fortune 50). And because I’ve had a 14 year career in this field as of 2021, that means this has all been done since NetFlix has been doing its thing.

And yet while I’ve heard that the Valley works a bit differently than the East Coast / Southern companies I’ve worked for, I’d never heard of several of the policies Hastings and Meyer discuss in this text. For this developer, most of them sound *phenomenal*, and I would *love* to work in environments that had them. Though there are others – “Adequate performance is given a generous severance” in particular – that would exacerbate issues I’ve already had at times in my career. Here, Hastings explains the reasons he adopted these policies at NetFlix and how they have grown over the company’s existence. Meyer provides a degree of “outsider feedback” going around interviewing people at all levels from Hastings to the janitors and examining the claims Hastings makes.

Overall, this is a solid business book explaining these policies, why NetFlix chose them, why other businesses should – or should not, in certain situations – and how they can begin to be implemented in any company. More for Executives than heads down coders or low level team leads, though there are some interesting points even at those levels. It is absolutely something business leaders should read and ponder, and it is a good primer for those who may want to push for similar changes in their own companies. Very much recommended.

This review of No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer was originally written on June 18, 2021.

#BookReview: A Lot Like Love by Jennifer Snow

A Lot Going On – And Yet It All Works. This turned out to be one of two romance novels I was reading at the same time, that release about a week apart, that both featured single dads and their only children. So that was interesting as far as my own reading went, but not overly relevant to what you, the reader of my review, want to know about. ๐Ÿ˜€

Here, Snow packs quite a bit into a fairly Hallmarkie romance. Which as I’ve noted before, there is a *massive* market for, so I totally get why she went this particular route. (Particularly when given her other creative outlets such as her satirical Housewife Chronicles books and her *dark* alter-ego J.M. Winchester.) We get a female coder – more common than some might have you believe, but still accurately portrayed both in real life and in this text as a male dominated field. We get an overbearing boss – which happens at all levels of coding, from the small companies our female lead works for here to the biggest companies on the planet. (I happen to currently work for a Forbes 50 company in the tech field, though to be honest my bosses are quite awesome here. :D) We get a tween girl whose dad doesn’t fully understand her, who wants to do one thing – in this case, write code – and yet whose dad is pushing her to more “typical” activities. We get the small town businessman dad whose business is struggling and who has many issues of his own, both from being a former NFL star and from having his wife die several years prior to the events here. We even get a hint of a long-ago romance and long-lost love via another side story. And we get the classic Hallmarkie former high school frenemy who shows up again… and may not be all that is remembered or presented. So like I said, a LOT going on, particularly for a 300 ish page book.

And yet, in classic Hallmarkie/ Snow style, it really does all work. It is (mostly) pretty damn realistic, despite what a few other reviewers claim, including several messy moments. It hits all the notes that any romance reader will want to see, yes, including a few sex scenes – oral (both ways) and full penetration – and the requisite-for-the-genre happy ending.

A truly excellent tale and a fine way to pass some time sitting in the shade or on a lounger whiling the summer away. Very much recommended.

This review of A Lot Like Love by Jennifer Snow was originally written on June 17, 2021.

#BookReview: Rock The Boat by Beck Dorey-Stein

Great (Summer) Read. This is one of those books that is a great read at any time of the year, but by the end feels particularly like the great “end of summer” movies of old such as American Pie. Largely taking place over the course of one summer, with its titular event the week after Labor Day, this book follows three former high school friends as they rediscover themselves and each other now in their early 30s. Dorey-Stein does a remarkable job of showing inherently flawed – and thus, realistic – characters just trying to live their lives and rebuild old friendships in the wake of various personal tragedies and struggles, all with a smattering of laugh out loud hilarity and heart breaking poignancy. One of those books and stories with a great deal of catharsis and resetting, perfect for the “let’s get back to work” period there at the end of summer – or any time one needs such a feeling. Very much recommended.

This review of Rock The Boat by Beck Dorey-Stein was originally written on June 17, 2021.

#BookReview: Exploding Turkeys and Spare Trousers by Ken Pasternak

Travels and Aphorisms. This is one of those quick, read any way you want type books that you can read straight through or you can read a short chapter in a few hurried minutes, in any order you want. Those familiar with Christian daily devotional books will recognize the overall format, though this is a purely secular book based on Pasternak’s near 50 years of travelling all over the globe as a high level corporate businessman. Filled with short yet interesting stories, many of them apparently already shared on his LinkedIn page in nearly the same (200 ish word) length, this is a great book for someone looking for a light read or a businessman looking for a business-oriented read with some solid truths in that space. Very much recommended.|

This review of Exploding Turkeys and Spare Trousers by Ken Pasternak was originally written on June 11, 2021.

#BookReview: WorkQuake by Steve Cadigan

Interesting Yet Also Seemingly Retreading Well Known Ideas. I’m not exactly known for reading business type books – which is one reason I wanted to read this one, actually, as it sounded interesting even though it was in more of the “Big Idea for Business” type space. While I tend not to discuss my professional life too much in these reviews, it bears a mention in this particular one, so here’s a very brief synopsis just to know my own background for my further commentary: I’m a mid career software developer that has mostly worked in local small-medium (500-2000 people) companies that were usually owned by a singular person, though I currently find myself as effectively a team lead working with various offshore teams and onshore contractors for a Fortune 50 company with approximately 200K+ people worldwide. I’ve had a couple of somewhat innovative breakthroughs, but for the most part I keep my head down and do whatever needs to be done in my current role.

So when I began reading Cadigan’s commentary about the future of tech being less about individual skills and more about networking – alluding to what I call the “Flight Director Principle” based off “Iron Flight” Paul Dye’s 2020 memoir Shuttle, Houston without ever getting even remotely close to actually naming it, much less naming it as I do here – eh… I can see it, and yet I also see in my own looking/ recruitments (in large part based on the very network Cadigan helped lead at one point) I also see quite a bit of employers – perhaps just in the areas/ jobs I’m looking? – still demanding specific technologies and specific amounts of experience with them. But perhaps Cadigan, presumably with a better sense of the pulse of business generally, has better insight there than I do as more of a grunt on the verge of being a low level leader.

Overall his ideas are certainly intriguing, and absolutely worth considering, one simply wonders, based on the text at hand, whether Cadigan is simply pushing change for change’s sake and taking the safe bet that change is always inevitable, or if he truly has specific – unnamed – change strategies. Cadigan here emphasizes adaptability for both the employee and the employer, which while valid, is still a safe and typical recommendation – if you don’t know the need to be adaptable, you’re probably going to quickly find yourself stuck, on whichever side of the hiring process you find yourself.

And this is my argument that his central theses here are mostly retreads of well known ideas. At least in my own experience in this industry even at the levels I’ve seen it, most of this stuff is well known, even if the particular anecdotes and case studies he uses aren’t always. And yet, this is still absolutely a worthy book to read and consider, because despite the well known general ideas, Cadigan does present a few scenarios and specifics that are interesting to consider and, I can say, many companies *need* to consider. Will the future of employment truly look as Cadigan forecasts here? We don’t have enough data at this time to know. But as this is a fairly short book at less than 200 pages of actual narrative, the time investment here is minimal and the rewards could range from minimal to quite substantial – and thus the risk/reward calculation says you really lose more from not reading this book and losing out on some valuable insight than you lose in time if you don’t really gain any new insight. Recommended.

Note: As this review was written on May 25, 2021, and the book doesn’t publish until August 3, 2021, yes, of course, this is an advance reader copy which in this case was obtained via NetGalley.

This review of Workquake by Steve Cadigan was originally written on May 25, 2021.

The Business of Advance Review Copies

In the next few days, I am going to write an article with my answer to the age old question: “How can I get an ARC?”.

But in thinking about my answer to that question, I realized that there is a more critical topic that needs to be discussed before we can intelligently look at how to obtain an ARC – “What are ARCs and why do they exist?”

Quite simply, Advance Review Copies are the literary equivalent of an early screening of a movie – they exist as part of a marketing strategy to build word of mouth (aka “buzz”) about a particular book in the days/ weeks/ sometimes even months before its release. But the goal is always pretty obvious: To sell more books. Period.

It doesn’t matter if a particular author just wants to be published at all and would maybe like to make enough money from their book to buy a Nintendo Switch or if the author in question is a “mega/ mega” – has a mega contract with a major publishing house. At the end of the day, writing books is a business and it is about making money. Yes, authors by their nature are very creative people. And particularly at the Indie level, they tend to be almost Renaissance People with how many different artistic abilities they have to have, since they themselves do *every* job that a major publishing house can farm off to dozens or potentially even hundreds of people. But at the end of the day, the goal is always the same: to sell this product – in this case, books – to make money. And the money isn’t just for the author, even on the indie level. While the author and their family are important enough, many times authors will realize that they are simply not capable of being a master of all things, even if they have the ability to do all things – which not all authors have to begin with. So an entire industry of assistants and editors and cover designers and marketers exists even in the indie realm, though obviously with a fair degree more independence and a fair degree more reliance on individual books selling particularly well.

There are many components to making a book stand out. It needs a compelling story, obviously – but there are many compelling stories that you will never hear of. It needs a solid, eye catching and mind engaging title – but there again, there are books with such titles that do not get the attention of others with lesser titles. It needs to be from an author that a reader recognizes – but how do you get this recognition without selling more books? It needs a compelling cover, preferably one that relates to the book in some way – but again, other books have sold well with little more than the title and author name in black ink on a white background. Once all of these factors draw a reader to at least glance at the book’s description, that discription needs to compel them to buy the book if the other things didn’t quite get them to do so.

And while all of these are important, there is one step in there that is specifically where Advance Reader Copies come in: what the marketing people call “brand recognition”. Maybe it is just the author – which is excellent and can lead to major sales in and of itself. (Looking at you, Stephen King, Lee Child, Nicholas Sparks, among many, many others.) Sometimes it is just the title – “1984” is arguably more well known than “written by George Orwell”.

In order to build this “brand recognition”, businesses – not just authors, but businesses generally – are often willing to incur small, short duration losses if they can genuinely expect these losses to lead to larger gains in the mid to long term than would be possible without these losses. The business people even have a term for this: “loss leaders”. The entire definition of the concept is simply “a product sold at a loss to attract customers”.

Which is exactly what an ARC is – literally giving a book away for free in the hope that it will attract many more paying customers. And this is the very reason ARC etiquette is so very important – if you don’t leave the review or if you share the ARC with someone without permission, you are cutting into the very reason you as an ARC reader exist. And if it ever gets to the point where ARCs stop leading to higher sales in the long run because of poor etiquette on the part of ARC readers, it will no longer make business sense to offer ARCs at all.

On the other side, of course, are the Lee Childs and Stephen Kings and such who already have such brand recognition that loss leaders are far less critical, and therefore can be far more tightly constrained so as to maximize profits. (Though even Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher book was on NetGalley for ARC copies, though I didn’t have the courage to apply for it, anticipating the very scenario where such ARCs were only authorized for the biggest players in the review side of the business.)

Again, authors make money by *selling* books, not by giving them away… but Amazon and other retailers also trigger internal promotion mechanisms based on a critical mass of reviews, and it is via this very “priming the pump” mechanism that ARCs become loss leaders.

If a particular book can get X number of reviews in Y period – whatever those numbers are, and I don’t think Amazon actually releases them, for somewhat obvious reasons – then Amazon, one of the most powerful retailers on the planet today, becomes at least somewhat of an ally in helping the publishing agents to sell books. And often the best way to hit that target is to give away ideally exactly that number of ARCs and have every single person that receives one leave a review within the time period needed. But unfortunately not everyone can be trusted, and unfortunately far too many break the (usually implicit, but I see becoming explicit more and more often these days) ARC “contract”. So publishing agents have to have ways of finding out how sincere and trustworthy you are, and that is the very subject of the next post.

So there you have it – a brief look at the business side of ARCs. Next time, we look at ARCs from the intersection of the business and the reader and explain some ideas of how and why certain actions can help a reader be a better candidate to receive ARCs – to become a loss leader – while other actions may make a particular reader a less desirable candidate.