Two Thumbs Up to Level Up

One of the perks of living/working in a major metropolitan area is that new technologies become viable in the marketplace sooner. For me, that means paying with my phone rather than cash/credit card.

You might have heard of Square. It won best new technology a year or two ago. Rather than the standard credit card reader that plugs into a phone line, Square card reader attaches to a smart phone. The company charges a lower processing fee than credit card companies and doesn't have any of the extra service or equipment fees. AND if they enable the GPS component, customers that have the Square Cardcase app can simply give their name and the smart phones communicate with each other. Nifty!

The problem is, not a lot of people in Boston are adopting Square. Starbucks just invested in the company and is converting all their locations to Square. I find Starbucks coffee disgusting so that doesn't do me a lot of good.

BUT, Square is not the only such company. Another is Level Up. Level up gives the vendor a smart phone to take pictures of QR codes that display on the customer's smart phone. The QR code is linked to a token and that token is linked to your credit card (thus, if your phone is ever stolen, you can just deactivate the token to protect your credit card). Unlike Square where the motivation is lower processing fees, Level Up creates more of a club mentality. Each vendor offers a discount for first-time users and then additional discounts when repeat customers pass certain benchmarks (so I get $3 off on my first-time purchase and then $5 after I've spent $50 at that restaurant, or what have you). Level Up doesn't charge processing fees on every purchase, but instead charges a fee based on the discount earned. That means that the merchant is getting free charges up until benchmarks are met. It can be great for vendors who might not get a large amount of repeat business (or get repeat business semi-frequently to hit that sweet spot in between) but the cost against the discount is higher than the individual charge fees, so it's not a revolutionary "how can they afford that" kind of deal.

I use Level Up a lot because merchants all around me use it. There are a dozen different places in immediate walking distance of my office and more along the subway path I take to work. I love love love paying with my phone rather than a credit card (except at MJ O'Connor's which is the only place I've ever had experience a "problem"; I think they just don't know how to use the phone).

The reason I'm talking about this today is because Level Up just introduced a new feature that I'm over the moon about. You can donate a percentage of your savings to charity. So instead of me getting $5 off at Four Burgers after I spent $50, I get a percentage of that $5 and the charity gets the rest. In this case, I buy the hamburger I was going to buy anyway, I save $2.50, and Jumpstart gets $2.50 as well. Not earth shattering, but it's more than they were getting before.

If I hadn't been a fan (which I was), I would be now. This is an awesome opportunity for people to give. If you have Level Up merchants in your area, give it a try.

The Assistant

Everyone always calls agents the gatekeepers. This is silly. Agents aren't gatekeepers. Agents' assistants are gatekeepers. So keep that in mind the next time you think an assistant is beneath you.

Okay, really, no one reading my journal right now is a Douchebag McAsshole that would condescend an assistant. But some day I'll be popular and shit and there's always that percentage that think it's okay to treat the assistants like crap. These people are dumb. Not the assistants, the Douchebags McAssholes. So I'm talking to you right now, dumb person. Be nice to the assistants. They've earned it. And it's in your best interest.

At my day job, I sit across from an editorial assistant. I work hard at my day job. I do a good job at my day job. And that assistant is there before me and she's there after me. I actually check in the morning just to make sure she's wearing different clothes. The day she spends the night at work, we're having an intervention. Assistants work a LOT. They do a lot of the work we thank agents/editors for. They're the horses that pull the plows. Don't just thank a farmer for your sammich. Without those horses, he couldn't have even planted the wheat.

But you think to yourself, assistants are young and inexperienced. What do they know? I will grant you that an assistant is typically an entry level job1, 2, but they're inexperienced for about the first week. Then they've logged enough combat time that you can call them veterans, so get off your high horse. And really, what's the point of being shitty to the assistant anyway? Don't you have manners? Are please and thank you so hard? Cut them some slack. They're clocking 90 hours a week and have to live with four roommates to keep a roof over their heads because they don't make any money, so a mistake or two will happen.

Still not buying it, eh? Then let me tell you a story. I finished a book a couple years ago. I queried that book. An agent requested a partial. Then he requested a full. I never spoke directly to the agent. I spoke to his assistant. See where I'm going? No you don't.

The agent eventually passed on the manuscript. Asked for a partial of my next one. I never spoke to him. I spoke to the assistant. Eventually passed on that one as well. Two full manuscripts, 260,000 original words, and I never spoke to the agent. I spoke to the assistant. Think what would have happened if I had been a dick on that first manuscript. You think he would have asked for a second?

Still not convinced? Well, a couple years later I get an email. Hey, Joe, remember me? I was the assistant for so-and-so who read your stuff. Of course I remember you. You are awesome! Thanks, well, I have a confession. Agent so-and-so wasn't reading your stuff. I was. Now I'm an agent in my own right. Do you have anything new to share?

Oh well yes I do.

Pause and ask yourself if I would have ever received that email if I had been a dick.3

All right. Go now, and try out these new manners. Remember that publishing is a small world and people who were once low can grow to be mighty (and can do so quickly). There are a nice batch of awesome agents that were only assistants when I started querying three years ago. It makes things fresh. It makes things exciting. As long as you don't screw it up at the beginning.

1 With the changing economy, the entry-level position is actually becoming the intern. The assistant is the intern that had the chops to keep going, so they have more experience than you'd think. They just don't get paid for it. :)

2 Don't ever think just because it's an entry-level position that it means they don't know anything. Those positions aren't just thrown out to anyone. They scratch the eyes out of the competition to get those jobs.

3 The answer is no. No I would not have received that email if I had been a dick. Neither would you. It doesn't matter how much of a genius you are.

Interesting Dynamic

I watch people. I consider myself an extroverted misanthrope, if that's allowed. I love to talk and joke and laugh, but that's usually when I'm the center of attention. Drop me in the middle of a crowd where I don't know anyone, and I'm not like a real extrovert that goes around introducing himself to everyone. I kind of just shrink and disappear unless someone bridges me into a group where I might contribute in some meaningful way to a conversation. So what that often means is that I watch people. I watch all kinds of people, studying how they act, how consistently the act, and more importantly how they contradict themselves. It's how to build character in a story. Really all life is a story. So why not study its characters?

I saw something the other day that really piqued my interest. I work in an office building in Boston. There are a whole stretch of publishers right in a row, so you get some 10- to 12-floor building filled with editors and project managers and the like. Because we're so close together, all our floors are secured to keep the enemy from infiltrating and steeling our precious books. That means the building has a person in the lobby checking badges. I don't know their names except for Alex, the morning guy. There are plenty of others that rotate in and out during the day. So I can't say who the employee was in the lobby because it was an afternoon while I was leaving, but what I saw really made me want to write it down.

It was bitter cold. We've had a mild season so far, but the tall buildings can sometime create wind tunnels and when a strong, cold wind blows, it can cut like a knife. This sends the homeless looking for some place warm. It may be a winding alley that breaks the wind, it may be a shelter, often it's the subway. I come out of the elevator and pass the front desk and there is a woman dressed very obviously in everything she owned. She had half a mouth of teeth and her skin was so weathered she looked a couple decades older than she probably was. She was talking and laughing with the guy at the front desk.

There's always a moment of pause when encountering a homeless person in the big city to determine what type of homeless person they are. Are they merely destitute? Do they have problems (war vet, etc) that have driven them onto the streets? Are they addicts? Are they bat shit insane? It's really only this last one you worry about. The addicts leave you alone during the day. The worst you usually get is a yelling at. Maybe some spit. The destitute and the damaged will accept your charity but ignore you if you ignore them. But the bat shit crazy people are the dragon in the china shop.

So I pause, waiting to see if homeless lady is getting escorted out, if the cops are on their way, or if all is well. I hear the desk guy laugh and know all is well. Whew. It's always hard dealing with the crazy ones because you want to calm them and help if you can, but the wrong word or gesture may get you attacked. More often you just want them to be quiet until you get to where you're going and you can leave them behind. Ahhh, life in the big city.

In this case, though, everything was copasetic. I listened to their conversation as I crossed the lobby to leave. She was claiming she worked in the building but had forgotten her badge. Wouldn't he be a dear and let her go up and get it from her desk. He laughed, said she had tried that one last time, and she should try a different tactic.

When I stepped outside and got a blast of cold air in the face, I finally realized what he was doing. He wasn't allowed to let her loiter and he obviously couldn't let her go up to the secured floors. But if he was "helping" her, he could let her stay for awhile and stay warm. So she "lost her badge" and he helped her figure out "what to do" and they joked around for awhile while she thawed out and then she went on her way.

That, in itself, I think is cool. But I thought it would be a good twist to the "whodunnit" stories that you see in shows like Castle where the homeless are there only to be barely-functioning witnesses that can't testify on the stand, but can give the police the clue they need to carry on the search. What if you had a higher functioning homeless person that was friends with a doorman. The doorman let her come inside and warm up for awhile. She got warm and didn't cause any trouble. They all laughed, everything was spiffy, and then...THE MURDER! Lots of opportunity for red herrings while the detectives get over their assumptions of homeless people and realize they've been approaching the whole thing from the wrong perspective.