That’s how it goes, folks! Those who read books want to unload their bookcases and give them away to a book fair for charity purposes! I recently attended a book fair where they also invited authors to offer their new books. That’s a great idea and an interesting way of looking at a book’s life cycle. With our backs against the wall, our tables displaying our books, we watched book lovers buy books by the cartloads that were “discarded,” all displayed on rows of tables. Except ours.
Nobody realized the cruelty of that scene: us staring at our graves!
George Vercessi and me
I only became aware of it later in the day when I decided to lower the price of my new books by half to compete with the penny-priced tons of dead books in front of me. Books by John Grisham, Danielle Steel, Joyce Carol Oates, so many others, lined-up majestically together, waiting to be carried to the books grave.
We did have a few buyers, though. But next year, would we find our books also dumped on those tables or decaying in carton boxes?
For readers, do you know how much goes into writing and publishing a book? It’s unbelievable how much time and money it takes! And then you sell it for $10-15 dollars a piece at a book-signing or a fair, or if you are lucky in a Barnes & Nobles store.
It often takes more than a year to write a book. Suppose it’s a “good” book, and that, after months of querying, you are lucky to find a good agent to represent it. Then it takes 18 months before it is published, after many edits and re-edits, and sweat, tears, and curses. By that time it’s an “old” book already. Also, it’s not even “your” book anymore. So many people other than the author have meddled with it: your writers group, your editor(s), the agent’s input, the publisher’s editor, an endless process. Why would you even take the trouble to write?
Well, that’s the quintessential question. So many do! Every day, thousands of new books arrive on the scene on Amazon.com. If you self-publish, you sell at between .99 cents and 2.99 dollars (remember my blog about the US 99 cents craze – July 2, 2016?), which seems to be the range where the “greedy readers” buy. If there is one example of reader price distortion, it’s on Amazon. I heard of one good writer who sold many e-books at 99 cts, but got only one penny royalty per e-book. So if you sold 1000 books you earned 10 dollars royalty. Give me a break!
Still, as a writer, you want to get that story out, you must write that book. Maybe you have to say something that’s worth telling. Maybe it’s good therapy to get something off your chest that’s been bugging you all your life. Maybe it’s a character that has been spooking through your mind and imagination that spurs you to write about her. Or maybe you just like to scare the hell out of people (Stephen King, and he laughs all the way to the bank with it).
I know about industry because I worked a long time in trade and development economics. But the “writing industry” is a different cattle of fish. It’s not manufacturing or money lending. I realized that only after I decided to write myself. There are so many people learning to write, teaching to write, editing other people’s writing, writers conferences with hundreds of “speakers” about writing, advertisers, publicists, and booksellers, it’s huge. It has expanded exponentially since the first printer was invented in the mid-fifteenth century by the Dutchman Laurens Janszoon Koster. Of course, the Germans pretend that it was Johannes Gutenberg who was first, at about the same time. Let’s say both had a telepathic moment, to keep the peace and avoid a battle with and about Germans always saying Germany “uber alles.”
Laurens Koster in Haarlem – The Netherlands
I’m afraid we writers are the biggest suckers in all this. We pay for all those lend-a-hand services offered by the “eager providers,” the middlemen (or is it now middlepersons to be gender neutral?), with only a handful of us recovering our costs, and even fewer making a buck.
Poor Writer and Rich Writer
Still, I want to write that book because otherwise, the character keeps bugging me, night and day. I want to get her off my back and start with another one. Like changing girlfriends (or boyfriends, depending). One advantage: no alimony payments.
Till next time.
By John Schwartz:
http://amzn.to/1LPFw5o: Enchanting The Swan
http://amzn.to/1QIL94B: Some Women I Have Known.
It’s summertime and everyone is on vacation. So it’s a time to be quiet and reflect on things. The things I would’ve liked to do but didn’t. The things I could’ve done but didn’t. The things I should’ve done but didn’t. The things I should NOT have done but did. Oh boy, the list goes on and on. And there I am, looking at the blue yonder, the waves rippling over the azure lake, the swan coming by to chat, my watch staring at me as if it wants to stop.
I would love to play piano like Amad Jamal but I can’t. I would love to play tennis like Louis Federer but I can’t. I would love to write like Nora Roberts, but I don’t.
I did play classical piano pretty well but it faded: at a certain stage I noticed that I made no progress anymore. Stuck. Maybe I hated practice. Clearly, I didn’t yearn to get better at it and reverted to playing jazz all the time, which I did all right. My passionate Paris girlfriend and classical pianist, Geneviève, told me there was nothing wrong with that (See Some Women I Have Known – http://amzn.to/1QIL94B). I would’ve liked to play more tennis but back injury, tendonitis, and work priorities all fought against me. But I did complete an all right career and after 50 years of interesting work worldwide, I am now finally retired with a healthy savings account. So I should be happy, no?
Yes and No. I can’t sit still, hate to play golf and am too lazy to go hiking. So why not do some writing? The only thing you have to do is dream up a story, type it down on a computer, and post it on Amazon, is it not? Millions do. Easy, no? Well, not so. It’s like my tennis, like my piano, you must practice to get good at it. Know your words, grammar, syntax, and idiom. And what about my “content mind,” do my stories appeal to today’s readers? And what about my “craft mind,” do I use the right words, have the right rhythm, do I create sparks in my sentences, are my characters alive?
When I read, I use a notebook to write down words I don’t know or find interesting to remember. I underline sentences that I consider well-written. In the hope they stay with me and spark a good sentence of my own one day. The problem is that, as a non-native English writer, the words do not immerse in me as they do with a native writer who grows up with them. For him/her, words have acquired a lifelong meaning and feeling, are associated with memories, education, and experiences.
When I read in Dutch, my native language, I feel the meaning of words so much better because I grew up with them. They became my treasured treasure that I’d pick from whenever needed, and they spring up in my mind automatically when I need them. A native English writer acquired a similar treasure and can even “make up” words, something I’d never dare to do in English because it would almost certainly be wrong and scrapped by my editor.
As a funny example, I read the other day that “she wore a teddy.” Something to do with a teddy bear?
Since I did not know what a teddy was, I consulted Webster, which needed 20 words to explain its meaning! Probably any American knows from childhood what a “teddy” is (my wife, who is British-educated, did not even know!), and they would immediately associate it with their mother or sister, or perhaps a girlfriend (better). That sort of words is their permanent vocabulary treasure.
And so I go on, still learning to use idiom, syntax, and vocabulary. In addition to Some Women (in which Piano John confuses playing sheet music with playing between the sheets”), I wrote Enchanting The Swan (in which grad students and musicians Paul and Fiona agree to marry but evil blocks their love —http://amzn.to/1LPFw5o ). I am currently working on a third. Every day that I work on the “craft mind” I realize how little I know and how more I have to learn. I started doing this much too late. Young writers go through the same learning process, and they will also take time before they write their first good book. Even John Grisham and Stephen King (“On Writing”) admit that. But I started at the end of a long career, and won’t have that “luxury” of time to succeed. That’s why a well-known agent, Paul Levine, called me a “young writer” despite my white hair.
It’s “Spellbinding,” as Barbara Baig calls it (Writers Digest Books). Word(worth) reading!
See you next time and happy reading/writing.
I have attended many writers conferences and each one has its own atmosphere and character. What strikes me most of the annual BOOKSALIVE venue, organized by the WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF BOOKS (WIRB), is its special spirit inspired by the venerable DAVID STEWARD, its President and founder. In four years, the WIRB has grown into a fully attended writers event with engaging speakers on salient author subjects and a tightly run but effective pitch program on the side.
And who would not be thrilled to sit at the same lunch-table with Bob Woodward, the key note speaker, and Kitty Kelley, that charming and cute lady-author who wrote many best-selling biographies of brand name celebrities of our time, and received a life-time award for her work at the conference, handed to her by David Steward? That was my honor!
Bob Woodward with Gene Meyer and Kitty Kelley (in blue) with David Steward
The Conference started off on Friday evening with a launching party and a packed workshop on how to pitch and write a query, and especially what not to do. Every writer knows that it takes a world to acquire an agent. If you want to get published, writing is not just writing, it is a business to get representation, because agents must make a living from your royalty when they sell your product to a publisher, who in turn must spend his money on printing and sending your book to bookstores. That’s for many writers the frustrating thing: so many want to write (like so many want to sing at American Idol) and so few make it through the grind. You must prove you have an outstanding “voice” and a book that “rings.” A writer becomes an author when he/she gets published, that’s the traditional deal. But agents are people too and know how hard it is. They won’t bite you when you pitch, but they do tell you when your book would be a tough sell (they know this from experience as they have to pitch your book to the publishers) and, if it is not marketable, you had better improve or drop it and start with something new .
Of course, traditional publishing versus self-publishing was again the talk of the day. Frustrated writers can now publish their books via Amazon-Create Space or small presses, but everyone, including traditionally published writers, still faces the uphill battle to market and sell their books. And agents won’t be interested in your self-published book unless you have sold thousands of them. In other words, publishing and getting known remains a vicious circle for many. There are millions of books in the clouds! What the BOOKSALIVE conference does is reinvigorate your spirit to keep trying, no matter what your “age.”
or in whatever psychological state you are:
Bob Woodward’s Key Note Speech was funny and deep on the political scene, his insightful interviews having thought him that whatever historical judgment will be felled on presidents and their administrations of our lifetime will occur only when we are all dead. Thanks for that. As a foreign writer from Holland I expressed my perplexity with the American voter for being so fixated on the personality and personal features of presidential candidates rather than choosing the political party that best represents your interests, as we do in a parliamentary system, regardless of the leaders. Bob Woodward then asked the audience if they were as perplexed as I, and to my surprise everybody raised their hands! Now what! Change the Constitution?
Two wisdoms of the conference stood out for me: If you do self-publish your work, do it as close to what is needed for traditional publishing (Larry De Maria: use a good editor, scrupulously research for your best interior and cover design, and do your marketing as best you can), and join and build your writers community (Jen Michalski) to talk about writing and escape your writer’s insularity. Why not start with the Washington Independent Review of Books at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com. You will not be disappointed and find a wealth of good material and people to talk to.
Credit: Photo Iris Paris
“That may be right from your point of view, Barber, but I see it differently!”
So, what IS this Point Of View then? For a writer, it is the voice of the character, what the character sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels and touches in his imagination. He creates the Point of View of the character but often it is part of his own, made up from his own experiences, or pure imagination. For the reader, it is how that Point of View opens up his own imagination. When I read a book I see skies, people, shapes, hear noises, smell a restaurant, taste the wine the character drinks, feel the knock-out or the kiss, or the touch of a compassionate hand, as if I had created the images myself.
Point of View and imagination are inseparably linked, for the writer as well as for the reader. Do they see it with the same images? That’s a mystery. We all know bad smell, awful taste, false sounds, horror sights, hard blows. The film maker interprets the story as he or she sees it, the director stages it how he or she imagines it.
It is one of the most remarkable features of the human being. Each of us lives with a view in our mind that is totally our own, though we can commonly see, hear or feel the same images transmitted onto our Cinerama-visional brain. Cameras, film screens, bill-boards are attempting to broaden their fields, but they seem incapable of matching the almost infinite size of the images our brain can produce at will.
When I get up, I see this Cinerama around me, and millions of other human beings do the same at the same time. Collectively we see the world around us wherever we are, as one of the some 7.000.000.000.000 people on earth. I am just a little spot on earth, seen from space. My goodness, I completely disappear in that sea of people! All those people! How do you feel walking in New York, London, Paris, Rome, Lagos, Johannesburg, New Delhi, Calcutta, Dhaka, Bangkok, Hongkong, Manilla, or Tokyo and Rio?
All those people! To use a cliché, we are like ants in a huge ants heap. It’s true. But the strange fact is that we don’t feel it that way (well, unless you have to live with 7 in a one bedroom apartment). We feel that the world we live in is our own that only we see the way we see it. It is our own from OUR vantage point, how it was shaped through birth, location, education, religion and social environment.
However, our point of view is by no means homogeneous. We think it is because that’s how we are. Then we discover that not all of us have the same point of view. Migration of peoples from one region to another has had a great impact on mixing up point of view. Religion and social background, inluding race, are major influencing factors. If a writer writes a book from his point of view, there will be those who can identify with it and those who cannot. We do not see things the same way, even though as human beings we have the same brain facility. In many ways we are very different, and when we move to totally different areas this poses serious assimilation problems: peoples of the same cultural background group together because of language, customs, religion and social values, and become enclaves of disengagement from the country they fled to, to survive, or were taken to as slaves or contracted as indentured labor.
Common laws may force us to adhere to a system of rules drawn up by a collective legislature over time, but does our current point of view, influenced by so many more recent events and group pronouncements, still identify with these rules and their origin? How do we interpret them? These questions are, for example, at the core of current divisions about the configuration of the Supreme Court of the USA. But they also arise in recent racial controversies where opposing views have become so apparent over the last decade. They play a role in juries, jury selection, and judgments; in school councils, student councils and rotary clubs; in labor issues and work places.
How does a writer deal with this? A writer writes for an audience. There are as many different audiences as there are genres (thriller, mystery, romance, etc.). But due to the influx of new societies, these audiences are constantly changing with new influences, new mores, new social values. I am still finding out where mine are. In my job it was pretty clear (almost) how different people are in the Middle East, East and West Africa, India and the Far East compared to Europe or the USA, and how to approach these differences. And this is even measured with a very broad brush. People who have never set foot in these places to understand them or don’t have a mix in their families that gives them a natural enhancement of their point of view will have a hard time to understand these differences. Lesson: broaden your point of view from an early age on and learn from those who did!