The 12-Foot Teepee … How I Didn’t Set the Publishing World On Fire

Every once in a while, much to my surprise, Amazon informs me that someone bought one of my books. It happened during 2012 and just happened again … wow! Any personal friends who were going to buy or read my book have long since done so. Therefore whoever bought it is not someone I guilted into buying it and is a voluntary reader. This is cause for celebration. Woo hoo.

Don’t think I’m going to make any money from this. Hell no. The Kindled version of my book yields a whopping $1.87 per sale (or loan) and Amazon won’t send money until they owe at least $20. I guess that would require the sale of 11 electronic books? Something like that. Since my 2012 sales have totaled 2 and there have been 2 more this year, I think I have now officially broken the $5 barrier and need about 6 more sales, downloads, or borrowers to earn enough for a trip to McDonald’s. I can barely control my excitement.

The_12-Foot_Teepee_Cover_for_KindleFor all that, I’m always a little tingled when anyone buys or reads my book and especially happy when they tell me they enjoyed it. I’ve been away from it for quite a while already and I don’t think about it often. I’m unlikely to go back that way again. If I ever decide to write a new book, it will be something entirely different. Dogs, maybe.

I wrote it in 2007, though it really didn’t “hit the market” — so to speak — until 2008. I did those authorly things, some television interviews on local cable, some pretty heavy-duty radio interviews with pretty big guns, locally and regionally. I got some good local press, not as much as I might have wished, but not bad. I arranged some book signings. None of them amounted to much, but they were fun to do and I met other local authors, some of whom have become friends. I sold a few hundred books which I’m told, for a self-published book, is not bad. For a while, I got regular royalty checks, sometimes large enough for a very cheap dinner at a local fast food restaurant. I briefly thought I was going to become a minor straight to DVD movie, but financing did not materialize. So much for dreams of Hollywood.

It’s difficult to successfully market a self-published book. When it first came out and I still held some dreams of glory in my aging brain, my husband had (still has) some good media connections, though as the years pass, colleagues retire and there are fewer … but 5 years ago, many more of Garry’s colleagues were working.

 

When you write this kind of book, a book that is highly personal and largely based on your own life experiences, you know it’s not going to hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list. The only time books of this kind will become wildly popular is when they’ve been written by some celebrity who is revealing scandalous details of things done with other celebrities, usually of a sexual nature. Or some other celebrity likes it and pumps it up on a national television show, something that did not happen to me and doesn’t happen to most people.

Unless you have a recognizable name, there’s no market for this kind of book. The ones that do get published on the basis of existing celebrity don’t sell very well either, usually going from the front of the store display to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …” It’s not likely that me or you, unknowns that we are, would be able to convince a publisher that we are worth the ink and paper to produce even a trade paperback first release. Don’t even think about an advance.

Books so bad they should have a warning label

Lately, I have had the assigned task of reading a lot of books that have been judged to be among “the best of 2012.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of the year’s offering, but I’d like to meet the judges and ask them — about at least half the entries — “What were you thinking?” There are some good books amongst the dross I was assigned. There are even a couple of great ones, as well as a bunch of pretty good ones.


Alas, there are also many really awful ones, books so bad that it’s hard to imagine how this literary effort could be regarded by anybody as worth publishing in any form. The absolutely worst book I had to slog through was J. K. RowlingsThe Casual Vacancy.” If you buy this book, you will want your money back. All I can think was she had a contract, got an advance, the due date came around and she threw this together to satisfy a contractual obligation. I certainly hope that’s the scenario because I cannot believe that even she believes this book is worth reading.

After Rowlings dreadful novel, my next three top suggestions for your “don’t read this book” list, all of which should carry large warning labels saying Bad literature!! Keep away! – include:

Any of these books will cause you gastric distress and could lead to existential despair and a desire to read something involving wizards and vampires, or worse, Jean Paul Sartre. Don’t blame me. I warned you.

Then, there are a whole lot of books that are — at best — okay. Not awful enough that maybe there couldn’t be someone somewhere that likes it, but I find it hard to imagine who that might be. Some of these are may simply be an acquired taste I haven’t acquired. I didn’t like them, but I suppose you could. Some others had redeeming qualities, but not enough, making you wish the author had given the manuscript one more edit … or considered including a plot, storyline, and a few interesting characters.

English: Grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone ...This brings me back to my book. I will say, in advance, that it is not a piece of deathless literature, but it’s not bad — and a whole lot better than most of the books deemed the best of 2012. In fact, comparatively speaking, my book has features that used to be traditional in books: characters, humor, the semblance of a plot, and a good-faith attempt to make a point. At the very least, you will learn how to build a tepee (perhaps more of how not to build a teepee), should you care to have one of your own … something I highly recommend. Tepees are strangely wonderful. You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure whoever you are, you’d really like having a teepee.

These days, books that sell are mostly cop and courtrooms, whodunits, thrillers, terrorists, vampires and other creatures out of myth and fable, many things magical and mystical. Novels about people who live in the real world and do real things … work at paying jobs, raise children who lack magical powers, don’t have access to time travel nor are likely to rocket into space to explore other universes are becoming increasing rare.

Are we no longer able to find the real world as it exists in the here-and-now sufficiently interesting to write books about it? Perhaps we bore ourselves and find our neighbors and families equally uninteresting.

How boring are we?

So here’s my question: are we really that boring? All of us? Is the reason that there are so few good books set in the real world because we find our own lives completely uninteresting. Are our struggles to keep a roof over our heads, get to a doctor, be treated by society with respect … are the day-to-day battles that regular people go through every day so dreary that we can’t bear to write about them?

It is obviously more entertaining to read about things that don’t exist … things that may have happened long in the past … or about events that have or might happen in our real world, but are so far out of the ordinary experiences of regular folks that they might as well happen in an alternate universe.

Discovering the other day that someone bought a copy of my book was a big event for me. It couldn’t be anyone I know. They’ve already got copies, either bought them or got them as gifts from the author, who gets to buy copies at cost (gee). The purchase, which may actually have been a “borrow,” was in Kindle format, so if I sell another 9 books, I will reach the threshold at which Amazon will pay royalties (still hoping to hit that $20 threshold) . So, right now, they own me $3.74, which isn’t close. It’s possible in theory that more people will buy or borrow books, isn’t it? If thousands of people bought and presumably read “A Casual Vacancy” or “The Middlesteins,” maybe 9 or 10 more people, will buy or borrow an electronic copy (or, be still my heart), a hard-copy trade paperback version of my book. Although unlikely, it’s possible. And the book might even resonate with some of you.

It’s about the baggage we haul through life, the baggage that gets loaded on our young backs when we are too small to choose … plus the rest of the boulders we pick up along the way and keep hauling until one day — with a little luck — we realize it’s okay to dump  them.

So, in case you’re of a mind to buy a book … which maybe you’ll enjoy and then again, maybe you won’t … the book is about child abuse and getting over it as well as the strange ways it warps you as you plod through life . How building a tepee helped me dump the heavy load of bullshit from childhood and other stuff added along the way. In advance, I ask your forbearance about typos. Without a proper proofreader and editor, I was left to my own devices. If you read me regularly, you know I’m  a terrible proofreader and the queen of typos. Being a writer and a proofreader have nothing to do with each other. Different skill sets. It is also really hard to proofread your own copy: you tend to see what you meant to write and not what is really there. 75-BooksHP

So, in case there are nine or ten people out there who might want to splurge for an e-book or a paperback, you can find the books on Amazon:

If you have any interest in acquiring the book in whatever form:

You can buy the hardcopy paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can read it for free. Oddly enough, I still get the same $1.87 in royalties, even if you read it at no cost. Go figure.

Note: There is some weird version of my book that comes up indicating that the paper book as no longer available. It’s an Amazon error that I have asked them (sigh) to fix. You get the correct information if you search in Amazon under “books” rather than as a general search. Maybe they’ll fix it, but it’s there, I promise. the links I included here are correct, even though Amazon thinks I published at least one version of this book in 0001 … which would make me a VERY old author.

I have some serious concerns about the state of the publishing industry. I am convinced that there are more good writers who can’t find a publisher than good writers who have gotten published. With the opportunities offered by the electronic publishing services, I would think the potential profit in publishing has increased exponentially. Why not publish more? E-books cost nothing but a little electronic storage space … and books like mine that are published as “print to order” cost nothing until you print one that has already been bought and paid for. It’s risk free. It would be good for everyone.

Perhaps publishers should consider offering opportunities to talented newcomers that don’t necessarily write in safe and trendy categories. I love science fiction and fantasy, but I also enjoy good books about the real world and people to whom I can relate in an earthly way.

I’m afraid the best of America’s writers are getting lost in the scramble to print only best-sellers. It isn’t working, either. Most books flop, just like they always have.  I’m not sure, from what I’m seeing, that most acquisitions editors would know a really good book if it reached up and bit them on the nose. It’s not that I’m so great and couldn’t get a reading, much less a publisher or agent. It’s that the stuff that gets published is so awful. Not a good sign for literature or the publishing industry.

 

13 thoughts on “The 12-Foot Teepee … How I Didn’t Set the Publishing World On Fire

  1. I just found your site after binging “how to build a teepee” and being dissatisfied with the first few results… far too literal. This blog piece came up, and I was charmed. I’ve just bought the book, both the paperback – because I do intend to build one, and I want the book to show people who say “Why did you do that?” – and the Kindle, so that I could start reading right away. I am deep in chapter 3, laughing at your and Jake’s early misadventures… Thank you for writing! Oh, by the way, here’s where our teepee, which you inspired, is going: http://www.mahockney.org.

    • Thank you. You have NO idea how much I appreciate readers. My teepee finally died of age and weather after 6 years of heavy use in all seasons. We get a lot of rain and snow here … and teepees are much better in dry climates. They are native to high plains where rain is uncommon and humidity is low, so that was a lot of years for a teepee, even one made from marine-treated canvas (hope you are getting treated canvas). Enjoy the experience. For we white folks, it can take a lot of time and work, but it’s a wonderful peaceful place once you have it up. If you have Native friends, have someone dedicate it for you after you finish building. If you aren’t making your own poles, it won’t take much time at all, assuming you have some flat ground with decent drainage. Most importantly, enjoy!!

      • Wise advice. And yes, we are friends with the (female!) Chief of the Rappahannock tribe near here and will have her here. It will actually be a bit of a tribute to them anyway. Cheers – lewis

  2. Well, I just Tweeted, Tweeted, Tweeted and Hooted, Hooted, Hooted your book! Of course, you KNOW I want one! I really don’t know why I haven’t taken the time before now to read more about your book. Just got too caught up in the blogging and reading all of the articles. I remember you telling me you wrote the book on how to build a teepee but I never got the connection of the teepee to the real-life scenario. I read your synopsis and the reviews on Amazon. Anyway, I really want to read it. I don’t do Kindle so I will order the paperback. Do you have any on hand or should I go ahead and purchase via Amazon?

  3. At least you have made something you can be proud of, and done it all yourself. I would have no idea where to start with releasing a book, but hopefully its something I one day figure out since Im determined to write (well, finish off) mine. Probably a darker tone to it than yours though! When I get my Kindle hooked up and working properly after Xmas, I will buy a copy of your book. Hopefully I can push you closer to your McDonalds meal :)

    • Mine’s quite dark enough, trust me. The subject matter is not for the faint of heart and even with a light touch, it’s sometimes heavy going. My luck was that I came from the publishing world. I’ve been making books my whole working life, so I could do it all and never had to hire help. Sometimes, I wish I had help, espcially in editing and proofreeding. But the physical book I knew how (and had the tools) to do, which let me do it essentially for free. YOu do need Photoshop and Framemaker helps too … and those were the tools of my trade.

    • Good luck with your book. You’ll have an interested reader here. I was truly impressed with Marilyn’s grit in finishing her book. I know most of the back story and still was impressed with her work. Too bad her/my name isn’t big enough to open more doors in an increasingly exclusive publishing biz.

      • I have made my peace in realizing that the world did not lose a great author by my failure to hit the big time. I worry more about how many possibly great authors never get a read … and how much we are losing.

      • Thanks!

        I think I want to approach it in the same way as my blog, in that if just one person reads it and enjoys it, whether that be my family or anyone else then it’s worth it. I just want something I can look back on and say ‘I did this’ and that will make me happy. I have been writing it on and off for about 2 years, and just very slowly add bits to it. I do want to get it done, but life gets in the way sometimes, so its awesome that Marilyn got it done. I’m sure it’s excellent :)

        • We all start with modest goals. After working on a manuscript for years, when you see a real book emerge, you want a publisher, a book tour and an offer from Hollywood so never need to write another. Like walking the Pattern of Amber. You hit the final turn and need every bit of strength to take that last step. It’s a marathon. Gives you a whole new perspective. Even if you’ve always been a writer, a book is different. Humbling. Especially when you start trying to market it … unless you already know people who can help you find an agent and get your manuscript to a living editor or three. It isn’t impossible, but I gave up. And other things happened.

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