SEARCHING FOR A GOOD BOOK

Royalties?

Every once in a while, to my shock and amazement, Amazon informs me I’ve sold a book or three. 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 genuine reader. Cause for celebration. Woo hoo.

Don’t think I’m going to make any significant money from this. Hell no. The Kindle version of my book yields a whopping dollar something per sale (or loan) (I’m actually not sure the precise amount). Amazon has changed the rules, so almost every month I get 20 announcements of an impending direct deposit into my bank account. Then I get another set from my bank. So far, my biggest month yielded almost $12. This month, it was $3.70.

I have no idea how they calculate amounts and have stopped trying to figure it out. Overall, I figure a year of book sales might just take Garry and I to a big night at McDonald’s — if we order from the dollar menu.

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I still get buzzed when anyone buys or reads my book and delighted when they let me know they enjoyed it, but next time, I think I’ll write about dogs.

Doing PR

I wrote it in 2007, though it didn’t “hit the market” until 2008. I did author things — television interviews on local cable, radio interviews. I got some nice local press. I arranged some book signings. None of them amounted to much, but they were fun and I met other local authors, some of whom have become friends.

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In total, I sold a few hundred books which isn’t bad for a self-published book. For a while, I got royalty checks large enough for a cheap dinner at a local fast food joint. I briefly thought Teepee would be a very minor straight to DVD movie, but financing failed to materialize. So much for Hollywood.

It’s hard to market a self-published book. When it first came out, I admit I had dreams of glory. My husband had (still has) some good media connections, though as time passes, colleagues retire and there are fewer … but 5 years ago, many more of Garry’s colleagues were working.

When you write a book largely based on your own life experiences, you know it’s not going to hit the New York Times bestseller list. Not unless you are already a celebrity and even then, memoirs are not usually big sellers. Books like this become popular only if they reveal scandalous details of things done with other celebrities, usually of a perversely sexual nature, or if someone pumps it up on national television — which didn’t happen to me and doesn’t happen for most authors.

Unless you have a recognizable, salable name, there’s no market for this genre. The ones that get published because they were written by celebrities go from a display in front of the store to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …” It’s unlikely me or you, unknowns that we are, could convince a publisher we’re worth the ink and paper for so much as a trade paperback. And don’t bother to dream of getting an advance.

Books so bad they should have a warning label

A while back, I had the honor of reading (and to some degree, judging) a bunch of fiction deemed among “the best of 2013.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of that year’s offering, but I’d like to meet the judges and ask “What were you thinking?” There are okay books amongst the dross, a couple of good ones plus a few that make it all the way to “better than mediocre.”

Unfortunately, there are many dreadful ones, books so bad it’s hard to imagine how they could be regarded by anybody as worth publishing at all in any form. Who did the authors have to sleep with to get that contract? There had to be sexual favors involved. Nothing else could explain it.

Most of these books are — at best — okay. Maybe someone might like them, but I find it hard to imagine who it might be. Maybe under the influence of heavy drugs? Some may simply be an acquired taste I haven’t acquired. A couple had redeeming qualities, but not enough to get me from cover to cover.

Which brings me back to my book

I will say, in advance, that it is not deathless literature, but it’s not bad — a whole lot better than most of the books deemed the best of 2013.

And my book has features that used to be traditional features in books like characters, humor, a semblance of a plot, a good-faith attempt to make a point. At the very least, you could 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 recommend. Tepees are strangely wonderful. You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure whoever and wherever you are, you’d enjoy having a teepee.

These days, books that sell are mostly cops 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 jobs, raise children who don’t have magical powers or access to time travel and are unlikely to pop off into space to explore other universes, are becoming rare.

Do we no longer find the real world sufficiently interesting to write books about it?

How boring are we?

So here’s my question: are we really that boring? All of us? Is the reason so few good books are set in the real world because we find our lives uninteresting? Are the day-to-day battles regular people go through so dreary 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.

Having someone buy a copy of my book today was a big deal. If thousands of people bought and presumably read “A Casual Vacancy” or “The Middlesteins,” maybe a half-dozen or so people will buy or borrow an electronic copy or a trade paperback 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 load on our backs when we are too young 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 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 hard to proofread your own manuscript: you tend to see what you meant to write and not what is there.

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

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You can buy the paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can read it for free. I get the same royalties whether you buy it or borrow it. Go figure.

I have serious concerns about the state of publishing. I am convinced there are more good writers who can’t find a publisher than good writers who get published. With the opportunities offered by electronic publishing, I would think the potential profit 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 it has already been bought and paid for. It’s risk free. It would be good for everyone.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we published more good books?

Perhaps publishers should consider taking a chance on more newcomers who don’t write in trendy genres. I love science fiction and fantasy more than most people, but I also enjoy books about the real world and people to whom I can relate in an earthly way.

I fear the best of America’s writers are being lost in the scramble to publish only best-sellers. It doesn’t work anyhow. Most books flop, just like they always have. From what I’m seeing, most acquisitions editors wouldn’t know a great book if it bit them on the nose. Or care.

It’s not that I’m such a fantastic author and couldn’t get a reading, publisher or agent. It’s that the stuff that does get published is so awful. It’s not a healthy sign for literature or the publishing industry.

Daily Prompt: My name is Marilyn. I’m a teepee.

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My name is Marilyn but you can call me Teepee12. I am alive, if not entirely well. I plan to stay alive as long as the choice exists.

I never intended to hide my identity when I chose this Internet ID as a username for my blog on WordPress. I chose it because I’d been using it since 2007 when my book — The 12-Foot Teepee — was published. It was easy for me to remember and no one else wanted it — as opposed to my real name for which there is heavy competition. The perils of having a common name were never more obvious than when I tried to get a piece of my real name for use on the Internet.

I began using the Internet back in prehistory. No one used real names back then. It was considered most uncool. I went through a lot of names before starting to use Teepee12. Unlike many other names I used and abandoned, it stuck, though no one can spell it and auto-correct always changes it to Steeper (damn you auto correct!). I wish I could go back and do it over, using my real name or something close to it  The problem is that there are dozens of Marilyn Armstrongs all over the Internet, on every continent and a bunch of my namesakes recently died. If I Google me I end up  reading obituaries. This can be troubling in some indefinable way.

I got the name Marilyn — never a common or popular name — because my great Aunt Malka died right before I was born. In Ashkenazi families, babies are named after recently deceased family members. They don’t have to be favorites. You don’t even have to like them. In fact, as was the case with great Aunt Malka, you don’t even have to know her personally. It’s just a custom and no one, including my mother, could explain why we clung to it. We weren’t  observant … but my Aunt Kate, who was indeed a traditionalist and family Matriarch, quite insisted.

My mother refused the straight “Malka” because she said it sounded like the cleaning lady. It means “Queen,” actually but doesn’t sound queenly. So she suggested Mara because apparently, to maintain the tradition, all you need is a name that begins with the same first letter sound (the Hebrew alphabet is, after all, different from English). But Mara (the root for all “mar” names like Mary, Marie, Mireille, Marilyn et al) means “bitter” in Hebrew and my aunts collectively objected because you should not name your daughter “bitter,” feh, bad luck. Ptui, ptui, ptui.

“Fine,” said my mother. “Marilyn.”

No one had any objections so Marilyn it was. How romantic! To be named almost randomly after a dead relatively about whom no one much cared. Wow. And to add insult to injury, I wasn’t given a middle name, so I had no name to which I could retreat.

I struggled with my name. I hated it. I’m still not fond of it, frankly, but I’ve at least made peace with it. No one can spell it correctly and it has never felt like me. When I was a kid, I tried to change my name to Linda, which I heard meant “pretty.” Then “Delores,” which sounded like the heroine of a romance novel. Finally, I tried for “Spike” because I figured tough would be better than dorky Marilyn.

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Nope. No other name. Not even a nickname unless you count “Mar” which is just a way of saying it shorter.

As for children? My son’s name is Owen. It’s become quite a popular name, but wasn’t when I gave it to him. It sounded good with his last name, a bit Celtic or Teutonic, depending on how you look at it. Everyone called him “O” from the start and still do.

At this point, my name doesn’t really matter. My identity is defined by electronic documents collected by daemons and maintained in various government and other databases. No human beings review the data. If you find errors, you cannot correct them because being you is not considered sufficient credentials. Human knowledge has no force of law any longer. I’d find that scary if I weren’t so funny.

A lot of people worry about keeping off the radar. The thing is, the radar is so inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. No one will find you because your address is wrong, your age is off by ten years, you live in a house you never owned at the opposite end of the state and have a phone number that was disconnected over a decade ago. Your email address belongs to an ISP that went out of business in 1992 and it is spelled wrong anyhow. I think you might be safer on the radar than off.

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I’ve been blogging for a while now and I can’t figure out how to get my name back. I’ve put my name on Serendipity’s header and in the “About Me” section. I sign my name when I write to people. But it apparently doesn’t matter. I have become a teepee and a teepee I shall stay. A 12-foot teepee, which is the smallest possible teepee that isn’t a miniature. Pass the pipe. I like teepees, which is fortunate.

So, consider this my official coming out party. My name is Marilyn Armstrong. I wrote a book titled “The 12-Foot Teepee” and my online ID is Teepee12 whether I like it or not. Marilyn Armstrong is not available and I would have to be MarilynArmstrong00054 or MArmstrong876987 or something and that sounds too much like an android or robot … so for the forseeable future, I am a Teepee.

Teepee12 to you.

Daily Prompt: Say Your Name — My name is Marilyn and I’m alive.

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My name is Marilyn but you can call me Teepee. I am alive, if not always well. I plan to remain alive as long as I have the option. I apologize for any inconvenience.

A while back, I got another blogging award. It was given to Teepee12. When I started this blog, it was never my intention to hide my identity. I automatically, without thinking, entered my familiar Internet “handle” when WordPress asked for my username. I’d been using this name since 2007 when my book was published. Teepee 12 derives from the book’s title, The 12-Foot Teepee. My real name wasn’t (still isn’t) available. There are a lot of Marilyn Armstrongs out there. Most of them are more accomplished than I am and many are deceased.

I began using the Internet in prehistoric days when modems ran at 1200 BPS and no one was sure what a computer virus was. We each had a handle. No one used real names. I think it was a hangover from CB radios. I’d had a variety of handles over the years, but once the book came out, I wanted to be identified with it and so began using Teepee12. It was a poor choice. No one can spell it. Auto-correct alway changes it to Steeper (damn you auto correct!). I wish I could go back and do it over, use my real name or something close to it. But it’s hopeless.

Last I looked, there were more than a dozen of me on Facebook alone. When I Googled myself, I wound up reading a lot of obituaries with my name on them. This can be troubling. The most interesting discoveries were that all my past incarnations still exist in cyberville. I am listed as living every place I lived since 1987 when I came back from Israel. My age ranges from early 40s to mid fifties (nice). I have two Boston telephone numbers, own three houses, including one on Beacon Hill (we only rented that one), another in Roxbury.

Being oneself carries no weight. You need a computer to identify you and it can’t be your own computer, either.

A friend of ours was trying to correct his Wikipedia entry. It showed him working at jobs he never held, in states he’s never visited. Wikipedia wouldn’t let him make the corrections. It told him he didn’t have sufficient credentials to correct the entry. Being himself was not enough. You need expertise and me being me, him being him, doesn’t count. Yet  I corrected a bunch of information about some movies we watch. When asked for my bona fides, I merely said I have watched the movie a few times. That was apparently sufficient expertise. I don’t have a personal Wikipedia entry, so I don’t have to worry about it, but Garry’s brother does and I tried to correct it, but being close family doesn’t count as bona fides either.

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My mother wanted to name me Mara, but that means “bitter” in Hebrew and her whole family objected. It’s the Hebrew root for Marilyn, Mary, Mireille and a bunch of other names, so actually Marilyn means “bitter” anyhow. Technically, I should have been named Queen or something awful like that, because my real name is Malka, which means “queen” in Hebrew. I was named after my recently deceased great-aunt Malka. It’s a tradition in Ashkenazi families to name babies after recently dead relatives, even when no one was particularly close to them. Maybe especially when no one was close to them … to keep their names alive. Certainly I never heard any humorous anecdotes of adventurous Aunt Malka — or any stories at all. I doubt, other than my name, any memories are attached to her by anyone living.  I’m her memorial.

I hated my name as a kid. It was a stupid name and no one else had a stupid name like mine. All my friends were Susan, Carol, Mary or Betty. Marilyn Monroe did not make me feel better because at no point did I bear any resemblance to her. I renamed myself “Linda” for a while because it meant “pretty” and I thought it might rub off. Then I decided Delores was much more romantic. By the time I was a young mother, I told everyone to call me Spike, but no one ever did. I never even had a proper nickname. People too lazy to say all three syllables call me “Mar,” but that’s not a nickname. That’s just a shortening of a longer name. Why won’t anyone call me SPIKE?

Instead, I have become Teepee, which is a very peculiar thing to become at this late stage in my development.

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I’ve been blogging for a while now and I can’t quite figure out how to get my name back. I’ve put my name on Serendipity’s header and in the “About Me” section. I sign my name when I write to people. But it apparently doesn’t matter. I have become a teepee and a teepee I shall stay. A 12-foot teepee, which is the smallest possible teepee that isn’t a miniature. I suppose I don’t really want to become Giant Teepee. That would carry other implications.

For the record, my name is Marilyn Armstrong. I wrote a book titled “The 12-Foot Teepee” and my online ID is Teepee12 whether I like it or not. Marilyn Armstrong is not available and I would have to be MarilynArmstrong00054 or MArmstrong876987 or something and that sounds too much like an android or robot … so for the forseeable future, you can call me Teepee.

Teepee12 — that’s me.