SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART III – MARTHA KENNEDY

Me in ObfeldenIs today Saturday? No, it’s Sunday. This should have appeared yesterday. Right here. Except — I thought yesterday was still Friday, but woke up very early this morning with the distinct feeling of having missed a deadline. In more than 40 years of working as a professional writer and editor — this is my first missed deadline. I suppose it was bound to happen someday, but I’m very sorry anyhow.

And so … a day late, but not too late … is the third of three posts by Martha Kennedy on getting a novel into print.

This one hits close to home for me. It’s the same process I went through. Many of us have self-published, and even more, will do so eventually. With traditional publishers thin on the ground, we find ourselves facing a choice: self-publish or keep trying to get a publisher to pay attention. At what point do you decide to stop waiting and move ahead on your own?


Self-Publishing – The Other Way to Do It

By Martha Kennedy

Some people have broken into “the big time” of commercial publication through self-publishing.

Most don’t.

There are manifestos now stating that self-published work is every bit as good as conventionally published work. That is not necessarily false, but is it necessarily true?

Lots of bad writing is published commercially. Still, I believe more bad writing is published by individuals using free, self-publishing platforms such as Lulu, Createspace, or IngramSpark.

The wonderfulness of “Indie” publishing is that anyone can publish a book, but being able to publish a book doesn’t mean the author can write. Which is why a stigma still lingers around self- or Indie-publishing. It is frequently a valid issue.

72-The Bros Path Cover PromoIn response to the problem, organizations are emerging that seek to find and reward good writing in self-published books. Since I only write historical fiction, I’m not familiar with all of the organizations but I know one.

IndieBRAG is a group of volunteers who read books that have been submitted to the organization. The books are rated on a very fine, proprietary “score card” which includes the physical presentation. If the book earns a certain average score or above, it is awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion.

Fewer than 10% of the books submitted (all genres) win this award. IndieBRAG then posts reviews everywhere relevant (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads), stating, “We are proud to announce that TITLE by AUTHOR is a B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree. This informs readers that the book is worth their investment of time and money!”

In my own area, the Historical Novel Society publishes a review several times a year. One of the reviews is Indie Novels. Such novels are submitted to them, then undergo a rigorous test before they can be awarded an Editors Choice or short-listed for the annual Indie Book Award.

The dark side of this trend is you will find companies online who will take your money in exchange for an award or a positive review.

None of these groups – good or bad — existed when I published my first “Indie” novel, Martin of Gfenn in 2011. I paid attention, though. As soon as I learned of new opportunities for my novel, I submitted it. Martin of Gfenn has won both an Editors Choice from the Historical Novel Society and an IndieBRAG Medallion. My second novel, Savior, is also an IndieBRAG Medallion honoree.

Nonetheless, self- or Indie Publishing — whatever you want to call it – has a long way to go before they will be as well-regarded and sought after as commercially (traditionally) published books. Beyond the “stigma,” lies another hard reality: people who publish their own books are (typically) writers, not marketers. Bookstores, especially chains like Barnes & Noble, don’t stock Indie books, though they will sell them by special order.

It does not mean you shouldn’t self-publish. It does mean you should be aware of the challenges involved.

It’s Easier Than You Think

For anyone whose ability to use common software is slightly above average, self-publishing is easy. For those who do not have the skills, every platform offers expert services plus many post-publishing services, among them, marketing. For me, the offers are great, but far out of my price range. Nor am I sure how effective they are … and I have no way to find out.

There are also many independent, free-lance, people who have made a business of editing, formatting, cover design — pretty much every service a self-published author needs to make a good-looking, readable book. These free-lancers are often more competitively priced than the same services offered via the publishing platforms.

I enjoy designing book and their covers. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along. I didn’t even attempt to publish Martin of Gfenn before I’d gone through the entire process with a small test book of essays. I do invest in a good editor with whom I work well.

When The Brothers Path experienced such maltreatment at the hands of agents and publishers, I decided to fight, to bust my ass marketing this novel and the other two, as well.

These days, I get up every morning, and “go to work” marketing my fiction. I have accepted advice from everyone who has offered it. I’ve also done a lot of online research. I’ve spent $300 on a virtual book tour and $100 for an advertisement on Goodreads.  I have set up giveaways (which not free for authors) and have made a book trailer for The Brothers Path. I have a webpage (marthakennedy.co) that tells everyone about all my novels and links back to each novel’s webpage.

I’ve sought reviews, issued a new edition of my second novel so it conforms more to the third because they are, loosely, prequel and sequel — both about the same family, though nine generations apart. I’m going at it as if I this was a paid job — because it is the only way I will get paid to do it.

Internally (hopefully not eternally), I’m contending with shyness and dislike of being with groups of strangers who expect something of me. I’m beginning to accept that I need to go out into the world to make connections rather than friends. I’m trying to manage a launch of my book that isn’t just me and my pals sharing a pizza.

But … I would rather write.

Why Write?

With all the obstacles to a book getting published, it’s not unreasonable to ask the question.

The experience of trying and failing to conventionally publish a novel turns many people away from writing. Maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t think anyone should write if they have another route to happiness.

Not being published does not have to mean not writing. Give that idea a little while to sink in. For anyone who genuinely loves writing and who has stories to tell, writing is a pleasure. All by itself. The reason I’m not (currently) satisfied with simply writing (although, in principle, I am completely satisfied with it), is because of the people who have read my books.

I write serious literature. It’s readable and friendly. The characters are likable, but you don’t write about leprosy, God, depression, death, religious war, bad parenting, adolescent confusion, torture and call it “light reading while you’re waiting for the airport shuttle.” I don’t write that stuff. I don’t know why I don’t write it. I just don’t.

Our writing reflects our lives, ourselves. I know things about my life that my readers probably will not guess at which I do not completely understand. But I’m willing to follow inspiration through the labyrinth toward a good story. I’m honored by the gift.

My novels have affected people. Many readers have left reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, or written directly to me, or spoken to me, telling me what a story meant to them.

A few weeks ago some friends and I were driving to Great Sand Dune National Park. This amazing place is in my neighborhood. Both neighbors have read — and loved — my books. They understand what I’m trying to do now. Their understanding means a lot to me. We got on the subject of why I write, in passing, light conversation, and I said, “This might sound arrogant, but my books are what I have to share with others.”

My friend said, “That’s not arrogant at all.”

To learn more about Martha’s historical fiction, go to marthakennedy.co. Her daily blog can be found at http://marthakennedy.wordpress.com/


THE BROTHERS PATH, by Martha Kennedy

The world-shattering tumult of the Protestant Reformation enters the Schneebeli household when Rudolf Schneebeli is born two months early and dies a few minutes later — without being baptized.

Named for the well trodden track linking the Schneebeli farmhouse to the old Lunkhofen castle, The Brothers Path is set in a Swiss village near Zürich, between 1524 and 1531.

It chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of the Protestant reformation.

Two hundred years after the events recounted in The Brothers’ Path, thousands of immigrants, mostly Mennonites and Amish, left Switzerland for America seeking the safety and freedom they could not find at home. If the novel teaches a “lesson” it would to remind us why immigrants to America have always been adamant about separating church and state.

Use this link for: The Brothers Path on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.


If you haven’t read part I, you will find it here: SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART I 

You can find part II here: SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART II 

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART TWO – BY MARTHA KENNEDY

Me in Obfelden

Welcome back!

Today’s post is the second of three parts by the Martha Kennedy as she struggles with the ever-changing requirements of marketing a novel.

Many of us have trod this path. More will tread it soon. Each of us has one or more stories to share about the perils of publishing in a market that is constantly reinventing itself.

This is for all of us who have written books, are thinking about writing a book, or are attempting to market a book in a world where none of the old rules apply.



SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART II – AGENTS AND REJECTION
by Martha Kennedy


I once heard an agent speak to a group of writers. She said, “You have no idea how difficult our jobs are. We have to read all your manuscripts on our own time. We stay up late at night to get through all that.” Seriously. She said that.

This was at a well-known writer’s conference. I was listening to what had been billed as a presentation on, “Finding the Right Agent.” Hearing her, I thought, “Listen, Sweetcheeks. Your income comes from our work. If you don’t like your job, quit, but don’t insult the goose — geese — who lay your golden eggs, your Manhattan apartment, your travel allowance, and keep you in Manolo Blahnik shoes.”

At that same writer’s conference, I made appointments to pitch a novel that had once had an agent. That agent had not performed, so I had fired her and moved on. I knew the book was a very good book (it’s since won two awards). I signed up to talk to three agents during that conference at $40 a pop. My novel is about a man with leprosy. It’s set in the 13th century. The protagonist is an artist. Each agent had confirmed our pitch session and asked for a synopsis and a chapter or two so they would be prepared.

Here’s how that panned out.

One agent was sick of being an agent and sick of talking to authors, so I never got to give a pitch. She talked to me about the problems she was having with her teenaged son, then asked me to send the manuscript and never responded.

The next listened to my pitch and asked, “Have you done any research? Lots of you historical fiction people just make things up.” She asked for the manuscript and a list of sources.

The third listened to my pitch and at the end said, “So what happens to this guy? Does he get married and have kids? Or what?” (This story is about a leper, remember?)

I’m sure there are other kinds of agents. I just have not (yet) met one. Agents are the gate-keepers. To get access to major publishers, you must be an agented writer. There are almost no publishers available who will even consider a manuscript that is not submitted via an agent … and that means the agent must see your work as a future money-maker.

REJECTION


The advice you will get is inevitably “keep trying.” With rejection, you often get a note which says something along the lines of: “We accept new clients based solely upon the current needs and interests of this agency and we simply didn’t see a good match. Given that the publishing industry is admittedly subjective, no doubt another publisher will feel differently.”

“No mea culpa” it says. Not our fault. Annoying as that is to hear, it’s also true.

It means, “The market has little or no interest in this thing you’re trying to persuade us to represent. If it did, you can bet we’d be on it like piranhas on steak.” The only lie is that the publishing industry is “subjective.” It really isn’t. You can be sure they do good market research. While some publishers do not publish, say, “self-help” another publisher might. That’s the limit to the “subjectivity.”

That rejection, by the way, came from a small press who, the year before, had wanted to publish that very book.

When I got into this game there was no Internet. We had to use paper and envelopes and send everything with a(n) SASE. I actually found one of those in my file drawers last week with a hugely expensive return stamp on it and an address for where I lived fifteen years ago. “A relic,” I thought, “of forgotten times.” Though, truth be told (and why not?) a few agents will only accept paper queries. Hassle, yes, but they are possibly more likely to read your pitch for REAL. Here’s why…

My favorite rejection (and I can’t find it now that I want to quote it) was being told that when a particular agency ran my project through their computerized manuscript screening system, the algorithm responded that my work did not have the qualities deemed necessary to be a publishing success. I laughed at first, having been rejected by an algorithm, then I realized that with online submissions, a writer’s work is likely to be evaluated by a computer program designed to measure its probable marketability.

Which isn’t to say “don’t try.” Just know the cards are absolutely, certainly, 100% stacked against you unless you are keyed into the market; you are Dan Brown ahead of Dan Brown, so to speak. The downside to success (and it might not appear to be much of a downside) is that it’s very difficult for J. K. Rowling to write anything but Harry Potter. She wants to; she has a nom de plume under which she writes other things — none of them have had much success.

When you’re work is accepted by a publisher, you can get screwed in new and amazing ways. Many are the stories. Here’s mine. Last year I did the work of submitting my latest novel, The Brothers Path, to the available pantheon of agents and publishers who might be interested. I kept a spread sheet that helped me stay on top of the progress of the queries I’d sent.

The great day and jubilation came, and my novel, The Brothers Path, was accepted by two small publishers. I had to choose. My editor said it was an “embarrassment of riches,” but I didn’t feel that way because I had no crystal ball. Most other things being equal, one was closer and offered an earlier publication date, so I chose them, but with mixed feelings.

I was sent a good contract, signed it, prepared to move forward, still with my mixed feelings and the knowledge I’d have to talk to this publisher about one thing in particular …

You see, when I looked at their list of publications I saw Richard Wagner’s face on the cover of a book about Victorian England. I love Wagner. I figured “A book about Wagner!” and I checked the book out on Amazon. The story had nothing to do with Wagner.

Summoning my courage (after all the great big publisher was doing me the honor of publishing my book, right?) I told the publisher I was worried about the cover of my novel because, well, Wagner. He said he hadn’t known it was Wagner. He’d looked for free images of faces of 19th century men, and there was Wagner. He then let me know that he had since bought face recognition software (an algorithm?) so that wouldn’t happen again.

“And really,” he said, “how many American readers would recognize it?”

To myself, said, “I did.”

Things moved along fine until he went out of business. At the time, I was crushed. He sent me the formatted manuscript (a real boon to someone who knows she will be self-publishing). I set it up on Lulu and Createspace. Ordered some copies. Got them back and saw that this idiot had changed some of the words in my novel so that one or two important passages no longer made sense. I know I should have checked earlier, but…

If he’d read my book, he hadn’t understood it. He changed the word “fall” to “autumn” when it was used in a conversation between two clerics who are discussing the Garden of Eden and the discovery of human sexuality:

“Tell me, Brother. How many men and women come to you with stories of carnal desires and sin? And how many of those are members of your own order?”

Hannes answered honestly. “Everyone does. Everyone.”

“It is our nature. The Bible tells us to go into the Earth and be fruitful and multiply.”

“After the Fall Autumn, Brother Leo.”

He had changed “After the Fall” to “After the Autumn,” thus rendering the passage to mean that people couldn’t have sex until after December 21.

Since then there has not been a day I have not felt grateful to the fates for the way things turned out. “More tears are shed over answered prayers than over unanswered ones.” St. Teresa of Avila, but hey. I read that in Truman Capote’s unfinished novel, Answered Prayers.


Jonny Geller is a literary agent and joint CEO of Curtis Brown, the world’s oldest Literary and Talent agency, based in London looks at what lies behind some of the most successful books of recent years. He explores the patterns and trends underlying their popularity and describes what a literary agent looks for in a writer.


72-The Bros Path Cover PromoThe world-shattering tumult of the Protestant Reformation enters the Schneebeli household when Rudolf Schneebeli is born two months early and dies a few minutes later — without being baptized.

Named for the well trodden track linking the Schneebeli farmhouse to the old Lunkhofen castle, The Brothers Path is set in a Swiss village near Zürich, between 1524 and 1531.

It chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of the Protestant reformation.

Two hundred years after the events recounted in The Brothers’ Path, thousands of immigrants, mostly Mennonites and Amish, left Switzerland for America seeking the safety and freedom they could not find at home. If the novel teaches a “lesson” it would to remind us why immigrants to America have always been adamant about separating church and state.

The Brothers Path on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.

If you haven’t read part I, you will find it here: SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART I


Come back next Saturday for part III of “So you want to be a writer.”

To learn more about Martha’s historical fiction, go to Historical Fiction by Martha Kennedy. Her daily blog is Where’s the Windmill? 

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART I – GUEST BLOG BY MARTHA KENNEDY

Me in ObfeldenToday’s post is the first of three parts by the fabulous Martha Kennedy as she struggles with the weird world of marketing a novel. Many of us have trod this path and even more will be treading it soon. Each of us has a story (or many stories) to tell about the perils of publishing in a market that’s been reinventing itself continuously for decades.

This is for all of us who have written books, are thinking about writing a book, or are attempting to market a book in a world where none of the old rules apply.


I write literary historical fiction, so everything I have to say is from that perspective. People who write different things, in other genres for different audiences are likely to have their own stories about this process. My novels (so far) all are set in the rather dim past in Switzerland. I suspect the ONLY genre less appealing to publishers than historical fiction might be poetry.

But that’s okay.

Before I submit a manuscript, I hire a professional editor. Then, I scrupulously follow the requirements of each agency to which I submit my project. There is really nothing more any writer can do. I write well. I know this because my work has won awards. And, strangely enough, I’m OK with the system as it is. It hasn’t worked for me, but I understand why. Here’s what I’ve learned.

YOU NEED A BIT OF LUCK

You can be the best writer in the world. Ever. Objectively the best. Yet it does not mean your work will sell to a publisher, get printed, or distributed to the public. On the flip side, you can be a not-so-good writer and wind up with a bestseller.

To detail the whole long road of what it takes to get your work commercially published these days, you have to know from the get-go that it might actually be (oh my god!) a crap-shoot.

It’s an inscrutable equation that leads to a bestseller. The right story. The right voice. The right time. Taken objectively, Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” is not a great work of art. It is, as Brown himself says, “An entertaining story.” A manipulative page-turner with a provocative, captivating theme. It was exactly right for the moment it was published. Dan Brown is a good writer, but a lot of what propelled his book into the stratosphere, was luck.

Another historical novel that’s not great literature (or even good literature, or good writing) is New York Times bestseller, “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.” The author, Jennifer Chiaraverini, had a solid following based on the Elm Creek Quilts series and the book hit the market exactly as the United States elected its first Black president. There is much wrong with the book, including plagiarism, yet many people (not me) found it to be likable and readable.

This advice for authors about the advantages of being nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award is telling:

Being nominated for a Goodreads Choice Awards is the result of several factors:

A book needs to have gained traction on Goodreads with people rating and adding the book to their shelves. As always, getting your book into the hands (and e-readers) of as many people as possible is key. Goodreads has many tools to help authors and publishers promote their books to readers. These include our giveaways program, targeted advertising, Ask the Author, editorial interviews, and more.

Keep the moment going by sparking discussion about your book through Ask the Author.
Consider advertising the book on Goodreads to keep reminding people about the book (and mention existing ratings/reviews to reinforce how readers are loving it).

Write a really, really good book!

Writing a really good book is at the bottom of this list for a reason.

IT’S ALL ABOUT MARKETING

More important than your book is a query letter that stimulates literary agents to salivate while imagining the big bucks they’re going to get when they sell your book to a publisher. And maybe Hollywood.

Books have been written on how to write a query letter. I have written successful ones, I think. Honestly, I’m not sure if my letters were great or the person on the other end of the message liked the idea, or their boss said, “Hey, if you get a query for a book about leprosy in the 13th century, ask for the manuscript.” I have no way to know. Regardless, there are a few basics that apply:

  • It must be grammatically perfect. No typos (if you can swing it; I’m incapable).
  • It should be written with a degree of panache. You need to generate some excitement.
  • I learned to study my audience and followed instructions, skills every writer needs.
AGENTS

Love them or hate them, selling your book is a lot easier if you have one. That being said, agents are (in my experience) petty little gods and goddesses who deign to recognize the work of writers who they regard as fools.

Why do I have such a cynical view? Experience. I’ve queried hundreds of agents. Pretty much universally, I have gotten little but arrogance and rudeness in return. Lucky for me, I think it’s funny.

72-The Bros Path Cover Promo


The world-shattering tumult of the Protestant Reformation enters the Schneebeli household when Rudolf Schneebeli is born two months early and dies a few minutes later — without being baptized.

Named for the well trodden track linking the Schneebeli farmhouse to the old Lunkhofen castle, The Brothers Path is set in a Swiss village near Zürich, between 1524 and 1531.

It chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of the Protestant reformation.

Two hundred years after the events recounted in The Brothers’ Path, thousands of immigrants, mostly Mennonites and Amish, left Switzerland for America seeking the safety and freedom they could not find at home. If the novel teaches a “lesson” it would to remind us why immigrants to America have always been adamant about separating church and state.

The Brothers Path on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.


Come back next Saturday for part II of “So you want to be a writer.”

To learn more about Martha’s historical fiction, go to Historical Fiction by Martha Kennedy. Her daily blog is Where’s the Windmill? 

WAITING FOR A GOOD BOOK

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdRecently, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird. It was re-released in a year ago by Audible.com, with a new narration by Cissy Spacek. After I settled into it, I remembered why I love it. It’s a rare story in which all the pieces fit. Some call it the perfect book. It may be.

It never hits a false note. Takes its time, tells the story at a leisurely pace. It talks about justice, injustice, racism, and the legal system. It’s about family, love, relationships and coming of age. Discovering the world is both better and worse than you imagined.

My granddaughter was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school and found it boring. I don’t agree, but I understand her problem. She lives in a world so changed from the one in which “Mockingbird” takes place, she can’t relate to it.

Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more than they drove. Food grew in gardens. The world was segregated, separated by class, religion, and ethnicity. My granddaughter can’t even imagine such a world. In her world, the President is Black and her white grandma is married to a brown man.

Everything is instant. You don’t go to a library to do research. You Google it. There’s no time for slow-moving books that depict a less frantic world.

It’s no wonder the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, and so on. These books are fun. Exciting. So much of “literary fiction” is dreary. Authors seem to have forgotten that literature is also supposed to be entertaining.

I need stories that are more than a dark mirror of reality. That’s not enough. I want a good plot. I need action, stuff to happen. I don’t want to just hear what characters are thinking. I want to see them moving through their lives. I need characters who develop, grow, are changed by events. And, I need heroes. Un-ambivalent good guys for whom I can root. I welcome enlightenment and education, but I require entertainment. Lately it seems the reality-based books I’ve read have forgotten how to entertain. The people they portray are sad, depressed, trapped, miserable. Living lives so hopeless they lack even the energy of desperation.

Are our lives truly so pathetic? So grey and drab? I don’t believe so. I think it’s easier — and fashionable in current literary circles — to write that way. Easier to capture a single note than a whole range of feelings. There are plenty of sad and hopeless characters, but there are also plenty of glad and joyous ones. Winners, not just losers. Heroes and success stories.

I don’t understand current criteria for publication. I don’t get it. A high percentage of the new books I read (I read a lot of just-published books for review) are dull. Many are also poorly written. I find myself wondering why this book, whatever it is, was chosen. To me, I has no merit. I don’t even review these books. I don’t like trashing books and authors, so if it’s that bad, I just skip it.

Boring to me, is the worst sin in literature. I don’t believe Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee — would be published today. I doubt they’d get a reading.

I miss books based in reality. I bet there are great manuscripts waiting, their authors yearning to be published. I hope they get to it soon. Because kids like my granddaughter need to discover how much fun books about real people can be.

THE WITCH PROMISES GREAT BEST-SELLERS

A BOOKISH CHOICE – A literary-minded witch offers you a choice. With a flick of her wand, you can become an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades (phooey on that!) or a popular author whose books give pleasure to millions (definitely). Which do you choose? (Is this a serious question?)


Was I ever young enough to think money doesn’t matter? If I ever said anything that silly, I apologize. To anyone to whom I may have expressed such arrant nonsense, I must have been on drugs. They warned us about the brown acid.

75-BooksHP

You can always write some (or many) good books if you have a publisher and an audience. If your books sell well, you don’t have to write drivel. There’s nothing to prevent you from being a best-selling author and a fine writer. I can think of a bunch of authors who succeed at both.

Great writing does not exclude popularity. Exceptional books will find their audience if they get a reasonable shot at it … which means, any exposure at all.

Go with the best-selling choice. It’s a win-win.


And Mr. Huberman, you need a course in spelling and grammar. I don’t wish to insult you, but please, take the time to proofread your posts before publishing. You are writing for writers. We notice.

WAITING FOR HOLLYWOOD TO CALL

Challenge of Smiles

My monthly royalty payment from Amazon just came in and I was pleased to see it was up slightly from last month.

A total of $3.89 was directly deposited into my checking account. I am not sure how many book sales this represents (three?), but I’m pleased my book sells at all.

The royalty deposits make me laugh. What should I do with all the money?

teepee book shelf

I could get a small meal from the dollar menu at McDonald’s. It isn’t enough to buy me a coffee at Starbucks. Good I don’t like Starbucks coffee, eh? I can’t think of anything else I could do with the money, but the idea amuses me. Being an author has not turned out exactly as I dreamed.

But you never know. Hollywood might yet call and my book could be the next blockbuster.

Right. Sure. Uh huh!

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.

cropped-jun07-tipi-043.jpg

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.

75-Books and stuffNK-1

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:

12-foot teepee Amazon

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.