Sunday, July 27, 2008

Looking for Meaning

I read an article about creative people recently. A psychologist stated that creative people look for meaning in every moment of their lives. My reply to this statement is: doesn't everyone?

We look for answers in our tea leaves, in the moon glow, in prayer. We look for meaning in cards, and the pattern of moles on our arms. We look for meaning in God, in family, in friends. Love comes we ask, why? Love goes we cry, why? Someone is born. Is that a sign? Someone dies. Another sign? Does the fact that my potato chip looks like a dead president mean I'm going to come into money? When you find a penny do you pick it up and know that all day you'll have good luck?

The point of the article was to relax on the hunt for meaning. Sometimes a duck is just a duck. But sometimes it means you should duck because a foam pie is headed toward your face. The fun part comes when you have to decide whether there is meaning or not.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Changing World

Two very interesting articles crossed my inbox this week.

One was an alert from the Authors Guild letting us know that Simon and Schuster, Inc. was trying to change it's contract language regarding electronic rights. It wants to own the author's electronic rights-and pay them only 15 percent royalty. This is important for a couple of reasons: 1) electronic books do not carry the over head and production costs of printed books. Thus authors have demanded their fair share of the monies. Average royalties on electronic books should run 30 percent. 2) Electronic books do not ever go out of print. An author contracts with a publisher to publish their books until the book goes "out of print" - in other words the publisher has moved on and the book is no longer available. After this agreed upon period of time that a book is "out of print" an author can re-sell the book to a new publisher who will see the book gets into new readers hands. If a publisher keeps your electronic rights, you can never re-sell a book and income for the author is lost. For example- a collection of books written for Harlequin gets 6 weeks of shelf time each. If after say 5 years, an author regains the rights to these works because they are "out of print" and unavailable to the public. She/he can resell them as a group to a single title publisher and gain longer shelf time. This gives readers a chance to read older works they might have missed. And gives good stories new life. But -you say- with electronic books they will always be available to the public. My question to you is-will you as the reader go out of your way to discover lost titles? Isn't it more likely you are waiting in line at the store- and see a book from your favorite author-pick it up- and joyously discover three stories you've not read yet? Hmmm- in fact a recent study on book buyers habits revealed just that. Buyers are more likely to impulse buy. I know, I do.

Now to make things even more interesting-an article on also appeared in my inbox. This article talked about how Amazon - the biggest on-line bookstore in the world- is positioning itself to become the biggest publisher. They have recently acquired a print on-demand publisher. And could be poised to bypass publishers, agents and editors and simply deal straight with authors. The article suggests that Amazon could give the author 30 to 40 percent royalties and still make 70 percent of the profits. Hmmmm

With the idea of bypassing agents, editors and publishers and going straight to the public-an author's potential income can double. It makes a writer think twice before signing with New York. Especially with New York doing their best to take away your rights.

Will we see this brave new world soon? I'm not certain. Self-publishing-even with Amazon-is a huge risk. Right now, publishing with New York holds a certain cache. It means you have arrived. Sort of like owning a high end designer handbag. It only works as long as authors buy into the idea. As New York ask authors to do more of their own editing, marketing and publicity-then cut their income- cache might just lose its appeal. Authors may just turn their backs on an ancient system and start earning a living wage.

It's a brave new world. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Procrastination-the secret to publishing

I have begun using procrastination as a sales tool. How does that work? I based my idea on Murphy's law. If you don't have it, they will want it. So far, it's worked.

Before I would write an entire 500 page manuscript, polish it, polish it, polish it, then send off partials and queries only to have the story end up in what I call my "dead baby" drawer-a morgue for all the completed works that weren't marketable at the time and will never see the light of day.

Then one day an editor wrote that she thought the manuscript I sent her was okay, but she really loved the title. Could I write a different book to fit the title? After a few minutes of thought I wrote a couple of different ideas down and sent them off to her-to see if any of those ideas better fit her idea of what the book should have been about. Lo and behold-two weeks later-she picked one.

Did I write it? No. I was in the middle of another book and I figured she wasn't serious-so I put it off.

Yes, you guessed it. After 5 months, she e-mailed asking to see a partial. Now, not wanting to appear to be a complete brainless loser, I promised I'd send it to her by the next business day-and ended up writing 20 pages a day over the weekend.

Will I then finish the manuscript in case she wants to see a full? You guessed it...I'll probably procrastinate. With any luck she'll buy the book.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

July Book Review

I'm the first to admit that I'm critical of books. Having been in the business for nearly 20 years, I've heard all the "rules" and dos and don'ts. The thing about the rules and such is that it can steal the life from a book. You can edit the magic right out of a story...and yet, I'm the first to throw a book at a wall if I see too many rules broken or if it appears as if the writer is so ignorant as to be careless with a story. Or an editor too lazy to do a proper job of copy edits. I can be vicious when I read- condescending and filled with such evil feelings as envy, resentment (as in why this book and not mine? Why this author and not me?) bitterness, pique, incense, exasperation, etc. (Yes, I can go on and on. It's all part of being human and being an artist.)

So, as a rule I don't critic the books I read. It's not fair to bring my own self pity into the equation. Unless I read something so extraordinary that I have to talk about it. A story that envelops me in it's magic and destroys the envy with the sheer joy a good story can create. "Garden Spells" by Sarah Addison Allen is just such a book. When it was recommended to me, I sighed. Here was an author who-if the hype is true- made the NYT Best Seller list with her very first book. (Up flares the envy, etc. My thoughts turn to why her? What's so special about this story? It would feel so good to toss it against the wall and think evil thoughts about who she could have possibly slept with to make the best seller list...)

Then I read it...

MAGIC. The story is pure unadulterated southern magic that filled my heart with joy, my eyes with tears and the sweet story magic pushed away all evil thoughts- filling my artist well with bliss.

What's so special about this story? Simply put it's charming. The author is clearly a story teller, drawing characters who are rich and full and a community that is imperfect and inexplicably real. Then she put a little magic in the brew-a touch of love and pulls the reader right into that other dimension, that special place where good stories live.

I recommend this author and this book. Buy it if you can. Get it from the library if you are cashed strapped. Bring a little magic into your world.