Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Respect Your Work

“Should I pay to be published?”
Not a week goes by when I don’t bump into some variation of this question. I’m newly baffled by it because, for some reason, it was one I never asked. I think I respected my work even when others didn't seem to.
Paying never occurred to me. I was ready to go to my grave unpublished. As it is, I am ready to go there (though not for sometime, I hope) un-lauded or never to be published again. I’m ready to never have this-that-and-the-other rather than pay someone to please, pretty please, let-me-work-for-you-and-I’ll-even-pay-you.
That’s what vanity/subsidy/co-op publishing is in fact doing. Whatever the Mot Du Jour these operations use, whatever slick terms they couch it in, this is what a writer does when engaging with them. Writers then pay someone for the opportunity to work for them.
I had plenty such opportunities. I unwittingly submitted to publishers who appeared traditional, and was offered such contracts. They use language like “we invest in your book as much as you will,” and “we like our authors to take part in every aspect of the process.”
Well, I have invested in my work. I've invested time, sweat and tears. I have taken part of the process at every turn when my (traditional) publishers asked me. But money?
Money flows from publisher to author, not the other way. Period.
The other day a writer, who was about to sign with a large press, asked if paying four-hundred dollars for editorial fees was on par with the market. A few months ago another writer told me her small publisher asks only for one-hundred dollars to have her picture book set for a print edition. Doesn't that sound reasonable?
Not to me.
 I should add here that there is a difference between self-publishing and paying a vanity publisher. Not all "paying" is created equal.
True self-publishing is a courageous decision to go it alone and be your own publisher.
I’m not courageous enough, so this also isn't for me.
There are good reasons to undertake this. Writers sometime want control of every aspect of their work including the design, title, editorial decisions, cover, and more. These fall into the publisher’s court in a traditional arrangement. True- many self-published, (who now use the term “Indie” for Independent, which used to mean small but traditional publishers) have grown weary and despondent of ever seeing their work in print through the traditional routes. But some have been well-published traditionally and are looking for more control.
The most admirable to my thinking are the self-published who have always dreamed of starting a small press and of being publishers, and so they start with their own books. Many publishing houses had their origins in such an endeavor. Assembling a team that includes an editor, a designer, a marketing person and so on, and you've got the start of a small publishing house. Good luck to you, because you will need it.
So back to paying a publisher for “services”-
Respect your work. You are the creative genesis of the business. You are the alpha and the omega. You may get paid a lot or- more likely- not a lot. But you get paid. The business can and will do without many of its traditional operators, but never without writers. We are the real deal. I wouldn't take any other.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Time to be Quiet

“If a person feels he can’t communicate, the least he can do is shut up about it.”
                                                                     ~Tom Lehrer

How do you feel about the plethora of blog posts that say they have nothing to say?
You've seen them if you hang around the blogosphere. One of those “I know I haven’t blogged for a while, but really, nothing much has been going on…”
And if you are on Twitter, you've seen enough of these (mercifully shorter) “standing in line at my favorite coffee shop waiting for my latte, bored…”
I have a friend who has such contempt for the endless space filled by these published nothings, that this friend will not ever admit to seeing this blog, or any other. Friend refers to us who hang out here as “bloopers” and “Twits.”
Friend has a point.
But we have a better one, methinkst.
I have found beautiful posts on others’ blogs. I’m not on Twitter, but I have seen some clever tweets that are worthy of great Haiku poems. So a lot of it is benign? A lot of traditionally published books are surprisingly vacuous. And the latter aren’t free.
And my last point is the one I really popped in to talk about. There’s writing about nothing, and then there’s quiet writing. Quiet stories, quiet poems, and quiet novels. I have found that some of the most subtle and exquisite writing is not about much, at least not on the surface. I’m thinking of Henry James passages where the writer makes us rest a bit while observing the quiet seemingly mundane gestures of his characters. Not a lot going on, and yet a whole lot present.  
The television series Seinfeld was supposedly about nothing. The characters could make much of standing in line at their favorite coffee shop, waiting for that latte. It was different, and it was great.
Made my point. Now I’ll go and be quiet.

Monday, January 14, 2013

It Will Be All Right, Or- How to Overcome Fear of Author Events

I thought that since I am now the Grand Maven of Authorly Events, having just had my very first book reading/talk/signing party, I can bestow some wisdom for all who think about this and need advice. Obviously I’m jesting here, (just a little) because you’d want to hear from the uber-experienced on this. But it gives me a way to prattle about mine.
If you’re not shy, you might be looking forward to these. It’s a different ballgame for us shy persons. We have serious doubts we will even survive and live to tell the tale.

What are the greatest fears Authors have when thinking of Author Events?
Fear number one: No one will show up.
Here’s what happened –
Fear number two: I won’t be able to open my mouth, and if I do, no sound will come out.
Here’s what happened:
didn't lose my voice or my place, and they laughed and even gasped a little.
Fear number three: I won’t enjoy it at all.
Here’s what happened:
Fear number four: No one will buy the book or ask me to sign it.
Here’s what happened:
And this^
And plenty of that^.

Author is happy. Just go do it!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Is an E-book a Real Book?

What’s REAL anyway?
A writing colleague asked the other day, “is an E-book not a real book?”
She had a reason to ask it this^ way. Her debut novel, traditionally published, was published as an E-book no paper edition. Her parents, not much older than I am, asked when she’ll have a real book published.
The first dictionary definition I found said---
BOOK: A written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers.
But we know dictionaries are properly conservative, and always a bit behind the curve.
In substance, more than form, a book is its content. So E-books are real books. That said- why do I have the need to print a paper copy of every manuscript, even after saving to another computer, to a flash drive, and finally, to The Cloud?

{And what kind of Cloud never makes rain, anyway? Take that, Dictionary.}

I have a dear friend, a generation plus older than I am, who scoffs at E-books. But same friend and I have not met face-to-face or spoken on the phone in over ten years. We live very far apart and communicate, almost daily, via E-mail. Bet my friend considers our friendship real.
And my kiddos, a generation and a half younger than me, don’t even understand the distinction. Much of their life is E-life. Even their real homework often knows no paper.
I was thinking about all this yesterday, when sending out invitations to my debut novel’s Launch Party. In a way, although the book (real paper) came out in August, its launch then was all virtual. This Sunday The Voice of Thunder will have its first real, hence “launch,” party. You know, real tea with real cookies. Not-

And hopefully, real guests.
So if you’re anywhere near, I’d *really* love to meet you. Here’s a, ahmm, virtual invitation-
When: This Sunday, January 13, 3:00pm. (Yup, tea & cookies time. And my book too.)
Where: Afikomen Judaica, 3042 Claremont Avenue, Berkeley CA 94705
Who: Me, my book The Voice of Thunder, and hopefully a few friends. Maybe you?
What: Reading, answering all questions, (about anything and everything) and having nice tea-time refreshments.
Why: because it is a truth universally acknowledged that every new book is in need of a party...

^ {for real} ^
Back to the beginning.
I’m of the school that the most real is neither seen with the eyes nor of this world. Call it imagination, or give it a theology.
It’s been real.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Keep the Child in View

As blogosphere joins most other spheres in New Year’s lists and resolutions, I’m determined not to. Oh, I can’t beat them, but I won’t join them. It’s plenty crowded over there and mine won’t be missed.

Because where I am, lists have a diluting effect. And lots of lists are a dilution of the dilution.

Have you noticed that when we tell of one child who is affected by some horrible challenge, the telling is more effective than when we pile them up? The Diary of Anne Frank, the story of *one* Holocaust victim, was a door to the event that killed millions. A million and a half Jewish children perished. But we remember Anne.

And so the other day, when I heard this quotation from Charles Dickens, I instantly knew that I had a new motto, a guiding pole, for the New Year. “Keep the child in view,” Dickens wrote.

All right, not a list, but one luminous guidepost. Keep the child in view.
Dickens’ children with their pet raven “Grip,” by Daniel Maclise 1841

DS was asking me why so much emphasis on the horrible massacre in Newton Connecticut is put on the twenty young victims, and not the six adults who died trying to protect them. His point was rational. These adults did something heroic. These adults had dependents and have lived lives of effort and striving. Why is the whole world focused on the children, with an afterthought of a mention about the adults?
My response, after some contemplation, was that the adults’ life journeys were already set. We knew them as teachers, school principal, and the school psychologist. But the children, every one of them, were a world of possibilities and wonder. A possible inventor who will change the world. A possible great leader, or even a prophet.
That is what keeping the child in view means to me: keeping that sense of possibility and wonder. Keeping it in my story telling and in my life.
Welcome 2013. I will remind myself to come back to Dickens, and keep the child in view.