Tuesday, August 30, 2011
I don’t really know. Please weigh in with your thoughts...
Adventures of an e-Book Bookie (The Only Indie Writer Blog That Isn't Linked to or Hasn't Quoted J.A. Konrath) 15: Favorite Quotes (22 of 906)
No matter how intense or honest or pure our desire to become a writer it ultimately comes down to having talent, developing your particular level of talent, or giving up. And it doesn’t matter what the public is reading, what Oprah is recommending, or how you feel.
If you are a writer you’ll start writing that book and you’ll finish it. Then whether it sells or not—whether it’s published or not—you’ll finish another.
If you don’t you’re not a writer.
This isn’t a particularly comfortable or encouraging proposition and the fact that it might result in a lifetime of toil that ends in debt and obscurity doesn’t, however unfair, make it any less true. When I seriously considered quitting writing I realized the crater left behind could never be filled with familial bliss, money, Irish whiskey, or vacations. In the end it doesn’t matter if my books are bestsellers or any-kind-of-sellers; it only matters that they be written.
Anything less would be a waste of my life.
God help me, I’m a writer.
And, God help me again, reading little nuggets of wisdom from other writers are sometimes the only thing that gets me to scribble another word, sentence, or paragraph.
Pathetic, but here are 22 of my favorites.
There are no rules to writing, but if there were, caring would be right up there. Or, as we intellectuals are fond of saying, you had better give a shit.
Writing is a job. Do it well and it is a great life. Mess around and its disappointments will kill you.
If you haven’t always been doing it, you haven’t always wanted to do it.
—George V. Higgins
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
The state that you need to write is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of.
In today’s book market, writers can’t just be writers. They have to be performers and publicists as well. The image of the lonely writer honing his or her art is fast becoming outdated. What’s demanded instead is something else: a hook, a smile, a shoeshine.
A real writer learns from earlier writers the way a boy learns from an apple orchard—by stealing what he has a taste for and can carry off.
You should write, first of all, to please yourself. You shouldn’t care a damn about anybody else at all. But writing can’t be a way of life; the important part of writing is living. You have to live in such a way that your writing emerges from it.
But I discovered when I was very young, before I was in my teens, that nothing could so quickly cast doubt on, and even destroy, an author’s character’s as bad dialog. If the people did not talk right, they were not real people. The closer to real talk, the closer to real people….A man or woman who does not write good dialog is not a first-rate writer.
What interests one in a novel…is the quantity of glimpsed detail, the asides and the incidents along the way; not the over-all turn of events or the holocaust at the close or the happy ending.
Advice from this elderly practitioner is to forget publishers and just roll a sheet of copy paper into your machine and get lost in your subject. Write about it by day and dream about it at night.
The price we pay for money is paid in liberty.
Poets don’t write to be understood.
If your morals make you dreary, depend on it, they are wrong.
For me, words are a form of action capable of influencing change.
A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us.
That some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than everything happens for the best, which it assuredly does not.
—James Kern Feibleman
Words are timeless. You should utter them or write them with knowledge of their timelessness.
A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.
The most futile thing in this world is any attempt, perhaps, at exact definition of character. All individuals are a bundle of contradictions—none more so than the most capable.
The quality of our thoughts is bordered on all sides by our faculty with language.
—J. Michael Stracynski
Every man’s memory is his private literature.
What are some of your favorite writing quotes? Please share them here.
JOKE OF THE DAY
A lawyer, riding in the back of a stretch limousine, saw two men eating grass by the side of the road. He ordered his driver to stop. The lawyer got out and asked, “Why are you eating grass?”
“We ain’t got no money for food.”
“You can come with me to my house for something to eat,” said the lawyer.
“But I got me a wife and three kids.”
“Bring them along,” said the lawyer.
“But what about my friend?”
“He can come with us too,” said the lawyer.
“But he’s got a wife and six kids.”
“Bring them all. I’ll send my limo to pick you up.”
“That’s very kind of you. Thanks.”
“Glad to do it. You’re gonna love my place. The fucking grass is about a foot tall.”
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Another novel of mine came out on Kindle this week. www.amazon.com/dp/B005GMQPUG
I had self-published TAPFOS in 2007 and I had actually sold a few copies.
After I finished writing Tantric Zoo this spring I went back and reviewed TAPFOS. After each completed novel I feel like I’ve learned something and I return to earlier successes, failures and literary abortions. I returned to this comic Sci-Fi novel for a rewrite wielding Elmore Leonard’s advice: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
I cut and rewrote (hopefully improved) then renamed the book. The acronym/title TAPFOS went to Teenaged Pussies From Outer Space: A Love Story.
Catchy like Ebola or herpes, but a somewhat compelling title: I’d pick it up.
Anyway, as I rewrote I noticed that the structure of the story was fine; the problems were how I developed the individual scenes. I think the story structure proved so solid because I had originally written TAPFOS as a movie. (Yes, it was during one of those years I had been drinking...) I think this is generally a good idea: blocking out a novel’s structure in the form of a storyboard with each scene’s beginning, middle, and end developed and demarcated.
Too bad it’s not as easy or straightforward turning a novel into a screenplay.
When I had an opportunity to adapt my novel High Steaks into a script I thought, much like Union soldiers who thought they’d be home from the war for Christmas: “Great, it’ll take a week; two tops.” But turning an 82,000 word, 255 page book into a 17,000 word 112 page screenplay was probably the most exacting and arduous writing task I’ve ever attempted.
The first thing I did was re-read the book. It had been written over four years ago and there are scenes and characters that the author simply forgets—even though you’d written them. About halfway through the book the enormity of the task hit me: roughly three out of every four words would have to be removed, but all the humor and action spiced up. It was, almost literally, trying to make an apple pie out of oranges.
So I went for a walk.
When I returned, I dusted off Linda Seeger’s The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film. That helped greatly as it had a few years ago when I adapted one of my short stories into a movie. (The Bartender.) But I was still daunted by the size of this writing and editing task. In the next two weeks, I wrote scene-by-scene, and the first 57 pages of the book came in at about 50 pages. At that rate the movie would be four-hours-plus. Much, much too long.
Then I read an interview of Eric Axel Weiss, who adapted Robert O’Connell’s Buffalo Soldiers for the screen. Weiss stated: “I find the one thing that I love when reading a novel—whether it’s the character, tone, setting, etc—and that is what I somehow preserve in my script.”
When I tried to get High Steaks published (a four year process) I ran out of publishers who read unagented works. So I undertook a mild deception. I borrowed my cousin’s name and phone number and created the BMA Agency. I wrote editors about me in the third person and signed them Brad Morrison. This did two things: 1) the manuscript was requested by editors, and 2) I received honest and helpful criticism of the book. Instead of the Not For Us At This Time form rejection I (Brad) received truly helpful constructive criticism. One particularly prized rejection slip had the phrase “a tad too sexy and cavalier for my tastes”.
So “Too sexy and cavalier” was what I decided to preserve in the script.
I went at it a bit differently the second go-round. I made a copy of the original text’s diskette, booted it up, and switched the formatting to single spacing. This shortened the book by about a third. Then I went and removed and removed descriptions and my narrative voice. Still, it was—without even being in script format—around 170 pages. Then I remembered a tip: When writing a script always use courier or elite fonts because the script format—designed to be one page equal to one minute screen time—was designed when people were writing on typewriters: in courier and elite typeface.
I changed it from arial to courier and got it down to about 150 pages. I had no idea that simple typeface could make that big of a difference. But I could work with 150 pages.
High Steaks is a murder mystery that takes place in Nightingale, Nevada. The town and citizenry itself is a character in the book. I could show the town; but I had to eliminate and combine so many characters in order to drive the plot forward. The book also has a series of letters from someone who has died, that appear throughout the course of the narrative. I had to eliminate all but three of these letters: too much voice over is deadly. In the book the letters aren’t intrusive because, well, you’re reading. In the movie I had the characters read the letters during on screen activities (a horserace, a Native American dance troupe performing, and a greasefire in a steakhouse) so as not to lose the audience.
A script is rather bare-bones compared to a novel and I had to edit ruthlessly--eliminating some of my favorite characters in order to pass the snooze test. The snooze test is how I double check my texts between rewrites. My wife gets a cup of tea or glass of wine (depending on the time of day) and lies down on the bed. I read in a dull monotone (I want the words to supply the meaning, not any inflection or theatrics on my part) and anyplace I lose her—even if it’s slightly unclear—she starts snoring. I mark the spot and—usually she’s right; I was too verbose or vague—fix it. She’s not a writer, but she has no patience with a slow movie or book.
I also noticed that the killer (I won’t tell you who) came across as a lot more ruthless in the script, because I eliminated the narrative backstory about a terrible childhood that made the murderer at least a bit sympathetic. The other fact that amazed me is that with all the cutting and melding of characters that a few minor characters in the book, stood out prominently in the movie. Davis, the main character who solves the murder, isn’t a cop (he owns the local steakhouse, High Steaks, get it?) so he needs some muscle when he confronts the bad guys. This comes in the form of an ex-Navy Seal who is visiting town. The ex-sailor’s role in the book (he doesn’t appear until the final 60 pages) is expanded in the movie because everything else is so pared away.
The entire project took two or three false starts, a ton of rewrites, and about three months. So, is the book better than the movie? I honestly can’t say; but the script and the book are now completely different entities.
Like apples and oranges.
JOKE OF THE DAY
The weekly poker game was at Bob’s but he had to babysit his six year old twin boys. Before they could even deal Bob was off to the other room three times. He returned and another racket ensued. So Randy said, “I’ll take care of it.” Randy returned and there was silence for an hour.
Bob said, “What’d you do, start a movie?”
“No,” said Randy, “I taught them how to masturbate.”
Rob is currently adapting his latest novel Tantric Zoo www.smashwords.com/profile/view/robloughranbooks for the screen. He’s having the same problems.
Kindle version (99 cents!) Teenaged Pussies From Outer Space: A Love Story http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005GMQPUG
Friday, August 19, 2011
Adventures of an e-Book Bookie, 13 "10 Reasons a Paperback Book is better Than a Kindle (or Nook, etc.)"
1) You can read a paperback in the bathtub.
2) You can swat a mosquito with a paperback.
3) If you’re reading in bed and fall asleep a paperback doesn’t chip your tooth.
4) While backpacking you can use the cover, introduction, and boring parts for kindling. (A Kindle doesn't kindle.)
5) You can throw a paperback at your couch-scratching-cat and you don’t have to get a new Kindle or a new cat.
6) On a car trip you can’t give a Kindle to a teething baby to chew on.
7) You can’t drop a Kindle from your exercise bike, dust it off and continue reading.
8) Paperback, NO BATTERIES!!!
9) You can recycle a paperback.
10) You’d never loan your Kindle to your asshole brother-in-law.
JOKE OF THE DAY
Jane confides to her best friend after four Bloody Marys: “Bob was in such an odd mood last night. We planned to meet at a bar across town for a cocktail. I spent the afternoon shopping with the girls and I thought it might have been my fault because I was later than I promised, but he didn’t say anything about it. I really don’t remember doing anything to make him upset.
“We finished our drinks and ordered another round, but he was still acting a bit funny. I was getting worried; what was bothering him? Why was he mad at me? Is it me or something else? I asked him if he was upset with me, but he said no. In the car on the way back home, I said that I loved him and he put his arm around me. I didn’t know what the hell that meant because, you know, he didn’t say it back to me. We finally got home and I was wondering, for the first time in our marriage, if there were someone else. So I tried to get him to talk but he just turned on the TV. Reluctantly, I said I was going to bed. Then after about 10 minutes, he joined me and to my surprise, we made passionate love. But still, he seemed distracted. I wanted to confront him, but didn’t. So I cried myself to sleep. I don’t know what to do anymore. I really think he’s seeing someone else.” Jane pays, tips and leaves.
The same day Bob confides to his best friend after five beers: “I missed a ten point buck yesterday. He was standing in a clearing and I had three shots. Jesus Christ, I shoot like a drunk monkey! I felt pissed all day. I blew the chance of a lifetime. But what the hell, at least I got laid.”
Thursday, August 18, 2011
I knew Camille Picott for five years before I met her.
A cocktail waitress I worked with knew I was a writer and gave me Camille’s email. We corresponded. Camille sent me her entertaining and speculative flash fiction as it was published and I sent her a rash of articles on writing I’d written for ByLine, Bohemian, New Writer, and Writers’ Journal. Then Camille sent the announcement that her first book, Raggedy Chan, had been published. Raggedy Chan, it turns out, is one of the most delightful books books I’ve ever read. Funny and poignant is hard to do but Camille pulls it off.
And I finally met Camille in person at her book signing.
I guest blogged on her site last month and she returned the favor with what follows:
Creating Bonus Features for Your Book
I think the movie industry hit a lucky strike when they started adding bonus features to DVDs. What’s not to like? Actor and director commentary, a closer look at how movies are made, etc. It’s all extra stuff for fans to devour.
So why not do the same thing with your book?
My next book, Nine-Tail Fox (the sequel to Raggedy Chan), will be released in the next few weeks in both print and e-book. I’m putting together some bonus materials for it: a You Tube video, some full color illustrations, and an author interview. All of this stuff will be loaded onto my website by Sandra Lam, my web guru at WinLum. She’ll tweak the site to make it smart phone friendly. Then I’ll create a QR code (see my detailed article on QR codes here). The QR code will be printed on the back cover of my “tree” book, and inserted as an image into my e-book. For readers who don’t have smart phones, I’ll also include the URL so they can visit the site on their computer.
Any other writers out there have some ideas for book bonus materials?
Monday, August 15, 2011
THOUGHTS FROM A CANDY-ASS HOPEFUL
Wednesday morning last week I read a thoughtful (and just mildly self-promoting) blog about advertising yourself as a writer on all the available social media outlets. The writer was pleased that he had received 2000 hits in one week on a stand-alone short story he’d published, but he’d only sold (I don’t know what he was asking, $$$, I really should have looked it up...) two copies. Of course he was happy with the exposure and the traffic and the attention.
And of course he was disappointed by the paltry sales.
He wondered (morphing from mildly self-promoting to borderline whimpering) When-o-when, Dear Internet Goddess,will my-o-so deserved sales will come???
This is such a good question that I refuse to allow myself to ask it.
Whether I sell books or not might have nothing to do with me. There is a possibility that my writing (as proofread and heartfelt as it is) may never attract attention and sell.
I have always believed (and refuse to disavow) that the best marketing is, first-foremost-and-always writing well. But these days as I see some consistent numbers registering on my blogs and the stories and articles I post on Redroom (redroom.com/member/rob-loughran) I have a glimmer of a glimpse of a shot at hope of actually selling some novels in the near future. I contrast this with the snailmail/SASE world that I treaded through to get my first novel published.
Back when I cheated.
I’ll confess, but I don’t want to rehabilitate. I’m proud of how and why I cheated. For nearly five years I tried to get my novel High Steaks published. I read Writer’s Digest magazine and attended seminars on marketing your novel and laid out thirty bucks a year for an updated copy of The Writer’s Market. And I did what they told me: I wrote a cover letter outlining my publishing credits and bundled it up with the first four chapters of High Steaks; included a synopsis and an SASE for the editor’s convenience. I marked down the date, the publisher, and the editor in a submissions journal.
The SASEs returned (anywhere from three months to a year; some are still out there in orbit for all I know) with a form rejection slip. I did, however get a bite, and sent in, along with High Hopes, High Steaks. The manuscript returned with a form rejection slip: Not For Us at This Time --The Editors. That’s okay, I’d been writing professionally for over twenty years and I know that rejection is part of the game; it bothers me about as much as the speedbumps in the Safeway parking lot.
But then I ran out of publishers.
This bothered me.
Not every publisher accepts unagented submissions and there is a giant Catch-22: Publishers won’t read a novel unless it’s agented, but you can’t get an agent unless you’ve had a book published.
So after, literally, being rejected by Every English Speaking Mystery Publisher in the World (I have the rejection slips in a suitcase my garage if anyone wants to see them) I cheated.
I took my cousin’s name, started a new e-mail account, and using my address started the Brad Morrison Agency. I designed (easy on the computer) some BMA letterhead and envelopes and wrote a letter about me in the third person, including sample chapters of the book and a synopsis. Two things happened: the manuscript was requested and read. It was rejected—like I said, part of the publishing game—but I (rather, Brad) didn’t receive form rejection letters. I received personal letters outlining why they couldn’t use it. Apparently agents are higher on the food chain than writers. One rejection slip I have framed in my office with the phrase a bit too sexually explicit and cavalier for us.
Yes! To slightly misquote General Patton: “You read my book you magnificent bastard!”
I admit all this was a deception, but a necessary one; what was I supposed to do, give up? Writing a book is hard work, and I knew, in my gut that the book was good enough. Although this cheating opened the door to several publishers, High Steaks was finally published because it won a national contest—Salvo Press’ New Mystery Award—where publication was part of the prize.
I’ve since finished and sold other novels (and jokebooks and books on writing) but if they hadn’t The BMA would have ridden again. Proudly.
I hate to be a candy-ass hopeful who sees rainbows and freaking unicorns in my dreams, but I am so relieved and happy to be able to Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/RJPLOUGHRAN) and blog and post on Redroom and have an active hand in promoting and schlepping my books.
It means I am once again in the game.
JOKE OF THE DAY
What is black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, and black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, and black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, and black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black-and-white, black and white, and black-and-white?
Rob “The Cheater” Loughran has a bunch of books in print and e-print (is that a word?) these days. Check them out:
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
ADVENTURES OF AN E-BOOK BOOKIE, 10
51 More Good Reasons to Quit Writing
Hiya, Hiya, Hiya.
Busy busy at the restaurant (www.farmhouseinn.com). I am also writing in my new mystery novel “Beautiful Lies” and trying to get my (rewritten and renamed) comic sci-fi novel “Teenaged Pussies From Outer Space: A Love Story” groomed and uploaded to Smashwords and Kindle. So I’m posting the remainder of my “101 Reasons to Give Up”:
- The government’s doing such a good job there’s no need for me to write an article or Op/Ed piece.
- The Budget, Global Warming and Immigration things will work out, there’s no need for me to write a letter to my Senator.
- This “Freedom of Speech” thing is way over rated.
- My self-knowledge is complete—why bother examining my motives and desires?
- My father was right; I’ll never amount to anything.
- I’m incapable of feeling joy.
- I never feel frustrated.
- Or confused.
- I know precisely why I was put on this earth.
- Every movie and book review I read is so right on.
- My thoughts on religion and spirituality haven’t evolved since 2nd grade: God is a man with a fluffy white beard sitting on a throne in the clouds. Nothing to write about there.
- There really isn’t any social injustice bad enough to get all excited about.
- You know, life really is fair.
- I really don’t have any issues with my parents that might be resolved by living through a fictional character I’d created.
- My marriage is perfect; no fodder there.
- My children are angels, that Irma Bombeck was a fault-finding bitch.
- Those Tea-Partiers are just so wacky and harmless!
- So are the Ku Klux Klan!
- I kind of like the way cops treat minorities.
- Who reads poetry anyway?
- I’ve never been divorced.
- Sex is always so satisfying.
- So is the singles scene!
- I’ve never attended a loved one’s funeral.
- My heart has never been broken.
- My broken heart has never been healed.
- My broken heart has healed.
- I’ve never been fired.
- I’ve loved every job I’ve ever had.
- I’ve never almost died in a near-miss accident.
- All my athletic ambitions worked out perfectly.
- This Date Rape stuff is blown way out of proportion.
- When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
- All this noise about personal growth is crap. I’m happy working 9 to 5.
- You know, I can’t recall ever being close to anyone with a drug problem.
- I enjoyed being raised Catholic!
- Interviewing famous people for articles is sooo blasé.
- Since the moment I said “I Do” I’ve never been attracted to anyone else.
- Today’s films are just so good, why bother writing a script?
- Hollywood would just screw me over and take all my money anyway. (Actually, this one is kind of true. Be careful.)
- I’d rather just go with the flow.
- My teenaged years were so easy and happy and idyllic. Nothing there.
- I feel no frustration with the direction that America’s taking in the 21st century.
- I’m kind of looking forward to caring for my aging parents, I mean, they changed my diapers, right?
- I’m not afraid of dying.
- This entire environmental hullabaloo will pass; I mean, the dinosaurs went extinct for a reason.
- Deficit? What Deficit?
- I just love surfing the Internet. It’s so edifying! Time spent writing would just cut into that.
- I can’t really see anything I write making a difference.
- I don’t have any skeletons in my closet to write about…
- You know, my life is just perfect.
Joke of the Day
How are women and boxers similar?
Neither go into action until they see a ring.
Why don’t heavyweight fighters have sex before a title fight?
Because they don’t like each other.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
I DON’T THINK WE’RE IN KANSAS ANYMORE: A SELF PUBLISHING PRIMER
Cleanly shaven, dressed in a tuxedo and ready for work I opened the day’s mail. Today’s postal booty contained bills, a Victoria Secrets catalog, and an SASE with a rejection slip telling me, “Sorry, but there is simply no market for joke books.”
I stabbed the rejection on the letter stake in my office (convenient and cathartic) and drove to my night job. The first couple I served at the bar was talking about taxes so I smiled and hit them with a couple of trinkets from my recently rejected joke book, A Man Walks Into a Bar…. :
A man walks into a bar with an alligator on a leash. He says to the bartender, “Do you serve IRS agents here?”
“Great. I’ll have a Bud and get a coupla IRS agents for my gator.”
How are dealing with the IRS and wearing a condom similar?
With both you are screwed with no sensitivity whatsoever.
“We love jokes,” says the couple, “but we can never remember jokes.” I’ve worked 30+ years in the restaurant biz, joking and bullshitting my way through shift-after-shift and whenever I tell two or more consecutive jokes I ALWAYS get the above response: We can never remember jokes….
We’ve all heard: The map is not the territory but on this night it really hit home. Here I am, working five nights a week in a restaurant, serving upscale clientele with disposable income that, I know from experience, not marketing surveys, enjoy jokes of every type—from silly to sick—confess to not being able to remember jokes, and yet the publishing powers that be insist that there is no market for joke books.
THE WORLD’S TALLEST MIDGET
There is a lingering perception that self-published books are like the world’s tallest midget. Even though they are printed and sold successfully (see sidebar), self-published books are perceived as inherently inferior: as the world’s tallest midget is, still, just a really, really, really short person. If they were “real” books, wouldn’t they have been published by a “real” publisher?
The publishing industry itself has, for years, consciously perpetuated this notion of inferiority by dubbing the self-publishing industry: Vanity Press.
The book (A Man Walks Into a Bar…) I was attempting to sell is a comprehensive, encyclopedic volume of jokes. In the restaurant biz you are constantly hearing new jokes. Twenty years ago I started writing them down on bar napkins and beer mats which resulted in, as it reads on the book’s eventual back cover: “The definitive single-volume collection of modern American adult humor.”
It had become obvious (after years of submitting book proposals) that no agent would agent the book and no publisher would publish it. So I began research into what types of self-publishing were available, and, how much it would cost.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MESSY SOCK DRAWERS
If you have $10,000 dollars stashed in your messy sock drawer you can go on-line, find a Vanity Press publisher, pay them and mail away your manuscript. They will proof the manuscript, format it into book form, and produce a handsome volume all ready for you to market. (more on that later)
But in my messy sock drawer I have enough spare change to (maybe) spring for lunch at the local taqueria, a foul tip baseball hit by Willie McCovey that I caught at Candlestick in 1967 and, well, socks.
I researched which publisher offered what. There are a plethora of legitimate and affordable self-publishers, but man, I was broke. I’m working fulltime as a waiter and my two published novels were selling like George Bush campaign memorabilia in a Baghdad mosque. I happened upon Café Press, who publish you for free, but you have to upload the manuscript in PDF format. I understand this is easy on a Mac but my computer doesn’t have this capability so I kept surfing and scrolling various websites.
Then I found Lulu Press.
They will publish your book for free. As a point of copyright law, when you work with Lulu, YOU are the publisher and retain all rights. They offer, again at a price, editing and formatting services. But they also have an informative FAQ page that refers you to Internet sites offering self-publishing techniques and advice.
I went to Lulu’s testimonial page and, to the company’s credit; they printed a few not so complimentary letters. One letter excoriated the company for producing a shoddy and inferior product. I looked up the book and read a sample. The margins were ragged, the text ran into the book’s gutter, and it looked like an 11th hour junior high school project. But another book’s sample chapters couldn’t be distinguished from a Random House Vintage Contemporaries edition. The margins were crisp, every new chapter started on a facing page, the front matter (dedication, copyright, table of contents) imminently tasteful and professional.
Obviously, if you uploaded skunky material it would stink and if you uploaded a gem it would glimmer.
So it was time to subject my 1,100 page A Man Walks into a Bar…manuscript to an extreme makeover.
The first thing I did was print it out (cost for an 1100 page manuscript, paper and ink cartridges, about $45. Ouch.) and proofed the hell out of it. Then I sent the monster to my poor critique group. They sent me chapters from novels in progress and I sent them each 350 pages of misspelled, smutty, indecent jokes. (I owe them dinner. Dinners.) Then I applied their corrections and proofread the book again.
This took about three months and as it turned out, was the easy part.
I downloaded all the “Manuscript Transformation” information from the recommended sites and I couldn’t make it work. Formatting the manuscript for publication had become a HUGE endeavor. I called a few friends and they said, “Simple, go get Quark.”
Quark is a program specifically designed to manage gutters, margins, pagination, headers & footers, etc. but costs $800.
Instead I hit the Internet (the electronic equivalent, I’ve decided, of a garage sale for discounted merchandise and emotions) and I found an article in the Publishing Marketing Association newsletter by Aaron Shepard entitled, Yes, You Can Use Microsoft Word to Set Type That Looks Professional.
Happy days are here again!
But I couldn’t make Shepard’s advice work, either. I was at a loss, particularly when it came to pagination, calculating gutter offset, and proper design of the front matter. Then, following Shepard’s advice I read a fantastic and informative book by James Felici, Complete Manual of Typography. (This book isn’t optional. You need to understand why you’re manipulating the text. And, self-publishing is not a snap. I liken it to tending a backyard garden: a lot of work, but it’s your garden, and you really don’t want to cut corners.) After studying Felici’s book I was ready to proceed, but my manuscript (nearly 200,000 words) was so hefty and unwieldy that computer commands took TIME TIME TIME to execute and even longer to correct.
And I made a heapin’ helpin’ of mistakes.
Then my wife suggested I publish the book chapter-by-chapter: separate books for Doctors and Lawyers, Blondes, Religion, Dirty Johnny, etc. Each chapter was 9,000 to 15,000 words so I worked on a series of short (70-120 page) joke books. This took the pressure off and allowed me to familiarize myself with the process of turning a Word document into a formatted book, simply by doing it again-and-again. I also learned (through repetition) the Lulu process of designing a cover, placing a blurb on the back cover (tricky), and pricing the books. All of these skills were necessary to turn the Big Daddy, 1100 page manuscript into a viable volume.
So a process that I thought would take a month or two took seven months, countless hours on-line, but resulted in 11 little books and one 700 page book in print.
THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT TO MARKET
The new Print On Demand (POD) technology is incredible and opens up new avenues for all writers. By printing a book only after it is ordered the start-up expense of printing a first edition run of 20,000 books is avoided and will provide unpublished (and published) writers a new “in” to publishing.
But what about the marketing a “legitimate” publisher provides?
They do indeed provide marketing. The publisher of my first novel provided none; the publisher of my second, less than none.
I’m not blaming them; I just wish it were different.
But their marketing attitudes (again, understandably but lamentably linked to their purse strings) are like someone who does 25 push-ups, 35 sit ups, runs twice around the block and says, “There. I’m in shape. I’ll never have to exercise again!”
To expect more marketing support (unless you are already famous and bankable) from a publisher, I’ve learned, is naïve and foolish. When your book is published, legitimate or Vanity, the responsibility of marketing is ultimately yours.
At Lulu you can spend $34.95 and receive an ISBN number for your book which will list it on Amazon and allow your local bookstore to order, stock, and sell your baby.
Amazon takes a 20% commission off the published price and that will bump your book out of the normal book buyers comfort zone. At Lulu my big book lists at $26.95, which I think is fair for a book of that size. If I paid $34.95 for the honor (I didn’t) of having it listed on Amazon the tome would have to be priced at around $43.00 (before shipping) and I’d earn $4.12 per book. Without the ISBN, after Lulu takes their 10% cut off the pre-royalty price I make $6.82 per volume. It’s nice to be listed on Amazon, but realistically, no stranger is gonna plop down $50 (with shipping) on a book that doesn’t even have any pictures.
After further research, it’s obvious that I needed to explore and utilize new avenues of on-line marketing. My next adventure is to establish a “Joke of the Day” blog, visit related sites in the Blogosphere and try to market my menagerie of mirth in that manner.
Quick recap: You brainstorm the book. You research it. You outline it. You write it. You rewrite it…. You edit it. You format it for publication. You self-publish it. You promote it. You market it. You sell it. And then, and only if it’s successful, do you have a shot at a major publishing house and any hope of national marketing support and distribution.
You know, I really hadn’t anticipated this much peripheral bullshit when I checked the little box next to Writer on Career Day at St. Vincent’s High School in 1971.
BEWARE THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAINS
With the advent of POD it’s a new world (we truly aren’t in Kansas anymore) and writers aren’t stymied by the dilemma of depending on a lucky break or paying thousands to self-publish.
A well written book, properly proofed, formatted and published using POD technology might well have all the grace and grandeur of the Emerald City. But a sloppily written, self-indulgent, error laced book—although in print with a shiny, shiny cover—will do nothing more than reveal the short, sad, impotent wizard behind the curtains.
While I am pleased and proud of my self-published encyclopedia of filth and scatology, I really don’t know if I’d self-publish fiction.
When I’m writing a novel I am absolutely the worst judge of its worth.
My joke books fill a niche market that publishers (I’ve been told time-and-again) refuse to believe exists, and the books, like Aesop’s tortoise will be successful slowly and eventually. But fiction and other genres are so tricky and subjective.
Don’t simply take your memoirs or poetry or novel or collected short stories and assume that they are viable books simply because they are book length. Never trust your own judgment: most newborns look like Peter Lorre but all mamas think their babies are beautiful, angelic little gifts from heaven.
So it is with our books.
More often than not, objectivity is numbed when reading our own stuff because, dammit, we’re human. Utilize critique groups. Re-re-re-read. When you think there are no typos, set it aside for a month and go back to it.
Then do it again.
I ordered proof copies of each of my Lulu joke books so I could read them ONE MORE TIME before I offered them to the public.
I’m glad I did.
The final proofing before publishing at Lulu is done on your computer screen which is difficult. While proofing an actual book you can hold, many glitches, oversights and boo-boos will suddenly appear. Ordering a proof copy gives you ONE MORE CHANCE to not make an ass of yourself. Readers are, rightly so, quite critical: don’t give them fuel with misspellings and shoddy grammar. Most readers are also non-writers and they think writing a book is as easy as scarfing down four bowls of Alpha Bits, sticking your finger down your throat, and typing out the regurgitated gift bestowed upon you by your Muse. They have no appreciation for the process and effort of writing. Respect your reader, order that proof copy and scour it for slip-ups. Make it perfect.
Lulu’s software, on the bright side, makes it easy to upload a corrected PDF file to an existing cover. It’s a pretty zippy arrangement, so use the built-in ease and flexibility to your advantage.
The main drawback, personally, in self-publishing is that it’s not writing. In the time I spent researching and implementing these publishing procedures I could have cranked out the first draft to another novel. But, the world is changing and it is wonderful that writers like us who must look up to see the bottom of the literary food chain can, with an investment of time and elbow grease, see our books in print. And as Gene Perret says, “Admit, though, that no one cares as much about your writing as you do. So, once again, it’s your career; you take charge of it.”
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the books printed by Lulu. On three books I used stock covers that Lulu offers, and for the remainder I used a simple, austere, classy (without a doubt the classiest thing about these filthy little volumes) single color covers. For more photographically and computer savvy folks Lulu offers the option of uploading a custom made one-piece cover with your own art work or photography. Again, amazingly, the process is free.
But the thing that surprised me the most about self-publishing was sales. I contacted oodles of people who were interested in my jokey-jokey projects and they lapped ‘em up, ordering direct from my on-line storefront. I’ve honestly made enough money in the past six months to retire tomorrow and live comfortably for the rest of my life.
Provided I die next Tuesday.
THE SELF-PUBLISHING HALL OF FAME
John Grisham, A Time to Kill was originally sold out of the trunk of his car.
William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style. This classic volume was self-published in 1918 for use at Cornell University.
Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn. Yes, Sam Clemens self-published the original edition of this great American novel.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass. Self-publishing for poets has had, through the years, fewer negative connotations.
Tom Peters, In Search of Excellence. He sold 25,000 self-published copies in a year; Warner jumped on it and sold 10 million more.
L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics. Originally self-published, it’s been in print 45 years and sold 20 million copies in 22 different languages.
Irma Rombauer, The Joy of Cooking. Self-published in 1931 and sold to Scribners after its initial success. Today, still sells 100,000 copies a year.
Richard Nelson, What Color is Your Parachute? Twenty-two editions, 288 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, 5 million copies sold.
Ken Blanchard, The One-Minute Manager. The self-published edition quickly sold 20,000 copies before being sold to William Morrow. It’s now in 25 languages and has sold 12 million copies.
BIO: Rob Loughran has sold 200+ articles and 40+ short stories to National Magazines. His novel HIGH STEAKS won the 2002 New Mystery Award and has recently been released as an unabridged audiobook by Books in Motion. He has 23 books (fiction and nonfiction) in print. His latest mystery novel, published by Bubba Caxton Books, Tantric Zoo: A Bud Warhol Mystery is available at: www.lulu.com/product/