Uncategorized

On websites and social media.

I believe we need to have a strong on-line presence in the form of, not a general blog, but a site dedicated to a product. But here are comments from some who disagree with me:

This question was posed on Scribophile:  

At what point does engaging in yet another platform actually sell any books?

Scribophile > “Depends what you use the platform for. DeviantArt has a lot of webcomic artists on there, and they gain a huge number of fans by posting serious artwork and drawings and funny mini-comics and the like for a few years first. They build up interest to the work before the work ever gets posted, so there’s already an audience waiting to suck up the actual story.”

(This is what I had in mind for my Wix site. But my conception got way too complicated, it got away from me. I am going to use a template-based WordPress site as my intro site, and continue to work on the Wix one.)

Scribophile > “I don’t think that your social media presence is really going to result in selling more books. I think it improves your chances for getting represented or published. I use Instagram to promote my art and writing. I participate in month-long writing and drawing challenges.

“Engaging on Facebook and Twitter drives some blog traffic for me. I have a books page on my blog, so people who have come to look at my article/interview or whatever link they clicked on can then see what I write. But it’s more a case of raising my profile out of obscurity than selling loads of books.

“Imagine selling your book is like having a storefront. You can wait for people to walk by, walk in and buy something. It happens. But what if you also participated in community events, fairs, and neighborhood parties? That’s what social media is. A means to get even a little bit more attention in an overcrowded marketplace.

“The key is to find the outlet where your readers/buyers are most likely to be hanging out and then give them a good reason to go to your store.”

Scribophile > Someone here somewhere agrees with me. He/she is strongly opposed to a marketing site being primarily a personal blog, but I can’t find that comment at the moment.

Yes, you can talk about a range of topics, but let them relate to your story. (Anyone who reads my footnotes in Sly will see that I am able to relate almost anything to my story.)

______________________________________________

So, there are two schools of thought here.

One > Display your general style and sensibility, seduce readers into trying your book.

Two > Subtlety be damned, the focus should be on the book, not your rambling thoughts.

There’s a third approach. One guy wants you to be his writing coach: “Based on my experience as a long time reader, never. It’s like some myth. I go to author’s blogs for writing tips, not to buy their books.”

Here’s my opinion:

> Engage on a variety of social sites, if you have the energy, to (try to) get attention.

> Have a website that features your product(s). Chat also, but don’t have that be the focus of your message. Soft sell by the grace of prose pulled from your novel(s). Be spontaneous in introductions/ sidebars/wrap-up comments.

> Here’s the advantage to this: Updates are easy. Change a paragraph, add a graphic. No pressure to freshen your page top to bottom. Your book is your book is your book.

The bad thing about that is, if a reader looks at your presentation and dismisses it, he will not return to find a second book, or a third. So be entertaining as hell in your supplemental material. Be surprising, be insightful, be outrageous. Give a browser reason to think you might eventually have something for him.

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

Monday, Monday.

It’s Monday, and nothing’s up. Problem solv-ed!

Here’s chapter one of The Rogue Decamps. 

ONE: A FINE KETTLE OF FISH.

The stair was steep, without a comfortable footing for a man with long dogs. There had once been a wooden railing hooked into the wall but, this egress largely forgotten, unmaintained, it had years back fallen away. It was lit by three slits of grille from above, but the lowered sun failed to illuminate the stairwell to any useful degree. Sly, with his better vision, had begged to precede, to coach the escape – broken step here, sir – but the old man had charged ahead.

Sly had followed his embattled superior down to a door providing easy access to serene formal gardens. They’d spent the best part of the afternoon in a close chamber with a panel of officials, until the embattled recipient of earnest counsels and irritated exhortations had leapt up exclaiming Umeak! Isilik oiloak pixa egin arte! (Children! Be quiet until the chickens pee!)1 He’d turned and bolted without any hint of intention to his stunned assistant. Sly had rushed after him, trailing the fugitive down a long corridor to a cul-de-sac harboring a hidden door. Before a search party reached them the two had vanished, leaving pursuers scratching their heads.

They’d negotiated the descent quietly, and slipped out into a jewel-like landscape, bursts of early blooms everywhere. The recently woken garden was normally a source of delight for both of them but they were too agitated to pay it heed. Sly knew well – too well – what to expect. Lately, any unpleasantness kicked up the same well-litigated dispute.

Batten the hatches, boy, he told himself. You’re in for a real blow this time. Keep your trap shut. Smile. Nod. Get through it.

“Lord On High,”2 he groaned. “Enough upset for one day. No more, please.” He tried a diversionary tactic, a string of acidic quips assessing the intellects of those they’d been sparring with. In response, he got a variety of mirthless snorts.

In his best nothing-fazes-me voice he exclaimed, “Sir! This is a bad business. We must ponder a response, certainly, but I’m not up to it just now. Let’s shrug off this sour mood and enjoy what’s left of a beautiful day. We’ll go at it tomorrow. What do you say?”

The old man tramped sullenly along the brickwork path. Behind a dense hedge the graybeard bent low, one hand cupped on one knee to steady himself nose to nose with his diminutive associate, the other clutching his cloak tight at his throat. His thin lips were contorted in a deep frown. “Look here,” he spat. “You would abandon me to those fat-heads? I refuse to believe it.”

Poorly braced, the hunched form tettered, but his underling did not back off. Although small of stature, nowhere near the other’s heft, he disdained to act on a very reasonable anticipation of personal injury. He was focused on making his point.

“Let me slip away,” he hissed. “It’s all my fault. Those fools are in revolt against me, not you. The most of them are good men. I am willing to assign them the least foul of motives; they are fearful. You and I have been too flagrant in our unnatural association. The sudden accord of ones normally at each others’ throats is the closest they dare come to a bald rebuke. Once I’m out of the picture they’ll revert to their fractious ways, for this proposal is, unquestionably, indecent.”

“Don’t leave me!” begged the anguished ancient. He lurched toward a stone bench, collapsed onto it, and buried his face in his hands. “Holy Mother,” he moaned, “steel my spine, as you did that of my distant relation, the Friar of Carcassonne.”3

Sly dipped his head in a halfhearted show of respect. “A fine kettle of fish,” he muttered. “The spark,” he growled, “emboldened by some exchange with your silly son, feels he has an ally there.”

“Impossible! Bittor despises him.”

“Be that as it may, the rascal sees his star rising. This stunt is a declaration of newfound sway. Why else would he tip his hand? Stealth would seem to be essential.

“Now, part of me says he was trying to get your goat. He loves to bait you, we know that. Take his threat seriously and he’ll be delighted. Confound him. Laugh it off. Look the other way.“

Part of you says! What does the rest of you say?”

“Please, don’t blow your top over an observation. It’s a damn ingenious idea. There’s big money to be made, if he can pull it off. We would do well to assume the worst. I’ll poke around, see what I can dig up.”

“I must talk to Bittor about it.”

“Do no such thing. It was a jest, that’s your stance. You have better things to worry about. Haven’t you longed to be rid of M. d’Ollot for years? Give the idiot his free rein. I’ll keep an eye on him and intervene as necessary. I have my own nasty ways and you know it.”

“Do I not!” moaned the grizzard.4

“I can’t predict the exact nature of my disruption but whatever happens, you need not fear retaliation, neither from rat-face nor from your lady-fair. No blame will be laid at your door. I’ll see to that.”

“No blame? What do I say to Saint Peter, standing sentry on the door to Joy Eternal, when the inevitable hour overtakes me?”

“Let’s not dig into that bucket of worms, please. I’ve had my fill of nonsense for one day.”

“Your fill? Of nonsense? That’s rich! You, with your ideas! That I always listen to respectfully, do you dare deny it?”

Sly did dare deny it, but he thought best to keep mum.

“By the way, thanks so much for your intervention earlier! What would I have done without it?”

Sly had sat side-by-side with Jakome, fixing each speaker in turn with a single wide accusatory eye. That and a sneering twist to the corner of his mouth had unsettled them quite spectacularly. His friend had not understood the reason for the frozen faces for a good while. He’d thought it due to a masterful counterpoint, and had congratulated himself on his lithe rebuttal.

“Belief shared by millions, nonsense? Simon Peter, nonsense?” The old man was turned red in the face. “I’ll tell you what the Cephas will say!” he screamed. “He’s not called Rock for nothing. Play dumb, you say, while d’Ollot is merry inciting a crime beyond contemplation. Peter will condemn me on the spot. You saw to your own interests? You looked the other way while faith was mocked? Worse, you failed to hinder the corruption of the innocents? Begone, scoundrel. No, my oh-so-clever friend. No! I will not tolerate the deviltry. Never!”

The wailed remonstrance brought attendants running. Sly lay low in a swath of greenery as his companion raged and shook a fist at the cloud-strewn expanse of blue, the perhaps observant, possibly occasionally responsive celestial space widely rumored to be the safe harbor, after the storm-tossed sea of life, commonly known as heaven. 5

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Attendants! Is the wobble an inmate of an asylum? You will think so when I tell you that he’s been talking to a cat. But Jakome is no ordinary sad-sack. He’s a king, I’m afraid, a not terribly effective one. He’s a gentle soul. He hasn’t a ruthless bone in his body. That’s not good when you’re king, not good at all.

Jak was not the monarch he’d been, and what he’d been had never been impressive. Always timid, he had become alarmingly withdrawn. His new habit was to brush long bangs into his eyes, using the heavy crown to hold the fringe in place, to conceal the panic that pinched his brow whenever he was forced to speak officially.6

The man feared to give his opinion on any matter of importance until the cat hopped onto his lap, whereupon the two would seem to confer. His adherents held that a beleaguered old wreck took comfort from the presence of a beloved pet and played at confiding in it. Others insisted it was a way to humiliate favor-seekers and annoy adversaries. A few attempted to call it circumspection. His enemies used the term dotty freely, but privately, among themselves.

If the conduct were a strategy, it demonstrated no unifying principle. It could not realistically be branded judicious temporizing, nor cunning dissimulation, nor, as much as one wished to believe it, an unremarkable royal fatuity. (Royal fatuity, in those days, encompassed some outrageous behavior.)

His advisors concurred that he was unfit to rule, but they propped him on the throne. The son would, by all indications, be far harder to manage.

Chapter Notes

  1. A Basque proverb, meaning shut up, and stay shut up. Chickens, birds in general, do not pee and poop separately. They plop, as we can readily see on our windshields.
  2. A figure of speech. Do not take it as a statement of belief.
  3. Bernard Délicieux, aka the Friar of Carcassonne, battled the corruption of the twelfth century church, in a region not far from my imaginary Haute-Navarre.
  4. He’s a grizzled old man with a long, scrawny neck, a bit buzzard-like. He’s a grizzard, for my money.
  5. Sly’s view, and a source of considerable contention between the two. He is a staunch humanist, in other words, an atheist. An adorable atheist, I promise.
  6. I have extracted phrases from here and there for decades, adding them to my word file. I never jotted attributions. (I never thought my story publishable.) I am cobbling credits as best I can. Using the heavy crown is one of my snatches, I couldn’t tell you where it’s from if my life depended on it.
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book promotion

A (possible) blurb. Plus additional wry remarks.

8c368efe3010f5330ba7fe5cadabd753.jpg
Not Sly. But I love those eyes.

Creating a good hook (a blurb) for a book is a tricky business.  

Short and punchy is the rule of thumb. Get as many eyes as possible to your first page. But, my book is not easily conveyed in a few phrases. I could call Rogue a grand gallivant (true as it can be) but that doesn’t capture the insanity.

What I can come up with here, now, on the fly? 

> Puss in Boots as you’ve never seen him. On the money, but trite, and useless, tells you nothing.

> A smarty-pants cat kicks butt in sixteenth century Europe. Closer in spirit, but still way short of the silly stew I’ve … ah … concocted, from numerous sources.

I’ve done a huge amount of historical research, from biographies to period pieces (Margaret Cavendish, called the first female scientist, liked to put her theories into verse. I’ve taken her impulse and run with it) to a marvelously enjoyable Ph.D thesis on a walled town in southern France not far from my first locale. (I borrowed details of the landscape, with permission of the author. I managed to track her down to the BBC.) Rogue is a merry mash-up filtered through my own off-balance point of view.

Rogue is my personal An Incomplete Education, a wonderful book that purports to give an overview of all the information we should have absorbed in college. Twenty years of poking around in history books has made me moderately well versed on the sixteenth century in matters large and small, able to regale you with, for instance, the curious circumstances surrounding the invention of the pencil. The new technology, initially a military secret, figures in my story in strange ways.

The Rogue Decamps is a bit challenging, quirky, and (horrors!) complex. It’s not Disney. Nor is it a rehash of the traditional tale. It’s arch this-and-that. I have some social commentary, but – relax – those remarks are decidedly screwball. It’s black humor in spots, snark more generally, sweet from time to time. My cat is a fully formed personality, with all the faults and foibles of the human kind. He drags a load of regrets around with him, and obsesses over them, delightfully. (IMO) He’s a bully, a con artist, a sweetheart and a snot. Like any cat, right? (I should know, I’ve lived my life – seventy years so far – in the company of cats.)

Writercoop-ers (writercoop.wordpress.com): Have I said anything useable here, or have I shot myself in the foot? I can’t do a bait and switch, cast a wide net with an uncomplicated blurb, lose readers soon thereafter. They have to have an inkling of what they’re in for.

My few followers on Facebook: If you like this . . . flavor, chances are you’ll find much in my opus (a three-book series) that will have you giggling your head off. Or, as the kids say, ROLF.

I’m nearly done with what I’ve vowed will be the final revision. Plot (conventional momentum) be dammed, I prefer to stop and smell the roses.

One last try at a bite-size blurb: 

________________________________________________

Sly! The Rogue Decamps. (Intro/novella to a series.)

A Smarty-Pants Cat Kicks Butt in Sixteenth Century Europe.

From a faux-visitation by the Virgin Mary (the goal, to lure religious tourism to a dirt-poor backwater realm) to a joint effort with Elizabeth’s Royal Astrologer to eradicate a nasty rodent infestation in a North German town, a whacky wiseacre offers astute but invariably self-serving advice to creeps, cranks, and kings.

Sylvester, aka Sly, is a poet . . . of interesting verse. A scholar . . . devising his own theory of gravity fifty years before Newton . . . folks, he’s Puss-in-Boots, reimagined from the boots up.

He’s the original animal rights activist. He’s got a whiff of Vonnegut about him, how can you resist that? He’s a good-hearted know-it-all, and I furnish him with a series of hapless sidekicks to bounce ideas off and to push around.

The guy’s a corker, full of piss and vinegar, cute as he can be. Aren’t you curious? Step into my ready-to-rollick Wayback Machine. We’re off on one hell of a jaunt.

________________________________________________

I plan to give the novella away as a promotion. This is one of my more sophisticated marketing schemes. Another is to hand out leaflets, dressed as a cat, in Times Square, maybe get myself arrested as a public nuisance, maybe land on the evening news. Or take videos to post on YouTube. A third ploy is to create bumper stickers, mail piles of them to everyone I know to, hopefully, pass out. If you see a bumper sticker, My Guy Sly – that will be the name of my future website – you’ll know I’m up and running.

Sly was taken. Screwball was gone. I pounced on My Guy Sly for a domain name. It is already in use, here, there, as a user name. On one site it belongs to a dodo who adores Sly Stallone. Didn’t move quickly enough there.

I’m way late to the party on a number of fronts. Hey, if I’d been on the ball twenty years ago, I could have bought Amazon. I am no financial visionary. I am no marketing genius. Tech, web tours and such, confounds me. I’m going to work it the old-fashioned way, on the hoof, channel P. T. Barnum, raise a ruckus, my marketing in sync with the anything-goes approach of the story. You take the high road, I’ll take the low road. I just may get to Scotland afore ye.

Next time, kids, I’ll talk about my idea for a Sly-mobile. Now, my husband may not go for our new car plastered bumper to bumper with decals. I believe I’ll wait a while, a good while, to spring that on him.

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reading, Uncategorized

The one-two-three-dollar library sales, heaven on earth!

images.jpgEvery year my husband and I have the same discussion. Do we really need more books? The house is full of books. Books that, mostly, haven’t been read. That we mean to read. Or, rather, to get to. We’re reading all the time.

We bought them because they looked interesting. We sure didn’t buy them to decorate our space. (Some idiot, years ago, suggested to a friend of mine that this is a big reason for buying books!) They’re, mostly, tattered, covers long gone, spines often unreadable.

Books are a drug. Is the urge to acquire a disease or a character flaw? Why, no bookshelf footage left, books piled on tables, under tables, in corners, why do we return to the well? Here’s why: I might find something extraordinary. Period color. A bit of history that I’ve seen nowhere else. A stunning style.

The sales are exciting. It’s a treasure hunt. We pay the five-dollar first-day fee. I head left, to the fiction. I gravitate to ‘literature’, the amount of which, sadly, is less every year. The holders of troves of long out of print, odd and obscure are passing. Here’s my tip: do not ignore the books with crumbling, illegible spines. They are often little known authors telling out-of-style tales in prose that will turn you green with envy. Those moldie-oldies could write.

Another plus of the dollar buys: I highlight to my heart’s content, with no qualms about ruining something. I draw stars and arrows, even circle passages. I can flip through that book on Oliver Goldsmith and find what I need fairly easily. I don’t have to laboriously transcribe into a word doc. I mark useful info up but good, facts, dates, quotes, description. For data, I look to biographies. For artful description, to vintage fiction. Charles Reade is a favorite. Never heard of him? I’m not surprised.

From Wikipedia: Reade fell out of fashion by the turn of the century—”it is unusual to meet anyone who has voluntarily read him,” wrote George Orwell—but during the 19th century Reade was one of England’s most popular novelists. He was not highly regarded by critics. The following assessment is typical:

“Mr. Reade is unsurpassed in the second class of English novelists, but he does not belong to the front rank. His success has been great in its way, but it is for an age and not for time.”

Orwell summed up Reade’s attraction as “the charm of useless knowledge.” Reade possessed vast stocks of disconnected information which a lively narrative gift allowed him to cram into his novels. Can anyone who has read my work come away wondering why I am so enamored of him?

At those sales you find nearly anything you want except for the very latest best-sellers. Wait a year, you’ll find them by the dozens. Therefore, I see no compelling reason to buy anything but e-books. The exception for me is period research, when I’ve been sufficiently beguiled by a mention of a particular work. I have purchased a pricy work on Early Modern French Theater for a specific tidbit of information that I couldn’t find on the web. But, you never know what else you’ll stumble on. Also, I have that huge, eighteenth century work on Astrology. Dense, and then some. I’ll pull what I can out of it, then mangle the hell out of it. For Sly, of course.

I tell my stories again and again, have you heard this one? If so, I apologize for being tiresome. In a circa-fifties interview in Evergreen Review, Dorothy Parker said, “I am the only person you’ll meet who has read all of Charles Reade.” She had to have loved him for his style. His plots are atrocious Victorian treacle. I salivate over his way with words, and his impulse to cross every t and dot every i. The man is fun, damn it!

I share a curious literary enthusiasm with . . . whoa! Dorothy Parker! I call that a feather in my cap.

What will I be looking for tomorrow? Like I said, it’s a treasure hunt. All I know for sure is, anything by Charles Reade.

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Book sale wrap-up:

I bought a dozen works of fiction, by Anthony Trollope, Rudyard Kipling, Samuel Johnson, George Meredith, and lesser lights. I found no Charles Reade, not even his most famous work, the one I’ve owned for twenty years, the only one I’ve ever seen for sale: The Cloister and The Hearth.

More importantly, I snagged a dozen compilations of essays and letters, explaining and commenting on life, mostly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Whatever I found of delightful pontificating, I grabbed for you-know-who. The cashier made a bit of a to-do over an unpriced three-book set of essays. She couldn’t let them go for the two dollars a pop that most of the others cost. These might be valuable, said she, I have to check with a higher-up. I told my husband as we awaited her return: Yeah, like anybody but me wants a set of ‘Select British Essayists’ (copyright 1878). They ought to give it to me just to be rid of it.

At these events I browse, looking for a flavor to the prose that puts a smile on my face, a personality that promises to mesh with, and enrich, my own entrenched (but elastic, I can work in almost anything) style, and for pronouncements that will stuff comfortably into the mouth of a know-it-all cat. Here’s a sample of what caught my eye today:

Homilies and Recreations (copyright 1906)

Representative Men by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Characters of Theophrastus (newly translated and edited, 1927)

Wanderings and Excursions by J. Ramsey MacDonald, 1925

C’mon, where ya gonna find this kind of stuff nowadays, but for the library sales? Something in this vein of recent origin, well, the voice of today is not the sensibility of yesteryear. I revel in a nice bit of vintage pomposity, generally, more preachy than what goes now, and I try to echo it in my screwball epic starring a full-of-himself, scholarly-inclined feline.

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publishing

POD?

There is a discussion on Scribophile about Print On Demand, specifically, can you make money with it? Here are some of the comments:

> One entry says:

I formatted and uploaded my book to Amazon paperback format today. I went to price the book.  Amazon informed me that the print cost as about $7 bucks.  I chose 60% royalties.  And the lowest Amazon would let me price is $13.  And at the $13 price point, I make exactly $0 dollars.

Ok, I figured that the missing $6 would go to shipping. I went to order a few copies for myself, and Amazon is charging shipping on top of the base price. Also, I have heard something about “author copies” that cost less.  (Is this a real thing?)

> Re: CreateSpace.

It’s really ridiculous how much they charge for POD. At first it seems very reasonable – they get 40% and the author gets 60% BUT added to their 40% is a “flat charge” of $.85 on books 180+ pages and a per page charge of $.012 per page for 180+ pages. After all is said and done the author only get less than 15% – after US taxes it’s less than 10% – UGH. All of this was based on a price point of US $8.99.

Also I believe the author copies are $4 and change – but I’m sure that people that are more “in the know” can answer better.

> I don’t actually . . .

self pub through Amazon. I use Lulu.com, once you approve your book then they link it to Amazon and couple of bookstores. If you order your copies and sell yourself you can make quite a lot of money.

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Does anyone here do POD? It occurs to me that to set up at a sidewalk/school arts/craft fair with copies of your book would at least have your thing seen by a lot of people. Best would be to get yourself written up in your local paper and blow it up into a poster.

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> Here are some words of wisdom from Jay, formerly of Book Country:

As someone who has a work available in POD you will be in that great fraternity of the self-published. No one on planet Earth will be aware that you have a book available for sale, other than because you sent them to that Internet sales page. Does my telling you that I have one of my novels available free on Smashwords motivate you to rush over there to read it? Probably not, and that’s free.

Would it make you rush were I to tell you it’s really good (just as every self published novel’s blurb does)? Again, probably not.

How about if I tell you that you can buy a printed copy for twelve dollars, plus shipping? Not much of a plus, when you can buy an award winning author for a lot less in your local bookstore, and pay no shipping fee.

I don’t mean to be discouraging, but my view is that if we can write well enough to be worth the money—professional level writing—we can sell our work to a publisher. And if not…

Well, I disagree with that. Trad publishers are looking for work that is commercial, highly salable, according to their idea of that elusive quality. That method bypasses a lot of good stuff.

> And, a rebuttal: 

That’s a pretty gloomy outlook and incorrect IMHO. I have a friend who has written a series of 6 novellas, no more than 30 minute reads each that sell for $1.99 for digital copies and $9.99 for print, she’s making a cool $60k/yr. Self Published and POD. It just takes a little work. If you’re a midgrade author with a “normal” publisher you’re not going to do any better than that and still have to do 90% of your own advertising and promotions.

Several people on Scrib say that small publishers use POD, CreateSpace, whoever. Is this true? Atthys, you should know the answer to this. I have imagined that POD must have a giveaway lesser quality of materials. But if a legitimate small publisher uses it, that can’t be true.

> Finally, another rebuttal . . .

to the first rebuttal to Jay’s gloomy words: Jay’s post is the cold, hard truth. Sad but true and what aspiring writers need to know.

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I want to know if POD is a waste of time or not. Who’s dipped a toe into this fountain? Somebody thinks it useful. I begin to see POD jobs move through our compositor process at work. All but first-run titles are followed by a description, pbk (paperback), rerun, enlargement, create final file (for fully illustrated books set up by the publisher’s designer, tricky text wraps and the like), etc. I see, not often, but more and more: POD.

I suppose these jobs must be from small publishers. Next time I get hold of one, I am going to look at the info to see who the client is. Here’s an interesting thought: can it be that even large publishers are going this route, small runs, to manage inventory and returns?

Why do we label them POD? Is there some technical difference between the set up of  a traditional print run and POD? Are costs trimmed/shortcuts taken in one way or another? Are hawking-their-wares authors the main market for POD? Is this the new generation of vanity press? It seems to me more valuable as a sales tool than anything else. I’m going to pay more attention to our POD jobs, try to figure this out.

_____________________________________________

> A final Scrib post sums it up for us:

Q: How is a writer supposed to make any money?

A: Day job.

 

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About Writers, writing technique

First Paragraphs/ Damn Those Torpedoes.

51nNw+HN4VL.jpg“It isn’t the most striking beginning to a novel. It won’t ever be anthologised alongside Orwell’s clocks striking 13, or Anthony Burgess’ catamite and archbishop. But the fact that it is unshowy doesn’t mean it isn’t impressive writing. That assured understatement is a sign of an author in control. And an author who is going to mess you around in most delightful and unsettling ways.

The Bottle Factory Outing more than delivers on that initial promise. Its sentences remain so masterfully restrained that you barely notice the barb until you’ve taken a few steps on – and find yourself hooked back.”

– Sam Jordison (I think. Hard to pin it down.)

Sam (or whoever) also said: “Tell me again why she hasn’t won the Booker . . .” Well, she has won it, finally.

“The tobacco overtook her, when they gave her the Booker she was dead in her grave.”

Mark Knopfler, from his song Beryl. Which is where I first heard the name, and said to myself, who is this person? I have to check her out.

_______________________________________

The advice these days for an opening paragraph is along the lines of: jump straight into an active scene, personality, conflict, dialogue, drama.

The Art and Craft of Fiction, A Writer’s Guide, gives us an encouraging step-by-step.

Inform and convince / Spark curiosity / Set the stakes

This is in reference to a first chapter. It’s a tall order for a first paragraph, in which you need to choose a direction. I appreciate, in recreational reading, lush scene setting. (In Sly, I save that for chapter two, having heeded (or tried to heed) that go-active advice.

I prefer old style foundational description, including, yes, including the amazing opener to The Princess Casamassima by Henry James, which will leave many a today reader behind fast. This quirky ramble says to me, this story will poke its nose into every corner of life on the flimsiest of excuses and will deal with every stray matter to an extreme degree. And so, though this scene is not grab-me-by-the-throat, I foresee great fun ahead. I have lessons here in punctuation, and in language (a fluttered wish, love it) and I find permission to ramble in my own thing. For me, it’s an all-round good time. Here we go:

“Oh yes, I daresay I can find the child, if you would like to see him,” Miss Punsent said; she had a fluttered wish to assent to every suggestion made by her visitor, whom she regarded as a high and rather terrible personage. To look for the little boy she came out of her small parlour, which she had been ashamed to exhibit is so untidy a state, with paper “patterns” lying about on the furniture and snippings of stuff scattered over the carpet – she came out of this somewhat stuffy sanctuary, dedicated at once to social intercourse and to the ingenious art to which her life had been devoted, and, opening the house-door, turned her eyes up and down the little street. It would presently be tea-time, and she knew that at that solemn hour Hyacinth narrowed the circle of his wanderings. She was anxious and impatient and in a fever of excitement and complacency, and not wanting to keep Mrs. Bowerbank waiting, though she sat there, heavily and consideringly, as if she meant to stay; and wondering not a little whether the object of her quest would have a dirty face. Mr. Bowerbank had intimated so definitely that she thought it remarkable on Miss Pynsent’s part to have taken care of him gratuitously for so many years, that the humble dressmaker, whose imagination took flights about every one but herself and who had never been conscious of an exemplary benevolence, suddenly aspired to appear, throughout, as devoted to the child as she had truck her large, grave guest as being, and felt how much she should like him to come in fresh and frank and looking as pretty as he sometimes did.

This is less than half of the paragraph. (!) I see, thumbing through the book, that James is given to very long paragraphs. I like long paragraphs. You can say interesting things, in interesting ways, in long paragraphs. (Not so terribly catchy here, but that’s the theology I live by.) Henry James is my kind of guy.

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First person is by definition more immediate. I see first person as a leg up in any story. Richard Henry Dana, in Two Years Before the Mast, covers all bases, story to style, in an economical, thoroughly enjoyable manner:

The fourteenth of August was the day fixed upon for the sailing of the brig Pilgrim, on her voyage from Boston, round Cape Horn, to the western coast of North America. As she was to get underway early in the afternoon, I made my appearance on board at twelve o’clock, in full sea-rig, with my shest containing an outfit for a two or three years’ voyage, which I had undertaken from a determination to cure, if possible, by an entire change of life, and by a long absence from books, with plenty of hard work, plain food, and open air, a weakness in the eyes, which had obliged me to give up my studies, and which no medical aid seemed likely to remedy.

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Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing, also gives us an overview, in an easier, more contemporary vein, also with lovely flow:

When they came south out of Grant County Boyd was not much more than a baby and the newly formed county they’d named Hidalgo was itself little older than the child. In the country they’d quit lay the bones of a sister and the bones of his maternal grandmother. The new country was rich and wild. You could ride clear to Mexico and not strike a crossfence. He’d carried Boyd before him in the bow of the saddle and named to him features of the landscape and birds and animals in both Spanish and English. In the new house they slept in the room off the kitchen and he would lie awake at night and listen to his brother’s breathing in the dark and he would whisper half aloud to him as he slept his plans for them and the life they would have.

Again, the reputation drives my interest, but there is enough style here to tempt me and I already understand a good bit about who this fellow is.

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Let’s sample A Confederacy of Dunces:

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grow in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black mustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one’s soul.

Whoa! Glorious, humorous complexity, a real delight. We’re in for a rollicking good time. I’m in on this one, wholeheartedly. (Until I’m not, of course. It’s only one paragraph. And it may become too much of a good thing.) But, maybe not. It won something big. Was it the Pulitzer?

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What do all these examples have in Common? A touch of the poetic, some of it over-the-rainbow, some of it try-our-patience, some of it common-man.

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Maltese Falcon? Broad, but lovely, setting a definite tone:

Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down-from high flat temples-in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a bond satan.

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This is interesting. Beryl Bainbridge, from The Bottle Factory Outing:

The hearse stood outside the block of flats, waiting for the old lady. Freda was crying. There were some children and a dog running in and out of the line of bare black trees planted in the pavement.

“I don’t know why you’re crying, said Brenda. “You didn’t know her.”

This is very Beryl. The story comes at you on little cat feet. We don’t learn much here except that we are probably in a shabby, transient  neighborhood in which neighbors don’t know each other. And it’s told plain-Jane, no verbal hijinks.

I said to myself, this stuff won her the Booker Prize? But loopy detail upon loopy detail finally reached a critical mass. Half way in I surrendered to her charm. From her reputation, I was looking to be knocked off my feet. Something flashy. Beryl is not flashy. Don’t look for it, you won’t find it.

One reviewer wrote: “Beryl Bainbridge manages plots of escalating comedy and grotesqueness with consummate skill. She is brilliant at scattering humour over seemingly gruesome terrain”. Key word here, escalating. Absolutely!

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Then (sigh) there’s Danielle Steele, The Sins of the Mother:

Olivia Grayson sat in the chairman’s seat at the board meeting, listening intently to the presentations, her intense blue eyes taking in each member of the board. Her eyes were quick and sharp. She was totally still, wearing a well-cut navy blue pantsuit, and a string of pearls around her neck. Her hair was a sleek bob, cut to the level of her jawbone just below the ear. It was the same snow-white color it had been since her early thirties. She was one of those striking women you would notice in any room. She was timeless, ageless, with high cheekbones and an angular face, and elegant hands as she held a pen poised above her notepad. She always took notes at the meetings, and had a flawless memory of what went on, in what order, and everything that was said. Her keen mind and sharp business sense had won her the reputation for being brilliant, but more than anything she was practical and had an innate, unfailing sense of what was right for her company. She had turned the profitable hardware store her mother had inherited years before into a model for international operations on a mammoth scale.

This is as unappealing a passage as I have ever read. This woman is a million-plus best seller? This is pap. It tells us nothing that makes us interested in this creature, the characterization is stale (and tasteless) as day-old French bread, and it repeats ideas. I might be wrong but, isn’t an international operation by definition on a mammoth scale?

A woman chairman. Of when? Let me check. Copyright 2012. Amazing. The approach feels so Jacqueline Susann/retro. Not that I’ve read any Jacqueline Susann. That’s my no-evidence-to-back-it-up half-assed pronouncement. Somebody clue me in.

I don’t give a damn about timeless/ageless/pearls/pantsuits. Any one of us could draw a thumbnail sketch in a far tastier fashion. For me, this is off to a very bad start. I doubtless bought this thing for research, to see how the other half writes. Probably paid fifty cents at a library sale. Into the trash with it.

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This is like eating potato chips. I can’t stop.

Summertime, and the living is sleazy: Tobacco Road. I love this book. I’m looking for it, can’t find it. I’ll add it in later.

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. “The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist . . .” This first line grabs me because it sounds very Amanda McKittrick Ros. (He’s not at all A-McK-R, of course, but the thought tickles me nonetheless.)

From an excerpt (which is all I have of it) of her Irene Iddesleigh:

“The month preceding Irene’s wedding was one of merriment at Dilworth Castle, Lord and Lady Dilworth extending the social hand of fashionable folly on four different occasions. They seemed drunk with delight that Irene, whom they looked upon as their own daughter, should carry off the palm of purity, whilst affluence, position, and title were for years waiting with restless pride to triumph at its grasp.”

This bit is great fun, but a whole book of it wears you down fast. What keeps you reading? To discover a gem, like southern necessary, her term for a pair of pants. Priceless! This is why she’s still read (by looney-tunes like me) a century later.

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What does all this tell us? Not a lot, but I had fun writing it.

My conclusion: After a level of competence has been reached, we must please ourselves. Dig deep, find your authentic voice, and tell a story that you would enjoy reading. Don’t second-guess the market, that’s a fool’s errand.

I think the job of a first paragraph is to establish a personality. It’s the personality that pulls me in. Not the plot. Never the plot. (Beryl Bainbridge being the exception, with her you get no plot, and no personality. You persist on a wing and a prayer until her brilliance begins to sink in.) OK, Mark Knopfler has given her a powerful recommendation. Anyone Marks likes, I give extra time for the audition. He knows a thing or two about words.

What’s my point here?

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. I’ll meet you at the bottom of the cold, cruel sea that is Amazon. Yo-ho, kids. Bring plenty of rum. My gut tells me we’re gonna need it.

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book promotion, writing technique

Add clutter. Vamp a while. Thanks, Atthys.

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John Dee, Elizabeth’s Royal Astrologer, said by some scholars of the period to have been one of Francis Walsingham’s undercover operatives. (He is, in my book.) See that globe there? On my website (still in progress) I am going to replace it with a period engraving of a cat’s head. A very special relationship has a confirmation in the historical record!

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Well explored territory here, but my Sly-addled brain isn’t kicking in right now.

I’m hammering away at a very difficult chapter. I’m trying to organize it into a logical progression of conversation, A leading to B leading to C, making sense of a stack of sticky notes, my low-tech method of story-building.

So, how goes it with your work? We haven’t talked about that for a while, have we? What have you written new? What are you pleased with? What are you bummed about?

I am optimistic about my latest nonsense, but also saying to myself, Crap, girl! You’re digging another hole for yourself. I see a place to insert some astrology, way prior to the point at which I thought I’d need to start reading my huge, historical (first published in the eighteenth century, I believe) definitive work. I’ve flipped through that monster, it’s dense, it’s a bit like reading Chaucer, trying to figure out what’s being said. But all I need for now is a good line or two that I can run with.

Also: after my husband’s stroke, our budget must reconfigure. I had planned to buy a full line edit of Sly. I’m having second thoughts on that now. Here’s what I’m going to do:

I work at a place lousy with editors. I’m going to post a help wanted sign in the break room, find someone to give me a line edit, piecemeal, of areas I am concerned about. I already spent nine hundred dollars on a developmental edit. At this point, all I can bring myself to pay for is general guidance that I can absorb and carry on with myself.

I look forward to Kris’ post on promotion. My big strategy is still the bumper stickers, and related stick-em-up materials. My sister in Tallahassee volunteers at a community theater, she can put up a poster there. A guy from my group house in Boston still lives up there. Maybe I can get him to roam the subway system, plastering stickers around. I have a brother with connections, he’s a well known figure in Asheville NC. I myself will tackle NYC, I’m an hour north.

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A grinning cat head has to get a lot of attention. (This isn’t Sly. This is R. Crumb)

Whether anyone reads after the first page, que será, será.

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