Monday, May 14, 2012

Russian Writers Flex Their Muscles

You might believe in the power of the written word as I do, but in Russia that power compels people to do things they might not otherwise have dreamed possible.

This past weekend, in protest of what they consider to be a government running amok, 12 Russian authors walked from one Moscow city park to another. It wasn't a march, they had no permits for a march. It was just a casual walk to see whether it could be accomplished without them being molested by police.

It was unannounced, unplanned, unorganized. Yet still, 10,000 people joined them on their stroll through Moscow as if together they were of one mind, one heart; one singular purpose which was to express their displeasure in the grandest, most peaceful way.

As it happened no police stopped them or accosted them or questioned them, though the group snarled traffic and nearly brought the city to a stand still. No military intervention was required to calm the crowd, because they were as calm as people out for a leisurely stroll could possibly be.

Yet they were purposeful. They demanded the attention of their government and they received it. They made their Will known not only to the people they passed but all the way to the office of President Vladimir Putin.

Russian writers, under the rule of Stalin and the Soviet Empire, were subjected to some of the harshest treatment imaginable. They were threatened, their families threatened; imprisoned for years on end with no hope for parole; forgotten and pushed to the brink of extinction. Yet still they endure. Nay--they thrive.

The walk began at the statue of writer Aleksandr Pushkin and ended across town at a statue of playwright Aleksandr Griboyedov. Although the government allowed the walk to happen undisturbed a new bill in the Russian Parliament would impose fines of about $50,000 and 740 hours of compulsory labor on public protesters who did so without a permit.

Do not be confused. This was not a battle to win the hearts and minds of the Russian people. They are already firmly focused on their chosen leaders, and I don't mean Putin or his buddies at the Kremlin. I am referring to the writers. They have captured the attention of the people. They made them think and act in ways which they have not, until now. Until they walked. They didn't throw rocks or bottles. They were not incited to violence. They did not threaten the government.

They walked. And with that walk they made their point crystal clear.

No doubt there's a story in here somewhere.....

Friday, May 11, 2012

Harry Potter For 'Rent'

In what Amazon is surely counting as a major win on its behalf, J.K. Rowling's uber-popular 'Harry Potter' series is now available in the Kindle library as part of their Amazon Prime service. That means subscribers can borrow the books, one at a time, for an annual subscription rate.

If you want to buy the digital version of Rowling's books, however, you will need to visit her web site, Pottermore.

The fact that Amazon managed to secure the rights to make Rowling's books available for some readers is fairly astonishing, especially given the tight controls Rowling has placed on them so far. Although she is now worth an estimated $1 billion Rowling has expressed a serious desire to keep the 'Potter' books as secure as possible, thereby securing as much of the profits as she possibly can.

Nothing wrong with that. They are her works and she can do as she pleases with them.

I am more interested in this lending program at Amazon. It seems to me, given that I just wrote about libraries buying eBooks in order to then lend them to customers, that Amazon is in essence becoming the world's largest library. Sure there is an annual fee subscribers must pay, but every citizen who owns property pays for the use of public libraries via their taxes, whether they use the library or not.

Does this mean private libraries might some day replace the public libraries many of us have come to love and adore? Not likely. Amazon is hardly able to provide the wealth of different services currently available at the local library, not including the personnel who work there and act as repositories of a wealth of information.

It is worth noting however, that as future generations become more used to the availability of digitized information they may find themselves less inclined to leave their home to get what they need. Research, reference material; video, audio and now eBooks are all being made available on a more or less "free" basis via the Internet. This is doubtlessly going to have at least some impact on library attendance and use. Of course, librarians are nothing if not creative and I could easily imagine a day when they focus more on the "real" and less on the digital as a way of being a unique commodity.

What does this mean for writers? Not much. I've just had libraries on the brain lately.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Libraries Experiment With Buying eBooks

Libraries have been faced with a dilemma. On the one hand their patrons have been begging them to stock more eBooks and on the other hand publishers, who make those eBooks available to libraries, have been raising their fees for said eBooks, sometimes as high as 300 percent.

This is quite a quandary for a public institution faced with declining public funds.

They have tried reasoning with eBook publishers to no avail, now they are getting creative. Douglas County Libraries, in Colorado, has started buying eBooks then offering them to patrons via their own online platform, which includes a link for them to purchase the eBooks.

Douglas County Libraries started the new program in February and already major eBook publishers have started expressing an interest in joining the new program. At the same time other public libraries have been studying the system at Douglas County to replicate it for their own patrons.

This makes perfect sense to me and it solves a dire problem faced by libraries trying to keep up with the changes taking place in the publishing world.

Libraries are already become digital wonderlands, with computer terminals replacing card catalog filing cabinets everywhere; more access to digital media of all sorts including music, video and software. They are less about books today than they are about technology.

I have to be honest and admit I have been worrying about the future of libraries in the face of digital publishing. The recent move by publishers to increase the cost of eBooks was deliberate and unavoidable. The cost to produce eBooks is low but the challenges of getting a book produced and sold have not been diminished, meaning their costs still need to be recouped. This has led them to put the squeeze on libraries, a store house of "lending" which gradually eats into their profits (or so they say.)

This latest move by libraries to find a work-around that allows them to continue lending popular eBooks without having to ask the communities they serve for more money is genius. I hope it solves the problem so everyone gets what they want.

Of course, how often does that happen?


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Paradise Publishers Inc. Responds

In case you missed it, my post yesterday (Will Write For Ad Revenue) was about the new site I came across called Free-eBooks.net. It offers an interesting revenue model wherein authors offer their books there as a free download to readers in exchange for a share of the advertising revenue from their page.

I thought the idea was kind of cool and expressed an interest in trying it myself.

Anyway, today I receive a comment from Martin Wales the president of Paradise Publishers Inc.who run the site. For some wonky reason the comment isn't appearing on the blog and I really feel it should be shared with you because it has some thoughts/ideas about publishing in general which are worth discussing.

So, here it is in its entirety:

Hello,

Enjoyed your post and hoped to comment further to this great conversation you've started.

At Paradise Publishers and Free-eBooks.net, our mission as "The People's Publisher" is to
help anybody publish a book and share their message. This is a system that arguably
allows for everything from the best to the worst content. Where a writer's material falls
on this scale is up to each individual reader.

Free-eBooks.net, is not expecting authors to live off the nominal amounts that could come
from any share of advertising revenue. It's merely a small way to thank, respect and show
gratitude to those who contribute their works and share their passion.

Books, in and of themselves, are generally not profitable enterprises. Neither for
traditional publishing nor for self-publishing. So what's the purpose or value of writing
or publishing?

Books have stories for our inspiration, entertainment or an escape from reality to fantasy.

Books hold a better life for our education, wisdom, inspiration and shared experiences.

Books are about an experience, learning and a record of what was.

Any rational and honest evaluation of authors getting rich from writing books will find
you're unlikely to beat the odds. People CAN become wealthy from speaking, consulting,
offering related services and products, e.g. coaching or DVDs, becoming a 'celebrity'
spokesperson, or selling movie rights.

Authors rarely write as a full-time career, as only about 5% make a "living" at it. It's
a passion, an art and some say a calling. Whatever it may or not be, it's a personal choice
often driven by those who want to contribute to a better situation for our world.

There are more paintings painted then will ever be sold, for similar reasons to authoring
a book. There are movies that cost $150 million to make and bomb in the court of public opinion.
There are television shows, buildings, cars, furniture, and clothing that are exceptional bad
or good. Yet there's billions of dollars in transactions made around their production and
distribution. Have you noticed that TV networks are posting some of their content online for free,
once they've been broadcast?

The model of "free content" for your attention has existed for centuries. The model's infrastructure is based on building an audience that advertisers value and, therefore, pay to reach. Reality TV shows
are a glaring example of the possibility of multi-million dollar jackpots riding of the backs
of amateur performances and voyeuristic semi-documentaries. The daily newspaper is exhibit B.

Money is made from the fees for "distribution" and promotion. The cable television industry is
about distribution, as is the natural gas and petroleum industry. The actual unit value of the product in each industry is actually negligible.

Further, self-published authors often never sell more than 100 books in their lifetime. The bigger, dirty secret is that out of the 500,000 new books produced every year in the traditional publishing industry, only about 2 or 3% are big, cash cows. Frankly, there's a near-inexplicable, egotistic mania of having a hardcover tome "published" that helps this industry meagerly persist.

A book can be therapy, a catalyst for discussion, a credibility strategy, a marketing tactic,
or a teaching tool. Whatever a book might be, for authors there's more than words and a book.
It's the process of writing, a crusade, the sharing, or perhaps just a figurative, carving in
a tree saying "I was here."

How do you make money from free thought? For whatever reasoning, judgments or arguments you
hold or wish to present, here at Paradise Publishers and Free-eBooks.net, we remain "The People's Publisher."

Sincerely,

Martin Wales
President, Paradise Publishers Inc.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Will Write For Ad Revenue

Saw something interesting today and thought I would share it. (Actually, I see interesting things every day, but I'm selective about what I share.)

Anyway, it's a new web site called Free-eBooks.net and it is offering a unique revenue sharing model for eBook authors called the Author AdCash Program. Basically, you list your book at their site as a free download and they share their advertising revenue with you.

The site claims to have more than 1 million subscribers who download about 12,000 eBooks every day from one of 50 different categories. Here's a snippet from the press release:

“We’ve partnered with Google’s Adsense to allow our authors to collect 100% of the advertising revenue earned from ads on web pages displaying their ebook,” explained Martin Wales, President of Paradise Publishers. He’s excited about the prospect of being able to offer a way to subsidize the careers of both aspiring and veteran writers. “This means Free-eBooks’ authors can actually collect money whether or not their book is even downloaded. Just for listing their ebook in our library they benefit financially.”

Is this the right model for you? Maybe, maybe not. Surely it is advantageous for some writers, especially those who are just starting out and want to build a following. Is it the right model for every writer? Probably not, especially those writers who are already making a lucrative living from selling their eBooks on Amazon, iTunes or Barnes & Noble.

However, it is an interesting revenue device. It's different, which is what attracts me. I like different. I like it when someone comes along with a disruptive technology or idea and puts it into play. How will this impact existing publishers? Who knows. It is too early to tell. Maybe they won't even recognize it. Maybe it will fail miserably. But it's an idea and it offers a completely different way for writers to make money.

It is much easier to hawk a "free" book than a paid book, after all, so I think from a promotional perspective that's a big selling point. However, as anyone who has ever used Ad Words before will tell you, it simply is not the cash cow Google likes to pretend it is. If you have thousands of visitors every day you'll do ok, but if you don't it is an agonizingly painful way of trying to make a living. It's like collecting loose change under the sofa cushions. You might eventually find enough to pay the rent, but it's going to take you a while.

I think I will try their site. I have a few story ideas bouncing around in my head. It wouldn't take me long to turn one of these into an eBook that I would be willing to give away. And why not? I have nothing to lose, and possibly, a great deal to gain.

If you have tried it or are trying it, I would love to hear how it worked out for you. The more we share with each other the more successful we can all be.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Speaking Out Against Publishing Rip-Offs

I read a great post from Swedish archaeologist, Dr. Martin Rundkvist, in which talks about the latest "crappy publishing deal" he has been offered and exactly why he turned it down.

I applaud Rundkvist for turning down the deal, and for blogging about it and his reasons for turning it down. I just wish he would have named names so we could all let this publishing company know just how we feel about the fact they clearly do not value the skill required to produce quality writing.

Of course for Rundkvist, or any writer, burning a publisher like that would be the kiss of death when it came to scoring any future offers, so I understand his reticence to do so. I myself have been in similar circumstances where I want to burn someone for their ridiculous offer but instead take the high road and simply grumble about it someplace where I hope it will go unnoticed.

But, what a shame all that silence is. What a shame that we can't let the world know that the article they are reading which has produced hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars in revenue, cost the publisher a pittance. That while we toil away for a penny or two per word (if that much) publishers practically rape the end consumer. Maybe if we started naming names; started letting people know just how worthless publishers make our written words, they in turn would demand lower prices. After all, if we, the producers of content, cannot make a living from the work we do, why should anyone else profit at our expense?

The world of publishing is a complicated place. The introduction of print-on-demand and eBooks has only made the industry more complicated. Now writers face a plethora of publishing options, none of which is any sort of guarantee of equitable recompense (although we often have ourselves to blame for that one).

Still, one would be forgiven for thinking it was possible today to earn a living as a writer, given a talent for producing quality prose, articles or whatever. Yet even skilled writers encounter the same obstacles, undervaluation of their work, as writers with limited skills or experience. It isn't about skill, after all, but simply the way our industry works.

There is a federal minimum wage assigned for performing an hours' worth of work in America, yet writers can be offered $5 for a 1000 word article which is likely to take two hours (or more) to produce. And often they are lucky to even get that.

The next time you get a crappy publishing offer, or any sort of crappy writing job offer, think carefully before you take it, no matter how hungry you might be. The sooner we begin standing up for ourselves and saying "go to hell" the sooner they might start getting the message and we can go back to surviving on our talent.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Beyonce's Writing Award Prompts Backlash

So, singer Beyonce wrote an article for Esquire Magazine about the nine months she spent staying home to have a baby. Now she is being given an award for her article by the New York Association of Black Journalists.

Interesting. I didn't know one feature article qualified you to be a journalist, but then again, I'm not Beyonce.

Another curiosity for me is whether or not Beyonce actually wrote her own article or had a ghostwriter do it for her as is often the case with celebrities. I wouldn't mind seeing her rough drafts, hand written notes or something to prove she actually wrote the article in the first place.

Of course the the New York Association of Black Journalists has defended its decision saying that since she was published Beyonce had as much right to win as anybody and that her article was worthy of the prize. Which is exactly what they would be expected to say in the face of mounting criticism by just about everyone who has heard the news.

In the meantime, while Beyonce collects her award and bats her eyes and talks about how humbled she is by the recognition, actual black journalists are struggling to report actual news both domestically and internationally; fighting against racial bigotry and social injustice. But that's ok, they are so busy writing actual news they probably won't even notice they've been snubbed in favor of someone with more name recognition.

Once again I am appalled at the lack of respect shown to an industry(writing) which is at the cornerstone of human civilization. By overlooking the contributions of reputable black journalists in favor of a feature story written by a celebrity, the New York Association of Black Journalists has shown it is no less culpable in the downfall of our industry than someone willing to pay $5 for a 1000 word article. In fact, more so because we would all expect them to show the most respect for the industry they allegedly represent.

I am sorely disheartened that an organization committed to honoring the best in black journalism was unable to recognize the harm they would cause by undermining their own institution with a supercilious action and not being willing to defend itself with a presentation of facts demonstrating that indeed, no other black journalist was worthy of the prize they just handed to Beyonce.

As far as I am concerned awards handed out by the New York Association of Black Journalists are no longer worth the paper they are written on. All their credibility is now gone, wasted on an obvious publicity stunt. I hope it was worth it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Write Right (And Thank Me Later)

I was a strange journalist. I made it my business to communicate with every division within our newspaper - circulation, marketing, editing, pagination, photography, press room - in an effort to see if there was anything I could do to make the newspaper better. These folks could also provide me with guidance; story leads and ideas; help me write stories which mattered to my community, because they were a part of my community.

(Most journalists focus solely on writing stories-and even then find it difficult to keep up the pace.)

It was during one of my first visits with the copy editors at a new paper I was working for that I asked a simple question: Is there anything I can do for you?

One of the copy editors, a woman who had worked at the paper for nearly 30 years, smiled at me and said, "Well, nobody has ever asked that before, but since you have, here." Then she handed me a copy of "Warriner's English Grammar And Composition. Second Edition."

Now, I hadn't written a single story for this newspaper yet, so she wasn't telling me something about my writing. She was telling me something about her experiences with writers. About the time the copy editors spend correcting poor grammar and making stories readable. I didn't take offense at her suggestion I brush up on my grammar, I took it as a sign that if I really wanted to help her and all the other copy editors (there were about a dozen) I would make certain the stories I handed in were as well-written as I could make them.

I still have that book on my bookshelf. I am holding it in my hand as I write these words (which is difficult.)

And that brings me to my point today: How well written is your copy? How's your grammar? Punctuation? Composition? If your copy isn't readable how can you expect someone to read it?

Spell check is free, folks, but don't stop there. Writing is not actually writing, it's re-writing. Read through your stories, your manuscripts, your poems and plays. Be certain that your point comes across clearly not just to YOU but to anyone who might happen across your story. Don't be vague or wishy-washy; be strong and assertive with your prose. But most of all, be clear and concise.

There is no secret to being a great writer other than practice, practice, practice. But it certainly helps if you have a strong grasp of the language in which you are writing and a clear idea of the message you are trying to impart.

Doing anything less just makes the job harder for everyone involved.




Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wanna Be A Writer? Hope You Don't Like Eating

So you want to be a writer, huh? Good for you. As a writer myself I can tell there is nothing more gratifying than having your words read by someone else, with or without their ultimate approval.

I have seen my name in print thousands of times and not once did it fail to bring me some sense of inner joy. It was always gratifying to see my stories and photos (yes, I was a photojournalist) on the front page, or even when they were buried on page 12. It didn't matter where they appeared, just that they had met with the ultimate approval of my editors and made it to print.

It felt good.

Unfortunately, as a news reporter every time I received my paycheck I felt a twinge of regret. Regret that I wasn't going to be able to buy the new tires I needed for my car, or new shoes to replace the ones I had worn down to nothing more than shadows of their former selves; couldn't pay my rent, buy the groceries or upgrade my camera equipment. Like many news reporters working today why paychecks were meager, at best. I made just enough to survive, nothing more.

In the meantime I watched new reporters, fresh out college, work a few months at the news desk then take the first public relations job that came their way. I hated them for that. I hated them because they weren't committed to journalism the way I was, but also because overnight they had new cars, new clothes and money in the bank while I continued to starve.

Eventually my life changed. I had children that I needed to care for and bills that I could no longer dodge. I had to make a slight change, at least in the way I made my living, and hope that I could continue to hone my writing craft. Fortunately I wound up here, with enough side jobs to make it happen so i could write and survive. Not get rich, but survive.

The story is much the same regardless of what sort of professional writing you do. Now that I write for myself there are clear advantages, including the fact I don't have to change out of my pajamas if I don't want to, but as for money, well I have to do other types of work if I expect to survive, and I do.

Now I hate myself.

I dream of the day when I can not only survive as a writer, but thrive. When my written words are enough to pay my bills and afford me the opportunity to save for my future. In fact, just being able to know I have a future as a writer would be great.

But like so many other writers I know that dream is just a dream until it becomes a reality. There is no magic potion, no secret sauce, no "Fool-Proof, 12-Step Path To Writing Success." There is just hard work, and more hard work, bundled together with inspiration and talent to produce results. One. Word. At. A Time.

If this sounds like the sort of life you would like to live; if you can survive on next to nothing, and survive a near constant flow of rejection (because every good writer suffers PLENTY of that) then perhaps a writers life is right for you.

If this does not sound good to you, it's never too late to go back to college.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Stop Talking. Start Writing

Welcome back, friendly reader/writer!

I have been working furiously on a number of new things, but I will not bore you with details. When I have something finished, I'll let you know.

In fact, that leads me to today's point: if you have something you want to write, just write it. All the way through, non-stop, with no regard for quality or substance. Once it is finished you can go back and make whatever changes you want. If you stop to talk about it, however, or let a pile of wrinkled note pages suffice, you might just lose the impetus for completing your work.

Want proof of this? Ask any writing how many unfinished novels, stories or pages of copious notes they have, and why they haven't finished.

I read an article this morning at Scientific American which talks about this in depth, making a connection between the Zeigarnik Effect and writing. It carefully details this 'effect' and how it might impact a writer trying to finish a story.

But I digress. What I am here to tell you is my own experience as a writer. Everything great I have ever written came out at once. Works that I have started, talked out, self-analyzed, remain unfinished. I am one of those writers with pages of unfinished novels, copious notes and notebooks jammed full of "ideas." Yet my short stories I complete in one sitting, without ever having a chance to discuss them, talk them out with my friends, or even whisper their narrative aloud. They spring fully formed from my mind to the page and are done.

Why can't I finish those other works? Perhaps because my mind believes they have already been completed.

If I had sat down and in one fell swoop finished the story which my mind had fleshed out for me; taken full advantage of the spark of creativity which my brain provided for me, perhaps I would have more published stories than I do.

As a reporter I had no choice but to finish my stories on deadline. I didn't have time to talk about it, turn the details over and over in my mind. I had to sit down and commit them to paper immediately so they could be inserted in the next day's (or sometimes even that same day's) newspaper. Because I did not give myself an opportunity to believe they were finished, they weren't finished in my mind until they were finished on paper.

I learned a valuable writing lesson as a reporter, but it has taken me until this very moment to realize what that lesson was. I talk too much and write too little.

If I expect to succeed as a writer I must do one thing, and one things only: write.

And so do you.




Tuesday, April 24, 2012

If You Know It, Write It

Write what you know. We've all heard that often enough. But what does it mean? Does it mean I need to be an expert about something before I write something? Does it mean I can only write about what I know to be a fact if I expect to find success as a writer?

 I have always taken it to mean that I should show conviction in my writing, regardless of the topic.

It does not command me to write only what I know, but to write as if I know it. In other words, I should take the spirit of the words and messages I am trying to convey into myself; I should own them.

Write what you know then becomes write what you believe. Be honest with your readers. Don't attempt to deceive them, unless you are actively trying to deceive them (that's a different story) but instead be forthright in what you claim in your story. If you are writing fiction and your main character is faced with a tiger or a lady or a speeding train, be prepared to account for their actions as they fight the tiger, escape the train and rescue the lady. If you cannot believe what you are writing the chances are that your readers won't believe it either.

 I can hear you already: "But what if I'm just writing from the heart? What if I don't 'know' it but only feel it? How do I do that?"

Well, when you are writing your own personal beliefs (religious views, political views, issues) you are already writing what you know because you are sharing your personal beliefs, the things you know in your heart are true. No one can argue that you don't feel a certain way, if you indeed feel that way. Be certain you do not present what you believe as fact, except as it pertains to the way you feel. In other words, don't say "Writers suck." You can say, "I believe writers suck because..." That is a much more honest way of presenting your thoughts.

Yes, yes, you are writing because you want to convince someone to lean in your direction-you want to influence their attitude. That's great and it is what a good many of us writers aspire to. The rule is the same however: honesty is the best policy.

Write what you know. If your point is worthy of their attention, if it inspires them to change their opinions about a certain issue, that is a testament to your ability as a writer to accurately convey your point of view to such an extent that you are able to sway the hearts and minds of others.

 Write what you know. And if you don't know it, at least believe it. Convictions carry a lot of weight.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Comic Books Need Love Too

I can't help myself: I love comic books.

I have a collection of super hero movies, play HeroClix (a super hero game) and find a way to insert super heroes into every life lesson I teach my daughters. I grew up on comic books, still read them today (although not as many) and consider myself one of their biggest fans.

Comic books remain a unique story-telling mechanism. They present opportunities which no other medium makes available and their pantheon of characters is such that you can find someone dealing with just about every conceivable situation a human being might face (and a bunch that they likely would never face.)

Comic books represent our modern mythology. Not since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans have we had so many characters, so well loved by so many. I challenge you find someone, anyone, who doesn't know who Superman is. Or Batman. Or Spider-man. Or the Hulk. Even if they have never read a single comic book or watched a single movie, or even a television show, they still know who these characters are because they form the basis of our global consciousness.

That's the first time in two thousand years we have had stories which transcended national boundaries; cultures, and have been embraced by a multitude of people from around the world.

Does that mean everyone loves comic books? Of course not. Just like anything some people like them and some people don't. But the legend of Batman is now as ubiquitous as the legend of Ulysses, so are at least aware of the stories and characters, which says a great deal.

Some comic books are good, some are great and some, well, not even a fan would plunk down $2 to read them. But as a whole, the genre is strong. No matter how many times I read about Spider-Man saving Manhattan or Batman battling the Joker, I'm always ready to read another one. I don't need these characters to grow old, die or retire. I just need them to exist, somewhere, even if it's only in my imagination.

And maybe that's what makes super heroes so awesome. They spur our imagination and get us asking lots of "what if?" questions. What if there really was a Superman? What would life be like if there was a global champion of justice? How would that change our world?

Because questions like these lead us to seek answers. And the answers, when we are dealing with super heroes, always lead us right back to ourselves: What if I was more like Superman?

So, a tip o' the hat to all the thousands of men and women who helped forge the metal of our new mythology. I thank you, my daughters thank and millions of other people around the world, thank you.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Writers Should Stop Making It Look Easy

As a writer, and like many writers I know, I have a tendency to make it look easy. That's a huge mistake I am constantly trying to overcome.

When a client asks me to write a 500 word article and deliver it within a few hours I will do everything in my power to produce that article and deliver it within the time frame allowed. Sometimes I lose control of myself and say things like, "no problem."

Shame on me. It was a "problem" and I should make that clear.

By making it look easy I am essentially telling the client that it is easy; that I didn't struggle, sweat, scramble and wrack my brain to produce their work. This belies the truth about the skills I possess and gives the impression that doing it is no more difficult than if I had been given ample time and resources. It also means, from the clients perspective, that writing is easy.

Writing is not easy, as you well know, and judging by the continuing efforts of those who employ writers to pay less and less, and find alternatives to professionally produced work, we are already fighting an uphill battle when it comes to content production. If we make it look easy we are doing ourselves and our profession an injustice.

As a writer I find it difficult to imagine a life where I would be unable to compose a sentence, a paragraph; find the right words to illustrate my point; or compose a well-written article that correctly expresses the point of view I am trying to get across to the reader. But that is exactly what life is like for a great many people who struggle with writing. Despite the fact writing comes easy to me, it does not come easy to a large number of people. In fact, not only can they not write well, they have no conception of what it actually takes to write well. They think it requires only a good grasp of spelling and grammar. They can't even conceive of the effort, the concise skill required to produce effective prose.

Writers are artists, not robots. Can computer programs sort and collate data and produce readable text? Yes. Can they relate a story on a human level which touches on spirit, compels people to action or evokes an emotional response? No. Only a human writer can do that, and only after a good deal of blood, sweat and tears.

So the next time you meet a writing assignment on deadline, and feel compelled to crow about the ease with which you met it, do yourself (and all of us) a favor and don't. In the meantime, I'll do the same.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Making The Most Of Product Placement

Read an interesting story on the Huffington Post today about product placement in books. Specifically they were talking about the way product placement is playing and has always played, a role in the 'James Bond' stories.

Regardless of what you think about spy novels I have some thoughts on the subject of product placement: It makes sense.

If you are writing a story which takes place in the 99th century, on some alien world, or your story takes place in some wondrous fantasy realm where jeans and Coca-Cola (product placement!) haven't been invented, you can be forgiven for creating your own brand names. But if your story takes place in the real world, where we all live, it makes a whole lot more sense to have your characters interacting in ways which most people would interact.

If I am reading a story and someone reaches for a can of "Fizzy Drink" it is very distracting. Immediately my mind begins to wander: What is "Fizzy Drink?" What does it taste like? Where can I buy some? Can I buy some? I want the same experience as the characters I am reading about; I want to empathize with them as much as possible, which means I want to share their experiences; understand what they are doing, thinking, saying, feeling. The only way for the writer to do that properly is to give them real world experiences that the reader can relate to.

Now, should we be doing this so we can earn a little extra money from advertisers? In my opinion, no. That alters the nature of your story and your characters. There is a difference between your character drinking a Pepsi (product placement!) and a Budweiser (product placement!) and we all know that. There is also a difference between your character drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon (product placement!) and a Samuel Adams (product placement!)

What your characters are doing matters. How they think, matters. What they like or dislike, matters. One of the many ways we can relate these things to the reader is through their taste in products. I am not here to weigh whether this is a good or bad commentary on the nature of the human species. It's simply the truth. We can tell a great deal about each other by examining the products we buy and use every day.

I drive a beat-up, old, Mustang convertible; wear 'Star Wars' t-shirts, jeans and Vans. I'll bet you now know much more about me than if I said I drive a 'Kaliden', wear 'Shirtzees' and drink 'Ultra!'.

I am interested in your thoughts on this subject. Product placement: good or bad or indifferent?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No Pulitzer Prize For Fiction

For only the 11th time in the near 100 year history of the Pulitzer Prize awards, no award was given to a writer of novelized fiction.

Finalists were announced, but alas, the jury could not select a winner among them.

This is the first time in 35 years a Pulitzer Prize board of judges has been unable to name a winner in fiction. The news was greeted with shock by authors and publishers alike, as everyone struggled to understand why.

The three finalists were as follows
: Karen Russell, “Swamplandia!” published by Knopf; David Foster Wallace, “The Pale King,” unfinished at the time of the author’s death but later finished by his editor; and Denis Johnson, “Train Dreams,” originally published as a novella in The Paris Review in 2002 and later published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

It does seem a little strange that among the finalists only one was a full and complete novel. Of course this would have seemed on the surface to make the board's job a little easier. Or, perhaps it was simply a matter of the board finding all the books lacking in one degree or another and therefore unworthy of a prize.

The fact is, for authors, the Pulitzer Prize is a great way to boost book sales, increase name recognition and generate (sometimes) much needed revenue. Unfortunately, the Pulitzer Prize committee is an independent group and subject only to their own whims. That means we will likely never know why no fiction award was given.

What we do know, however, is that awards really don't matter. Nobody sets out to win a Pulitzer Prize (except The Onion.) We write books, or articles; poems, short stories, prose; whatever, because we are driven to it by matters of the heart. Our goal is not to be lauded by people we only know by name, but to release our anguish, calm our souls and sooth the savage heartbeat of our inner demon.

Would it have been nice for one of the finalists to have won a Pulitzer Prize? Of course. Was it necessary to the process of writing; their ultimate goal when they started writing the book? Unlikely.

It is disappointing there was no Pulitzer Prize awarded for fiction this year, but since it's their award they can give it to whom they wish (or not give it at all.) There is no point denouncing the group which has done so much to support writers for the past century, nor to wail at the sky that this marks the end of publishing as we know it. Instead, sit down at your desk, grab your pen or your keyboard, and write it down. Perhaps your woeful attitude toward the lack of a Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year will lead you to a real Pulitzer Prize next year.

Or, maybe it will just make you feel better. Either way, you win.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Who Will The Ebook Publishing Wars Benefit?

Ebook publishers are under fire by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly colluding to secure higher prices for consumers by switching to the agency pricing model rather than the wholesale pricing model.

With the agency model, publishers set the prices and retailers cannot discount the Ebooks they sell. This means publishers can charge what they want for a book, securing higher profits which they could then pass along to the authors, editors and book creators. The higher prices are paid by the Ebook consumers and this money supports the entire system.

However, with the wholesale model, retailers can reduce the price of Ebooks, offering consumers serious discounts on Ebooks, which many believe have a much lower cost to produce in the first place than printed versions.

So, is the agency model actually better for everyone; writers, publishers and consumers, than the wholesale model? This is a matter of disagreement among publishers, many of whom say the wholesale model allows some big publishers to effectively undercut everyone's prices, leaving consumers one obvious choice for where to buy their books.

Also, since retailers using the wholesale model could charge whatever they wanted for Ebooks, they could also pay whatever they wanted for those same books, thereby decreasing profits for publishers, writers, editors and everyone who creates those books.

This has been a question in my mind since I first read about the DOJ investigation. If retailers can charge less for Ebooks, and pay less for Ebooks, logic dictates that the people who make Ebooks (like myself) will also make less.

Judging from a recent article written by Smashwords founder Mark Coker, I am not the only one who feels this way.

Now I would like to hear from you. How do you feel about the Ebook pricing scandal. Are you in favor of the wholesale or agency pricing model and why?

Friday, April 13, 2012

What Your Characters Should Be Thinking

"How the hell did I end up here and how am I going to get out of it?"

This is the quintessential question we all ask ourselves and so should your characters. It doesn't really matter if the question is existential or based in solid reality, so long as it exists.

In fact, I challenge you to find a story that doesn't revolve around that very question in one form or another. It is the driving force and a matter of fact when it comes to examination of the human condition. We all struggle with our place in the world; in our own lives, and expressing this struggle is what makes for compelling writing.

It's also what compels most writers to write. We have our own struggles and we seek to ameliorate these struggles by expressing them through the thoughts and actions of our characters. If our characters can find a resolution we, as the writer, can take solace in the knowledge that a resolution can be found even when it seems we are not in control of our own lives. After all, our characters lives depend on us, the writers, who breathe them to life and hold their destiny in the tips of our fingers.

Comedy, tragedy, romance or suspense--all stories share this common theme. The words, deeds, setting and even time period may change, but the struggle remains the same. If there is no stress for your characters to endure, there is no story.

Here's an example: "Jack awoke to a perfectly good morning. He had nothing to do and no place to be, so he made a cup of coffee, turned on the television and sat down on the couch."

That's not very interesting, but we all know Jack is about to find his morning respite spoiled by something. If not, if life stays that way for Jack for more than a few pages the readers will undoubtedly lose interest. They want something bad to happen to Jack. They want the ceiling to collapse, his boss to call and unexpectedly fire him; his dog to run off, his wife to turn up missing or his car to inexplicably explode. Even an improbable alien invasion would be acceptable to his just sitting there watching television.

That's just life, for most of us. Expecting the unexpected.

Now take a look at the story you are writing and ask yourself this: "How the hell did my characters get here and how are they going to get out?" If that question doesn't apply you might want to consider a re-write.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Computers Are Replacing Journalists

You may have already heard of Narrative Science, the Chicago company which developed software which can translate data sets into well-written news articles.

Already this software is being used by newspapers, magazines and companies looking for a fast and easy way to convert statistics into news articles. I have read some of the articles created and I can attest to the fact they are completely indistinguishable from those written by humans. This is because Narrative Science employs real journalists to adapt the software to match the expectations of the "house style" in use at the client's publication.

On the surface this might look a little like the end for journalism as we know it, and on the surface, it is. This is the end of having to pour over reams of data and dry statistics in order to find trends worth writing about. It is the end of overlooking important story angles which might be buried in plain sight within those data sets. It is the end of being able to bury something in numbers knowing that no mere human will be able to accurately review it all in a reasonable amount of time.

Narrative Science is not bringing about THE END for journalism, it is making it better. By tasking a computer to do the grunt work; review data sets and spot trends, faster than any human could dream of doing it, they free up their human counterparts to produce stories which address the issues and how they might impact real people, in the real world.

Think about this: Narrative Science is currently using its software to monitor the entire Twitter universe. At any moment, with a click of a button, their software can produce a snapshot of exactly what is trending on Twitter; what people are saying, what sort of comments are being bantered about; what opinions are being floated, whether positive or negative or nonexistent, about any given subject. This type of work is impossible for any single journalist, or even a team of journalists.

We should not look at Narrative Science as being anti-human, and based on the stories I have read, we cannot look at them as anti-journalism. Instead we need to accept that technology is going to affect the writing industry just as it has every other facet of our society. And the same way a robot can never produce a handmade rocking chair, it can never replace the human hand when it comes to writing.

But it certainly can sort through the gristle to get to the meat of the story, faster than we've ever dreamed. What we (as journalists) do with the information these computerized counterparts produce, is how we demonstrate our continued relevance in the world.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When Writers Should Reveal Their Secrets

In case you missed it, Matt Groening has revealed the inspiration for the fictional home of the 'Simpson' family. According to an interview Groening gave to Smithsonian magazine, the fictional Springielf was named for Springfield, Oregon, the town next to where he grew up.

Judging by the hundreds of comments posted on the article, a good number of his fans are disappointed that he revealed the source of name before the end of the show. After all, the secret location of Springfield has been the longest running gag of the show.

Springfield is the common town name in the United States. Every state has one, so every state has had an opportunity claim they were the home of 'The Simpsons' and since nobody knew for sure, nobody could definitively prove otherwise. This made the situation all the more funny because everyone wanted what they essentially could never have.

Until now.

So, my question is this: When is the right time for a writer to reveal a secret they have kept from their readers? My answer: Never.

By definition a secret is something you do not share. If Orson Welles had revealed to reviewers the meaning of "Rosebud" there would have been little point in anyone watching 'Citizen Kane.' Since 'The Simpsons' is a weekly sit-com it seems unlikely viewers will refuse to watch the show based on his revelation, but their disappointment is palpable. Groening added to this angst by refusing to name the location for the past 23 years only to release it suddenly and unexpectedly in a rather off-handed way.

What if George Lucas had revealed the secret relationship between Luke and Darth Vader in promotional interviews for "The Empire Strikes Back?' Not only would it have possibly hurt ticket sales it also would have ruined what has become arguably the most epochal moment in film history.

I am not trying to second guess Groening's decision to reveal the secret of Springfield. And I am not here to tell you that you should or should not keep secrets from your readers. I am here to remind you that there is something to be said for keeping a secret a secret, and that revealing your secret might have an effect which you could not foresee. So be certain you consider carefully before revealing yours.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Write Something Outrageous

Christine Brooke-Rose died this week, and with her passing the writing world is diminished greatly.

Much like William S. Burroughs and R.D. Laing, Brooke-Rose was what some have called an "experimental writer." That means she would use words in very specific ways. She would not just write a story, but set certain boundaries for the ways in which she would tell her stories, limiting the words she could use.

This type of writing seems outdated today. So many writers I know are solely focused on telling stories. Crafting characters and plots; building tension, suspense or equally compelling feelings or woe. And for most writers I have spoken with what surpasses everything when it comes to writing a book is selling it.

No, I am not here to tell you that selling a book is not as important as writing it, although I believe that's the truth. I am trying to tell you that words are meant for more than simply telling a story. Words are like numbers. We put them together to build sentences; we take them apart to deconstruct thoughts and actions; we multiply them to create novels.

But when was the last time you experimented with them? When was the last time you wrote a story backwards; Wrote a story, printed it out, then cut every individual word out and re-pasted them in a completely different order? When was the last time you wrote your story in a geometric shape?

When was the last time you did something with your writing besides 'writing?'

If you never experiment, never reach outside yourself and try new things, different things that no one has ever done or something everyone has done in ways which are new or different, you will never really experience new thoughts and ideas. That's the truth. You can write dozens of new stories, create hundreds of new characters, weave a spell of story which has never been revealed before, and yet never truly do anything new.

Do something outrageous. Do something weird, different and out of the ordinary. Words are more than just a way to tell a story. Each word is a story unto itself. Each word has power. Use words in ways no one has ever done before and unleash that power for yourself.

You might just surprise yourself. You'll definitely surprise everyone else.

Monday, April 9, 2012

(Fortunately) Writing Exposes The Evils In Us All

John Derbyshire is an admitted racist. The fact that he was fired from his job as a writer for The National Review because of a racist article he authored which was subsequently published by Taki's Magazine seems a little like closing the barn door after the horse has run off, the pig's been eaten by wolves and the straw has been set ablaze.

It would have been different if when in 2003 Derbyshire admitted in an interview he was a racist and homophobe he had been fired immediately and denied further work, but instead it took a near public self-immolation to prompt any reaction at all.

Plus, since when does it help anyone for us to censor a writer's point of view, regardless of how racist, homophobic, bigoted or intolerant it may be? A much better idea is to drag these individuals into the light of day, force them to defend their point of view and generate public discussion on the issue.

Silencing a writer diminishes us all.

I certainly do not support Derbyshire's point of view. The guy sounds like a complete nut-job to me and his ideas are so backward I feel stupider having read his article which I refuse to link to. (If you want to read it, Google it yourself.) However, as Voltaire once wrote, "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too."

If we silence writers we do not silence the thoughts which prompted the words which they wrote. If we have a problem with their words than surely we have a problem with their thoughts as well. The issue then becomes one of debate, not silence. With debate we can present divergent points of view, defend our points and come to better understand the points made by others.

Does The National Review have the right to fire anyone they wish? Absolutely. Does Derbyshire have the right to write anything he wishes? Absolutely. But the existence of one of these things does not preclude the existence of the other. In fact, without divergent points of view we cannot advance as a species-we cannot face the evils within us all if we don't bring those evils into the light of day.

Derbyshire clearly has a view of black Americans which differs greatly from my point of view. I am glad he wrote his ideas down so I am made aware of them. If he had kept them to himself how would any of us know what lurked in his heart? How would we be able to defend our own views and experiences and help educate him that his views might have been skewed by a singular bad experience or perhaps a lack of positive experiences?

Censoring or silencing writers does nothing to promote public awareness, regardless of how misguided the writer might be and worse yet, it prevents us all from moving forward in our thoughts and deeds because it prevents us from facing the obstacles which we are all trying to overcome.

Friday, April 6, 2012

One-Word-At-A-Time Story

This story is a project I began (hopefully) using my network of writer friends through the Starved Writer. We will each contribute one word at a time to this story until it reaches some sort of a conclusion. You can check back from time to time to check the progress, or wait until it's finished. That's up to you.

I would like to think we (the Starved Writer community) can create a 1,000 word story together. Once it's complete I will format it, get a cover page, and list the book at Amazon.com. Every writer who contributes to the project will be credited in the index. All proceeds we generate from the book sales (ALL PROCEEDS) will be donated to a worthy writing group, although I haven't decided which one. (I am open to suggestions.)

If you would like to contribute a word, send it to me via my Twitter account (@jerrybattiste) or via Facebook. If it fits, I'll use it. But remember, it takes lots of different words to create a story so don't just send me grandiose, five dollar words or the story won't work. Also, I recommend you read the story and select a word which helps complete it. Don't just send random words. We're writing a story--not a crossword puzzle. Every writer who contributes a word will get a full credit for their submission. Yes, you can submit more than one word, but you must send just one word at a time. I will compile an index of every contributing writer, with Twitter handles, and insert it at the end of the book.

Let's do this thing!

----------------------------------------------------------------

Amazingly Margaret was unsure she'd win. The night began early enough that she knew she would never find enough time in the coming hours to

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Good News For Writers: eBooks Spur Reading

A new Pew Internet study shows that more than 20 percent of all Americans have read an eBook in the past year. Another interesting aspect of people who read eBooks: They read more books than anyone else.

This is not the first time I will write about what a boon I feel eBooks (and the Digital Age in general) are to the writing community. They empower people at each end of the spectrum (those who write books and those who read books) and create a number of new opportunities for people all along the process.

Independent eBook publishers are sprouting up like mushrooms after a spring rain; small bookstores are finding ways to capitalize on the growing digital movement to stay relevant; and just about everyone I know is either working on a new eBook, finishing an eBook or seriously considering starting an Ebook, and their chances of getting published, assuming they finish it, are now nearly 100%.

And this is just the beginning of what I believe will become a revolution in the story-telling world. eBooks are just getting started and already they have completely altered the landscape for everyone. As fast as new eBooks are being written, developers are finding new ways of enhancing their content and eReaders themselves are being stuffed full of new bells and whistles, making them much more effective for an assortment of things, besides reading books.

As the technology evolves the ability of writers to infuse their books with more story-telling elements (photos, videos, audio tracks, and who-knows-what-else) will grow. This will not make up for quality writing, however, so whomsoever writes best will still be the best writers, but it will provide a multitude of story telling options not currently available.

All of this adds up to renewed excitement for reading which in turn creates new opportunities for writers. And that, my friends, is a great thing for all of us.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We Need Women Writers!

I read not one, but two articles today talking about the dearth of women writers working in the industry today. One talked about the small number of women working in the television/film industries, and the other talked about the small number of women writers who appear in the major literary magazines.

This is bad news for women writers looking for work and it's bad news for our culture. Women writers bring a perspective no man can share, regardless of the amount of research he does. A woman, all women, have a decidedly different way of looking at life from men because, well, they're decidedly different.

I know as many, if not more, women writers than I do men. In fact, when it comes to poetry and fiction and stories about life, love and loss, the women writers I know far out number the men. The male writers I know tend to be journalists; beat reporters, sports writers and occasionally a poet or short fiction writer. I happen to know a number of writers and the fact that fewer women writers are finding professional success than men simply does not compute.

I keep hearing that there are economic factors at work here. Those who defend the status quo say that men have limited interests and are less likely to read something written from a woman's point of view. This makes no sense when you consider the across-the-board success of books like "The Color Purple" and films such as "Bridesmaids." Both of those were written by women, of course.

There are also those who continue to postulate that it is perhaps the fault of the women writers who prefer to stay home and raise babies, or clean house, rather than pursue a career in an industry fraught with long hours and low pay.

This is, of course, rubbish in my opinion. In my experience women have shown they can work longer and harder than their male counterparts for much less, especially when it is something close to their heart. (As a writer I can also say that writing is ALL heart.)

No, I think there is something much more insidious at work here: A male dominated industry continuing to defer to men so they can maintain business as usual. Women, they seem to think, offer nothing worth their time and effort and therefore should be relegated to shuffling papers, answering phones and "looking pretty."

Am I being harsh? Yes. For good reason. Half of the humans living on this planet are women and it's long past time they get an equal share of everything this world has to offer. If they choose not to pursue something let it be because they have chosen differently, not because too many obstacles have been placed in front of them just because of their gender. Those days are (should be) over.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What eBook Pricing Deal Means To You

The Justice Department is edging closer to a deal with five major eBook publishers who allegedly colluded to set prices higher for consumers.

At issue is whether Apple convinced a handful of major eBook publishers, including Amazon to use an agency model for pricing books rather than the wholesale model. With the agency model book publishers were allowed to set the prices of eBooks, rather than just selling them directly to retailers and allowing them to set the price. Retailers were then unable to offer special discounts on books for customers, regardless of what they might have wanted to do. This created a fairly even playing field for retailers, but left consumers paying more for their eBooks.

The forthcoming settlement is all but assured at this point, meaning everyone will switch back to the wholesale model, allowing retailers to set their own prices, likely forcing prices down for consumers. This model is also likely going to work in Amazon's favor. They currently control about 65 percent of the global eBook market. Apple, on the other hand, controls less than 10 percent of the eBook market meaning they won't be able to offer the same lower prices which are expected from Amazon after the switch.

What I wonder about is how this will affect book writers. You know, those people who actually prepare the works that these corporations then take complete control of. Once retailers are able to set their own prices they will undoubtedly begin to put pressure on publishers to reduce their prices. These declining revenue's will eventually be passed on to authors. Less money to go around, who do you think is going to get screwed?

There certainly are reasons to rejoice if you are someone who reads eBooks. Prices are likely to begin falling immediately and increased competition between retailers is almost guaranteed to push them down even further as times goes on.

Book writers, on the other hand are likely to face, perhaps not a tougher market to break into, but certainly a reduced pot of rewards for all their hard work. Publishers will have no choice but to pay authors less in order to recoup revenue losses incurred as a result of retailers setting book prices.

That's good news for book readers, but bad news for the people who write those books. (Like me.)


Monday, April 2, 2012

Vanity Press For Kids A Bad Idea

Welcome back! I took last week off to visit with some family, but I'm back and ready to go. (Hope you all missed me-a lot!)

Anyway, I started my morning the usual way, scanning the headlines for news stories relevant to the writing industry, when I happened across an interesting blog post from the New York Times, talking about a recent story concerning the surge in the number of parents who choose to self-publish their children's book using a vanity press service. To be clear, these are not books the adults wrote for children, but books written by their own children. And a vanity press service is one which charges a hefty fee to bind and print your finished manuscript so you have a complete book which you can wave in front of your friend's faces and say, "Look, I'm an author!"

Only in this case the published author is actually a child and the 'book' is akin to using your desktop printer, only fancier.

Sigh.

Yet again I am dismayed at the belief that writing is merely a lesson in compiling sentences. Put some words together, some page numbers, maybe some chapter headings and presto! you have a book. This is exactly why I don't care very much for NaNoWriMo. It tends to give people the impression that becoming an author has more to do with the word count than the substance of the words themselves.

This is ass-backwards, in my opinion. If you think compiling words has any similarity to being an author, then you must also mistake a pile of bricks and wood for a finished building.

The art of being a writer is one which is carefully honed, either through time or experience. It is important that you have a good grasp of spelling, grammar and punctuation, but there are a number of famous literary works which are based on the very opposite of this belief (A Clockwork Orange immediately comes to mind, but there are others.)

If you self-publish your child's 'novel' you are sending the message that being a writer is just a matter of putting your name on something and paying someone to make copies of it. This diminishes all writers, including the young writer you are trying to help.

If you believe your child has written a decent book do what all writers do and start submitting it to publishers. Let your child experience a few rejection letters; learn about re-writes and edits; get a better understanding of just how difficult it is to get a book published. Help them understand that being an author is not just a matter of printing up some copies and convincing your friends and family to buy one. Most importantly, teach your child that nothing in life is easy; Everything takes time, hard work and dedication.

Perhaps most especially, being a writer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cookbook Ghostwriter Speaks Out

If you are a foodie you are likely familiar with the current controversy surrounding an article written by self-proclaimed "Cookbook Ghostwriter" Julia Moskin.

In her New York Times article, "I Was A Cookbook Ghostwriter" Moskin details how she and others in her field regularly produced cookbooks for some of the world's most famous chefs. In her own words:

"Many real-world cooks have wondered at the output of authors like Martha Stewart, Paula Deen and Jamie Oliver, who maintain cookbook production schedules that boggle the mind. Rachael Ray alone has published thousands of recipes in her cookbooks and magazine since 2005. How, you might ask, do they do it?

The answer: they don’t."

For someone who is intimately aware of the egos in play in any kitchen I am mildly surprised at the way she banters about names; reveals the darkest, most closely held secret of any chef: they might not even write their own recipes.

I applaud her for coming out about the ghostwriting work she has done for some famous chefs, but I am saddened that she did it for so long in secret.

Am I surprised at the sheer volume of cookbooks written by ghostwriters? No. Am I dismayed that these writers have been toiling away in obscurity for decades? Of course.

If ever there was a time for writers to stand up and demand recognition and compensation for their work it is now. It is not enough to say, "well, at least I get paid for it." I for one don't want to read a book I think is written by one person when actually it was written by someone else. Just as I don't want to see a Salvador Dali knock-off, I want to see the real thing.

The sooner writers, all writers, begin demanding proper recognition and remuneration for their work the sooner we will all begin receiving the accolades which we rightly deserve. Shame on anyone that tries to pass off someone else's work as their own, and shame on readers for falling for the business as usual stance of publishers who continue to peddle this stuff.

If Chef Fabio Viviani (my FAVORITE chef) wants to write a cookbook, I'll read it. If he wants me to write his cookbook for him, then I expect he'll put my name on it when I'm done. (He can write the foreword if he likes.) Otherwise, I'm not interested.