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.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

From Redditor To Screenwriter

Lots of news today about the recent success of James Erwin, the writer who turned a series of comments on Reddit into a screenwriting job and deal with Warner Bros. for a feature film.

Erwin was just checking out Reddit during his lunch break when he happened across a question asking how a modern Marine battalion would fare in a fight against a Roman Legion. Specifically, the question was posed thus: “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit]?”

Fortunately, Erwin studied history at the University of Iowa and has a background in military history. He was (at the time) writing computer software manuals and living a quiet life in Iowa. Today he is dilligently working on a first draft revision of the screenplay he was commissioned to write, no doubt wondering who will play the lead roles in the forthcoming film based on his Reddit comments.

And probably wondering how his whole life could be turned upside down so quickly.

Now, before you start cruising Reddit, looking for questions which would make great books, consider this: Erwin had a background in military history, so he was prepared to write about the subject in question. Also, Ermin's was not the only response to the question. There were dozens of others, although his proved most popular.

The point I hope to make with all of you is that there are myriad ways of getting yourself (and your writing) noticed. This does not mean your next comment will become a feature film. It just means there are opportunities, if you know where to look. It is also important that you have knowledge of your subject, not just a notion of what might make a good story. And not every web site is going to bring the same amount of recognition.

Erwin got lucky, yes, but he also had the writing skills and knowledge to parlay that luck into something more. If you have the same skills and are presented with the same opportunity you might have a similar (or better) outcome.

My advice to you: Be ready for anything.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stop Paying To Format Your Ebook

When was the last time you read a book review which talked at length (or at all) about the quality of the formatting? In every case a person recommends, or doesn't recommend, a book based on the quality of the writing.

If you are getting your ebook ready for publication on Amazon (which is a great place to start, seeing as they currently control more than 60% of the ebook market), before you even think about shelling out $50, $100 or more to get your ebook formatted, do yourself a favor and don't.

That's right. Don't pay for formatting unless you absolutely, positively need it. If your book is full of photos, drawings, tables or charts, you'll probably need some formatting so go ahead and check around. But if your book is just text; prologue, chapters, words and an author's page, you can format it yourself in about 30 minutes for free.

If your book sells like wildfire and you actually make money from it, then you can think about investing a little more in your next book and letting someone format it for you. But until then, save your money. Self-publishing is a business, and no successful business should start out in the hole. Give yourself a chance to succeed by putting the odds in your favor and using as little resources as possible to get your first ebook listed.

For instance, you can use the online service Fiverr.com to create your ebook cover for just $5 and ask them to send you a jpeg version (for loading to Amazon.) Done.

Then, formatting is as easy as copying your entire document and pasting into a .txt document. That will remove all the superfluous formatting; invisible things you don't need like indents. Once that's done, take the .txt version and paste it back into a Word document, but don't change it. Save that document as is.

Then, go to Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing, and create an account. Load your jpeg cover. Then load your .doc. Amazon lets you preview your document before you load it, so check it out. Immediately you will understand how different an ebook looks from what you thought it might look like. If your document still needs some slight tweaking, open it, tweak it and reload it. Do this until it looks readable then save it.

That's it. Your book is loaded and ready.

Can you pay to have your book professionally formatted? Yes. Do you need to have your book professionally formatted? Probably not. Try it yourself first. Even if you don't succeed what you learn about ebook publishing will prove invaluable for future editions whether or not you leave the formatting to someone else.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What Sports Writers Can Teach All Writers

Writers come in many sizes, shapes and styles. Some of us write long and some short; in flowery prose or direct to the point; with relish and flair or nothing but the facts.

Writers are as diverse an artistic community as you will find, with as many different types of writers as a painter has colors to choose from.

But among all writers one groups stands out as the most creative, most stylish and most given to excel themselves: sports writers.

Did you say poets? Or novelists? Or perhaps speech writers? None of those writers has to deal with the exact same subject matter, over and over, and must constantly find new ways to say the same thing without seeming trite or boring or inept.

For as long as we have had sport there have been those who have made a vocation from writing about it. They immerse themselves in every nuance of the game, surrounding themselves with statistics and facts from decades previous. They are enamored of the players, but they do not (for the most part) allow themselves to be blinded to their humanity. Also, with every sports writer I have ever met, they understand that in the final analysis what they do is write about nothing more complicated than a game.

I salute every sports writer for having the fortitude to endure the taunts of fans of rival teams, or those who fervently disagree with a point or statement they make about a hometown team and feel obligated to voice their disagreements with threats of violence commingled with some of the most vile and reprehensible obscenities I have ever heard.

Sports writers have the unenviable task of writing about a subject which people take more personally than either politics or religion, and they do it day after day, game upon game upon game, and somehow make it always new and exciting without so much as a hint of pandering. (Ok, maybe an occasional pandering, but not much and only in their columns where they are allowed to do such things.)

If you really want to learn something about writing, research sports writers; read the sports section of your newspaper and do something other than check the scores. I think you'll discover a new way of creating stories which is at once fresh and different from anything you have ever done before.

And if you are already a sports writer, well, pat yourself on the back and have a beer. On me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Chinese Writers Sue Google Over Copyright Claims

Turnabout is fair play, especially when the issue is copyright infringement and the players at odds are China and the United States. Thus it happens that 23 Chinese writers are suing Apple after alleging the company allowed their copyrighted works to published in the Apple store.

But it's not quite that simple.

In fact, the suit alleges that Apple acknowledged they had indeed allowed some copyrighted works to be published on their App store and removed them. However, because they did nothing to punish or deter the publishers who posted the copyrighted material, these same developers simply reloaded the copyright material.

Thus does it seem Apple is at least negligent when it comes to protecting creator rights.

Now, some might say that since Chinese law does not protect American copyright holders why should we worry about their copyrights? But that is flawed logic. The idea is not to bring the playing field down to the lowest common denominator, but rather raise it up to provide the best protection possible.

Apple's problem seems to be made worse by the fact their system relies on the developers to secure all rights to the content they load to the Apple store. This method is not effective for brick and mortar retailers who are regularly held responsible for the products they sell why would it work for an online retailer?

The fact is, the issue of copyright protection is a very serious problem. If creators cannot be assured they have rights to the ownership of their property it diminishes the strength of their convictions. In other words, if I am a carpenter and I build houses, I have the foreknowledge that once I finish building the house no one else is going to come along and sell it out from under me. Or, move into it without paying me for the work I did.

The same level of protection needs to apply to everyone who creates anything regardless of where they live.

Friday, March 16, 2012

eBook Lending Grows Despite Concerns

Here in the United States, libraries are complaining that recent price increases by publishers are making it difficult for them to continue loaning eBooks. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, private companies specializing in lending eBooks are thriving.

What's a writer to think about all this lending (not to mention claims of collusion, price fixing and plagiarism?)

It's an important issue and one every writer should be following closely. What is happening in the publishing industry is very similar to what happened in the music industry not so very long ago. Traditional music distribution methods were turned on their ear when MP3's came along and the reverberations are still being felt by artists, managers and record producers today.

No matter how many lawsuits the Recording Industry Association of America filed they could not stop illegal file sharing by individuals nor could they prevent the continued rise of file sharing sites. Today we have a music industry kept afloat by MP3's, YouTube channels and music listening sites like Spotify and Pandora.

I can't help but believe that the same will soon be true of books (eBooks.) I read an article more than a decade ago which talked about the future of media and how one day, rather than seeking to own media (books, albums, movies, whatever) we will simply have access to a database where all these things will be stored. That day is almost here, and the sooner we figure out how to preserve profits for creators and publishers, the better off we will all be.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Erotic eBooks Booming

HarperCollins UK is launching Mischief Books, a digitally exclusive erotica imprint, in an effort to capture its share of the growing erotica eBook market.

Makes sense to me.

Whether you read it or not, erotica has been an integral part of the publishing landscape since Japanese artisans created erotic Shunga woodblock prints in the mid-17th century. Even before that, erotic stories and art were being bantered about, from the ancient Greeks and Romans (who delighted in dirty little stories) to the even more ancient Venus of Hohle Fels which is estimated to be 35,000 years old.

Human beings are sexual creatures, and as such they seem to delight in stories which titillate and arouse their sexual desires. Time was, you had to visit a special store to buy erotic materials, often in secret and usually late at night when you hoped you wouldn't bump into anyone you knew. Because although erotica is the most common form of art in the history of human culture, it is also something we (as modern humans) generally prefer to keep private.

That's what makes eBooks the perfect format for distributing erotic materials. If you have an ereader and an internet connection you can order and read your material in the privacy of your own home (or wherever you happen to have your ereader) without worrying about someone else seeing you.

There is also something to be said for the fact that the stories contained within erotic literature have historically been some of the finest work created by writers. When Anne Rice wrote the "The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy" she re-invented the classic fairy tale in ways no one had ever imagined and re-kindled the fire of erotic literature that has since turned into a blazing inferno.

Today erotic eBooks represent the fastest growing, most profitable sector of electronic publishing, so it seems unlikely it will be going away any time soon. In the meantime mainstream publishers like HarperCollins UK are once again struggling to keep up with the changes wrought by smaller eBook publishers.

Maybe one day traditional publishers will again take the lead in eBooks, but that day still seems a long way off.

Have you published any erotic eBooks or are you considering writing one?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The (Re)Rise Of Serial Fiction

In case you've been asleep at the keyboard, serial fiction has been experiencing a re-birth of sorts, helped along in no small part by the ease of self-publishing.

It is now a simple enough thing to get your book into print, so if you have a half finished novel, you could break that into parts and release a serialized version. Giving yourself enough time to test the waters for your book an d make changes as you go along. (Oh, and also have a good reason to finish it!)

I know a few authors who are working on various serial fiction projects, including my friends Sean Platt and David W. Wright who are responsible for the wildly successful Yesterday's Gone series.

There numerous serial fiction titles now for sale at Amazon with more on the way. They span genres, offering tales as diverse as science fiction, mystery, thriller, suspense, horror and a mixed-bag of them all.

But I have seen signs of serial fiction work appearing in print newspapers as well as eBooks. Like the new "Mysterious City" feature now appearing in the Chicago Tribune.

I myself have always been a fan of serialized fiction. As someone who reads every chance he gets, I can appreciate stories which are short enough for me to get my fill in the tiny spaces which I have available for reading. I also enjoy a good mystery, and don't mind cliff hangers that keep me engaged. There is also an inherent tendency for serial fiction writers to write very tight. In other words, there is no room for fluffery in serial fiction (yes, it's a word in MY dictionary.)

If you haven't read any serial fiction lately, give it a try. And if you have a story which might benefit from being broken into pieces, give that a try too. You never know what you might learn from doing either.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dr. Sanjay Gupta Brings Reality To Medical Fiction

Perhaps you know him as the CNN Doctor turned journalist; or as the embedded journalist who used his medical proficiency to save lives during the Iraq war; or even as that suave looking guy on television.

However you know him, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is one of my favorite journalists. Soon, I believe he will become one of my favorite fiction authors as well.

This week it was announced that Gupta was writing a new medical novel about something few outside the medical industry know anything about: morbidity and mortality meetings. These are the hush-hush meetings doctors have with each other about mistakes they have made. It is an opportunity for them to consult with other physicians about ways they could have done thing differently; things they learned from their mistakes.

You see, medical professionals are not perfect, although we like to think they are, or at least that they can be. But the fact is, because they are human, just like the rest of us, they make mistakes.

If I make a mistake I can hit the backspace key, or my editor will catch it and have me make a correction. If your surgeon makes a mistake (which doesn't happen often, but does happen) you might die.

I hope that Gupta will bring his keen insight and journalistic skills to bear on this project as he does with all things. I am expecting to learn something, which is usually what happens when I see a piece he has produced.

And Gupta is not stopping with a book. He is also teaming up with David E. Kelly to produce a show based on his book called, "Chelsea General" for TNT. I am even looking forward to that. Although I don't watch much scripted television I will give it a shot since Gupta's name is attached to it.

As a journalist Gupta has proven to me he can remain objective under extreme circumstance, yet retain his humanity. As a medical professional he seems aware of his own limitations and the limitations of others in his profession and is willingly to discuss these issues openly and without reserve.

I wish him much success in his future endeavors. And I hope his success serves as a beacon for future journalists and medical professionals to follow.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The One Thing You Must Do To Be A Successful Blogger

Lots of people blog but not everyone has a successful Blog. Those who do have successful Blogs know a few secrets, sure, but there are also some simple things you can do to increase your chances of success.

I blog. I have been blogging since the 1990's. In fact, I write between 4-11 blog posts every day for an assortment of different blogs, so I know a few things about blogging. In my experience there is one very critical difference between successful blogs and those not-so-successful blogs: Frequency.

The most successful blogs are updated every day with content which is relevant to their readers. Their readers know that they should come back every day because there will be something new waiting for them.

This does not diminish the importance of proper spelling and grammar, and content, but it is no less important. You can write a great post, chock full of useful information, but this is only going to get you so far. A blog is not a novel. People are unlikely to pass it around much beyond the first few days after you write it. Once a week has gone by and you have't posted anything new, everything you gained from that first post begins to go away.

Oh, sure, there are exceptions to this, but for the most part you are much better off writing a new short post every day of the week rather than one stellar post every other week.

As a social media manager I often run into issues with clients who want me to promote their web site, but don't supply me with any new content. The fact is, you can't continuously promote a static web page and expect people to respond. Web surfers, or anyone for that matter, do not want to see the same message over and over and over again. In fact, if you do not update your blog regularly you will soon lose whatever few readers you had to begin with. Not only will you not grow new readers without new daily content, but you will make it much more difficult to get those readers back because they will become convinced that you do not post anything new, or that if you do, you are unlikely to post something new again any time soon.

We have entered into an age where people expect new content regularly. They know (quite rightly) that there is always something new under the sun and that's what they want to hear about. They want new conversations, new topics of conversation, new insights and information. What they don't want is the same old, same old. This is tantamount to reading yesterday's newspaper over and over again.

So if you have a blog, or you plan on starting a blog, be ready to write. A lot. Set yourself a schedule of posting--every day is best, but at least two times a week. You can write your posts whenever you want and schedule them to post at regular intervals. And keep them short. Remember, people today (for the most part) want "Short Attention Span Theater." That means make your point and be done with it so they can move on to the next thing.

In this way you are much more likely to have a successful blog than a blog which languishes unvisited and unread.



Friday, March 9, 2012

What Makes You A Writer?

I am a writer. I have always defined myself as a writer, even as a young boy.

I have been a reporter (writer), editor (writer), professional photographer (writer) and social media manager (writer.) Now that I have published my first book I can call myself an author (writer).

All of these jobs were different, but each of them involved the same core skill: writing.

When I describe myself as a writer to someone they invariably ask, "what do you write?" and I have to explain how 'writing' fits into my current job description. Sometimes it fits better than others, depending on what the questioners expectations are of what I do.

See, we are all writers in one way or another. If you are literate you are, by definition, a writer. You write or at least you can write, therefore you are a writer.

To be a professional writer, to survive solely on your skill in putting together words and sentences in such a way that someone else will pay you to do this, well, that's something altogether different. It's also a recipe for personal and financial disaster for many of us.

It seems to me that writing therefore is both an art (done in solace and privacy and shared with no one) and a science (done for profit, within the rules, and for survival). I have reams of stories just waiting for me to do something for them, but my paying writing gigs always take precedence.

I am fortunate that I have been able to make a living doing what I love, but I imagine that I would have done it (and did do it) regardless of whether or not I could make a living at it.

The same is true of almost every writer I know. We create because we must, not because we should or can survive doing it. It's inherent in our existence.

I have survived for weeks (nay, months) on crackers and Ramen noodles, stubbornly pursuing my craft and no doubt many of you have done the same.

So now I ask you: What makes you a writer? How do you define yourself and why?

Tell me in the comments below.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

eBook Prices In Question As Publishers Struggle To Profit

Make no mistake, I have nothing against any business making money. In fact, as a one-time business manager I can tell you the importance of being able to make a buck on the people who work. If the business makes money there are more hours to go around, a better chance for pay raises and a better impact for the community.

Successful businesses are good for the human condition.

However, fair business practices are also important to the human condition. Businesses want us (consumers) to be faithful to their brand, to buy their products and services on a regular basis. But when I hear about business colluding to raise prices for the consumers, especially when the product they offer has no inherent additional costs, I sit up and take notice.

Especially when the product in question is produced by a third party, namely eBooks.

This week word got out that the U.S. Department of Justice has offered a settlement against several big name eBook publishers whom they accuse of colluding to raise prices for digital material. Among those whose practices are being questioned are Apple, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Hachette, Macmillan and Penguin.

At issue is the way books are currently marketed and prices set. The DOJ says these companies agreed to use an "agency model" rather than the traditional "wholesale model" which forced all eBook prices to jump and essentially forced book sellers to pass costs on to buyers.

Here's the problem: eBooks are a hot commodity right now and publishers know they need to capture their fair share of that market, but they are unsure how to do that without seeing diminished profits as a result. There is certainly nothing wrong with creating a market which allows successful businesses to continue to thrive, but it shouldn't come as a result of their ignorance or resistance to innovation.

eBooks last forever. I have written those words right here. I have also written that if we expect the eBook market to succeed we need to address some very real problems in how we created and distribute them.

Ask yourself this: If your next new car was going to last you forever, how many new cars would you buy? And how long would you keep them? Just imagine the chilling effect this would have on the automobile market.

yet this is exactly what happens with an eBook. As it stands now eBook can be copied, loaned, traded, given away freely to other readers; they don't wear out, burn, or fall apart from overuse. In essence, eBooks last forever. If we truly expect publishers to stay in business we need to address this issue, and the sooner we do that, the better.

This is where innovation comes into play. It wouldn't take much effort for the publishing industry to create digital copies which resist copying or even expire after a predetermined amount of time. DVD's were once encoded in such a way, and for a short time, so were some video cassette tapes. Because an eBook is a program and not a document it is not unreasonable to expect the same could be done for them. (I write about the benefits of this here.)

However, rather than innovate, or seek a technological remedy for their (very real) problem, publishers seem to have sought a quick fix by raising prices. If the DOJ succeeds in forcing them to capitulate to the settlement (which seems likely) this might give readers pause when it comes to the eBooks they buy, which in turn will have a trickle down effect on the entire industry.

It seems to me the time is long past due for a technological solution to this issue. The sooner publishers wise-up to this fact and stop trying to beat the system the sooner we can all get back to business.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

eBook Publishers Blossom In The Digital Age

Some days it seems that for every eBook writer there is an eBook publisher. Ok, so the equation might not be that balanced, but it sure seems close.

The ease of publishing an eBook is what has driven this proliferation of eBook publishers. Although the process is now easier than it has ever been (as far as actually getting your eBook to market someplace) it is still beyond the ken of many.

Much like traditional publishers, eBook publishers help you properly format your book, create and/or select a cover; perform edits for content and/or grammar (some more, some less) and help you get your eBook listed and in front of as many potential buyers as possible. These new eBook publishers will also help you market your book using their existing networks.

There is no way to accurately gauge the impact of one eBook publisher over another simply because there are so many and they perform such a wide range of functions. It is clear from their many and varied offerings that specialization is the name of the game. Some of these eBook publishers are focusing on free eBooks, while others are focusing on serialized novels; some are honing in on the academic market while others are looking to expand global consciousness with public service eBooks.

If you have an eBook, there is definitely an eBook publisher that wants to talk with you.

Which brings me to my point: the success or failure of these eBook publishers will hinge not so much on their abilities to promote or network, but rather on the quality of the eBooks they publish. Ultimately, if a book is popular it will sell. Period. And the reverse is also true.

This means that eBook publishers, much like traditional publishers are not much more than agents for talented authors. They help readers connect with books, but said content is merely a commodity for them to trade, not a product of their effort.

It seems to me, if you have a quality eBook you should consider self-publishing it. If it's good enough, people will find it and buy it. If it isn't, they won't.

Really, it's as simple as that.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

eBooks Should Expire So Prices Can Come Down

The American Library Association said today it was "deeply disappointed" in the price increases recently announced by Random House on eBooks designated for library use.

Random House said it was dramatically increasing the price of eBooks for libraries due to the fact these editions could be easily shared among uses. Their price 300 percent price increase, they said, reflects the costs associated with distribution of these digital copies and the costs incumbent about a product supplier which does not recoup a significant portion of the proceeds their business requires for said product.

Ok, enough mumbo-jumbo. The fact is, Random House knows that for every eBook they sell to a library they are essentially marking a number of sales off their bottom line. When you consider that unlike paper copies these digital copies will likely never need to be replaced, that sounds like a good business decision.

This brings to mind a point I made a few months ago concerning eBooks: There is a real need to update the technology used to create them. What publishers need is an electronic version of their eBooks which will expire after a predetermined amount of time. Otherwise, everyone will flock to libraries where they can get free copies of books, putting libraries in the awkward position of either have to charge for the privilege or pay more for their copies.

Tough choice.

It is ridiculous for anyone to assume that publishers should not be able to make sustainable profits on digital editions of their books. This defies logic. Publishers, like everyone else, are in business to make a living. If they just keep handing out their eBooks they risk losing market share.

The solution is quite simple. An eBook is essentially software and software can be written in just about anyone for which there is a need. It wouldn't take much effort to produce an eBook which simply erases itself after a certain number views. Prices could then be adjusted to reflect the fact that these digital editions would indeed need to be replaced eventually.

If this is not accomplished then what we will likely see is an ever increasing cost for digital books that libraries will have to bear. With libraries around the country facing sometimes drastic budget cuts, this will force them to either eliminate or at least limit the number of eBooks which they can make available to their patrons. It also would not help the eBook market grow and mature to eventually replace the profitability of the print book market.

And that's not good for anyone.

Monday, March 5, 2012

10 Weeks To A Literary Prize

The winner of the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction for his book The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A Canadian Story of Resilience and Recovery, Andrew Westoll spent just 10 weeks with 13 chimpanzees at a primate rehabilitation centre in rural Quebec.

From that scant two months of service Westoll felt the seeds of a story stirring in his brain and produced what would become one of the hottest non-fiction books of the year.

Many writers I know spend years researching their subject, decades even, trying to find the story they want to tell. This might be the wrong idea, especially if Westholl's success is any example.

It's not the time you dedicate to research that matters. After all, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island long before he traveled to the South Pacific or even spent any time at sea. What you need is inspiration. If your journey does not inspire you to write a story, it doesn't matter if you spend a day, a week, a month or a lifetime on it, you will not find the words you seek.

Westoll clearly found inspiration in this place, surrounded by chimps which did not speak but still found means to impart their stories to him. Westoll might have spent a lifetime among them, or a half a day--the seeds of the story were no doubt germinating within him when he first set foot inside the sanctuary, or maybe even before. It wasn't how much time he spent in the sanctuary which affected the outcome for him, it was the inspiration he derived from his stay.

Granted, research is important, and depending on your subject you may need more or less time to do it properly and educate yourself well enough to write on it. But the long and short of it, the point I am trying to make, is the importance of finding inspiration in the journey you take to get there.

Imagine this: You visit the local library to research the people of the Lesser Antilles. While you are there, reading, studying and taking notes, you meet an old man who always wanted to travel there. He shares his story about growing up, maybe once as a boy reading a story about that same place in National Geographic; later fighting in a war, getting married, having children, finding a job at a local factory; living a decidedly different life than he ever dreamed and never getting a chance to take the trip he always wanted to take.

If you only ever had one conversation with him, what sort of story could you make from that? How might that impact the story you had intended to write?

Again, in most cases it's not the research which makes the story, it's the inspiration. Now tell me, where does your inspiration come from?

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Importance Of Readers To Writers

It occurs to me at this moment that perhaps encouraging writers to write is not going about this whole "starved writer" thing the right way. After all, what good does it do for us all to be writing if nobody reads what we write?

Yes, yes, I know a number of you fine readers of this blog prefer to keep some of your inner most written secrets private and not all sharing is good, but I think you'd agree that the more people who read the better our chances of being published.

Again, assuming getting published is your ultimate goal.

Today there are an abundance of ways for humans to communicate, many of which involve sitting down at a computer, logging-in and surfing the net. We get our information today mostly in bite-sized nuggets (much like this blog) and sometimes complain at the long wait involved in loading a page (about 2 seconds.)

I don't know about you, but I am reading no fewer than three books at the same time. I frequently crawl away from my computer throughout the day to seek the comfort of one of these books; to be transported to another time, another place; surrounded by people I will never know other than through the written words I consume.

I love to read. I love to read almost as much as I love to write stories. What I need (and you need and every writer needs) are more people just like that. We need to be encouraging not just more writers, but more readers. We need to shout to the heavens about the joy and solace we find when we crawl inside a good book. We need to convince children to turn off their computers, video games and televisions and pick up a book.

My father doesn't like to read. The only book he ever finished (that was not required of him when he was in school) was Kitty Kelley's unauthorized biography of Frank Sinatra (he's a huge fan of Old Blue Eyes.)

I wish he read more. I wish he understood just how incredible it is to slip between the pages of a book, experience things he has never experienced before vicariously through the work of the author. First, it might help him better understand where I come from and what I do, and second, he might be inclined to buy one of my books.

So, if you have dreams of becoming a published author, or already have a book for sale somewhere, make certain you put forth a little effort to encourage people to read. Children and adults; friends and neighbors; strangers you meet on the train ride to work all could benefit from reading a good book.

And as a side benefit, so could we starving writers.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ebook Publishers Have All The Power (For Now)

As it stands right now, Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble decide exactly which digital books their stores will carry. Increasingly this seems to be books which do not reference other eBook sellers or are carried by other eBook sellers.

This puts eBooks in a decidedly different context than traditional books. I read an interesting article about this today at TheDominoProject.com. Founder Seth Godin talked a little about Apple rejecting his book because he had inserted a link to buy his book elsewhere.

Amazon has been doing the same thing, in a way, trying to coax authors into special promotions which allow their books to be only available at Amazon for a specific period of time. This seems like a good deal on the surface, but really just limits the audience you can potentially reach. Despite their level of promotion for some books, new authors face an uphill battle to promote their books and need as many eyes on their title as they can possibly get.

So, let's go back to eBook stores versus traditional book stores. Traditional book store will usually sell any title they can get their hands on. However, eBook sellers are also publishers, meaning they have a vested interest in selling certain titles over others.

It doesn't matter that this sends a chill through the eBook market in general. Because they are a business it is the bottom line which matters most and the less competition they have, the more they can funnel people to their eBooks rather than a competitor, the better it is for them.

However, because eBooks are easy to store, easy to distribute and easy to sell, it stands to reason that eventually a "store" will come along which does not discriminate based on the Ebook publisher used. It also seems likely this new store will itself be an eBook publisher, much like Smashwords does now, only to a much larger extent.

It also seems likely that as eBooks become more popular eReaders will themselves become less specialized and more of a catch-all product. This will be driven by the market. More people want eBooks, more eBooks will be offered. Although millions of eBooks are being sold, the market still has a great deal of growing left to do. The more the market grows the more powerful the buyers will become. Once the power belongs to the buyers, the rules will change yet again.