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.