Tag Archives: amazon

Don’t cheat your muse

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“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.” – William S. Burroughs

In Casablanca, Ilsa says, “Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.”

I wonder if we should write like that, as though the story or novel in progress is going to be the last thing we do before we retire to Hawaii or the asylum or bee keeping. If we wrote like that, we’d make everything matter, the best we could do, like kissing a lover for the last time.

Burroughs says you can;t fake a good meal. Sure, we can throw something together in the kitchen or nuke a TV dinner or stop by a fast food place on the way home. It saves us a lot of trouble. I see a lot of advice on the Internet that urges us to write like that: write a novel in a month, turn out multiple books in a year, getting from nothing to a bestseller in 30 days. You can even get plot generators at some place called McNovels (or whatever it is).

What’s the hurry?

Myth: The sooner the book gets on Amazon, the sooner you’ll be famous. The money and the five-star reviews will come rolling in. A big publisher will send you $250,000 for your next book. Agents will actually call you.

Writing in a hurry as though that myth is true might be one way to cheat your muse. Or, possibly, cheat on your muse by sleeping with scam artists who make more money selling books and webinars that promise you ways of writing faster and faster and becoming famous before the ink dries.

It’s tempting, I know. A program or a method or a recipe usually promises us the world. It even comes with a lot of testimonials from writers that–guess what–you’ve never heard of. Nonetheless, when somebody says, “Last year I was digging graves in the rain at minimum wage, but then I saw Joe Smith’s miracle writing plan and I put down my shovel and followed his advice and became richer than J. K. Rowling.”

If you haven’t heard of the former grave digger’s books, Joe Smith is selling broken shovels.

The Muses Clio, Euterpe, and Thalia, by Eustache Le Sueur – Wikipedia

The alternative is listening to the inspiration we have, that we know we have, and writing that story word by word by word the way we know we can do it even though the first draft might take months or years, and then the second draft might take more months or years. And even though we’re not on Amazon yet, we know the stuff we write when we write like that is good because we’ve read through it late at night and felt a chill run through us as we wondered where it came from and how we pulled it all together.  When we re-read it just to make sure we’re not dreaming, it reminds us of the last kiss we gave somebody that we cared about who–for reasons unknown–disappeared from our lives as soon as we stepped away from each other.

Our muses get stronger when we try to write pages than send those chills through us or make us laugh harder than we did the last time we saw a Robin Williams comedy bit or make us shed more tears than we did when Ilsa got on that plane and left Rick standing there in the airport in “Casablanca.”

If Joe Smith reads this post, he’ll probably say, “Don’t you believe that goody-two-shoes stuff.” (Does anyone say “goody-two-shoes” any more?) Well, Mr. Smith, it doesn’t take much to see that the opinions of all the get rich quick gurus don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday we’ll understand that and write everything we write as though it’s the last time.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Do you remember the ‘concordance’ Amazon used to provide for notable books

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Amazon used to include a so-called concordance that listed words, phrases, and other information deconstructed out of a novel on the book’s sales page. What were Dan Brown’s favorite words? What were Tom Clancy’s favorite phrases?

When I saw those concordances, my first thought was that they sounded very close to author Italo Calvino’s parody of literary deconstruction in his novel If on a winter’s night a traveler. The gist of the parody was that one would be able to enjoy an entire novel by simply reading lists or words and phrases along with other tips uncovered through computer analysis.

As we have seen, computers have been used to read texts to validate whether those texts are within an author’s style or were written by somebody else. I can see the value in that far beyond the anti-plagiarism software used by some universities.  That is, what’s the likelihood that a newly discovered book was written by a great master?

I read Calvino’s book long before Amazon was a gleam in anyone’s eye. So, when I first saw those Amazon concordances, I immediately thought of the parody in the novel. We’re almost there, I thought. We can almost read the concordance and get the same amount of enjoyment out of the book we would have found had we bothered to spend many hours reading it. Maybe this is why Amazon removed the feature: it reduced sales.

This all came to mind this morning when I read “From ‘alibi’ to ‘mauve’: what famous writers’ most used words say about them”  in The Guardian. We learn here that Bradbury’s favorite word was “cinnamon,” that Rowling likes the phase “dead of night,” that Dan Brown uses “full circle,” and that Nabokov used the word “mauve” forty four times.

Now we know what the novel really means.

Computers will tell us amazing things. I don’t really want to know them unless I’m writing satire. (I once proposed using the Amazon concordance to The Da Vinci Code to write bestseller novels with the right stuff in them to get big reviews, loads of money, and movie deals.) I will confess that when I find myself using a word or a pet phrase too many times in a story, that I do a search for the suspected word or phrase to see how often it appears. If I don’t like what I see, I get rid of it.

I don’t think I want to know how often Nabokov used the word “mauve,” much less what a computer or an expert in literary analysis thinks that fact means. I don’t even care if James Patterson uses 160 cliches per 100,000 words or consider it a plot spoiler to hear that Donna Tartt uses “too good to be true” more than somebody in an ivory tower deems appropriate.

When computers and their deconstructionist slaves finish with a novel, the story, I think, gets lost in the shuffle rather like learning that you love your spouse due to sequences of binary reactions in your brain rather than  the fact they listen to what you say and care about you and support even your worst faults.

The Amazon concordance had its amusing feature, telling us the number of words the books gave us per dollar and per ounce. The value of that can’t possibly be underestimated.

Too much information, and to what end?

Malcolm

 

Amazon Give-Away – ‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’

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CWCcoverI’m giving away 5 free Kindle copies of Conjure Woman’s Cat on Amazon via a give-away. Hurry if you want a chance to win one of them because these things go by really fast. Here’s the link.

Enter for a chance to win.

Source: Amazon Give-Away – ‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’ | The Sun Singer’s Travels

Good luck.

Is having your book ‘out there’ enough for you?

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This article (Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon) has prompted some people, including me, to ask why Amazon defines financial “success” as having sold a million e-books over the last five years. Self-published writers tend to price their books between $3 and $5, and often at only $0.99. They can earn up to 70% of the retail price. In my view, one can sell a lot fewer than a million copies and still be earning a decent income.

amazonlogoAt the same time, the article has prompted others to say that just having their books “out there” is all they need to feel successful. They feel that if they do a great job of writing a story, have a great editor and a wonderful cover artist/designer, they are fine with the results of their avocation. Far be it from me to criticize that view. One might have similar feelings about creating music, making art, sewing quilts and other creative arts and crafts.

I am grateful for each reader, for every honest reviewer, for having a wonderful publisher and editor, and for all of those who’ve interviewed me, talked about my books, and otherwise been supportive. All of that is a viable form of success.

If you sense that a “however” is coming, you’re right.

However

Even the IRS considers that if we never show a net profit as a writer, we aren’t really a business. Writing books isn’t a free undertaking. One has to buy reference books, a computer, an Internet connection, office supplies, travel to locations where the novel is set, and (if self published) pay for your editor and cover designer. If these costs exceed the amount of money from royalties and direct sales, then one is running at a loss. Whether one calls his or her writing a business or an avocation, those costs can reduce the happy feeling one gets for having his or her books in print and getting some good reviews.

The people who run stores will seldom hear about self-published books.

The people who run stores will seldom hear about self-published books.

I grew up in another era, long before e-books and Kindle Direct Publishing, so I believe writing (fiction, especially) is always a long-shot proposition. One can never expect to earn a John Grisham or a J. K. Rowling income, or even enough to write full time. Most writers can’t survive on writing income alone and, as more and more readers expect 99 cent or free books, it’s getting harder and harder for most writers to cover costs, much less see real profits. So, my “however” is that if one wants to have a successful writing career, that “success” has to at least provide enough income to cover expenses.

Creative people are somehow expected to take pleasure in the work they do even if they are bankrupt. I suppose you can say that writing passion exceeds having a viable business, or that we feel at our best when we’re creating what we create. However, while I don’t need to sell a million e-books to feel successful, I do need not to be running in the red. I don’t think that’s too much to ask in order to feel successful in a career where–some have said–winning the Powerball is a better bet.

So, having my books “out there” is not enough. It’s wonderful, but if “out there” is all there is, it’s not paying the bills. Worse yet, it’s costing writers money and taking them away from their families.

If you’re a reader and/or a writer, do you think it’s possible to feel successful as a writer–or any other creative artist–if you’re expenses are higher than your sales?

See alsoFalling book prices could force authors to abandon their keyboards – The article notes Amazon’s penchant for running at a loss with low prices and low payouts to writers.

–Malcolm

What might have been; what might still be

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“Everyone who gives up a serious childhood dream — of becoming an artist, a doctor, an engineer, an athlete — lives the rest of their life with a sense of loss, with nagging what ifs.”

– Glenn Kurtz in “Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music,” quoted in “The Pleasure of Practicing: A Musician’s Assuring Account of Creative Homecoming and Overcoming Impostor Syndrome” by Maria Popova

writergraphicIf I were to give up writing, I would, to borrow an idea from Kurtz, feel the loss more strongly than the greatest lovers I have lost.

Childhood dreams of becoming something–a poet, a novelist, a playwright–often nurtured by well-meaning parents who tell their sons and daughters they have what it takes to be great, often fade as interlocking realities about earning a living with creative writing as part of the equation.

Even before Amazon and e-books and free books and cheap books turned publishing upside down, few writers stepped out of college with a manuscript in their briefcases that was ready to become a critical and/or a commercial success on Broadway, in Hollywood or in a major publisher’s newly released book list.

Life as they say, got in the way. And it still does.

It’s easy to find oneself suddenly middle aged with a drawer filled with rejection slips for manuscripts actually submitted and another drawer filled with manuscripts that stalled somewhere between once upon a time and happily ever after.

How easy it is to stop trying, perhaps to ponder on dark and stormy nights what might have been if one hadn’t gotten married too soon, if the baby hadn’t forced one to take a second job, if aged parents hadn’t needed time-consuming care, if somebody somewhere had provided an ounce more of encouragement and support and/or a way for the amateur to get his or her foot inside the golden door to professional status.

It’s also easy to wonder what kind of youthful vanity or arrogance led one to believe s/he would be one of the appallingly small percentage of writers who earns all or a substantial percentage of his/her yearly income as a poet, novelist or playwright/screenwriter.

The dream seemed so right, how could it be wrong?

Quitting the dream makes sense because, with the list of failures in mind between then and now, it has injured a lot of people: spouses and lovers led from hope to hope and from pillar to post while the writer promised year after year that “this” was “the” book, while schedules and expenses and work spaces were arranged to accommodate the writer’s holy mission, while books and manuscripts turned the house into a warehouse of faded paper and faded hopes.

It’s hard to quit and easy to quit. It’s hard because, like the lottery player who thinks this week’s number will win the jackpot, the writer thinks “this time my work in progress will find an agent and then a publisher who believes in it.”

It’s easy to quit because writing, after a long while, becomes not only an expensive and time-consuming hobby, but a rather sad thing like the habits of inventors who think they’re on the verge of creating  something the world needs or aging models who think “I still have it” or various other delusions that verge (at best) on hobbies and avocations when the stars and planets align.

When you quit, you stop growing and you feel the way you felt when the person you wanted to marry somehow slipped away. When you quit, you stop growing because you’re not practicing the craft your childhood or young adult self said it loved, said was a mission, said was like breathing, said was more important than sex, said was a life’s purpose, said was destiny.

If you’re lucky, so you don’t quit because practicing your craft is who you are and you realize when you’re not writing, you’re somebody you don’t recognize in the mirror.

Maybe Hollywood and Random House will never call, though you still dream that they might, and you understand that as some people like creating lists of all the birds they’ve spotted or the places they’ve been or the languages they’ve learnt, that you’re writing because it’s you and you love it and you cannot abide the death of part of yourself if you didn’t keep typing one word after another.

Loving it is where we need to be for those of us who aren’t Hillary Mantel and Stephen King or Nora Roberts, and so we keep writing for what might still be, the satisfaction of reading what we’ve written whether anyone else reads what we’ve written and finds any satisfaction from it, much less pays for the opportunity.

Perhaps we will one day be discovered. Meanwhile, we’re continually discovering ourselves through the words we put on the page.

–Malcolm

thesailorcoverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Emily’s Stories” and “The Sailor.”

When it comes to books, why aren’t we buying locally?

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“Several studies have shown that when you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than a nationally owned businesses, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses, service providers and farms — continuing to strengthen the economic base of the community.” – Sustainable Connections

An online friend of mine is being forced to close her bookstore. One of the unfortunate aspects of this is the disappearance of a venue for local authors.

e-readerlinkBookstores, of course, are struggling as e-books grab a larger share of the readership. Some stores have tried to counter this by installing Espresso Book Machines that will print any POD book within a few minutes. For the store, this isn’t cheap. Other stores are teaming up with providers to offer e-books.

Several years ago, the New Yorker Magazine published a cartoon showing a downtown merchant taking the delivery of books from Amazon even though there was a bookstore right next door.

Why has it come to this? Why has it become easier to order from Amazon and wait a day or two for the book to arrive rather than driving 15 minutes to the nearest store?

Some people don’t have time to drive to the bookstore, and they argue that it takes less time to order an Amazon book that will arrive on their doorstep than it does to drive. Perhaps so. Other readers say that Amazon offers bigger discounts and–when the orders are large enough–free shipping.

Perhaps we’ve become so isolated from our friends, neighbors and local business people that we see no reason to support them by buying local. Are we so in love with celebrity authors that every book we buy has to be a mega-bestseller rather than a lesser-known book written by somebody who

Click on graphic to learn mor3e

Click on graphic to learn more

lives near us who’s placed that book on consignment at the bookstore down town?

Seriously, is Amazon really cheaper? The book itself might be, especially in those states where Amazon isn’t paying sales taxes. Buying local supports local schools, public works, related businesses, and provides jobs. It helps the economy. Buying from Amazon, hurts the local economy because it gives nothing back to it.

Newspapers have long known the proverb: Nearest, dearest. That is, people tend to care about local news, especially when if impacts them in some way. I wish we were applying this proverb to local businesses and local authors, giving them our support before helping Amazon and faraway authors first.

We can use the IndieBound store finder to find bookstores near us. Maybe we’ll be driving past one on the way to see a movie, buy groceries or stop at the hardware store. Why not stop for a few minutes and see what they have to offer?

Malcolm

SOF2014lowresMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of the mystery/comedy “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.” In Commerce Georgia, you’ll find my paperback books at the Bookstand of Northeast Georgia.

Georgia Bookstores Selling E-Readers

Georgia
A Cappella Books Atlanta, GA
A Novel Experience Zebulon, GA
Avid Bookshop Athens, GA
Bound to Be Read Books Atlanta, GA
Charis Books and More Atlanta, GA
Eagle Eye Bookshop Decatur, GA
Horton’s Books & Gifts Carrollton, GA
Read It Again Books Suwanee, GA
The Bookshelf, LLC Thomasville, GA

Dear Reader: If you buy books like widgets, I don’t want you

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“We get on social media, we try different kinds of events, we create interesting displays, we sell the hell out of the books we love, but none of that reaches the boardrooms where the big decisions are made. If I could get one wish from the ghost of Sylvia Beach, it’s that she, or someone who cares about the inherent value of books, gets a seat in those boardrooms to advocate for readers not consumers, for books as a pillar of culture not as a unit of sales, and for bookstores as community centers not retail outlets and merchandise showrooms.” – Josh Cook of Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass

We hear stories from time to time about artists, jewelers, furniture makers and other stubborn souls who, after perfecting the art and the craft of their work for nearly a lifetime, refuse to sell their work to customers whom they believe won’t appreciate the work for its inherent beauty and artistry or who try to prostitute themselves, the art and the artists by acquiring the perfect bentwood rocker, diamond ring or sonnet at a rock bottom price.

Amazon, the Internet and parents who rear children to believe they (the children) are the center of the universe are conspiring like planets in trine to create a book buying atmosphere in which many (but thankfully, not all) prospective readers feel entitled to free, or almost-free books. This attitude is strengthened by the unfortunate, but popular, mindset that anyone selling or making anything is corrupt, cheating at taxes, and trying to rip off customers one way or the other. Therefore, like every other false right people are claiming to have these days, cheap books have become a component of the public’s feelings of entitlement and a way to get back at those who are purportedly stealing us blind.

If you listen to Amazon and to those who believe Amazon has done more for authors and readers than anyone since Gutenberg, then you are hearing that an e-book is just a file.  That means that neither the publisher nor the author is paying printers to print it, nor warehouses to store it.  Those who buy books as units or widgets or just files, see no value in the product other than the momentary gratification of reading them. They not only do not see the inherent artistry in the storytelling, nor the expenses an author incurs in creating that file which might include: (a) a year or two of full-time work, (2) hiring at editor, (3) paying for cover art, (4) travel and other research, (5) promotional efforts including mailing off free review copies, maintaining a website, traveling to book signings, purchasing bookmarks and fliers.

Some authors who have become household names by selling their books through large publishers, can take their fame—as well as their talents—off into the self-publishing world and earn a living selling books for a dollar or two on Amazon. They will lead you to believe that any author or publisher who asks you to pay, say, $5.00 for an e-book is ripping you off because (after all) the book is just a file.

According to the Census Bureau, the current poverty income level in the United States is $8,959. Looking at this simplistically, if I take a year to write an 80,000 word novel, I would have to sell at least 8,959 copies of that book on Amazon at the $1 price to break even at the poverty level. If I had any expenses in creating the book, I’d be under the poverty level.

In spite of the success stories we read about from time to time, most self-published books sell less than a hundred copies. Small-press authors are lucky if they sell 1,500 copies. In both cases, the authors are under the poverty level.

My great hope is that my readers will be happy with my books and will feel that a near-lifetime of art and craft has gone into them. I’m just an everyday, journeyman writer, so I do not feel like a “Hemingway in the making” or a “not-yet-discovered” Pat Conroy or John Grisham. Nonetheless, I do work very hard to tell exciting stories, with three-dimensional characters, pitch-perfect descriptions and themes that provide food for thought. Yet, and I tell you this without vanity or guile, if you want to purchase any of my novels at rock-bottom prices to you and to others like you, don’t bother.

If you think my e-book is just a file rather than the words and the work within the file, I don’t want you buying any of my books because, while we might have to agree to disagree about this, I don’t think you will appreciate them for their value as art/craft/culture. And, if you are earning an income above the poverty level, my strong belief is that if you want me to live below the poverty level selling my books with a rock-bottom, Amazon-style price, then you’re not the kind of person who will appreciate me as an author.

Based on the comments I’ve received on this blog, either directly, or when I post the links on Twitter or Facebook, I know that my regular visitors agree with the Josh Cook quotation I used to set the stage for this essay. I’m not talking to you because that would be rather like preaching to the choir. I’m talking to the people who will find this post via search engines with search words like “rock bottom prices” and “Amazon.” If you are one of those people and if you came here hoping I can “get it for you wholesale” or give it away for nothing, then I don’t want you.

For everyone else out there who respects books for their stories, words fail me in telling you how much I appreciate you.

Malcolm