Downton Abbey Meets Invercargill

I just finished reading a great slice-of-life memoir a from a friend of mine in New Zealand. I lived in New Zealand from 1984 to 1986 and will always have a special place in my heart for that magical country “down under.” But what I’m loving about my friend’s memoir, The Boltons of the Little Boltons, is that it is a remembrance of the period of time in my friend’s life when he and his wife decided to move to the UK to become domestic servants to a wealthy, titled, English couple. They were successful writers in NZ who decided to have a Downton Abbey adventure (about twenty years before Julian Fellowes got his brainstorm.)

Like in the States, there is no class system in New Zealand so my friends, who are educated, well-travelled and professional people, had many significant adjustments and singular experiences (which, also, as it turned out, was brilliant material for a book!) I am loving the book and find myself so envious of their experience. Their children were grown and out of the nest when they had their adventure but, even so, England is a long, long way from New Zealand and their entire world.

As I read, I marvel at, not only their bravery (after all they are both intrepid and had lived in other parts of the world for extended periods of time so it wasn’t too much of a jolt for them in that way) but at their flexibility. It’s hard, after a certain age, to accept a wide range of inconveniences, which, I think, travel largely is. You have to be okay with strange beds, strange foods, lack of security in routine or routes, and a general fare of continual, relentless, surprise. When I was younger, that was the very thing I loved about travel—the not knowing, the surprises. Now, not so much. I hate how I’m so damn happy to crawl back into my own bed after a trip. Or how ecstatic I am to see the pets and the garden.

As it happens, I was a newlywed living in the Cotswolds while my Kiwi friends were being cooks and housemaids in London in 1991. They came down to our little cottage in Compton Abdale to see us—since a visit to either Atlanta or Auckland was harder to come by—and they told some of their “Upstairs-Downstairs” tales then. Actually, I might’ve been at a good age to do something similar, but just then I wasn’t “where they were.” They were empty nesters and I had yet to put the first egg in mine. Plus, I had just married and was keen to set up house and see the sights from that particular voyage first.

I think that’s the marvelous thing about memoirs—the re-living of a special time—a time that can never come again—can actually transport you in ways that no DC10 or Euro-rail system can. And if you write—or are lucky enough to share a memorable time with someone who does—you can recreate that time and go back there in vivid detail and living color over and over again. And when you do, inevitably you’ll meet and get to know all over again the most amazing people: not just loved ones who are no longer with us, but someone else who is no longer with us—your younger self.

Are Amazon’s Five-Star Reviews the Road to Success?

I have a friend whose grown daughter teaches drama for preschoolers in DC.  I asked how she ended up doing that when all we’d ever heard about Casey for years was how she was going to be an actress. (She was gorgeous, sang, danced, went to Tisch at NYU, performed at Disney World every summer, and made it to off-off Broadway.) Her mother said Casey came to the point where she finally knew her big break probably wasn’t going to happen. (She was at the point where “ingénue” didn’t fit any more and she was now skating very close to the point where the go-be-a-wife-and-mother option was almost off the table, too.) So she bailed. Her mother said: “Casey never had that fire in her belly that you need to make it in a very competitive business. She didn’t have that stab-your-bestfriend, sleep-with-whomever, step-on-whomever, do-whatever you-need-to-do-to-make-it-happen mindset.” I think about Casey sometimes when I’m looking at some young, fresh faced actress (who isn’t related to someone famous.) I wonder how nice they are or did they have to kill someone to get their present measure of fame?

I bring this up because there is a thing that we authors believe (probably accurately) will help us in our quest to bestsellerdom (or at least a consistent fifty books sold a month). That is the Five-Star Amazon Review.

First, it’s amazing to me that we are still trying to directly control our sales numbers. We’re still trying to do the three-steps-to-amazing-book-sales thing because the alternative: writing the next awesome book while we’re waiting for success to happen doesn’t feel like it’s directly addressing the problem of low book sales. The key here is the word “direct.” Going back to the keyboard for another three months of labor isn’t directly affecting your book sales. It’s a slow, down-the-road kind of process. But we are a people who “want it NOW.” The idea that the best way to sell books is to write a great book in the first place and then turn around and write another one (all the while praying for one of them to “hit”) is just too passive to be believed, let alone lived.

We still want to believe we have direct control over obtaining book sales success. It’s just another demonstration of the fact that we can’t accept there’s not something we can do to ensure our success will happen. We’ve seen so many Disney movies, so we know how it all works out and if we have to help it along a little, like maybe lie or misrepresent the truth, well, since the happy ending is what we’re all aiming for, what does it matter?

When you’ve been fed a constant diet of “you can do it” and combine it with a national tendency not to put too many restraints on our desires or wants (witness our national obesity problem), you have a situation where cheating or lying can be justified in the process of achieving the Big Dream.

I know writing up a bunch of fake reviews for your pals to post on your books on Amazon isn’t treason or Sin with a capital “S,” but I do think it’s a little shameful. I know you can justify writing a glowing five-star review for yourself by thinking “if they would only give it a try I’m sure they’ll love it!” Plus, you know a lot of other writers are doing it, too, so it’s not unlike when you were in high school working your butt off to get A’s while the C students were cheating and pulling down the very same GPA. It wasn’t fair but climbing down into the hog pen with them wasn’t the solution then and it isn’t now.

I say, be passionate. Absolutely use that fire in your belly to write until the wee hours, push past exhaustion to make those deadlines, buck yourself up in the face of a few bad reviews, smile when your friends and family are condescending to you about being a writer—do what you can to keep your dream alive and keep your keyboard smoking. But have some self-restraint for pity’s sake. (And think about it: if you’re really asking your friends to do this, maybe there’s a reason why they don’t take you seriously as a “writer.”)

As Peter Bowerman, author of The Well-Fed Writer, said in an article in the November 2011 issue of the IBPA Independent:

“The currency of a five-star review is becoming devalued day by day…Focus on making your books as good as they can possibly be, in every way—better than they have to be, in fact (a part of the publishing process, over which, incidentally, you have 100% total control). Do that and the praise will be genuine and will come naturally. But, more important, your book will benefit from priceless word of mouth, which will build an enduring demand for the title. And that’s something the author of a mediocre book who’s resorted to fraudulent reviews can never hope to enjoy. For when real reviewers and real readers really read the real book, and speak the real truth, the jig’s up.”

Amen!

The Power Of “No”

I hear that the employees working at Apple stores are not able to use a certain word when dealing with their customers. (And no, it’s not “Microsoft.”) Those black-teed employees tasked to work the “Genius Bar,” which is almost exclusively the arena of Apple customers who have a problem, are particularly warned against using the word.

The word is “unfortunately.”

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem like such a terrible word to be banned across 357 stores worldwide and it definitely takes some thought as to why that word.  I guess “unfortunately” is a banned word because it is not helpful and does not suggest a solution. It prefaces a re-stating of some problem or, worse, the prediction of a negative result for some problem. Any way you look at, stating the word “unfortunately” probably isn’t going to help anyone who is looking to have a problem solved.

If someone is forced to buckle down straightaway with the chore of solving a problem without wasting time recycling all the tiresome reasons as to WHY it’s a problem, and thereby getting into a negative mindset at the outset, I imagine that can only be a good thing. Plus, there is opportunity in the word “unfortunately.” Opportunity to discover something else that is an unhappy offshoot of the original problem, perhaps. Or opportunity to explore the possibility that there is no solution.

The fact is, once you start a sentence with “unfortunately,” no good can come of it. Your mind picks up the thread and fills in the rest of the sentence and it never ends well. Somehow Steve Jobs and his denizens realized this. I’m a big enough fan of most of the wonderful things that Mr. Jobs created in his perfect techno-world to pay attention to this at-first-quirky employers’ edict.

And, of course, like all great maxims, it works across  other arenas as well. A marriage proposal with the word “unfortunately” in it is not a good sign. A job offer that encompasses the word “unfortunately” is not a positive start either. When you are moving forward with your dreams—while it’s important not to be a total fool about what can and can’t happen—I  would say that using the word “unfortunately” during your planning period will aid in booby-trapping your efforts right out of the box. You have enough things working against you without your language working you over, too.

When I used to jump horses, my trainer would tell me that if I heard even the faintest whisper of a voice in my head as I lined up the jump leading to the coop suggesting my horse and I would not be able to make it over, then I should know that we wouldn’t, in all likelihood, successfully jump it.

She was right.

One thing I’ve learned is that little voice in your head has big power. So big, in fact that in addition to forbidding it to say certain words, there seems great equity in training it to say “you are awesome!” or “you can do it!” from time to time too. Especially if you can’t find anybody to cheer your cause,  why not pick up the pom-pom and start things off yourself? Get into the habit of carrying around your own cheering squad in your head and you never know where you may end up!

Not to take anything from the power of “no.” But just imagine the power of “yes.”

Living Your Dream at the Worst Possible Time

Ten years ago I  wrote a book called “Quit Your Job, Move to Paris.” I wrote it after a young dewy-eyed college grad interviewed with me at the bank where I was working in the advertising department. (Dear God, I’m depressing myself just writing the words.) She’d recently graduated with a degree in advertising and wanted to know what she should do to, basically, get my job. I looked at her and asked: “Are you married?” She blushed prettily and shook her head. I said: “So no kids?” She reddened not so prettily and frowned at me. “Of course not,” she said. “Do you own your own home?” “I’m only 21,” she replied, as if speaking to a seriously mentally impaired individual. (Kind of like how my teenager speaks to me all the time but that’s another blog.) I said: “So, no ties, no mortgage, no private school tuition. My advice to you is…” She poised her little pen over her little steno pad.

Well, you can probably guess what I said (see above title of aforementioned book) and she did not appreciate being led on as she put it. In addition to being a new college graduate, she also happened to be the daughter of the bank’s vice president so I’m not sure why she even bothered to get my take on anything. She should’ve just gone to her Dad and said: “I want her job, please, Daddy.”

But see, I had a mortgage and a kid (plus two step-kids, but again, another time, another blog) and the idea of “living my passion” or waking up and smelling the croissants on the Rue de la Paix or spending a year writing a novel was about as possible as starring in a Broadway musical. She was young. She had her whole life ahead of her. Her choices hadn’t been made yet. From my perspective, I thought she should take advantage of her freedom while she had it, as if passion—for writing or travel or acting or anything—would dry up or run out like sand in an hourglass.

When I wrote the “Quit Your Job” book, I ended up researching various chapters on different life situations to suggest ways and ideas of how moving to Paris for a period of time might be possible: married with kids, single with kids, etc. During the course of my research, I discovered how it would be possible for me to go, too. The  information I came up with for my own situation was good and bad. The good news was: I learned I could go! I learned how I could make it happen! The bad news was: I chose not to. Yeah, I know. That part sucked. But it still helped to know I had a choice. I didn’t pack up the kid and the husband and shoot off to France in 2001 because when I sat down and thought about it, I realized I wanted other things more. Things that couldn’t happen if I took the Paris option at that time.

Funny thing about passion, though. If it’s real, it tends to stay with you. I don’t work in a corporate advertising department any more. I write full time. As for the Paris thing, well, my son is sifting through his college acceptances even as we speak which means, next year, he’s launched into his grand adventure. And guess what? Turns out, Paris is still there!

Seems that silly college girl was right about one thing: there really isn’t a time limit on passions after all.

The Top 3 Reasons Why Book Trailers are Worthless

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure book trailers have been done before. And they weren’t successful then either. We all remember the thirty-second television ads that you’d see from time to time for a book. There was always a disconnect—watching a visual medium trying to excite you about a nonvisual medium. First, books are SO personal and the images we create in our heads of the stories and settings of books are so unique to our own personal world construct, that it’s hard to see what would work in a mass media presentation. Has a video ever succeeded in selling a book? Ever? It’s one thing to see a movie of a book you’ve already read. Most of us can switch gears pretty quickly to align our vision of what Hogwarts looked like with that of Director Chris Columbus’. And ever after that, of course, it’s his vision we see in our heads as we read the rest of the series.

I was watching a BBC time travel show last winter called “The Outcasts,” (really good BTW but cancelled after one season) and at one point the camera focused on the main character’s face as she opened up a chest that held an alien creature germane to the survival of the colony. The camera hesitated a tad too long on the woman’s face and I found myself thinking: “If you do a cut away to the next scene without showing us what it looked like (presumably to save on the production cost of creating the alien thing), I’m going to be pissed. If I wanted to use my imagination, I’d read a book.”

The point is, we have certain expectations from each of our mediums. Trying to pretend that a book is a movie and that we are excited and teased by it in the same way as a movie is silly. For one thing, our experience with a book will typically be more invested than with a movie. A movie may cost the same but it’s only about 90 minutes of your time. A book will likely go with you on your daily round and fall asleep with you at night. You will access the book on your own schedule, and dip into it or read it straight through based on your mood and timing—not your neighborhood Cineplex’s. It’s a relationship. Whatever actress or animation you see in the book trailer is not who you would have created in your own mind. The book trailer actually succeeds in making the world created in the book less real.

Top three reasons not to waste your time producing a book trailer:

  1. If the production is decent, you—as the author—will come off looking a little smarmy and slick. And not-so-deep down we all know it just means you spent money for a professional video editor. It has nothing to do with the promise of the quality of the book.
  2. If the production is lame, and indie book trailers often are with their sappy music, indecipherable text fonts, and amateurish slides, most people—used to very sophisticated video productions—will run like hell from you and your book.
  3. Finally, not only is the medium of video inadequate to sell the complex, detailed world expected from a book, but so is the time allotment. Sixty seconds—the recommended length for a book trailer—just isn’t long enough to do the job. Wrong medium, wrong message. Books aren’t movies. They can’t be advertised like movies.

Also, my brief visit to Wikipedia today informed me that book trailers were originally created to get nonreaders interested in picking up a book. That makes sense. If someone doesn’t read, he likely gets his stories from TV or movies, so a movie would be a good way to try to reach him.  But, unless you’re trying to talk your audience into reading, rather than specifically reading your book, it’s probably a better use of your time to let the indie filmmakers keep their trailers and you do other things to promote your book!

Having said that, I’ve got a book trailer for my book Toujours Dead that was loads of fun to do, (I’m an amateur film editor) though I won’t be repeating the experience anytime soon. Anyone else have a feeling one way or the other about the benefits of book trailers? Or proof of how a book trailer helped to sell books? Love to hear from you!

Is it the end of bookstores or the sound of one hand clapping?

I didn’t rejoice when Borders announced last fall that they were going belly up, but, at the time, I didn’t really care, either. I’d long since stopped buying even paperbacks there although it was still nice on an unhurried lunch hour to browse through their magazine shelves to flip through periodicals I never knew existed. Except for the odd gift here and there, I can’t remember buying a hardback book at any of the big box bookstores for at least five years. And since the advent of the affordable e-reader, I haven’t even bothered picking up a paperback book from Wal-Mart—not when it’s so much more convenient, not to mention cheaper, to download it to my Kindle. (Brick and mortar bookstores require climbing out of your bunny slippers and driving. Real-place bookstores require parking and standing in line. When I want the third book in the Hunger Games series, I want it NOW.)

So why does it feel, with the closing of this once warm and happy place (and oh! it always smelled so good inside!) like the world has turned its back on reading and literature—not just the method by which it was delivered to us? If anything, thanks to e-readers and smartphones, we’re all reading much more than before. We’re reading in line at movie theaters, in doctors’ offices, and even while waiting for traffic lights (well, maybe that’s just me).  Plus, now that there is no tell-tale cover of heaving bosoms or pre-teen sci-fi fantasy, no one can see what we’re reading either.

The sad, bare shelves aside, it wasn’t reading we were turning our backs on, even though that’s how it felt last fall when my husband and I picked over the rumble sale that was our neighborhood Borders store. What we really lost was the pleasure of browsing that the big bookstore afforded. Anchoring an outdoor string of Pottery Barns and Gaps, the Borders in our neighborhood was the only way we could turn a “trip to the mall” into a joint affair. Neither of us can manage to wander around Williams and Sonoma for an hour (as much as we like the place) but we could always get happily lost, coffee cup in hand, at Borders for much longer. (Plus, I could even leave him and go to J Crew and come back and he was still happy to be “out shopping” with me. Win-win.)

Reading is, by its nature, a solitary pleasure but the big box bookstores gave us a steady stream of coffee and plush chairs and brought other bibliophiles together. They surrounded us with all the lush colors of one magnificent book cover after another—in fact rows and rows and stacks and stacks of them—the objects of our mutual desire. It was such a lovely little world. And for awhile it didn’t matter that we weren’t actually buying anything. In fact, for years I stubbornly refused to pay $25 for a hardback book. I picked  them up, read the blurb copy, and photographed the gorgeous covers with my cellphone so that I could find them later either at the library or as an e-book. For me, the big bookstores—and the mom and pops for that matter—were about everything except actually purchasing the book. They were about fellowship, good coffee, relaxed browsing, and discovering new books.

I wonder, amid all the wondering of what the future of bookstores will be, if there might someday once again be a place to congregate—with coffee and plush chairs and other book lovers. Oh, that’s right…that’d be the Internet Book Clubs. And the coffee is chez vous and the plush chair is your living room couch. It’s just that, it seems to me, especially on top of the worry that my Boomer generation often confesses to about our children’s generation possibly having difficulty “connecting” in person, might this be another nail in the coffin of personal interaction?

Indie Writers Advice #231: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Like a lot of Indie writers, I can easily get tangled up in the differences between us Indies and trad-published writers. Because we are all still fighting so hard for credibility and to wave away the stench of self-published from our books, we  can tend to spend too much time focusing on the manner or way that we become published.

I’m an indie filmmaker as well as an indie author. I remember waiting at the orthodontist’s office with my middle schooler a couple of years ago and listening to him refer to me to the receptionist as his Mom, “the geek.” It totally surprised me that he would see me that way, but when I really thought about it, it was a correct assessment. As a film editor, I spend a lot of time with the technology to get the project I’m working on to turn out the way I want. I am always on the lookout for the latest software to help me do my job and, of course, I’m constantly updating and refreshing my existing tools. Fact is, because I consider myself an artist, I never saw that I’m also a computer geek. I read an article recently (in one of my geeky film editing e-zines) that was a response to a video editor’s concern that the new, cheaper version of Final Cut Pro (a video software editing program that was extremely expensive and had a big learning curve) meant that everybody would be competing with him now for jobs. The article responded to him by making the point that I think we would all—whether as writers or video editors—do well to remember: our tools are not the things that matter. They are just the method that makes the thing that matters, happen.

What matters is the story.

Strip away all the social media and the promotion, the blog tours and the technology involved in producing the end product—whether it’s a video or a book published through Smashwords—and what you have left is the story. And it is the story that lasts. The story is not platform dependent, it is not technology dependent. It is even, amazingly, the answer to all those authors out there concerned that they will not be able to contribute (and therefore compete) with the new multimedia aspects of fiction coming as sure as tsunamis follow earthquakes. You can stop worrying. Because as much as I love them, it’s not the gizmos, the gadgets, the fads or the gimmicks  that matter a damn in our business.

Have a good story. Tell it well. Period.

Roll credits, fade to black.

The Hottest Word on the Internet These Days

That would be the word “free.”

Whether it works or not, free has always had magic qualities. As an advertising copywriter, I know that tucking the word “free” into a headline was always considered the Holy Grail of benefit advertising. (What’s better than free?) So it stands to reason, that the word would prove to be alluring in other avenues. I read on Passive Guy’s blog yesterday that the publisher, Sourcebooks, revealed that they experience “full-price sales that are 46 times greater on average after a “free” promotion than the four weeks before the promotion.” And if you go on Kindle Boards or Twitter or anywhere else writers congregate, you’ll get a first-hand snapshot of how the Kindle Select promotions are going for them. (This is where writers put a title up exclusively with Amazon and for that, they get to offer their book free any five days of their choice in a three-month period. )

I must say, I was curious enough that I had to try it myself. I have a three-book mystery series and offered the first book in the series free last week for two days. 500 downloads later, it’s still selling heaps better than it did before the Kindle Select “bump,” (as it’s called.) I typically sell twenty copies of this particular title a month. I sold that much in two days (over the weekend). Today, however, it’s back to selling two copies a day so I don’t know whether the “bump” is over or what, but even if it is, I’m happy to have had it.

People like free stuff. Who knew? If it’s crap, you’re not out anything, and if it’s good—hey, you got it for free! The executive director of Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network (SPAWN), Patricia Fry, wrote a great piece in the October 2011 issue of IBPA Independent called “Give Something to Get Something.” (The piece was taken from her book, which looks great, BTW, “Promote Your Book: Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author.”) In the IBPA piece, she reinforces something that grocery stores and used car salesmen have known for decades, and that is the concept of the loss leader. This is where you give something away of value, in order to enhance the prospect of gathering a customer you might’ve missed before. Hopefully, if the customer is happy with the free thing, they’ll tell their friends and come back for more—at full price.

From Ms. Fry’s article, here are six ways to give it away and have it come back to you:

  1. Donate your book as a prize in an online contest, especially if that means it is prominently featured on the site—which is free advertising for you.
  2. Give a copy of your book to your local library. If your book can be ordered (so, not a CreateSpace edition) there’s a greater chance of that happening if the librarian is holding a copy in her hands.
  3. Offer your book in local charity events. I put the second book of my French mystery series in a big basket with lavender soap, flowers, a Provençal coffee mug and a decent bottle of wine (the mystery happens in a French vineyard) and donated it to the silent auction at my son’s middle school. It sat on exhibit for hours and was then verbally and enticingly described (I wrote the sales copy) by the auctioneer. In my case, I was also invited to sell and sign books after the event but even if that doesn’t happen, it’s still good visibility for your book. (Make sure you create a decent sign to prop next to the basket that sells the book.)
  4. Leave the book in professional waiting rooms. If you have a nonfiction book especially, distribute a few to waiting rooms around town: doctors, dentists, veterinarians. (Note: these’ll go “walkies” on a regular basis so be sure and check back often to replenish the supply.)
  5. Focus on the unique promotional benefits of certain genres. Children’s books or books with a special hook: (equestrian fiction, travel or food-related plots, etc.) can often be put on display at tack shops, gift shops, open houses at schools, even restaurants. I have a little neighborhood café that positions itself as all-things-French. The people who run the café are friendly and were happy to add another tincture of Frenchness to the ambiance of their place by putting my Provençal mystery series on display by the cash register. It’s true these aren’t free, but they are loss leaders in that I sell them for much, much less than customers could buy them (after shipping) from Amazon. (Note: because my print-on-demand books are created through Lightning Source, I can typically sell them for $5 a piece and still break even. Remember: I’m trying to spur word-of-mouth and create goodwill in this instance, not make a profit.)
  6. Say “yes” to endorsements for other books. There’s nothing that says “free advertising” like a line on someone else’s book (if it’s good) that reads: “Blah blah blah,” by Susan Kiernan-Lewis, author of the award-winning mystery “Little Death by the Sea.”

So there you have it! “Free” really is the hottest word—on or off the Internet—and there are a lot of different ways to make it work for you. If anybody else has ideas of something they’ve tried at the local level to give their books away (whether it worked or not), I’d love to hear!

Where Will You Be When the Dust Clears?

There’s an old joke where two guys are camping and they see a hungry bear and one guy starts lacing up his sneakers and his buddy says, “You don’t think you can outrun a bear do you?” and the other guy says, “I just need to outrun you.”

Seems to me this joke kind of describes where we are now as authors on the verge of being successful in this e-publishing enterprise.

I recently read “The Self E-Publishing Bubble” in The Guardian that made some predictions about epublishing and ebook authors that started to make me believe that if we authors want to avoid being the ones that get turned into bear sushi by the parameters of the new publishing industry, we have to be mindful about one particularly important directive: we have to not stop.  We have to not stop writing, not stop believing, not stop publishing. I hate to add my italics and boldface to all the sappy, soppy edicts out there that will tell you that persistence is the key, but sometimes the corny stuff is the truth.

Persistence is the key.

When I spoke at the North Georgia State College’s conference on e-publishing last fall, I admitted that there was some truth to the “tsumani of crap” that e-publishing was seen as by many bewildered readers. But at that time I had yet to see the glimmer of hope that that tidal wave might dissipate. In fact, nobody was talking about the glut of self-published books diminishing. We were all just trying to imagine literary mechanisms that might help readers wade through the enlarged reading inventory, like reviews they respected from their genre or, I don’t know, maybe something brand new that nobody’s ever heard of but is invented to handle this new world order of ours that nobody could’ve envisioned five years ago!

So the story—and I do hope you read it—quotes the NY Times saying a recent survey revealed that as a result of the supposed ease of e-publishing 82% of all Americans are now interested in writing a book. (Holy crap! You think we got a glutted market now!)

Only before we all go strangle ourselves with our USB patch cords, the writer, Ewan Morrison, goes on to say that the lack of sales (fewer than 100 a year for most writers) and dearth of positive feedback (This is not a business for overly sensitive souls) and the realization that you are, essentially, “writing for free” (OMG, I’m laughing here!) and general disrespect would prompt most new e-book authors to give up within a year and find another hobby. Especially if there was a day job involved.

“After a long year of trying to sell self-epublished books, attempting to self-promote on all available networking sites, and realising that they have been in competition with hundreds of thousands of newcomers just like them, the vast majority of the newly self-epublished authors discover that they have sold less than 100 books each. They then discover that this was in fact the business model of Amazon and other epub platforms in the first place: a model called “the long tail”. With five million new self-publishing authors selling 100 books each, Amazon has shifted 500m units. While each author – since they had to cut costs to 99p – has made only £99 after a year’s work. Disillusionment sets in as they realise that they were sold an idea of success which could, by definition, not possibly be extended to all who were willing to take part.”

Add to the above an accepted formula for success in indie publishing (and it’s one that I believe in) that says inventory is key to making money, and you have even more reason to believe that most new writers will quit. Creating an inventory means you need to write a lot and fairly constantly (you certainly do if you want to build any kind of library of work while you’re still young enough to enjoy the profits outside the nursing home). Doing this with little to no money up front (“spec” we used to call it in advertising), when you’re exhausted from working a day job, probably a family demanding your attention and God knows what else a normal life requires of you, is going to be too much for most people.

Which is good news for YOU. Because YOU won’t give up when the rest of them do. Right? Because for every soldier who falls to the wayside, that is one less book in your genre you need to compete with. It’s one step nearer to the overworked reviewer choosing to smile on your book (if it’s good), and one degree closer to the reader discovering you. It stands to reason if the pile of available books is even a little smaller, your chance of being found is a little greater.

The interesting thing about all this—the thing that nobody is writing about—also happens to be the fly in the soup of the Guardian story and that is the fact that most writers that I know of (wait for it!) aren’t in it for the money. I mean it would be nice. What a dream, to get paid to write stories? But bottom line, you know you’re going to write anyway, no matter what.

And that is precisely why, when it’s all said and done and the dust has cleared and when e-publishing and Amazon and readers and trad publishing and all of them have done what they’re going to do and evolved where they will, YOU will be on the other side of it, quietly building that inventory, writing stories and publishing books for years and years to come.

I honestly cannot think of a better way to live my life.

When our heroes track mud on the living room carpet

Seventeen years ago, I found an awesome book called Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I have worn this book out, underlined it, typed whole sections into my smartphone over the years, mined it for never-fail gems upon which I have launched many a blog post. I remember loving her voice, her assuredness as I re-read her words of wisdom, much of it researched by great writers and thinkers, explorers and doers in history and enhanced and made current to our lives, our time by Ms. Breathnach’s own gentle voice and common sense perspective.

It’s not hyperbole to say that she touched my life. I found comfort and balance in her words and reached for this book often. If you’re not familiar with it, she gives an essay for every day of the year and while she mostly speaks to women, her essays cover everything from raising children to digging out of credit card debt to finding your passion to cooking a simple meal.

Today, I looked up the chapter where she addresses Spending Habits. She wrote: “One of the greatest gifts my husband has ever given me is the ability to think before I spend. This is how savers behave. Savers don’t get a high from recreational shopping. Savers don’t shop in order to make themselves feel better…Today, be willing to gently explore your life-energy expenditures. Don’t blame yourself for bad choices. Do attempt to make better ones. Most of our problems in handling money stem from unexamined patterns rather than from uncontrollable urges.”

Okay. Very nice, and as true today in 2012 as it was when she wrote it in 1995. You might have read this in last month’s O Magazine, it’s so current sounding. In fact, Ms. Breathnach appeared on Oprah’s show 11 times.

Which is why I was so shocked to discover that a few years after selling 7 million copies of Simple Abundance, Ms. Breathnach ended up divorced, broke and sleeping on the couch at her sister’s. (As a writer, myself, this is definitely not how one dreams that being a mega-bestseller author will end up.)

We all have heroes that fail us. We are all human. I get that. I think it’s remarkably gutsy to write a book saying you have researched all the answers and then go on Oprah eleven times to underscore the point.

And then trip.

My hat is off to her for trying in such a big way. In fact, I may currently be even more impressed with Ms. Breathnach than I was before her fall. It’s one thing to be all Yoda and wise when you’re sitting in your comfy middle-class home when you don’t have to worry about a day job because you have a working spouse. It’s quite another when you’re homeless, in debt up to your eyeballs and jobless.  Here is one Phoenix, however, I have to believe is destined to rise from the ashes.

Not surprisingly, she’s got a new book out about her journey. But for me, I think I’ll pass. Don’t get me wrong, my hat is off to her and her unsinkable Molly Brown ability to fashion opportunity out of failure, but I’ve gotten a few years under my belt since I last looked outward for my heroes. Today, I’m looking closer to home for that and sorting out the codes and values that define my life the old fashioned way: by trying to live them day by day instead of reading about them.