Time to Reboot and Refresh

Don’t you just love computer language? Since computers are so much a part of our lives, it make sense that we would share vocabulary that pertains to them with reference to our own sense of wellbeing. That fact has to be made all the more ironic because computers are, of course, part of our big problem, too.

It’s true we each of us have control over computers and how much time we spend sitting in front of them. But this so-called control is not unlike, in my mind, how we have control over not smoking or stuffing Twinkies in our mouths. On the face of it, it looks like this is something we control, at least in theory, but do we really?

The US government doesn’t think we do. It actually encourages us to believe that we DON’T have control by affirming to us that the reason we’re all getting fat is not because we can’t stop eating the wrong thing, it’s because there isn’t a law forbidding us to eat the wrong thing.

The point I’m trying to circle around to is the one that says, once again, we are the authors of our own misery—caused invariably by the fact that we refuse to stop for a minute and see what we’re doing and see the damage we’re doing. And that’s true whether it’s cigarettes or iHop pancakes or six hours of staring at a computer screen. Six hours probably won’t kill any of us, but doing it every day—or bumping the six hours to ten like I can EASILY do—just might. And not in a grab-your-heart-and-keel-over-the-keyboard kind of kill you, but in a TS Eliot life-measured-out-in-coffee-spoons kind of death. Bit by byte. (Forgive me; I clearly have no control over easily resistible puns either.)

Six years ago, an anthropologist named Cheryl Swanson, a partner in the trend-tracking firm, Toniq, was quoted as saying that we (she was speaking about Americans but I can comfortable extend the target to my entire blog audience) are now processing information at 400 times the rate of our Renaissance ancestors. But we haven’t yet adapted physically or mentally to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise our health.

Added to the 400 times more information we are all attempting to process is the fact that it does not come with 400 extra hours in the day to do so. Without really agreeing to it or even realizing it was happening, how we get those extra hours is by giving up other stuff that used to enhance our lives and heighten our quality of life: sleep, staring at a sunset, walking instead of riding, watching a chrysalis hatch, eating a slow meal with loved ones. I’m a baker and a Martha Stewart zealot. I used to fantasize about a place setting for twelve for Thanksgiving dinner complete with matching turkey saltshakers at every place. And yet, the last year my son was home before he went off to college, our family meals consisted of the three of us standing at the kitchen counter to wolf down our meals (half the time our son took his meal in his bedroom with his calculus homework.) Swanson’s research indicated that in the sixties, dinner was 45 minutes long. By the nineties, it had shrunk to fifteen minutes and today—well, let’s just say that, sadly (forgive me, Martha!), I’m a poster child for family dinners of today. Standing. In fewer than five minutes. It takes more time to make it and clean up after it than to “enjoy” it. And of course, food manufacturers have been hard at work to help us with that part of the equation by creating cheap mix-and-go food that’s a snap to make and even digest. Of course it tastes like donkey dung and brings no moment of pleasure or satisfaction beyond killing hunger pangs but at least you can skip the wash up and just dump the cartons in the trash and call it done. (What next? An IV drip?) I guess there was some big fat reason that forced us to live like this. There was obviously some important trade off that made it worthwhile. I quake to think it was just so we could get extra time in front of the computer terminal or worse, the TV set.

Bottom line? We’re left with a population of people—of all ages—strung out, sleep-deprived and jittery with hyper-enlarged concerns (from ingestion of too much news) that we’re convinced matter very much and probably don’t at all.

Maybe that’s why I find myself writing and reading apocalyptic fiction so much. I have been fascinated (and fearful) by the concept of technological over stimulation in our culture ever since I watched my nine-year-old son eschew a live-action fireworks display in favor of saving the planet from alien zombies on his GameBoy. My post-apocalyptic book Free Falling was written, largely, because of my helpless concern  and my desire to live in a simpler, less technological time.

Let’s face it. Wasn’t the last time we all slowed down, lit a candle and stared peacefully into space  sometime during the last power outage? Or how about that time you got sick and stayed in bed with magazines and a box of tissues and just the sound of your own sniffling and the cat purring? Wasn’t it kind of wonderful at the same time it was miserable?

What does that tell you?

The 6 Road Blocks to Happiness

I debated titling this post “The 6 Barriers to Success” or “The 6 Reasons why your book won’t sell,” but bottom line, these barriers work across all goals, all genres, all endpoints. Whether you’re a writer or just a person trying to be happy in this life, fill in the blank where I’ve put “happiness” and you’re good to go.

  1. Availability. Here’s the example I always think of: I am constantly monitoring my weight and would no sooner buy grocery store cupcakes to have on hand in my kitchen than I would spoon sugar directly into my mouth. And yet, when there’s a party at work or when my local Whole Foods is giving away free samples of just about anything, I line up at the trough as if the calories don’t count. (This is also true with just about every job I ever said “yes” to.) The idea behind this barrier is that we often settle for what’s convenient or available instead of holding off for what we really  want.
  2. Momentum. Self-explanatory, really. If you’ve been doing the same thing forever—regardless of how happy or successful it makes you—the sheer fact that you’re familiar with it can keep you doing it ad nauseum or until you die. Whichever comes first. This goes for your book marketing efforts, or your job, your hobby. If whatever you’re doing is not so good, it’s time for self-examination. Which brings us to…
  3. Ignorance. If you’re unhappy or unsatisfied, maybe you don’t know how to change that fact. If you don’t know how, you could get off your butt and learn what you need to know to change your life. (This kind of overlaps with Momentum.) Ignorance is only bliss if you’re blissful. If you’re dissatisfied, you need to wise up and figure things out.
  4. Group decisions. As an ex-advertising agency copywriter I can tell you for a fact that committees spoil everything good. They take the magic out of a great line, they stomp the crap out of any subtlety, and they put you on the fast track to mediocre. Whether you’re trying to please a client (and honestly, what do they know?) or just a half dozen people-with-opinions, your end result will always and absolutely be the lowest common denominator.
  5. Comfort Zone. This is my particular sticking point and I bet it is for a lot of people. While you might not know it from the way I rabbit on in this blog, fact is, I’m a little shy around people-in-the-flesh. Not unlike a lot of writers, the idea of a bookstore signing is weighed and equated by me with the same relish as anticipating a root canal with no Novocain. I’m not exactly the Unabomber, but I like my comfort zone. And that’s no place to be if you want to be  successful. It’s always going to be easier to stay home, to not make that phone call, to stay in the corner instead of approaching people, to watch TV instead of knocking out word count. I used to have a line that went off in my head when I would collapse on the couch instead of at my desk: “Stress-relieving is not goal-achieving.” I think we give too much weight to our so-called stress-relieving activities. Nothing relieves stress like success.
  6. Passivity. It takes a lot of energy to be obstreperous and practically none to go along with the crowd. Somewhere in the middle is probably where we all need to shoot, but once you see how easy life gets when you just agree to most things, you may be tempted to make it a habit. Or, more likely, you won’t have any say in it becoming a habit. It just will. It takes energy and focus to examine what feels right to you and then stand up for it. It also pays off (or so I’m reliably told) in forward movement toward your goal, whatever that is.

So there you have it! Six roadblocks to happiness or success that you might not have even realized you were allowing to set up camp in your life. Do you agree? Can you think of any more?

What Are You Reading?

I love the emails I get from Amazon that, based on what I’ve bought in the past, suggest books I might like in the future. So far I haven’t clicked through to the check-out lane on any of them. Maybe it’s because of my background as an advertising copywriter, I know what it takes to write sales copy and I know when I’m being “sold.” Sometimes I get a mental image of the copywriter knocking out copy for the day before lunch: “Hey, Beth, we need some sexy copy for these five new thrillers.” “Great. Are they any good?” “Who knows? Just give us a couple of lines.”
Exactly.
Last summer, I had a conversation with my brother that set me on a literary journey that lasted—without a whole lot of time for housecleaning, eating, drinking or sleeping—a full five months. He clued me in to George RR Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series. My ensuing summer was a bloody cornucopia of slaughter, haints and “shape-changers.”

Great rip-roaring tale to help guarantee you get nothing done until you finish the whole series. (Not unlike The Hunger Games in this way.)

During my extended time in Westeros, I would occasionally notice a book flit by on the New York Times Bestseller’s list—or in one of the above-mentioned Amazon emails—and mentally earmark it for when my time with Mr. Martin was done. But honestly, without an honest-to-God recommendation from someone you trust to know a good story, what good is a pretty cover and a snappy title? I’ve read plenty of cover blurb promises which the content within did NOT deliver. When I’d finished reading the “Game of Throne” series, a Facebook friend of mine was in the process of adoring “The Help.” It was nice that she actually talked about it while she was reading it. Mind you, I had heard of “The Help” before she mentioned it. Everyone in North America had heard of it. It had received an amazing publicity splash that was relentless that year. And yet? Somehow I got the idea that “The Help” was a self-help book along the lines of “The Secret.” Every time I saw the bright yellow book cover, I mentally tuned it out because I’d already decided

I was a one-woman word-of-mouth machine for this book!

I wasn’t interested in that kind of self-improvement.
When my friend gushed all over the place about it, I picked it up (or loaded it down, whatever) and loved it, and turned around and Amazon-gifted it to three other friends I knew would love it, too.
Recently, I’ve been reading Indie books to try to support the movement but it does take forever to find something good on the Internet. Not that authors aren’t doing a fairly good job of pushing their books in my face—at nearly every juncture on Facebook or Twitter—but like I said before, sales copy and I are intimately related. I know what bullshit looks like. I wrote it for years.
The size and shape of the literary world is changing out there, not just for writers but for readers, too. So how do you find the books you like to read? Do you count on word-of-mouth or is there a book review publication you depend on?

 

Be Brave and Keep Going

What profession besides writing can you think of that requires the kind of incredible bravery (or is it masochism?) that writers must muster every day of their writing lives? Okay, firemen, cops and fighter pilots. But besides them? I’m not even making the distinction between Indie and Trad writers for this one because one thing is true across the board for every writer and that is that it takes guts to write your heart out—reveal the depths of who you are and what you value—and then drag it up the flagpole and invite people to rate it. And while you’re hoisting your precious dearest baby up the flagpole, you can see out of the corner of your eye, a few people are already loading up their bows and cocking their guns. No matter how great you think it is or your editor has assured you it is, you know there are always going to be readers out there who won’t like it. And it doesn’t matter that it “wasn’t their cup of tea,” or that it wasn’t the genre they usually read, or that they admit your main character reminded them of their ex-husband in a nasty divorce—they’ll still come at you with both barrels loaded and one in the chamber.
And yet.
Knowing this—and there’s not a published writer out there who hasn’t felt the sting of a bad review—we still do it. We not only do it, we do it everyday, we do it like we can’t not do it, we do it like we’re being paid to do it.
Weird, huh?
What possible other passion could be so fraught with the possibility of humiliating rejection? I suppose actors might be one but since the days of slinging tomatoes and rotten fruit at the stage are over (at least, mostly) perhaps not. Even publishing a couple crappy reviews about a play or a gallery opening can’t compare with hundreds (or more) of average readers with an opinion. A newspaper reviewer may be negative but Average Joe who feels you wasted his $2.99 on your e-book can be personally hostile. We writers constantly work the online e-channels for marketing purposes (since that’s where our books live, on cyber shelves) and which makes them—and us—static targets for all kinds of  whack jobs who are easily distracted by a big-ass bullseye.
Who knew when you signed on to be disrespected by your family, belittled by your coworkers and pitied by any and everybody who knew you were writing a book that, on top of it all, you’d have to deal with hate mail from  Sri Lanka when you finally finished the damn thing? And then? You sat down and began the whole process all over again. In fact, you couldn’t stop yourself from sitting down and beginning it all over again. (Honestly, is there any other reason why we keep writing other than we can’t not?) Most of my writer friends accept the second-class citizenship status of a novelist in today’s world—especially a self-published one—and they accept the possibility of the public slings and arrows of annoyed, unhappy readers too. Their advice is: grow a thicker skin or stop reading your reviews. Of course, that means you have to stop reading the good ones, too, and while I don’t exactly live for the good ones, they definitely add a cherry on top of my day and I’d hate to create a hard and fast rule requiring me not to look at them. I think it makes more sense to read the reviews with an ear for learning something that might make your book better, or to detect if possibly the reader is a lunatic (all caps are often a give-away), but not to take it too seriously. The last thing you want to do is approach your keyboard for the next book afraid you’re about to write something someone won’t like. Trust me, that’s guaranteed. Let. It. Go. And of course, the absolute best advice I’ve heard about bad reviews however you process them emotionally: don’t respond. I don’t care if they misunderstood what you were doing in the book (you should have been clearer) or if they skipped over the bits that would’ve clarified the problem (you should’ve make it more interesting so they didn’t skip). Just let them have their say and hope to bury the review under fifty positive ones. It’s all you can do. Oh, yeah. And maybe have learned something. That’s always nice.

Because Avocadoes Need Plenty of Sunshine, That’s Why

Like many people from my generation I have a few personal heroes to whom I look to for inspiration. I know everyone is flawed and everyone screws up here and there and the hero I want to highlight in this post absolutely did, (for one, she ditched her only child in order to go off and have her amazing life) but, while I couldn’t do it myself, in a hard-to-describe-way that just made her dossier that much more fascinating to me.

Whenever I talk about Beryl Markham—and I do it not infrequently—I always mention the Avocado Farm. In some ways, this seemingly insignificant and certainly boring chapter in the famous aviatrix’s life engages and intrigues me more than any other.

First a little background: Beryl Markham was a British citizen born in 1902 and moved to Kenya as a toddler. Her childhood, depicted briefly in the film “Out of Africa” as the wild-child “Felicity” tearing up the countryside on the outskirts of Isak’s Dinesen’s farm was singular in many ways, not the least of which was the fact that she spent most of her time with the Nandi natives training to be a young male warrior. Her mother, horrified at what she considered primitive conditions in 1904 Kenya, fled back to England, but little Beryl wouldn’t budge. She was beautiful as all great heroines must be, strong-minded and smart. A natural with horses, she became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya. Her lovers included Bror Blixen, Dinesen’s husband, Denys Finch-Hatton, Dinesen’s lover, and Prince Henry, brother of King George VI. She learned to fly with Tom Campbell Black (both Finch-Hatton and Black died in plane crashes) and was the first person to fly the Atlantic east to west in a solo non-stop flight which she did in spite of prevailing Atlantic winds, fog and almost total darkness.

On top of all that, she wrote a book. An amazing book. “West with the Night.” To give you an idea of her ability as a writer—up to this point undiscovered—here is a comment on the book in 1942 from Earnest Hemingway—notoriously sparse with literary praise:

 “I knew (Markham) fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and some times making an okay pigpen. But this girl who is, to my knowledge, very unpleasant…can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other people’s stories, are absolutely true. So, you have to take as truth the early stuff about when she was a child which is absolutely superb… I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody, wonderful book.”

So I hope I’ve set the stage for you to see what an astonishingly incredible person Markham was. A super nova in every sense of the word. Which is why the Avocado Farm stage always intrigues me to the point that I cannot let it go. I keep mulling it over and trying to make it fit into her biography—and maybe my own?

You see, after Beryl had done all these amazing things and was a mega-celebrity on all continents worth mentioning, she married Raoul Schumacher and moved to California where the pair ran an avocado ranch. Mary S. Lovell’s book “Straight On Till Morning” says that she and Raoul spent their days drinking and watching the avocados grow. After years of intense  international celebrity, of partying hard with the famous and the infamous and filling world headlines with her world-firsts accomplishments, she spent what we might consider today to be her peak years drinking herself to sleep every night and staring into space for nearly ten full years. She didn’t party or socialize. She didn’t do anything except fight with her third husband and drink.

And then.

In 1952 she left the avocados and the third husband and returned to Kenya. She started raising and training horses, and from 1958 to 1972 she was the most successful trainer in Kenya, winning all of the major racing prizes. Before she died in 1986 at the age of 84, West with the Night was republished and became an instant best-seller.  

So, okay. Back to the Avocado Farm. What was that? Do we all have a period in our lives where we’re growing avocados before we get back to being amazing? Or, as I suspect with my own biography, are our whole lives one big avocado farm with a few interrupting glimmers of awesomeness peeking through here and there?

Look Where You’re Going to Get Where You’re Going

“It is a truth universally acknowledged…”

Not just  a great first line, but a comforting thought.  Don’t you love universal truths? Or truths we all buy into? I do because it means  the fact that there are truths we all acknowledge as true means we can look to a universally accepted blueprint for how to live our lives. One of the places I look for these universal truths is at the barn. I look there because it’s one of my many opinions that there is no group of people on earth with more quotes relating to living your life than horse people. For example, there is the one about how to jump fences on horseback which, when you think about it, really applies to anything in life that you tackle that’s a little scary but worth doing. It goes like this: “Throw your heart over first, and the horse will follow.” The point about that one seems to be that if YOU’RE not sure you can jump that five-footer, you’ll inevitably translate that doubt to your mount and he’ll ensure you don’t jump it. When judges grade a jumping competition and a horse balks or refuses a jump, it’s the rider they look at for hesitancy. They tend to figure that if the horse is physically capable of jumping the fence but doesn’t—it’s pilot error, pure and simple.

Like anything in life, you gotta believe it before you can do it. And horses are amazing the way they can mirror how you’re feeling. But for all that, the point I wanted to make today is that when you are sorting out your life, the process is a lot like riding a horse in that you, as the rider, really must look where it is you want to go. Ideally, this is right through his set of ears like a kind of organic scope. You don’t look at the ground, obviously, although new riders often do because they want to make sure everyone’s feet are going where they should. But looking at the ground is a great way to end up there.

Riding a horse–like living your life–is a delicate balance. You are not just a sack of feed up there for the ride (or at least ideally not.) When you turn your head, the horse feels it, the horse reacts even if just a little bit. If you are looking down, instead of up, or to the left, instead of to the next line of jumps, that’s where the horse is now looking too. Which, since that’s not where you want to go, looking over there is not a good thing.

Kristen Lamb has this section in her book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer where she interviewed some NASCAR drivers for a piece she was doing and they, basically, told her they try not to look at places they don’t want to go…like the wall, for instance. It seems that in professional driving as in life and in horseback riding, it’s important to zero in on where you’re going.

Like I said, I love it when universal truths really are universal.

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

I think this is a great line for those of us obsessed with trying to control our creative products  as we steer our way through life. The perfect is the enemy of the good. How could trying for perfection end up creating imperfection? I think the line is really a warning against going to extremes. Obviously, perfection is pretty extreme. I mean, it’s perfection! Some would say perfection is so extreme as to be unobtainable. I’m not talking about formatting issues or typos in your epub doc (although surely one might strive for perfection in that case?) but I get it. Trying to make things perfect can keep you from moving on and doing other things as important or even more important.

It’s easy to see this principle in play when I’m in the process of obsessively tweaking or twiddling with a paragraph in a book I’m writing. If I believe that book sales lie not in social media prowess (as I do) but rather in having available a fat inventory of awesome books, then making  any paragraph “perfect” is a barrier to what I say I want: mega book sales. Because I don’t write literary PD-James-type fiction, a belabored but beautifully descriptive paragraph of a country lane that brings tears to your eyes is not going to get me where I want to go—writing my kind of books, women’s lit and thrillers, quickly. But I’m a writer so I can get sidetracked into the aforementioned paragraph tweaking until my afternoon is gone and the day’s word count not even touched.

Okay, so I believe that less is more in the writing  department but I definitely believe that more available books are more in the book sales department. By that I mean it makes more sense for me as a genre writer to knock out a great fast-paced book and move on to the next one than it does to try to get any book I’m writing “perfect,” which I don’t believe I can do anyway. Once you accept that basic tenet, it’s just a quick step to applying it to our trickiest project of all which is knowing when your book marketing efforts are taking up too much of your time because trust me that is one endeavor you will never get perfect no matter how many books you read about it or how many hours in your day you dedicate to it. As with writing, you need to know when to step away from the keyboard and let it go for the day.

Like anything in life, I think it comes down to asking yourself the question: what do I want out of all this? Do I want to write literature or tell a good story? Do I want to sell lots of books to average-Joe readers or do I want a write-up in the New York Review of Books that I can frame? Do I want 10,000 Twitter pals or ten emails from people who have read my book?

Personally, I don’t have to be JK Rowling famous. I just need enough readers who like my kind of books to allow me to make a living doing what I love.

Now that doesn’t seem too extreme, does it?

The One Thing You Need to Know to Have a Great Life

Like a lot of people, I get much of the philosophy by which I manage my life from popular movies. (Hey, those scriptwriters are wise people.) The problem with our culture today, as illustrated by that brilliant scene in “The Hurt Locker” where Jeremy Renner plays a character who has nerves of Titanium yet is literally stunned into inertia by the mind-numbing plethora of toothpaste choices at his local grocery story, is that we have too many options.

Gone are the days when you knew you only had your folks’ farm or the garment-sewing factory to look forward to. Nowadays it’s been drilled into us relentlessly since our very first Disney movie that we can do and be anything we want. Screw the Ford factory assembly line! You could be President! Or a famous director on Broadway. It could happen. Things have changed since our parents’ parents’ generation, oh they of the Few Options. Because so many more people are able to get  college degrees than a couple generations ago they have more options. With more doors to choose from, there is more consternation about choosing the right door. After all, writers create short stories about people who choose the wrong door and then their lives go totally to hell.

So, if I can get you to accept that we have more choices and more options than ever before then I can get down to the point I’d like to make which is, there are more wrong roads we can take now too—and not because someone (or poverty) pushed us down that road but because we chose it for ourselves.

Since having a great life is within our power—if we make a series of right choices—then there is a lot of pressure on us to make those right choices. Which brings me to one of my favorite philosophic movies of all time, City Slickers with Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. While the premise of the movie was that Billy’s character had lost his oomph with life, his wife, his dull kids, and definitely his job, it was the line by Palance’s character, Curly Washburn, that lit up the screen for me in a way that would have me remember the moment ever after.

When Billy was whining about how he wasn’t fulfulled and maybe he didn’t have the job he really should have, Curly told him that the secret to life was “one thing.” He held up that big gnarly gloved finger in Billy’s face and I remember clutching for the next words out of his mouth that would tell me—and every lucky person who was watching this movie—what the one thing was that we should all heed. Imagine! In the ten seconds or so that the director milked the line for, I really did mirror the look on Billy’s face: this old grizzled cowboy who lived basically and in the present had the secret to a happy life and was going to tell me! Then all I had to do was plop it into a simple formula that related, somehow, to my own life, and finally, I would be on my way amid the tsunami of choices and wrong exits that pocked my life.

Why is it we love the simple and the streamlined? There’s an argument that nothing really important can be sorted out by a simple formula. True, complicated issues sometimes are solved by very simple answers, but I’m thinking rarely. Mostly, if the conundrum is a complex one, you can bet it’s not a simple matter of: eat more roughage and add ten minutes to your evening walk.

Like a lot of people, though, I’m a sucker for any self-help book that starts out: “The only THREE things you need to know to reduce debt (lose weight, make better grades).” And I should know better. I’m an advertising copywriter. I write this crap for a living!

Okay, so after much milking of the time between the promise and the delivery, Jack Palance finally coughed up the “one thing,” which was different for everyone.

Huh? Turns out, you had to go and find the $#@!! “one thing” that was YOUR “one thing.” Bloody hell! Yeah, Billy looked pretty disgusted, too.

But once the easy answer and free lunch was mourned and gotten over, the “one thing” concept did start to roll around in my brain parts a bit. And while it wasn’t as soon as I walked out of the movie theatre, it was within the year: I began to form in my mind the “one thing” that mattered to me and that would help me walk in the direction of making my life worthwhile.

And once you know it, it’s true: it turns out you really can spend your whole life’s journey working to achieve it. That’s something else I discovered: (I think it was in the movie “The Year of Living Dangerously”) the steps in the journey are even more important than the destination which, let’s face it, could just as easily be a nursing home (or worse) than that beautiful Craftsman-style home in the better neighborhood you have your eye on.

Step by step, day in day out.

So. What’s your “one thing?” Do you know it? Are you still figuring it out? Love to hear from you!

How to Steal Your Life Back

I have been reflecting recently on work infrastructure in an ideal world. While writing books fulltime would definitely qualify as an ideal work life, as I have not won the lottery yet (and, much to my accountant’s horror, it is totally a factor in my retirement plans), that “ideal” has to live side by side with less-than-ideal money making schemes.

This is a conundrum that writers down through history have struggled with. There is the school of thought that says if you are a writer you must find something non-writerly to do for your “day job” or you’ll burn out. The usual scenario suggests, if you’re young enough, waitressing by day and writing by night. As exhausting (and probably uber-annoying) as waitressing sounds to me, it does give you an opportunity to study the human condition and that is something that is generally considered very helpful (and fascinating) to most writers who are, at the very least, writers of the human condition.

I have to say I’ve written a few books “on the job,” so to speak, in my time. When an employer is paying you to dig so many ditches, I can imagine you dig the requested number of ditches and you rest or eat your lunch on your lunch break with little thought to squeezing in a paragraph on the brilliance of the morning dew dripping in fat globules down the stately cab of the backhoe. But when your employer is paying you to essentially “be ready in case I need you to write something” and you spend great wads of time staring out a window waiting to be needed, then I think flexing your writing muscles by knocking out a few novels is probably okay. (Hey, I would totally put aside any manuscript immediately if the boss needed me for something!)

I thought I was the only horrible (read: frustrated, poor and bored stupid) employee who did this until I pieced together part of a fellow-writer’s dossier online. I could see by what he said that he had a fulltime corporate sit-in-a-cubicle job, a weekend wait-on-customers at his uncle’s hardware store and yet another job working a deli counter somewhere. And he publishes end-to-end novels. We’re talking, easily four a year. And they’re good!  So while I was scratching my head wondering how this superman was doing this (granted, he’s single with no kids), he mentioned in a tweet how he was beginning his next WIP while he was at work at the office. A little light went on. A fellow time-thief! So that’s how it’s done, I thought. Just as I once did it, myself.

I must say, if everyone is happy, I consider this, totally, a victimless crime. (Although I imagine this post won’t win me too many interviews once I share it to LinkedIn). If the work is getting done, how is this time theft any different or worse than gabbing by the cooler or taking thirty minutes to apply your makeup in the bathroom or working your way through a Salem menthol six times a day on the back deck?

Exactly.

Getting paid to write books. Who knew it was so attainable?

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.