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Posts tagged ‘authors’

what’s it all about?

July 10, 2012


Yet again I’ve found inspiration through WordPress; and yet again I found it at Magnificent Nose, a blog I refer to often.  This time, it was from two different writers, each authoring their own posts:  Angry Writing by Sara Goas and So What by Steven E.A.

Essentially, at least in my opinion, they’re both talking about a couple of key ingredients of successful writing:  Being honest about sharing your feelings and making sure that there’s a point to everything you write — whether it’s a letter, an ad, an article, a website, a screenplay, a joke, an essay, a blog or even a book.  Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.  First person or third.  An interview, a report, a white paper or speech.

Steven’s blog post made me reflect back on all the writing I’ve done — as far back as high school English classes. Writing I’ve done for myself and writing I do for clients.  And here’s what I realized:  For the most part, when it’s been a real struggle … when I’ve thrown out more than I’ve kept, there’s been one reason for it:  There was no point to the story.  As Steven’s professor said to him, I hadn’t found the “so what?”.  The moral of the story.  And when you think about it, it’s perfectly logical.  Without it, what are you writing about in the first place?

In Steven’s case — at least in the example he gave — it was the fact that he and his sister may have been doing stupid things while passing time at the mall, but it was bringing them closer together.  And suddenly, an ordinary moment, in an ordinary day became interesting — and unique.  Worth writing about.  And worth reading.

As I write this post, I am thinking about what the ‘so what’ is:  The aha moment I got from reading Steven’s story — there’s no reason to spend your life searching for something extraordinary to write about — the ordinary becomes extraordinary when there’s an idea behind it.  A reason for it.

Sara’s post, on the other hand, reminded me of an experience I had about a year ago.  I’m writing a book.  So is an acquaintance of mine — and one day, at lunch, she talked about her editor, and how fabulous she is.  Although I didn’t think I was ready for an editor yet, she encouraged me to email this woman and tell her what stage my book was at; and ask her when might be a good time for us to possibly meet.  I did that and she suggested that I send her 20 pages, my chapter-by-chapter outline and the synopsis — which I did.

My book is a story about my mother — and me.  Most of it takes place during a 7-odd year period when her health started to decline (physically, not cognitively) and I had to take more and more care of her.

The editor’s response was one of the most brutal critiques I’ve ever had — and not just because of what she said.  It was the anger with which she had written back to me.  Essentially she told me — accused me — of not being a credible storyteller because I didn’t write about the anger I must have been feeling all the time I’d had to deal with, and take care of, my mother.

I didn’t write about it because I wasn’t angry.

She (the editor) and I exchanged a few emails where I explained how I’d felt; and during this back and forth we had, a couple of very interesting insights emerged:

  1. She hated her mother and was projecting how she’d have felt if she had been me
  2. I did uncover feelings I didn’t know I had toward a cousin who — the day after my mother’s funeral — asked me to go to the hospital where her mother was and advocate for her, like I had done for my mother.  It was insensitive of her to ask me — especially as, for the last 4 years, I’d spent more time in hospitals than anywhere else, including my job.  I was done in — mentally, physically and emotionally.  Her timing was terrible and I was upset.  And, quite frankly, I’d had to figure it out and so would she.

These feelings needed to be expressed in my book even though it made me uncomfortable.  I certainly don’t want bad blood between me and my family, but if this book is going to be truthful — and resonate with people — then I have to find a way to include all the emotional stuff.

I chose not to work with that particular editor — not because she was critical, but because she couldn’t separate her feelings from mine.  I didn’t trust her to edit my book without making it her book.  But she did have a positive effect on my writing and for that I am grateful.  The point she’d made has stuck with me, and last week I had another breakthrough:

All the time my mother’s health was getting worse, making her more frail and more needy I was the one in denial — not her.  She owned it and took control each and every time, making the decisions that were necessary.  I, on the other hand, always asked “Are you sure?”  “I don’t think you really need a walker … or help showering, etc.”  I wasn’t reacting this way because it meant more work for me.  I was reacting because I was not ready to acknowledge that my mother was getting older, sicker, more frail and was, in fact, clinging to life with dental floss.  I was scared.

Never angry.  But scared.  So now I am going back to the beginning of my book.  I have added a new first chapter.  And I am deciding what needs to be changed, what needs to go and what can stay.  A lot of work, to be sure.  But it is necessary and I am thrilled to do it.  This will make for a much better book.  And probably a much better ‘me’ for having examined my feelings.

and here I sit, uncomfortably, between a rock and a hard place

December 26, 2011


I just read an interesting article in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times — “Publishers vs Libraries: An E-Book Tug of War” — in Sunday Business, Digital Domain by Randall Stross.  Interesting, depressing and thought-provoking — all at once, and on many levels.  Not the least of which is, I’m writing a book, so the issue this article is confronting is bound to have a direct impact on me.

This story deals mainly with the fact that book publishers are now being forced to compete not just with e-books in general, but with the e-book sections of public libraries.

Not good news when, as Mr. Stross points out in his column, “Last year, Christmas was the biggest single day for e-book sales by HarperCollins.  And indications are that this year’s Christmas Day total will be even higher, given the extremely strong sales of e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook.  Amazon announced on December 15 that it had sold one million of its Kindles in each of the three previous weeks.”  But, as he goes on to say, “We can also guess that the number of visitors to the e-book sections of public libraries’ websites is about to set a record, too.  And that is a source of great worry for publishers.”

As if publishers didn’t already have enough to worry about.  In David Gaughran’s blog, Let’s Get Digital, his latest entry “Publishers Desperately Trying to Protect Print Sales, And Failing” shows the most recent revenue numbers as reported by the American Association of Publishers and they’re not good.  In fact, overall revenue is down significantly in print books but there are dramatic increases in e-book market share.

What’s this got to do with me?

Well, for a first time author, it’s already difficult enough to get a book published (even if you’re already a professional writer, as I am).  Unless you’re an established writer whose books are in great demand, or a celebrity, agents and publishers are loath to take a chance on you for one, simple reason.  They can’t afford to.  Not any more.  It’s as simple as that.

It’s tougher and tougher to actually sell them.  Book retailers are closing down one after another.  Go into any Indigo store and look at the amount of books that are on the “price reduced” tables.  There have been several interviews with Heather Reisman (Indigo founder and CEO) in Canadian newspapers lately.  Her future plans do not include the buying and selling of more books.  She’s now including more and more articles ‘related’ to reading like lamps, shawls, tea, cookies and even the odd piece of furniture.

What we’re dealing with here, is a vicious circle.  Because it’s harder to get published more and more writers are self-publishing.  Which only hurts the publishing industry more.  Which will, in turn, make it even more difficult to get published.  And round and round and round it goes.

And eventually those of us who love to write (and try to earn our living from it) may very well find ourselves with increasingly limited options and opportunities to sell and share our stories.  And those of us who love to read may very well find ourselves with fewer and fewer choices — especially if the publishers and libraries can’t come to terms — and, for that matter if the publishing industry can’t find a way to become more profitable in the face of all the e-competition and the economy in general — books, unfortunately are a discretionary spend — when you’re worried about the mortgage and putting food on the table books are a luxury many people can no longer justify or afford.

Which brings us right back to the problem identified in this New York Times article — because now publishers are threatening to limit, if not entirely block, libraries from having access to their e-books.  So much for the general population reading (and tempted as I am to speak about Toronto’s own special nightmare, Mayor Rob Ford and his view of libraries), it’s Christmas and I’ll spare you.

So I’m smack, dab in the middle of this stinking mess because I love to do both.  And my desire to have access to books wherever and however I want them, and for as little money as possible is the very thing that is making it more and more challenging for me, the author.

This is not an easy problem to solve.  But there is an awful lot at stake — and I am not referring to authors’ royalties and an industry’s revenue potential.  Books take us to places we’ll never otherwise see … they introduce us to people and ideas we’ll otherwise never be exposed to … they teach us things we’d never have the time or the opportunity to learn in school, in business or even in life.  They help us, inspire us, thrill us, make us laugh and cry.  And, lest we forget, they teach us to read.  Literacy is at stake here.

If ever there was an opportunity to be innovative, this is it!