Friday, October 27, 2006

A Truckload of Authors

This past Wednesday, I drove just a few miles out of town to a farmhouse, where I was one of five local authors in a photo shoot for Living Jackson magazine. The weather was sunny and the temperature was a bit nippy for October in Georgia, but the welcome was quite warm. Publishing partners Roxane Rose and Priscilla Daves are featuring the local authors for their holiday edition, and the designer and photographer were also present to orchestrate our group shot, taken as we stood in the bed of a beautifully restored glossy black 1961 Studebaker pickup truck. After that, the photographer took individual shots of each author, and they did mine twice— once in the cab and once standing in the door way of the truck.

The other authors were all men: Caine Campbell, Frank Gilbert, G. Richard Hoard, and Malcolm Campbell. While the designer and photographer were helping Buddy Hunt, the owner of that beautiful truck, get the it situated in a spot to take advantage of the lovely rural setting, the authors visited for a few minutes. All of us either live in Jackson County, or hale from it, as is the case with Hoard, who was a senior at Jefferson High the year I entered as an eighth grader. After the pictures Roxane invited us into her kitchen for refreshments, along with Josh Barnet, the intern who is writing the actual article. We laughed, especially with Frank, who always has a tall tale, and talked about our works in progress.

During our conversation over coffee and snacks, Hoard mentioned what a humiliating experience it is to write a book. He said that the best compliment is when someone just loves it, and the next best is when someone hates it. The bad thing, he said, is indifference. Hoard further stated that people seldom realize the vast amount of time that an author puts into that book, and he said it took him ten years after his first book to get started on another one. However, he said that years after he wrote Lost Among the Living, he still gets feedback from that first book.

I couldn’t agree more with Hoard’s assessment of the experience of being an author. I’ve experienced the “love it/hate it” scenario myself. Sometimes being an author seems anticlimactic. So much time goes into writing and editing, for days and weeks or even months, and finally, the thrill of seeing those first books with your name on the cover. Then, there is still more work, and sometimes little recognition for either the writing or the promotional activities which come afterward. Yep, it can be humbling, but it is sometimes interesting, and that gathering of local literary talent was entertaining.

If the upcoming article is half as much fun as the photo session, then it will be worth reading, and the pictures should be wonderful. Look for the year end edition of Living Jackson in late November or early December, in various locations throughout Jackson County, Georgia.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Author who cried, “Book Signing!”

Almost everyone knows the children’s cautionary tale of the little boy, bored with herding sheep, who cried, “Wolf!” just to get attention. Yes, we all know that after a while, no one would come, because no one believed him. Of course, the little boy ended up as the victim of a wolf, his cries going unheeded, for obvious reasons.

During the summer, I posted the news on my “events” page that I was signing at the Decatur Book Festival on Labor Day weekend, but a few days before the event, my invitation was rescinded by the bookstore, due to problems with the accommodations at the venue. But, not to worry, in September I would be signing at a nearby restaurant, at an event sponsored by the same bookstore. That event was postponed by the bookstore, due to problems with the schedule at the restaurant. But, not to worry, the event would be held in October, at the same restaurant. Since this plan seemed more definite, I posted the event on various community calendars and on my website, and I sent out a notice to members of my Yahoo group. I got an email this week, explaining that this event won’t be happening, again due to problems at the restaurant. However, I now begin an author day, along with a couple of other local writers, for a book signing at the bookstore, in November. It is my job to get my book into the hands of readers, even when that means having to be flexible, and for the most part I do enjoy such promotions.

I’m posting this for anyone curious about the ever changing “upcoming events” page on my website. My greatest fear is that I will finally get my opportunity to reach this audience, but I'll be sitting alone for my hour at the store. Isn’t that what happens to authors who cry, “Book Signing!” and it never happens?

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Medieval Times, a get-a-way for the young at heart

Knights in shining armor, prancing steeds, a king and a lovely princess in an arena surrounded by royalty being served by lovely wenches. That functional fragment could be the dreams of an kid who has been reading Arthurian legend, or an ad for Medieval Times, a dinner theatre with venues around the country.

Hubby and I took our teenaged children to see this spectacle, not in a “tourist” area, but in Gwinnett County, GA, at a shopping mall. The stands around the arena were mostly filled for a Sunday evening show in early October. The 13 year boy seemed to enjoy this experience even more than parents or older sister, but we all found something to like.

Dinner is served w/o flatware, which wasn’t in common use way-back-when, but the staff managed to make it tasty and manageable. Our courses included a rather thin vegetable soup, served in a pewter bowl, a roasted half of a chicken, one barbecued rib, garlic bread, and a “baked potato” which tasted suspiciously fried. Our meal ended with heated disposable wipes and an apple-cinnamon pastry. The beverages offered were water, Pepsi, and coffee. Those aren’t especially in keeping with the time period, but I suppose that ale just doesn’t work for a modern “family” entertainment.

The horses were great, the knights did a fine job of re-creating jousting, even if they just jumped off of the horses. The lances split apart regularly, no doubt because they had been pre-split and bound back together with a bit of clear tape. Okay, the story line was a bit pointless, but it is just a bit of a frame for the knights to demonstrate their skills anyway. Compared to the online photos, the “arena” is a bit cramped, but it is remarkable, considering that it takes up less space than the cinemas section of the mall.

Two words of advice to those who visit this venue: First, don’t arrive early. Our show was at five, and the directions on our internet issued tickets instructed us to be at the castle no later than 3:30, and that advice was reiterated by the attendant at the box office. This was too early. After a few minutes I surmised that the schedule is designed to give visitors ample time to be photographed with royalty, to buy overpriced merchandise, and to drink at the bar. Hubby got a “virgin” piña colada, for a mere $6.00 and cokes were $2.00. An hour and a half is far too long to wait for a show that lasts about the same length of time. The doors to the arena opened at 4:45, and those who purchase “royalty tickets” get to sit in front of everyone else, so if you want the best seat, don’t arrive early, just pay the extra ten bucks, arrive about 20 minutes before the show, and you won’t have time for your kids to beg for the overpriced drinks and trinkets. Second, the “dungeon” museum of torture and terror is only $2.00 and our kids loved it, but it is a bit much for those younger than age ten.

This was an expensive evening for us, but it is fun, and I recommend it for school age kids and adults of most any age who are willing to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Facts About Publishing

A recent National Endowment for the Arts survey reveals that reading is going the way of the cassette tape. Oh, books will be around for a while longer, but it’s probably not a good time to get into the publishing business. According to the NEA, only 47% of adults read any sort of literature at all. Just under 90 million people in the United States did not read a book— any book— in 2002. As a classroom teacher, I can remember being told that when school was over, so was reading.

Today’s average book buyer is a woman, not a young woman. Younger women are more likely to read a magazine or look at the internet when they want to read. Sixty eight percent of book buyers are women. That average book browser will spend eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds scanning the back cover. What is absolutely unfathomable to me is that this same so called average bookbuyer gets to page 18 before she quits. Now maybe I’m just cheap, but I don’t buy many books that I don’t read. And 52% of all books are not sold in bookstores. Instead those buyers get their reading via mail order, online, in discount or warehouse stores, through book clubs, or some other venue.

Book publishing is a weird business in many respects. It’s almost like buying and selling produce, because so many of the products are thrown away. Yep, it’s true. Go strolling down the aisles in your local bricks and mortar bookstore looking at the mass market paperbacks. About half of all of those books will be destroyed, their front covers ripped off to send back to the publisher, indicating that the book was never sold. Customers pay $7.99 for a paperback with tiny print on cheap paper because half of all the ones printed are never sold, so they have to charge twice as much to make up for it.

Despite the shrinking market, more than 150,000 titles are published each year. Bigger publishing houses are bringing out fewer books these days, so 78% of all books published are put out by small publishers or self-publishers. Quite a number of small publishers are using POD, or “print on demand” which makes a lot of sense to me. Books printed via this method are quite similar to conventionally printed books. Often the quality of the printing is better, just as the output from your laser printer is better than a newspaper’s printing. This method isn’t quite as cheap as conventional printing, so each book may cost a couple of dollars more.

Most POD books are trade paperbacks, which are a bit larger than those mass market paperbacks, but far fewer of them will be used to line landfills or make recycled newsprint. Both of my books are produced via this method. If lots of people like my books, then several will be printed. If there is no market for my POD books, or anyone else’s, then they just don’t ever have many copies in print. Indeed, the average self-published book sells seventy-five copies, which means The Gift Horse is well above average, so I can take heart in that.

Sources for this article include Tom and Marilyn Ross’ site, which is on my links in the sidebar, and John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Book, which is one of the best books on marketing ever written.

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