Saturday, December 29, 2007

Medusa's Hairdresser

A while back, I mentioned I was worried about Medusa's Hairdresser (Another Gravity Check, July 07.) It appears I shouldn't have, because one day while cruising around My Space, I mean, while researching important information for the press, I stumbled on the band Medusa's Hairdresser

It appears my Muse didn't eat them after all.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The FCC lifts bans on Media Consolidation

The following is a transcricpt from Democracy Now. Please contact your Senator and let him/her know that conglomerating control of the media is a threat to free speech and access to information and is not acceptable!

“Today’s Decision Would Make George Orwell Proud”—FCC Commissioner Michael Copps on the FCC’s Vote to Rewrite the Nation’s Media Ownership Rules.

The Federal Communications Commission voted three-to-two on party lines last week (Dec. 18th) to approve a measure that would increase media consolidation. The new rule pushed through by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin lifts a thirty-year old ban on companies seeking to own both a newspaper and television or radio station in the same city. Michael Copps was one of two FCC Commissioners to vote against the rule.


AMY GOODMAN: The Federal Communications Commission last week voted three-to-two on party lines to approve a measure that would increase media consolidation. The new rule pushed through by FCC Chair Kevin Martin lifts a thirty-year-old ban on companies seeking to own both a newspaper and television or radio station in the same city.


But the reaction against the vote has been swift. Close to 200,000 people have signed an open letter urging Congress to overturn the December 18th vote. Less than twenty-four hours after the vote, Democratic Congressmember Jay Inslee and Republican Congressmember Dave Reichert introduced the Media Ownership Act of 2007, that would overturn the new rules by the FCC.


It was Bush-appointed FCC Chair Kevin Martin, now just forty-one years old, who rammed through the rule changes. He’s served President Bush well. As deputy general counsel for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000, he was active during the Florida recount. Before that, he worked for Kenneth Starr at the Office of Independent Counsel during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Rumor has it he may run for governor of his native North Carolina. His wife, Cathie Martin, was a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney in the midst of the scandal around the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. She now works on Bush’s communications staff.


Today, we’ll play the speech of one of the two dissident FCC commissioners, Michael Copps. Copps has been fighting media consolidation since he was appointed to the FCC in 2001. He is a former history professor. He called the vote a Christmas gift to corporations.


MICHAEL COPPS: I had an opportunity to read a little bit of George Orwell the other day, and it was good preparation for getting ready to deal with this particular item. I think it would do him proud.


We claim to be giving the news industry a shot in the arm, but the real effect is going to be to reduce total newsgathering. We shed big crocodile tears for the financial plight of newspapers, yet the truth is that newspaper profits are about double the S&P 500 average. We pat ourselves on the back for holding six field hearings across the United States, yet today’s decision cites not a single word from the thousands of Americans who waited in long lines for an open mike to testify before us. We say we have closed loopholes, yet we are introducing new ones. We say we’re guided by public comment, yet the majority’s decision is overwhelmingly opposed by the public, as demonstrated in our record and in public opinion surveys. We claim the mantle of scientific research, even as the experts say we’ve asked the wrong questions, used the wrong data, and reached the wrong conclusions.


I am not the only one disturbed by this illogical scenario. Congress and the American people have done everything but march down here to storm to Southwest D.C. and physically shake some sense into us. Everywhere we go, the questions are the same: Why are we rushing to encourage more media merger frenzy, when we haven’t addressed the demonstrated harms caused by previous media merger frenzy? Women and minorities own low single-digit percentages of America’s broadcast outlets, and big consolidated media continues to slam the door in their faces. It’s going to take some major policy changes and a coordinated strategy to fix that. Don’t look for that from this Commission.


Instead, we are told to be content with baby steps to help women and minorities, but the fine print shows that the real beneficiaries will be small businesses owned by white men. So even as it becomes abundantly clear that the real cause of the disenfranchisement of women and minorities is media consolidation, we give the green light to a new round of—yes, you guessed it—media consolidation.


Local news, local music and local groups so often get shunted aside when big media comes to town. Commissioner Adelstein and I have heard the plaintive voices of thousands of citizens all across this land of ours in dozens of town meetings and public forums, from newscasters fired by chain owners with corporate headquarters thousands of miles away to local musicians and artists denied airtime because of big media’s homogenization of our music and our culture, from minorities reeling from the way big media ignores their issues and caricatures them as people to women saying the only way to redress their grievances is to give them a shot to compete for use of the people’s airwaves, from public interest advocates fighting valiantly for a return of localism and diversity to small independent broadcasters who fight an uphill battle to preserve their independence.


It will require tough rules of the road to redress our localism and diversity gaps, too. Do you see any such rules like that being passed today? To the idea that license holders should give the American people high quality programming in return for free use of the public airwaves, the majority answers that we need more study of problems that have been documented and studied to death for a decade and more. Today’s outcome is the same old same old: one more time, we’re running the fast-break for our big media friends and the four corner stall for the public interest.


It’s time for the American people to understand the game that is being played here. Big media doesn’t want to tell the full story, of course, but I have heard first-hand from editorial page editors who have told me they can cover any story, save one—media consolidation—and that they have been instructed to stay away from that one. That’s a story for another day, perhaps.


Today’s story is a decision by the majority unconnected to good policy and not even incidentally concerned with encouraging media to make our democracy stronger. We’re not concerned with gathering valid data, conducting good research or following the facts where they lead us.


Our motivations are less Olympian and our methodology far simpler: We generously ask big media to sit on Santa’s knee, tell us what it wants for Christmas, and then push through whatever of those wishes are politically and practically feasible. No test to see if anyone’s been naughty or nice. Just another big shiny present for the favored few who already own an FCC license—and a lump of coal for the rest of us. Happy holidays!


If you need convincing of just how non-expertly this expert agency has been acting lately, you could not have a better example than the formulation of the cross-ownership rule that the majority will adopt today. I know it’s a little detailed to see how the sausage is made, but it’s worth a look.


On November 2, 2007, with just a week’s notice, the FCC announced that it would hold its final media ownership hearing in Seattle. Despite the minimal warning, 1,100 citizens turned out to give intelligent and impassioned testimony on how they believed the agency should write its media ownership rules. Little did they know that the fix was already in, and that the now infamous New York Times op-ed was in the works announcing a highly detailed cross-ownership proposal.


Put bluntly, those Commissioners and staff who flew out to Seattle, sixteen witnesses, the Governor, the State Attorney General and all the other public officials who came, plus the 1,100 Seattle residents who had chosen to spend their Friday night waiting in line to testify were, as Representative Jay Inslee put it, treated like “chumps.” Their comments were not going to be part of the agency’s formulation of a draft rule; it was just for show, to claim that the public had been given a chance to participate. The agency has treated the public like children allowed to visit the cockpit in an airliner—you know, when you go up there with your little kid, and you’re not actually allowed to fly the plane, but they’re permitted for a brief, false moment to imagine that they are.


The New York Times op-ed appeared on November 13, the next business day after the Seattle meeting. That same day, a unilateral public notice was issued, providing just twenty-eight days for people to comment on the specific proposal, with no opportunity for replies. The agency received over 300 comments from scholars, concerned citizens, public interest advocates, and industry associations, the overwhelming majority of which condemned the plan. But little did these commenters know that on November 28, two weeks before their comments were even due, the draft order on newspaper-broadcast cross ownership had already been circulated. Once again, public commenters were treated as unwitting and unwilling participants in a Kabuki theater.


Then, last night at 9:44 p.m., just a little more than twelve hours before the vote was scheduled to be held and long after the sunshine period had begun, a significantly revised version of the order was circulated. Among other changes, the item now granted all sorts of permanent new waivers and provided a significantly altered new justification for the twenty-market limit. But the revised draft mysteriously deleted the existing discussion of the “four factors” to be considered by the FCC this morning in examining whether a proposed combination was in the public interest. And in its place, the new draft simply contained the cryptic words “[Revised discussion to come].” That’s what we got last night at 9:44. And although my colleagues and I were not apprised of the revisions, USA Today fared better, because it apparently got an interview that enabled it to present the Chairman’s latest thinking. Maybe we really are the Federal Newspaper Commission.


Finally, at 1:57 this morning, we received a new version of the proposed test for allowing more newspaper-broadcast combinations. I cannot claim that I fully appreciate the test’s finer points, given the lateness of the hour and the fact that there was no time afforded to parse the finer points of the new rule. But this much is clear: the new version keeps the old loopholes and includes two new ones. Finally, finally, as I walked out of the office at 11:15 this morning, we received a revised paragraph on the details of the “four factors.” And forgive me if I am unable to speak expertly about what they mean to the substance of this decision.


This is not the way to do rational, fact-based, and public interest-minded policymaking. It’s actually a great illustration of why administrative agencies are required to operate under the constraints of administrative process, and the problems that occur when they ignore that duty. At the end of the day, process matters. Public comment matters. Taking the time to do things right matters. A rule reached through a slipshod process and capped by a mad rush to the finish line will, purely on the merits, simply not pass the red face test. Not with Congress. Not with the courts. Not with the American people.


It’s worth stepping back for a moment from all the detail here to look at the fundamental rationale behind today’s terrible decision. Newspapers need all the help they can get, we are told. A merger with a broadcast station in the same city will give them access to a revenue stream that will let them better fulfill their newsgathering mission. At the same time, we’re also assured, our rules will require “independent news judgment” (at least among consolidators outside the top twenty markets). In other words, we can have our cake and eat it, too: the economic benefits of consolidation without the reduction of voices that one would ordinarily expect when two news entities combine.


But how on earth can this be? To begin with, to the extent that the two merged entities are truly “independent,” then there won’t be the cost savings that were supposed to justify the merger in the first place. On the other hand, if independence merely means maintaining two organizational charts for the same newsroom, then we won’t have any more reporters on the ground keeping an eye on government. Either way, we can’t have our cake and eat it, too.


In the final analysis, the real winners today are businesses that are in many cases quite healthy, and the real losers are going to be all of us who depend on the news media to learn what’s happening in our communities and keeping an eye on local government. Despite all the talk you may hear today about the threat to newspapers from the internet and new technologies, today’s order actually deals with something quite old-fashioned. Powerful companies are using political muscle to sneak through rule changes that let them profit at the expense of the public interest. They are seeking to improve their economic prospects by capturing a larger percentage of the news business in communities across the United States.


Let’s get beyond the weeds of corporate jockeying and inking up our rubber stamps for a new round of media consolidation to look for a moment at what we’re not doing today. That’s the real story, I think, that the important issues of minority and female ownership and broadcast localism and how they are being short-changed by today’s rush to judgment.


First, on minority and female ownership, racial and ethnic minorities make up 33% of America’s population. They own a scant 3% of all full-power commercial television stations. And that number is plummeting. Free Press recently released a study showing that during just the past year the number of minority-owned full-power commercial TV stations declined by eight-and-a-half percent, and the number of African American-owned stations—get this—decreased by nearly 60%. It’s almost inconceivable that this shameful state of affairs could be getting worse, yet here we are.


In most places there is something approaching unanimity that this has to change. Broadcasters, citizens and members of Congress, and every leading civil rights organization agree that the status quo is not acceptable. Each of my colleagues has recognized, I think, that paltry levels of minority and female ownership are a reality, which makes today’s decision all the more disappointing. There was a real opportunity here to do something meaningful today after years of neglect, and we blew it.


It didn’t have to be this way. I proposed both a process and a solution. We should have started by getting an accurate account of minority and female ownership. That’s the one that the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office both just found that we do not have at the FCC. The fact that we don’t even know how many minority and female owners there are is indicative of how low this issue is on the FCC’s list of priorities. We also should have convened an independent panel, like proposed by Commissioner Adelstein, and endorsed by many, that would have reviewed all of the proposals before us, prioritized them and made recommendations for implementation. We could have completed this process in ninety days or less and then would have been ready to act.


Today’s item ignores the pleas of the minority community to adopt a definition of “Eligible Entity” that could actually help their plight. Instead, the majority directs their policies at general “small businesses,” a decision that groups like Rainbow/PUSH and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters assert will do little or nothing for minority owners. Similarly, MMTC and the Diversity and Competition Supporters conclude that they would rather have no package at all than one that includes this definition. Lack of a viable definition poisons the headwaters. So should we wonder why the fish are dying downstream?


So while I can certainly support the few positive changes in this item that do not depend on the definitional issue, such as the adoption of a clear non-discrimination rule, these are overshadowed by the truly wasted opportunity to give potential minority and female owners a seat at the table they have been waiting for and have deserved for so very long. My fear now is that with cross-ownership done, the attentions of this Commission will turn elsewhere.


On localism, at the same time that we have shamefully ignored the need to encourage media ownership by women and minorities, we have witnessed a dramatic deterioration of the public interest performance of many of our licensees. We have witnessed the number of statehouse and city hall reporters declining decade after decade, despite an explosion in state and local lobbying. The number of channels have indeed multiplied, but there is far less local programming and reporting being produced.


Are you interested in hearing about local politics from the evening news? About 8% of such broadcasts contain any local political coverage at all, including races for the House of Representatives, and that was during the thirty days before the last presidential election. Interested in how TV reinforces stereotypes? Consider that the local news is four times more likely to show a mug shot during a crime story if the suspect is black rather than white.


The loss of localism impacts our music and entertainment, too. Just this morning, I had an email from a musician who took a trip of several hundred miles and heard the same songs played on the car radio everywhere he traveled. Local artists, independent creative artists and small businesses are paying a frightful price in lost opportunity. Big consolidated media dampens local and regional creativity, and that begins, my friends, to mess around pretty seriously with the genius that is America.


It’s a travesty. We allow the nation’s broadcasters to use half a trillion dollars of the people’s spectrum—for free. In return, we require that they serve the public interest: devoting at least some airtime for worthy programs that inform viewers, support local arts and culture, and educate our children—in other words, that aspire to something beyond just minimizing costs and maximizing revenue.


Once upon a time, the FCC actually enforced this bargain by requiring a thorough review of a licensee’s performance every three years before renewing the license. But during decades of market absolutism, we pared that down to “postcard renewal,” a rubber stamp every eight years with no substantive review.


So, to begin with, the FCC needs to reinvigorate the license-renewal process. We need to look at a station’s record every three or four years. I’m disappointed that the majority has so cavalierly dismissed this idea. And we should be actually looking at the record. Did the station show original programs on local civic affairs? Did it broadcast political meetings? In an era where too many owners live thousands of miles away from the communities that they allegedly serve, do these owners meet regularly with local leaders and the public to receive feedback? Why don’t we make sure that’s done before we vote to allow more media consolidation?


In 2004, the Commission opened up a notice of inquiry to consider ways to improve localism by better enforcing the quid pro quo between the nation’s broadcasters and the public. The notice addressed many of the questions raised by earlier dormant proceedings dating from years before. Today’s localism notice asks more questions and tees up some very meritorious ideas, but again my question: why the rush to vote more consolidation now, consolidation that has been the bane of localism, and why put off systematic actions to redress the harms consolidation has inflicted?


Our FCC cart is ahead of our horse. Before allowing Big Media to get even bigger—and to start the predictable cycle of layoffs and downsizing that is the inevitable result of, indeed the economic rationale for, many types of mergers—we should be enforcing clear obligations for each and every FCC licensee.


Those who look for substantive action on these important issues concerning localism and minorities will look in vain. Once the majority works its way on cross-ownership, I’m not optimistic about prospects for future action on these fronts. We’re told that we cannot deal with localism and minority ownership because that would require delay. But these questions have been before the Commission for a decade, and they have been ignored year after year. These issues could have been—should have been—teed up ten years ago. We begged for that in 2003, when we sailed off on the calamitous rules proposed by Chairman Powell and pushed through in another mad rush to judgment. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. It should have been done years ago. And we had the chance again this time around. Now, because of a situation not of Commissioner Adelstein’s or my making, we are accused of delaying just because we want to make things better before the majority makes them worse.


When I think about where the FCC has been and where it is today, two final conclusions:


First, the consolidation we have seen so far and the decision to treat broadcasting as just another business has not produced a media system that does a better job of serving most Americans. Quite the opposite is true. Rather than reviving the news business, it has led to less localism, less diversity of opinion, less serious political coverage, fewer jobs for journalists, and the list goes on.


Second, I think we have learned that the purest form of commercialism and high-quality news make very uneasy bedfellows. As my own hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, put it in a letter to Joseph Pulitzer, “I have always been firmly persuaded that our newspapers cannot be edited in the interests of the general public from the counting room.” And I think that applies to broadcast journalism, too. This is not to say that good journalism is incompatible with making a profit. I believe that both interests can be balanced. I believe both interests must be balanced. But when TV and radio stations are no longer required by law to serve their local communities and are owned by huge national corporations dedicated to cutting costs through economies of scale, it should come as no surprise that, in essence, viewers and listeners have become the products that broadcasters sell to advertisers. And that’s you and me I’m talking about.


We could have been—should have been—here today lauding the best efforts of government to reverse these trends and to promote a media environment that actually strengthens American democracy rather than weakens it. Instead, we are marking not just a lost opportunity but the allowance of new rules that head media democracy in exactly the wrong direction.


I take great comfort from the conclusion of another critic of the current media system, Walter Cronkite, who said, “America is a powerful and prosperous nation. We certainly should insist upon, and can afford to sustain, a media system of which we can be proud.”


So now it’s up to the rest of us. The situation isn’t going to repair itself. Big media is not going to repair it. This Commission is apparently not going to repair it. But the people and their elected representatives and attentive courts can repair it. Last time the Commission went down this road, the majority heard and felt the outrage of millions of citizens and Congress and then the court. Today’s decision is just as dismissive of good process as that earlier one, just as unconcerned with what people have said, just as heedless of the advice of our oversight committees and many other members of Congress, and just as stubborn—perhaps more stubborn—because this time it knows, or should know, what’s coming. Last time a lot of insiders were surprised by the country’s reaction. This time they should be forewarned. I hope, I really hope, that today’s majority decision will be consigned to the fate it deserves and that one day in the not-too-distant future we can look back upon it as an aberration from which we eventually recovered. We have had a dangerous, decades-long flirtation with media consolidation. I would welcome a little romance with the public interest for a change. Thank you.



AMY GOODMAN: Michael Copps, dissident Federal Communications Commissioner, speaking just before the vote to ax the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership that took place on December 18.


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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What do you give your Muse for Christmas?

Mine requires a great deal of chocolate, preferably Alter Eco, but she'll take Hershey's in a pinch. So this year I gave my Muse Alter Eco Dark Chocolate with Almonds, as well as Dagoba Xocolatl. It's wonderful to watch her stand completely still, every snake frozen in delight, transfixed by the luscious, lingering, delights of the taste and smell of creamy, dark chocolate. When she gets too belligerent or stays away too long, I crack the paper covering of a dark chocolate bar and suddenly my Muse appears, all smiles, every snake drooling over the smell of that candy.

I wrapped the bars of chocolate in gold colored tissue paper and handed them to her, saying, "Thank you."

She smiled. "Shouldn't I be saying thank you for the package?"

"No. I've been thinking about it a lot, and although you can be a serious bitch when you want to be, you do know how to push me in the right direction, regardless of whether or not I want to go there."

"Security is over-rated. Creative people need risks to stay productive."

"You're right. So thank you for pushing me into starting a publishing company. And thank you for forcing me to keep working on my novel. And thank you for dressing up like Eddie."

She took the package of chocolate and sniffed it, then grinned even bigger. "You're welcome." Then she ripped the paper into shreds and devoured the chocolate like a vampire feeding on fresh blood.

Muses are a gift, and a curse. They drive us, empower us, force us to create and then demand we take the applause and criticism. They build our obsessions and feed our desires, sometimes keeping us up at night with fevers and delusions. They make us hungry for things we've never imagined and will never find. Maybe that's why so many writes like to drink?

Without my Muse, I would be calm and safe. I would be empty. So bring on the next obsession and hunger! I can take it! As long as I have enough chocolate to keep her under control.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

When My Muse is Eddie Vedder

I know I'm in trouble when my Muse transforms herself into Eddie Vedder. Usually that means she's feeling revolutionary, overly creative, and too much like Joan of Arc. She's been listening to Pearl Jam, especially that song "Indifference," over and over on my MP3 player, pacing around the house, humming along to the words. "How much difference, does it make?" And then this morning she dressed herself in 1992 grunge attire (army jacket, doc-martin boots, knee length shorts) and walked into the kitchen where I was trying to wake up enough to operate the coffee maker.

"Oh no," I moaned when I saw her. "Not Eddie."

"What's wrong with Eddie?"

"I can't handle that much determined, outspoken, dark, political venting this early in the morning."

She grinned and said, "Oh, but you should. You have some serious work to do with Medusa."

I pushed the on button and impatiently listened to the water percolate through the coffee grounds. "I will not save the planet today."

"Not today. But later would be good."

Coffee never brews fast enough, especially when you're standing in the kitchen with your Eddie Vedder-doppelganger-muse watching you. "What's the cause today?"

"AIDS."

"Oh, is that all?"

"Did you hear what Huckabee said about rounding up people with AIDS and putting them into concentration camps?"

"I heard something about it."

"You can't let him get away with that."

I turned around and stared at her. "And just what exactly am I supposed to do about Mike Huckabee?"

"I don't know. Write something brilliant to make him look like a fool."

"He doesn't need my help to look like a fool. He's quite capable of doing that himself." The smell of the coffee began to fill the kitchen. I grabbed my favorite mug from the cubbard.

"It is your duty as an artist to speak out about such things."

I nodded, far too annoyed with how long it was taking to make a cup of coffee to focus on my Muse's diatribe about civic responsibility. "Can I save the planet after I have my coffee?"

She folded her arms and glared at me. "I don't believe you. Fighting bigotry is far more important than your cup of coffee!"

"You're right. But I fight better while caffienated."

She rolled her eyes, put the ear-buds of my MP3 player into her ears and said, "When you're awake, we can discuss strategy." Then she turned on the player and I could hear the faint chords of "Leash" blaring from the buds as she left the room.

Sometimes, this need to fight for justice is exhausting. I cannot ignore the ills of our society nor can I bury my head in the back yard and thank God people are dying "over there." What happens in Afghanistan and Darfur feels very close to me, like it's happening across the street. I cried when I heard they were tearing down housing projects in New Orleans and I was sick with fury for a week when I heard the comments Mr. Huckabee made about people with AIDS. I must fight when I see wrong, regardless of whether or not I have enough caffeine that morning. It's all my Muses fault.

My heroes are Martin Luther King, Janeane Garafello, Ani DiFranco, Henry Rollins, Studs Turkel, and others who fight for social justice and speak out against the wrongs in our world. I sometimes wish I could live quietly, do what Oprah says I should, and worry about Britney Spears, not Bolivia. Life would be so much simpler. Instead, my Muse transforms into Eddie Vedder and hands me a pen.

Oh well... there was finally enough coffee in the pot for one cup. I filled my mug and chased my Muse, wondering what she had in mind to go along with those Peal Jam lyrics.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Book Fair OnLine

While surfing the net looking for publishing news (really. I wasn't just checking bands on My Space), I stumbled upon this, Book Fair Online, an International Book Fair, completely on line, and available to anyone worldwide to peruse books looking for international publication. An interesting idea, especially when you take into account the cost of getting yourself to Frankfurt, Germany, which is where the largest international book fair in the world is located. But will an on line book fair come close to the impact of a "physical" book fair? Right now, there aren't many titles listed, but that could change in time. It's a gamble, spending money for placement on a brand new web site, because people don't really know about it yet. But it has the potential to become a great tool for small publishers like me; people without the budget for a European holiday.

Although I am saving for that trip; a dollar here, another there... because I want to experience the energy and chaos of all those book lovers from all over the world in one place. I plan to hit them all: Wellington, Cardiff, London, Edinburgh, and of course, Frankfurt. But in the mean time, I'll investigate this on-line version of a book fair and see if listing Laura's book is a good idea.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Accessibility

How can I make Laura's book available to people who are visually impaired?

That's the biggest issue I'm pondering these days. There are many options, and trying to figure out which one is best in terms of cost, feasibility, and simplicity for the end user is difficult.

Obvious option: Audio book. However, creating an audio book is a ton of work, or a ton of money. Seeing as I don't have a ton of money, I'm doing it the hard way; reading Laura's book myself into a microphone connected to my computer late at night while my daughter is sound asleep. All 210 pages. I'm up to pg. 40. The delay has come from ridiculous technical problems, like the microphone sometimes doesn't "appear" on the computer and the recording levels we set (we being Rick and I) will not stay set. Then, when we actually get everything working properly, I make mistakes, which must be corrected in the audio file, but every time we stop, the microphone disappears again! Reading a book out loud is extremely difficult. Try it. Pick up your favorite book, one you know almost by heart, and try reading it out loud without stumbling over any of the words. It's impossible.

Why am I the one reading it? Like I said, I'm broke and can't fork out the thousands of dollars to hire a company to transform the book into audio format for me. Luckily I have a drama degree and am a trained actress with good vocal control and excellent articulation. Take advantage of your strengths. Laura isn't reading the book because scheduling recording times around her full time job and my child-care needs was impossible. So I'm "it," every night, 10:00.

But the microphone problems can only be fixed with cash, so I'm forking out my credit card once again and going over budget to buy a good mic and a better audio program. Happily, there are programs out there that are share-ware, one of which has received raves for reliability, called Audacity I'll give that one a try.

To expand accessibility, I've uploaded Laura's book to Book Share.org. This non-profit, on-line company turns books into programs that can be downloaded by people with vision impairments who can then print the book in any format they need, including braille. This process also involved technical difficulties, but the file is now with the Book Share company and hopefully soon it will be available for download. Medusa's Muse doesn't receive any fees or royalties for this, but it is important to me that our books are available to any person who wishes a copy, even if the person can't read print.

That being said, I'd better get back to learning the Audacity program. Our goal was the audio book would be available on Jan. 1, but that date will probably have to be pushed to Feb. 1.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Hate Writing

I really do. I don't know why I keep doing this; spending hours staring at my lap-top, doodling in my journal, daydreaming about characters, wondering "what if?" All to create one more novel. Does the world really need one more novel?

While running Medusa, I am also working on my own book; a revision of my memoir about Paul. I am transforming it from fact to fiction, while keeping much of the true events intact. This was supposed to give me more freedom to make the story meaningful to readers and not just be a remembrance of my best friend. Easy, right? WRONG. Although I have a road map of events, I find that the road map is... well... boring. There are moments in the book, entire scenes, when the pacing really flows and the characters bounce off the page and excite me. I see the children chasing waves on the beach, daring the ocean to drown them, until one wave almost does. Then comes the scene when they are seventeen, staring at each other, unsure of what to say, until one of the characters will break from the moment, stare out at me from my lap top and ask, "So what?" Too often, I reply, "I don't know."

My Muse won't let me quit writing. She seems to enjoy watching me suffer. No matter that I've already written two novels, four plays, several short stories, a handful of awful poems, and one song. She wants another one! Perhaps I'd feel better about writing if anyone actually read and liked what I wrote! The last rejection letter I received for a short story said they liked it, but it needed more editing. I stared at that damn story for an hour and couldn't see a single thing to edit. What are they talking about? This is perfect? Then the crippling thought entered my brain which asks, "What if I'm a really bad writer?"

"Bull!" My Muse scoffs when I ask that question. "I wouldn't be here if you were a bad writer. You're just suffering from Author Blindness. No writer can see their own work clearly. That's why you need writing groups and editors. They're like giant spectacles to fight near-sightedness."

So I sent the story to a friend for editing and got back to work on my novel, because I don't know what else to do other than write. Not even running my own publishing company will satisfy my need to put words on paper and tell stories. I've tried quitting, but I actually suffer from withdrawal pains, like the ones I got when I gave up smoking. To quit smoking I started to knit. Knitting doesn't kill the need to write, though.

A Chinese curse says, "May you be born during interesting times." A better curse is, "May you be born a writer."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Traveling Blind now Available from Powell's Books

Powell's Books, the Oregon based independent, gigantic bookstore is offering Laura's book via their website, or by prepaid pick-up. Hopefully in time, they'll carry it on their shelves. Selling a book through Powell's is one of my dreams as a publisher. It is my favorite book store on this planet and I've spent far too many hours wandering the aisles of their main, downtown Portland store, breathing in the dust and aging paper of those thousands and thousands of books. To me, it is Mecca.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

We Passed the 150 Mark!

Despite my poor math skills (see previous post), Medusa's Muse has sold more than 150 copies of Laura Fogg's book, "Traveling Blind; Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers" since its Nov. 1 launch date. Not bad for a tiny, three person press with an operating budget of last years tax return.

You'll have to excuse me now. My Muse and I are about to do the Happy Dance!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Math Pain

My old nemesis, Math, has sent me into a spiral of frustration and self-doubt. I couldn't remember how to figure a percentage. The formula had fallen out of my head.

"You have to help me with this!" I yelled to my Muse who was in the other room. She came rushing to me with a wet tea bag in her hand.

"What is it?"

"I can't remember how to figure out percentages."

She cocked her head and blinked at me a few times. "A what?"

"A percentage. What is 40% of 16?"

"How the hell should I know?"

"You have to know. You know everything."

"I only know important things."

I leaped up from my chair and recklessly grabbed my Muse by her bony shoulders. "This is important! Do you hear me? I have to know what 40% of 16.00 is or we're doomed."

"Calm down," she said, pulling herself from my grasp. "This isn't the end of the world."

"It isn't? Are you sure? I mean, if I can't figure out what 40% of 16 is I can't do the billing, and if I can't do the billing then we don't get paid, and if we don't get paid I can't pay the printing bill, and if that happens I lose my credit and Medusa's Muse will die! And that, my dear Muse, is the end of the world!" I stepped closer to her and she pressed herself against the wall. "So you'd better help me figure this out or it's over!"

Every snake on her head stared at me as we glared at each other, too startled to strike. My Muse looked confused, an expression I'd never seen on her before. Then she took a deep breath and said, "Having a panic attack won't solve anything. You need to calm down and let me think."

I stepped away and sat down in the chair, resting my head in my hands. "This is hopeless."

"Don't say that. You're just frustrated, that's all."

"How did I think I could do this when I can't remember how to do simple math? I must be crazy." I looked up at her and shook my head. "This is hopeless. I'm an idiot."

"Have you always had this much trouble with math?"

"Yes."

"Then that's the problem. I'll bet you froze every time you had to do a math problem, am I right?"

I nodded. "Tests were the worst. I'd flunk them every time. It took me three tries to get through Algebra, and then I think I only did because the teacher took pity on me."

"You're just suffering from Math anxiety. It happens to lots of people. You can't think because you're too nervous. So take a break, calm down, and in time it will come back to you."

"I don't have time."

"Then call Jane."

"Jane. Jane will know what to do. She knows how to do math. She was a book-keeper."

"Exactly. I'm sure it's a simple formula. You just need a reminder. It's been a long time since you were in school. A long, long, long time."

"That's enough. I get the point."

"Why at your age, it's a wonder you haven't forgotten fractions. Or multiplication, let alone percentages."

"Thank you. I get it."

"Jane is younger. She'll remember."

"You can go now! Thank you."

She smiled sweetly. "Have I helped?"

"Immensely. What would I do without you?"

"Glad I was here." She returned to the kitchen, swinging her tea bag, humming.

Jane reminded me how to do the formula and once I knew it I could figure out the rest. Even so, I had to redo the figures four times, never feeling confident I had the right answer. Math, my old enemy, had stripped me of my publisher self-assurance.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Strategy

Right now we have two projects in development at Medusa's Muse Press; an anthology of transformative Punk Rock tales, and a novel about the power of friendship over death. Both compelling and exciting to work on. But which one should launch first? I guess the real question is, can I devote energy to both, AND keep the momentum of Laura's book going? Or should I focus more on one project at a time? Since I'm still learning how to run the press as a small business, there are a lot of reasons to keep the pace slow and manageable. I'm only now getting the hang of inventory control with just one book! Can I keep track of two, or even three different books in different stages of development?

My Muse says, "Go for it!" She believes in my ability to juggle multiple tasks while still being Mommy and working another job. And I'm sure she's right... but... I'm not so sure I want the aggravation. I'd like less stress in my life, not more.

Now is the time to create a Strategy which maps out what my plan is for Medusa's Muse over the next 2-5 years. Taking into account budget, credit, possible profits and known expenditures, projects, marketing, and the time I and the designer and editor can actually put into a manuscript. There are only so many hours in a day and if we all burn out early in this game Medusa's Muse will drop dead in three years. I want this press to last for thirty years!

I'll sit down and look at numbers and possibilities, but I admit I'm leaning toward focusing on the punk rock book and putting off the novel till winter, 2008, if not longer. I don't want to do so much that the books suffer. Each book is a treasure that requires devotion and energy to help it bloom. Putting out books simply to fill up the Medusa catalogue isn't a good way to run a press.

My Muse calls me a coward. Maybe I am. But I think my Muse is too eager for the contact high of another book launch.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rocket Girls


My Muse went to dinner two months ago with three other Muses and when she came back she told me all about the idea they came up with. After many weeks of collaboration and the dedication of Jody Gehrman, the Rocket Girls web site is born!


The Rocket Girls are Kim Green, Jordan Rosenfeld, the aforementioned Jody Gehrman, and me. Three lovely writers and one cool publisher. The purpose of the site is to help other writers by offering articles, how-to's, question and answers, a blog, and advice on writing, publishing and being creative. Plus, it's a great way to network with other writers and support each other's work. Right now, there are two questions about publishing posted by a writer, which I've answered. Go to the site to read what I said and post your own questions,too.

I teased my Muse about being pathologically afraid of boredom. "How many more projects are you planning?" She grinned and replied, "As many as I can think of."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

World AIDS day is one week away

This is from The World AIDS Day Organization in the UK. Even though the info is UK oriented, it's a good reminder to us all that AIDS is still prevalent, and that includes the US. So speak out, remember, and keep fighting. AIDS can disappear if we all work together.

World AIDS Day is ONE week away!! Take Action!

WORLD AIDS DAY – Saturday 1 December

'ONE WEEK TO GET INVOLVED AND GET TALKING!'

World AIDS Day is less than one week away. There are over 33 million people living with HIV around the world and more than 70,000 people are living with HIV in the UK.

World AIDS Day 2007 is a great time to get talking about HIV, listen to people's experiences of HIV, and learn the facts about the virus to help spread the word to friends and family.


Five facts you may not know about HIV and World AIDS Day:

1- In 2006 there were an estimated 73,000 people of all ages living with HIV in the UK and about 21,600 were unaware of their infection.


2- Internationally, there have been 2.5 million total new cases of HIV in 2007, with 2.1 cases in adults and 420,000 cases in children under the age of 15.


3- The red ribbon worn for World AIDS Day has been a symbol of HIV awareness since 1991 and is a powerful way to challenge the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS in the world today.

4- Young people (aged 16 – 24) accounted for over 1 in 10 new HIV diagnoses in the UK by the end of 2006.

5- The UK theme for World AIDS Day 2007 is 'Understanding Through Communication', which highlights the importance of using open communication to break down the silence and stigma around HIV and to get people talking to increase their knowledge about the virus.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Top 10 Lessons I've Learned About Publishing

My Muse lounges on the couch with her feet up and announces, "I feel fecund."

"That's an interesting word," I reply, sitting in my favorite chair across from her.

"It covers it all. Fecund. Creatively fertile and satisfied."

"Me too." We smile at each other, and then she asks, "What have you learned from all this?"

"Learned?"

"Yes, silly. Learned about publishing. You've been studying books for a year and finally put it all into action on a real book. Did any of it make sense? Do you think you know what you're doing? Could you do it again?"

I think for a moment and nod slowly. "Yes. I have."

She hands me a note-pad. "Write it down."

Top Ten Lessons I've Learned About Publishing

1) Marketing is not a dirty word. Creating a Marketing plan is not an act of evil. If a publishing company wants to survive it must know and understand the potential market for a manuscript. Target markets are good.

2) A Publishing Company is a small business. Learn what you have to do to run a business as well as a publishing company. If you skip learning how to manage your inventory or forget to get a resale license, you're screwed.

3) There are creative, talented, eager people all around you. Don't be afraid to ask for their help. If you don't know or understand something, ASK. Ignorance will cause you extrutiating headaches as you try to undo the mistakes you've made.

4) Never underestimate the value of a good book designer. If you are lucky enough to have a person in your life who wants to be a part of the press and will work for free, AND is good at designing covers, you are extremely lucky. If you don't have that person, then save up the money to pay someone. Really. It is worth every dime.

5) A good copy editor is just as important as the above mentioned book designer. Pay them, bribe them, lure them with promises of riches or sexual favors, but get someone who can spell to edit the manuscript.

6) The Internet is the greatest tool a small publisher can have. Learn how to use it. Don't be afraid of My Space. Get a blog. Create a good website. Keep it updated. The time you spend surfing is not a waste of time. You can learn a lot from reading other blogs and joining list-serves. Get over the fear of "Big Brother" and embrace the digital age.

7) Join organizations like Publisher's Market Place and take advantage of the information and on-line trainings they provide. There is so much help and advice out there. Talk to other publishers and independent presses. They can guide you in the right direction and save you hours of fruitless effort.

8) Dan Poynter really is the God-father of Independent Publishing. Buy his book first.

9) Buy extra chocolate. You will put in many unpaid hours working on the mansucript through editing, revision, editing again, designing, planning the marketing campaign, making cold calls to get book readings for your author, filling orders, and sometimes staring at the pile of books in your living room wondering what on earth you should do next. Chocolate will get you through.

10) Listen to your Muse. She's smart.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Jordan's Blog Interview

Hey look! I'm famous! Well, at least on Jordan's blog.

http://jordansmuse.blogspot.com/2007/11/were-still-in-rocketgirl-month-here-at.html

Jordan Rosenfeld is an excellent writer whose newest book, Make a Scene, helps the writer create riveting, page turning, powerful scenes in their novel. A definite must-have for every writer, especially any who are having trouble with dialogue or setting a scene.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ukiah Book Reading

 

 
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Last night was Laura's reading at the Mendocino Book Company, and it was a huge success. We packed the house and sold quite a few books. Laura's good friends from her quilting club brought munchies and the bookstore provided wine and lemon aid. The staff was incredible. I arrived early at 5:30 and chairs were already set out for the audience and a table was set up for Laura to sign books. By 6:00, it was hard to navigate the room with all the people packed around the reading area, filling the chairs and blocking the aisles. At 6:20 the bookstore owner, Ann, introduced me. I told everyone how Laura's book began; one lovely day in February after I read her manuscript, I asked if I could publish it. She said yes, and here we are. People cheered and Laura began to read, at first sitting nervously in her chair, face practically buried in the book. But when someone asked her to speak up, Laura stood, found her confidence, and finished reading in a loud, clear voice. I was very proud of her.

My muse circled the room, her skin radiant with the warmth and good feelings from the people there. I think she's feeling better about being "forgotten." Rick was there as well and people praised him for his design, especially the image of the road extending completely from back to front on the cover.

Ann, the bookstore owner, is a wonderful woman and really helped me with pricing and working with bookstores. This was my first event at a store, so I wasn't sure how the percentages should be. But Ann answered my questions and explained it all, even giving Medusa a larger percentage of the sales than I had offered, saying, "How can you stay in business at that price?" Thank you Ann!

A beautiful night. Hopefully soon we'll have more readings on the coast (Mendocino?), in Willits, and south in Santa Rosa. It takes time to get them set up, and a great deal of coordination between the store's and Laura's schedule. But I think she and I are both feeling more confident about this.

I know my Muse is happier.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In the Background

My Muse has been trying on different outfits for a week; a black, slinky gown, a man's suite with a red, skinny tie, an electric blue turtle-neck with gaucho pants,a cowboy shirt and jeans, a leather mini-skirt and stripper boots. There's a large pile of discarded clothing on my bed and my Muse is looking worried.

"I have nothing to wear to the book reading on Friday!" she wails, tearing off a red sweater.

"What are you worried about? No one' s coming to see you."

She freezes, her eyebrows rising sharply. "What do you mean?"

"I mean people are coming to hear Laura read. No one cares about the publisher, let alone her muse."

"That's not true."

"Afraid so. Wear what you want. We're support staff now."

"That's a terrible thing to say!" She throws an alligator boot at me.

I laugh. "Okay...name one publisher."

She crosses her arms."Random House."

"That's a publishing company. Who's the publisher, the person who did the work?"

My Muse blinks her heavy, sea-green eyes several times, then shrugs. "I don't know and that's not the point. Those are huge corporations with hundreds of staff. You ARE Medusa's Muse. Well, you and Jane and Rick. So people should know you and be proud of you."

"A few people do, and the people who know me are proud of me." I reach out and tuck a nervous snake behind her ear. "There's nothing wrong with being support staff. We're there to help Laura read from her book and have a wonderful time. It's like being the director of a play, you know. We don't go on stage. We help the actors look good."

She shoves over a pile of skirts and sits on my bed, crossing her legs. "Do you mean to tell me we did all this work..."

"We?"

"Fine, you did all this work, and no one knows or cares?"

"Welcome to the world of publishing, my dear. And remember, this was all your idea."

I sit beside her and the two of us stare at my desk covered with overflowing stacks of papers, lists, post-it notes and half a chocolate bar.

My Muse murmers, "I thought this would be more fun."

'Me too,' I think. 'I'm getting a little tired of the non-stop marketing and paperwork, inventory lists and business management tasks. I miss writing, being creative, thinking about cover design and editing. I miss creating books, even the revision process. Instead, I spend my time keeping track of book sales and hoping I don't mess up the taxes. My own writing has been eclipsed by someone else's and instead of working on my own novel I'm writing letters to bookstores asking them to carry her book. On top of it all, most people have no idea I'm the person who edited, published and promoted Laura Fogg's book.' "This sucks," I say out loud.

My Muse solemnly stands and pirouetts to face me. "We will not feel sorry for ourselves. We will wear fabulous outfits on Friday and conduct ourselves as the publishing royalty we are. We are an elite club, you and I, and I refuse to let anyone diminish our accomplishments. Not even ourselves." She holds up a gold, Grecian tunic with emerald clasps. "This will look wonderful on you."

"It's a bit much, I think, but perfect for you."

"Then wear that new dress you bought, the green and black with the reflective beads."

"I like that one. Okay."

My Muse grins and shakes her full main of snake filled hair. "People won't know what hit them."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Inventory

The book is selling very well and I'd call this launch a huge success. It will be a while before we break even, but if published books only sell an average of 150 copies, we are well on our way to beating the average. Excellent!

Today, someone asked me how many books we've sold and I had to think for a bit. Let's see... this many at the conference, then add in the ones from the party, plus the two to my friend, the ones I dropped off at the bookstore, the ones Laura bought (but do those really count toward overall sales numbers?), several copies my mother-in-law said she bought from Amazon... um... I think... we've sold... this many? No, I forgot the five my friend bought as gifts. So that's ... um... wait... I lost my count.

This is ridiculous. I've been writing them down one by one in a notebook; the ones I've sold and the one's I've given away as gifts or as promotional copies. I'm positive I haven't forgotten to write any down, but I don't have a way to keep track automatically. I can't just pull up a number on any day and say, Ah ha! I've sold 50! Instead, I have to use my fingers and count hatch marks. Not a good way to run a business.

I've been learning how to use Peach Tree accounting software, and for creating invoices, it's great. Supposedly, once I learn how to use the program properly, it can tell me instantly what my sales are, my earnings, and eventually, my profit. I've been trying to input every sale into a Peach Tree invoice and I THINK I've figured it out. My husband told me the college teaches classes on how to use Peach Tree. You mean this program is so complicated you need a college class to use it? Great!

I ran across a software program "specifically for publishers." But it's $295.00 bucks. Seeing as I've already maxed one credit card, I'm not sure my business budget can handle another big bill. But what money am I losing simply by wandering around Peach Tree aimlessly? I'd better look into other options.

In the meantime, I'll keep plugging away at Peach Tree, so at least I can have a basic idea of where my books are going and who has actually PAID for one.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Juggling

Now that the book is launched and Medusa is open for business, I am learning to juggle the myriad parts of myself and my life. All the labels I wear are gracelessly colliding; Mom, Writer, Publisher, Wife, Pet-Owner, Home-Owner, Business-Owner. Medusa's catch phrase, "Transforming Chaos into Art," has taken an all too personal meaning as I climb over piles of laundry to get to my room, hunt for a pen that actually works, then try to clear a spot on my desk to pay a bill. I can't sit on my chair because it is piled with three coats and the blue ball-gown I wore for Halloween. Instead, I'm perched on the step stool, trying to reach the key board while my cat presses her nose against my wrist.

Yesterday was another book event for Laura. Her boss threw a book party and all of Laura's co-workers and many of the families included in the book were going to be there. 30 minutes before the party, Laura called needing a ride. No problem. I went into my daughter's room and announced it was time to go to "the party." My daughter didn't budge. She sat on her bed in full 12 year old angst with snot running from her nose.

I asked if she was feeling alright.

"Yes," she growled.

I wiped her nose and felt her head. A little warm, but she said she's fine, so we should still be able to go, right?

The child would not budge.

"Do you want to go?" I asked.

She wrapped her arms around herself tightly and said, "I don't know."

Just then, my husband walked in the door, ready to go to the party, too. He's the book designer and has so far missed any of the celebrating. Now it looked like he couldn't come to this party either. He said no problem, he needed to study for school any way. Class started in an hour. That gave me about 45 minutes at the party.

I grabbed a few books, drove madly to grab Laura, who I had made late while fighting with my daughter, and arrived at the party for my 30 minutes of celebration. I was bummed. This was the one night my girl could come and share in the celebration. She was on the cover of the dang thing, and a whole chapter was about her. I wanted to show her off and let her feel some of the energy I felt sharing the glow of Laura's book. Oh well. I drank some apple juice, gave the books to Laura, and went home.

Sometimes this motherhood gig sucks.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

This is one of the reasons Medusa is a success

Jane Mackay is one of those people who can spell any obscure English word you can imagine, and she's saved my professional butt more times than I can count. With her diligence, Medusa is able to produce works of high quality. There are NO spelling errors in a Medusa book (well, none Jane missed. Sometimes things happen in the design department -me and Rick- that she doesn't know about, but we discuss that now).

Here is a link to her website, for those who also need a grammar and spelling perfectionist.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Being a Fairy Godmother

 

 

 
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The book launch at the California Association of Orientation and Mobility Specialists in Montery was incredible! The above photos are of Laura and Pete, Laura reading,and Me and Laura at the Medusa table with her book. Laura did an excellent job reading and everyone there appeared excited about the book. We sold quite a few, but the highlight of the entire trip was when Laura presented a book to Pete Werzburger, the "godfather" of Orientation and Mobility. During and after WWII, there were thousands of soldiers returning from battle who were rendered blind from their injuries. These were healthy young men who faced a world of dependence and disability. Pete Werzburger decided to do something about it and he pioneered the use of the white cane and other mobility techniques to help these men. From there, the field evolved from being strictly about rehab and veterans to schools and children. Every person in the US who uses a white can owes a debt of gratitude to Pete, and he was Laura's teacher when she was learning O and M.

Pete is now in his 80's and was able to come to the conference with his family. On Friday night, Laura read from her book to about a hundred mobility instructors, including Pete. The room was completely silent and everyone appeared transfixed and moved by the reading. When she then presented Pete with a book, people stood and clapped loudly. Pete said a few words, but even he appeared to be touched by Laura's words of praise and gratitude. I looked around the room and took in the joy of that moment; the room filled with cheering people, Pete's family beaming, Pete grinning, Laura with happy tears in her eyes, and I understood exactly how it feels to be a fairy godmother. Through my hard work, talent, dedication, and credit card, I helped make this moment possible. I helped Laura's dream become real and in so doing touched the heart of an old man and many others. Even if this book doesn't make a dime, that moment made everything worth it.

Happily, we did make a dime. A few dimes. People bought lots of books and are really excited about it. Laura was so happy she giggled almost the entire day. And I again enjoyed watching her chat with "fans" and sign books.

This work is the most fulfilling work I have ever known, and maybe someday, I'll be able to earn a living from it.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Happy Book Launch Day

Today's the day. Traveling Blind is available for purchase as of today. Laura is officially a published writer, and I am officially her publisher. I dropped ten books at the Mendocino Book Company and am waiting to see if sales actually come in. Will we sell a thousand books? Or ten? Time will tell. Either way, I'm having a great time doing this, although my Muse is a little bored with the day to day, business end of it. Inventory and shipping are dirty words to her. Creating the book is wonderful; trying to sell it is something she doesn't want anything to do with.

We set up a link on the Medusa's Muse website so people can order books directly. Otherwise, I encourage people to either get it from their local bookstore (go in and bug them. They can order it for you from Ingram. This will help generate some buzz and get the book into the bookstores)or order it from Amazon.

Still waiting to hear from Powell's. I really hope they decide to carry the book too. If anyone lives in the Portland area, would you mind requesting the book?

Time to get back to packing for the conference tomorrow. Wish us luck.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Divine Busy-ness

One week before book launch and the pace really picked up with all those last minute things that must be done NOW. I still have more questions than answers, but I check each item off the list one by one. Unfortunately, updating this blog has taken a back seat to the other minutia that requires my attention. Once the initial rush settles down (and when will that be, exactly?) I can fill you in on the intricacies of launching a book.

Some very exciting news, though. Traveling Blind is already listed on the Internet stores of Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon.com. After I emailed book launch spam... I mean info... to all my friends and family, one of those friends sent me the Amazon link to the book. We all did a happy dance and I promptly had a panic attack. I'm sure the reason we're on those websites is because we are in the Ingram catalogue simply because we're using Lightning. Really no big deal, but seeing the book on the Internet for anyone to find and buy was THRILLING. It's not just people in Ukiah who can buy it; it's the whole world.

(Oh no. I think I just gave myself another panic attack.)

We're also setting up the paypal account on the website to sell books directly. Far more complicated than I thought it would be, but I'll explain how that process worked and how I finally made my decision about selling on the site when I have a wee bit more time (again, I'd really like to know when that will be.)

To top it all off, I have a midterm in Marketing the same day as our book launch! Thank you to my instructor for letting me make up the test when I get back. But I still need to study, which I'd better do right now. No more time to check in.

One odd thing, though... on Amazon there is a third party discounter selling the book. Who are these people and how did they get a book which hasn't even been sold yet? If any of you know, please send a comment and explain this mystery to me.

Thanks for your support. I promise, more details later, but I gotta run. I have a test to study for, three book readings to plan, a trip to Montery, bookstores to contact, and more networking to do in the next two weeks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Boxes of Books


When the UPS guy brought the books to my door, I didn't scare him this time. Calmly he and I carried ten boxes of books from Lightning Source into my living room. I opened one box to inspect the contents but remembered that I should keep the books stored in their original box as Dan Poynter recommends to prevent damage. I sat down on the couch and examined a few of the books, looking for blemishes or wrinkles. Each book I flipped through was absolutely pristine. Beautiful. The colors on the cover are rich. The printing vibrant. Lightning Source has done an excellent job.

Next week is the official book launch of Traveling Blind. Laura stopped by a little while ago and picked up a box to share with her writing group. She hugged me tightly and is so happy with how her book turned out. In that moment, I understood what a muse must feel; the vicarious excitement knowing you helped someone fulfill their dream. I helped her bring her book to life, and now I'm helping her spread the word about it. All those hours of editing, designing, setting up the business, building a website, researching publishing, forking out too much money... all of it is for this moment. Laura's book is real and I helped make it possible. But it is Jane and Rick who helped me pull it off. Without their support and knowledge, this task would have been impossible.

Thank you Jane for helping me with the editing and for all those unpaid hours you've put into marketing and research. Thank you for believing in me enough to want to join this crazy venture.

Thank you Rick for the website, the book design, and now the audio version you're still struggling with. Thank you for standing in the middle of the street with your camera to get that perfect shot of the asphalt for the cover.

And thank you Laura for trusting me enough with your creation and letting me publish it. You've made my dream come true too.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fulfillment

We just hit a snag at Medusa, namely, how do we sell books from the website? The original plan was that Lightning Source would be "drop-shipping" the books when orders were submitted to our website. Only problem is, Lightning Source will only drop-ship after you've listed 25 titles with them. 25 titles? Let's see, 3 titles per year divided into 25 means in...8 1/2 years we can sell books directly from them.

In the mean time, if I want to directly sell books from Medusa, I need to do it myself. Okay... um... how do I do that?

Order fulfillment is a complicated, labor intensive process and most publishing companies hire outside help. Seeing as I have no more money in my operating budget, I can't afford help. That means I get to pack a book someone has ordered and send it to the address they gave. Should be simple, right? For some reason this is a very complicated process.

First, you need to decide how people are going to give you money and request a book. After some investigating, I've decided to use Pay Pal. I know there is some controversy about Pay Pal, but for the time being, it is the best choice because of its reliability and ease of use. I have signed up for a merchant account with Pay Pal and now Rick is checking out the steps to set up a link on the website and the parameters we want to use for a "shopping cart."

Next, I am hunting for a space to store ten boxes of books in my 1000 square foot house. As it is now, my office is my lap-top and my desk is crammed into a corner of my bedroom, covered with paperwork and other notes. Somewhere, I need a spot for book storage and processing orders. Kitchen?

Then, I need to find good mailers. Dan Poynter recommends Jiffy-Lite bags. I wonder how many I will need? And how much will it cost to ship a book, anyway? A 6x9 paperback will cost... what? How do I figure out shipping costs? Do I do a standard amount? Send them all media mail? Should I buy a big role of stamps and a meter? How many trips to the post office will I make every week?

Finally, I need a good way to keep track of orders. Who ordered which book and where did they want it sent? Did the book get there? If not, why? Not only is this important for good customer service, but it's vital for tax purposes. I wonder if there's a good program.

I have a feeling I'll be learning the best way to provide fulfillment simply by doing it. Standard trial and error. As long as I don't muck up orders too badly I can figure out the most efficient way to do it. And besides, I can always encourage people to just order from Amazon if it turns out I'm bad at this. Sometimes, the easy way is the right way.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Muses Portrait


My Muse had her portrait done in honor of the press. She spent many hours hanging out with Nate at the tattoo shop, posing and preening and enjoying herself so much she hardly came home at night, leaving me all the fun work of setting up the business structure of the press. At first, I enjoyed the peace and quiet, but I began to miss her constant chatter and snake hiss. At last, she triumphantly returned, bringing this beautiful image with her.



"I am pleased. If I ever get bored with you, I will be going to Nate. He is a true artist." She then lay down on my bed for a three day nap.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Book Is Here!!!



Yesterday, a UPS truck parked in front of my house. When my Muse and I heard the squeak of the breaks and then the distinct sound of the truck's back door being raised, we stared at each other, both frozen with the expectation. Is it really for us? I looked out the front window and saw the UPS guy was indeed walking up our steps.

"It's here!" I screamed and ran for the door. The UPS guy stopped on the first step and stared at me like I might be an ax murderer as I flung open the front door, squealing and jumping. He dropped the package quickly on the porch and stepped back, far away from the crazy woman who had snatched up the package and was hugging it to her breast, saying, "Thank you! Thank you," over and over. He backed away, one hand fearfully waiving, and didn't turn around until he'd reached his truck.

I brought the package inside and shut the door, almost knocking over my muse. "Let's see it!" We ran to the kitchen where I found a knife to slice the tape that locked our book inside. At last, I pulled away the cardboard and revealed our beautiful, thick. glossy, perfect book.

"Is it alright?" my muse whispered, her voice tight with the suspense.

I examined the cover, front and back. Lovely. Then I gently turned to the first page. Good. The second. Nice. I flipped pages more rapidly, feeling the soft, almost dusty texture of the cream paper and smelling the fresh binding. Yes, yes... oh my God, it's beautiful.

"It's perfect," I said.

She grabbed the book from my hand and looked at it, almost drooling with pleasure. "Yes. It's wonderful!" We jumped up and down and squealed some more, which made the poor dog run away and hide in the other room until we stopped making that awful noise. At last, she handed the book back to me and we smiled at each other. "Thank you," she said.

I hugged her tightly, not caring if the snakes bit. "Thank you! This was your crazy idea, you know."

She nodded and grinned. "Glad you listened?"

"Yes. Most defiantly."

Friday, October 05, 2007

Money

I opened a business account at Washington Mutual, which has been my bank for 10 years and I've always been happy with them. As usual, the person I worked with was very friendly and helpful, even though she had missed her lunch and had a line of customers waiting for her. She took the time to answer my questions and since I already had a personal account, it was a snap to open a business account.

Then she asked, "Would you like to open a line of credit?"

"A what?" I stared at her blankly. I had already agreed to apply for a business credit card because that seemed the best way to keep track of purchases. Put it all on the card, pay it off as quickly as possible, preferably the same month. So what's this line of credit thing?

"You can borrow up to $75,000.00 simply by using your checking account. If you need to make a purchase that would make your account overdrawn, you can write the check and that would tap into your line of credit."

$75,0000? Honey, do you know what kind of business I have? It's a publishing company, a small, sole proprietorship, with two books, maybe three, published per year. Most presses barely make a dime and I'll be lucky if I break even. Why in God's name would anyone want to loan a book publisher THAT much money?

But my brain just grabbed onto that amount and began spinning visions of the new laptop I needed for my business and a top of the line color laser printer, plus a new desk, a fax machine, a cell phone that took pictures, and a car, because a business person can't drive around town in a beat up Honda Mini-Van.

"I'll think about it," I said.

The next day, the bank called to let me know the credit card application was approved and had I decided on the line of credit? Kissing my dreams of a fax machine goodbye, I told her I thought it was a good idea, but I only needed $10,000.00 as my limit. She said she'd get that paperwork done asap.

Oh well, maybe next year I'll buy a cell phone that takes pictures. Like one of those IPhones. That would be cool.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Good Enough?

After sending the manuscript and cover files to LSI, I got a message from Jane, telling me how happy she is that we're done. HOWEVER, she found two small errors in the text of the back of book info. Was it too late to fix them?

Great! Just great! I took a look at the book and saw what she was talking about: I didn't capitalize "Ford" and the word "she's" means "she is," not "she has." Lovely! My brain immediately began tabulating how many books I would have to sell to cover the cost of changing the file I had just sent to the printer. And does it matter? Such tiny mistakes; the kind most people won't even notice, and if someone does, they probably wouldn't buy the book anyway if the mistakes bugged them that much. No, doesn't matter. Go with it.

Or does it? Am I really the kind of publisher to let mistakes slide just to save some cash? Quality is extremely important to me. One of the biggest complaints people have about small presses and self publishers is poor quality. I don't want to be one of those presses. There's a reason my partner is a stickler for the proper use of a comma. Attention to detail shows professional work. Medusa may be small, but we are professional and I won't lower my standards just to save a few dollars.

You have to decide what "Good Enough" means for you. There is a point when you have to go with what you have because the deadline has passed. I'm sure Laura has looked at her manuscript a few more times since giving it to me and wishes she could add or change just one more thing. No. It is good enough and now it's time to let go. Rick, our designer, has tweaked and re-done the interior text at least 22 times. There's more he'd like to do, but the deadline is passed. And once the book is printed and out into the world, I'll bet I find a dozen things I wished I'd done differently. Too late. I've sent it to the printer.

Thankfully, LSI has an excellent communication system and my account manager was able to help me send the corrections without additional costs. Once I get the sample copy, I really hope I'll be able to look at it and feel satisfied that it's good enough for Medusa. There's no such thing as perfection, so good enough will have to do.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Today I Pushed "Send"

Today, I sent the cover and interior files to Lightning Source. As soon as I got the confirmation the files had successfully uploaded, I felt like crying. This whole crazy, Medusa inspired dream is coming true. Every step brings it closer to reality and very soon, I will be able to hold the real, page turning, beautiful book.

My Muse sat quietly beside me as we watched the little spinning pinwheel whirl around on the screen while the upload process advanced. When it was all done we just sat quietly together for a moment, both smiling, enjoying the feeling of excitment and pride. She didn't have to say a word; I knew she was proud of me.

I can't wait for the book-proof!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Licenses, Numbers and Other Details

It's down to the proverbial wire, and now all those little details have to be figured out. Can't put off the business decisions anymore, so on September 11th I filed for my business license as a sole proprietor. Then I filed a fictitious name statement with the county clerk. No turning back now, I'm official. Of course, signing the contract with Laura made the press official, but now the tax collector knows I exist and once the "doing business as" is posted in the local newspaper, I'll really be in the public eye. Before, this press was a dream of mine which Jane decided looked like fun, and then Laura joined on. It was a fun idea. Now it's a real business.

So many details as the publication date gets closer. The next business thing to do is open a business account at the bank, then get a resale license so I can sell books directly. Set up a pay-pal account for the website, find an accountant to help Jane with the tax stuff, and hope I haven't forgotten something important as I create a formal business structure.

Beyond that, I got the library of congress control number, which has to be added to the copyright page. I sent the contract to LSI to set up a printing account. Rick and I are finalizing the interior of the book through guess work, comparisons, and a book by Pete Masterson. Luckily Rick already knows InDesign or we'd be completely lost. It's been weeks of reading and re-reading the text, finding the problems, balancing the text, looking for "orphans" and "widows" and then handing it off to Laura to double check. Of course she found things we missed. But this is good; creating a book is a collaborative process. More polish and rearranging in the text. Should the word be hyphenated or not? What about the spacing on page 112? Is that how you spell audacity?

And then there is the back of the book info. What can I say about the book that will relay what it is about and why someone should buy it? Why is this book important? What will compel someone to plunk down $16.00? What will they get for their money? All I can think of is "this is a really good book and you should buy it." Great! Where's my Muse when I need her?

More details: Where does the price go on the back of the book? Should we use the BISAC catalogue number, and if so, which category does it go under? Memoir, yes, but what kind of memoir? How much time do bookstores need to order the book before the actual release date to have it in stock? Who do I talk to about setting up readings? Wait a minute, why am I doing that? Shouldn't Laura do that? No, I should help, so what do I say? Is there a procedure for this? What if the resale license doesn't arrive in time? Can I still sell books at the conference, or will I get in trouble? Where did I put those receipts? Why doesn't the back of the book info actually fit on the back of the book? How many books should I pre-order? How many books come in a box? How many books do we need for gifts? Do I have all the permission forms? Where can I find a good accountant who knows something about the publishing business? Did we send out enough press releases? Has anyone called us about it? Do we follow up with calls, or is that being pushy? What am I doing? No really, WHAT AM I DOING?

Friday, August 31, 2007

First day of Revisions

I finally did sit down with my old novel and start revising. My first thought was, UK! This is horrible! Okay, I'm sure it's not horrible, but have you ever pulled out something you've written a few years ago and looked at it, keeping in mind what you know about writing now? Some of it is good, but there's quite a lot that needs work. ALOT of work. And my muse... she's enjoying this. She reads over my shoulder and giggles now and then.

"Go away, you're not helping," I say.

"I'm not here to help."

"Then what exactly are you doing?"

"Watching you try to create something good out of this crap."

I slam the lid of my lap-top closed and glare at her. "This was your idea, remember."

"I know. But when I suggested it I had no idea how bad your book actually is."

I lay my head on my computer. "Please go away. I don't need this. I really don't."

She flops onto my bed and starts picking at the edge of one of her finger-nails. "I mean, you told me you wrote a book so I assumed it was worth the effort, but what you've been working on is not what I'd call a book."

My face is still pressed against the plastic cover of my lap-top. "What is it then?"

"A futile whine for attention. I mean, what's the point? Why bother? Is it just a way for you to vent about the fact Paul died, or is this really ABOUT something?"

"It's about the power of friendship over death."

"Whatever that's supposed to mean."

I lift my head and look at her. "I know it needs work, but I think it's good stuff and with more polish I can really turn this into something beautiful. So please give me a little peace and quiet to do that, okay?"

She glances up at me as she bites her nail. "Sure, sure. Get back to work. I don't know why you're even arguing with me about it." She spits a piece of the nail she bit off. "Just pretend I'm not here, because I'm sure you know EXACTLY what you're doing."

I know what she wants. "What do you suggest I do?"

"Keep writing. Don't worry about me." She chews another nail.

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "No really. I'd like to know what you think."

"Well, for one, make sure there are enough scenes to SHOW what's happening because no one wants to read your long, boring, exposition. In fact, you should mark each one, and then look for places where you can create even more." She sits up and leans toward me.

"Show don't tell. Basic. What else."

"Don't get snippy. You asked for my help."

"Sorry. Please continue." I open my lap-top to show her I'm interested.

She stands. "More sensory detail. Your writing often lacks that. Make sure the time and place are really vivid. Oh, and keep it focused on your relationship with Paul and less on what happened after his death. If it isn't directly related to the friendship, cut it."

My muse keeps rambling and I study the manuscript as she talks, showing her I appreciate her help. I do, it's just sometimes the WAY she helps is a bit rough. She's very good at pointing out what's awful, and barely mentions what works. Sometimes I really wish I had one of those nice muses; the kind who applaud and bring you chocolate every time you write a good sentence. Mine hits me with books when I write a poor sentence.

I'll keep working on this manuscript, and hopefully it will become something really good. All I can do is try. Maybe that's the secret to being a writer. No matter what your muse says, you just have to keep trying.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

What is Marketing?

I hate to say this, but I now understand why a rejection letter might say "Your writing is lovely, but we don't think we can sell the book." Or why you may hear from your agent that the publisher's marketing department decided to "pass" on your book. Marketing department? What does the marketing department know about good writing? Have those people even read a book?

I am publishing Laura's book because I love it. The writing is excellent and the subject compelling, especially because she writes about children with such clarity and descriptive power, the fact they are blind becomes incidental. The blindness is a challenge and can be difficult, but it's not the only thing that matters to these children. They are vivid, powerful human beings. I don't feel sorry for them while reading this book, and that is a hard thing to accomplish. Laura is a great writer who understands her students.

But I am also publishing her book because I know it can sell. She has a huge contact list, is well respected in the community, and is comfortable talking to people about herself and her work. If I had the cash, I'd publish it regardless of whether or not I thought I could sell it. Since I don't have much money, and need to keep Medusa alive somehow, I need to earn back the money I spend on the project. I don't expect to get rich at this because I know being a publisher is a bad way to earn a retirement fund. I am a publisher because I love books and I want to help people who may not get a chance tell their story. If I don't think I can sell at least enough books to pay the printer, then I will pass on the project.

Marketing is looking at the project as a whole and figuring out before you invest much energy, time or money, if it is viable. Viability means - can the project support itself? This is different from Public Relations because PR is about spreading the word when the book is complete. Marketing is figuring out if you can afford to publish it at all.

So I cut my novel from the Medusa project list. I wrote a fiction book two years ago and have been desperately trying to get it published. I'm up to 70 rejection letters. Most have been very nice, but the nice ones say, "I like your writing, but I don't think this project can compete in the market." Can't sell it. I decided, screw it! I'll publish it myself. Then I began to question that logic. Is this project a good match for Medusa? Does it fit the mission of the press: "To tell the stories of people who have faced despair and used it to positively transform their lives?" No, my book doesn't. Not really. Does it have the ability to support itself? Doubt it. Then no matter how much I long to see my book in print, I have to let it go. Because the press is more important than my own desires.

Instead I am looking at another project of mine. The book about Paul. Does the book match our mission? Yes. Can it sustain itself? Perhaps. The run will be small, so I'll need to keep costs low. I feel it is important to tell this story, but it is actually Paul's story, not so much mine. His life and friendship profoundly effected mine and I want to share that journey with others. Then it is an important project for Medusa and the marketing department (Jane and I) need to examine all the parts of the project to determine costs, distribution and PR.

And that is what Marketing is.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Manuscript is Done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yesterday, I was jumping up and down and squealing like a 15 year old with front row tickets to a Green Day concert. My partner was doing the exact same thing on the other side of the country and we were texting each other madly, saying OMG over and over (I love technology. How else can you run a company with a partner who lives 2000 miles away?). My muse was giggling and I swear even the snakes were smiling. Why all the excitement? Because the final version of the manuscript is DONE! OMG. SQUEAL. JUMP UP AND DOWN. RUN AROUND THE ROOM. THIS IS SO AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Laura finished her last edits and name changes then sent it to Jane who did her super-power-editing-voodoo on it. Over a two week period the two of them sent notes back and forth to clarify a person or idea, find a new word, figure out a complicated scene, all while cc'ing me. I kept myself out of the process and just watched them put the final polish on an already excellent manuscript. But now, it is even better than I could have imagined. Jane also put it in the proper format and created a cover page for a galley version. May I just state for everyone that I love my partner?

Here it is. The final, official, no-more-changes book.

UNCORRECTED PROOF FOR LIMITED DISTRIBUTION
________________________________________



TRAVELING BLIND
Lessons on Life from Unlikely Teachers
By Laura Fogg



Category: Memoir, Non-Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-9797152-0-4
Pub Date: November 1, 2007
Price: $16
Pages: 280 (approx.)
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Binding: Softcover
Backmatter: List of Resources (pending)
Editors: Terena Scott, Jane Mackay
Distributor: Ingram (and affiliates)
Publisher: Medusa’s Muse
medusasmuse@gmail.com
www.medusasmuse.com


I'm gonna jump up and down and squeal some more!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Paul

Today I went to visit the grave of my best friend Paul, who died of AIDS in 1992. Paul was my brother in every way except biology. We became friends when we were seven and through everything life threw at us, we stood together and faced it. He believed in me even when I didn't, and his absence in my life still breaks my heart after fifteen years.

As I drove home, I thought about him and what he meant to me, then I thought about the book I wrote for him, a memoir I spent ten years writing, only to set on a shelf in my room and never try to publish. Why did I put it away? Life got hectic and I started writing a new book, so the book about Paul was stuck on a bottom shelf and ignored.

But today, my Muse pulled it off the shelf and hit me with it. Without a word, she struck me on the back of my head with the heavy, plastic binder, and then plopped the manuscript in my lap. She vanished before I could complain. I touched the cover, opened to the first page, saw some things I would change, shut the binder quickly, and just sat there. Do I really want to take this project on again?

I smiled. Yes, I do. I need to share this story; tell people who Paul was and what he means to me. Show people how friendship is more powerful than AIDS or death. Remind us all that AIDS is still here; it didn't move to Africa at the turn of the century. And, because the mission of Medusa's Muse Press is to look despair in the eye and transform it into something beautiful. Besides, what my Muse commands I must obey.

Before my Muse found me, before I discovered Ariel Gore, Paul was my inspiration and mentor. When he died, he became my guide. My very first, original muse.