Sunday, June 29, 2008

Twenty Four Hour Play Festival

The festival was a blast! Exhausting, but so much incredible, focused, collective energy, not just from our own team, but from all the teams working at the same time, trying to create art, or a semblance of it.

On friday night at 6:30 everyone gathered at the Ukiah Player's Theatre to meet, sign in as a team, make a plan, and find out the theme. We got lucky. "Death" was chosen. My writing partner Natasha Yim had an idea that fit perfectly so that gave us a head start. She and I went to her husband's office, put on the coffee, and started brain storming.

I've never worked with a partner before, so it took me a while to figure out how to proceed. I tend to just write everything down in one expulsion, sort of like vomiting words, not worrying too much about each line of dialogue. Once the structure is there, I go back and fix the words. Natasha sets up an outline first, going line by line, making sure she's staying on track. It took about an hour before we were in the zone, finding that balance point where we were both contributing. We spent as much time laughing as typing. By midnight, we had a play. By 3:00 am, it was a good play. I got to bed at 4:00, then up at 7:30 to meet the actors and director.

8:00 am the whole team got together outside the theatre and did the read through. The actors loved it. It sounded even better when they read it than how I imagined it in my head. Right away, the actors embodied the characters, adding nuances to the dialogue I hadn't foreseen. Natasha and I were exhausted, but happy. We left to get more sleep while the actors got to work.

At 3:00 pm I went back to the theatre to watch them on stage. Incredibly, they knew most of their lines already! I can write a play in one night, but there's no way I can learn lines in 7 hours.

8:00- Showtime! It was a good turn out. All seven plays were about death, but every team had a different idea about it. There was a campy Sci Fi comedy about reigniting the sun, a play written by a group of high school students about Canada nuking Ukiah, a play about ghosts messing with a fake psychic, and one about a mad taxi driver on his last night of work. Our play was about Vampires in a support group to help them fit in with humans. The vampire therapist has a nervous breakdown after listening to them "whine for the last millennia." After all the players took their bows, I found my teammates and we hugged, everyone feeling high on fatigue and excitement. It was an incredible experience.

To celebrate, my hubby and I went to the Ukiah Brewery to dance to The Mad Maggies, an eclectic, polka, ska, celtic, zydeco, rock band; the kind of music you MUST dance to. By the time I made it to bed at 1 am I felt that I'd climbed Half Dome in a day. But what a day!

If you've never done a 24 hour play fest, I highly recommend it. Exhausting, yes, but it's incredible what can be created in a short amount of time. I plan to do it again next year!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Living in a Scene from a Zombie Movie

You know in zombie movies there's that heavy, reddish fog that obscures the visibility of the hero as he runs through a deserted town, right before he gets attacked by zombies? That's how it looks outside right now.I feel like the zombie, not the hero. It's 3:00 in the afternoon in the middle of summer and the smoke from all the fires burning in Mendocino County makes it feel like twilight. Day four of unending, suffocating smoke.

The entire county is under a State of Emergency. The closest fire to us is the Greenfield fire, about ten miles away in the hills, still burning mostly out of control. Happily the calvary arrived yesterday. CalFire has sent help, although since there are so many fires throughout the State, the help is limited. But every little bit helps.

My daughter is going to stay with her dad for a while in Davis. It's smokey everywhere, but the hills surrounding the Ukiah Valley traps smoke inside like a big fish bowl, holding everything tight. She needs to get out of here.

I'm trying to keep working on the business book, edit punk stories, and manage Medusa, but I admit I'm feeling fuzzy headed and fatigued. Someone who lives outside the valley said she was surprised by how thick the smoke is here and how much everyone seems worn out and slow. "Like a bunch of zombies." Yep, I know how they feel. I want a new brain too.

My Muse has vanished. When all of her snakes started coughing, she grabbed her bathing suit and went to the Caribbean again. Can't say I blame her. Although I could really use her tomorrow night when Natasha Yim and I write a play in one night for the 24 hour play festival at Ukiah Player's Theatre. We write for 12 hours, then our team of actors take it and rehearse for 12 hours. At 8:00 Saturday night our play is performed along with the plays of seven other teams. I'm excited to do it, but I'm not feeling at my prime, I have to say. No Muse and no clean air. Maybe the play should be about zombies.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Correction to POD post

This is a correction to my blog post on Monday. Here is a comment from Tracy Cooper-Posey, who is the actual author of the article I linked to.

"I wanted to point out a couple of errors of fact. Charlotte Boyette Compo was indeed a guest blogger on my blog...but she did not write the POD post. I did.

And the blog is called Anchored Authors (plural).

Tracy Cooper-Posey"

My sincere apologies, Tracy, and thank you for contacting me.

Mendocino County is On Fire!

On friday, we had an incredible lightning storm. I was out that night with my writing group and as we left the cafe and walked across the overpass, we watched the flashes of lightning strike through the treacherous black clouds which were smothering the hills. Fascinating and beautiful. And then I thought, Uh Oh. I bet there's a fire burning now.

Not only is there a fire burning, there are over 130 fires burning in Mendocino County, one just ten miles from the city of Ukiah where I live. Every fire is burning out of control because there just isn't enough man power to deal with so many fires at once, especially when you realize that all of Northern California is threatened by fire. Cal Fire is on overload, so Mendo Fire Crews are battling the blazes mostly on their own. There are a lot of Community Volunteer fire crews, inmates from the County Jail, and homeowners out there, battling thousand acre blazes with garden hoses and shovels.

In Ukiah, we are mostly safe, but of course, not completely. Besides the heavy smoke dimming the sun and reducing visibility to less than 1 mile, a fire could reach this town. When I was in the seventh grade I lived in Lakeport in Lake County. That summer, Cow Mountain caught on fire and the fire blazed almost unstoppable toward the town. My family and I stood on a hill in town one night and watched the flames crest the hill and race toward the freeway. We were all praying the flames wouldn't leap the four lanes of asphalt, but the fire was burning so hot and the air was so dry, the town was on high alert. No one slept much that night. We had suitcases packed, waiting for the evacuation order. Somehow, CDF and local fire crews managed to keep the fire from reaching the freeway, saving the little town of Lakeport. A few days later, the fire was out.

I have a list of things to take, just in case. Documents, medications, some clothing, food and water, dog food, both computer towers, my lap top, and Paul's letters. If there's time I'll grab the photos. Both vehicles have full tanks of gas and we have friends in the Bay Area we can go to if need be. Odds are, Ukiah will remain untouched by anything more than dense smoke, but just in case, I'm ready.

This is California. We all need to be ready. If it's not catching fire it's falling down in an earthquake. I've lived here my entire life, so droughts, wildfires and earthquakes are nothing new to me, but the loss of life and property is tragic. You can't take anything for granted, not even in California where the weather is gorgeous 80% of the time and the views rival the French Riviera. Enjoy the beauty, but watch for smoke.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Excellent Information about Types of Publishing and The "Amazon Situation"

While continuing my research about Amazon's new POD policy, I found this blog post which includes an overview of that policy as well as an explanation of what POD actually is. Written by Charlotte Boyett-Compo, guest blogger on Anchored Author.

From the post:

It’s clear that because of the new publishing models available now, even we authors are tripping over definitions and labels. Some aren’t even aware of the range of possibilities to pick from. And if authors aren’t straight on it, they can’t help educate readers on the huge variety of books available to them these days.

It doesn’t help make discussions about strategies for authors any easier when “POD”, for instance, means something different to everyone in the room.

Go to the blog to read the rest.

The term "POD" is very confusing, even for people in the industry, because it is used by different people to mean different things. When I use it, POD means Print-on-Demand, which is digitally printing a book an order at a time, rather than printing hundred or thousands of copies at a time using an "off-set press," which is the traditional model. I prefer to use POD because it allows me to print only the number of books I need at a time, keeps my inventory manageable, and uses less paper. I pay more per book than I would if I printed a thousand at a time, but the cost isn't prohibitive and I don't have to store a thousand books in my garage.

POD can also mean "Publish-On-Demand" which is completely different from Printing on Demand. Publish on demand is used by such companies as IUniverse, XLibros, and Booklocker wherein they take your manuscript and turn it into a book for you. Then they use Print on Demand to print as many copies as needed.

When I say POD, I'm talking about Printing. I call Publish on Demand presses Subsidy Presses, which means you pay them for their help creating your book. I think the term Subsidy Publishing became a stigma over the years, so those publishers now use the term Publish On Demand. There is nothing wrong with Subsidy Publishing. I know many people who have used IUniverse and are very happy with the service and quality of their book. An author just needs to be careful and understand exactly what they're getting before paying anyone to help them with their book. Not all subsidy presses are ethical.

Now I need to get back to work on the business book. I have a deadline looming. Remember to send me your questions if you'd like me to consider them for the book, or answer them here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ted Turner, Larry King, Secret Parties, and more Writing about Book Expo

Just when you thought I'd covered Book Expo, I found this excellent article written by journalist Paul Constant for The Stranger. I kept hearing about those upscale industry parties and here is proof they actually existed. Mr. Constant attended Larry King's party for the launch of Ted Turner's book, "Call Me Ted." (I saw Mr. Turner at Expo, walking slowly with two very young women on either side. And yes, he is much smaller than I expected).

Paul Constant definitely captured the surreal quality of Book Expo as he writes about Jeff Bezos' of speech about the Kindle, the teeth whitening booth, and publishers dressed up like teddy bears. I tell you, that event is more bizarre than a trip to Oz! He also writes about excellent books coming from small presses such as Soft Skull and McSweeney's.

From the article:

Larry King's backyard in Beverly Hills, with its high hedges, glittering pool, and verdant lawn, is full of Industry People. Besides Larry King, there aren't any movie or television stars here, but you get the sense that these are the people who hire the stars. There is a giant portrait of Larry King made entirely out of Jelly Bellies in the room overlooking the lawn. On the buffet table in the dining room is a mountainous spread of medium-rare bison, a layer-cake-like dip composed of seven varieties of goat cheese, dishes of duck pâté, and platters of other things so bizarre they almost seem like they were ordered off a menu from a myth.

Follow the above link for the rest. Excellent story!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Combination of Business Savy and Artistic Passion

My Muse refuses to take off her power suit. She's even wearing a tie; a 1940's era silk tie with a brass tie-tac to be exact. She looks stunning in the gray slacks and matching jacket, lounging on the couch while reading the first draft of the business book I'm writing. Although she doesn't need glasses, she started wearing a pair of granny cat-eyed "cheaters" I found in a thrift shop. She says they help her think.

I've been cranking out the pages on this book as fast as possible, which this time of year is pretty dang slow. My daughter is out of school for the summer, so there goes my time to write. I grab an hour here, a half hour there, running away to the cafe as soon as Rick gets home from work so I can concentrate. My daughter is a good sport, giving me an hour while she plays or watches a movie. But only one hour; any longer and she succumbs to BOREDOM and swears she will swoon away from misery if I do not stop immediately and play with her. Thirteen is so dramatic.

But despite my lack of time, my Muse seems pleased. The heart of the book is there, with a few details to be flushed out. Plus, writing non-fiction doesn't seem to take as much concentration as fiction, at least for me. I jot down notes and look up resources around coloring with my daughter and doing the laundry. Then when I have time to write, I compile all those doodles into a cohesive paragraph. Also, writing this book is helping me fill in the gaps of my own knowledge about running a small business. What is the best way to write a business plan? How do you fill out form BEA-401-EZ? Is there a better way to track royalties? Writing a book like this combines my creativity and my business acumen, which is why my Muse has pledged to keep her suit on until the book is complete.

If you are a publisher, send me a question in the comment section and I'll answer it here, plus I'll add it to the book. The book will debute this Fall. Um... that's like, what... four months away? I'd better get crackin!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Book Expo Experience I Wish I Had

I know, you're probably over my BEA fascination, but I'm still digesting the experience, analyzing what I did wrong (like falling into a speechless shell-shocked trance) and what I should do next time. Here is a link to an excellent blog post about BEA, written by Jacqueline Church(JC)Simonds of Creative Minds Press. She had the Book Expo experience I wish I had.

The next time I go (and I've decided I will go again when it returns to the West Coast) I'll do what this woman did; be SOCIAL!

There are great photos and she's a very good writer. Check it out.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Top Ten Publishers

I found this very interesting article called Top Ten Publishers in America, by Michael Hyatt, who writes the blog "From Where I Sit." Michael Hyatt is the President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, the leading Christian Publisher in the US.

I found this interesting because it is based on market share: who is getting the most books into the hands of the most readers. Market Share is one gage of a successful company and many would argue it is the best gage, more than earnings or revenue.

No real suprises. Random House is still the king of the publishing hill, despite Scholastic's incredible earnings from Harry Potter and the fact that both Micheal Moore and Ted Turner are being published by Hatchett. I don't know what their profits are, but more people are reading Random House Books than any other.

Book Expo is still very much on my mind right now, so this article made me think about the myriad of presses and authors I saw while wandering through the booths and aisles. Publishing is a gigantic industry, and Random House appears to be "the winner." Why them and not Simon and Schuster? What makes Random House so strong? Maybe it's like asking why Coca-Cola has a greater market share over Pepsi? I mean, they're basically the same drink, so what makes Coke stand out? Longevity? Better marketing? What is it about Random House that gives it the greater market share? From what I saw at Expo, no press really stood out over another. The "big houses" were all publishing pretty much the same type of book. The people were equally as pleasant to talk to. I saw nothing about Random House to distinguish them from Harpor Collins.

I find this subject just another facinating piece of the mysterious book industry which I am now a part of. A tiny part, but a part none the less.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Other Comments About Book Expo

Before I end this section on BEA, I'd like to include some comments from other Independent Publishers who attended Book Expo. I apologize for not posting sooner, everyone. I've had some family emergencies pop up (nothing serious, thank goodness, just time consuming).

"As this was my third Expo, I've gotten better at the networking. The first time you walk around in a haze because there is so much to see. The second time, I was a little more of an expert, but still shy with introductions and speaking to people. This time, I made some good connections."

-Judine Slaughter

"Once a month I travel from DC to NYC for meetings. Some of these meetings cover details for an upcoming publicity campaign. Other meetings are to get new business. There is something about book people in that they love placing a face to the name. Especially with the larger publishers where your firm won't be thought of when the next contract comes through without that personal contact. So, to me, that's what most people get from BEA. A super-sized, speedy, way to make a lot of introductions. My fav BEA story: I had been trying to work with a small HarperCollins imprint for a while. At BEA, I "ran into" Jane Friedman, made some small talk, introduced my firm, and that was it. Of course, my next pitch to this HC's imprint mentioned Friedman's comment about something our firm did, and well, sometimes that's enough.I saw the commentary from Chelsea Green's office disparaging the worth of trade shows in general; their thought was that you could go with trained sales reps, online marketing and do OK. Perhaps. But there is an undefinable quality to these trade shows that moves books, starts creative partnerships, and stirs ideas. But one day is probably enough. Count ourselves lucky, us independent publishers, that most of us have freedom to roam about the BEA!"

-Kelly Powers
Obie Joe Media

"This was our first year exhibiting at BEA, but not my first exhibiting at shows of this size in other industries. All in all I believe is was a valuable show for us. However, here's what I felt to be the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

* Contacts. This show gives growing publishers an unprecedented opportunity to make contacts with a variety of people and services. I spoke with distributors, sales reps, associations, printers, illustrators, the media, and lots of other publishers. Our goals for making contacts and opening discussions were well met at the show.
* Information. I found a lot of people who were happy to talk about their companies, their products, and how they were achieving their goals.

* Insofar as I could tell, the West Hall (children's books, cook books, indie publishers, writers, etc) received about 1/3 the attention the South Hall did.
* We met with very few librarians. PW reported that their attendance was very low and suspected it was due to an ALA meeting in LA later this month.

* Apparently "Independent Publisher" has become an acronym for "Self-Published Author." We'll never exhibit in the Indie Publisher section again.
* In the West Hall we easily saw more yellow exhibitor badges than we did blue retailer/bookseller badges.
* One of our authors, who attended BEA last year in NY, told us the LA show was vacant by comparison. My seat-of-the-pants guess is that only 15,000 attended.
* When the door man stopping you from taking your boxes out at 3:50pm on Sunday tells you that the FedEx shipping counter will be open at 4:05pm, don't believe him. We had to beg to get them to ship our stuff home.

Would I exhibit again? yes, eventually."

-E. Keith (JB) Howick, Jr.
Wind River Publishing

"BEA is the proverbial elephant, and we're the blind people, each describing the whole based on the part(s) we touch. For me, BEA is mostly a matter of face time, making and building relationships that either are useful, or may someday become useful. So, for me, it fits into "vital confab." As an exhibitor, my BEA was seen primarily from my fixed position in my booth in the Publishers Group West (PGW) area. Why exhibit? Because people (and opportunity) can find you. When you're walking the floor, you can find other exhibitors, but finding anyone else who walks the floor is a matter of chance. I once walked the floor, essentially hat in hand, and was essentially another face in the crowd. I saw much, but accomplished very little. With a booth near the front-center of the main exhibit hall thanks to PGW, traffic is very, very good. Traffic is much slower in the small press exhibit area (hint: don't let the lower price of a small press booth seduce you. If you're going to exhibit, spend the extra money for a booth in the main exhibit area). Again, it's a matter of face time. Since much of my business does go through traditional trade channels, the show's emphasis on the traditional book trade speaks very much to my needs. I had meetings with my domestic and international distribution partners, discussed international rights with a very enthusiastic overseas publisher, was introduced to various booksellers as they were escorted around the PGW area by PGW reps, and had lots of interaction time with the staff and executives at PGW and its parent, Perseus. That kind of familiarity pays dividends all year long. All my time was not spent in-booth. I ventured out several times to touch base with various suppliers and friends around the show floor. Again, face time has its long-term benefits I'm certain I moved my business forward on a variety of fronts. Had I tried to do the same without BEA, I'd probably have paid far more on airfare and hotels, spent far more time away from the office, and still not have accomplished as much."

-Dave Marx
PassPorter Travel Press

To read another perspective, read the Catalyst Press Blog. J.L. Powers is the publisher and has become a friend thanks to BEA. We'd chatted several times but finally got to meet face to face at BEA.

Friday, June 06, 2008

What Librarians Wish Publishers Knew

The one workshop I attended at BEA was called "What Librarians Wish Publishers Knew." The panel included Librarians from Brooklyn, Chicago, Seattle and the University of California, Irvine, and was led by Nora Rawlinson, former editor-in-chief of Library Journal.

The most important thing I learned was just how important sales to Libraries in context of overall book sales are. According to the Book Industry Study Group, 10% of all book sales are to Libraries. 40% of Mid-List titles are sold to Libraries. Plus, Libraries really promote their books. They are as interested in attracting readers as you are and put a lot of energy into their websites and other promotional materials. If your book is chosen to be part of one of those promotional campaigns ("1 book, 1 community" for example) all that promotion can help you sell more copies in stores.

Think about it. If every Library system bought just one copy of your book, that's about 5000 copies sold. So don't disparage library sales as lost revenue.

Ms. Rawlinson provided a handout with information about a new, Library related information site called Early Word which publishers can access.

Overall, demand for audio-books at Libraries has increased greatly while e-books are not as popular. However this may also be related to location because the Librarian from Brooklyn stated audio-books are not as popular in New York. Libraries are not buying many print reference books anymore. Instead they are buying licenses for access to electronic materials which are updated regularly. More readers are using Library websites to look for books than ever before, and Libraries are changing their sites to keep up with that demand, making them more interactive and easier to use. Libraries use all Wholesale catalogues to find books, including Ingram, and it is very important to make sure your book's information is up-to-date and thorough. Libraries also use Library Thing and Good Reads to discover hot books readers will want.

Also, the rumor that Libraries don't like to buy paperbacks is false. Libraries buy what their customers request and most readers like to read paperbacks.

How to contact a Librarian to pitch your book depends on the Librarian, but the ones on this panel all prefer email. Also, most Libraries are part of a system with different "branches," so pitch to the Acquisitions Librarian. That person decides what books will be available for ALL branches. If you go to your local library branch and ask them to stock your book, they will send you to the Acquisitions Librarian.

When the talk ended, I jumped up and joined the crush of people pitching their books to the panel. At last, we had found the elusive Librarians! They were all generous with their time and answering questions. I gave a copy of Traveling Blind to a Librarian from San Francisco who had been sitting behind me, and another copy to the Librarian from University of California. My goal is to have Traveling Blind; Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers in every University in the country. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Recovering from Book Expo America

Obviously I didn't do my BEA homework well enough, because despite my plans and goals for the event, I spent most of the time wandering around the LA Convention Center, hopelessly lost. Spending time at BEA is a lot like spending time on the internet. You intend to do research on a particular topic, say Beverly Hills shoes, but you start clicking on other links and exploring more sites and before you know it two hours have passed and you now know everything there is to know about South-East LA weather patterns. I missed all but one of the workshops I'd signed up for and missed every author signing I was interested in. Attending BEA became a test of Zen.

However, I don't think it was a complete waste of time. I did get a glimpse of the bizarre and somewhat elusive book industry, and I was pleasantly surprised by how polite everyone was. Not once did I get mowed over or ignored. Even rep's at the Simon and Schuster pavilion were cheerful and chatted about books with me. They graciously accepted a flier about Laura's book while offering me a pre-release book of their own, some of which I accepted. That's one thing about BEA I learned very quickly: say no to an offered book or you'll quickly spend the day hauling around 30 pounds in your bag. But behind the smiling reps at Simon and Schuster and Random House is where the real purpose of BEA is. At numerous tables in each pavilion sat well dressed men and women making deals and taking book orders. Their heads were bowed close together as they looked over contracts and papers, speaking in quiet voices, and finishing their discussion with a firm handshake. I heard snippets of conversations: "that's not very many units..." "he doesn't know what he's talking about..." "I'm not sure about these numbers..." "this display alone cost one thousand dollars." I felt that I had wandered into a secret society's secret convention and the secret members were speaking in a secret code. They even had secret handshakes.

I also learned that I was under-dressed. Despite the fact BEA is a convention, people were dressed in black suits and sleek dresses, and most wore impractical, high-heeled shoes. Because I'd been warned over and over to wear good shoes, I noticed people's feet. 60% chose style over comfort. In my jeans, Medusa's Muse t-shirt, and red Keens, it was obvious I wasn't an "insider." Several times I was asked if I was a librarian. I guess librarians like to be comfortable.

Speaking of librarians, I couldn't find any. The American Library Association booth was abandoned and there was no "library section." I spent all Saturday morning hunting for them, eager to hand out free copies of Traveling Blind. No luck. That was the same time I lost my cell phone, so by lunchtime on day two of BEA I was ready to sit on the floor and cry. Happily, an exhibitor found my cell phone and when I called my number I found them. Thank you so much, Interlink Publishing! After the cell phone fiasco I found librarians in a workshop called "What Librarians Wish Publishers Knew." An interesting talk, and I'll go into more detail in my next post. I gave free copies to two of them and handed fliers to the rest.

I did manage to find the Independent Publishers Section and Writer's Row, both located in the very back of the West Hall, about as far from the Main-South Hall as you can get. All I can say is these people are brave. While walking up and down the two aisles, I got very depressed. There were table after table of writers and publishers, practically leaping into the aisle and thrusting a book into my hand, as if begging me to take one. I took too many, and while a few were poorly produced in my opinion, I did find some treasures, especially a book by Simhananda published by Orange Palm and Magnificent Magus Publications. I will write about more Indy publishers I met at BEA in a later post.

The highlight of the event for me was the 20 minutes I chatted with Gordon Burgett while drinking champagne during the PMA Fortieth Birthday bash at their booth. He wrote one of the books that helped start Medusa's Muse: Publishing To Niche Markets. That's he and I in the above photo.

The other wonderful, as well as humbling moment, was when I found Laura's book on the PMA shelves. At first, I couldn't find it, but then, hidden amongst the other biography/autobiography books, was Traveling Blind. Can you find it in the photo at the top of this post? (sorry, it's a little blurry).

Overall, I'm glad I went, but I'm not sure I'll go again. Or if I do go when it returns to California, I'll just buy a day pass. And I definitely won't go alone! Jane was planning to come with me, but circumstances kept her away, so I had to go solo. I'm not a naturally outgoing, gregarious person and a shy person at BEA doesn't stand a chance. I'm sure I would have had more fun if I'd been there with a pack of friends and we schmoozed our way into some of those after-hours parties. Also, I would dress better. Nicer outfits, skirts with stockings, but I'd still wear my comfy shoes.