Saturday, April 30, 2011

The LitFest Class was a big success

Today was LitFest and I am pleased to report that my class on planning your publishing path was a big success. Great turnout, with excited people asking lots of questions. It was such a relief having people interact with me and share their ideas, rather than just sitting there starting at me with bored expressions. Sometimes the questions got me off track, but I was able to pull the conversation back to the topic pretty easily. At the end, many people thanked me and said they learned a lot and enjoyed the presentation. 

Unfortunately, Rick forgot to take pictures of me during the class, so I don't have any photos to show you. Oh well, he was a big help setting up and keeping things organized.

I think I've developed a good tool that is truly helpful for people. I'll write more about the 4 steps to creating a publishing plan in the next few days. Maybe I'll even expand the concept into an article or You Tube presentation. I'd love to give this class again soon. Where would be a good venue? Anyone know of some good, smaller conferences near the SF Bay Area who might like my class?

I got into the publishing business because I love books, but also because I want to help other writers, and this class feels like I've taken that goal a giant step forward. With a bit more tinkering, I will have a dynamite class. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Your writing holds the key

I've been working on my presentation for the "Framing Your Dream" class at LitFest this Saturday, revising my outline and narrowing down what needs to be said in my 30 minutes of talking, and I've realized a very important truth: everything begins and ends with the written work.

What you write and who you write for is where your passion lies. That passion is what will get you published. Nothing else matters, not the dreams of big contracts and pots of money, not the networking or the conferences you attend or the books on writing you read. Nothing is more important than the actual writing you do.

If you are not madly in love with what you write, then no one else will be either. If you're just writing to get published, then why should anyone care about what you're writing? You may as well just write a 300 page advertisement that shouts, "Look at me! See how great I am? I wrote a whole book!"


Your writing is your guide through the conferences, networking opportunities, query letters, pitches, websites, blogs, and eventual publication. The type of writing you do and who you write for will help determine the best route to being published. Everything else is just elbow grease... important, yes, but not the most important.

So look at what you write. Are you madly in love with it? Does it keep you up at night, sing to you in the shower, interrupt your thoughts at work? If it doesn't, then why are you writing?

And then look at your publishing dreams. Are you writing the type of book that can meet those dreams? If not, does it really matter to you? Can you stay committed to your writing even if it means you'll have a small readership and maybe not snag that big Random House brass ring?

This is what all writers need to think about, and what I'll be talking about at LitFest this Saturday. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

LitFest at Mendocino College, Sat, April 30th

Here is the official website with all the info for the Mendocino College LitFest, where I'll be teaching a workshop on finding your own unique publishing path. Follow the link to sign up, and check out all the other great workshops with teachers such as Jean Hegland, Jody Gerhman, Natasha Yim, Molly Dwyer, and more. The whole event is free, but be sure and sign up for the classes you want to reserve your spot. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Haiku My Heart Friday - Joy

Pull of gravity
lets go for just a moment.
Falling sets me free

This is a picture of my daughter, age 3, taken 13 years ago. I still hear her laughter as she jumps on my giant bed, that laughter made more precious because she uses a walker and wheelchair to get around. But for a brief, joyous moment, she pushes her self high off the bed, defying gravity and those silly legs of her's which won't support her properly. She still has a hard time walking, but she also still has that wonderful laugh. 

Read more Haiku at Recuerda Mi Corazon, and join in the celebration of words by writing your own haiku and posting a link to Rebecca's blog. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The publishing dream

Next week, April 30th, I will be teaching a mini-workshop at Mendocino College LitFest about defining your publishing dream and making it a reality. So many of us write the book and then think if we pound on enough doors eventually one will open, allowing us to enter the world of Literary fame and fortune. We'll join the likes of Amy Tan and David Sedaris, Sharon Olds and John Updike. Maybe we'll even be included in the hall of fame with Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger. 

I admit, I want that too. I dream of being the kind of writer people discuss how brilliant I am at dinner parties, and that publishers throw gobs of money at. I want NPR to interview me and Time Magazine to put me on their cover as the greatest writer who ever lived. 

Probably not going to happen.

I mean maybe... you never know what the future will hold. One of those novels buried in my bottom desk drawer could be the hidden gem to bring me fame. It could happen to you, too. Alas, the odds are not in our favor. 

The good news though, is that it's even easier to be published now than ever. Don't get snobby with me and say, "Being published by a micro-press, or (shudder) self-published isn't really being published at all." 

Stop right there, because you are full of shit.

Seriously, if you hold fast to only that one dream of being legitimized by Random House, you might as well stop sending out those query letters and save money on stamps; bury your head in the pages of your manuscript and spend your days dreaming. 

Today, getting your work out there to the reading public has never been easier. You are free to make your own way, thumb your nose at the crumbling halls of the big publishing houses (who are in as bad shape as the music industry), and take control of your future as an author. Deciding how you're published depends on what you dream of.

First, let's acknowledge that we do indeed want that three-figure advance, three book, deal. But what is plan B? That's where you find the route to seizing your publishing dream. Your own personal Plan B... actually, let's call this Plan P, for "Published." Your personal Plan P will show you what you need to do to get published.

For example, let's say you really want to make a living as a writer. You've got a three book Fantasy series living with the candy wrappers in your top drawer, and you'd really like other people than your grandchildren to read them. You've got a little money set aside you could invest in marketing your books, but you don't want to self-publish. Instead of only focusing on the big houses, find some smaller, e-book publishers who are willing to take a chance on a new writer. There are many on the internet now, and with more and more e-readers being bought, there's a strong need for new books to read. Many of these publishers also sell print copies on a print-as-needed basis. The only way to stand out from the pack of ebooks is through marketing, which luckily you've got the money to go to conferences, buy some target ads, and hire someone to build a dynamite web site. You can even set up a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account and start networking with other writers and people who are interested in Fantasy. It's a lot of work marketing your books, but here's a little secret you may not realize: if you were published by a bigger publisher you'd have to do the same amount of marketing work. Many of those authors you see on book tours are paying their own way. 

But maybe you don't have the money to launch a marketing campaign. You can do a lot of marketing, but you'll need to do much of it yourself and primarily on line. Rather than a website you can set up a Word Press blog which allows you to customize your page for free. It will take more time and work than investing money in your book campaign.

Or maybe, that's way too much work. What will really make you happy is a few people reading and enjoying your book. Sure, it would be great if more people bought a copy, but a hand-full of people in love with your work is perfect. You want to devote your time to writing, not marketing. You don't give a fig about how many "likes" you have on your Facebook page, or even want a Facebook page, you want to write and get those pages out into the world for anyone who wants to enjoy.

Because when it comes down to it, just being able to write is the greatest dream. All of us get so caught up in being validated as authors, when we should be spending that energy on our craft. We should make damn sure we're writing our absolute best work, not worrying about how many people have visited our blog that day.

It's a balance, as all things are. We must balance the joy of writing with our need for publication. And if the need for publication steals the joy from writing, then we've given up too much of our creative selves on our dream of success.

When you think of being published, what is your dream? How much are you willing to give up for that dream to be real (money, time, writing time, sanity)? If you made all those sacrifices, will you still be happy? If so, then go for it. With hard work you can be published and will sell books. If not, then keep pouring your heart and soul into writing. Give your work away, or self-publish. All that really matters is that someone reads what you wrote, and finds pleasure in it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sitting at my booth at the Anarchist Book Fair

It's a sleepy Sunday in the fair building in Golden Gate Park. People slowly wander past tables covered with paperback books, with titles like, "Radical Mycology," "The Invisible Handcuffs", "Bomb the Suburbs", "Building a Broadcast Station", "Slaves by Choice", "Censured in 2011", and "Sieze the Media." The vendors watch the people pass with tired, eager eyes, as if pleading, "Please buy a book so I can pay for this table and get something to eat." Everybody is looking for a bargain and the vendors are trying to find the sweet spot between making a bit of profit and making a sale. Even I have slashed two dollars off the cover price of all my books, hoping the bargain hunters will pay. It doesn't just happen at this fair, every book fair is a gamble for the publishers. Only the t-shirt tables are selling anything.

A young couple pushing a jogging stroller with a sleeping baby walk past. There's a nerdy guy in baggy t-shirts and big black glasses several feet away from me, staring at a tiny punk girl in torn tights and a leather mini-skirt. A man in a police cap cruises by on in-line skates. A little girl (maybe 10) in blue hair stops in front of my table, does two cart wheels, and then runs off after her parents. I see many people in their sixties and seventies wearing political t-shirts slowly meandering from table to table, stopping to study every pamphlit. I get the feeling they've been fighting the political action cause for years and I wonder what they think of how the cause has evolved. One elderly man frowns at a young kid in a pho-hawk who is letting himself be dragged around by his dog. It's obvious the dog is in charge. I wonder what this guy thinks of the groups of young squaters and activists sitting outside in the sun selling homemade t-shirts, stickers, chap-books, and cup cakes. Some of them look like they live on the street, while others are clean and idealistic, but broke. The cops are watching them all. 

Next to my table is a man named Shawn selling beautiful hand bound editions of vintage anarchist writings, which he himself designed and bound. A tall blond woman in an expensive pink dress is talking to him. On the other side of me is Black and Red Press from Detroit, run by Elaine, an older woman who reminds me of a retired teacher with her intelligent eyes and warm smile. Not what most people would imagine as an anarchist. Across the hall is AK Press where my friend Bill dashes around keeping books and employees organized. Far across the hall, I see a man in a red t- shirt with a befuddled look on his face, sitting all alone behind his table, as if wondering why no one is stopping to look at the books he wrote and self published. Do I look like that?

So many urgent voices here. All around me are political books, pamphlets, anthologies, posters, stickers, t- shirts, ideas, conversations and organizations fighting their cause with passion! It becomes a roar of noise. Who needs help more, homeless youth or battered women? What is more important, animal cruelty or labor rights? Which cause do you join? Which fight can you support? All of them? It could make you immobile after a while, unable to fight for anything because there is such an overwhelming need. 

Yesterday, Saturday, the crowd was bigger and there was more energy. I sold several copies of the Punk Anthology and two of my How-To Publish book. My daughter's grandfather met me at my table and we chatted about working together on his life story and my press publishing it. He asked me why I'm interested. 

"Because not many people dedicate 80 years to a cause."

He grinned, seeming to like that answer.

More friends made a special trip to the fair to see us, including James, one of the authors from the Punk Anthology. Another friend brought me Gluten Free muffins (bless you!). My friend and fellow publisher J.L Powers was here on Saturday as well, signing copies of her new book, This Thing Called the Future. But today, it's just Rick and I, both sleep deprived and tired of staring at people walking past our table. I'm glad we came, though. I've met some interesting people and made a few contacts. A book fair really isn't the greatest place to sell books. Instead it's a great place to talk to people and meet potential readers and spread the word about your publishing efforts, your books, your ideas on writing, and at the Anarchist Book Fair, your political views. 

We'll be back to the Anarchist Book Fair next year, but I think we'll only stay Saturday. On Sunday, we'll go for a leisurely walk in Golden Gate Park and have a wine and cheese picnic. Even us publishers need a day off now and then.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

What is Anarchy?

I'm selling books at the Anarchist Book Fair this weekend in San Francisco, and it has me wondering: what exactly is anarchy? I have a general idea from readings and from my friends who call themselves "anarchists." Plus, the ideal of anarchy heavily influenced the punk rock movement. Or was that the other way around? But when I talk to people inside and outside the anarchist philosophy, there are wildly different opinions about what anarchy is. Is it destruction and disorder; a free society that holds everyone responsible for their own actions; or something in between?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines anarchy as "absence or denial of any establishment or authority."

"absence of government."

"absence of order."

But also, "a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government."

The word originated from the Greek anarchos, meaning "having no ruler." This is the heart of the ideal of anarchy. Anarchist have no ruler, no rules, no one to tell them what to do or how to behave other than themselves. But if there are no rules, what stops a person from murdering and thieving? That seems to be the question I hear most from people who know nothing about anarchy, and what seems to scare people the most about the concept.

What would stop a group of strong people from massacring the weak, like something out of Mad Max?

To be honest, I'm not sure, but what I've witnessed from my friends who call themselves anarchists is a strong belief in personal responsibility and honor. Being granted unlimited freedom creates a burden of personal responsibility. You alone are responsible for your actions and if you do something to cause harm to others, you alone take the blame. People are held accountable for their actions, not by a judge or legal system, but by the collective censure of the community in which the person lives. That ideal of extreme responsibility is what keeps anarchy from collapsing into total chaos. This is where the "utopian ideal" definition comes in.

As I've said, I'm not an expert on anarchy and I really don't have any scholarly information to pass on; I can only share my understanding of what the term means to the people I know. The people who identify as "anarchist" are some of the most honorable people I have ever met, more so even than some of the people I know who identify as "Christian." This is very different from what most people imagine an anarchist to be.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about anarchy:

Anarchy (from Greekἀναρχίᾱ anarchíā, "without ruler") may refer to any of several political states, and has been variously defined by sources. Most often, the term "anarchy" describes the simple absence of publicly recognized government or enforced political authority.[1][2]When used in this sense, anarchy may[3] or may not[4] imply political disorder or lawlessness within a society. In another sense, anarchy may not refer to a complete lack of authority or political organization, but instead refer to a social state characterized by absolute direct democracy[5] or libertarianism.[4]

Anarchy appears to be a fluid term, with many different ideas about how it means to live as an anarchist.There are many people who call themselves anarchists and are indeed destructive and violent, who seem to think it is vital that a person create as much havoc as possible to bring down the established order. Are these people "real" anarchists? Are the others, the ones who talk philosophically about personal honor, only idealistic anarchists?

I'm going to an Anarchist Book Fair and I have no idea what to expect. But I hope to learn a great deal about what the term "anarchy" means.

What do you think? Please leave a comment and tell me what you believe anarchy means.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

It's April! Do you have your frenzy on?

April 1st popped up with a mighty roar of trumpets while hundreds of writers raced to their computers to begin writing their scripts. We're all charged up and filled with ideas, eager to slam through 20 pages on the first day. And I... got nothing.

I can't believe how frickin busy I've been now that school has ended. Where are my quiet hours spent huddled over my laptop while brilliant words pour from my finger tips? Instead of writing, I'm pulling weeds, returning phone calls, dealing with my taxes, making appointments, cooking, cleaning, planning the garden, washing the car, bathing the dog, yelling at the kid and doing a hundred other things NOT writing related.

My muse is starting to get pissed off.

So tomorrow, when my daughter returns to school from Spring Break, I will spend the morning working on my play. That should placate her. I'm seriously starting to get worried. She keeps glaring at me with that evil look that can literally turn someone to stone. If I don't start producing pages for Script Frenzy, I may not survive the week.

I'm also getting ready for the Anarchist Book Fair next weekend (April 9 and 10th). It's going to be fantastic spending two days surrounded by people who love words as much as I, and selling a few books would be the icing on the proverbial cake. Just gotta make sure I have a bed! The Red Vic on Haight street is comfy and cheap, but they won't return my phone calls confirming my reservation.

What is it about Hippies and phone calls?