Posts Tagged 'books'

I’m not dead…

Just on hiatus.

I have neglected to admit my true status for way too long. At first, sometime around BEA, I thought I would be away from this blog for a week or two, at most.

Then, after a blessed computer-free holiday weekend of relaxation and reading, I was certain I would be posting those drafts that were “almost finished” any day.

Then, I received a massive Diana Palmer research project to complete between early June and my long-awaited July 4th vacation. Mix that with last week’s in-house seminar and a mostly all-day luncheon with the lovely ladies (and a few gents) at the Long Island Romance Writers annual shindig, and I was very close to admitting I had hit my limit.

Then, I went out and bought The Passage.

I swore I wasn’t going to start it. I was going to save that behemoth book for my vacation.

Um, that didn’t work out so well.

Now, not only do I have work to do and a vacation to plan, but I have an intensely wonderful book I don’t want to stop reading. I had to deliberately leave it at home today just so I would have my lunch hour to write this post. Justin Cronin‘s book has grabbed me and refused to let go, and if it is within a few feet of me I will pick it up and read as much of it as I can. I’m only 130 pages into the 770-page story, and I’m already wishing it wouldn’t end. Yes, it is that good.

So, today I am forced to face the truth.

It’s going to be a while before I get back to this blog. Because it is summer and I’d rather be swimming and reading The Passage.

For the near future, you can find me on Twitter and Facebook—because it is easier to write (aka, edit) a sentence or two than it is to write (edit) a blog post. I’ll also be on my other blog, a little, because my mom would kill me if there were no regular updates about her grandkid, and on Goodreads so I can list all the books I plan to read while I’m at the park, the pool, the playground and the beach.

How to write well, inspired by Richard Bausch and Shania Twain

Can good writing be taught?

I don’t think so.

But I do think good writing can be learned.

Just like singing.

A couple of weeks ago, I read an essay in The Atlantic’s fiction supplement about the silliness of how-to manuals for writing while I watched Shania Twain mentor American Idol contestants.

Not surprisingly, the essay got me thinking. Very surprisingly, so did Shania Twain.

Richard Bausch said,

If you really want to learn how to write [then] read…One doesn’t write out of some intellectual plan or strategy; one writes from a kind of beautiful necessity born of the reading of thousands of good stories…

Shania said something to the effect of, “To make it, you can’t just be a great voice, you have to feel it.”

Let’s ignore for a moment how the market rewards timely topics and strong platforms. Those who are great writers, great storytellers, are more than marketing.

And learning to write, like learning to sing, begins with more than talent and desire, more than “a great voice.” It begins with “feeling it.” It begins with a deep, consuming love for the source material.

So, the first and most important step to becoming a good writer is immersion.

Wallow in stories and language, in song and melody. Luxuriate. Find what you love, what you hate, what bores you to tears. Read it all and keep reading. I agree with Bausch. Writers never really move on from this step. Reading is the foundation for writing. Reading is writing’s raison d’être.

Second, practice.

Write to sound just like those who swept you away with their tales, or phrasing, or high notes. Write to sound nothing like them. Write everything, from recipes to essays, novellas to poems. Realize that craft and artistry take hours, days and years of practice.

Third, hone your voice.

Make each word and rhythm and story your own. Riff a little. Or a lot.

Fourth, embrace your constructive critics.

They will tell you what you need to hear, even when it hurts. Peers, judges, readers, editors…even, maybe, one or two really good books about reading and writing. Listen to the advice that resonates, drop the rest of it. Then go back to the first three steps.

Finally, perform.

Let yourself feel it. Read it back. Does the rhythm and the story flow? Does it make your audience feel it, too? Put your writing into a reader’s hands and see what happens.

Most likely, a writer’s reward won’t be money or fame. The reward will be knowing your writing is part of the backbone, the foundation. Your work is there, in a reader’s library, along with Shakespeare, waiting to sweep someone away.

More library love

I am such a soft touch.

My husband can tell you. I cry when the confetti comes down on the winner of American Idol, and I cry when someone wins a car on The Price is Right. I cry at the end of The Muppet Movie when Kermit sings the reprise to “Rainbow Connection.” It’s something about happiness and love and people having their dreams fulfilled.

And because I love libraries, and their stories, so much, Heather McCormack’s post about the publisher-library connection struck me as sweet and wonderful and made me tear up.

Libraries, as Heather says, are an integral part of the “reading ecosystem,”

a gorgeous little loop that leads to innumerable sales and circs that no one’s bothered to measure.

Library patrons are book buyers. They feed the cycle with their passion for stories, knowledge and information. Heather, in talking about one particular patron, says

This is just one story, but I bet you know five people who know five people who have used a library, then shopped in a bookstore, then gone back to a library before returning to a bricks-and-mortar or Amazon. And so on and so forth it goes…

And if you like sharing library memories, don’t miss the continuation of library week over at The New Sleekness with posts from Shayera Tingri and Kassia Krozser.

If you have other library links, please share them!

My first library

coleman
The building that once housed Coleman Library.

I love library stories.

In the same way that I love birth stories and love stories.

So I was delighted to see Kate Rados’ little post about libraries, with an accompanying cute picture.

I commented–about my memories of yummy musty book smells and the wonderful sound of the card-stamping machine–but then couldn’t get the library thing out of my head.

So I looked up images of my first library, Coleman, which was funded by the Callaway Foundation.

The library wasn’t public. It was, actually, overtly racist–a fact I didn’t fully understand until I was in high school. (As a private library they could keep out anyone they wanted, they said, even in the 1980s.)

But before I knew about race and segregation, when I was just learning to read, this library was the most magical place I had ever known.

As if to prove its magical abilities, one afternoon as my grandfather and I walked outside, rain came down on one side of the building while the sun shone on the other. The library was the dividing line of the universe.

All the knowledge in the world, good and bad, up for grabs.

I loved that place.

If you have a library story, head over to Kate’s post and share it in the comments.

[Update, 4/29/10: I changed shined to shone, yo. Because when re-reading I knew something wasn’t right.]

The view from here…

DBW seminar
The view from the lobby at today’s forum.

Today’s Digital Book World forum, Digitize Your Career: Editorial and Marketing, gave me a lot to think about. Ideas for me, ideas for my company and lots of notes. (Did you doubt the last?)

But the two parts I can share right now, while my kid is getting ready for bed, are: 1) The view from the 50th floor lobby is GORGEOUS. Skyscrapers, Central Park, the rivers and the GW Bridge highlighted by spring greenery. How the receptionists keep from staring out the gigantic picture windows all day I don’t know. 2) The folks who presented at and attended today’s session were awesome, entertaining, thoughtful and full of practical advice.

If this is the future of publishing, I like the way it looks.

My picture is in the “paper”!

original photo of TOC
(Original photo courtesy of James Duncan Davidson)

When I was a kid, my family used to squee when anyone got their picture in the newspaper, no matter the reason.

So I loved that my face showed up in a digital “paper,” Publishing Perspectives, this morning. See, here I am, circled.

circled at TOCCON

Squee!

Also, the Perspectives discussion piece poses an interesting question. Are the many recent book conferences creating a “paywall around best practices” to keep the democratic means of production (read: publication) out of the hands of the masses? Or are the conferences the result of old industry leaders paying for the seeds of new industry innovation so they don’t become obsolete?

Maybe it is an attempt at the former, but the tone of the sessions leaned toward the latter. I learned a lot of specific and useful information, but I also heard a lot of ego-stroking (e.g., the new way needs you and your content) and pitches for products aimed at the pub biz market.

Several of the sessions and keynotes were from folks who had innovated at somewhat of a distance–or even completely separate–from the business. If they can do it with sweat equity, why not anyone else?

The tools of change are out there, free for the learning. A conference is just a filter, a way to cut through some of the noise on the way to finding out what you want to know.

I think I heart pirates

Today I followed Twitter more closely than I usually do because of
Digital Book World day 2, the Apple iPad unveiling and then the RWA announcement about the changes to their rules concerning eligible publishers.

Now, I’m coming down from a publishing buzz, and gathering some of the links I found while reading today.

First, one of Brian O’Leary’s tweets led me to this article about Chris Anderson’s “latest” idea. I’m almost done with Clay Shirky’s book, and I completely agree with Brian about the similarities between the two guys’ ideas. Can great minds think alike when one of them thought it two years ago?

Then, there was piracy.

Yesterday’s speech by Macmillan president Brian Napack has been making the rounds. Teleread had a summary; PW focused on it in their wrap-up. Napack’s gist seemed to be that piracy is bad. We should stop it however we can.

But there is something in me that can’t fully accept this dictate.

I keep seeing too many stories about free (pirated) books increasing sales. Take this Publishing Perspectives piece, for example. The article is mostly about Amazon’s e-book “exclusives,” but inside there is an interesting side note about The Pirate Coelho. A long clip from the article:

In his keynote speech opening the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2008, Coelho laid out his philosophy quite clearly, describing his decision to create a site, The Pirate Coelho, where he links to free pirated downloads of his books in any language he can find them online:

“Why not share the whole digital content of books for free? Contrary to what common sense tells us — and common sense is not always a good guide, otherwise publishers, booksellers and writers would probably be doing something more profitable — the more you give, the more you gain. I was lucky enough to see this happening to my books in Russia, back in 1999, where I had a very difficult beginning. Given the great distances, my books were very poorly distributed and the sales were very low. Yet, with the appearance of a pirated digital copy of The Alchemist sales took off in an amazing way. In the first year, the sales had jumped from 1,000 copies to 10,000 copies. In the second year they soared to 100,000 copies and the year after I sold a million books. To this day, I have reached the mark of over 10 million books in this territory. The Russian experience stimulated me to create a site: “The Pirate Coelho”.

“The Pirate Coelho” was there for three years, being fed by readers worldwide, and nobody in the industry noticed — because my sales were steadily growing. However, from the moment that I mentioned it at a Technology Conference at the beginning of this year, I started hearing some complaints. However, in the end, my US publishing house, HarperCollins, for example, fully understood the possibilities. So once a month during 2008, I have uploaded one of my titles, unabridged, to be read online. Instead of seeing a drop in sales, I am pleased to say that The Alchemist, one of the first titles to be made available online, by September has completed a full year on the New York Times bestselling list. This is living proof of our industry’s momentum: use the web to promote and you will see the results in the physical world.”

And then @screeny sent me this fantastic in-depth interview with a book pirate. For this guy, piracy equals passion. Not only did he scan physical books–a task I know is annoying based on the many photocopies of old books I used to have to make–he spent up to 40 freakin’ hours editing the design to be more readable. Would it be too audacious to suggest that this “pirate” is really spending numerous unpaid hours building an audience for the authors he loves?

In my head, I know piracy is a bottom-line problem, for publishers and for writers. But in my heart, I am with this guy. I can’t help comparing his urge to find and share books with the many, many ways I myself have gorged on free and cheap books. I get books from work. I share books from work with friends and colleagues. I am a heavy library patron, both Brooklyn Public and New York Public. I was once also a heavy used bookstore patron, turning in one new copy of a Brenda Joyce for four tattered copies of whatever looked good.

(The only reason I’m not such a heavy used bookstore patron today is that NYC doesn’t have the kind of stores I like–filled with romance and eager to make trades on anything I bring in. The Strand is great, but not of the same caliber as my old college haunt, Brant’s Used Books.)

Isn’t electronic piracy really just sharing, at a larger scale? And maybe the increased sharing is what’s needed now that we’re serving a larger, global market. The numbers seem big, yes, but I can’t help thinking about how many used books are sold online every year and how many books are loaned by large library systems. Does all of that sharing count as piracy, too? I’m not convinced an electronically pirated book is actually a lost sale. I’d rather consider it a widely distributed sample.

I know there are a lot of folks who disagree, and the continuing collection of data may eventually prove me wrong. I’ll be watching the debate. Let’s see if it will lead to a change of heart.


DISCLAIMER

I work as an editor at Harlequin, but the posts on this site are all mine and don’t represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.
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