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May is Mental Health Month. It’s also Better Speech and Hearing Month. May 4-10 is “Reading is Fun” Week. So let’s talk about reading your work to an audience. I’ll assume you want to do it well.

A google for “show business for writers” turned up nothing. Ditto for “stage etiquette for authors” and related searches. But I did find advice from some great entertainers. So here are the first three tips from an ongoing list.

#1. At public readings people aren’t there to admire your looks or talent. All audiences hope above all to be entertained. That doesn’t mean “make them laugh.” To “entertain” originally meant “to hold together.” Your job is to hold the audience’s collective attention and give them a complete and satisfying experience.

#2. Read your best work. There is no substitute for good material (says Liza Minnelli). When you’re planning what to read, variety is nice, but if you must choose between variety or quality, choose quality.

#3. Nervous about it? We all are. So plan, rehearse, and time your program well before the performance date. This bestows confidence. All entertainers prepare with rehearsals. Select your work, put it in some sort of order, and get comfortable with your chosen program by reading it aloud several times. Some writers say, “I get there and check out the crowd and then decide what to read.” That isn’t as cool as it sounds. I’ve seen it result in self-conscious, muddled ("uh, I dunno if I should read you this one. . .”) and overlong performances. “Overlong” means longer than you’ve been asked to read. Every audience hates a stage hog. I once saw a local poet introduce a nationally famous poet by reading his own 20-minute ode to her. Everyone wanted to murder this guy.
Wouldn't it be nice to know: How long you'll REALLY wait between a submission and acceptance? What percentage of mss. a publisher rejects? If they pay a little or a lot? The top 25 publishing venues with the largest percentage of acceptances?

Fiction writers and poets, genre and literary: Toss your Writers Market and search over 2100 mags and small publishers with Duotrope Digest's free database and reports. Search by genre, payscale, length of your work. . . receive guideline info, plus unique Better-Business-Bureau info (see example below), updated daily by writers just like you! Click on Duotrope's file tab "Curious?" for aggregate info such the top 25 venues with the quickest response times.

Example: I searched Genre>Literary; Media>Print. Below is part of the report for the litmag The Painted Bride Quarterly (chosen at random). Good Lord, expect to wait 242 days for an acceptance -- a ghastly wait that inspired 44 percent of the authors to withdraw their submissions after an average of 150 days.


Days Reported 8 | 191.7* | 474 (min | avg | max)
Responses (51.9%)
Acceptances: 7.4% (242 days avg. per acceptance)
Rejections: 44.4% (210.5 days avg. per rejection) | 16.7% personal, 50% form, 33.3% unspecified
Rewrite Requests: -
Non-Responses (48.1%)
Assumed Rejections: 3.7% (364 days avg. per assumed rejection without response)
Author Withdrawals: 44.4% (151.8 days avg. per withdrawal by author)
Other Information
Most recent response reported was received on: 14 Apr 2008
Responses have been received for submissions sent as late as: 17 Sep 2007
(74.1% of the responses reported to us for this market have taken longer than 60 days.)
Monday, 09 May 2011 04:00

Pay the Writer

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Get to YouTube any way you can and watch "Pay the Writer", 3 minutes with scrappy screenwriter Harlan Ellison.

If you've ever wanted to get paid for writing, this is a must-see. No matter what you write. Warning: some profanity. (You will still smile.) And pass the link to all your writer friends.
A first-time novelist excitedly told me the deal: The big Christian publisher will print and distribute his Christian novel if:

1. The author pays to have it published.
2. The author pays a publicist to promote the book.

So as not to rain on his parade, I didn't say, "That's called subsidy publishing, and it's just like self-publishing except that the publisher owns the rights to your book and you have no creative control over the product."

What I said was, That's okay, I guess.

That'll clear the decks so I can work on my next book! said the author.

I said, You'll be pretty busy marketing that first novel.

He said, The publicist is supposed to do that.

I said, The publicist will arrange some things, but the person the publicist wants appearing at bookstores all over the country and on radio shows and at speaking engagements is you.

He said, Dang! Then why do I have to shell out for a publicist?

I said, Because your publisher said so, I guess.

Behold thee the winner of the April 2008 Artificial Difficulty Award.
In tomorrow's NYT is a juicy piece about self-publishing, but skip the article's opening moans and groans about how there are too many writers (they mean us). This is the news part:

". . .For the most part, big booksellers shy away from carrying self-published books. But they’re still looking to jump into the game. . . .

"The Borders site says self-published authors can even arrange readings in local Borders stores. . ."

And a big hint that a self-published author will soon be able to BUY space on bookstore shelves, if that's what he/she wants and can afford. (Vanity shelving!) That'll help keep the big-box bookstores open for a few more years -- because fewer people shop in those places anymore, unless they want Harry Potter or Rachael Ray. The surviving bookstores will be more like independent bookstores: smaller, and supportive of local authors; and a center for downloads. Or there will be small, dedicated book/media stores: one specializing in mysteries, one in romance, one in Spanish-language books, and so on.

Given that, and given all the new competition for readership -- what's your plan?
Monday, 09 May 2011 03:55

The Easy Public Reading

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At a poetry reading this past week, the poets got to sit down while they read their work. Normally, solo speakers of all sorts, like stand-up comics, must stand, or -- we were offered this -- perch on one of those high bar-stools that intellectual-type comedians such as Dick Gregory or Mort Sahl used to use, back in the day. Well, the stage was elevated and I was wearing a skirt, so that was not a seating option.

The other poet on the bill, Rebecca Ellis, had learned ahead of time about the customs of the venue and brought a pretty cloth to dress up the table. That way any reader could be comfortable -- and the audience stay focused on our upper halves.

This was the first reading I have ever given while seated. The manuscript pages lay flat on the table in front of me, no chance of dropping them. A cup of water didn't have to balance on the lip of a shaky podium. I didn't have to worry whether my knees were knocking, or if I was too far or too close to the mike. Freed from all that self-consciousness, my energy flowed instead into the audience and the poems. And afterward I didn't feel drained. Instead I felt very good. I have said for years that reading one's own poetry in public (like, for 40 minutes to an hour) is very hard work. Well, just this week I learned that it doesn't have to be so hard!
Monday, 09 May 2011 03:53

Your Editor Wants a PDF File?

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Word comes from NYC that some editors don’t want paper manuscripts; they want digital PDFs (Portable Document Format) files.

Writers will need some kind of software to convert word-processing files to PDF files. This is also called “printing to” a PDF file. Here are some options. (Drop me a note if you know more.)

The more expensive the program, the more likely it is to deliver a “searchable” PDF file, which is nice for the editor; or preserve any hyperlinks or images you embedded in your ms.

Freeware:

CutePDFWriter. At http://www.cutepdf.com/Products/CutePDF/writer.asp. Widely used. You have to have a printer, and download an extra file. I’ve downloaded this one, but somehow it has never worked for me. Windows only.

Create PDF from MS Word only: http://www.doc2pdf.net/converter/

PDF Online https://www.pdfonline.com/track.asp. I converted a 225-page ms.; took 12 minutes to get done and emailed to me, but otherwise fine. But PDF Online does not preserve hyperlinks, reduces image resolution, and leaves your PDF metadata, which is indexable by Google, empty.

Note: Some conversion “freeware” will rudely stamp or “watermark” your PDF with its name or logo.

Shareware:

You get a 15-day trial with http://www.go2pdf.com/; the Wondersoft Virtual PDF Printer; after that you must register and pay a “small fee” but they don’t say what it is. Converts files into and out of PDF form, which can be handy. You can buy a “Pro” version for $89.95.

Pay-For-It Ware:

I love the free Foxit PDF Reader which I recommend in place of the Adobe Reader. Foxit will charge you $35, however, for one license for a Foxit PDF CREATOR, which is what you need for conversion. http://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf/creator/ Don’t bother trying to “Get it Free” – in the most bizarre deal I’ve yet seen, it’ll force you to buy something on eBay or sign up for Yahoo Personals…

For $99.99/yr you can subscribe to unlimited Create Online PDF services by Adobe,
http://createpdf.adobe.com/cgi-feeder.pl/menu_prodinfo?BP=&LOC=en_US.
The trial version will make you “wait in line” for your conversion behind the paying folks. But with this you can make your PDF searchable, or turn a webpage into a PDF.

For $200-$400 there's Adobe Acrobat Professional software for your computer. It’s “bloatware,” a big program that clogs up your hard drive. It’ll do everything if you can make it work. I have version 6.0 and it works on PC but not laptop. Current version is 8.0.

For some of you, conversion software may be considered a business expense.

Monday, 09 May 2011 03:51

Bookstores Are For Famous People

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Overheard re the issue of book distribution: "Bookstores are for famous people."

That seemed so right. Bookstore coups by the likes of Madonna, Barack Obama, & c. But that sort of throwaway book, usually nonfiction, isn't anything new. Then there are the "famous writers," mostly of fiction, who churn 'em out, reap a fan base and dominate their genre. Some can really churn 'em out. That's not new.

Individual writers making millions by selling books, even before writing them -- that's what's new. We tend to fixate on those grotesque but interesting sums of money. Suddenly agents don't wanna represent other kinds of authors. Publishers feel hogtied by "the need" to give a few celebs huge advances. Writers who aren't among the 10 or 12 getting multi-millions say they're being pushed out of the picture.

What to do? Go to a bookstore and see if the statement is true.

But what not to do: Expect publishers to come to their senses and redistribute money more fairly. Expect bookstores to give equal space and positioning to all books. Expect things to go back to the way they were when the publishing world was perfectly sane and fair.

Most writers can’t live on their earnings. With all our skills and hard work we don’t make as much as other professionals such as doctors, lawyers, programmers, plumbers, counselors, and realtors. I was wondering why. Possibly it’s because these other professionals:

  • Pay themselves according to rates that compensate them for their labor, materials and overhead, and won’t take less.
  • Capitalize on their credentials, successes, and/or sales totals.
  • Get lots of business through word-of-mouth and referrals.
  • Are active in professional associations.
  • Dismiss as a lunatic any doomsayer who tells them that they will never make a living no matter how hard they work or how good their work is.
  • Don’t imagine that they are failures if they aren’t the richest and most famous doctor or realtor who ever lived.
  • Keep up with new trends and tools in their fields.
  • Have to pass tests to get licenses or certifications.
  • Aren't so naive as to expect to live on the acclaim and money of thousands of people they will never see or meet.
  • Wouldn’t consider as normal and desirable a middleman’s offer to pay them 10 to 15 percent of the total take.
But THEY all wish they were writers! Go figure.
Monday, 09 May 2011 03:47

Harper-Collins' Radical New Imprint

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Writers: NYT reports that book publisher Harper Collins plans a an offshoot imprint that will eliminate author advances and instead directly share profits with authors; and eliminate bookstore returns that turn unsold books into pulp. It''ll be publishing cheaper books, and digital books...here's the whole story. Don't celebrate yet: Harper Collins is owned by News Corp., owned by Rupert Murdoch. He doesn't plan to lose money.

If because Hemingway got advances, you think you should too, please know that for the past 15 years most books, records, and even Hollywood films have been officially profitless -- for the writers and artists. Publishers may give an advance, but creative accounting ensures that authors don't get royalties -- normally 10 to 15 percent of any profits. I co-authored a book that sold 6,000 English-language copies, plus a publisher in Lisbon bought the Portuguese rights and published and sold the book over there. Our publisher's advance was $3500 (you do the math); officially, our book came in $42 short of making back its advance. Figures like that will make you crazy. Hemingway was not a happy camper.

I'm all for simplifying; but more so I'm for joining the musicians in creating our own independent fair-trade imprints and beating Murdoch at his own game. If you have another idea, please share it! Transitional periods are great for seizing the advantage. We're the creative ones!