Writing Wisdom

A Dan Piraro cartoon in Parade showed a medium sitting across a table from a customer with a netbook computer in front of her, and she’s saying: “We don’t use a crystal ball anymore. We just Google you.”

An editor interested in buying your book will Google you to get a sense of your presence online. Instead of a crystal ball, they’ll use a computer-generated profit-and-loss statement, along with feedback from colleagues, to help justify buying your book.

What wisdom about writing can I offer that will help you convince editors to say yes to your book? One or a series of books could be written about the wisdom you can gain from doing a job or practicing an art or skill. Some examples:

Biking

  • Riding uphill is harder, downhill more dangerous.
  • You have to know your bike, yourself, and the territory.
  • You have to expect the unexpected at any second.

Photography

  • You have to be the right distance from your subject.
  • You have to balance color, foreground and background, tension and harmony, and the elements in a composition to create unity.
  • Knowing how to use your camera will help increase your creativity.

Driving a Taxi

  • You have to look at what’s around you but also in the distance both for traffic and for passengers.
  • You will have slow and busy periods.
  • You will have good and bad luck; you hope that they will balance each other.

Writing

  • Reading is the doorway to writing.
  • The best reason to write is that you must.
  • You have to capture readers’ interest immediately and keep it as long as it takes them to finish your book.
  • If you have a problem with your writing, focus on something else, and your subconscious usually provides the solution.
  • Your proposal or manuscript is finished only when the people you share it with can’t figure out how to help you improve it.
  • You need mentors to supplement your learning about writing, agents, promotion, technology, and publishing.
  • The models for your books and career will light the way until you’re ready to find your unique path.
  • You have to maximize the value of your book before you seek and agent or publisher by test-marketing it, building your platform and communities of fans, and developing a promotion plan.
  • Promotion is more challenging than writing.
  • The writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself (Katharine Sands).
  • Publishers and literary agents are eager to find new writers as new writers are to be discovered.
  • Your passion for writing and sharing your work will see you through the challenges of being an author.
  • You will meet those challenges more easily if you’re clear about your short-  and long-term personal and professional goals.
  • You will succeed if you persevere, and the harder it is to achieve success, the more satisfying it will be.
  • And as I mentioned in the previous post, luck has a lot to do with a book’s success.

I found one of my favorite pieces of wisdom on a cloth bag that Workman Publishing gave away one year at BEA: “The more you garden, the more you grow.” You can grow by acquiring wisdom from any endeavor and you can apply it to writing. The more conscientious you are, the more you’ll learn. May you have all the luck you want, and may the wisdom above speed you on your way.

Following the Money: Publishing 2010

“Publishing exists in a continual state of forecasting its own demise; at one major house, there is a running joke that the second book published on the Gutenberg press was about the death of the publishing business.”

This is from a must-read article by Ken Auletta about the iPad in April 26th issue of The New Yorker. It includes numbers that follow the money in publishing as it migrates to the Web. They also provide a perspective on the business and where it’s going:

P-commerce

* Six publishers produce 60% of books sold.

* 70% of the 100,00 books that industry produces a year don’t earn back their advances.

*On a $26 book, authors receive $3.90 in royalties, 15% of list price on a hardcover book. Publishers make a $1 profit.

* More than 50% of revenue at Random House comes from backlist books.

* Since 1999, the number of independent bookstores declined from 3,250 to 1,400.

(On the other hand, the San Francisco Bay Guardian just gave a Chain Alternative Award to the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, which has two new members this year.)

* Independents have 10% of sales, chains about 30%, big-box stores like Wal Mart, 45%, which pressures big houses, like Hollywood studios, to produce blockbusters.

* Publishers have to run two businesses at once: a traditional publishing business and an electronic business.

E-commerce

* Marcus Dohle, the Chairman and CEO of Random, said “The digital transition will take five to seven years.”

* There are 50,000,000 iPhones in the world, which O’Reilly Media vice-president Andrew Savikas calls “a great customer base” for book apps.

* Most publishers are giving a 25% royalty on e-books.

* Amazon’s 3,000,000 Kindles generate 80% of e-book sales, which Amazon achieved, in part, by selling at a loss.

* When Amazon customer can choose between a paperback and an e-book, 40% of them choose the e-book.

* Kindles users buy 3.1 as many books as they did twelve months ago.

* An Apple adviser who used Netflix to download movies compared bookstores to video stores ten years ago.

* Three behemoths–Apple, Amazon, and Google–are competing, so one of them can’t dictate terms.

* Author Solutions works with 90,000 authors.

What these numbers suggest is that publishing is going through a transformation. Old and new media companies will in time establish a business model that works for them and makes money for writers.

What these numbers can’t capture is the article’s engaging, rough-and-tumble portrait of predators at play or the importance of

* publishers in discovering and developing new authors

* independent bookstores in launching them

* writers who keep the whole enterprise afloat by sitting in front of their computers creating the art that makes commerce possible

Former Random House editorial director Jason Epstein said: “When I went to work for Random Houe, ten editors ran it. We had a sales manager and sales reps. We had a bookkeeper and a publicist and a president. It was hugely successful. We didn’t need eighteen layers of executives. Digitization makes that possible again, and inevitable.”

Author Lee Foster says “This will be a golden age for content creators.” You will create your future as a writer with your head, your heart, and your fingertips. Three cheers for content, whatever form it takes!