Monday, February 25, 2008
The first set of stats I knew already. That, according to Nielsen Bookscan, 3,000 books are published per day in the United States alone. Publishers report an average of 2,100 submissions per year, totaling 132 million submissions. Just under one percent are accepted for publication.
But the information that floored me, is that of the 1.2 million titles tracked by Bookscan in 2006, almost 80% sold fewer than 100 copies. 16% sold fewer than 1,000 copies, and only 2% sold over 5,000 copies. And because of these trends, the big named publishers are publishing fewer and fewer debut author, and less fiction.
I’ve learned that publishers only put advertising dollars behind bestselling authors. And even the big conglomerate publishers typically don’t advertise to end readers for 90% of their authors. For most authors, hand-selling from retailers and buzz becomes the key to success. So the question, for us novices who have a debut book coming out, is what works for creating buzz? According to my publisher, Websites, book videos, novel trailers, author critique groups, social marketing, author Blog tours, bookstore signings: anything that gets your name out there as often as possible. Getting noticed is the primary goal.
The author today is not selling his/her book, he/she is selling themselves. The message is simple. Author brand is what sells books. Many authors are creative and have brilliant content to offer, yet if they don’t market their “author brand” then no readers, and hence, no publishers will be interested in them. It all comes down to buzz.
Book selling, as far as I’ve been able to figure out, is mostly a word-of-mouth business. Social marketing will make or break a book's success. It’s like a wave that can start with just a few key people talking about it (like Oprah?). So the best thing a writer can do to promote success, is to build a broad network of friends and supporters.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
While walking her pack of Corgis around the grounds of Windsor Palace, the Queen of England sees something she has not seen before, a bookmobile parked outside the kitchen door. She investigates to find that the bookmobile comes every Wednesday afternoon, and one of her kitchen staff, Norman Seakin, is an avid reader. Norman’s interest in books leans towards English gay writers, although he seems well versed in all literature. The Queen doesn’t read books, being too busy with reading reports and conducting audiences with heads of state and such, but as an act of kindness, she lets Norman select a novel for her to check out.
The queen discovers that reading is a joy, and the next Wednesday she consults Norman on another selection.
As the queen is drawn into the world of literature, book by book, life at the palace begins to change. She begins to cut audiences short, even with her own Prime Minister, so she can have more time to read. She begins showing up late for events, having forgotten the time because she was lost in her book. She tries to discuss literature with everyone around her but finds that nobody reads books. She promotes Norman from kitchen help to literary consultant, so they can spend hours each day discussing books. Norman leads the queen on a journey through E. M. Forester, Nancy Mitford, Emily Dickenson, Jane Austin, Ian McEwan, Proust and many others. As the Queen’s day to day obligations continue to suffer, the Royal Secretary, the Prime Minister, and others begin to plot how they can rid the palace of Norman so the Queen can get back to her normal proficient self. Will they succeed or will their plotting backfire?
I had known of Alan Bennett’s writing talent from his success with The History Boys and The Madness of King George. But I had not read anything by him before this.
This novella is a sheer delight: smart, funny, and keeps the reader fully engaged throughout. It paints an affectionate portrait of the Queen and makes you want to curl up in front of a fire and discuss Proust with her. It is a simple plot, but one that will delight you and surprise you in the end. Underneath this simple, humorous story, is a meditation on the merits and limitations of reading, and how books can soften, or at least alter, your life and those around you.
If you enjoy tight prose, interesting characters, British humor, and the power of books, do yourself a huge favor and read this novella. But beware: you just might be drawn down the same path as the Queen, and then where will you be?
Mahu Surfer by Neil Plakcy
Kimo Kanapa’aka is a detective working on the island of Oahu in Hawaii and has recently been outed on television by his brother, who works for the local station. The Honolulu police chief decides to use Kimo’s outing as an opportunity to send Kimo undercover to investigate the surfers, and three murders on the north shore near Pipeline. Kimo is the perfect candidate since he was a competitive surfer before joining the force. The fact that he’s been outed so publicly provides the chief an opportunity to report that Kimo has left the force due to pressures regarding his sexuality.
Kimo wants to use this case as a way to regain respectability with his fellow officers, but once he begins to infiltrate the close-knit surfer community, he finds he must immerse himself in the north shore’s gay enclave in order to uncover information. Once he gets tangled within the gay web, he finds himself falling deeper and deeper into trouble, both in terms of the case and his personal life.
The story is a glimpse into a sometimes funny, sometimes sexy, sometimes sad struggle of a gay man trying to prove himself in the straight dominated field of law enforcement, while solving a murder case. Watching Kimo juggle his career aspirations, his family obligations, and his sexual needs felt very real. Although I’m not a fan of detective stories, the ending did not particularly surprise me. I found this read rather interesting because I could identify with Kimo’s struggle to blend his sexuality into his professional and family life. It was the main character, rather than the plot, that kept me turning pages.
Being a traveler, I did have one regret: I was hoping that the story would give me more of a feel for life on the islands, and there was some description of the landscape and the culture, but it came in little nibbles, certainly not enough to make a full meal. However, if you like a well written detective story, and the idea of a dark skinned, hunky, Hawaiian surfer snapping the cuffs on you ups you heart rate, then by all means, this will be an enjoyable read.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
This week I have two wonderful writing experiences to share, and three people to thank.
The first is Victor Banis. A few weeks ago, I sent out a request to my online writer/reader group requesting that someone read my latest manuscript, hoping they would provide some thoughtful feedback. Victor was quick to respond, and I knew I had hit the jackpot. I emailed him my four-hundred page novel in four separate sections (fearing that if I sent him the whole thing in one manuscript he would run for the hills.) He crawled through each page, meticulously editing, making thoughtful suggestions, and basically giving me a needed lesson in the fine art of crafting prose. Working with Victor over the past two weeks has been a joy for me, because as I incorporated his adroit adjustments, my story began to shine brighter than I thought possible. He brought needed modifications to almost every page, and the difference is remarkable. Victor, I’ve come to learn, is a master at his craft, and working with him has certainly improved my writing skills.
Interesting enough, my story is about a gay tennis pro who decides to coach a straight teenaged tennis player, both trying to make it big on the pro tour. Working through Victor’s suggestions, I realized that I was the one being coached, and I began to see my novel’s main characters in a new light: Victor and I became the characters in my story -- a comparison I hope Victor will approve of.
Thank you Victor. I’ve learned more about craft over the last few weeks than I have in the last two years.
The second person I need to thank is Dorien Grey. About a week before Victory began proofing my tennis manuscript, the Editor in Chief of Zumaya Publications, Liz Burton, asked Dorien to read and comment on Changi, a war novel I wrote which Zumaya plans to publish in 2009. As with Victor, Dorien has donated his valuable time and effort to read through my manuscript, and come back to me with a list of suggestions on how to improve the story. Dorien’s focus was more on story substance, drawing from his experiences aboard Navy ships in the fifties, where Victor’s comments were on style and crafting prose. But Dorien’s comments were equally important, and I am every bit as grateful for his comments as I am for Victor’s.
I think it shows a tremendous amount of class when writers put their own projects on hold in order to help their fellow writers. I am grateful, truly grateful to have come to know these men through the process of writing.
The third person I have to thank is my lover of 15 years, Herman. He and I partnered for the first time to write a travel article for QBliss magazine. We have traveled to more than 150 destinations outside the U.S. over the past ten years, and we have now begun to write about our experiences for QBliss.net, a gay online magazine. I thought that writing together would be a stressful affair, because we have such radically different writing styles, but it has been a gratifying experience that has brought us closer together. Not to mention that it’s been tons of fun remembering all those wonderful experiences. Our first article is about the 10 days we spent in Bagan Myanmar (Burma). We’ve included several interesting pictures. I’m not sure how long it will take QBliss to post it on their site, but wait a couple of weeks and check it out, it’s free. You can also read a condensed version on our travel blog hermanandalan.blogspot.com along with several other destinations. If you like to travel, check us out.
Once Buck is hired, he fits right into this tough, gritty bunch of cowboys who are not afraid to satisfy their natural urges with each other. And out on the vast and lonely prairie, they have a saying: if it don’t scare the cows, who cares? But Buck wants more than some bareback riding under a blanket around the campfire. He finds himself falling hard for Les, and he unabashedly goes about letting everyone know how he feels, especially Les.
Les is in his forties, blond hair graying at the temples, and still tough as nails. He has lived the solitary cowboy life for as long as he can remember, and he is uncomfortable letting anyone, least of all a cocksure young Indian, get too close to heart. But Buck’s flirtatious advances soon have Les flustered, sometimes fuming, and often questioning his own sexuality. The real question is, will he let down his guard long enough for Buck to steal his heart?
Longhorns is not a Brokeback Mountain knockoff. Victor Banis has created a heartwarming, companionate, witty, love story that stands in a class by itself. It is a sexy romp through the old west. The plot may be a simple seduction, but Banis’s consummate skill at crafting prose and his well-researched details keep the reader fully engaged until the last word. If you like fun-loving characters, hot sex, humor, and good writing, lasso this novel and snuggle up with it beside your next campfire.
But as they say, opposites attract, and when they do, let the fireworks begin. Shortly after hooking up with Jeremy, Kenny’s stable life begins to unravel. He begins to suspect his young lover of cheating, lying, and hiding from the law. The deeper he gets into their relationship, the more his common sense tells him to cut and run. But Jeremy’s considerable charisma and performance in bed keeps dragging Kenny deeper and deeper into trouble, in spite his better judgment.
The story is a glimpse into a sometimes funny, sometimes sexy, sometimes sad relationship where age, race, and social standing are all at odds. Readers under the age of 30 will no doubt relish the fast paced action, simplistic story line, snappy street slang dialogue, club scene settings, carefree lifestyles, emotional ups and downs, and the sexy exchanges between the main characters. It is a young person’s novel. The bull’s eye target audience for this story is the younger side of twenty-something, African American or Latino, and gay. The further you drift from that target center, I suspect, the less likely you are to enjoy this tumultuous love story. But regardless of your age or race, Frederick Smith will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
This week I’m sharing some good news with all my friends. Over the past few months I’ve been searching for ways to promote the upcoming publication of my first novel, Island Song. Well, in searching out places to advertise, I inquired at QBliss.net, a gay online and soon to be paper magazine. The editing director asked to see a sample of my writing so I pointed him to my three blogs. When he got back to me, he asked me to write a monthly column for QBliss, which would put my name and publishing information in front of thousands of gay readers every month. I was, of course, thrilled, and jumped at the offer. We exchanged several emails discussing exactly what theme my column would have. I felt that there were three areas I could add value to the magazine, a world travel column (I’ve traveled to over 40 countries in the last 10 years), a book review column (I read two to three current books per month), or a column about gay literature and publishing (I’ve written four novels, at least two of which are in the process of being published.) After weeks of going back and forth, he asked me to write all three articles for each issue.
I know that sounds like a lot of writing, but in actuality, it’s not much more than I’m doing now with my blog posts. I write two or three book reviews, and a weekly blog article, so I don’t think it will take much more of my time. The best news is that my lover, Herman, has decided to help on the writing and picture selection of the travel article, since he loves travel even more than I do. It’s a project that we can work on together, writing about the many places he and I have visited over the years.
So my lucky streak that started at the beginning of this year with the acceptance of my second novel by Zumaya Publications continues to roll smoothly along.
Check out the March issue of QBliss magazine at QBliss.net for a colorful article on Bagan, Myanmar (Burma), and a book review of Frederick Smith’s Right Side of the Wrong Bed, and Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. It’s free.
You can also find travel articles about other destinations at HermanandAlan.blogspot.com
If you’re experiencing similar good news in your life, please let me know. I love hearing about good news even more that sharing my own.
And now I need to cut this short, the Burma article is calling….
This novel has won the NY Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the LA Times Book Prize, and deservedly so.
Lush detail, lavish descriptions, McEwan pulls you into his world until you are fully engaged, smelling the flowers, feeling your cotton shirt sticking to your skin on a hot summer day, hearing the singsong rustle of oak leaves. The characters are real, passionate, persuasive. The plot is a tightly organized storyline of family life that begins to unravel, then must suffer the horrors of war, both on the battlefield and also in Blitz torn London.
With this book, you’ll want to find a quiet spot in the garden, with no interruptions, and let yourself be lost in its precisely controlled style and voice. It is not an easy read, the pacing is sometimes glacial -- McEwan could easily have snipped fifty pages of description from the story without it being missed -- but don’t let that stop you. Though the journey is sometimes slow, the destination is well worth the time spent. This is the finest novel I’ve read in years. Not since Cunningham’s The Hours, has a story gripped me like this one, or left me so stunned.
If you enjoy lavish prose, credible characters, and well constructed plots, do yourself a huge favor: don’t see the movie before you read the book.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
I had intended to write a blog piece on a totally different subject, but then I happened to see the following article posted on the web:
COCKEYSVILLE, Md. (AP) - A 15-year-old boy was charged with murder Sunday in the shooting deaths of his parents and two younger brothers in their suburban Baltimore home. Nicholas Waggoner Browning was charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of his father, John Browning, 45; his mother Tamara, 44; and his brothers Gregory, 13, and Benjamin, 11. He was charged as an adult. Browning was arrested at 1:05 a.m. Sunday after he admitted to the killings, Baltimore County Police spokesman Bill Toohey said. The teen had not been getting along with his father, police said in a news release. On Friday night, he went into the house after other family members were asleep and shot each of them using his father's handgun, which was in the house, police said.
As I’ve stated in other blog entries, I’ve been investigating the origins and nature of violence in humans so that, as a writer, I can better understand my character’s motives. So when the above article caught my eye, it triggered an avalanche of thoughts.
No doubt, the press will churn away, looking for a reason why this young man went ballistic. They’ll blame the fact that he was not getting along with his father, or his school chums, or his teachers, the usual stuff that happens after one of these sad incidents. But seldom do I see anyone address what I feel is the key issue, that society conditioned him to vent using weapons. We, as a society, are at fault. Each one of us helped pull that trigger. And we will continue pulling triggers until we stand up together to stop the violence.
Think about it, people are not born killer. They are taught to kill. This young man has been conditioned day after day by what he saw in the movies and on TV. Hardly a day went by that he didn’t witness multiple murders, which hardened his psyche, slowly sculpted his behavior, all in the name of entertainment and the almighty dollar.
Many people feel that violence in movies and TV is healthy, that because the bad guys get captured or die in the end, the movies send the right message, but I strongly disagree. One movie immediately comes to mind, Cliff Hanger, in which Sylvester Stallone goes after a gang of twenty or more bad guys and kills each of them, one at a time. That was the entire plot, the so called hero murdering twenty bad guys to save the day. And what made him the hero? Why was he any different from the bad guys? Because he had moral motives, he was on the side of justice. Another perfect example is A History of Violence, where an ex-hitman kills his brother and a dozen others rather than being drawn back into the mob. This good killing evil is the theme of most of the movies produced in Hollywood.
That’s the message that has been pounded into the American psyche over and over and over again: it is honorable to kill as long as it’s for a just cause. It’s somehow noble to go to war and slaughter thousands, soldiers and civilians, as long as it’s to preserve a justice idea.
The problem comes in trying to determine what is righteous, who is just. Perhaps Nicholas Waggoner Browning’s father treated him unfairly, harshly punished him for something he didn’t do. Nicholas was a hero in his mind, standing up for his rights. The boys who shot up Columbine were treated unjustly by teachers and students. Didn’t they have justification, based on the message Hollywood vomits out in every action movie? The point is that everybody, especially young people, are impressionable and fall victim to the images on the screen. They can’t help but be conditioned by the violence spewing out of Hollywood, and that of course translates into actions.
How long will people continue to die before we stop rewarding Hollywood with our dollars for producing violent trash? How many families will suffer before we, as a society, say enough, and revert to wholesome examples of moral behavior? How long before we recognize that this conditioning has made us the most violent and hateful country in the world. When will we demand that all movies demonstrate how to resolve human conflicts without resorting to violence?
This is an issue that involves us all, and it will take all of us to solve it.
At the risk of sounding superior, which is certainly not my intention, I can say that I have stopped viewing violent films, and I stopped watching television long ago. I refuse to reward Hollywood or the TV networks a penny for condoning bloodshed. And as a novelist, one of my chief ambitions is to write gay friendly stories that promote human kindness and overcoming obstacles in ethical, compassionate ways.
If you agree with me, please, let people know, get people talking about it. One of the great things that happened in the 60s was masses of people turning towards peace and love. We need that again, desperately, only without the beads and fuzzy hair….