Monday, July 22, 2013

How to Make Money as a Writer (and feed your kids).

I'm reluctant to post this, because it is about making money. It is not about art. It will not feed your soul. (It might feed your family, however.) But here goes:

As the parent of two kids, I'm always worried about college and other extremely high-cost future ticket items (not to mention the expensive current charges like summer camp, piano lessons, soccer cleats, etc...) -- so while I write for myself, and I write literary fiction (i.e. The Stuff that Can Not Be Marketed) I am hyper-aware that at some point I would actually like to earn some money doing this writing stuff that I do.

I do not suck as a writer. At the moment, I have a musical going up this weekend in New York (I co-wrote it with a friend who is a composer and professor at Tisch School of the Arts) and I also was just informed that the St. Petersburg Review is going to be publishing a short story of mine in its next issue. But placing one story per year and having a musical off-Broadway results in an annual income of about $800. That's not enough to send a kid to plumbing school, much less to anyplace that might connect him to an air-conditioned office. And that's a darn good year. So okay, what to do?

Many writers I know who self-publish tout the benefits of self-publishing. The New Wave! The Way of the Future! Money for Authors! This may be true, but I suspect that, just as in traditional publishing, you still have to write a book that sells.

Self publishing has this going for it: the author makes much more per book than in traditional publishing. That is a fact.

So the only variable is -- how many books can you sell?

Here is a jaw-dropping article about self-publishing that my husband found. It is all about producing a book that can turn into a best seller. And what is amazing is that IT DOESN'T MATTER what the book is about, so long as it is tolerably well written (in the comments, someone wrote, "I bought your book and was going to demand a refund, but found it was reasonably worth the $5 that you charge for it." -- and that is the truth of the matter.)  Money is made from people *buying* your book - not people reading your book and loving it.

Reader expectations are low. Fifty Shades of Gray was badly written--there is a global consensus that this is a fact. But who cares? People bought it out of curiosity. And bought it. And bought it. And anything like it. And anything with a similar title. Etc. Etc. Etc.

We know this and yet we do not take advantage of it.

But this article speaks to non-fiction writers. What do they have that fiction writers don't? A built-in market. Business people go to conferences. They go to networking breakfasts. They blog. They usually have an entire floor worth of co-workers who will happily buy their book (and probably never read it). They have networks.

What fiction writers have that?

Lots of us.

Anyone who has already written a book that sold over 4,000 copies. (That's why traditional publishers beg you to have a blog, a Twitter following, and a Facebook feed--they want every single person who liked your first book to also buy your second; and then some.)

All the genre writers (lucky stiffs) have a built-in network. There are dozens of conferences to attend to mingle with others of your genre. Write mysteries? Every secretary in Manhattan would happily give your first book a try, all you have to do is get it in front of her when she has just finished the last book of the last series she was reading. Write sci-fi? There are more pro-paying markets for science-fiction short stories than almost any other genre--and they treat writers professionally. A two-week response time is considered painfully long and unconscionably rude.

But brand-new novelists interested in literary writing? Nearly all of the short-story markets are unpaid, with 6-8 week turnaround (if they are good). Advances are now usually under 10,000 and more often than not, under 5,000. And you are expected to repay the portion you fail to earn.

Are they kidding?

Nearly all of the novels published sell under 2,000 copies. And why?

Because there's this "thing" that literary writers believe. That we have to be isolated. That we should be like Thomas Pynchon, hidden away from the horrors of publicity. I know that I'm preaching to the choir - all of you at the very least had a kid, so you can't be utterly isolated 100% of the time. And our Salons obviously offer an opportunity to network with writers and readers. All great stuff.

So why not take advantage of this? Start to build a network. Get that Twitter feed going, guest-blog on other people's sites. Goodreads seems to do good networking. And there are other places to build your network of colleagues, too. Attend readings and meet people there. Go to workshops (or teach them!) strive to exchange information with everyone you meet.

It's a business. As soon as you have a following of more than 5,000--you have "a following"...and while they are not guaranteed to read your next book, there's a pretty good chance they might buy it if it has a catchy title and a nice cover.

Read that article... Here, I'll repost the link:

How To Self-Publish A Bestseller: Publishing 3.0

Next week, we have a new guest-blogger -- Peter von Ziegesar just came back from a book tour with his 15-yr old daughter in tow....eager to hear another voice on the subject of book tours with kids!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Scott Elliott guest blogs on BOOK TOURS WITH KIDS – part 3

Here is the last of a three-part guest blog by Scott Elliott, who lives and teaches in Walla Walla, Washington.  Scott is the father of two boys and two books, Coiled in the Heart and Temple Grove: A Novel.  Click here for his bio.

Okay,  Scott – We are about to hear about the one reading the boys were going to be invited to see. Do go on….

On the day leading up to the reading, we hiked down to Teddy Bear Beach, where we caught shore crabs, threw rocks, and looked at purple sea stars. Time in the sun out on the beach, and the hike back up the trail tired them out. Both of them napped briefly in the car on the way back to the house we were renting, but too briefly. In our attempts to get them to rest or nap, Jenna and I bet heavily on that the reward of getting to see daddy read that night with its added bonus of a later bedtime would give us enough leverage to get them to rest or nap. But they flipped this leverage on us and began alternately saying they did and did not want to attend the reading, sensing, in the expert way kids develop so early, that to say they didn’t want to see daddy read carried power, a sting. 

At first it did sting a little bit; I wanted them to be there at the reading’s close, to build that memory for them, to let them share in the symbolism of celebrating the years of work that go into brining a literary novel into the world and perhaps also so I could make even more exquisite the strange pleasure of switching from author to daddy in seconds, being both at the same time in the eyes of the crowd.

It wasn’t to be. As the time when we’d need to leave for the reading approached and they hit a low point at dinner, refusing to eat and throwing food, getting wilder-eyed by the minute in that reckless spiral parents recognize. Like boxing referees deciding whether to call a fight, Jenna and I realized at the same time that they were in a potentially event ruining frame of mind and it was best they didn’t go. Itching to morph personae and feeling bad for Jenna, when the time came I let the door shut on the madness behind me to feel the quiet and the night’s breeze. Full of guilt and relief, I walked to the event, leaving the car keys in case there was a miraculous reversal and she thought they could make it.

Someday we’ll show them pictures of the trip, or I’ll bring it up if they ever decide to read the novel on their own. “You know, you were with us on the tour for that book. Do you remember that?” And they’ll say, “No, but I do remember being really close to a grizzly bear.” 

Perhaps the fact of the reading will click into place later, become for them one of those shadow awarenesses they’ll remember sensing in the background at the time as they were experiencing the bright and fleeting immediacy of their own lives.


Thanks, Scott! Everyone: you can buy Scott’s newest book, TEMPLE GROVE through this link.  Please stay tuned for more exciting guest-blogs from the trenches about BOOK TOURS WITH KIDS!
Summer, with its long days and extra Vitamin D, is a great time to tie up loose ends on half-finished projects. Get working! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Scott Elliott guest blogs on BOOK TOURS WITH KIDS – part 2

Here is the second of a three-part guest blog by Scott Eliott, who lives and teaches in Walla Walla, Washington.  Scott is the father of two boys and two books, Coiled in the Heart and Temple Grove: A Novel.  Click here for his bio.

Tell us more about your recent book tour with the kids, Scott – you left off with a decision to keep author-time and daddy-time separate, but to allow the boys to see one reading. Do go on….


Before I left for each reading, I asked the boys to wish me luck, kissed their heads, fielded a few questions about where I was going and why I had to go, asked them to be good for mama. I don’t think they really understood what was going on. On the way to each venue I’d shift identities and summon the energy necessary to transform from worn out daddy to audience-commanding author. The energy always came, its supply aided in some ways rather than hindered by days spent running amok with the boys—throwing rocks at driftwood at Discovery Park, hiking in Whacom Falls Park, fishing at a few small lakes, hitting playgrounds in Stanely Park, going up the tram to Grouse Mountain to see a clever logging show and stand a few feet from grizzly bears, continuing our pursuit of food we can’t get in Walla Walla at Pike Place and Granville island Markets, participating in what we came to call the “Bellingham sandwich explosion.”  

I should say that doing this alone, short of a substantial childcare budget beyond our means, would not have been possible without a generous second adult. My wife Jenna played this role expertly. Overall, the demands on her didn’t constitute as much extra childcare as it would have if I’d said “see you in a few weeks!” and left, but it did mean extra work for her, for which I’m grateful, especially on two nights when she needed to get the boys settled  into new places without my help.  Jenna attended two of the five events on nights when we did pay for baby sitters.  

I thought the whole thing worked very well, overall. So well, in fact, that I came to think that if I had time and the resources, I could go on traveling indefinitely like this, moving from town to town, seeking adventures, finding new readers for the book. I enjoyed the strange experience, the lively jolt, of switching from daddy to writer, sloughing off the concern for dependents to move more easily, made newly conscious of my lightness (like taking off a heavy backpack) into a fluid adult world, in one its best places, rich with possibility and in which I was able even to move outside of myself a little bit to play the role of author and to stretch a little further still to play the roles of the characters in my novel. I felt immensely fortunate for the opportunity to enter this world of greater freedom with its potential for meaningful connections enabled by the book, and equally fortunate to come back to my better-defined role in the family-- to sleeping boys, a wife who must have sensed once I’d crawled into bed as quietly as I could that I was still charged up from the reading and who’d whisper, “How’d it go?” Except for the fact that it came too early, the boys could always be counted on to provide crazy morning energy that swirled into my memories of the reading of the night before like cream into coffee, or maybe coffee into cream. Or maybe like a dinosaur into a figurine emporium.

There were moments on the trip that only boys in this zone could provide: lots of discussion of sasquatches, bears, and wolves and acting like these creatures as we passed through the Cascades both ways. We raced along a boardwalk in Bellingham giving each other high fives; fed pigeons we named in Pike Place Market; played hide and seek in the Olympic Sculpture Garden; lay together in a hammock, wind off the Puget Sound in our hair. Gus, the five year old, got really excited about big trout and steelhead we came upon in hatchery enclosures in Whatcom Falls Park and asked repeatedly when we were going to get out the fishing rods and catch them. One night at a Syrian restaurant in Seattle, after hearing that a belly dancing show was expected later on, Harper, the two year old, raised his shirt and gave everyone his own early belly dance.   

The boys were supposed to attend the reading in Bellingham, in part, because we couldn’t secure a babysitter there. It also seemed like a good night for them to come out because a lot of my relatives from around the Peninsula and from nearby Lynden would be there that night. I thought perhaps Jenna could bring them by toward the end of the reading.  I wanted the boys to see this part of what I do, to show them that I write and read stories for other people, not just for them. I wanted to to give them a hazy memory to reflect on later in their lives, maybe something they’d wonder if they dreamed…


TO BE CONTINUED – just click the RSS FEED button to be notified by email when the final installment is out – or add your email address into the empty bar at the top of the page to follow the blog. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Scott Elliott guest blogs on BOOK TOURS WITH KIDS – Part 1

Hi everyone! Hope you are having a great summer with kids in camp, coming home sun-warmed and tired and sleeping soundly through the night.  We are judging the Fellowship entries while we are on hiatus from Salons and let me tell you – there is some stiff competition this year!

Meanwhile – we are thrilled to welcome a terrific novelist, Scott Elliott, who lives and teaches in Walla Walla, Washington.  Scott is the father of two boys and two books, Coiled in the Heart and Temple Grove: A Novel.  Click here for his bio.

Take it away, Scott—

Is it a good idea to go on a book tour with two boys, aged two and five?

Probably not.

Nevertheless, my wife Jenna and I recently hit the road with two red-headed, fun-loving, mischievous imps we happened to have around.  I’ve long described the experience of having children in one’s thirties as a descent back into the tumultuous emotional zone you’ve worked your whole life to leave behind. As soon as you feel yourself standing on solid adult ground blessedly free of such swings you look at your life’s clock and say, “better have kids”  and embark on the wildest, emotional swingiest ride of your life. There are occasions during certain confluences of child raising madness when one looks to the sky and says, why… why?  balanced with times of such beautiful tender reawakening to the world and its wonders that one struggles to find words for such sweet perfection. Both states intertwined.

Rather than have me hit the road alone, we decided to morph an early summer vacation with a small Pacific Northwest book tour for my new novel Temple Grove, which is set on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.  The tour took me to some wonderful independent book stores in Western Washington and Oregon. I started on my own at Annie Bloom’s Bookstore in Portland, and the family went with me from Walla Walla, where we live, to Olympia (Orca Books); Seattle (Elliott Bay Book Company); Bellingham (Village Books); on up to Vancouver, B.C where I read at a tribute to Joyland Magazine at the Railway Club.   

Going on a book tour puts one in touch with one’s own day-to-day persona to a greater degree because you also begin to think about what your authorial persona ought to be. This persona may be a little different from who you are.  Fiction grants you license to tap into selves who are not you—who may be more extreme in different directions—to go into very adult and complex zones, sometimes verging on, or squarely within, our capacity for depravity. So, the fiction writer’s persona in readings may be pulled by the material away from the more accessible, friendly self your friends and family are used to seeing.

We decided to keep the readings and time with children separate, though we did plan to have the boys come see daddy read at least once….


TO BE CONTINUED – just click the RSS FEED button to be notified by email when the next installment is out – or add your email address into the empty bar at the top of the page to follow the blog.