Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is It the Readings, Or Is It Me?

Went to a reading, enjoyed parts of it and have analyzed what I enjoyed. I liked a well-told story, which let me ride a rollercoaster of emotions, such as tension, pity, triumph, and "oh no, not that," all in various shades and tints. If there was a story, I dug it. If there was humor, I dug it. If it was a descriptive passage or a scene instead of a full story, or was emotionally monotoned, or if it was beautifully written and only that, I liked it less. Meeting and chatting with the people there was pure pleasure.

Reluctance to attend readings might be a phase I'm going through. Maybe the trouble isn't with the readings, or the book promotions (why should bookselling ever bother me, of all people?!!?). It might not even be trouble. It might just be that getting older I feel more strongly the very distracting snap, crackle and pop of passing time. Or I have saddled myself with too much to do, and going to readings feels like just another obligation, and because I must sprint to the car and get to the next thing I must do, the readings don't refresh and inspire me as they used to.

Friday, August 27, 2010

An Alternative to "Readings," Anyone?

I remember a "reading" at a glittering hall rented for the occasion, set with 150 chairs. $35 per person included the distinguished writer's new book, and cocktails, and shrimp on ice. There were 20 attendees. We circled through the echoing hall, all embarrassed for the distinguished writer (a personal friend) and trying to be more people than we were.

Where did it go wrong, the "reading"? Laypeople love the sign "Free Poetry" the way they love "Free Pregnant Cat." And increasingly only the readers, or their close friends, attend. (True friends are those who will attend your reading, your opening, or your slam performance. Your "fans" don't care to see you more often than every two years.) It's not that art these days is bad or irrelevant; it isn't. There's a lot more of it to delight in, and audiences for the fine arts have always been sort of small, and now more specialized. But no writer goes anymore to an "open mike" night just to listen. It's to network, scout the place, to be seen or counted, buy the book and get off the hook; and enjoyment, including surprises, has taken a back seat.

The "reading" is now pretty much a setup to promote oneself or one's book or club. There is room for book "launches," but each book needs only one launch. It is nice to have another chance to sell or buy a new book, meet the artist, hope he will buy our new book. But if the audience is largely those who feel obliged to show up, no wonder we become exhausted by the very idea, unless we are scheduled to read. Attempts to give readings a service orientation, as fundraisers for good causes, never brought in anyone who wouldn't normally be there, except for some of the readers. And in the end the experience differed only in where our money went.

The "reading" is moribund. What should we do instead?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Degrade Yourself at Odesk.com

Speaking of mental health, did I ever go nuts when Odesk.com emailed to ask why I hadn't worked for them. Odesk.com features calls for articles and other material by freelance writers; you bid on the jobs. You get paid -- maybe -- and if so Odesk gets a 10 percent commission. Like everyone else I could use some more work, and registered. Lots of contract jobs were available: write someone's resume, write ad copy, ghost somebody's little handbook on vitamins, write series of 750-word articles on auto care, and so on.

What sent me reeling is the compensation offered -- and accepted. Check these out:

I need 50 articles to be rewritten on Halloween niche. Each article has be 450 words and at least 80% unique. I will pay $1 per rewritten article. Please bid with a sample. Thanks

High end copywriting requiring high quality work; Must be english BA or MA graduates; Must attach short word files of writing files or will be disqualified immediately; Individuals only, no company affiliation. If affiliated, will be disqualified immediately. -Candidates for this job so far have bid a titanic $3.34 an hour.

The series of articles on auto care had a total budget of $70.

Not all of the posts are quite this extreme, but a lot of them come pretty close.

So, why haven't I worked for Odesk? The "O" must be short for "online sweatshop" -- and it's not the only one. An underclass of writers. That's just what we need....

Friday, August 20, 2010


Regarding the Winning Writers website, for a while I took only their free email newsletter listing poetry contests without entry fees. Curious, and so you don't have to, and so I have the info for the people who ask me, I finally subscribed to their Poetry Contest Insider, for which I pay $9.95 per quarter. This admits me to a well-organized database of more than 750(!) U.S. and U.K. poetry contests, both free and with entry fees.

Winning Writers sponsors its own 2 poetry contests, and "assists" in 3 more, all prominently offering top prizes in the unusually high and attractive $1500-$2000 range, and judged by their staff. One contest has no entry fee. The others do. As a premium subscriber I am permitted to see the prizewinning poems and the honorable mention poems. They tend to be lengthy and craft-free, in the way beginning poets' works are. And now I have a better sense of how the site and its staff support themselves, and who supports them: thousands of poets artificially hungry for artificial prizes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Easy Stuff

Frequently asked questions about manuscript submissions, answered:

Q: Where should I put the page numbering on my manuscript? A: Top right. That's where editors look.
Q: I can't figure out how to turn off the thing that puts a "1" on Page 1. A: Either look it up in Help, or don't worry about it. Your main concern should be perfecting the creative work you are sending.
Q: Should I include the exact word count? A: For book manuscripts, definitely yes. For shorter works, look up the publisher's guidelines for submissions and do what they say.
Q: Should I put a "c" in a circle on the first page of my manuscript to indicate that I am claiming copyright? A: You can, but to editors it has long signaled that the author fears that her work will be stolen by the same people to whom she has sent it. Does that make sense? If you are still worried, see the blog entry below on "Top Four Questions."

Writers should have peace of mind, not nerves and worries, regarding formatting. Nerves and worries are in fact backed-up creativity that has become poisoned with fear.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Use for Twitter

I am not into Twittering as myself. I have in fact denounced Twitter as "impacted madness." However, my alter ego reviews online horoscope sites, writing and issuing short little articles on that topic twice a week, and she finds Twitter quite useful.

She got a free account at hubpages.com which gives each of her articles a separate URL. She uses Twitter to announce a new article and what it's about, giving a link to the URL. To locate followers, she sought out names indicating an interest in astrology, horoscopes, the zodiac, stars, and so on. She "followed" the ones who didn't seem like nut cases. (She herself is not a nut or a flake, but merely interested in explanations as to how this universe operates; and she knows others want to know, and that they also want to know if they're being well served or made fools of.) In turn, some have done her the favor of becoming her "follower." She needs only eight or nine good established followers to get the word out about what she's doing. Regular, informed, and trustworthy reviews result in referrals and more followers. It also helps to sift through followers' followers seeking more people to follow.

She finds (and has informed me):
  • When it comes to Twitter, quality beats quantity. Twice a week is plenty.
  • Tweet in the a.m.; the p.m. is less active.
  • Tweet on a regular schedule. Announce this schedule and stick to it. This establishes your reliability not only as a tweeter but as a source of information.
  • Tweet when you have something to offer, not to "P.R. yourself," or to tease people, or for the heck of it.
  • Twitter is good if you have a highly specific target audience or niche.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Handy Reference Books for Writers

Beyond the standard dictionaries and thesauri, writers need reference books-- yes, "books." I find there's a frantic quality to wracking the Web for fact-checking and grammar answers, and all those other intimate things writers find they need to know while wrestling with their work. Few writers ever feel sure they're doing these things correctly. A book waits and watches until it is needed. It won't overwhelm you with answers. Favorites:

Brunner, Borgna, Time Almanac 2006. Information Please, 2006. A fat expensive book that when superseded by the next year's edition, costs a quarter, and 99 percent of its information is the same.

Buchanon-Brown, John. Le Mot Juste: A Dictionary of Classical and Foreign Words and Phrases, Vintage, 1981. How often I hope to use this book to insert smart-sounding Latin, French, Spanish, German, etc. words and phrases into my work and conversation -- and almost never do, except for "Schadenfreude."

Dornan and Dawe, The Brief English Handbook, Third Edition, Scott-Foresman, 1990. For grammar conundrums.

King James Bible; get one with a built-in concordance so you can find who said, and where, "if you do it for one of the least of those, you do it for Me," the number-one Bible quotation appearing in personal essay drafts.

Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide. (Buy them a few years old, for a dime), Signet.

Packer, Tenney and White, All the People and Places of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982. You will need this when it is time to pronounce the name "Habakkuk" (Ha-BAK-uck) and inform your readers that it's Hebrew for "love's embrace."

Sambuchino, Chuck, and the Editors of Writer's Digest Books, Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript, Third Edition, Writer's Digest Books, 2009. (Pictured.) Model manuscripts and query and cover letters. For $22.95 you can forego all that inner-Q&A stress about formatting.

Siepmann, Katherine, editor, Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia, Third Edition. Harper and Row, 1987. 1100 pages of short bios of writers, synopses of famous books and plays, and the literary significance of things such as mandrakes and The Mauve Decade (the 1890s).

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Top Four Questions About Copyright (with Answers)

St. Louis Writers Guild today hosted Mark Sableman, attorney from the offices of Thompson & Coburn, who discussed publishing contracts and copyright law. He answered many questions and cleared up a lot of myths about copyright. I'm passing along his answers to four of the most-asked questions:

1. At what point in writing something can I claim a copyright?
As soon as you write it on paper or save it on your computer's hard drive it is copyrighted in your name. This is called "fixed expression in a tangible medium."

2. How can I best protect my written work so nobody steals it -- or if they do, I can sue them?
File a copyright form, Form CO, from copyright.gov, and upload your text; online filing will cost $35. Filing by postal mail is more complicated and higher-priced. Do it within the first 90 days after completing a work and then, if you someday have to sue for infringement, you may collect money (statutory damages) -- if you can prove they actually did it and that it caused you to lose money. You can't sue for damages just because they used your work without permission.

3. Can I legally prove my copyright by mailing myself a copy of my text?
No. Absolutely not. That's an old myth.

4. How long before my copyright expires?
This law has changed this several times, but currently, it's the author's life plus 70 years.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Finally, It's on Amazon....

Meet Me: Writers in St. Louis was published April 1, and the first copy was sold (to Lynn Obermoeller) April 12. For four months I've been lugging copies around, selling them one-on-one to interested people, or taking mail orders, because

....Amazon.com's listing said "Not in Stock"!

Two local newspapers printed reviews: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the West End Word. Too bad for any reader who wanted the book, because

....Amazon.com said, "Not in Stock"!

You get the point. If you want to sell a book, it absolutely must be buyable from amazon.com. My contract specified that it HAD to be there, and I would not proceed with any promotional efforts until it was--because that's where people expect books to be. They don't buy books from publishers or from author websites. They go straight to amazon.com. And if it's not there, they can look at plenty of other books.

The publisher apologized for this agonizing and infuriating delay, citing busyness with other matters and a change in distributors requiring a trip to Chicago and negotiations. Taking things into my own hands, I placed Meet Me on Amazon.com as one of the Amazon Marketplace dealers, and consigned copies to stlbooks.com, another Marketplace dealer just as good. But friends emailed me that Amazon.com said, "Not in Stock." They didn't even see there were sub-dealers. This reinforced what I have always said:

A book must be available through amazon.com!

Amazon.com says "In Stock" as I write this, but who knows, the next hour it may be "Not in Stock"!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How'd the Ballet Turn Out?

Here I'm with my teacher, Mimi MacDonald, on my eighth lesson and last day of adult-beginner ballet class at the Center of Contemporary Arts. I took it for the challenge. I never got good at it, but we all made progress and Mimi (trained by a Soviet ballet master in the strict Vaganova method) understood that maybe my hip sockets aren't like those of classmates 35 years younger; thus my difficulty with the basic turnout. I enjoyed the variety of people in the class, all dressed alike and reaching for the same ideal. It wasn't at all like writing, unless it was like learning the fundamentals, such as the alphabet and how to hold those fat pencils--so long ago I don't remember. I do think now, however, of the people who had the patience to teach me. Thank you.

I practiced between weekly classes with a beginning-ballet DVD (cursing, perspiring, at best making it through 65 minutes of a 90-minute DVD), thinking about what Martha Graham said in her autobiography: "Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

More About Miss Mousy U.S.A.

I held the above title for 15 years. My frazzled, untrimmed hair, saggy Land's End calf-length full black skirt (with elasticized waist), downcast eyes and lack of affect (some people thought I didn't have any feelings) I hoped signaled that I was a rebel artist, giving the world back as good as it gave. It gave very little. Not entirely because of my mousiness, but I realize now, looking back, that my appearance said:
  • My employer doesn't pay me enough, and although I don't have the nerve to change my situation, let me serve as a reminder that the poor are always with you.
  • I'm depressed and it's partly your fault.
  • To hell with bodies. Minds are what count.
  • I can see your inner beauty, so why aren't you astute enough to see mine?
  • I'm punishing the capitalist patriarchy for its unattainable feminine ideals.
  • I'm lonely -- but uninterested in commoners like you.
  • I'm at one with the wretched of the earth.
  • I've been abused; want to hear about it?
  • What, fuss about looks and manners while our planet is dying?
  • I'm above everything you think is important.
  • Please notice my awful suffering and help me.
Then, bit by bit, I began to re-connect with other writers and play the cards the world dealt me. The things that restored my self-respect were 1) fellow writers, 2) self-publishing, and 3) money. That's why I'm always urging fellow writers to join groups, self-publish, and ask for money when they work.