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One response to the Author’s Guild regarding Macmillan v Amazon

from the Author’s Guild
The Right Battle at the Right Time
“Macmillan’s current fight with Amazon over e-book business models is a necessary one for the industry. The stakes are high, particularly for Macmillan authors. In a squabble over e-books, Amazon quickly and pre-emptively escalated matters by…” <more>

Writer’s Rainbow’s response:
This battle is necessary because paper publishers have to *prove* they’re in the service of authors and literature and, frankly, they *aren’t,* not in 2010. They’re in the service of bottom lines, from which they extract a lot of money and from which very few authors (especially new ones) can expect to make more than a pittance, if they can break into the pearly gates at all.

I take issue with this part of Macmillan’s statement:

“Without a healthy ecosystem in publishing, one in which authors and publishers are fairly compensated for their work, the quality and variety of books available to readers will inevitably suffer.”

Let’s get something straight… do the research and you’ll find that authors do NOT receive fair compensation for their work UNLESS they’re bestsellers. And who decides bestsellers? Not readers, but publishers. Books with bestseller status arrive that way not through genuine sales but through financial arrangements made before those books are even published.

Yes, it’s a scam and it’s been going on forever.

Bestselling authors comprise a very small percentage of the total authors being published, and yet the lion’s share of revenues for book authors go primarily to the bestsellers. This is because big house publishers bank of the bestsellers to keep them afloat (by investing in their shelf positioning and bestseller status). Newer authors can only get in through the gates of traditional publishing as long as their publishers have bestsellers to draw income from.

Let’s not forget: *publishers* are making a heap big more wampum on books than authors are. So really, Macmillan’s statement, in a more accurate sense, might be one that says:

“A healthy ecosystem in publishing fairly compensates publishers for their products irregardless of the quality and variety of books available.”

This is not to say that bestsellers are not diverse or of high quality; it’s to say that there are huge numbers of excellent new authors turned away from the gates because they simply aren’t a known quantity. They aren’t “branded.”

Even poorly done books, when branded effectively, can be bestsellers.

I’ve tired of publishers claiming they care about literature and books when that’s the last thing on their minds at the end of the day. Theirs is a crappy business model from the 20th century that they’re still trying to pass off as a legitimate strategy in this century. It’s been failing since the 1970s; this is not an issue of “the economy” in 2010. The industry will keep on spiraling downward until publishers start thinking of their authors as something more than toilet paper to be sold at Costco.

Though, to be honest, that scenario makes them sound shrewd… like Amazon. Which is to point out that they really aren’t all that different from Amazon, just a vulture with a different kind of pattern to their feathers.

Who’s the big loser here? Readers. They don’t even know what they’re missing.

New writers at least have a fighting alternative to this closed process with POD and Amazon etc. The stats are out there: self-publishing is actually a better money maker for new voices in 2010. You *will* make more money off your book if you go this route. And if new writers can do well in that way, using Amazon as a vehicle, then Macmillan & Co need to rethink their business model or they’ll be missing out on all that literary landscape they believe they’re somehow advocating for.


Quick Q&A with “…Inappropriate” author Daniel Nester


Daniel Nester

I met Daniel Nester last February at an AWP panel we shared on the subject of Web 2.0 for the literary crowd. He’s not only a master of literary Internet integration but a funny guy and great writer. To launch this new monthly feature, Quick Q&A, I open with the author of the very recently launched nonfiction book, How to Be Inappropriate. 


[Note to fans, inappropriati, and would-be nuisances: When you buy a copy of HTBI and send this PDF coupon, along with the book, to Daniel Nester’s home, he will not only sign your book and return it to you, but include an official How to Be Inappropriate whoopee cushion in the bargain. That’s right: inflate one of these puppies and let the faux farts fly! While supplies last.  Address: Daniel Nester/HTBI, 170 Adams Street, Delmar, NY 12054]  

QUICK Q&A with Daniel Nester

Writer’s Rainbow:  You reference a good deal of pop culture in your essays. Advice previously given to writers has typically discouraged the mentioning the artifacts of popular culture in their works. Does this “rule” no longer apply? What would you say to writers who want to explore pop culture themes in their own work?

Daniel Nester: Who gives this crappy advice? I have climbed this mountain already. Back in graduate poetry school, my workshop members—not by teachers, mind you, but a good-sized cohort of students—considered allusions or mentions of popular culture as somehow beneath the endeavor of writing a poem. What a lot of us did back then—this is 15 years ago—was to write cross-genre-type pieces that would get us off the poetry hook, what I call the bugaboo of addressing the ages.  I remember one night that I was workshopping a piece that mentions—just mentions—the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album.  And there were people who said the mention “took them out” of the poem, that a poem is meant to be forever, but the Beach Boys is somehow fleeting. Set aside that Pet Sounds is one of the landmark works of art of the 20th Century; this was the mindset.
Then the late Williams Matthews, filling in for Galway Kinnell that evening, took a stab at the issue. “What did posterity do for us lately?” It just filled me with joy.  Ever since that night, I didn’t worry about whether a piece of writing was going to be immortal because it mentions power ballads.  So that’s my advice is: Go ahead and talk about your world, continue your “search for local objects” as William Carlos Williams calls it.  And don’t worry about whether your work is above or beneath or highbrow or lowbrow.  That’s for other, far more fastidious and precise people to decide.
WR: Of course, there are other rules, about “polite living,” that you also—perhaps wantonly?—violate as the author of How to Be Inappropriate (such as, “Do not discuss body parts in mixed company”). It would be easy for the casual reader to assume that all you really want to do with this book is shock them, with otherwise socially unacceptable content, through the use of humor. Could you explain some of the other impulses that led you to write this book? 

DN: It’s not a primary intention to shock, although I can see that happening and that’s fine. It gets people’s attention.  What I wanted to do with this book, at least in part, is to write honestly about moments that I always talk about: embarrassing moments, human moments, too-much-information moments.  It’s those moments when I feel the most alive, frankly.  They’re pastoral in the sense that everyone has moments when they feel prone or naked or ambiguous.  The essay I wrote on mooning, I think, is a good example of this.  Butts are funny, sure, and showing one’s butt to another person is a ritualized practice that spans millennia. There’s more than meets the eye when we talk about naked assplay. It’s a subject that should be interrogated as seriously as movements of symphonies.
WR: You’re an assistant professor of English specializing in creative nonfiction at The College of St. Rose in Albany, NY. Do you teach specific themes in your classes that advocate the kind of risk-taking that regularly inhabits your own writing?
DN: Yes and no. Of course, I don’t think it’s necessarily taking risks to write about what most embarrasses you, or makes you feel the most tender, or feels the most wrong or heretical. It’s an avenue that needs to be explored, however, and at least presented as an option. Whether one writes about, say, a sexual proclivity in detailed language is not everyone’s cup of tea, for sure; the challenge, it seems to me, is if a writer wants to write about it one some level without going all brass tacks.  That’s usually the case, actually.
And that’s why I use the term T.S. Eliot made famous: objective correlative.  If you have a crush on that dude in the other class, or if you have problems with your girlfriend, and you don’t want to write about it, fine.  But if you do, then you have other options than simply describing the situation.  You can describe the scene, the sky, the weight of your stomach.
I’ll tell you a story.  One day we were workshopping a student’s memoir piece.  It was a conversation between she and her boyfriend about moving in together to another town, far from college, to be near his work.  This student had a great ear for dialogue; there was back-and-forth, there was some narration, but it was mostly dialogue.  And we all knew it needed something more.
So I asked the student, “Where was this discussion happening?” And she paused to think, and then her cheeks turned read, so I knew something was up.  “It happened in the shower,” she said. And I just so appreciated that moment: they were literally and metaphorically naked while this Big Talk was going down! Her revisions were just awesome.  She’s holding her pink razor while she presented her reservations about moving, there’s water, they hand each other towels.  Tiny moments, intimate moments. 
WR: Writers are often fearful that someone will find old drafts of their work and discover they’re not as stellar as, say, their breakout novel suggests. However, at your
website, you happily display all the projects you’d once attempted but never brought to a successful conclusion. Why did you do this, and what can other writers learn from it?
DN: I do it because some failures have a certain charm, and sometimes the first idea is the best, or at least the first impulse, or the one people react most to.  I wrote my first book, God Save My Queen, as notes to each song by my favorite rock band, Queen, as I listened to them in chronological order.  I thought I was doing research for some straightforward memoir project, but I found the notes themselves were really the project.  I revised them after that, sure.  But it took me years and years to respect the initial impulses of my writing and then help shepherd it to the final stages. 
WR: You not only write creative nonfiction, but poetry and journalism. What would you tell writers who are interested in writing outside their chosen forms?
DN: Do it!  Creative nonfiction and journalism have been very, very good to me, as far as publication and teaching opportunities go.  Poetry is my first love, sure; I feel like I am more of a fan now than practitioner.  But I would have never gotten to the kind of writing I do now without writing poetry first. I wish I could say that it’s improved my poems, but I haven’t written one in awhile.  But I am thinking about it. I really am.

Daniel Nester |
Coming this fall: How to Be Inappropriate
Twitter: @DanielNester
Teaching blog:


Creative solutions for the writer who doesn’t want to be yet another Voice in the Dark

Something that’s been coming up a lot with my other clients: marketing issues. These boil down as follows:

  • submitting short work
  • finding agents
  • considering self-publication
  • considering electronic publishing
  • finding venues for reading
  • making webpages
  • building reputations through P2P (person to person) networking
  • online social networking
  • maximizing Twitter

Are you struggling with any of these concerns? They seem so “business-like,” and yet, as a creative person, you have the right foundation for making these things work on terms that mesh with your creative life.

I’ve co-hosted a writers’ marketing group for years and many of the things we learned as a group can be applied across disciplines.

I’m no marketing guru, per se, but I know how to find ways to balance the creativity life with the necessary work of promotion and networking yourself.

I’m a firm believer that we make or do things to communicate with the larger world; it’s an existential question as to whether it matters to be creative if nobody notices. For me, and for most of the people I’ve worked with as clients, it definitely matters that people notice; otherwise, we’re just voices in the dark.

These days, the marketing models are changing as well, and social networking is becoming a great equalizer, making it possible for people to generate platforms of followers/fans/connections that are responsive to their creative work in a way that the old corporate framework never really supported.

Do let me know if this is an area where you are challenged or want to learn more about, and give me some details of what it is that you are challenged by or what you have already done but would like to do more of. I’m happy to discuss, perhaps even to demystify or de-stigmatize, this “business-side” application of your creativity.

Taking new clients August 1.

Words from the Land of the Limerick and the Leprechaun

Here is a list of 17 dead-or-alive Irish writers (from many!) you can explore on this St. Patrick’s Day:

  • John Banville: The Silver Swan (under the pseudonym Benjamin Black)
  • Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot
  • Maeve Binchy: Circle of Friends
  • Eavan Boland: Domestic Violence
  • Mairead Byrne: Talk Poetry
  • Michael Collins: The Resurrectionists
  • Ann Enright: The Gathering
  • James Joyce: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Colum McCann: Zoli
  • Ted McNulty: On the Block
  • Christopher Nolan: Under the Eye of the Clock
  • Flann O’Brien: At Swim-Two-Birds
  • Frank O’Connor: My Oedipus Complex and other stories
  • Sean O’Faoláin: The Finest Short Stories of Sean O’Faoláin
  • Suzanne Power: Love and the Monroes
  • Laurence Sterne: Tristram Shandy
  • Bram Stoker: Dracula

Public domain image:Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne” by anonymous.

The coffeehouse: a writer’s home away from home

It’s not a stretch to say that the corner cafe in Anytown USA is likely the first place writers will go to get some work done. Especially now with (mostly free) wi-fi services, exceptional coffee, more plug ins and the cheap rent of a cup of joe to hold one’s table for a couple of hours.

I live in a community of 23,000 and we have, easily, a dozen hangouts where we can set up shop away from home, and every one of them a stand-alone business (meaning: no Starbucks!). Some of my favorites? Pegasus, Bainbridge Bakers, Blue Ocean Cafe.

People who aren’t writers smile at what they must imagine is a romantic notion about the writing life: Ah, to while away one’s hours in a coffeehouse for a living.

We writers don’t usually hold them to the reality check of that misconception: the reason why we go there is not because our lives of intellectual vigor are leisurely, but rather, quite typically, low-paying and riddled with hard, real work. And big bucks or no, we all have to write somewhere. We run the risk of turning into hermits if we stay home all the time, and if we did that, what would we have to write about?

No, the simple truth is, the library is the most affordable writer’s haunt, but let’s face it: you can’t take in hot beverages. And a cup of something yummy at the writer’s elbow make a coffeehouse the perfect home away from home.

Friends often ask: Isn’t it noisy? Aren’t there too many interruptions?

For me, it’s precisely the din of clinking cups, forks against pastry plates, chitchat, soft music and the fluttering of newsprint that makes it a great place to work. Babies crying, old guys debating the news, the laughter of young mothers with kids still in school: these are comfort sounds to me.
At home, there might be family members or the telephone or the buzz of the dryer to compete with. As much as I love my family, I have yet to find a way to completely silence them or otherwise eliminate urgencies like Mom, is there any popcorn? or Honey, where are the Band-Aids? or May I please speak with Tamara (mispronounced) Sellman?

As for interruptions, they come no matter where you go as a writer (at least they do for me), but I appreciate the ones out in public because:

a/I like to see my friends and I won’t see them at home unless I make arrangements, and then I have to clean up my house;

b/interruptions have become my reminder to stretch my spine, breathe and look across the room to save my eyes—things I always forget to do at home;

c/a friendly face is still better than a knock on the door from the UPS guy in need of a signature; and

d/when the DSL is down or the power is out, one coffeeshop or another on the rock I live on is usually up and running.

I suppose we could all hang out at bars, but I wouldn’t know. Probably, there are many Hemingways in earnest of repeating that legacy, but I’m not one of them. Drinking alcohol while writing makes my brain go fuzzy, while drinking coffee helps me to avoid the sometimes-problem I have of face-planting into my keyboard from sheer exhaustion during deadlines.

(Still, I finished my first NaNoWriMo novel at a bar in November 2006. Even then, all I drank was iced tea. I was there for the soup.)

So what exactly does a writer get done at a coffeehouse? Some writers generate new work on their manuscripts. Some writers just go there to check email, treating the space as a kind of office away from home so that their home office is only used for writing. Some writers take printouts of drafts and revise the old-fashioned way, with ink and sticky notes. Some writers spend their time doing web research or reading source materials. Some writers interview experts who correspond in some way with their works in progress. Many writers meet with many other writers just to hobnob (which isn’t a waste of time; without our own personal support systems to interact with, we’d all be goners).

I have been known to do all of these things, and I know I’m not alone. Neither am I alone in my rotation habits: I spread myself between coffeehouses frequently. Many of us do. It’s done to spread our coffee dollars across the java-drinking landscape, for sure, but also to change up the “workplace” scenery, to sample different seating environments (this really helps with back problems), and to try not to look like a freeloader (I mean, one cup of coffee spread across 2-3 hours every single day might give you a reputation with the staff as the guest who wouldn’t leave). I also try to work around rush periods so the wait staff (when there is one) can keep their seats open for the breakfast and lunch crowds.

So let’s hear it for the all-American corner cafe. During times of economic downturn, why not grab a cuppa joe at the one in your neck of the woods and show your support? After all, they’ve been keeping the writing life cozy and caffeinated forever.

Original images: “Pegasus Coffeehouse,” “Blue Ocean Cafe windowfront,” and “Bainbridge Bakers Esoterica” © 2009, Tamara Kaye Sellman. All Rights Reserved.

Reading is back in vogue, apparently (but it never went out of style at my house…)

The NEA’s report this year on reading in the US joins with a lot of other positive news encountered already in this young year 2009 (namely, a plane crash with 100% survivors, an awesome new president, stem cell research moving forward and funding for abortion services abroad): people are reading more than ever before.

“For the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature,” claims the 2009 National Endowment for the Arts study. “This new growth reverses two decades of downward trends cited previously in NEA reports such as Reading at Risk [PDF] and To Read or Not To Read [PDF].”

Aha, one of the things they looked at was online reading and lo! there it is, evidence that people who spend more time on their computers aren’t necessarily reading less at all, despite what the naysayers all assumed. This bodes well for publishers for which the Internet is their only medium as well as for companies building digital book readers like Amazon’s Kindle.

(For my part, I downloaded Revolutionary Road for less than $3 and was glad that’s all it cost me because, even if author Yates’ writing style is quietly elegant, I couldn’t stand the story, either because so many anti-suburbia manifestos have already done a better job of blasting life in the ‘burbs already—yes, I know, Yates’ literary condemnation was one of the first, but still—or because I just don’t like reading stories where nobody learns or changes.)

Anyway, take a gander at the new NEA report. It arrives at some pretty interesting, and optimistic, conclusions.

Two good bookish ideas wrapped up in one groovy bow

This week is Banned Books week, in case you didn’t notice all those offensive titles in your neighborhood bookstore window. I love it that we celebrate these books because it means they’re more likely to be read. Censorship is the “C” word in my house, so let your reading habits run to reckless abandon, I say. Read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Read The Color Purple. Read Of Mice and Men. We’re all better people for these books.

But wait, this week is also BAFAB week! BAFAB, as in, Buy a Friend a Book! I did my duty and just sent three to a friend and her spouse who’ve very recently moved to San Diego.

I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and it always gives me pleasure. Why not kill two birds with one stone and buy a friend a banned book this week. BAFABB? Sounds fab. Here’s a partial citation of the top 100 banned books for 2007 from the American Library Association as a starter shopping list:

1. Harry Potter by JK Rowling
20. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
26. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
36. Blubber by Judy Blume
37. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
39. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
45. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
56. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
63. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
67. Black Boy by Richard Wright
72. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (irony alert!)
80. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
87. Grendel by John Gardner
95. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
98. Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers