Remember: You aren’t likely to learn as much from success as from failure…
My friend and I were talking yesterday of what it takes to be a writer. The endless hours. The self-hatred. The joy. The turmoil of never being good enough, wondering if any of us will ever get published. What made us the saddest though, was thinking about all the brilliant writers out there who gave up.
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A while ago I read (or, more accurately, skimmed) an article about an app that could train you to read a novel in 90 minutes. On the one hand I thought, “Wow, that’s impressive.” (I’m sure it’s not, to some people.) On the other hand, it made me feel … disappointed is the best word I can come up with. Disappointed that this is how people view reading, as something that should be done as quickly as possible, or else it’s a waste of time.
I understand the appeal of reading a book that quickly, as there are so many books out there I want to read, and I know there will be more, that it would be beneficial in that sense to be able to get through a book in 90 minutes. I could greatly increase my number of total books read, broaden my reading experience, etc.
But both as a reader and as a writer, this emphasis on speed-reading bothers me.
There have been times, particularly in college, when reading a little faster was necessary. I’m not arguing that you should never read quickly just to finish a book, if it’s required for your school or work to do so. But other than that, if you’re reading for pleasure, why would you be in such a hurry to be finished? If I choose to read a book, not for any assignment but because I think I will find it interesting or enjoyable, I like to spend time with it. A book is a great place to be, better, sometimes, than the real world. Particularly in very engaging books, I don’t want to rush through that world. But if I start speed-reading, then slower reading would be hard to go back to.
Then, of course, I consider speed-reading from the point of view of a writer–more specifically, a writer who intends to publish novels. Any serious writer will spend a lot of time and effort creating the content you’re reading, wanting to craft something readers will find worth their time. If I spend a year on a book (drafting, revising, etc.), I don’t want someone to pick it up only to toss it aside in an hour or two. Although real writers write for themselves, they also write for readers, and the thought that something created with care is worth only the smallest fraction of someone’s time is discouraging. There would likely be many writers who understandably reason that they should not put so much effort into their work if the people enjoying the final product are not going to appreciate it properly.
I am against this notion that a “solution” is needed to read novels faster. Internet articles? Yes, read them as fast as you can, particularly the ones that seem like they were written in ten minutes. Or even this one, which should certainly not take you longer than that to read… you’ll get the idea. But a story that someone has taken the care to craft so that they can be proud of it? Spend a little time with it. Don’t be so scared of books.
It’s no secret: these days a lot of writers are self-publishing, or going completely digital. We live in an age when anyone can publish anything, if they have the money or right online venue. I “publish” my writing on wordpress, although most of it is informal, stream-of-consciousness writing reminiscent of the incessant journaling I used to do. There are also sites like fictionpress.net, Fanfiction.net’s counterpart for original work. I considered once posting there, but I hesitated because of many literary magazines’ requirement that work cannot have been previously published, including online.
With the plethora of options available, and the reported increasing difficulty for new authors to be picked up by traditional publishers, it might make most sense for me to self-publish with one of these online companies. At some point in the future, it is highly likely that I will end up self-publishing some of my work. But for now, I continue to hold the dream of having physical printed copies of my work on a shelf in a real bookstore.
Why? There are a few points here.
These days, printing services for self-published works are actually getting much better, and although you can still generally tell the difference, the quality can be on par with traditionally published copies. You, the author, might have to work a little harder to make that happen, but it’s possible, and that’s great. That means that the packaging itself is not the problem.
One of the big considerations is marketing. From what I’ve heard and read, even if you’re working with a traditional publishing house, you will have to do at least some self-promotion if you want to get anywhere. However, they have a marketing department for a reason, and that reason is to promote the books they print. Self-marketing is not my strong point, mostly due to constantly fluctuating but ever-present levels of insecurity. It’s also partly because we’re constantly told that bragging is uncouth, and self-promotion feels very much like bragging. Being polite and “oh, if you feel like it…” about the whole thing gets you nowhere, but being loud and out there can make you seem either arrogant or deluded. It can be difficult to strike the balance and put out just the right level of confidence.
Author royalties are often much higher with self-publishing platforms, but of course the total made depends on the total sold, for which marketing can be a big help. That is most true in the beginning, I think. If you’ve written something really good, entertaining, useful, etc., then once a good number of people have read it, word of mouth can start to gain a wider audience. That means that getting the first 10, 100, 1,000 people to read it can be the hardest. I’d be crossing my fingers and hoping that I would sell enough copies to at least return to me the cost of hiring an editor. Putting out a non-edited work is just a bad idea, and it’s very difficult for a writer to be their own editor. You really do need external eyes sometimes to spot those things that might be bringing your writing down. A publisher would provide that, all bundled into the services they give their authors. Hiring a freelance editor for self-published work means that you get to choose your editor, which could be either a good or a bad thing.
These are good points, the things that I would imagine most writers consider when thinking about self-publishing. But now we’ve come to that one thing, the main reason I really want a traditional publisher, and it has to do with bookstores. (I think this merits a good “why we need brick-and-mortar bookstores” post, but I’m sure I’ve made at least one in the past, and there are many good posts on this out there…)
One of the biggest struggles for self-published authors can be trying to get their books into stores. Most larger stores (which, aside from Barnes and Noble, are all gone, right?) won’t consider anything that they can’t get right from their distributors, and even many independent stores won’t take the risk. From what I can tell, most self-published authors just sell online, and of the ones that do get books in stores as well (I couldn’t name one), internet and most likely ebook sales are where they make the most money.
I don’t want to imply that this is actually a bad thing. Maybe as time goes by I’ll be more accepting of the large-scale changes in how people read, and I won’t care that paper books are more or less a novelty as long as my content gets out into the world, to readers, in any form. …Maybe.
With a traditional publisher, it is much more likely that I’ll be able to see a copy of a book I wrote on a shelf in a real live bookstore. I want this to happen mainly, I think, because of how I experienced bookstores when I was younger. I loved reading as a child, and spending time in bookstores was something I did fairly often. Call me old fashioned if you will, but I find it’s so much harder to connect with a book when the pages are contained in a screen. Picking up a volume, actively turning pages, the texture of the cover, can be a very meaningful part of reading. As the technology develops, that privilege is taken away from both children and adults, and I think it’s unfair. Someday, when I have a book published, knowing that someone can find my book by taking it off the shelf and actually holding it in their hands will be reassuring. That is how I discovered many books. It’s how I hope to discover many more. And even though the convenience of e-readers is taking us farther from that, I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
I’ll use this as the reasoning for why most of my posts get no comments and very few likes. In all sincerity, though, this is a good point. Sometimes a “like” does seem like an odd way to express your feelings about what you read or saw.
I have never seen the Taj Mahal awash with moonlight on a Full Moon day. Or the Great Pyramid in the desert rising in grandeur in the yellow sands in front of me. I have never heard the lion’s roar in the wild. Nor can I remember what it must have been like to have seen the ocean for the first time.
But I can imagine what some of it must feel like.
It must be sublime. It must be spellbounding. It must be a moment so full of wonder that it must be the most difficult to express anything at all at the moment.
Now imagine that the Taj is virtual with a discreet like button next to it. Also imagine that you are a virtual tourist on your way to another site of attraction.
Would you pause a while spellbound in wonder at the beauty of it all…
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These posters, found at Mocha Joe’s cafe in Brattleboro, VT, are a wonderful example of unfortunate sign placement. These posters were not intended to be posted together and, I’m assuming, were put up by two different people. However, because they were put right next to each other, the result is pretty awkward.
I guess the enthusiasm can be admired, but there are other–far less creepy–ways to make a dog happy.