Current daily news reports remind us how important words are. Spoken and heard or written and read, good communication depends on clarity of thought and intention. Can Artificial Intelligence improve our writing? And what might that mean for authors?
Sir Harold Evans, distinguished editor and author of Do I Make Myself Clear?, makes a strong case against the evils that have infiltrated much of today’s writing. His greatest angst comes not from errors in grammar and spelling, but from the type of intentional deception too frequently found in political and business statements. His anger is aimed at the lack of moral responsibility for fairness.
Evans is not a fan of Twitter. “Twitter’s wonderful for assertion. It’s absolutely useless for argument. You cannot deploy an argument of even the simplest kind in 140 characters.” On the other hand, Evans doesn’t believe in dithering around with useless verbiage. He observes the sage advice from his wife, editor Tina Brown: “Get to the point. Your point’s down here in paragraph 29. What the hell are you doing with it down there?”
The rules of good writing for articles and essays also apply to books, fiction as well as non-fiction. Readers need to understand what the author intends to convey and they must believe what they’re reading.
San Francisco-based tech firm Grammarly uses machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to improve users’ compositions; not just spelling and grammar but also recommendations on readability and clarity. The free app, available for the Chrome browser, Microsoft Word and Windows desktop is designed for a variety of compositions. Grammarly hopes to expand its capabilities, even to the point of helping users integrate humor.
So far, Grammarly does not suggest it can turn writers into successful book authors. “It’s not for replacing humans,” said Grammarly co-founder Max Lytvyn. “It makes humans more powerful.”
I suppose AI will one day (if not today) be able to figure the story elements and writing styles that appeal to the masses and create best sellers. But the best books, the best stories and the best writing will always need human curiosity, imagination and spirit to reach beyond algorithms. It takes a human mind and a human heart to break the rules.
All sorts of things popping as I prepare to leave for an 8-day vacation (means no business, no emails, no social media) in New York City. When I return to Chicago, I’ll be dropped into the middle of preparations for a couple of very special BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES events for July and August (stay tuned for news in future blogs).
Meanwhile, I want to encourage all you writers – published and aspiring – when you feel like no agent or publisher has the wisdom to recognize the brilliance of your manuscript. Keep plugging away. To inspire you, check out “The rejection letters: how publishers snubbed 11 great authors”. Feeling rejected? You’ll be in great company while you laugh out loud!
Like so many modern technological “advances”, Amazon has the capacity to be a boon or a bane. In the book world, it allows us access to hard-to-find or out-of-print books and allows students to rent costly textbooks at a fraction of the cover price. At the same time, it competes with brick-and-mortar bookstores that act as community centers and it strong-arms both authors and publishers to accept its lower prices.
Fortunately, Amazon’s attempt at establishing its own bookstores has been less than stellar while local dedicated independent booksellers are flourishing. You can’t teach an elephant to tap dance and Amazon bookstores can’t cater to booklovers the way community stores can.
I admit to using Amazon for many kinds of purchases when buying locally is problematic due to size, weight or unusually high cost, or when the item I want is not available. But a new, surreptitious move by Amazon should be alarming to anyone who cares about the health of the book business.
Until recently, a visit to the Amazon site for books differentiated between new and used books. Want a new book, click the appropriate button and you’d be sent to the publisher. Now, in select interactions, you could be sent to a third-party seller who is selling you a book that appears new but is actually used. And you won’t know it.
This bait and switch may seem innocuous. After all, if it appears new and you assume it is new, what’s the harm? The harm is that a used book will have previously been recorded as a purchase; the publisher and author will receive no compensation for the sale of your used book.
I am not against the sale of used books, just as I’m not against checking books out of a library. Both practices expand the circulation of books to more readers. I am against misleading sales practices that disrupt the fine balance that sustains the flow of books and supports the people who produce them: writers, publishers, stores. Each needs to earn a fair share of sales to survive and flourish. Amazon’s latest ploy is an unnecessary fraud, simply to further line its own pockets.
It is in your hands to stop Amazon from ripping everyone off. All it takes is to avoid clicking the buy button for a “new” book if it goes to a third-party seller on the Amazon site. Better yet, order the book from your local independent bookstore. You’ll be helping to nurture the garden of literary delights, now and for generations to come.
There is a void in the American museum world. We collect in central points the artifacts of civilization and honor politicians and soldiers, athletes and artists, inventors and entrepreneurs, but we neglect our writers. In a country established as an idea explicated in written documents and embellished by generations of poets, novelists, and critics, the case for commemorating the written word is self-evident. After all, what is written describes a people and what is celebrated defines their values. — Jim Leach, former Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities
It’s surprising when you realize that in this innovative nation of creative talent, we have never had a museum dedicated to American writers and their work. Until now.
On May 16, 2017, Chicago will celebrate the debut of the American Writers Museum, whose mission is “to engage the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, our culture, and our daily lives.”
According to its website The American Writers Museum will:
• Educate the public about American writers – past and present
• Engage visitors to the Museum in exploring the many exciting worlds created by the spoken and written word
• Enrich and deepen appreciation for good writing in all its forms
• Inspire visitors to discover, or rediscover, a love of reading and writing
Through innovative and dynamic state-of-the-art exhibitions, as well as compelling programming, the American Writers Museum will educate, enrich, provoke, and inspire the public.
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose A Feast of Fests from April 20, 2014 – and updated it — because we’re entering a new season of literary celebrations that every booklover should know about.
When the mind is hungry, few things satisfy as well as a good book. Fortunately, there are feasts around the country throughout the year to fulfill every taste. From small block parties to massive convention exhibits, in every size and genre, there is a book event waiting for you. With the long winter finally departing, the number of book fests, fairs, exhibits, conventions and all variety of literary celebrations is growing. This is good for writers, readers and the publishing industry.
In the age of Amazon and other online booksellers, you might feel inclined to lounge in your … whatever you lounge in … and simply connect through the internet to someplace in cyberspace for a book you’ve preselected in your mind. It’s fast. It’s convenient. It’s also impersonal, colorless, bland. When is the last time, ordering online, you discovered a book or spoke with its author, experienced the “bookness” of books with all your senses (yes, a book can even inspire a taste on the tongue), felt exhilarated as if you were a guest at a banquet? Book fests can offer all these rewards and more.
Book fests may simply be large book sales, but most combine presentations, workshops, readings, book signings, exhibits and social gatherings, along with sales.
The Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Short Story Contest is accepting submissions. Established more than three decades ago, the award honors the iconic Chicago author best known for The Man With the Goden Arm and Chicago, City on the Make. The award carries a $3,500 prize for the winner and other amounts for the four finalists and five runners-up. Deadline is 11:59 p.m. (CST) January 31st. There is no submission fee. Visit the Chicago Tribune for submissions and rules details.
Writers Resist, founded after the November election by poet and diversity in the arts promoter Erin Belieu, has organized a nationwide series of writers’ readings on the theme “Re-inaugurate Democracy”. The event is scheduled for January 15th to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and to promote “compassion, equality, free speech and the fundamental ideals of democracy”, according to organizers. More than 50 events are planned in the U.S. and other countries, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, London, Zurich, Hong Kong and Singapore. Details can be found in a November 30, 2016 AWP posting.
Unit sales of print books rose 3.3% in 2016 over the previous year, making it the third-straight year of print growth according to a report in a January 6, 2017 post by Publishers Weekly.
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose Books Will Defeat Terrorism from September 9, 2013 because the world feels especially vulnerable right now, even in the U.S.A. to which other countries turned for reassurance during turbulent times across the globe. As we try to regain our footing, it is helpful to remember the critical role of books in our lives.
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” ― Maya Angelou
Malala Yousafzai was only 12 when she wrote a blog under a pseudonym promoting education for girls. She became a women’s rights activist in a region known for Taliban attempts to ban girls from attending school. By 13, her real name and face were well-known from interviews and a documentary film about her life. On October 9, 2012, the 15-year-old Pakistani student was critically shot in the head and neck by an Islamic extremist as she sat on a school bus, targeted for speaking out against laws that would restrict girls’ access to education.
Miraculously, Malala survived but she continues to face threats of death against her and her father by the Taliban. Giving a face to courage, she refuses to cower to the threats, choosing to defend books and the right of all people to freely read.
This year, Malala Yousafzai was featured on Time magazine’s front cover as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World”. She won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. On her 16th birthday in July, she appeared before the UN, calling for worldwide access to education. Speaking at a ceremony in The Hague where she was awarded the 2013 International Children’s Peace Prize, Malala vowed to continue her campaign for education.
It seems fitting that in England, where Malala has been residing since her medical treatment and recovery, she presided over the opening of Europe’s largest library on September 3rd. During the ceremony at the Library of Birmingham, Malala announced,” I have challenged myself that I will read thousands of books and I will empower myself with knowledge. Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism.” She added, “There is no better way to explain the importance of books than say that even God chose the medium of a book to send his message to his people.”
Perhaps drawing from her own life, Malala observed, “Let us not forget that even one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.”
Malala, and others like her, are prepared to sacrifice their lives for the right to pick up a book and read. It reminds us of the true value of books are in our lives. Books are life transformed and they have the power to transform life. Even a young child knows this.
“I know what I want, I have a goal, an opinion, I have a religion and love. Let me be myself and then I am satisfied. I know that I’m a woman, a woman with inward strength and plenty of courage.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
November conjures up a lot of rituals from raking leaves to casting votes in elections to celebrating Thanksgiving. A more recent ritual that is really catching on is National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo.
National Novel Writing Month began as an event in 1999, and in 2005, became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. NaNoWriMo’s programs now include National Novel Writing Month in November, Camp NaNoWriMo, the Young Writers Program, Come Write In, and The “Now What?” Months.
On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. NaNoWriMo provides the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.
NaNoWriMo is accessed online. You complete a profile so like-minded writers can connect with you but you don’t write your novel on the site. While the process of writing is a primarily a solitary undertaking, NaNoWriMo sets you up with a regional volunteer “Municipal Liaison” and provides a “Regional Lounge” with online forums. As encouragement, personal achievement badges and writing badges are awarded as you complete specific milestones. Pep talks from published authors, NaNo Prep advice, and other resources are offered to motivate you.
You win NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words of your novel between November 1 and November 30. There’s no limit on how many people can win! Just be sure that you’ve defined a novel on their site and validated your novel’s word count at the end of the month. Every year, several generous sponsors offer participant and winner goodies.
All programs for National Novel Writing Month are free. However, they run on (tax-deductible) donations and ask ably-financed participants to contribute towards hosting and administrative costs.
Over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.
Maybe the next great novel to come out of NaNoWriMo will be yours!
Seems like mystery novels have been around forever but in the history of literature this genre is a relative newcomer. Before the mid-1800s, books were read primarily by the upper classes for education rather than entertainment. In the mid-1800s, rising literacy rates, technological advances in publishing that made books more accessible, and more leisure time contributed greatly to the popularity of novels in general and mysteries in particular.
Edgar Allen Poe, who died at the age of 40 on October 7, 1849, is considered the father of mysteries as we know them today. Poe created mystery’s first fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841). Dupin proved so popular, that his exploits continued in subsequent Poe mysteries. Poe refocused mysteries from merely situational to the study of the criminal’s mind.
Mystery novels weren’t solely the domain of male authors. In 1878, Anna Katherine Greene’s The Leavenworth Case made her the first woman to write a detective novel. Elements of detection introduced in this novel influenced writers of the “English country house murder” school in the 1920s.
You can’t think “detective” without conjuring up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who was introduced to readers in A Study in Scarlet (1887) and became the iconic fictional detective of intelligence and scientific knowledge through a series of books.
With increasing prosperity in England and America, and the evolution to a popular format for mystery novels, the 1920s launched the “Gold Age” of mystery fiction. The queen of the genre was Agatha Christie whose 50-year career yielded more than 80 novels, translated into 103 languages. Making the detective’s character as important as the who-done-it, she created two of the most enduring sleuths in mystery fiction: the Belgiun detective Hercule Poirot and the mystery-solving spinster Jane Marple.
On the heels of the Golden Age featuring English authors, American authors with their sensibilities, characters and locales gained popularity. Mystery novels reached their zenith here in the 1930s and 40s. The most notable characters included Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Earl Derr Bigger’s Charlie Chan and Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason. Then there is Ellery Queen, a pseudonym for the collaboration of American cousins Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay whose detective also went by that name. In all, the two authors wrote 33 Ellery Queen novels spanning over 40 years.
Other types of mystery series that made their mark between the 20s and 40s included Ed McBain’s police procedurals and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (maligned by critics for its emphasis on sex and violence but popular with readers). Even young readers got hooked on mysteries, following their own sleuths in the popular Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series.
Mystery series featuring sleuths are as popular as ever. Examples include Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Robert B. Parker‘s Boston-based P.I. Spenser, and P.D. James‘British policeman Adam Dagliesh.
Guests at this month’s BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ will meet popular mystery authors and learn about the latest books in their series. Patricia Skalka, author of the hot-off-the-press Death in Cold Water (a Dave Cubiak mystery), and Larry D. Sweazy, author of the recently released See Also Deception (a Marjorie Trumaine mystery), will share in the conversation-friendly free wine tasting at TASTE Food & Wine in Chicago on Monday, October 24th from 6-8 p.m. Patricia will also hold court from 6-8 p.m. at the October 25th BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ at Sunset Foods in Northbrook, IL. Books and wines, along with Bonus Buy packages will be available for sale at both events.
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose 451 Degrees–Parts 1 & 2 from March 2013 because the American Library Association just completed another Banned Books Week with the goal of raising awareness of the censorship that threatens our freedom to read.
During a heated election year that has exposed an ugly, dangerous polarization in the U.S., at a time when words really do matter, it is critical to see how – and why — some forces seek to control what we read.
American classics that have been banned or challenged around the country include The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. For more about books in the U.S. that have been challenged as well as information about classic novels that have been challenged and/or banned, please seeFrequently Challenged Books.
Banned Books Week began in 1982 as a response to what the ALA said was a drastic increase of challenges to, and removal of, books in libraries, schools and bookstores.The first Banned Book list, in 2001, was topped by JK Rowling’s Harry Potter for “satanism, religious viewpoint, anti-family and violence.” From 2000 to 2009, the top five categories that caused a book to be challenged or banned included: sexually explicit material, offensive language, being considered unsuited for the age group, violence or homosexuality.
“We’re seeing more and more challenges to diverse content, such books about people of color or the LGBT community,” said Deborah Caldwell Stone, deputy director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. “It reflects concerns of changes in our society.” The list of the10 most challenged books of 2015is based on the frequency a book has been challenged or removed from libraries or schools in the US.
451 Degrees – Part 1
Noted author Judy Blume once said, “Fear is often disguised as moral outrage.” I pondered this concept – one I happen to agree with – as I read about a student-run book club at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep High School. The club is called 451 Degrees, the temperature at which book paper burns in Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 futuristic book about a repressive America that confiscates books and burns them. The Lane Tech book club was created by 16-year-old student Levi Todd with the express purpose of reading banned and controversial books.
Earlier this month, Chicago Public Schools issued a directive that removed all copies of the highly acclaimed, award-winning autobiographical graphic novel* Persepolis from seventh-grade classrooms because of “powerful images of torture.” Author Marjane Satrapi defended her book about her childhood during the 1979 Iranian revolution, noting, “These are not photos of torture. It’s a drawing and it’s one frame… Seventh graders have brains and they see all kinds of things on cinema and the internet.”
As a parent, I am sensitive to the challenges of protecting children from unnecessarily disturbing or inappropriate words, images and values (whatever we deem them to be). The key word is unnecessarily; the concept is very subjective. In reality, we cannot protect our children from disturbing or inappropriate words, images or values. In today’s world, they are all around us, seeping into our everyday lives. If we close our eyes to this reality, we fail our children and our society. Ignorance is not bliss.
We can do better by our children and our society by being vigilant about controversial books – not by jumping the banned book bandwagon, but by reading those books and discussing the aspects that have raised the controversy. We could all learn much about our world and the people in it and the events that shape our lives – and our future.
451 Degrees – Part 2
Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, presents a repressive society of the future where books are illegal and firemen burn any house that contains them. Bradbury titled his most famous book after “the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns.” The cultural landscape Bradbury created is reminiscent of Nazi Germany and other societies throughout history, from ancient eras to contemporary times, in which censorship of thoughts resulted in mass book destruction.
Lest you think America’s celebrated Constitutionally-protected right to “free speech” has shielded this country from similar attempts at suppression, be aware that in the past dozen years alone, Harry Potter books were burned in several American states, “non-approved” Bibles, books and music were burned in North Carolina, and copies of the Qu’ran were burned in various states.
It doesn’t take burning to threaten books and the treasures they possess. Every year, attempts to ban books abound throughout our country. Thought-provoking expression and concepts are often banished from classrooms, libraries and public discourse simply because someone has taken offense at a word, a phrase or an illustration; isolated fragments are pulled out of context and attacked, often by people who haven’t bothered to read the full text or consider different viewpoints. This is true of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a perennial title on “Most Challenged Books” lists since its publication in 1960, and of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, recently banned in Chicago Public Schools.
Fahrenheit 451 is prescient and worth a read (or re-read) six decades after its first publication. Bradbury envisioned many technical and cultural developments that are common today. The book’s uncanny foresight magnifies the strength of its message: When we ban books, we repress thought; we reduce the ability to think; we diminish what it is to be human. If we do not defend the freedom of books to exist and be read, we could find ourselves fulfilling Bradbury’s dystopian nightmare.
We do not need to endorse books with viewpoints, language or imagery that are at odds with our own — but we should not fear them. Every book eventually stands on its literary merits. Poorly written books, those with gratuitous attempts to shock or titillate, will fall from their own weakness. Every book should be given a chance: to start a dialogue, to teach, to enlighten and to enhance humanity.
Let’s be honest. For speed, convenience and a cost savings, it’s hard to beat Amazon. I confess that I use it. Statistics strongly suggest you do too. It’s a brilliant business concept. Except that it tends to destroy its competitors. That’s how the market works, you say. As consumers, it’s in our interest to seek out lower prices and convenience. But at what real cost?
In the past decade, book selling has undergone major upheaval. Independent book stores found themselves increasingly competing against major chains and discount stores encroaching on their territory. It was impossible to compete with the floor space, advertising clout and cut-rate prices offered by the deeper-pocket, faceless corporate entities.
Then independent stores got creative. They realized they could offer their customers personalized service because they took the time to get to know them. The indie stores opened up opportunities to local authors, they welcomed children and book clubs. They participated in off-site events and developed loyal customers through newsletters. The ambiance of neighborhood bookstores made them community gathering places, which could not be achieved by the chains and discounters.
The indies started to flourish as the corporate behemoths started to flounder. Borders went under. 130-year-old Barnes & Noble is reportedly teetering on the brink. The one giant seller still going great guns is Amazon, which began as a bookseller out of a Seattle garage in 1995. Now Amazon is out to topple local independent bookstores.
Surely Amazon would tell you it salutes and welcomes indie book stores. But that won’t stop them from trying to steal away indie book store customers. Chicago will be the fourth city in one year to have a brick-and-mortar Amazon book store open. Their store prices will match their online prices, which means less than you would pay at your neighborhood independent book store. What will this mean to the many vibrant indie book stores that serve Chicago’s booklovers so brilliantly? Time will tell.
There’s no reason for Amazon to open a physical book store in Chicago, except that the empire recognizes there’s money to be made from an active book-loving public. Now it will be up to those readers to show the indie stores we love them too by being as loyal to them as they’ve been to us.
Since July 2015, booklovers have had a new, fun place to meet authors and buy books – at BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ http://www.bookedwebcast.com/booked_books-n-bottles.html. Now in its second season, the monthly events are held at two venues, one in Chicago and one in suburban Northbrook, IL. Each venue offers a different convivial atmosphere for lovers of books and wines. Guests enjoy conversing with authors while enjoying quality wine tastings. The quality wines are as diverse and delicious as the books and both are available for sale. In season two, we also added the Bonus Buy concept: mementos, merchant discounts and professional photos with the author, among other goodies. For season three, to begin in the spring of 2017, we expect to add a third venue. Three venues, three different settings. Something for every taste. Stay tuned!
BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ will celebrate the national book launch of Boy, 9, Missing from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday, September 25th at Sunset Foods in downtown Northbrook, IL. The debut novel from Chicago author Nic Joseph, published by Sourcebooks Landmark, has been compared to classic thrillers Defending Jacob or Drowning Ruth. The event, hosted by Book●ed, includes a free wine tasting, conversation with the author, book signings and more. Books will be available on site from the Book Bin, wine and the ever popular Bonus Buy packages (mementos, merchant discounts, professional photos with the author and more) will also be available for purchase.
The 13th Annual Best Book Awards entry deadline is September 30th. The i310 Media Group, organizer of the competition, says it is “specifically designed to not only garner media coverage and book sales for the winners and finalists but to promote awarded books to the publishing and entertainment industries.” Open to all books with an ISBN and published in 2016 (galley copies welcome). 2015 and 2014 titles are also eligible.
“Book Readings That Sell Your Book” is a workshop offered by Off Campus Writers Workshop on Thursday, October 13th from 9:30 a.m. to noon at Winnetka Community House in Winnetka, IL. Part of publishing a book today is performing readings and doing signings at bookstores, libraries… and, if you’re really lucky, BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™. Actress, comedienne, and novelist Jennifer Rupp will shares practical tips for giving author readings that entertain, intrigue and help sell books. Jennifer invites attendees to bring three pages of something you’ve written for practice in a safe, supportive environment.
NORTHBROOK WRITES: Character Development with Eric Charles May, part of a series of free workshops for writers, will be offered by the Northbrook Public Library on Saturday, October 29th from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. May, who was a BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ featured author in 2015, is an author, associate professor in Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago, and former reporter for The Washington Post. His workshop will address how to develop rich and engaging characters.
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I choseKeep Your Day Job from October 2014 because every author I’ve met (a few whom I selected for BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™) faces the challenge of putting his or her book in the hands of readers … and profiting from the effort. This post explains budget factors for every writer to consider. Also, check myQuotable post for thoughts about publishing from notable authors.
Who doesn’t have the great American novel waiting to be written? Or maybe it’s a collection of poetry begging to spill on to pages of a book? Nearly everyone I talk to confesses at some point to harboring the dream of being a published author. Writing groups are gaining in popularity, with members ranging from the pure dreamers to ambitious authors who have prepared a manuscript and are searching for the path to publication. Are you one of these writers?
The dream of having your book published is accompanied by the expectation that it will be purchased to be read; that fortune will accompany fame, or at least cover your publishing costs. This hope exists whether your book is published traditionally or self-published.
With traditional publishers, production, distribution and related professional costs are born by the publishing company but authors have become more responsible for their own promotional efforts; and the book’s “life” is under the control of the publisher. Self-published authors bear total responsibility and costs but maintain total control of every step.
Whether you go the traditional route or self-publish, keep your day job. Until your book sells in the several thousands of copies, the only riches you will receive will be the knowledge that some people are reading your work. How can this be when hardcover books sell for $25 and up, a paperbacks sell for $15 and up, and eBooks run $7 and up? Where does the money go?
Welcome to “trickle down income” in the publishing world. If your book is published traditionally, you will periodically be paid a royalty for books sold after the publisher deducts all its costs plus its profit. If you self-publish, you pay yourself … after you pay anyone you employ to get your book into the hands of readers: editor, proofreader, technical formatter, cover designer, printer, (possibly) a warehouse, distributor, marketer, (maybe) a web designer, administrator.
Production is not necessarily the most expensive factor. Authors can expect a wholesale discount of 40 percent to be taken off the retail price by major book stores and big box stores. Libraries typically take a 20 percent discount. Distributors take 15 percent on top of those discounts. Sellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble act as both distributor and seller, taking 55 percent off your retail price. If you use an agent, expect 10-15 percent off the wholesale price to be collected for services.
Ongoing promotion is a book’s life insurance. Regardless of how a book is published, authors are expected to oversee this job. Maintaining websites, arranging book signings, giving talks and doing interviews are some of the recommended promotional activities.
Some expenses occur once while others will be recurring. Every responsibility you handle yourself rather than hire out is more money in your pocket … if you know what you’re doing and you don’t mind spending your time on it … time you could use to write your next book.
Scared? Don’t be. Knowledge is power. Empower yourself by learning all the aspects of taking your brainchild from start to a successful finish. But, at least for now, don’t quit your day job.
Authors would be wise to go behind the numbers of this year’s BookCon to see why Chicago should be part of any book tour.
Reed Exhibitions, the organizer of BookCon as well as BookExpo America (which ran in Chicago May 11–13), reported that consumer attendance was 7,200 for the 1-day BookCon on May 14. The 2-day BookCon in New York in 2015 drew 18,000 attendees, and the first BookCon in 2014 attracted 10,000 readers over one day. However, attendees this year were more interested in the books, rather than just looking for celebrity authors, as was often the case at the past two NYC shows. Moreover, the audience in Chicago skewed slightly older and was more inclined to buy books.
Publishers reported that they ran out of their most popular free items – books, tote bags and T-shirts — quickly. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group said its signed copies of John Grisham’s The Litigators were gone in less than five minutes, and the same held true for the 10th-anniversary edition of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Galleys that went quickly included those of Carl Hiassen’s forthcoming novel Razor Girl and Nathan Hill’s The Nix. Abrams Books said its children’s titles sold “like hot cakes,” and that some adult titles also “sold briskly”. W.W. Norton & Company called the Chicago event “great”.
The biggest complaint from consumers, many of whom came from different parts of the country, was that BookCon wasn’t long enough.
What all of this should suggest to authors and publishers is that there is a hungry, healthy market of readers in the Midwest. Properly chosen venues and well-crafted publicity can pay back in strong book sales while building reader loyalty for authors who head to Chicago.
Because of the strong Midwest market, BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ will expand to a second venue next month. Authors and publishers are invited to check out BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ events in the greater Chicago area at the Book●ed website.
April 30th will mark the second annual Independent Bookstore Day across the U.S. Followers of the Book●ed Blog know I’m a longtime big supporter of indie stores. Last December, I re-ran a post that first appeared in March 2013, titled Guilty as Charged. Little did I know, three years ago, the important role independent bookstores would play in the success of BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™. There are more reasons than ever to check out your local independent bookstore. You are likely to be very pleasantly surprised by the changes taking place.
Because they are not bound by the corporate strictures of chain stores and large discounters, independent bookstores have freedom to be creative in the way they serve their customers. Their hallmark has been personal service. Now they’ve expanded in-store events to feature local and self-published authors, along with nationally known ones.
Some stores have created ongoing programs to instill a love of books among children from toddlers to teens. Others have added cafés or bars, becoming social gathering spots for booklovers. Independent bookstores make it possible for libraries and clubs to bring in authors for speaking engagements, as well as support community events, by handling book sales at those venues.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that bookstore sales increased 2.5 percent from 2014 to 2015. The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent sellers, reported 1,712 member stores (in 2,227 locations) in 2015, up from 1,401 (in 1,660 locations) in 2009. It has been reported that 421 independent bookstores in 48 states will participate in this year’s Independent Bookstore Day. Eighty percent of last year’s participating stores saw a sales increase, and those stores saw an average sales increase of 70 percent compared with the Saturday the year before. Will you be part of the fun?
Lovers of history, mystery and great wines: If you’re in Chicago, stop by Taste Food & Wine between 6-8 p.m. on Monday, April 25th for BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™. Certified Wine Educator Phoebe Snowe will be pouring some great wines while Susanna Calkins, author of the just-released A Death Along the River Fleet, talks about the latest in her popular Lucy Campion series.
April 26th is the final day to get your discount registration for BookExpo America, to be held May 11-13 at McCormick Place in Chicago. BEA is North America’s largest book industry event. I’ll be there; will you?
The Chicago Tribune placed The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, #2 on their Chicagoland Best-Sellers list this week. I’ve had the book since last May, when I picked it up — free — at BookExpo America (BEA) in NYC. It was one of several free books I was able to get during book signings and giveaways at North America’s largest publishing event. This year, BEA is coming to Chicago’s McCormick Place May 11th-13th. Free books are the bonuses to an event filled with useful workshops, fabulous exhibitions, author appearances and countless networking opportunities for anyone involved with the book industry. Who knows – you may come home with next year’s best sellers.
BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ launches its second season on April 25th from 6-8 p.m. at TASTE Food and Wine in Chicago. Back by popular demand is author Susanna Calkins with her hot-off-the-press A Death at the River Fleet, the latest in the Lucy Campion mystery series. Reflecting themes in the book, the wine tasting will feature a Spanish Verdelho, a French Riesling and a California Claret. Books will be available for purchase from the Book Bin. Bonus Buy tickets will also be available at the event for extra goodies.
April 26th is the deadline for an early bird discount registration to BookExpo America (BEA) — North America’s largest publishing event — coming to Chicago May 11th–13th (with BookCon on May 14th).
Mystery Writers of America will host its Edgar Symposium in New York City on April 27th.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators — one of the largest organizations for writers and illustrators in the world — will hold its 2016 Wild, Wild Midwest Conference at the Chicago Marriott Naperville April 29th – May 1st.
In its 27th year, The Sewanee Writers’ Conference will convene its workshops in Poetry, Fiction and Paywriting from July 19th-31st at the University of the South in Sewanee Tennessee. Fellowships and scholarships are available.
Lots of excitement building for Season 2 of BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™, which begins April 25th. We’re returning to TASTE Food and Wine, named the best place for wine tastings in Chicago by Foursquare, moving the events to Monday nights from 6-8 p.m. as part of TASTE’s popular semi-weekly wine tastings. The more the merrier!
The always entertaining Phoebe Snowe, a certified wine expert, will be pouring great wines paired to the themes of the books we’ll be featuring. TASTE is known for its vast selection of excellent wines that you won’t find in big box stores or through discounters. You’ll be surprised and delighted how competitively priced the wines are.
This year, we’re pleased to partner with a great independent book store, The Book Bin to handle our on-site sales. The Book Bin is “Not a Superstore… Just a Super Store!”
We’ll continue to bring in best-selling and award-winning authors representing various genres but we’ll bring them in just as their books are being published or they are making their first book tour in the Midwest.
Back by popular demand are the BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ Bonus Buy tickets. While our wine tasting events are free, these optional tickets will offer all sorts of rewards that will vary from event to event.
Lots more surprises in store – including celebrity appearances, fundraisers, raffles and more — so keep following our weekly blog posts on the Book●ed (you can sign up to receive them automatically) and on Facebook (please Follow us).
Invitation to authors: If you have a book coming out this year or are planning a Midwest book tour, I’d love to hear from you to explore a possible BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ appearance. Contact us via our website or a personal message via Facebook.
Note to Readers – From time to time, I will re-post a past entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose Pardon My Gender from September 2015 because newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that female authors helped American bookstores increases sales for the first time since 2007. The top three U.S. bestselling authors were Harper Lee, E.L. James and Paula Hawkins. Listen up publishers!
Curran Bell, Acton Bell and Ellis Bell may not be names you recognize but what if I were to say Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë? In the 1800s, the famous Brontë sisters had to don male names in order to get their writing published after England’s poet laureate Robert Southey responded to 20-year-old Charlotte’s selection of poetry with, “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life.” Other noted female authors of the same period who disguised their gender in order to get published include George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin) and George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans.)
A century later, Nell Harper Lee dropped her first name for the more androgynous Harper Lee. Nora Roberts, a bestselling author of romance novels under her real name, became a bestselling author of detective fiction using the pseudonym J.D. Robb.
Perhaps the best known contemporary female author to neuter her name is J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. Her UK publisher, Bloomsbury, felt that replacing her first name (Joanne) with initials would make her book more appealing to boys. Without a middle name of her own, she used her grandmother’s, Kathleen. “They could have called me Enid Snodgrass,” Rowling told The Telegraph in an interview. “I just wanted it [the book] published.”
As long as women have written, they have had to contend with bias in the publishing industry. While some are hopeful that the growing number of female authors with successful books will open doors for more women, statistics suggest that traditional publishers still view women primarily as writers and readers of romance novels.
Two 2011 studies prove the point. They showed that The New York Review of Books reviewed 71 female authors, compared to 293 male authors; The New York Times reviewed 273 women and 520 men. Only Crown published a similar number of male and female authors; the others clearly favored men.
Women authors are not the only ones battling discrimination in the publishing world. Minorities are also largely underserved, much to the loss of booklovers. But women are not a minority, which is why I highlight this sorry aspect of the publishing world.
The emergence of self-publishing is resulting in some hugely successful female writers (see Footnotes) but traditional publishers need to step up to the plate. It makes good business sense. Car dealers, real estate marketers and political parties have awakened to the potential women offer, not only as consumers but as producers. It’s time for the white male bastions of the publishing world to make way for diversity. Let it begin with women authors.
There’s a new TV commercial that makes me want to scream at the screen. You may have seen it. It’s from a company that claims it will publish your book and get it into book stores. Wham bam thank you ma’m. A little research into the company shows they are a scam, intent on hooking naïve writers with great dreams.
Until now, such misleading sleazy sales pitches to authors have been limited to the internet and some magazines. These shysters used to be referred to as Vanity Press but now hide under the growing umbrella of self-publishing services.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in self-publishing. In fact, I helped a friend of mine self-publish a collector’s quality limited edition book in 2014 that was enthusiastically received. There are excellent self-publishing services from reputable companies. A growing number of established authors have moved from traditional publishers to self-publishing and found it lucrative. Conversely, some wildly successful self-published authors have gone on to impressive book deals with major publishing houses.
Here’s the issue: If you don’t know what you’re getting into with self-publishing, you can easily fall into one of the many sinkholes that dot the landscape. Unfortunately, you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why I regularly write about the business of publishing, including self-publishing. As I always say, “There’s good news and bad news for authors and that news is the same: Today, anyone who wants to get published can get published.” Doesn’t mean your book is going anywhere… unless you get serious about the business side of writing.
Lines are blurring between what an author may get from a traditional publisher or a self-publishing company. Caveat emptor! Buyer beware! Whichever route you take, you need to understand the entire process. What was once dessert has become the appetizer. The end goal is no longer just getting your book produced. There are also distribution, marketing and public relations considerations, with side orders of copyrights, contracts, price points and profit margins.
Most authors prefer to spend their time writing rather than tending to business. There are people who would be happy to handle the business end for authors … for a price. Traditional publishers cover copyrights, distribution and some degree of marketing but the effort varies from contract to contract, which is where a good agent and literary attorney are your best allies. I have many author friends who have excellent relationships with the major houses that publish their books, no doubt established through a good contract.
With self-publishing, you have more of an a la carte menu of services, although you may be offered a prix fixe package. You don’t need an agent or a literary attorney to be self-published; you do have to understand what is required to succeed, decide who will handle those requirements, how to get reliable, reasonably priced services and what to expect.
Begin your education by going to trusted resources that have no financial interest in your book. I like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers to keep me current on changes and opportunities in self-publishing (they also do a great job on traditional publishing). Attend major conferences, workshops and retreats offered by trade such education and trade organizations as AWP and BEA (and specialized groups based on genre, geographical region, etc.). Books on the subject are helpful but may not be current in the ever-changing publishing world. The best source is a guide who is thoroughly familiar with the industry and understands your particular needs and wants; a source who will keep you based in reality as you make your choices.
A friend of mine, whose earlier books were traditionally published but decided to go the self-published route with her latest book, chose a well-known company that would get her books distributed nationally and internationally, through brick and mortar bookstores as well as through Amazon. Until she found that they couldn’t get into brick and mortar stores. They have posted her book on Amazon but have not created any publicity to draw people to her title. Thousands of dollars into her investment, it is now up to her to find every book store and other venue to carry her book or host a book signing, to seek her own promotions. I could have told her this would happen but she never asked. I wish she had.
Two events of interest to writers in the Chicago Metro area are coming this spring:
April 29th – May 1st: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators will hold the 2016 Wild, Wild Midwest Conference at the Chicago Marriott Naperville. SCBWI is one of the largest organizations for writers and illustrators in the world. It is the only professional organization specifically for those individuals writing and illustrating for children and young adults in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia.
May 11th – 13th: Book Expo America, North America’s largest publishing event, is moving from New York to Chicago this year. Organizers promise “access to what’s new, what’s next, and everything exciting in the world of books.” Discounted early bird registration is being accepted through April 26th.
Have you been thinking about China lately? After all, February 8th marks the Chinese New Year – the Year of the Monkey (specifically, the Red Fire Monkey). China’s economy (second only to that of the U.S.) has the world rocking and rolling but not in a good way. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea threaten conflict with several nations with whom the U.S. is closely tied, including Brunei, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. Lots of reasons to have China on one’s mind.
What has me thinking about China is a story that hasn’t gotten much play in the U.S. media but should resonate with anyone in the book industry: the mysterious disappearance of five Hong Kong book publishers since last October – publishers who had profitably produced and sold books on topics banned by Beijing: political corruption, religion and the intimate lives of Communist Party officials.
Chinese authorities confirmed that at least two of the missing publishers were being detained in mainland China. All of the disappearances are considered abductions, carried out to silence critics, part of a pattern against human rights lawyers, activists and bloggers. Before leaving Hong Kong to join family in the U.S., publisher Jin Zhong warned, “You don’t want to risk your life just to get a book published.”
Does this chilling series of human rights violations signal the demise of the banned book industry in Hong Kong? What does that mean for a Hong Kong fighting to maintain its personal freedoms? What might that mean for publishing in and outside of China?
Just last May, BookExpo America (BEA), North America’s largest annual book trade fair, welcomed China at its Global Market Forum. The China delegation was the largest international delegation that ever attended BEA, with more than 170 publishing companies represented and a 25,000-square-foot “Guest of Honor” display. According to a Publishers Weekly report, “The country’s publishers, who have imported an increasing number of U.S. titles, are hoping to build a market for some of their top authors overseas.”
Self-published authors requiring advanced (more expensive) production capabilities for their books have been increasingly turning to Chinese printing and publishing companies in order to produce books that would otherwise not be profitable.
Like so many other aspects of modern commerce, there is a symbiotic relationship between authors in the free world and publishing companies in government-controlled China. I suggest that much as we need them, they need us more, especially as their economy tries to calm its choppy seas. I hope authors and publishers who treasure their freedom of expression will join together and make sure China hears our voices speaking for those whose voices are being silenced.
The Masque of a Murderer, the first book ever featured at a BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ event, is now in the running for three awards: the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery (Lefty) Award, the Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award (Edgar), and the Agatha for Best Historical Novel. Congratulations to author Susanna Calkins!
Only two days into the Amazon Kindle promotion, In the Company of Legends has risen to the number 1 position in one category: #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Humor & Entertainment > Movies & Video > Video. For 29 days (this is a leap year) the electronic version of the book will be featured in the Kindle Store for only $1.99. Congratulations to my friends, authors Joan Kramer and David Heeley – who I hope to host at a BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ this year.
Depending on how one defines a blog year, starting the fourth year of the Book●ed blog makes me a Toddler, Teen or Senior. I’ve learned a lot about blogging since my first post on January 27th, 2013. For example, choosing “Getting to the Juicy Parts” (about the impact on books from changing habits in reading and writing) resulted in some internet images attached to my name that were (to put it mildly) smarmy, having nothing to do with me or Book●ed. I also received a flurry of unsolicited emails offering me X-rated toys and meds. Oops!
Over the past three years, I’ve become a keen observer of, and participant in, a dramatically changing book industry. I’ve seen many of my predictions about the connections between writers, readers, books and business come true. There have been some good changes, some not so good. It boils down to this: today more than ever, anyone who wants to get published can get published. Whether that statement is good news or not depends on how it affects you. I’ve spent many posts exploring all the angles.
I’ve aimed for a balance in my posts, as reflected in the categories that include: For Authors, For Booklovers, Facts & Statistics and Industry News. Often, I’ve included links to other websites for further information or examples. Covering every stage of conception, writing, design, production, marketing and selling books to promoting authors, books, booksellers, education and libraries, I’ve aimed to keep my posts enjoyable, enlightening and accessible.
The Book●ed blog began as a segment of a larger marketing effort that included video webcast interviews of authors. The posts continued as I shifted from webcasts to editing, publishing and marketing an updated and expanded English language edition of the bestselling Italian memoir, Searching for My Father, Tyrone Power. The posts continued as I developed and launched BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ — events pairing quality wine tastings with book signings.
In year four (as bloddler, teegler or segler), I will continue to report on changes in publishing, connect authors and their books with booklovers and aim to entertain. I invite authors to visit the Book.ed website to read past blog posts (in “Blog Here” click the categories that interest you), view the webcast interviews (in “Archives”) and learn more about BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™.
Bonus for any authors (and agents, publishers or publicists) who read this post to this point: I invite you to contact me if you have a book about to be published or recently published and will be in the Chicago area. Let’s explore the possibility of featuring you and your latest book at a BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ event!
The American Booksellers Association and Civic Economics issued a report stating that in 2014, Amazon avoided $625 million in state and local sales taxes nationwide. In addition, by avoiding using storefronts, Amazon cost state and local governments $420 million in potential property taxes. Some states have begun requiring out-of-state retailers such as Amazon to collect sales tax, to alleviate an increased tax burden on households required to fund sustenance of community services. A major segment of Amazon sales is built around books. Adding sales tax to their book sales creates a more even playing field with brick and mortar stores, including the independent book stores we love.
Another BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ author from the 2015 season has been recognized for an outstanding literary achievement. Book●ed is proud to share the news that The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins has been short-listed for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Congratulations, Susanna!
Season 2 of BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ will begin in April. Program information will be available on the Book●ed website by clicking the BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™. We will also post on the Book●ed blog and Facebook page.
Book Expo America, North America’s largest publishing event, is moving from New York to Chicago this year. Organizers promise “access to what’s new, what’s next, and everything exciting in the world of books.” Discounted early bird registration is being accepted through April 26th.
Book●ed fans living in or traveling to Miami have a great place to enjoy novels and noshes. Books & Books, which had its flagship Coral Gables store named Publishers Weekly Bookstore of 2015, has locations throughout the Sunshine State, on Long Island in New York and in the Cayman Islands. Already an innovator in the industry with a publishing arm and film production company, Books & Books added a gastronomic element to the Miami location where patrons can enjoy a full-service healthy menu created by a James Beard award-winning chef. The café features live music and offers cocktails with literary themes. Kudos to owner Mitchell Kaplan and an invitation to contact me when he’s ready to open a Chicagoland branch!
If you’re traveling to Tokyo, there’s a neat hostel waiting for you. It’s called Book and Bed and it’s a real bargain, starting at $28 a night. You’ll have to forego luxury as you’ll be sleeping in one of the 12 tiny “bed pods” with only a curtain for privacy and you’ll be sharing a bathroom – but the pods are built into bookshelves containing 1,700 Japanese and English books, all available to feed your need to read.