Today is February 14—Valentine’s Day. So I’m sending love to all you readers out there.
Where would we writers be without our readers? We’d be “playing to an empty house,” to borrow the vernacular of the theatre.
If nobody read our books (and articles and poems and essays and miscellany), we’d soon be out of business. We’d have to find “job jobs”—we’d have to be bank tellers or teachers or store clerks or security guards or flight attendants or sales reps…which, in fact, some writers are already, working their day jobs and then writing at night with whatever energy they have left. But we’d ALL be in that boat without our readers.
You readers out there not only contribute to our financial well-being but give us an outlet and an audience for our creativity. And we love you for that. Hence this Valentine.
“It must be wonderful to do nothing but write all day. No boss, no job, work in your pajamas, just sit at the keyboard and write.” Thus sayeth many people. But they’re wrong.
Yes, the life of a writer IS wonderful. But it’s not what you imagine. Let’s take it from the top.
First: Many writers still have dayjobs. They work their 9-to-5s, come home, have dinner (and often have to cook that dinner themselves), and then, at the end of an exhausting day, have to summon the energy to sit, focus, and spend an hour or two or three or more writing—writing instead of spending time with whoever they live with (spouse or S.O., possibly kids) or with friends who are beckoning them to do something fun.
Second: Even of those of us fortunate enough to be able to be full-time freelancers, many do other kinds of writing to help support ourselves. I for one do freelance business writing, ghostwriting books for clients, editing books and other kinds of writing for authors and for publishers. I don’t just work on my books all day.
Third: Writing a book is only the beginning. Once it’s written, you need to find a publisher unless you’re planning to self-publish. Finding a publisher involves sending either a query letter or the whole manuscript, along with a well-crafted cover letter, to a variety of editors at publishing houses, then waiting…and waiting…and waiting. You might get an answer. You might never hear back. If you do get an answer, the odds are in favor of a decline (rejection). You don’t just send your book out and—bingo!—get a contract. If you’re self-publishing, you need to find an editor, a cover designer, a layout artist, and a printer. Although you can find them all in one package with a self-publishing company, you will pay a CONSIDERABLY higher price than if you negotiate for each item with individuals or companies that do that kind of work. Then, whether you publish conventionally or self-pub, you will need to read through the edited manuscript to be sure you are OK with all the edits, and you will need to read through the page proofs to be sure no screw-up was committed. Reading your own words yet again—and again—is tedious but necessary.
Fourth: Whether you self-pub or are published conventionally, it’s on you to publicize the book. Otherwise how do you expect potential readers to find it? You might do any or all of the following: Send announcements to everyone you know and, if you have previously published another book and have the names and addresses of some of the people who bought it, send announcements to them of your new book; send out press releases and other publicity; try to get on radio (including podcasts) and TV shows to promote the book; write an ongoing blog in hopes of attracting readers; join such sites as Goodreads and Amazon’s Author Central; hold book-readings and -signings; do anything else you can think of to promote your book.
Fifth: You are your own boss, but don’t think you don’t have a job. Writing IS your job. Treat it like one. Yes, you have the luxury of booking a visit to the nail salon in the middle of your workday, but don’t overdo it. Don’t take time off frivolously. You need that time to WORK. (And writing IS work.) Take it seriously. It’s a FUN and WONDERFUL job, but it’s a precarious way of earning a living. Unless you have another source of income—a dayjob or at least a side job, a monthly Social Security check, a working spouse who earns a decent dollar…unless you have some other form of income, you are going to be doing some serious nail-biting as you wonder whether you’ll be able to meet the mortgage or rent bill.
The life of a writer is wonderful but precarious. I wouldn’t trade lives with anyone else. But it isn’t what many non-writers or wannabe writers imagine it to be.
I read the article so long ago that I remember neither where I read it nor all the particulars. It concerned a difference between the genders when reading a novel or watching a movie, particularly one with a romance in it, whether that was the main thrust of the story or merely an incidental thread.
The article posited that one gender—and here is where my foggy memory betrays me, as I don’t remember which gender it is—watches the movie or reads the book and puts themselves in the plot in place of the hero or heroine. The other gender, on the other hand, watches the movie or reads the book and envisions the hero or heroine in the reader’s or viewer’s own life.
Do you do that?
Now, I must admit that I am not a moviegoer, and although I devour a lot of books, damn few of them are fiction and none are actual romances. (There have been at least two exceptions that I recall: Both were romance novels written by authors I had befriended. Unasked, they each sent me a copy of one of their books, which I felt bound to read.) But of course, among the smattering of fiction I have read, even though they weren’t romances per se, and also among memoirs, slice-of-life, and other nonfiction I’ve read, some contained love stories even though these weren’t the main theme or thrust of the book.
But I have never done either of the two things that article ascribed to the two different genders. I have never read a book or watched a movie and put myself in the heroine’s shoes. And I have never read a book or watched a movie and imagined the hero being in my life.
I can’t help wondering if the article was wrong or if this is just another way in which I am different from the average. What about you? Do you do either of these things? I really would like to know.
Remember when books were just…books? If you wanted to read a book, you picked up a book…period. In the beginning, all books were hardcover. Then came “mass market”—small paperbacks printed on inexpensive paper, they were mostly westerns for male readers, romances for females. The next advance was “trade paperbacks,” better-quality paperbacks, larger in size and printed on paper that was heavier, more durable, less brittle, and didn’t have the same tendency to yellow or break that the pages of mass market books did. Another advance was large-type books for people with low vision. And then there were Braille books, with their raised characters, for those who were not sighted at all.
The world of publishing has quietly been undergoing a revolution for some time now. Three forces have converged to level the playing field for authors, enlarge the selection of books for readers, and make the whole game more interesting all around.
As little kids in elementary school, you may have participated in “Show and Tell.” But as writers, we are always advised, “Show. Don’t tell.” This admonition is intended to guide us into showing rather than telling what a character in fiction or a real-life person in nonfiction is thinking, feeling, planning, and so forth.
Thanksgiving 2016…well, “as near as makes no never mind,” to use an old colloquial expression that, while it isn’t grammatically correct, is very expressive.
Thanksgiving 2016. It’s been a turbulent year, but if I don’t get into politics here—and I won’t, I promise—that excludes most of the turbulence and most of what everyone is still talking about weeks after the election. Continue Reading
Yesterday I read Created Equal to a group of kids in an after-school program. At first they were less than thrilled that I wasn’t going to be reading a storybook. Almost all the kids I read to in after-school programs prefer fiction over nonfiction. And history? That’s something they have to study in school, but this was after school was over for the day. They wanted something fun.Continue Reading
“My dad is taking me to DisneyWorld for my birthday.”
The cacophony of counterpoint voices rose in pitch and volume as each child struggled to be heard above the competing claims. It all started when one girl in the audience eagerly announced, “Today is my birthday.”
I asked her name and suggested we all sing the birthday song to her, which the kids gleefully participated in. But then they all wanted recognition for their birthdays…though it soon became obvious that most of them were not too clear on when their birthdays were. You see, to avoid having everyone in the audience—there were some 40 kids—take a turn at reporting their respective birthdays, I said, “Let’s do it this way: Whose birthday is in September? Raise your hands.” Almost every hand shot up. “Whose birthday is in October?” And again almost every child claimed that as his or her birth month. “November?” Same response.
It all started as I finished reading one of my books to the group of pre-K students. “Does anyone have any questions about the story I just read?” I asked. That was when the little girl raised her hand to announce that today was her birthday. And they were off and running, the story forgotten. I tried to get the Q&A session back on track, but after that it was, as a friend of mine described it, “like herding cats.”
I love reading to these kids—even when they go off on unexpected tangents. There is one group in particular—first- and second-graders at an after-school program in the area, which I’ve visited any number of times now with various books—that is particularly receptive. They all but cheer when they see me, calling out, “Cynthia!” “Miss Cynthia!” “Cynthia!” and running over to hug me.
They LOVE hearing stories.
In fact, ALL the groups of kids I read to love hearing stories. When I ask, “Who wants to hear a story?” no matter which group I’m reading to, all the hands shoot up into the air, and I hear a chorus of “Me!” “Me!” “Me!”
I hope their parents read to them on a regular basis. It can stimulate a child’s desire to learn to read well on his or her own as well as sparking the child’s imagination. And it has been my view for years that the imagination is a “muscle” that needs regular exercise just as much as any other—a subject I plan to expound on in this space in the near future.
But for now, let me close with this bit of unsolicited advice: If you’re the parent, grandparent, neighbor, godparent, aunt, or uncle of a young child, or are in some other warm relationship with one, READ TO HIM/HER. You’ll establish a closer bond with the child while fostering a love of reading, since the child who is read to often soon builds a desire to learn to read on his/her own. But even after he/she learns to read by himself/herself, keep reading to him/her. You can’t replace the closeness that ensues from that experience.