The White Man’s Burden Just Never Stops

white-mans-problems.w250Funniest quote about books this week  (or possibly ever) has to go to Michael Wolff of USA Today. . .

In a recent article, Wolff bemoans the fate of middle-aged white guy Kevin Morris who, despite being a successful entertainment lawyer, couldn’t get a book contract with a mainstream publisher. The article goes on at length to talk about what a hard thing it is to be a white guy in the entertainment industry these days (?!) and how little entertainment is geared toward such folk.

Because you know, Jack Reacher, Tom Clancy, Liam Neeson, Duck Dynasty, football  — apparently none of that counts. Although if those things are not for middle-aged men, I can’t imagine who they’re actually for.

And if you’re grousing about wanting a more literary level to your middle-aged white guy entertainment, what about Updike, Cheever, Jonathan Franzen, and almost any freaking short story published in The New Yorker? What about the hundreds of years of accumulated writing and work that has already been written by and aimed at middle-aged white guys? I guess Mr. Wolff has already read all of that.

Now I have no idea of the quality of Kevin Morris’ writing. I haven’t read his book yet. And I have to confess that as a non-middle-aged-white-man, it’s not at the top of my list. My quibble is not with the quality of his writing, the state of entertainment for middle-aged men, or his feeling of being marginalized.

In fact, I applaud Morris for doing what so many other successful writers of all ages and colors (myself included) are now doing — self-publishing his collection of stories, White Man’s Problems. My quibble is not with Morris at all, but rather with this truly priceless line, found near the end of Michael Wolff’s bafflingly outraged column about this book:

“Amazon’s legion of self-published authors is perhaps just more evidence of our infinitely fractured culture. Too many stories is just another sign of a broken world.”

That’s right, the same columnist complaining about the lack of representation for middle-aged white men in literature and praising the brilliance of Kevin Morris’ self-published book is the same columnist suggesting it’s a BAD THING that absolutely anyone can now self-publish a collection of short stories whenever they so desire.

Wait, what?

Telling more stories is bad? The fact that human beings have stories to tell and new ways to share them is a BAD THING?! A sign of a broken world?

If a burning desire to tell your story and the ability to share it with anyone is a sign of disaster and brokenness, I guess it’s clearly been one long downhill slide since the first caveman picked up his brush. And frankly, if more people wanting to tell stories is a sign of a broken world, then I’d be happy to live in one that’s crumbling to pieces.

Rant done. Thanks for the laugh, USA Today.

Advertisements

Slow Writing – Or, When Did Writing Stop Being About Writing?

just-printed-1408010-mI couldn’t help but notice Terri Ponce’s blog today. Terri is burnt out and has decided to take an extended break from writing. I say good for her. As many of you know, I’ve been struggling with the latest “chick noir” novel. I definitely have a big problem with “been there, done that” thinking and this would be my third contemporary women’s fiction with romantic elements, so no wonder it’s seeming unexciting to me. But there’s more going on with the slow progress on The Monaco Mission.

Like Terri, I’m burnt out too. But not so much on writing. I thought I was burnt out on writing up until a couple of weeks ago, when I was reading an extended discussion on one of my online critique groups about pricing strategies for selling the most books at the iBookstore. That’s when I realized what’s really got me burnt out.

I’m not burnt out on writing, I’m burnt out on all the peripheral pressures – the well-meaning writing friends who post daily word counts and page counts on FB & Twitter; the constant discussion of sales figures; all the posts about pricing, advertising, and marketing strategies on various writing loops. I remember when most of the discussion on those loops was about plotting, dialogue, and comparisons of favorite writers and their styles. These days, it seems like hardly anyone in the writing world talks about actual writing anymore. Writing is just “content” to be generated as rapidly as possible, posted for quick consumption, and then instantly forgotten.

Add to that the new paradigm that says we have to churn out two or three or more books per year in order to get any significant income at all from all these $1.99 books we’re producing. Hence the increasing pressure to produce so many words or pages a day, and the suggestion that you’re a slacker if you don’t.  All this can really kill your enthusiasm for writing.

But I think it’s the brave new world of publishing that’s the real issue, not the actual writing. After about a year of feeling too burnt out to write, I’m just now learning to separate what I now call “Publishing Burn Out” from my feelings about actual writing. And what I’ve remembered is that before I was published, I wasn’t thinking at all about daily word or page counts – I was just thinking about a story I wanted to tell. Sometimes I didn’t write A WORD all day, sometimes I would spend the day cutting pictures out of a magazine to represent characters or story settings. But that was part of telling the story too. Unfortunately, creative exercises like that tend to go by the wayside if all you’re thinking about is speed. And along with them goes all the fun, too.

I applaud Terri’s decision to take an extended break and slow down. I think creative writing should be just that — creative. And if that means slowing down in order to actually think about what you’re writing, so be it.

Book Covers & the Law of Unforeseen Consequences

I try not to use the blog to self-promote, which is exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed to do with blogs. But I’m like that.

Nonetheless, this blog is mostly about my new/old book, Thirty-Nine Again, which was originally released over four years ago by a small indie ebook publisher. I’m sure they did their best, but small indie publishers nowadays seem like the worst of both worlds – you don’t get the kind of royalties you get when you self-publish and you also don’t get widespread distribution in bookstores. So Thirty-Nine Again, the original edition, sold maybe 250 copies. Since my other novel, Love Capri Style has now sold about 25,000 copies at Amazon, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to move more copies of Thirty-Nine Again in its new self–published edition.

Poor distribution certainly hurt Thirty-Nine Again, as it does most other novels published by very small publishers. But there was another problem with Thirty-Nine Again that I hadn’t foreseen at all. It was this:

Now, I thought this was a pretty awesome cover, and I still do. It’s got the romance, it’s got the danger. The chick is grinning mischievously at the camera, so it’s got the humor of the story too. My biggest objection to this cover was that it looked more like the book should be titled Twenty-Nine AgainBut that’s where Lynn’s Law of Unforeseen Consequences comes into play. Lynn’s Law of Unforeseen Consequences states that the more enthused you are about an idea, the more likely it is that it will blow up in your face.

As it turned out, the age of the heroine on the cover was the LEAST of my troubles. And so I will tell all my aspiring author friends a little secret: It doesn’t matter if you like the cover. If the target audience doesn’t like it, you are going to have a hard time promoting that book. My target audience was, as evidenced by the title, forty-something women. There are two things most forty-something women have – kids and failing eyesight. The first reaction to this cover from even my most liberal, artsy, aging Bohemian friends was, “Oh dear God, I’ll have to hide it in a drawer so the kids don’t see it when they come home.”

The second and far more disastrous reaction was: “Is that two WOMEN?? I didn’t know you wrote erotica! Is this a Lesbian porn novel???”

Because it turns out that if you need reading glasses, but you’re on that threshold where you think you can see clearly enough so you keep refusing to wear them – well, then that slender guy with the longish hair apparently looks to you like HE is a SHE.

Now, I’m as liberal as they come when it comes to sexual orientation, so I have no problem with Lesbians at all. In fact, if Scarlet Johansson was a Lesbian, I – well, never mind. Anyway, the problem here wasn’t that I was morally offended. The problem was marketing. If you’re trying to sell middle-aged moms a chick lit suspense story, they get confused if the cover looks like Gay Fifty Shades of Grey. It also makes local libraries and businesses reluctant to carry bookmarks with the cover image on them. I had to have new bookmarks done that showed only the lower half of the book cover – the title with the gun and roses. Some websites agreed to mention the book in posts but refused to put up an image of the cover. Ultimately, after only three appearances, it made me lose all interest in doing any in-person signings or talks about the book.

When I decided to self-publish a new edition of Thirty-Nine Again, I knew I needed a cover that would more clearly reflect the chick lit nature of the story. I call Thirty-Nine Again “chick noir,” not because it’s bleak and dark (it’s not), but because it combines the self-deprecating humor of good chick lit* with guns and gangsters. I hope the combo works, and I hope you’ll buy the new edition with the improved PG-13 cover by the lovely and talented Rita Baker-Schmidt. Most of all, I hope you’ll be able to look at the cover (even without reading glasses) and know what sort of story you’re getting into.

Next time – we’ll talk about tempting fate by making bad things happen to your characters.

Or maybe the Mayan Apocalypse. It’s getting mighty close, folks, so we really do need to be prepared.

Related articles