Friday, July 25, 2014

Keeping The Faith, or Can You Change Your Name Without Selling Your Soul?

I wrote this essay in 1997, when the world of publishing was very different from what it is today. Back then, who could have anticipated the revolution in epublishing and the way it has given rise to self-publishing and independent publishers. Upon reflection, however, I think it's worth considering. Let me know what you think!

Many recent articles in newsletters, magazines and websites describe the dire state of publishing and the difficulties which writers face in order to break in, let alone survive or flourish. Conventional wisdom resonates with images of loss and scarcity:

"The midlist is dead!"

"IDs (Independent [Book] Distributors) have imploded!"

"If a single book fails, your entire career is finished unless you change your name!"

"Media tie-ins and franchised universe fiction are squeezing out original work on bookstore shelves!"

The background to these declarations is grim. Approximately 50% of all novels marketed as first novels are in fact written by established writers seeking to escape from poor sales figures. This situation benefits publishers because they then need pay only first-novel level advances for solid, midlist‑level books. The average advance has not increased in a decade, while those for a few, more highly promoted books have skyrocketed, further fueling the "boom or bust" polarization. Bookstore chains occupy an increasingly large share of the market and their computerized ordering practices base advance orders on the author's previous sales. Some critically‑acclaimed books sell so poorly that their authors have difficulty finding a publisher for their next work. In this age of micro-management by distant multiglomerate corporations, the success of a book can be determined before it appears on the shelves. Publishers hold "autopsy" conferences to discuss why a book which they believed would do well "failed" in terms of sales.

Advice is easily given in an atmosphere of unspoken desperation. Sometimes the suggested tactics succeed: a byline change or a switch to a more commercial form of fiction may rejuvenate an author's sales or at least subsidize more serious writing. Too often, however, such changes are proposed and undertaken without consideration of their emotional implications. Well‑meaning advice gives special privilege to forces which are inherently beyond a writer's control and which have to do with merchandising, not creativity. The writer who follows such advice unsuccessfully is particularly vulnerable to feelings of guilt, regret, loss of artistic identity, and betrayal ("having sold out.")

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

[personal] From the piano...

From time to time, I share what I'm working on in my piano practice. I say practice not just in the sense of "drills and repetitions" but as a spiritual practice. One of centering, focus, and intention. One of continually going deeper into the music and letting that (wordless) experience transform my day.

I'm an adult student, meaning I did not begin music lessons of any kind until my late 50s. I shepherded both daughters through endless lessons (from age 5 until the end of high school) and then finally it was My Turn. My piano belonged to my mother, who also realized her dream of playing it as an older adult. Sometimes it feels like she is looking over my shoulder, smiling.

Chopin, Preludes (op. 28, no. 4 and 6)
Satie, Gymnopedie #3
Brahms, Waltz in Aflat
Kabalevsky, Waltz
various pieces from the easy piano version of The Lord of the Rings movies

Chopin, Waltz dminor (op. 69, no 2. post.)
Bach, Fughetta
Kabalevsky, Novelette (how could I resist?)
easy piano/vocal version of "Song of the Lonely Mountain" from The Hobbit movie
two O'Carolan tunes, arranged for piano - "The Separation of Body and Soul," and "The Queen's Dream"

Sunday, July 20, 2014

BOOK GIVEAWAY: The Heir of Khored

The third book in The Seven-Petaled Shield trilogy came out in early June, and I have a box of author's copies sitting here begging to be sent to good homes. I'm happy to oblige them, but I make certain assumptions:

You've read the first two books (The Seven-Petaled Shield, Shannivar) and
You've liked them well enough to want to know how the story ends.

So here's the deal. Write a review of one or both of the earlier volumes and then post a comment here. You don't have to divulge where you put up the review -- online booksellers, your own blog, your town newspaper, social media sites, whatever -- I'll take it on faith that you did. That way, you can say what you thought without the apprehension of the author peering anxiously over your shoulder.

On  August 4, I'll choose 5 names at random from the commenters (so the cutoff time will be 9 am Pacific Time). I'll pay media rate postage within the US, although donations are as always welcome. For outside the US, we'll negotiate, maybe splitting the postage.

Hope you enjoy the books, have fun with the reviews, and let the commenting begin!